The 100 Greatest Fighters of All Time Part Nine: 20-11

By Matt McGrain on April 17, 2013
The 100 Greatest Fighters of All Time Part Nine: 20-11
Benny Leonard was unbeaten by knockout or in decision fights between 1913 and 1932.

Broadcast to you from the center of a black hole, here are the first ten names that make the list of the twenty greatest fighters in history…

In the end it was the lightweights that were the most troublesome. They crowd both the mouth of the top ten and the mouth of the top twenty; Canzoneri, Whitaker, McFarland—Duran, Gans, Benny Leonard. So different are their strengths and their wonderments that comparing them directly, even if they weighed the same as some trusted companion taped their hands, told them truth as they prepared to stalk out to defend their titles or their pride. Canzoneri: riffing, unexpected, brilliant. Whitaker: untouchable, baiting, infuriating. McFarland: unbeatable, mysterious, denied. Duran: the fearless quitter, Gans: the 1800s technician, Leonard: the dominant genius…an unquantifiable mess of wonderment and sagacity. 

They did not come out as I expected and they did not come out clean. My theory that this process would become easier as I ironed out the crinkles and the creases of what I thought was a finalized list has been torn to pieces under the pressure. The closer we come to the hallowed top ten the more the gravity it produces warps and distorts what appeared from a distance to be a straight line governed by strict logic.

Broadcast to you from the center of a black hole, here are the first ten names that make the list of the twenty greatest fighters in history.

#20 Pernell Whitaker (40-4-1)

Pernell Whitaker made the fatal mistake of interrupting the powers that be in hijacking a Jose Luis Ramirez-Julio Cesar Chavez fight that had been planned for early 1988, insisting that Ramirez follow through on his promise to box him. Whitaker merrily packed up his 15-0 record and headed for foreign soil, unintimidated by the connections Ramirez’s management enjoyed on the European continent and expecting to dominate the 100-fight veteran in the other corner and lift his first alphabet strap. He was right about the first part but wrong about the second. In the first half of the fight a wide-eyed “Sweet Pea” boxed wonderfully. He snapped out a crackling southpaw jab, doubling it, trebling it, sweeping his trailing hand over the top even as Ramirez dared to edge forwards, stabbing a harder punch into his Mexican opponent’s ribs when the opportunity presented itself. He was at his unhittable, dazzling best. In the second half of the fight, he tired a little, hampered by a damaged hand, and Ramirez began to chug into range, still swallowing more punches than he landed but no longer embarrassed. But the split decision victory that went his way was as embarrassing as any ever seen, one judge managing to find 118-113 in Jose’s favour, a candidate for the most bizarre scorecard in the history of fights. 

The fight is significant in more than one sense because whilst Ramirez was able to fight Julio Cesar Chavez for lineage, Whitaker would have to wait until 1990 and his astonishing one-round knockout of Juan Nazario to establish his own lineage, and wait even longer to match Julio Cesar Chavez. He finally tracked down his fellow pound-for-pound great in 1993 up at welterweight. Whitaker, now a seasoned veteran, controlled almost the entire fight, even outpunching the legendary infighter up close and forcing the Mexican to turn counterpuncher for spells in an attempt to wrestle back some measure of control. His punches feathering around an elusive Whitaker who stabbed Chavez up the middle and then turned on a pin to leave his opponent flailing at nothing. It was a masterful performance ten pounds north of his best weight but two of the judges colluded to rob him once more, ludicrously ruling a majority draw.

These two horrible decisions aside, Whitaker won nine “title” fights at lightweight including a total humiliation of Ramirez seventeen months after the original and against fellow strapholders Greg Haugen, Freddie Pendleton, Azumah Nelson and Juan Nazario, before stepping up to 140 pounds, taking belts from Rafael Pineda, defending once and moving up to 147 pounds where he won an additional nine title fights, finding time to add a strap at light-middle, before losing out to the much bigger Oscar De La Hoya at the age of thirty three. In his prime he was without a legitimate loss and dominated two weights with what amounts to some of the very best boxing ever seen in color. He stands, along with Roy Jones, as the genuine colossus of the modern fight game, nothing less than the modern Sugar Ray Robinson in the sense that his enormous physical gifts were matched by a technical brilliance that sustained him when his body (and lifestyle) began to betray him.

