The 10 Greatest Boxers Who Were Never Knocked Out
There's nothing more definitive in sports than a knockout.
The brutality involved is grimacing. The delivery, breathtaking.
The boxing world gasped last December when it saw Manny Pacquiao floored at the hands of his rival, Juan Manuel Marquez.
Proving that, no matter your fame, no matter your credentials, everybody is capable of getting starched.
But a few men throughout history have avoided boxing's ultimate damaging stain. Either through a resilient chin or an industrial-strength will to win, these all-time greats pulled off the implausible.
Here are the 10 greatest boxers who were never knocked out—in alphabetical order, of course.
Here are 10 men who missed making this list by the narrowest of margins, as they suffered just one knockout defeat in their respective careers:
Charley Burley was history’s most-avoided fighter.
Jake LaMotta, Tony Zale, even Henry Armstrong and Sugar Ray Robinson—they or their managers wanted nothing to do with Burley. He was just too good.
But let’s not focus on whom Burley didn’t fight but instead on the men he did fight and who—no matter their size—couldn’t knock him out.
On his best night, Burley could beat any 147 or 160-pound fighter in history. He was that good. He was the master of distance, and his timing was almost supernatural.
Burley turned pro in September 1936. Less than two years later, he defeated the Hall of Famer Fritzie Zivic. Two months after that, he outpointed Cocoa Kid over 15 rounds for the colored welterweight title.
In 1942, after defeating the likes of Zivic (again), Jimmy Leto, Nate Bolden, Antonio Fernandez and even 220-pound heavyweight Jay D. Turner, Burley "handed a severe beating" per the New Orleans Times-Picayune to Hall of Famer Holman Williams for the colored middleweight title.
Of course, the real world titles eluded him. But he still added great victories over Jack Chase (three times), Aaron Wade (three times), Oakland Billy Smith (two times), Bert Lytell and future heavyweight champion Archie Moore to his résumé.
He also fought another future heavyweight champion, Ezzard Charles, twice.
And not even the "Cincinnati Cobra," one of boxing’s greatest tacticians, could get enough leather on Burley to knock him out.
Nicknamed “The Cuban Hawk,” Kid Gavilan was a brilliant, masterful boxer. You can’t knock out what you can’t hit, and his opponents learned that the hard way.
He amassed a record of 108-30-5 fighting the best welterweights and middleweights the world had to offer. So masterful inside of the ring, he makes a strong case for being the second greatest welterweight of all time—only behind the one and only Sugar Ray Robinson.
Speaking of which, Gavilan fought Robinson two times. At just 22 and 23 years of age, he held his own with arguably the greatest fighter of all time—twice.
When Robinson moved up to middleweight, it was Gavilan’s turn to rule over the 147-pound weight class. And he did so for five spectacular years.
The Cuban Hawk became the best welterweight in the world when he defeated the master-boxer Billy Graham in 1950. And he made it official when he snatched up the world welterweight title from Johnny Bratton in 1951.
Gavilan’s next four years were breathtaking. He defeated Bobby Dykes, Ralph Zannelli, Gil Turner, Chuck Davey and Hall of Famers Carmen Basilio and Billy Graham (two more times).
In 1954, he challenged Bobo Olson for the world middleweight title. He lost a narrow majority decision in a fight where Gavilan was significantly outweighed. He had weighed in with his clothes on and tipped the scales at just 155 pounds. Olson weighed 159.5.
By 1955, Gavilan was decidedly past his prime and had lost that extra bit of explosiveness that made him so great. Half of his losses came in 1955 and after.
He also holds victories over two more Hall of Famers: Beau Jack and Ike Williams (two times).
With a résumé like this, it’s a travesty that most assume Ray Leonard is the second greatest welterweight of all time.
Mike Gibbons fought 133 times, won 113 times, lost just 10 fights and was never knocked out.
He was nicknamed the "St. Paul Phantom" and fought in what might have been the Golden Age of boxing across all eight weight divisions of the time.
He made his professional debut in 1907. While he never won a world title, by 1917, he was not only the best middleweight, he was arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
He fought through the dangerous welterweight and middleweight ranks for 15 years, defeating the likes of Gus Christie (four times), Jimmy Clabby (two times), Willie "KO" Brennan, Young Ahearn, Al McCoy, Bob Moha, Eddie McGoorty, George Chip, Soldier Bartfield (two times), Leo Houck, Silent Martin, Augie Ratner, Chuck Wiggins and Hall of Famers Harry Greb, Jack Dillon, Ted Kid Lewis and Jeff Smith (three times).
