Muhammad Ali Tops All Time Heavyweight Poll

By Mike Casey on June 18, 2012
Muhammad Ali Tops All Time Heavyweight Poll
Muhammad Ali waged an ever shifting battle for the number one spot with Joe Louis

The response to the poll from you—our valued readers— was nothing short of fantastic and we thank you all…

Muhammad Ali has been voted the greatest heavyweight of all time by the readers and writers of

Perhaps the final result won’t be too surprising to many, but Muhammad didn’t have it easy as he waged an ever shifting battle for the number one spot with Joe Louis. Only in the final days of our exciting poll did the Louisville Lip pull clear of the Brown Bomber.

The response to the poll from you—our valued readers— was nothing short of fantastic and we thank you all. From number one to number twenty, the positions changed constantly until the very end. Rocky Marciano, forever loved, seemed to have a lock on third position behind Muhammad and Joe before a late rush of support for Larry Holmes.

George Foreman and Lennox Lewis also gained high positions, while vintage champions Jack Dempsey (7th) and Jack Johnson (10th) performed admirably and proved that they are still very highly rated by the fans of the modern era.

Many will be surprided—and many won’t—by the presence of the Klitschko brothers, whose careers are still very much in full swing and therefore still under review. Nevertheless, both boys eased their way comfortably into the Top 20, with Wlad having the advantage over Vitali by two places and 16 points.

Sonny Liston also polled well, while Jim Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons batted well for the oldies but goodies.

Details of our All Time Cruiserweight poll will follow shortly, but in the meantime here’s how the big boys finished. Gloves off, gents—discuss, praise and rant!

1.  Muhammad Ali 673 pts.
2.  Joe Louis 605
3.  Larry Holmes 368
4.  Rocky Marciano 365
5.  George Foreman 316
6.  Lennox Lewis 287
7.  Jack Dempsey 266
8.  Joe Frazier 243
9.  Mike Tyson 199
10. Jack Johnson 198
11. Sonny Liston 154
12. Evander Holyfield 154
13. Gene Tunney 81
14. Wladimir Klitschko 52
15. Jim Jeffries 47
16. Vitali Klitschko 36
17. Riddick Bowe 24
18. Ezzard Charles 16
19. Jim Corbett 10
20. Bob Fitzsimmons 9

Other fighters scoring points but missing the cut were: John L. Sullivan (8); Jersey Joe Walcott (8); James (Buster) Douglas (7); Floyd Patterson (6); Jim Braddock (4); Michael Moorer (3); George Chuvalo (3); Roy Jones Jr. (2); Max Baer (1); Max Schmeling (1); Sam Langford (1).

Mike Casey is a freelance journalist and boxing historian and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO).

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  1. frank 03:51pm, 09/05/2012

    evander holyfield should have ranked higher he beat tyson twice and was robbed against lewis in their second fight he fought all the top heavyweights in his area most of which were champions or top contenders he should be ranked around 7 or 8 he’s a true warrior and champ just look at his fights and quality of competition speaks for itself and by the way only 5 time heavyweight champion!

  2. sonny 12:01pm, 09/01/2012

    had to laugh at Lennox Lewis at No6, Lewis from 1992-2002 refused to fight any Class A Heavyweight who was at “The Top of his Game” Lewis was very fortunate to get the decision in his rematch with Evander Holyfield as it was clear to all that he was soundly defeated. Lewis beat over the hill fighters and refused to fight the No1 contenders so will go down in history as the only champion to be stripped of every version of the Heavyweight title. Lewis beat Tyson 13yrs after Buster Douglas beat Tyson and 6yrs after Holyfield finished Tyson off. Lewis had to have 30 police officers cordon off the ring during the intros so as Tyson could not eye-ball him and give him the shits. Lewis promised the entire boxing world he would fight Klitschko in a rematch, yet dragged out his career for another 9 months and 3 days before he was to be stripped of his final belt he called his retirement. Lewis fought guys like Mavrovic, Akinwande, Butler, Jackson, Fortune, Morrison, Golota, instead of the long list of champions who held the belt between 92-02 Holmes, Moorer, Tyson, Foreman, Hide, Holyfield, Sanders, Wlad, Ruiz, Byrd, Jones Jr… Lewis was poleaxed by mediocre journeymen in McCall & Rahman and in my opinion does not make the best Top 20 Heavyweights.

  3. David S 11:45am, 06/23/2012

    I generally stay away from these polls. The criteria used for judgment are never consistent.  Also,  we are essentially mixing cruisers in with much larger men. Finally, there are inevitably too many casual or uninformed voters. I do enjoy reading informed comments such as from “Don from Prov” above. 
    Given the impossibility of the task, I can live with most of the results here.  I can even accept people having Ali on top although I would NEVER, EVER put him there. 
    Having said that, Holmes cannot reasonably rate so high based on either his record, his qualities or his likely success in a round robin or other tournament.  Also, I would like to make a case for both Jeffries and Vitali to be better appreciated. In a tournament, both are potentially serious spoilers. I don’t think we have a real appreciation for how powerful, enduring and athletic an opponent Jeffries was and would be, and Vitali would be a tough nut for anyone to overcome with his size, chin, athleticism, punch output and pride.

