Ranking the 10 Best Boxers of the 1970s
The 1970s were the greatest decade in history for heavyweight boxing talent. The big three of the era, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Joe Frazier, are all included on this list. A fourth champion from the decade, Ken Norton, would not be out of place here.
Heavyweight contenders from the decade, such as George Chuvalo, Ron Lyle, Oscar Bonavena, Jerry Quarry and Earnie Shavers all might have held the belt in other eras.
But the 1970s were a decade marked by dominant champions. Lightweight champ Roberto Duran, super featherweight Alexis Arguello, light heavyweight Bob Foster, welterweight Jose Napoles, super bantamweight Wilfredo Gomez, bantamweight Carlos Zarate and middleweight Carlos Monzon all rank among the all-time elite in their divisions.
For a writer like me who first started watching boxing at the very end of the 1970s, this was a bittersweet article to write. Boxing provides moments of greatness for fans every year, without fail.
But looking back on the 1970s reminded me of a true golden age that I just barely missed.
10. Bob Foster
Bob Foster is one of the top five light heavyweights of all time and possibly the hardest puncher to ever compete at 175 pounds. His power allowed him to be a legitimate threat as a heavyweight contender, even as he ruled the world at light heavyweight.
Foster captured the undisputed light heavyweight crown in 1968 by defeating the great Dick Tiger and entered the decade of the 1970s as a dominant champion. He retired as reigning champion in 1974, after retaining his title in a draw with Jorge Ahumada.
After a break of a year, Foster returned to action. He won five straight before getting stopped in back-to-back fights in 1978 and retiring for good.
Prior to losing to Mustafa Wasajja in 1978, the only fight Foster ever lost at 175 pounds was against the Peruvian great Mauro Mina, when Foster was early into his career and still extremely inexperienced.
9. Jose Napoles
Jose Napoles ranks among the top welterweight champions in history. He reigned almost continuously as the undisputed welterweight champion for more than half a decade.
Napoles captured the title from Curtis Cokes in 1969 and defeated the legendary Emile Griffith in his first defense. He dropped the belt briefly in December 1970 when he lost to Billy Backus by TKO after receiving a bad cut to his eye.
However, he won it back six months later by stopping Backus in eight. He went on to reign at 147 pounds until losing to John Stacey in his last fight in 1975. Napoles lost just once during this four-year stretch, when he challenged the great Carlos Monzon for the middleweight title in 1974.
8. Joe Frazier
Joe Frazier posted a record of just 8-4 for the decade of the 1970s. But two of those losses came to George Foreman, a brutal matchup for Smoking Joe, and the other two came against Ali. Against Ali, Frazier was the Greatest's most difficult opponent.
Frazier entered the decade as a dominant, undefeated heavyweight champion. He defended the belt against Ali in "The Fight of the Century" in 1971, flooring Ali with his signature left hook in Round 15 and coming away with a unanimous decision.
The decade of the 1970s stands out as one of the greatest in the sport's history. And it is unimaginable without Joe Frazier.
7. Carlos Zarate
One of the greatest bantamweights of all time and one of the biggest pound-for-pound punchers in history, Carlos Zarate had two knockout streaks of 20 or more fights during the 1970s. No other fighter in the sport's history is known to have done this.
Zarate won his first 52 fights before moving up to super bantamweight to challenge Wilfredo Gomez in 1978. At the time of their meeting, Gomez and Zarate had a combined record of 73-0-1 with 72 knockouts.
Zarate dropped his bantamweight title to Lupe Pintor in 1979 by split decision. He would remain active for much of the 1980s, but he would never again win a world title, ending his career with back-to-back losses to Jeff Fenech and Daniel Zaragoza while challenging for super-bantamweight belts.
6. Wilfredo Gomez
During the 1970s, super bantamweight great Wilfredo Gomez forged one of the most impressive KO streaks in boxing history. After drawing in his first fight in 1974, Gomez knocked out 32 straight opponents, including Dong-Kyun Yum, to capture the WBC super-bantamweight belt.
In 1978, Gomez stopped bantamweight legend Carlos Zarate in five rounds, to give him his first career loss. Gomez never lost during the decade, finally suffering a defeat in 1981 to featherweight champion Salvador Sanchez.
Gomez was not the same force of nature during the 1980s, though he did add two more world titles to his collection at featherweight and super featherweight. For his career, he never lost below 126 pounds.
