The 15 Fastest Boxers of All Time (with Video)
For all his out-of-the-ring travails, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is unquestionably one of the most gifted athletes in all of sports.
Although I have given Pacquiao the edge in several of my recent "best of" articles, I think Mayweather might be the more gifted of the two, and possesses an exceptional combination of speed, power, and all-around boxing skill that few in the sport's heralded history have ever possessed.
As Andre Berto has recently shown, good hand speed—even when coupled with questionable technique and a poor choice of strategy—is hard to beat, and Mayweather's hand speed, elusiveness, and strategic mastery compare with the greatest fast fighters in history.
A look at the 15 fastest boxers of all time.
15. Salvador Sanchez
One of the great "what ifs" in boxing, Salvador Sanchez passed away in a car crash before his 24th birthday. Some believe he could have been the greatest featherweight champion ever and the facts don't dispute that.
Sanchez had just beaten the great Azumah Nelson to improve to 11-0 in title bouts before his untimely death, and his accomplishments during his short career earned him my ranking as one of the top 50 boxers of all time.
A great talent who was taken too soon.
14. Andre Berto
I mentioned him in the introductory slide, and for good reason—Andre Berto's hand speed is what sets him apart from almost everyone else in boxing today. It remains to be seen whether he can convert that into long-standing ring success, or whether he'll end up like Meldrick Taylor—the talented but flawed fighter with whom he is often compared.
Berto's hand speed is undoubtedly world class, but he doesn't always use it appropriately. He stands up straight, and squarely toward his opponent, and he sometimes seems too eager to mix it up with slower, but stronger fighters, rather than use his natural gifts intelligently.
Still, a 28-1 record, and a second world title (he just beat tough Jan Zaveck last week) to go with a 7-1 record in world title fights, would be a dream come true for most fighters. The fact that some consider this a disappointment for Berto is a testament to his awesome God-given talent.
13. Benny Leonard
If this list were about pure hand speed, it's highly possible Benny Leonard might not make the cut at all. However, since I consider speed to be a combination of hand speed, footwork, quick reflexes and overall elusiveness, then "The Ghetto Wizard" clearly deserves a spot.
Precious little video of this fighter exists, and much of that is from later in his career. Even more difficult to find are clips of Benny Leonard on Youtube; specialty boxing sites have more material of his.
But this clip should demonstrate some of what made Benny Leonard arguably the best fighter of the 1910's and early '20s. He simply couldn't be touched.
12. Willie Pep
Pep (white trunks) at age 32.
The "Will-o'-the-Wisp", whom I ranked number three on my 100 Greatest All-Time Boxers list is still, to most ring observers, the finest example of a defensive fighter in the history of the Sweet Science.
Born Guillermo Papaleo, this featherweight legend holds two boxing records that will probably never be broken—229 wins. To put that in perspective, Pep's win total is greater than the number of rounds most boxers fight in their entire careers (Mike Tyson, for example, went 50-6 and only fought 217 rounds in his career).
Even greater than his hand speed was his defensive elusiveness. Pep was extraordinarily difficult to hit, so much so that he once won a round without throwing a single punch. The amazing part: he stated which round it would be in a pre-fight interview—Round 3 against Jackie Graves. The boxing equivalent of Babe Ruth's "called shot."
11. "Sugar" Shane Mosley
For some reason, Shane Mosley isn't usually mentioned among the all-time fastest fighters, and that isn't likely to change since some of his biggest fights have come recently (against Pacquiao, Mayweather and Margarito) as his speed has declined.
However, for years, even while Mosley languished in relative obscurity despite being possibly the best lightweight since Duran, astute boxing fans knew they were watching something special. Mosley combined an extraordinary combination of high boxing IQ, excellent hand and foot speed, and decent punching power combined with a good chin.
These traits all served him well in his two wins over Oscar de la Hoya.
10. Floyd Patterson
"The Gentleman of Boxing" was probably the first true "speedy" heavyweight, and his hand speed rivaled that of Muhammad Ali. Frequently overlooked by everyone except old-timers and hardcore boxing fans, Floyd Patterson's quickness should not be ignored. He was one of the most skilled heavyweights ever.
However, despite his gifted hand speed, Patterson's feet were never as quick as those of Cassius Clay, and this (combined with the lack of a modern training and nutrition regimen) resulted in Patterson's decline being quicker than that of Ali and some of the other fighters on this list.
9. Manny Pacquiao
What is there to say about this man that hasn't been said before? Manny Pacquiao has always had fast hands and exceptional one-punch power, and since he has been able to cultivate it with a more disciplined, skillful approach thanks to Freddie Roach, there hasn't been an opponent who has been able to deal with him appropriately in the past four or five years.