  4. Darrell 05:51pm, 06/21/2012

    I’ll bow to this list.  There will always be disagreement but, there we go.

    I still rate prime Vitali at number 9.  Wlad’s position is about right & he could move up further as time goes by.  Surprise Jersey Joe Walcott wasn’t in the top 20, excellent technical boxer who had the misfortune of running into the thudding power of Marciano.

  5. tuxtucis 08:03am, 06/21/2012

    @sangria Although he had only 21 professional fights Jim jeffries has impressive scalps: twice Fitzsimmons, Corbett, Sharkey, once Peter Jackson, Gus Ruhlin and Bob Armstrong; Jack Johnson before title did beat great black fighters like Langford, McVea and Jeannette; even old versions of Joe Louis, Charles and Walcott were for Marciano better scalps than most thinks; Foreman annihilated twice Frazier and once Norton; Liston did beat Patterson, Folley, DeJohn, Machen and Williams in their primes; those resumees are probably better than Holmes, whose masterpiece was first win against Shavers

  6. Don from Prov 07:54am, 06/21/2012

    P.S.  Obviously nothing could be further than scientific than these ATG polls.  With the old-timers, one has to go on what one reads and on the analysis of experts who can decipher choppy film a lot better than I.  Some of it has to be a factor of the era we came of age in, at least to a degree: Ali not only has some great names on his resume, but I watched him come up.  Then there is the insights or bits of boxing knowledge and logic that we have.  For instance, based on MY perceived belief that Louis had some trouble with speed—and coupled with Ali’s toughness, I’d pick Ali over Louis.  On the other hand, Ali had trouble with Doug Jones and Jimmy Young, smaller clever fighters: So I’d say that Tunney would give Ali all he wanted.  And as Fraizer laid out the blueprint for a hooker against Ali, I’d pick the more mobile, quicker hooker Jack Dempsey over Ali as well.  Last, and not wanting to start trouble but having to say it, comes resume—which can be very helpful, but can fool us too.  In the category of resume, I have to respond about Holmes: He met two prime great fighters; one of them was a light heavyweight and beat him twice.  The other was a mobile, agile, and hostile Tyson—who knocked him into the next month.  Take out Ali who had to dye his grey hair and no longer belonged in the ring, and who—really—did Larry ever beat?  He did reinforce the fact already proven by Ali that if you were a fighter who depended on everything working off a fine jab and also lacked a great punch, then Ken Norton was going to be hell for you: Norton/Holmes was an all-time overlooked great heavyweight fight.  My television station lost the picture for the start of the 15th round and I almost thew it out a window.  Great great matchup of an aging Norton with the younger Larry.

  7. Don from Prov 07:37am, 06/21/2012

    Great idea Mr. Casey.  If I did the poll over today, my rankings would be a little different.  I’d have Tunney higher, and the first three would be 1) Dempsey; 2) Louis; 3) Ali.  There were a lot of interesting names on the list, and I was surprised to see the Klits up there, but I’m easily surprised I guess. In so far as head to head match-ups go, I agree that a prime Tyson would likely handle Holmes (who I ranked too highly).  And I also agree that it’s easy to unfairly question Tyson’s heart.  Finally, before I retire back to my sick bed, while I rate Dempsey higher, I very well might put my money on a prime Marciano over him.

  8. Sangria 02:04am, 06/21/2012

    EVERY heavyweight champ has some poor names on their record. Not everybody can have the resumes of Ali or Holyfield. Everyone else is a distant third with Louis having two major accomplishments; longevity and number of defenses. Besides Ali and Holyfield, who has better scalps than Holmes?

  9. tuxtucis 10:18pm, 06/20/2012

    Ocasio, Evangelista, Zanon, LeDoux, Rodriguez, Cobb, Marvis Frazier, Frank, Bey…someone thinks some of the top 20 all time heavies have some trouble to beat them? Larry Holmes competition was incredibly poor…

  10. The Thresher 02:08pm, 06/20/2012

    Problem with Tyson was that his prime was too short. On the other hand, Holmes beat Mercer after Tyson slaughtered Holmes.

  11. mikecasey 12:58pm, 06/20/2012

    I rate my fighters on overall achievement rather than head-to-head and have Larry over Mike in my rankings. However, using the latter yardstick, I have always suspected that a fight between prime Tyson and prime Holmes would have still resulted in a Tyson victory. I don’t think Mike ever wanted to fight again after Douglas - and possibly before. He was lugging too much mental baggage around. Very easy to criticise his opposition and ‘lack of heart’ in retrospect.