#19 Packey McFarland (69-0-5; Newspaper Decisions 37-1-1)

Records list a single newspaper loss for Packey McFarland to an unknown in 1904, the year of his professional debut. Occasionally described as a fifth round knockout, research has revealed the contest may have been awarded to the otherwise unremarkable Dusty Miller on a foul; McFarland reportedly took his revenge in an unlisted three-round knockout of the single man to beat him. Whatever the detail, he was never beaten again. Fighters of this era fought with great frequency, and McFarland was no different except in that one thing—he did not lose.

Incredibly, this near-perfect record over more than one-hundred fights never brought him a world title, but in meetings with champions of the past or future he was consistently and inarguable the better. In his key year of 1908, he outpointed the future lightweight king Freddie Welsh over ten fast and brilliant rounds before meeting former title claimant Jimmy Britt who he destroyed in six. Britt, who was “outclassed in every department,” had met both Terry McGovern and Joe Gans but labeled Packey the fastest fighter he had ever met. Referee Jack Welch, who had refereed Jack Johnson, Abe Attell and Joe Gans, amongst others, named him “one of the best boxers I ever saw.” Three months later he boxed Welsh to a controversial draw, named a McFarland win in many quarters but a legitimate tie by others, a result the two repeated in London two years later. The London bout was controversial according to the Cincinnati Enquirer’s London correspondent writing that the decision was “hooted from cellar to roof. Never was there such a scene in the club. The decision was unanimously declared the worst ever declared at the club…[E]ven those who wagered on Welsh joined in the demonstration.”

It would be 1912 before he would meet with another champion, this time up at welterweight where he met and bested welterweight title claimant Ray Bronson and then in 1913 Jack Britton, two years before he would lift the 147-pound crown. The wire report notes wryly that whilst McFarland was clearly slipping, finding a fighter to beat him was going to be difficult.

That unknown writer was quite correct. Britton tried again later in the year and once more came up short, and even after two years out of the ring he was able to come back and take the newspaper decision from the active and the great middleweight, Mike Gibbons, settling inexorably any argument concerning which of the two great denied men was the best fighter of the era to go without a title. Between that match and his defeat of Freddie Welsh, McFarland went a listed 20-0-5 and was on the right side of the argument in any meetings deemed to be draws. His victims included Tommy Murphy (credited with wins over Abe Attell and Ad Wolgast), Jimmy Duffy (credited with wins over Freddie Welsh and Ted Kid Lewis), Leach Cross (who beat Joe Rivers and Battling Nelson) and Owen Moran (one of the few men accredited with beating Wolgast and Nelson both).

Sporting an upright stance of varied depth, he owned the most cultured left hand of his era and used it to dominate his competition with a stylist’s joy supplemented by a puncher’s gristle, although it was his speed that really set him apart. So fast at hitting and moving that words like “bewildered” and “uncertain” littered the sports reports of the era in relation to his world-class opposition and that Owen Moran actually laughed at himself whilst he boxed Packey, shaking his head at his own inability to land. Like Roy Jones he seemed to box under different physical laws than that of the opposition—unlike Jones, he got out before the mortals could catch up to him, part of the reason he is listed here, with the truly immortal.

#18 Terry McGovern (59-5-4; Newspaper Decisions 6-1-4)

The destructive prowess of heavyweight upon heavyweight champion has been lauded and fetishized in the past one-hundred years of boxing, but it is very probable that none of them—not Tyson, not Dempsey nor Marciano—had the sheer and destructive prowess of “Terrible” Terry McGovern.

