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10 Most Overrated Boxers of All Time

Ling BonContributor IIIAugust 12, 2011

10 Most Overrated Boxers of All Time

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    Boxing is a sport more than any other that lends itself to ratings, especially across the eras. The one-on-one purity of the competition makes comparing champions a fun and often enlightening experience.

    Countless hours have been spent 'round the world debating back and forth if Louis could beat Ali, how Sugar Ray Robinson would have matched up with Marvin Hagler and all manner of different fantasy fights.

    With boxing fans' propensity for these matchups, it is only natural that some fighters should have a reputation beyond that which they earned in the ring.

    But what makes a fighter overrated? Any number of factors can contribute, but usually a fighter is slotted too highly because of an exciting style that made him popular, wins over faded greats who were no longer peak contenders or a resume of destroyed B- and C-list fighters.

    Also, there is an American cultural tendency to prefer heavyweight boxing over all else. It is for this reason that almost half of this top ten list is made up of famous heavyweights, as fans love to lionize them in their memories.

    Finally, the media plays a large role. If masses of people are told that a certain fighter is invincible for long enough, they will take it as gospel. Some have more than one of these qualities, particularly egregious examples might possess four or even all five..

    This is an entirely subjective list, obviously. All of these rankings are up for debate. There are no statistics in boxing as there are in baseball and basketball to help us objectively sort through the names for comparisons.

    No, boxing fans have to base their lists more on observations, feeling and speculation than a set of numbers. So here is my own list of the top 10 most overrated fighters of all time.

Honorable Mentions

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    • Jack Johnson: Johnson was undoubtedly a great fighter but he avoided many of the elite black fighters of era, insisting that he would be the last black champion. Because he did not make the most of his competition, regardless of social factors, that brings him down in my book. He was still a great champion, though, and his breakthrough for black athletes cannot be overstated.
    • James J. Braddock: "The Cinderella Man" had a movie made about him and everything, but his legacy is not really that solid. He beat Max Baer, a talented but inconsistent champion and then got blown out by the great Joe Louis.
    • Ron Lyle: Too much is made of Lyle's shootout with Foreman and his win over Shavers. Many contend that he could be the equal of the Klitschko brothers if he fought today. Spare me. He was a manic brawler who failed when he stepped up in class.
    • Ike Quartey: Ike Quartey was perceived as an elite welterweight at the end of the '90s, and he did stop small Vince Phillips and decision Oba Carr. But that is it. He lost to all the real names on his resume, including Fernando Vargas. Unbelievable jab and not much else.
    • Edwin Valero: Valero's career was tragically cut short when he murdered his wife and took his own life in prison. He had a perfect record 28-0 (28 KO's), an impressive tally. But scanning through the names, it is hard to find one you recognize. He had potential but was not the earth-destroying puncher that everyone made him out to be...at least, he never proved it.

10. Manny Pacquiao

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    Manny is not a fighter I put on here without considerable thought. He is a great, great fighter, certainly one of the 50 best of all time. He is an exciting warrior with a dynamite left hand and a very damaging right hook. He has turned into an effective counter puncher with a good chin and passable defense. 

    But overrated does not necessarily mean "bad" and people have started to regard him as an invincible demigod of pugilism. This is simply not the case.

    He has plenty of weaknesses that make him too vulnerable to certain styles (specifically, a good mover with an accurate right hand) for him to be as invincible as everyone claims. Also, the quality of his wins has steadily dropped since his ascent to the higher weights and superstardom.

    Let’s go over his last four fights. In May, he fought an ancient Shane Mosley who proved he was nowhere near the fighter he once was. Prior to that, he fought a shopworn and inactive Antonio Margarito, who put up a game effort but clearly did not belong in the ring with Pac-man.

    Before that, he fought Joshua Clottey, who put up an effort so poor that it has led to (in my opinion preposterous) claims of him throwing the fight. 

    His last legit fight was with Miguel Cotto. I do not usually like to lend credence to the term “weight-drained.” I think it has become overused, something tossed around every time someone has a poor performance.

    But Cotto, the defending champion, was forced to come down two pounds below the 147-pound limit and gassed out in the fifth round, before which the action was fairly even besides a flash knockdown.

    When a large champion is forced to come down two pounds from his weight class and then immediately moves up to the next weight class in his next fight, it says something about the win.

    I doubt that the two pounds would have changed the outcome and it was one of Pacquiao’s most spectacular performances.

    But perhaps if Cotto had not killed himself in training camp trying to make the weight, he could have lasted longer and I believe certainly would have seen the final bell. Destroying Hatton and de la Hoya are nice wins, just because they were both favored going in and Hatton was the lineal champ.

    But those two were both barely even shadows of their former selves, especially Oscar. De la Hoya proved completely unable to pull the trigger and just sat in front of Pacquiao and let him throw.

