Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and the 10 Most Underrated Boxers of All Time
Floyd Mayweather fluctuates between brilliance and obnoxiousness. In light of his recent "no one's first choice" fight against Victor Ortiz, I believe his legacy and standing needs to be discussed.
The man knows what he's doing: he was an under-appreciated "good guy" boxer as "Pretty Boy Floyd," but didn't start generating interest or selling major pay-per-views until he adopted his "Money Mayweather" persona. It's a tried-and-true formula: Muhammad Ali did it masterfully, Mike Tyson did it well but inconsistently, and it made Apollo Creed the most compelling of Rocky's opponents in the most famous boxing movie series of all time.
But Ali and Tyson, in spite of their own three year layoffs, otherwise stuck to a schedule of at least two fights a year. Mayweather seems to think an 18-month hiatus between fights against outmatched opponents is good enough.
So it becomes easy for people (myself included) to call him a chicken and assume he is overrated. This couldn't be farther from the truth. Given all his naysayers, Floyd Mayweather is the most under-appreciated boxer in the sport today, and among the most under-appreciated fighters of all time.
A look at some of the most underrated ring legends in boxing history.
10 Honorable Mentions
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Michael Carbajal (pictured)
10. Mike McCallum
Alternately known as "The Body Snatcher" for his fierce body punching, and as "one of those guys Roy Jones Jr. rapped about," McCallum was a three-division champ who was often on the losing end of several controversial decisions.
He was feared, and frequently ducked, by many fighters of his era. He went 0-2 (with one draw) against James Toney, but easily could have won all of those bouts.
He always seemed to be holding some version of a world championship at light middleweight, middleweight or light heavyweight during a 10-year span between 1985 and 1995. Opponents he defeated include Ayub Kalule, Julian Jackson, Milt McCrory, Donald Curry, Sumbu Kalambay and Herol Graham.
9. Harry Greb
Most readers are probably asking "who?" and that's the problem. Harry Greb was one of the 10 greatest fighters of all time.
Even I have been guilty of under-appreciating Greb, ranking him "only" 11th on my 100 Greatest Pound for Pound Boxers of All Time list. I'm currently working on a companion piece on the greatest middleweights of all time, and there are three guys who deserve to be number one: Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Carlos Monzon and Harry Greb. Greb might be the most deserving of all.
Since boxing wasn't well-organized during his era, his contributions are hard to measure, but if "newspaper" decisions are counted, then Greb is the winningest fighter of all time, with 260 victories. The amazing thing is he frequently fought guys 30 or 40 pounds heavier and won. Greb is sometimes mentioned as a top 20 heavyweight, despite never weighing more than 170 pounds in a fight.
Even more amazing is that Greb accomplished this despite several injuries in car crashes throughout his career and his untimely death at just 32 years old after an anesthesiologist botched his dosage during a surgery. Greb was also blind in one eye, but kept it a secret for most of his career.
The "Pittsburgh Windmill," a two time Ring fighter of the year, deserves to be put in the same leagues as Muhammad Ali and Willie Pep, but is too frequently overlooked.
8. Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
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I gave this pick away already, and explained some of my thoughts in the opening slide.
The reason Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is on this list is because he brought it upon himself. He talks too much and fights too little, and it's obnoxious.
But Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is quite possibly the best boxer in the sport, and if he and Pacquiao ever fight, it won't be an easy fight for Manny. Mayweather is quick, technically sound, defensively exceptional, and might have the quickest mind in the sport. Like the Klitschko brothers—both avid chess players who possess graduate degrees—Mayweather is always thinking two or three steps ahead of his opponents.
Yet his detractors outweigh his supporters by what seems like a 3-to-1 margin. Yes, he has clearly been dodging Pacquiao, but he might possess the best resume in the sport today. He is clearly one of the greatest fighters of all time.
A 41-0 record, and it isn't like the record Joe Calzaghe or Rocky Marciano put together (let alone Sven Ottke). Mayweather's vanquished foes include: Genaro Hernandez, Angel Manfredy, Emanuel Augustus, Diego Corrales, Jose Luis Castillo (twice), Chop Chop Corley, Zab Judah, Arturo Gatti, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez and Shane Mosley.
That's a record that compares favorably with the undefeated records of Joe Calzaghe and Rocky Marciano, and because of that, Floyd deserves some serious respect. When he fights, he's more consistently impressive than anyone else in the sport, including Pacquiao and Sergio Martinez.