Between turning professional in 1897 and the end of 1901, McGovern boxed sixty times and lost just twice on disqualifications. Pedlar Palmer was the poor soul caught holding the bantamweight title when McGovern bludgeoned his way to number one contendership, knocking out ten of twelve, chopping down made men like so much wheat. It is likely Palmer was not intimidated for he was a most excellent champion, victorious in six title fights and unbeaten since turning professional. 

“McGovern simply battered his opponent into partial sensibility,” reported The San Francisco Call. After just 144 seconds, Palmer was “laying helpless but semi-conscious on the floor of the ring.” The brutal prototype for every swarming power-puncher to follow had been born.

He immediately relinquished his title and moved up to featherweight in search of bigger game, specifically the great featherweight champion, George Dixon. Terry wiped out nine consecutive featherweights in making his case, most impressively Harry Forbes, a bantamweight champion of the future who had only been stopped once before—also by McGovern in 1898. It had taken him fifteen rounds on that occasion, but on this occasion he shortened matters to two, punishing Forbes brutally for the crime of attacking him. Bigger or smaller, nobody extended him further than three rounds between title shots. By the time George Dixon gave him the nod, he was boxing with the apocalyptic savagery of a butcher turned trained killer.

A narrow favorite, Dixon started brightly, feinting and leading for the head, but McGovern unleashed upon him the most terrible body attack of the era, two-handed, each thudding blow bound inevitably for the champion’s kidneys. This pattern repeated itself through the early rounds, Dixon coming closest to saving himself with a left hook that sent McGovern into and nearly through the ropes in the second, and a huge right hand that staggered the challenger in the third; but that was all. Wearing him down with an incessant, autonomous offense, McGovern dropped Dixon as many as seven times in the eighth round. He was retired on his stool by his corner.

“Veteran followers of the prize ring,” commented the New York Tribune, “will look upon the result much as they did upon the downfall of [John] Sullivan or Jack Dempsey.”

McGovern was the first man to knock the legendary Dixon out. Six months later he met lightweight champion Frank Erne in a non-title match. Erne was coming off a stoppage victory over Joe Gans. Terry smashed him to pieces in three. In those twelve months, he became the first man to knock out the reigning bantamweight, featherweight and lightweight champions of the world. As intimidating in his short prime as Mike Tyson or Sonny Liston, he also brutalized the best fighters in the world in three different weights. Relative to his peers, perhaps only Henry Armstrong and Harry Greb can lay claim to twelve month periods as impressive. More likely, no one can.

#17 George Dixon (67-29-51; Newspaper Decisions 6-1-4)

George Dixon was a pioneer. As brilliant a technician as his era produced he was as much a pathfinder of boxing technique and style as Tommy Ryan or Nonpareil Jack Dempsey. Alas, the racism that ran rampant in much (but by no means all) of the sports-press of that time fetters even historians enlightened by these more reasoned times, and Dixon often doesn’t get the credit he deserves. His record, though, cannot be undermined by something as banal as prejudice, nor his great talent.

His prime lasted an astounding decade. Traveling to England to become the first black man to win a world title, he beat Nunc Wallace to claim the old-weight featherweight title, cementing that claim amidst tumultuous scenes against Johnny Murphy upon his return to America, overcoming a world-class opponent as well as multiple attempts at sabotage by a partisan crowd desperate to see the black man fail. He did not fail. The result was one of the greatest title runs in history that saw him box defense after defense of either the bantam or featherweight titles.

Dixon made eight successful defenses and won numerous non-title fights before dropping a questionable decision to Frank Erne. He immediately recaptured his title and avenged himself upon Erne before dropping a legitimate decision to Solly Smith (whom he had previously beaten by knockout). By this point he had been the best fighter in the world for a number of years, but was about to be usurped by the coming Joe Gans. Nevertheless, he reclaimed his title, then receiving a questionable decision of his own, over Oscar Gardner, his decline seemingly deepening but Dixon, as always, surprised, adding an additional eight title defenses until Terry McGovern chopped him down in 1900. He boxed on for another six years, but wins were few and far between. Having lost four in ten years, he would lose eleven in just two, going 1-10-11 in what heralded the saddest decline of one of boxing’s greatest trailblazers and warriors.

