Manny Pacquiao and the 20 Most Dominant Fighters of All Time
After his overwhelming victory over Antonio Margarito, Manny Pacquiao has solidified his claim as one of the most dominant boxers in the history of the sport. However, his exact ranking in boxing history is a subject of much debate.
There are boxers who fought admirably and pulled off many victorious decisions, but for a fighter to be considered "dominant," he must win not only consistently, but convincingly enough to persuade the world that he is, at least for a period in time, dominant. His skill must break the will of talented opponents, to the point where a victory over the fighter seems almost unattainable.
This is one writer's opinion on Manny Pacquiao and how he ranks among the 20 most dominant fighters of all time.
20. Marvin Hagler
Of the many outstanding fighters in the mid-level weight divisions in the 1980's - Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns - only one made it onto this list. "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler fought anyone and everyone during his career and is frequently cited as the greatest middleweight ever.
At 5'9", Hagler was short for a middleweight, but made up for it with power, toughness, skillful technique, and the ability to fight equally well in both an orthodox and southpaw stance. Born in New Jersey, but now living in Brockton, Massachusetts, "Marvelous Marvin" defeated Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Seales, and Mustafa Hamsho.
However, he is most famous for two fights. The first, against Thomas Hearns, was simply nicknamed "War" and lived up to its nickname, becoming one of the greatest slugfests in boxing history. Though it only lasted three rounds before Hagler knocked out Hearns, it was named Ring Magazine's "Fight of the Year" and is an all-time classic.
The second, against Sugar Ray Leonard, did not end as well for Hagler. It ended in a split decision, with one judge scoring it 115-113 Hagler, one scoring it 115-113 Leonard, and a third judge entering a ridiculous 118-110 card for Leonard. So dismayed by the judging and the refereeing of Richard Steele, Hagler retired following the bout and never returned to the ring.
However, he had two separate unbeaten streaks of over 25 matches, and fought admirably against every good fighter of his day, usually turning in dominant performances.
19. Roy Jones, Jr.
The poster child for the "held on too long" club, the Roy Jones, Jr. we see today is merely a shell of what he once was. In 2003, he was at the top of the sport - a 49-1 fighter whose only loss was due to a disqualification against Montell Griffin, and who had just beaten Antonio Tarver.
Jones' career was never given the credit it deserved, in part because he never seemed to have a marquee fight, and people suspected that he might have been dodging certain opponents. Nonetheless, he was an exceptional boxer.
In an ill-fated attempt at a crossover rap career, he said "They've got the nerve to say I don't fight nobody/[No] I just make them look like nobody." The truth is, he might have been right. He had wins over Bernard Hopkins, Mike McCallum, James Toney, Virgil Hill, John Ruiz, Tarver, Griffin, and Reggie Johnson.
His hand speed was so extraordinary that he usually fought with his hands down and still managed to win almost every round. His "hands-behind-his-back" knockout of Glen Kelly is one for the ages.
Roy Jones, Jr., perhaps more than any other fighter, has seen his reputation hampered by an unsuccessful late career, but there is no questioning the fact that he was a dominant fighter during his prime.
18. Sonny Liston
Sonny Liston. Just those two words were enough to strike fear into even the most courageous boxers in the 1950's and 60's. He was an ex-convict with underworld connections, an intimidating appearance, extraordinary punching power and tough-as-nails ring presence.
He won the heavyweight title in 1962 via first round knockout of Floyd Patterson, and became easily one of the most feared fighters in the history of the sport. Were it not for two fights against one fighter, he would have retained that reputation.
His fierce reputation as a gritty Philadelphian fighter made him a 7-1 favorite entering into his fight against a young Cassius Clay. However, Liston inexplicably retired before the 7th round, citing a shoulder injury. This fight led Clay to say he "shook up the world," and to proclaim his conversion to Islam.
A year later, Liston had a rematch with the newly-named Muhammad Ali, and fell to a "phantom punch" in the first round. He never regained his reputation as a boxer.
However, many people believe Liston's losses to Ali were partially caused by his connections to the underworld, and the suspicious circumstances surrounding his death at age 38 lent further credence to the theories. What we do know is that Sonny Liston was the most dominant fighter in the world for a brief period in history, and that lands him a spot on this list.
17. George Foreman
Though he is perhaps today more famous as an entrepreneur than a boxer, "Big" George Foreman was once the most feared fighter in the sport. Very tall for his era (he was a 6'4" heavyweight), he possessed exceptional punching power and is responsible for the most famous call in the history of boxing:
"Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!" was Howard Cosell's call when Foreman knocked down Frazier for the sixth and final time in only two rounds. Frazier was the undisputed king of boxing, unbeaten and having handed Ali his first career loss just four fights earlier.