7. Aaron Pryor
"The Hawk" was one of the all-time great light welterweights, and reigned as the division's champ for the first half of the 1980's. At only 5'6", he possessed excellent timing, skills, an extraordinary chin and surprising power for a man his size.
He is obviously best remembered for his two wins in all-time classics against Alexis "The Explosive Thin Man" Arguello, but actually was 11-0 in title bouts.
His 89.7 percent KO win percentage (35 KOs in 39 wins) is up there with Vitali Klitschko (40 of 43, 93 percent), Rocky Marciano (43 of 49, 88 percent) and Carlos Zarate (63 of 66 95.5 percent) as the highest KO win percentages among Hall of Fame-caliber boxers in any weight division.
If it weren't for a four fight comeback starting in 1987, Pryor would have retired as one of the few champions to retire undefeated (36-0) in boxing history. Instead, a loss to Bobby Joe Young puts him at 39-1, and undermines the overwhelming dominance Pryor exhibited during his career.
6. Lennox Lewis
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In the past 25 years, we've seen the reigns of six guys who were considered "The Man" in the heavyweight division for a period of time: Michael Spinks, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Vitali Klitschko and Wladimir Klitschko.
The best way to become "The Man" is to take a title from the previous guy, and then defend your title a few times.
Spinks beat Larry Holmes in 1985, and retired after losing his title to Tyson in 1988. Holyfield won Tyson's title from Buster Douglas in 1990, and served as interim-"Man" during Tyson's absence, officially claiming the throne when he beat Tyson by TKO in 1996, and then again by DQ in 1997. Holyfield's reign ended when he lost to Lewis in 1999.
The Klitschkos were the exception, taking their throne after Lewis' retirement by dominating the division for the better part of 10 years. When someone beats both Klitschkos, that person will become "The Man."
It's a predictable narrative until you look at Lennox Lewis. He won a title in 1993 and made eight defenses, but he wasn't recognized as "The Man" until he beat Holyfield in 1999, avenging a controversial draw eight months earlier.
That wasn't enough for Lewis. He then beat the previous division king, Mike Tyson, by sixth round TKO. Then, to top it off, he beat the next guy who would ascend to the throne, Vitali Klitschko, by TKO stoppage (on cuts) in an otherwise close fight, and retired with a 41-2 record (both losses were avenged), and the distinction of being the last undisputed heavyweight champ.
Looking only at those head-to-head matchups, one could conclude that Lennox Lewis was the best heavyweight of the past 25 years, and it wouldn't be far from the truth. However, many casual and hardcore boxing fans would only rank him fourth or fifth out of that group.
5. Nicolino Locche
Nicolino Locche had a record of 117-4, yet he is often not mentioned among the all-time greats because in some ways, he didn't fit the mold of what most people would consider a great fighter.
Locche only won 14 fights by knockout, which is one of the most unusual marks of all time. Yet he was also one of the greatest defensive fighters ever, and could sometimes dominate fights through pure boxing ability, in the same way that Floyd Mayweather and Pernell Whitaker could.
People always underestimate good defense, but Locche seemed to possess it by the bushel, and most boxing fans know how hard it is to hold a lineal division title for four years, which Locche did in the late 60's and early 70's. He had a great chin—he was only knocked out once in 135 fights (117-4, 14 draws)—but his power issues prevented him from ever getting the respect he deserved.
4. Larry Holmes
"The Easton Assassin" was one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, yet his name is frequently overlooked. Ali, Frazier, Marciano, Foreman, Joe Louis, Dempsey, Tunney, Liston, Tyson, Holyfield, Lewis, Klitschko. It seems like a lot of names come up before people get around to Larry Holmes, which is unfortunate.
Everyone knows Rocky Marciano started (and ended) his heavyweight career with 49 straight wins, but few know Holmes had 48 straight wins to start his career, and against arguably better opposition. During his legendary winning streak, Holmes beat big names like Muhammad Ali, Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers (twice), Trevor Berbick and Carl "The Truth" Williams.
That wasn't the only near-record Holmes holds. He also has the second-most consecutive heavyweight title defenses (20), trailing only Joe Louis' 25.
Holmes was so good that when he finally lost to undefeated Michael Spinks in 1985, it was considered Ring magazine's upset of the year. Few people can lose to a 27-0 fighter and have it be considered the biggest upset in the sport that year.