#16 Ray Leonard (36-3-1)

For some, Ray Leonard has only one peer in all of boxing, Sugar Ray Robinson, perhaps the greatest fighter ever to have lived. I believe there are other fighters that share this class, but I have some sympathy with those that think otherwise—both Rays had literally everything.

Leonard held a brutal shot, as he proved in fights with Tommy Hearns, against whom he also proved his power and heart. Against Hagler, whatever your own opinion of that decision, he demonstrated a maxed out boxing IQ and once in a generation type generalship. He was fast, fit, and technically brilliant but riffed with the best of them; he was close to perfect.

But, compared to most of the men on this list, he hardly boxed a career. Most of his fellow greats hadn’t even fought for a title when Leonard hung them up. Leonard is fascinating in that he crammed enough great wins into those few fights to find himself firmly ensconced in the top twenty regardless. Between 1979 and 1987 he defeated Wilfred Benitez, Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns, then after a short retirement came back past-prime to shade Marvin Hagler. Few of the men ranked above him have four better wins, never mind the men ranked below. He also defeated Randy Shields, Floyd Mayweather Sr., Dave Green, Ayub Kalule and Donny Lalonde. His one prime loss is to the all-time great Roberto Duran but it was a fight the naturally smaller man should not really have been winning. In tandem with a relatively short career arch, it keeps him from the top fifteen.

#15 Archie Moore (185-23-10)

Archie Moore is a testimony to the effects of gathering experience in boxing. As a young middleweight, although clearly already superb, his form against the best he faced was decidedly patchy. Stepping up class in 1939 after three years as a professional, Moore was outpointed by the great Teddy Yarosz who seems to have outfoxed him. He was also twice beaten by Shorty Hogue but in the first of what was to be a succession of turned corners, he boxed a draw with the brilliant Eddie Booker in ’41, calling upon that experience to lay Hogue low in just two rounds the following year. Moore had overcome the first marker denoting his improving quality. There would be many more in his career, his domination of Jack Chase then tempered by his one-sided loss to Charley Burley; piercing wins over Lloyd Marshall blunted by his defeat to Jimmy Bivins; his going 1-1 with the great Holman Williams undermined by the 3-0 drubbing Ezzard Charles dealt him. Despite these setbacks, finally, painfully, Moore summited the absolute heights, probably indicated by his three rematches and defeats of Jimmy Bivins, first edging him on points, then twice stopping him.

“I never went out thinking knockout at the start of the fight,” said Moore, who nevertheless became the all-time knockout king with 131 stoppages stretching from welterweight to heavyweight. “I’d go in there thinking, ‘Let’s see how I can hit this guy without getting hit. Can I work on is ribs? Can I wound him with a punch to the biceps?’ A lot of boxers don’t understand that a decent shot to the arm can make an opponent back off.”

This is the type of considered thinking and tactical awareness that built in Moore one of the most formidable strategic quilts ever sewn. One of the truly great ring generals, he left no stone unturned in his quest for tactical superiority. After stomach surgery left scar tissue on his abdomen, Moore would make a show of protecting it against an opponent, momentarily expose it and then counter the body shot he knew he had hooked and baited. The lessons he had learned against the infamous Black Murderer’s Row would finally be unleashed upon champion Joey Maxim in 1952, who he also beat twice in rematches. In his lengthy run to the title he had beaten fellow great Harold Johnson three times out of four, Billy Smith, Bert Lytell and had also begun edging his way towards heavyweight, a division which he would never rule but in which he would still do damage. In defense of his light-heavyweight title, which he only lifted at the age of thirty-nine, he knocked out Harold Johnson, Bobo Olson, Yolande Pompey, Tony Anthony and Yvon Durelle as well as outpointing Giulio Rinaldi and Joey Maxim. He never lost his title in the ring and up at heavyweight he defeated Howard King, Bert Whitehurst, Nino Valdes, knocking out much heavier men such as Bob Baker, Embrel Davidson and James Parker.