    Nobody can doubt Pac-man's resume at and below 130 pounds. But his amazing ascent through the weight classes is at least half of his claim towards top 30 or even top 20 all time status. If one actually inspects the fighters he was matched up a bit, the wins lose a bit of their luster.

    It is still impressive for a man who started at minimumweight to win a title at 147 (I refuse to even consider a diamond belt at a 150 pound catchweight–i.e., his win over Margarito–a legitimate title) but not top 20 all-time impressive.

9. Gerald McClellan

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    It might seem cold to rank McClellan on a list like this. His career was tragically cut short by a blood clot which developed in his brain during his 10-round brawl with Nigel Benn and eventually robbed him of his sight, his hearing and even his ability to move on his own.

    But his presence on this list is no personal attack on the man. I just believe that since his career ended, people have began to overestimate how good he “could have been,” as is often the case.

    This is based mainly on the claims circulating that he could have knocked out Roy Jones Jr. Slow down, buster.

    McClellan was a very exciting fighter at his best. His power, toughness and determination made him a fan favorite. Every single punch he threw was meant to decapitate his opponent.

    But he was a wild brawler who often failed to utilize his jab or even set up his punches at all, preferring instead to load up one big shot and try to end it.

    That may have worked on the older Roy Jones that we are now seeing today, but in his prime, I would doubt that McClellan could come anywhere near Roy.

    In the end, McClellan is a sad story with some unfulfilled potential, but I do not think we missed out on an all-time great fighter.

8. Joe Frazier

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    Joe Frazier is a fan’s fighter for sure. With a seemingly never ending supply of heart and determination, a left hook that he could probably put through a bank vault and a lack of any strategy other than “fight,” it is easy to understand how a fandom could fall in love with little Smokin’ Joe.

    He even had a win over the great Ali! But so did Ken Norton. Norton was also FAR more successful in the rematches as well, arguably winning at least one of them. But I cannot remember a list I have seen with Ken Norton even approaching the top 10 heavyweights ever.

    Frazier is routinely in there, sometimes as high as fifth, ahead of great champions like Larry Holmes, Sonny Liston and Evander Holyfield.

    Also, after his win over a somewhat rusty Ali, his resume gets a little thin. He has wins over Oscar Bonavena and Jerry Quarry, but are those really names that fill out the resume of a top five heavyweight? He was a thrilling fighter to watch, but getting crowds on their feet and getting results are not the same thing.

    Add to that the humiliating way he lost his heavyweight crown, in a two-round bloodbath at the hands of George Foreman, I think it is safe to say that Smokin’ Joe may been tagged a peg or two higher than he deserves.

7. Muhammad Ali

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    Ask any casual fan who the greatest boxer of all time is.

    If they did not say Muhammad Ali, I will eat my hat. You might get a response or two of Sugar Ray Robinson every now and then. But those are few and far between.

    For the most part, people buy his “I am the Greatest!” shtick.

    Now before you rise up in arms and smite me, Muhammad Ali is a legendary fighter. He is the greatest heavyweight of all time without a doubt in my mind. His resume is spotless and he so often outclassed his poor opponents that it is really easy to look at him and come to that conclusion.

    And since so much stock is put in the heavyweight division in our culture for some reason, that leads people to naturally assume that he must be the best of all time.

    He is certainly in the top ten, probably not the top five. One could make a case that the guys ahead of him are more underrated than he is overrated, and I would listen. But that sounds like a semantics argument to me and the result is the same.

    Ali is placed too high by just about everyone who is not a hardcore boxing fan, especially anybody you might see on a certain worldwide leader in sports. There is no doubt that he is overrated, even if he was truly great.

6. Felix Trinidad

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    Felix Trinidad was another fan’s fighter. He took part in some of the most exciting wars the sport has seen in a long time. His left hook was like a guided missile, one of the deadliest punches the sport has ever seen.

    When he landed it flush, it sounded like a baseball bat crashing home. It also meant that his opponent probably did not have too much longer in the fight.

    But for all of his grit and power, Tito was a very refined street fighter. He had NO idea how to deal with any kind of jab or movement. Absolutely none. If an opponent stood directly in front of him, they were in for a world of hurt.

    There are very few welterweights over the years that could stand in front of Trinidad without fear of the one-punch knockout. But take two steps to the left and suddenly, his accuracy went out the window and he stopped throwing punches. 

    In this fashion, he was demolished twice by Winky Wright and Bernard Hopkins, and anyone who tells you he deserved his win over Oscar de la Hoya probably has a vanity plate that reads “Boricua.”

    And honestly, that is who I have found overrating him for the most: diehard Puerto Rican fans who cling to nationalism. And it is perfectly all right to root for a fighter who shares your flag.

    But to blindly buy into him as the best, and there are still people out there who have Trinidad in a top 10 welterweights of all time list, is preposterous.