Unfortunately, now most people remember Spinks for his one career loss (to Mike Tyson), so the gravity of Holmes' dominance is slightly overlooked. He's a top 50 fighter—some would argue far greater than that—yet continues to be overlooked by fans and historians alike.
3. Joe Louis
How can someone who is routinely ranked among the top five boxers of all time be underrated?
When I put Joe Louis at number four on my all-time list, just ahead of Muhammad Ali, it drew criticism from a lot of fans. Few (if any) came out in support of Louis.
Ali is unquestionably one of the three greatest heavyweights of all time, and he was also a major cultural figure (especially for African Americans) during a tumultuous time period, who helped rejuvenate interest in boxing and made many major contributions to the sport.
You know what? So was Louis. "The Brown Bomber" was a hero to all, and frequently cited as the first black professional athlete to gain widespread support from white America. He beat Max Schmeling in a symbolic defeat of Nazi-era Germany's best heavyweight.
And his dominance of the heavyweight division was extraordinary. His 12-year reign as world champion and his 25 successful title defenses are both all-time boxing records. No fighter, in the history of boxing, has ever dominated any division the way Joe Louis dominated the heavyweight division, and he did it back when there was only one world champion in each of the eight weight classes.
In all-time rankings of fighters, ranking Louis over Ali isn't that shocking. Bert Sugar had Louis fourth and Ali seventh. Ring magazine's Top 80 (since the 1920's) list had Ali third and Louis fourth. Ring magazine's greatest punchers list had Louis first, and Ali didn't make the top 100.
I'm glad to debate the merits of Louis vs. Ali, but people must acknowledge that there is a legitimate debate, and too many fans overlook Louis' extraordinary career and contributions.
2. Sam Langford
Canadian boxer Sam Langford is a natural pick for this type of list, although in recent years people have finally started to give him the respect he deserves.
Fighting in an era where racism was rampant (he was sometimes referred to as "The Boston Tar Baby") and boxing was not particularly well-organized, 5'6" Sam Langford became unquestionably the greatest fighter in boxing history to never fight for a world title.
Exceptionally strong, but short and never weighing more than 185 pounds, he frequently fought top heavyweights and won, but was one of the most avoided fighters in the history of the sport.
Called "The Greatest Boxer Nobody Knows" by ESPN, Langford was often avoided by white world champions, which was not uncommon practice for the time. However, when African American Jack Johnson (who had beaten Langford early in their careers in 1906) won the title in 1908, he also avoided Langford for seven years. Langford was considered Johnson's toughest competition for the title.
The closest Langford got to a title shot was when a European boxing commission decided to stop recognizing Johnson's title (for his refusal to take certain matches) and had Langford fight in an interim matchup that Langford won. Langford decided not to defend this claim, and relinquished the "title" soon thereafter. He was never recognized as a champion in the U.S., but was later inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
1. Charley Burley
Though not quite as talented as Langford, Charley Burley was a legendary fighter frequently described as "too good for his own good" and also never got a chance to contend for a title in either the welterweight or middleweight divisions.
A strong defensive fighter, Burley is considered by many to be the most avoided fighter of all time, a point I mentioned in my piece on him as one of the top 60 boxers in history. He was considered in some ways the marquee member of the legendary "murderers row," a group of African American fighters in the welterweight and middleweight divisions who were avoided by most of the top white fighters of their era.
A former sparring partner described Burley as possessing the same physical gifts as Roy Jones, Jr., but with a more fundamental fighting style and a stronger chin (Burley was never knocked out in 97 professional bouts, retiring with an 83-12-2 record). Legendary trainer Eddie Futch called Burley the finest all-around fighter he had ever seen.
He spent most of his career ranked as a top 10 welterweight and middleweight, but never secured a title shot.
Champions who are believed to have ducked Burley include Billy Conn, Rocky Graziano, Marcel Cerdan, Jake LaMotta and the great Sugar Ray Robinson. Things were so bad that Burley often had to move up to heavyweight, which is where many of his losses came to fighters such as Ezzard Charles, who beat Burley twice. When faced with great fighters at his own weight, Burley usually came out on top. He beat legends such as Archie Moore, Fritzie Zivic (twice) and Holman Williams, with whom he had a legendary rivalry.