However, Foreman's road to all-time dominance hit a speed bump when he lost an upset to Muhammad Ali in the "Rumble in the Jungle." Nonetheless, Foreman would come back to win another stunning victory over Frazier, and also had probably the most amazing comeback in boxing history.
He retired 45-2 in 1977 after his second career loss, which came to Jimmy Young. Foreman had flown to Puerto Rico just one day before the fight, not giving himself time to acclimatize. After losing the controversial decision, Foreman became ill in the dressing room, suffering from heat stroke and exhaustion. He had a life altering experience that led him to leave boxing for 10 years and become an ordained minister.
Foreman would make an unexpected comeback at age 38 in 1987. In this remarkable return, powered by his new-found faith, he would go 31-3, and win his third, fourth, and fifth heavyweight championships. He also became the oldest man ever to win a heavyweight championship after beating Michael Moorer at age 45.
16. Gene Tunney
Tunney was a cerebral fighter who held the world heavyweight title from 1926 until his retirement in 1928. Though not a pure power fighter like many of the people on this list, Tunney twice defeated the vaunted Jack Dempsey twice, and had one of the strongest chins in the history of the sport.
Perhaps the most famous and controversial fight of the first half of the 20th century was Tunney's match against Jack Dempsey. Nicknamed "The Long Count Fight" for the additional time the referee gave Tunney after being knocked down, Tunney nonetheless came back to win the fight via unanimous decision and push Dempsey into retirement.
That fight solidified Tunney's standing as the preeminent heavyweight in the world, and he didn't lose a bout between then and his retirement in 1928.
Interesting Fact: Though Rocky Marciano was the "only undefeated heavyweight champion", he is not the "only champion who went undefeated as a heavyweight": Tunney's only loss was in a light heavyweight championship bout against Harry Greb.
15. Ann Wolfe
Regarded by many as the hardest puncher in the history of women's boxing, Ann Wolfe once held world titles in four divisions simultaneously. Her boxing prowess was so considerable that even the much-heralded Laila Ali was terrified to face her, and spent years finding creative ways to dodge Wolfe.
Despite not having a high-profile fight with Ali, Wolfe managed to win an exceptional 64% of her fights by knockout, including the most sensational and famous knockout in women's boxing history.
Going for her first light heavyweight title, Wolfe faced off against undefeated 6'6" former college basketball player Vonda Ward, who held the record for knockout percentage by a female boxer (over 70%). In the first round, Wolfe solidified her role as the best puncher in women's boxing by handing Ward her first career defeat in impressive fashion.
Wolfe retired in 2006, and is now a trainer for professional female boxers.
14. Jack Dempsey
"The Manassa Mauler" Jack Dempsey reigned as heavyweight champion for 7 years, from 1919 to 1926. Perhaps the original boxing superstar, Dempsey has been referred to by Mike Tyson as the most "vicious" fighter in the history of boxing.
A powerful puncher and relentless attacker, Dempsey's outstanding courage is legendary to this day. He had one of the longest reigns as heavyweight champion ever, and it could have been even longer were it not for one of the most controversial fights in boxing history.
In 1926, while trying to avenge a previous loss against Gene Tunney, Dempsey knocked Tunney to the ground. Tunney was in serious trouble, but the referee failed to start the count, instead directing Dempsey to his corner. Tunney made use of the extra time to rise to his feet just before the referee's 10-count, but the official ringside timekeeper actually counted 14 seconds that Tunney was down.
Later in the fight, when Tunney knocked Dempsey down, the referee did not direct Tunney to his corner, and began his count immediately. After the fight, which Tunney won by unanimous decision, fans cried afoul due to the inconsistent refereeing. Dempsey decided to retire after the bout, and fans are left to wonder how much more Dempsey could have accomplished during this time.
Nonetheless, his sheer dominance of the sport for so many years earns him a spot on the list of 20 most dominant fighters ever.
13. Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko
Record: Wladimir: 55-3, Vitali: 41-2
The heavyweight division is much-maligned in boxing recently, and it has admittedly been lacking in drama. However, one of the big reasons is because of the dominance of the division by two siblings from Russia. Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko are undoubtedly the greatest heavyweight fighters in the world today, and have held a stranglehold on the division for the past seven years.
Wladimir is currently the #1 heavyweight in the world and hasn't lost since 2003 against Lamon Brewster. Vitali's record is perhaps even more impressive - he has never been knocked out, outpointed, or retired. His only two losses are the result of a shoulder injury against Chris Byrd, and a fight against Lennox Lewis that Klitschko was winning but was stopped due to cuts. He has never had a credible loss in his career.