It took him three decades, but the Old Mongoose was eventually able to distinguish himself from the men that harried him so in his youth, Charley Burley, Holman Williams, Eddie Booker and Shorty Hogue all long retired by the time Archie Moore ruled the world.

#14 Barney Ross (72-4-3; Newspaper Decisions 2-0)

Unquestionably the greatest man on this list, upon his retirement Barney Ross enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and demanded he be sent overseas to fight in World War Two rather than kept at home in a ceremonial role like so many other celebrities. He fulfilled his self-determined obligations and more, killing a reported twenty Japanese soldiers in defense of three wounded comrades, carrying the only other survivor of the engagement to safety behind his one-man battle. He was awarded the Silver Star.

He returned home addicted to painkillers and heroin, an addiction he broke in the second toughest fight of his life. Perhaps his unbreakable heart is in part responsible for his astonishing achievements in the boxing ring.

Between beating the excellent Ray Miller in 1932 and his retirement in 1938, Ross lost two fights—one, a split decision loss to the great Jimmy McLarnin, disputed, twice avenged, and once to Henry Armstrong in his very last fight. He beat:

Ray Miller, Battling Battalino, Billy Petrolle twice, Joe Ghnouly, Tony Canzoneri in two title fights, Sammy Fuller, Frankie Click, Jimmy McLarnin twice, future middleweight champion Ceferino Garcia, Phil Furr and Izzy Jannazzo, winning the 135-pound, the 140-pound and the 147-pound titles in the process. Never anything like a full-grown welterweight, he was still able to defend that title several times after winning and re-winning it from McLarnin, before Armstrong caught up with him.

Along with Canzoneri and McLarnin, Ross made up the holy-trinity of that era’s boxing deities, and he was the master. He defeated the other two twice whilst losing only once to McLarnin, going 4-1 against his generation’s best who both rank here in the top 30 all time. Never knocked out in his professional career, a chin of hewn granite was the bedrock of a technical styling that nevertheless placed him in the danger zone against bigger men and brutal punchers. Capable of outboxing the faster Canzoneri, or outfighting the big-punching McLarnin, Ross was one of the defining talents to box between Harry Greb and Sugar Ray Robinson, his astonishing triple-crown achievement and as wonderful a prime-run as can be seen outside of the top ten seeing him sneak onto this list just ahead of Ancient Archie.

#13 Willie Pep (229-11-1)

Can a fighter be said to be in his prime after surviving a plane crash that fractured both his back and his leg? If not, Willie Pep lost exactly once in his prime, to the naturally bigger world-class lightweight Sammy Angott, also the only loss he would post in his first 136 fights. Already the reigning featherweight champion of the world, Pep had embarrassed the huge punching Chalky Wright over fifteen one-sided rounds late in 1942. Pep was a nightmare for a stalking slugger like Wright. Perhaps the best pure boxer ever to have fought, his style was propelled almost entirely by faultless footwork that left him out of range in two short and graceful steps but brought him back in to range with the same smooth elegance. He feinted with his feet, boxing high on his toes whether he was pivoting, stepping out or stepping in, coming down only when he was ready to punch and it was safe to do so. Fundamentally correct in essence his style was technician-plus in the sense that what he did could not be taught or learned, it was an instinctive understanding of the harmony of distance and relative positioning and a fighter so exquisitely balanced as to be able to take advantage. It is something that can be said or implied about every fighter left to discuss but it is perhaps especially true of Pep: there has never been another one like him.