    Sorry, there is no room for him on that list. Not in one of the deepest divisions in the history of the sport. This is a case of a fighter with a good title run and some pretty solid wins getting blown out of proportion because he was a pretty fighter to watch.

5. Timothy Bradley

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    Since I have been harping so far on resume over aesthetic appeal, this next one might seem a little bizarre. Timothy Bradley has gotten results, he has some very nice scalps on his belt in Junior Witter, Kendall Holt and Devon Alexander and is still undefeated. But can everyone (I’m looking at you, HBO), slow down with the “next all-time great” talk?

    Maybe it is just me. Maybe I am just a blind hater. But I simply do not see it with Bradley. Some are already calling him a lock for a top 5 all-time 140 spot. Just no. No, no, no, no, no. Quick, without thinking, what happens if you throw him in the ring with the Arguello that Pryor fought?

    If your initial reaction is anything other than “obliteration” or laughing, we are not on the same page. And that was a faded, aging Arguello in his fourth weight class. Yet that is the sort of company with whom people are bandying about his name.

    He has nice speed, a good chin and shows a lot of will to win. He is a nice fighter. But I think that it stops there. His unbelievable lack of power really hurts him if you match him up with any of the greats, and I do not see a superabundance of skill that would let him compete on that elite level.

    A lot of it is because I think that the 140 division is frankly oversold, filled with good, evenly matched but not great fighters. There is a feasible way that Bradley could rank where he is hyped up to now, but it involves climbing in weight and beating fighters who are honestly far superior to him.

4. Aaron Pryor

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    Aaron Pryor has more imaginary wins over opponents that “ducked” him than anyone I have ever seen. If you listen to his fans, he knocked out Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Wilfred Benitez, Roberto Duran, Optimus Prime and Lucifer himself on the same night.

    Or he would have if they had not all cowardly ducked up and ran up the weight classes to avoid meeting this runaway train. Maybe you can tell that I do not share their opinion.

     Was Aaron Pryor fast? Yes. Was he powerful? Yes. Did he have a chin? Yes. But he was also crude and predictable. Unless you have power like George Foreman, it is really hard to succeed solely speed and a good punch.

    And Pryor was a fearsome puncher to stun you, but probably was not going to put you away with one big shot. Pryor rarely had a game plan. He jumped into fights and threw barrages of one-twos, trading punches until his opponent dropped.

    That is very effective when you are fighting a 35-year-old Antonio Cervantes or Alexis Arguello desperately trying for a title in a fourth weight class. Yes, those are his three best wins (he knocked out Arguello twice).

    But it would not be enough for Benitez, let alone three of the Four Kings. In my head, all I can picture of a Pryor vs. Benitez fight is him winding up and trying to unleash bombs on El Radar and being made to look like a fool by the ultra-fast, ultra-slick Puerto Rican.

    Leonard and Hearns could do the same, but both of them had the power, the aggression and the killer instinct to take him out, too. Duran would have been an interesting and likely very exciting fight, much harder to picture for me, but I cannot fathom that Duran would not find a way to blunt his offense and beat him up.

    It’s simply a case of Roberto Duran being the greatest lightweight in the history of boxing and Pryor not having the class to keep up. The idea of these men being afraid of him, especially when they all fought each other, is simply laughable.

           At the end of the day, Pryor is another fighter with a few solid wins and an exciting style that propelled him to a place in history where he just does not belong.

3. Rocky Marciano

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    Rocky Marciano’s overrating comes not from any fault of his own. He sought out and destroyed all the top competition he could find. Unfortunately for him, top competition mainly consisted of guys who were old or light heavyweights, usually both.

    I make less of the size issue because Marciano was a phenomenally small heavyweight himself, standing just over 5’9” with a 68” reach. For a bit of context, he is one inch taller than Floyd Mayweather with a 4” reach disadvantage...over a fighter whose best years were at super featherweight!

    But it cannot be contended that he has a win over a legitimate all-time great in his prime. Joe Louis, Ezzard Charles, Jersey Joe Walcott, and Archie Moore were all great fighters in their day. The closest one to his prime, however, was Ezzard Charles, who was 32 and 33 when they fought their fights.

    Not only that, but he had lost a lot of his savage instinct after killing a man in the ring and Charles gave Marciano two very hard-fought battles, almost tearing his nose off in their second contest.

    Joe Louis could barely even be called Joe Louis anymore after his comeback. Joe Walcott put Marciano on the canvas before the almost mythical 13th-round knockout. Archie Moore was 42 years old and a tiny, tiny heavyweight.

    As I said, none of this is Rocky’s fault. He did what he could with the fighters he could put in front of him. His KO record–43 knockouts in 49 fights–is astounding. He also retired as the only unbeaten, untied heavyweight champion ever.