The two brothers are unfairly criticized as being boring fighters. However, looking at the statistics, it is hard to make this claim. Vitali's 88% knockout rate is a record in the history of the heavyweight division, and Wladimir's 84% knockout rate is second all-time. Perhaps it is simply hard for American fans to accept the fighters' sheer dominance, but they continue to be a major draw worldwide.
12. Regina Halmich
Now a television personality in Germany, Halmich's career spanned 14 years and saw her win more fights than any other female boxer. Her only loss came in her 9th career fight, when the fight was stopped due to cuts.
Fighting as a flyweight and light flyweight, Halmich compiled an extraordinary 26-1 record in world title fights, as well as a 24-0 record in title defenses. Not a particularly strong puncher, she used speed and superior tactics to outsmart her opponents, and only lost 2 scorecards in her entire career.
The most prolific and dominant women's boxer in the history of the sport.
11. Willie Pep
Willie Pep, accurately nicknamed "Will-o'-the-Wisp", was one of the most extraordinary and fascinating fighters in boxing history. His 229 wins are the most ever, and he also holds a fabled place in boxing history for an extraordinary occurrence that holds a disputed but cherished place in boxing lore:
Before a 1946 fight against Jackie Graves, Pep told reporters that he would win the third round without throwing a single punch. Though some newspapers reported one punch thrown (but not landed) by Pep, all accounts say that he used his defensive prowess and ring generalship to bob, weave, and dominate the round, bringing home two of the three scorecards.
Whatever the veracity of this anecdote, it sums up Pep's career perfectly. He barely won 25% of his fights by knockout, but is revered as a slick, defensive master, and competes with Rocky Marciano for the mantle of the most successful Italian-American boxer in history.
It may be hard to conceive of a fighter being dominant with such little power, but in Pep's extraordinary 1,956 career rounds, he used his defensive mastery to outdo some of the greatest fighters of his era, and lost only 11 times in a career that spanned over 240 bouts.
10. Joe Louis
Joe "The Brown Bomber" Louis, is one of the greatest heroes not just in boxing, but American culture. He is frequently cited as the first African American to gain status as a national hero in the United States, and his win over Max Schmeling was a significant symbolic victory over Nazi Germany.
Not only that, he held a reputation as a good, honest boxer and helped reinvigorate the sport during the post-Jack Dempsey era, where it saw a major decline in popularity and reputation due to the heavy involvement of many gambling personalities.
In the ring, Louis was one of the greatest practitioners of the sweet science. He was ranked in 2006 as the greatest heavyweight of all time, and Ring Magazine called him the greatest puncher in boxing history.
He held the world title for 8 years, between 1939 and 1947 and participated in 27 title bouts.
Following his retirement, he would help in another socially-significant change: making major strides toward racially-integrating the sport of golf in the United States.
9. Mike Tyson
"Iron" Mike. "The Baddest Man on the Planet". These names hint at the dominance Tyson possessed in his prime. Given some of the events that later brought his career to its knees, many people overlook Tyson's prowess as a fighter. They shouldn't.
Tyson's punches were so powerful that he was well-known for knocking out fighters as an amateur while wearing protective headgear and 14-oz gloves.
Tyson was just 20 years old when he became the youngest ever heavyweight champion with a second round knockout of Trevor Berbick. After the victory, Donald Saunders wrote "The noble and manly art of boxing can at least cease worrying about its immediate future, now [that] it has discovered a heavyweight champion fit to stand alongside Dempsey, Tunney, Louis, Marciano and Ali."
His career was later hampered by a series of unfortunate circumstances including the death of his trainer Cus D'Amato and his promotional rights falling into the hands of Don King. However, he was one of the greatest fighters ever, and a discussion of the most dominant boxers in history is not complete without a discussion of Iron Mike Tyson.
8. Edwin Valero
This may be a surprise pick, as Valero's star-crossed life ended prematurely in one of the greatest what-ifs in boxing history, but looking at the numbers, it's hard to dispute his inclusion on a list of the most dominant fighters in the history of the sweet science.
The 5'6" super featherweight won his first world title in his 18th bout. This is an impressive stat, but not nearly as impressive as the fact that he won his first world title in only his 18th professional round. His 18 consecutive first-round knockouts to start his career was a record in boxing, and he went on to amass a career record of 8-0 in title fights.
His end is one of the greatest tragedies in boxing, but his career was one of its brightest moments. He is the only fighter in history who retired having won every fight by knockout. In his last fight, against talented Antonio DeMarco, Showtime's announcers, who initially compared him to "a young Manny Pacquiao," decided to declare him "the next Manny Pacquiao."