In part, this is a matter of era. Pep’s incredible potentiality was fulfilled by the experience he accumulated in more than 240 fights. In appraising his record there is a concern voiced by some that Pep built the greatest run in the sport’s history against weak opposition, that his record contains a great deal of filler. It is true that he didn’t box ranked men every week, but he did outbox, outhustle and sometimes humiliate a roster of former, present and future champions that belies those concerns. In addition to Wright, who he beat several times, he defeated the diminutive former featherweight champion Joey Archibald; former featherweight champion Jackie Wilson; tricked, trapped and knocked out future featherweight champion Sal Bartolo; completely outboxed the primed all-time great bantamweight champion, Manuel Ortiz; future lightweight champion Paddy DeMarco; the superb European featherweight champion Ray Famechon; and former NBA featherweight champion Phil Terranova. Terranova was an excellent and difficult fighter who would go on to beat the man that would define the second half of Pep’s career: Sandy Saddler.

Pep beat Saddler only once, in their second confrontation regarded as one of the most extraordinary boxing displays in history, including by Pep himself who named it the greatest night of his career. In their three other meetings, Saddler outhustled and ground down Pep, stopping him on each occasion, denying Pep space and ripping him out of his comfort zone with a combination of brutal offense and absolutely superb pressure footwork. Losing 3-1 to the best fighter he met in one of boxing’s most astonishing careers does hurt Pep’s standing here; had he retired in early 1950 after taking his revenge on his nemesis, he would likely rank even higher. As it stands, his nine defenses boxed over two spells as featherweight champion, in combination with perhaps the greatest hot streak in boxing fought against quality opposition sees Pep nestled just outside the top ten.

#12 Mickey Walker (94-19-4; Newspaper Decisions 37-7-1)

Think of a fighter weighing over 200 pounds; Mickey Walker would take that fight. His own weight varied greatly during what is one of the most storied careers in history, from 140 to 175 pounds, but it was up at heavyweight he made his most stunning impact. He outpointed the 210-pound Bearcat Wright, the 200-pound contenders Paulino Uzcudun Johnny Risko and King Levinsky, rated all, he knocked out the 200-pound Les Kennedy in two rounds, the 223-pound Arthur De Kuh and the 205-pound Salvatore Ruggirello in just one, fought future heavyweight world champion Jack Sharkey to a draw and fought former heavyweight champion Max Schmeling so hard the German found himself begging the referee to stop the fight as Walker sucked up an horrific beating and kept coming. He made himself a legitimate heavyweight contender despite the fact that he never weighed in as one and stood just 5’7. “It was my idea to fight the big guys,” Walker would say casually some years later, “to see if I really could. As a kid, I found it easier to fight big guys.”

Raw ingredients make for the best stew and Walker brought extreme durability, a very nice punch, and frightening physical strength. These are all things that can be said about another welterweight slayer of heavies, Barbados Joe Walcott who retired just eight years before Walker turned professional in 1919. Like Walcott, Walker did seem to find it easier to fight big guys, the jaw-dropping feats of giant-killing he perpetrated amongst the heavyweights not reflected by dominance or wider resume at his natural weights of welterweight and middleweight. 

Certainly the most natural heir to welterweight grandmaster Jack Britton, he nevertheless needed two bites at the old man to pick him off. He then managed defenses against Pete Latzo, Lew Tendler, Bobby Barrett and in a close struggle with Dave Shade, who he edged out to claim a 2-1 victory in their series. Latzo then returned to take his title from him and after another loss to Joe Dundee, Walker moved up. Having already been beaten soundly by Harry Greb at middle, he needed a highly debatable decision to beat Tiger Flowers but with that out of the way he ripped some superb scalps at middleweight and light-heavyweight: Tommy Milligan, Mike McTigue, whom he had also bested in a no-decision contest when Mike had held the light-heavyweight title, Jock Malone, Leo Lomski, Paul Berlenbach and the fearsome Ace Hudkins. He would never lift the championship at 175, bested by both Tommy Loughran and Maxie Rosenbloom for the title that would have forced him into the top ten, but even Rosenbloom fell to him in a non-title match less than a year later. 