    Those two feats alone earn him a likely spot in the top 10. But even so-called boxing experts have voted Marciano into the top 5 and even top 3 time and time again. That is a ranking he simply does not deserve.

2. Oscar De La Hoya

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    The Golden Boy was the biggest fighter of the 90’s, though he was far from the best. Oscar was a good fighter masquerading as a great fighter, buoyed by his good looks and popularity.

    Whenever he is discussed, people make sure to bring up his experience in “big fights,” but they seem to ignore that he lost as many of those big fights as he won.

    His wins, barring his knockout over Fernando Vargas, were rarely decisive and Vargas was a fighter who was stopped every time he fought a very good fighter.

    Fernando’s brutal pitched battle with Felix Trinidad took quite a bit out of his tank, derailing his career before it could really get going. 

    Speaking of Felix Trinidad, Oscar probably deserved to win that fight. But did anyone look at that fight and say “wow, what a masterful performance?” Or did they just say “why isn’t Tito throwing any punches?”

    Oscar exposed half of the fatal flaw in Trinidad’s style, his reluctance to throw at any kind of mover, but failed to capitalize on his inability to defend himself against that mover. And that trend of Oscar doing just enough to lose continued through the rest of his career.

    He lost to Shane Mosley (he did win that second fight, though), lost to Felix Sturm and made up for any robbery against him with an awful decision, was stopped by Bernard Hopkins and laid an egg against Floyd Mayweather.

    He had a pretty good run at lightweight and welterweight, beating up guys like James Leija, narrowly getting a decision against Ike Quartey and outpointing old great Pernell Whitaker.

    It is worth pointing out that Whitaker made Oscar look like a goofball for 12 rounds, swinging and hitting nothing and was actually dropped in the ninth round, but somehow Oscar won by scores of 115-111 and two 116-110 cards.

    The judges showed that only one man was winning that fight. Sweet Pea might have won the fight, he might not have, it was very close. But cards that wide leave a bad taste in your mouth when one guy could barely find an opponent with a history of horrendous decisions against him.

    Oscar and rival Shane Mosley have very similar resumes, actually. Excellent runs at lightweight, mixed success at welterweight, and disappointment anywhere above that except for stoppage wins over Fernando Vargas.

    And yet for some reason, de la Hoya is regarded as one of the greatest fighters of the last era while Shane Mosley is just thought of as a good fighter who could not get it done in some of his biggest fights.

    The only reason I can think of is because Oscar was so good looking and had a sob story background with the promise to his dying mother. Nice story? Yes. Epic, all-time great warrior? No.

1. Mike Tyson

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    Listen, people. Time to face the facts. Mike Tyson just was never all that.

    He demolished some average fighters, knocked out an ancient Larry Holmes and went to prison…third-best heavyweight ever. That makes sense, right?

    Oh sorry, that sounds crazy. The honest truth is that Tyson had a lot of potential, but threw it all out the window when he signed with Don King. If he had not fired Kevin Rooney, sure, he probably could have been more successful down the line.

    But it should be clear that I believe in ranking fighters based on what did happen rather than what could have been in a perfect world. In a perfect world, I would live in a floating castle and Shakira would wait on me hand and foot, but I never put down “floating castle lord” on my resume.

    So why is Tyson ranked on what could have been instead of what was? If you look at his resume of wins, Tyson is a top 20 heavyweight, probably floating around 15. But I have actually heard people argue that he could have beat Ali! Based on what? Every single prepared, unafraid fighter Tyson ever stepped in with gave him hell. 

    But the Tyson fan has an excuse for every loss. If you have a couple of hours and you like being bored, just bring up Buster Douglas to a Mike Tyson fan. “Oh he was unprepared. He was getting with hookers in Tokyo. His corner was incompetent...they even used a condom full of cold water on his face!”

    On and on and on it goes. But at the end of the day, Mike lost that fight. A serious prizefighter does not have sex with prostitutes the night before a fight. He takes his training camp seriously for a title defense. He hires competent staff to be around him.

    Don King can only be blamed for so much. I have no love for the man, but I never seem to remember Julio Cesar Chavez being knocked out and destroyed by a 42:1 underdog like Buster.

    Mike was an exciting fighter to watch. The atmosphere in old Tyson fights reminds me of Romans cheering on a lion ripping up a poor gladiator. And being the youngest heavyweight champion of all time is no joke. But stirring up buzz and knocking out bums convincingly does nothing to convince me of greatness.

    His entire resume is fixated on him being the youngest heavyweight champion ever and destroying a light heavyweight Michael Spinks, who was literally shaking in terror on his way to the ring.

    Larry Holmes was 37 years old and still had some fight left in the tank, but clearly was not the same fighter that was at his very peak at the end of the 70’s.

    But since Tyson was an exciting heavyweight and people love to speculate what if, he gets a lot of undue respect considering what actually happened.

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