Then again, there has been one opponent who has been conspicuously absent...
8. Sugar Ray Robinson
Is there any boxing "best of" list that is complete without him?
Sugar Ray Robinson was so fast that he is credited with inventing punches that other boxers hadn't even thought of trying yet.
He was so fast and so good, that even Muhammad Ali called him "the greatest."
He is almost universally considered the greatest boxer of all time for his rare combination of power, speed, exceptional technique and fighting mentality.
7. Hector "Macho" Camacho
Hector Camacho was as well known for his unsinkable bravado as for anything he did in the ring. He learned early in his career that he didn't have the punching power to knock anyone out on just strength alone, so he decided to supplement it with exceptional movement and punching volume. It worked.
The "Macho" man carried his natural speed to a 79-6 record and major championships in the super featherweight, lightweight, and light welterweight divisions. Though fewer than half of the Puerto Rican superstar's wins came by KO, who needs a knockout when you're doubling your opponent's punching output most rounds?
Watch this performance against Jose Luis Ramirez (a fellow ring legend who had over 100 wins in his career) to see Camacho in action.
6. Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
Say what you will about the guy—and I've said a lot, both pros and cons—but Floyd Mayweather is one of the greatest natural-born boxers in history. Sure, he has hand speed that is among the fastest in the sport, and his defensive elusiveness and skill are some of his numerous talents.
However, what most people underestimate is Mayweather's mind. Floyd simply thinks faster than most boxers. You notice this with the way he can totally dog opponents in interviews, and how quick he is with verbal retorts.
It is also highly notable in the way he fights. Ask Andre Berto: speed alone won't win you fights, especially against guys like Victor Ortiz. What Mayweather has is a world-class boxing mind that is often underestimated by fans, fighters and writers alike.
5. Pernell Whitaker
Pernell Whitaker (rap music courtesy of Roy Jones, Jr.)
Just mentioning the words "Sweet Pea" is enough to bring a smile to any boxing purist's face. The little southpaw from Norfolk, VA, was a modern day Willie Pep, and even if opponents could withstand his lightning-quick jab, they usually couldn't come close to hitting him.
He was elusive, had fast hands, and managed to embarrass Julio Cesar Chavez in front of a mostly Mexican crowd. Chavez's decision victory over Whitaker is one of the great robberies in the history of boxing. Nobody, not even Chavez, could hit the guy.
4. Muhammad Ali
Just watch, and keep in mind you're witnessing a 6'3", 200-lb heavyweight.
3. Meldrick Taylor
Part of a long lineage of boxing greats from Philadelphia, Meldrick Taylor had some of the fastest hands boxing has ever seen.
He is most notable for being part of the most famous 12th round in boxing history in 1990, when he was knocked down, got up, and had the fight controversially waved off with two seconds left, awarding Julio Cesar Chavez a tainted victory in a fight Taylor was winning on two-of-three scorecards.
Unfortunately, Meldrick took a lot of damage in that fight, and in some ways he never truly recovered, and he kept fighting far too long.
But in his prime, Meldrick was a rich man's Andre Berto—small for his division, a bit of a stand-up fighter, but with arguably the fastest hands in the sport. A prime Meldrick Taylor made a lot of great fighters—including Chavez himself—look sluggish and unskilled.
2. Roy Jones, Jr.
A classic case of a fighter whose reputation was damaged by holding on too long. If he had retired eight years ago, we would be singing the praises of Roy Jones Jr. as one of the five or 10 greatest fighters of all time. He was that good.
Roy Jones Jr. was a precursor to guys like Sergio Martinez. Jones was so athletic and so gifted, that he could fight with his hands down and still beat you to a punch. People say his chin wasn't as good as people thought, but it took almost 50 fights for us to realize that. Why? Because nobody could hit the guy.
He was slick, he was fast, and he did things in boxing that nobody had ever seen before. Who else can say that? Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, Willie Pep and few others. Just look at the beauty of some of these career highlights.
1. Sugar Ray Leonard
Very few guys are able to live up to their predecessors' nicknames. When your predecessor is almost universally acknowledged as the greatest boxer of all time (Sugar Ray Robinson), it's hard to imagine any fighter being able to carve out a part of that nickname as his own. But Sugar Ray Leonard did.
Watch the first two minutes of this video (and realize that the opponents shown include Roberto Duran, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns), and you'll understand why Sugar Ray Leonard is deserving of the greatest nickname in the history of the sweet science.