Boxing with the bigger men is what made Walker truly great and the period between 1927 and 1931, five full calendar years and thirty-seven fights during which he was only beaten by Loughran is what squeezes him ahead, barely, of Willie Pep. 

#11 Benny Leonard (90-6-1; Newspaper Decisions 93-18-7)

Just as the alphabet governing bodies are the enemy of clarity in the modern era, so the no-decision bout could confuse the title picture one-hundred years ago. A champion refuses to put up the title in anything but a no-decision bout against an emerging talent, that talent outboxes the champion for a one-sided newspaper decision, and what do you have? An outclassed champion who up and walks away with the title anyway. It is a wonderful thing then, when a truly great challenger finds a way to rip that title from the opponent anyway, by knocking out a champion who can box only to survive, by stopping a champion who only has to make the final bell to remain the champion of the world. This is what Benny Leonard was able to do against no less a figure than Freddie Welsh in 1917. Welsh had never been stopped before and never would be stopped again but Leonard, who had won and lost a newspaper decision to Welsh in the previous two years, did what the great ones do and found a way. Thirty seconds after the opening bell for the ninth of ten rounds, Leonard broke through with a right hand that sent Welsh to his knees. He hauled himself to his feet, as champions will, but after being dropped twice more he was rescued by referee Kid McPartland. The Leonard era had begun.

It lasted seven and a half years, a time during which he may have crept into double figures for defenses. The picture is made uncertain by Leonard’s coming in overweight for his 1920 defense against Charley White and by the confusion surrounding both the weight stipulation and the bizarre non-effort of opponent Jimmy Duffy in 1919. He was no abuser of the no-decision rule however, and when he failed to put away Lew Tendler whilst jabbing and crossing him to a clear newspaper decision in 1922 he repeated the feat in a legitimate but close decision bout in 1923.

For all that he was not the busiest of champions. He was a busy, busy fighter often boxing three times a month during his early twenties which included more than one sojourn up to welterweight in search of that title, boxing a close no-decision with champion Ted Kid Lewis in 1918, and losing in a bizarre disqualification to then champion Jack Britton in 1922. Never the man at welterweight he nevertheless outpointed bigger men like Soldier Bartfield and Jack Britton (newspaper decision 1918) during the course of a career that did not see him dominate competition as brilliant as that of Joe Gans or engage in the weight-hopping exploits of Roberto Duran but that nevertheless saw him defeat multiple champions of the world and first-class men of all styles. He retired as undefeated champion of the world, unbeaten by knockout or in decision fights between 1913 and 1932, and if his comeback was deemed a failure (he went 19-1-1) it was only because he set the bar so high for himself.

His placement here outside the top ten is perhaps the ultimate endorsement of those that are enshrined within.

100 Greatest Fighters of All Time Part One: 100-91
100 Greatest Fighters of All Time Part Two: 90-81
100 Greatest Fighters of All Time Part Three: 80-71
100 Greatest Fighters of All Time Part Four: 70-61
100 Greatest Fighters of All Time Part Five: 60-51
100 Greatest Fighters of All Time Part Six: 50-41
100 Greatest Fighters of All Time Part Seven: 40-31
100 Greatest Fighters of All Time Part Eight: 30-21
100 Greatest Fighters of All Time Part Nine: 20-11
100 Greatest Fighters of All Time Part Ten: 10-1

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Pernell Whitaker vs. Julio Cesar Chavez

Freddie Welsh vs. Packey McFarland (Part One)

Freddie Welsh vs. Packey McFarland (Part Two)

Terry McGovern v. Joe Gans 1900

George Dixon vs Chester Leon 1906

Marvin Hagler vs Sugar Ray Leonard

Archie Moore vs Yvon Durelle I (Full fight)