If it weren't for horrible neurological problems stemming from a motorcycle accident (explained in-depth in a previous article), he might have realized that potential. Nonetheless, his first 27 bouts is enough to land him a spot among the top 10 most dominant boxers in history.
7. Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is one of the most perplexing fighters in the history of the sport, but his sheer talent and undefeated record lands him a spot on this list of most dominant boxers in history. He has lost only one scorecard in his career - against Oscar de la Hoya in a fight that Mayweather clearly dominated in the final two or three rounds.
Possessing extraordinary natural speed and a top-level boxing pedigree, there was a time when Mayweather was actually struggling to get attention in the sport. However, he dropped his "Pretty Boy" persona and became "Money" Mayweather and has set many pay-per-view records.
His world titles in five weight classes and his undefeated record could land him at the top of the list, but dominance is closely related to perception, and this is where Mayweather falls short. He has clearly defeated every fighter he has faced, but his recent reluctance to face Manny Pacquiao has done incredible damage to his reputation.
If he faces and convincingly beats Pacquiao, then Mayweather is probably a shoo-in for most dominant fighter in history, and probably among the top three fighters ever. However, it is a big "if." Pacquiao has looked better recently, and Mayweather didn't seem interested in fighting Pacquiao even before the recent assault allegations were raised.
Before Pacquiao's rise, Mayweather was undoubtedly the most dominant boxer in the world, but he can't even make a solid claim to that anymore. He has won only two fights in the past three years, and both were against marquee fighters who were over the age of 36. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is an extraordinary fighter, but his legacy is incomplete, and he hasn't seemed interested in completing it as of late.
6. Sam Langford
A black fighter during the early 1900's, Sam Langford had one of the most unusual stories in boxing history. Though originally from Canada, he was known as "The Boston Bonecrusher," "Boston Terror," or most famously, "The Boston Tar Baby."
He stood only 5'6" and weighed only 185 lbs, but fought as a heavyweight. He was consistently avoided by reigning champion Jack Johnson. Jack Dempsey once said "The hell I feared no man. There was one man I wouldn't fight because I knew he would flatten me. I was afraid of Sam Langford."
Despite winning 200 fights, Langford never once got the chance to fight for a title. Various reasons were cited, including Jack Johnson's insistence that Langford never fought him because Langford couldn't raise Johnson's $30,000 appearance fee, but it was most likely due to racism during Langford's career, which spanned 24 years from 1902-1926.
Following his career, Langford went blind and was penniless, but in 1944, an article published about him prompted fans to raise money to pay for his successful eye surgery. He was inducted into the Ring Boxing Hall of Fame in 1955, and died a year later.
ESPN named Langford "The Greatest Fighter Nobody Knows," and he was ranked #2 by Ring Magazine on their "100 Greatest Punchers of All Time" list.
5. Manny Pacquiao
His domination on Saturday of Antonio Margarito (which Nick Tylwalk and I scored live from ringside) earned Pacquiao his 11th world title in an unprecedented 8 weight divisions, and cemented his ranking as the most dominant fighter in the sport today.
He isn't the most dominant ever, having lost three times earlier in his career, when he was a very different type of fighter. However, since 2006, Pacquiao has put together undoubtedly the best recent resume in boxing, holding wins over Margarito, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales (twice), Joshua Clottey and Miguel Cotto.
Compare that to Mayweather's last four years - in which he has also beaten De La Hoya, Hatton and Marquez, as well as Shane Mosley, Carlos Baldomir, and Zab Judah - and it's hard not to consider Pacquiao the most dominant man in the sport today.
Possessing an indomitable chin and extraordinary will, Pacquiao is perhaps most notable for his extraordinarily quick hands, excellent punching combinations, and ability to retain both his speed and strength across so many weight divisions. It is hard to imagine him moving up on this list without a fight against Mayweather, but Pacquiao's record-setting career ranks among the best in the history of the sport.
4. Julio Cesar Chavez
Unquestionably the greatest of an astounding lineage of Mexican boxers, Julio Cesar Chavez holds the records for most consecutive wins (he began his career 87-0 before a draw with Pernell Whitaker) and longest unbeaten streak (he was 89-0-1 before his controversial loss to Frankie Randall).
Chavez also held an impressive knockout record (winning by knockout in 75% of his career fights), and a legendary heart. His stunning last-second knockout of Meldrick Taylor (which Chavez won with two seconds left, while trailing on two of the three scorecards) was not only 1990's Fight of the Year (outdoing Tyson-Douglas), but probably the best fight of the 90's.
It cemented Chavez's already-extraordinary legacy and allowed him to surpass Sugar Ray Robinson's record of 78 consecutive victories.