That’s a real murderers' row of opposition. And Gibbons eluded the knockout each and every time.
Almost like a phantom.
Marvin Hagler is one of boxing’s most beloved competitors. He starred in the fan-friendly boxing scene of the 1980s. He is arguably the greatest non-heavyweight only to compete in one weight class and was never knocked out.
But if you ever saw Hagler fight, him featuring on this list comes as no surprise.
When Hagler wasn’t blocking Thomas Hearns’ punches with his face in history’s greatest three-round fight, he was exercising control over the middleweight division.
By 1979, he was the very best 160-pound fighter in the world and would hang onto that claim until losing on a close split decision to Ray Leonard in 1987.
And Hagler’s dominance wasn’t the least bit methodical, either—it was outright devastating. In the 1980s alone, Hagler racked up 14 stoppages, 12 of those coming in title fights.
But what about his opposition?
Outside of Hearns and Roberto Duran, not much is remembered about Hagler's victims. The problem is Hagler took them apart so bad that he all but knocked them right into obscurity.
Eugene Hart, Kevin Finnegan, Willie Monroe (two times), Mike Colbert, Bobby Watts, Bennie Briscoe, Loucif Hamani, Marcos Geraldo, Alan Minter, Fulgencio Obelmejias (two times), Tony Sibson, Wilford Scypion, Juan Roldan, John Mugabi, Vito Antuofermo—all were worthy opponents and are generally forgotten.
Cruel and immortal, Hagler cast them all away to the deepest, darkest corners of boxing’s brutal history.
They called him "Marvelous," but that never quite did his ferocity justice.
Eder Jofre is the greatest bantamweight of all time, which fits his nickname: the "Golden Bantam."
He was the archetype of all boxer-punchers who would follow. He never made a mistake and was absolutely flawless as a fighter.
After outclassing South America’s best bantamweights, including a Round 10 knockout over Joe Medal, Jofre got his chance at divisional supremacy in November 1960.
Premiere bantamweight Joe Becerra had just retired, which meant Jofre’s title fight with Eloy Sanchez was for much more than just the vacant NBA world bantamweight championship—it was for the right to call himself the top 118-pound fighter in the world.
Sanchez didn’t last more than six rounds with Jofre. And for the next 40 fights, Jofre would lose just twice, both times to former flyweight champion Fighting Harada, one of the most underrated weight climbers of all time.
But this stretch didn’t just include five years of divisional authority—it included arguably the greatest comeback in history.
After losing for the second time to Harada in 1966, Jofre retired for three years. He then returned to the ring as a featherweight.
And he didn’t lose.
He even defeated world-class featherweights such as Juan Antonio Lopez, Octavio Gomez, Jose Antonio Jimenez, Jose Legra, and Hall of Famer Vicente Saldivar. He was seen as the best featherweight in the world for the entire year of 1973.
To dominant the bantamweight division as Jofre did, retire for three years and then proceed to make it to the pinnacle of the next weight class up is astonishing.
Oh and did I mention he was never once knocked out?
Rocky Marciano is often remembered for two things: his lionhearted approach to the fight game and his flawless professional record of 49-0-0.
And as Marciano was never defeated, it stands to reason that he was never knocked out, either.
Marciano won the heavyweight title in 1952 in a come-from-behind knockout victory over Jersey Joe Walcott in 13 rounds. He then defended his championship six times against Walcott, Roland LaStarza, Ezzard Charles (two times), Don Cockell and Archie Moore.
What makes the fact that Marciano was never put down for the count so remarkable is that he’s often considered a "small" heavyweight. There was also his willingness to take a punch to deliver one of his own and the fact that he fought some of history’s mightiest punchers.
Punchers such as Joe Louis and Archie Moore, who recorded almost 200 knockouts between the two of them.
Packey McFarland is a forgotten name to most.
He was the cleverest fighter of his time. In his prime, he was unhittable and frankly unbeatable. Save for Sam Langford, he is the greatest fighter never to win a universally recognized world title.
Still, McFarland got the better of anybody who would step into the ring with him. He put together an insane record consisting of 105 wins to a single loss.
He made his professional debut in January 1904 and lost a bout later that same year. He would fight another 10 years and never lose again.