5. Alexis Arguello
Other names such as Azumah Nelson and Flash Elorde would deserve a mention, but it's ultimately hard for me to see how any fighter besides Alexis Arguello could be ranked first all time at super featherweight. Nicknamed El Flaco Explosivo (The Explosive Thin Man), Arguello was one of the most dominant and exciting champions of the 1970s.
Arguello captured his first world title at featherweight in 1974, beating the great Ruben Olivares by stoppage. In 1978 he moved up to super featherweight and took the belt from Alfredo Escalera in a bloodbath. He defended the belt by stopping such exciting contenders of the era as Bobby Chacon, Ruben Castillo and Rafael Limon.
In the 1980s, Arguello would go on to win a third title at lightweight. He never lost any of his three titles in the ring, instead vacating each one to move up. His 1983 Round 14 TKO loss to Aaron Pryor was quite possibly the most exciting fight of the entire decade.
4. George Foreman
George Foreman won an Olympic gold medal 1968 and quickly emerged as a dominant force in the heavyweight division as the 1970s began. In 1973, he captured the heavyweight title by handing Joe Frazier his first professional loss.
The manner in which Foreman dispatched Frazier remains among the most stunning heavyweight title wins in history. Big George battered Smoking Joe, dropping him six times in the first two rounds before the fight was mercifully waved off.
Foreman made similar quick work of Ken Norton and hammered Frazier a second time in a rematch. Many fans think of Foreman's career as coming to an end after his famous loss to Ali in 1974, but he came back from that defeat to stop Ron Lyle in his next fight, in perhaps the most rollicking heavyweight slugfest of all time.
Foreman did retire in 1977, after getting outboxed by Jimmy Young. He stayed away from the sport for a decade, before returning for one of the most improbable comebacks ever in 1987.
3. Carlos Monzon
Middleweight champion Carlos Monzon is another member of this list who deserves serious consideration as the best all time at his weight class. I'd rank him behind Sugar Ray Robinson and probably Marvin Hagler.
But I might be biased for Hagler, since I'm from New England and grew up cheering for him in the 1980s.
Monzon captured the undisputed middleweight title in 1970 when he stopped the great Nino Benvenuti in 12 Rounds. He won a rematch six months later by stoppage in three.
Among the great fighters Monzon defended against during the 1970s were Emile Griffith (twice), Bennie Briscoe and Jose Napoles. Monzon retired as champion in 1977 after beating the tough Rodrigo Valdes in back-to-back fights.
2. Roberto Duran
Known by his colorful nickname Manos de Piedra (Hands of Stone), Roberto Duran is probably best known today for his legendary work in the 1980s. In 1980, Duran handed Sugar Ray Leonard his first loss to capture the welterweight crown.
In 1983, Duran went 15 grueling rounds with undisputed middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler, at a time when Hagler was considered unstoppable. Duran finished the decade off by capturing the WBC middleweight belt from Iran Barkley, in 1989's Fight of the Year.
But before the 1980s ever began, Duran had already established himself as arguably the greatest lightweight of all time. And really, the only other fighter who could be argued for against Duran is Benny Leonard.
Duran was a destructive force of nature at 135. He combined relentless aggression, fight-ending power and brilliant technical ability to run over the division. He fought throughout the entire decade and lost just once, to the crafty Esteban De Jesus.
It was a loss Duran avenged twice by stoppage.
1. Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali won the Olympic gold medal at light heavyweight in 1960. In 1964, he captured the world heavyweight title from Sonny Liston and spent the middle years of the decade establishing himself as one of the top heavyweight champions in history.
But after refusing to be drafted in 1967, Ali lost his titles and spent the last few years of the decade inactive. As the 1970s began, he was freshly reinstated but facing the most competitive crop of heavyweights in history.
In 1971, Ali lost for the first time in his professional career to Joe Frazier. He lost again to Ken Norton in 1973.
Ali beat both Frazier and Norton in rematches, but it was still a shock to many observers when he managed to knock out George Foreman to recapture the title in 1974. For the rest of the decade, Ali remained not only the biggest star in boxing but also the biggest sports star of any kind.
For the decade, Ali was 27-3. In addition to his wins over Frazier, Foreman and Norton, he beat such dangerous contenders as George Chuvalo, Oscar Bonavena, Earnie Shavers, Floyd Patterson, Jimmy Ellis, Ron Lyle and Jerry Quarry (twice).