Aside from his loss to Randall (Chavez later won the rematch and rubber match), and losses late in his career to journeymen Willy Wise and Grover Wiley, Chavez's only other losses came against Oscar De La Hoya (twice) and Kostya Tszyu.
However, Chavez is the greatest of the many legendary Mexican fighters, and only a handful of boxers in the past 40 years have approached 90 career fights, let alone a 90-fight unbeaten streak. That is almost the definition of dominance.
3. Sugar Ray Robinson
Record: 173-19-6, 2 no contest
He is the consensus pound-for-pound fighter in history, and it is not difficult to imagine a scenario where Robinson would top this list too. However, his career is better described as "skillful" and "extraordinary" than purely "dominant."
He is probably the most skilled fighter in the history of the sport - possessing extraordinary hand speed, and punching with power and variety from both hands. Those who witnessed him said that he seemed to make up punches on the spot, and he certainly held an air of near-invincibility for most of his career.
He won his first 40 matches before losing to Jake LaMotta (whom he had previously beaten), and then didn't lose again until 80 fights later, going 78-0-2 and winning his rubber match against LaMotta before finally being beaten by Randy Turpin. He came back to beat Turpin in his next match, and then strung together wins against Bobo Olson and Rocky Graziano before losing his next bout under peculiar circumstances.
He retired on his stool in the 13th round against Joey Maxim in a welterweight fight Robinson was winning 10-3, 9-3-1, and 7-3-3 on the three scorecards. The reason? He was suffering from heat prostration in an outdoor fight that happened in 104 degree heat. The original referee was replaced several rounds earlier as well.
Following this loss, Robinson would retire for 2 1/2 years before coming back as a middleweight. Robinson would win a middleweight title, and become the first person to win five divisional world titles (both due to wins over Carmen Basilio), and would end his career with 173 wins in 200 career fights.
He was the greatest fighter in history and inspired "pound-for-pound" rankings, so why isn't Robinson the most dominant on this list? He only won 54% of his fights by knockout, and lost 19 bouts, though most of these came near the end of his 26-year pro career. Still, he warrants inclusion in nearly every "best ever" boxing discussion.
2. Muhammad Ali
With a nickname like "The Greatest," it's hard not to imagine Ali registering near the top of any all-time boxing "best of" list. He revolutionized the sport not only with his skill and footwork, but also with his outspoken personality that paved the way for so many fighters' "personas."
During his prime, Ali was nearly unstoppable. Close losses to Joe Frazier and Ken Norton took away from his air of invincibility, but he would later come back to win his next two fights against both of those fighters.
Ali's legend is well-known among fans of the sport, and his dominance was perhaps cemented by his stunning knockout of favored George Foreman in the "Rumble in the Jungle." Ali's "Rope a Dope" strategy was unheard of at the time, and the win over Foreman shook up the world as much as his two knockouts of Sonny Liston did years earlier.
An aging Ali would lose to Leon Spinks, but would win back his title just 7 months later before dropping his final two fights to Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick.
But before that, Ali was possibly the greatest of all time. He had many stunning upset victories, and on several occasions, found innovative ways to emerge victorious from bouts that he had no business winning. A dominant fighter can break you down when you feel like you're performing well, and that was the nature of Muhammad Ali his entire career.
1. Rocky Marciano
The fighting pride of Italian-Americans to this day, Marciano is the only heavyweight champion who ever retired undefeated. I might not rank him among the top 10 (and certainly not top 5) fighters of all time, but he holds a strong claim to being the most dominant ever, and is certainly the most famous undefeated champion in boxing history.
A gritty, tough brawler that was at least partially the inspiration for Sylvester Stallone's career-defining role as Rocky Balboa, Marciano won 43 of his fights by knockout. Only one fighter - Ezzard Charles - would push him to 15 rounds, and Marciano set the record straight just three months later when he knocked out Charles in the 8th round, after himself having his nose broken early in the fight.
The Brockton, Massachusetts-based brawler held notable wins over Joe Louis, Charles (twice), Jersey Joe Walcott (twice), Archie Moore, and Roland LaStarza (twice). There have been some legitimate questions raised about Louis, Charles and Moore being past their prime when they fought Marciano, but no one ever goes so far as to suggest that Marciano couldn't have beaten them in their prime either.
He may not have had the greatest career of all time, but he reached the pinnacle of the sport during one of boxing's golden ages, and never lost to anyone. In fact, during his entire career, he only lost one scorecard, and only by a single round. He later knocked out that opponent too.
Rocky Marciano had the most dominant career in the history of boxing, and that's why he tops this list.