  12. tuxtucis 11:57am, 06/20/2012

    Someone really can think Larry Holmes, even at his best, can beat a prime Mike Tyson?

  13. Sangria 11:40am, 06/20/2012

    I agree with McGrain about the overall rankings and placement. All my guys made the final tally with a bit of reshuffling. Holmes at 3 is great. Absolutely nothing wrong with his comp. Foreman is high for me but what can you say about a guy who regained his title not 10, but 20 years after he lost it. Surprised Tyson made the list with all the hatred towards him. I believe 9 is almost right, a bit low, but glad to see him where he belongs - in the top 10.

  14. mikecasey 08:08am, 06/20/2012

    Nobody nailed the final 10 exactly Ted, but those coming closest to the general shape of it included Bill Butcher, The Right One, Wanderer, Andrew, PhillyFan and Masahiko.

  15. The Thresher 07:35am, 06/20/2012

    the thresher09:26am, 05/12/2012

    1. Joe Louis
    2. Ali
    3. Larry Holmes
    4. George Foreman
    5. Rocky Marciano
    6. Gene Tunney
    7. Jack Dempsey
    8. Lennox Lewis
    9. Joe Frazier
    10. Vitali Klitscko.

    The poll:

    1.  Muhammad Ali 673 pts.
    2.  Joe Louis 605
    3.  Larry Holmes 368
    4.  Rocky Marciano 365
    5.  George Foreman 316
    6.  Lennox Lewis 287
    7.  Jack Dempsey 266
    8.  Joe Frazier 243
    9.  Mike Tyson 199
    10. Jack Johnson 198

    Not bad

  16. The Thresher 06:42am, 06/20/2012

    What poster came the closest?

  17. NYIrish 02:17pm, 06/19/2012

    Sonny Liston was asked how he thought he would do with Joe Frazier. “Would be like shootin’ fish in a barrel.” was his reply. We saw that later with Foreman. Liston would have stopped a lot of guys on that list. Tremendous reach, jab and power. Had trouble with movers but you couldn’t run at him.

  18. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 11:48am, 06/19/2012

    “SURVEY SEZ”.....In my jaded opinion a lot of these votes are name recognition, sentimental favorites type votes and little more…..frankly I don’t see anyone on this survey list that the K Bros couldn’t beat with their most dangerous potential opponents being Foreman and Lennox, their 14th and 16th place rankings don’t compute with me. Maybe I just don’t get the point….I thought it was all about who could kick whose ass on their respective best nights.

  19. tuxtucis 08:50am, 06/19/2012

    Larry Holmes third spot is far away too high for my opinion…Except Norton (very close decision), Shavers and Cooney, his competition was very poor…Vitali Klitschko is 16 (and out of my top ten), but I don’t see him having troubles against Witherspoon, Snipes and Carl Williams…

  20. john coiley 01:37am, 06/19/2012


  21. mikecasey 12:36am, 06/19/2012

    Matt and Schmidty - yes, I too was pleased with the overall balance. A few choices here that made my eyes boggle, but each to his own. Liston’s 11th place surprised me too, although that’s about where I rank him myself. But Sonny has become a very ‘cool’ choice for historians in recent years (Herb Goldman rates him second behind Ali) and in the poll’s early going the Bear was running around fifth or sixth before tumbling back.

    Thanks for giving a mention to the wonderful Peter Jackson, Matt. And let’s not forget that Sam Langford - although generally rated as a light heavy these days - was still a terrific heavyweight campaignmer for such a small man.

  22. Your Name 12:30am, 06/19/2012

    1 Rocky Marciano
    2 Joe Louis
    3 Muhammad Ali
    4 Larry Holmes
    5 Lennox Lewis
    6 Jack Dempsey
    7 Mike Tyson
    8 George Forman
    9 Vitali Klitschko
    10 Joe Frazier

  23. Matt McGrain 12:03am, 06/19/2012

    I can’t honestly say I vehemently disagree with any top ten placing, which is a nice surprise.  I mean it’s not identical to my own list but i can’t look at anyone and go “way higher” or “way lower”.  Of those that missed out, I think Liston belongs in the ten and I think that it’s a shame that Peter Jackson and Joe Walcott never made the list.  Perhaps Jeffries and Wlad too, should be higher, but Wlad at least will take care of that when he retires.  Vitali has no business in a twenty for me.

  24. procopy 07:07pm, 06/18/2012

    rocky marciano looks like he’s using a sledgehammer. :)

  25. mike schmidt 05:48pm, 06/18/2012

    Great stuff Mike—gotta say I am surprised how low Sonny Liston went—bring on the cruisers—love it…

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