Although he never won a title, his exploits at lightweight and welterweight—including wins over the likes of Kid Goodman (two times), former featherweight champion Benny Yanger, lightweight title challengers Kid Herman and Jimmy Britt, Leach Cross, Owen Moran, Harlem Tommy Murphy (two times), Matt Wells, Ray Bronson and Hall of Famers Jack Britton (two times) and Freddie Welsh—made him arguably the best lightweight and welterweight from 1909 to his first retirement in 1913.
But then he came back.
After a two-year layoff, McFarland returned to the ring to fight the best middleweight in the world, Mike Gibbons. In September 1915, they would fight to a draw, but most swear McFarland got the better of it.
The modern comparison might be if Floyd Mayweather Jr., the best welterweight in the world, retired and in two years came back to fight the No. 1 middleweight in the world (presumably Gennady Golovkin) to a closely contested draw.
Carlos Monzon defined dominance.
He was the perfect blend of speed, skill, aggression and an inextinguishable will to win. He was the ultimate ring-general. His opponents never knew how he was going to pull out the victory—but they all accepted their defeat as imminent.
Monzon turned professional in 1963, and within the first 18 months of his career, he would lose three times.
For the next 13 years, he wouldn’t lose again. And he stopped 59 opponents along the way.
He won the WBA and WBC world middleweight titles in 1970 when he handed the great Nino Benvenuti just the second stoppage loss of his career. Six months later, Monzon destroyed Benvenuti again—this time in three rounds.
He then proceeded to suck the very life out of the middleweight division of the 1970s. He never even remotely came close to losing, defending his titles an unprecedented 14 times.
Denny Moyer, Fraser Scott, Tom Bogs, Bennie Briscoe, Jean-Claude Bouttier (two times), Gratien Tonna, Tony Mundine, Tony Licata, Rodrigo Valdes (two times) and even Hall of Famers Jose Napoles and Emile Griffith tried—but they all failed to knock Monzon off his throne.
Every middleweight of the 1970s worth their salt had their shot at Monzon. And no one even put up a fight, let alone knocked him out.
Barney Ross could do it all.
For nine years, Ross was a cyclone. He passed through and left his catastrophic mark on three separate weight classes and defeated every stylistic challenge set before him. He outboxed the boxers and outpunched the punchers to an unbelievable record of 74-4-3 (only losing twice in his prime), and, of course, he was never knocked out.
And he was never in more danger of being knocked out than he was in the very last fight of his career.
On May 31, 1938, Ross defended his welterweight title against Henry Armstrong, who absolutely dismantled him. Ross had to beg the referee not to stop the fight. As Ross had done his entire career, he relied on his unbreakable heart to get him to the end. His will to collect such a beating without going down would be remembered forever.
But that’s not all he is immortalized for.
He was also a part of the greatest three-way rivalry in boxing history: the Holy Trinity of Jimmy McLarnin, Tony Canzoneri and Barney Ross.
These three titans controlled the boxing landscape of the 1930s. And the best of them was Ross. Rarely do we see one fighter exhibit such superiority over two great rivals like this, but he defeated McLarnin and Canzoneri two times apiece.
Outside of those four huge wins, Ross’ résumé is stacked. In his nine-year career, he managed to defeat a slew of notable opponents such as Goldie Hess, Jackie Davis (two times), Jackie Burke, Sammy Fuller, Frankie Klick (two times), Johnny Farr (two times), Pete Nebo, Izzy Jannazo, Chuck Woods (two times), Bobby Pacho (two times), Ray Miller, Joe Ghnouly, Tommy Grogan, Baby Joe Gans, future middleweight champion Ceferino Garcia (three times) and Hall of Famers Battling Battalino and Billy Petrolle (two times).
All of this whilst never weighing more than 143 pounds.
Gene Tunney lost just once in 83 fights—and it wasn’t by knockout.
That's not to say it wasn't close to being one, though.
The date was May 23, 1922. The American light heavyweight title was on the line, and Tunney was set to fight "The Pittsburgh Windmill," Harry Greb.
And Greb clobbered Tunney to a pulp. By the end of the 15-round shellacking, Tunney was bleeding from his eyebrows, nose and mouth. So bloodied up was he during the fight that he saw nothing more than a "red phantom-like form dancing" before him, according to his book, A Man Must Fight.
But Tunney withstood boxing’s personification of a natural disaster and lived to tell all about it.
"The Fighting Marine"—as Tunney was called—was a tough and really natural light heavyweight. He even fought the punishing hitter Jack Dempsey for the heavyweight championship twice, outpointing him each time.