Barney Ross vs Billy Petrolle 1934

Willie Pep vs Ray Famechon

Tommy Loughran vs Mickey Walker

Benny Leonard vs Lew Tendler I

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  1. nicolas 08:28pm, 05/03/2013

    Matt: the top five guys you have on the present day I think would be able to hold there own against the five men you listed, though Gans and Walcott I would probably have as the top two ahead of today’s list. But then also I was looking at the ring magazine list of the 1980’s and what a list of lightweights that was. I do have as my number one lightweight of all time though Henry Armstrong, and I do have Gans in my top ten lightweights of all time. The late Paul Pender when interviewed for some book back I think in the 90’s, said that 25 of the top middleweight fighters of today could have beaten Ray Robinson, but he also said they could also beat Paul Pender. I think that while his thinking is a bit extreme regarding Robinson, he did see that time marches on, and while there are valleys and mountains in that march, overall there are some advancements.

  2. Matt McGrain 12:21pm, 05/02/2013

    No, those two things don’t jive at all.
    Look at the top ten for the lightweights right now:

    1. Adrien Broner
    2. Ricky Burns
    3. Miguel Vazquez
    4. Richard Abril
    5. Antonio DeMarco
    6. Paulus Moses
    7. Raymundo Beltran
    8. Hank Lundy
    9. Sharif Bogere
    10. Gavin Rees

    There is absolutely no depth there at all.  Now boxing has changed in the last 100 years - and it will change again in the next 100.  But just as Pacquiao is great now, he will be great in one-hundred years.  Similarly, the lightweight era of 1899-1907 produced many, many great fighters in the same era.  Now we have exactly none, and potentially one (but more likely none as Broner is moving north).

    So Broner might beat Erne.  But that is not what the argument about era on era quality is about.

  3. nicolas 12:13pm, 05/02/2013

    Matt, I found some of your arguments difficult to take, especially about the talent pool part. You say the strongest lightweight division for you is the early 1900’s. Does that also mean that if Frank Erne were fighting today, he would be a world champion?

  4. Matt McGrain 03:46am, 04/28/2013

    Mike, Hopkins made the list at 51, off the top of my head.

  5. Matt McGrain 03:45am, 04/28/2013

    “Why make that assumption (that there were more active boxers during ww1 than there are now)”.
    Basically Miller (if you don’t mind my using your second name, there are three Matts active in these threads!), reverse engineering.  Talent is defined for the most part by the size of the talent pool.  If your talent pool A has 9,000 Americans and 1,000 other, and talent pool B has 4,000 Americans and 4,000 others, talent pool A will produce more great fighters.  So let us look at the talent pools.
    At heavyweight, we have four potentially great champions, Joe Jeanette, Jack Johnson, Sam Langford and Sam McVey.  They are bookended by Harry Wills and Jim Jeffries, all time great heavyweights.  Now let’s look at the division today.  We have Wlad and a creaking Vitali, and that, really, is where the divisions depth ends.  You can make arguments about Pulev and Haye, but despite their representing four different nationalities to 1910’s 2, they do not provide greater depth.  Talent pool size.
    Middleweights: Greb, ,Walker, Dillon, Flowers, Mike Gibbons.  Now: Golovkin, Martinez.  Again, the modern represents more races, the old represents more greatness.  The only modern argument is for flyweight, and even here, in a newly established division we have the emergence of Jimmy Wilde, far, far greater in potentiality than anyone boxing today.
    If WWI doesn’t have a MUCH bigger talent pool, what is the explanation for the greater quality?  What would your explanation be?  IF it has a smaller talent pool AND fewer races taking place, what reason for the major, major, major difference in terms of great fighters relative to peers?  Where is our Walker-Greb-Flowers warfare, for any weight class? 
    Race doesn’t matter.  Talent pool size is what matters.  Even at weights like lightweight.  The strongest lightweight division in history for me is the early 1900s.  Erne, McFadden, Walcott, Gans, Lavigne.  What Mexican laden lightweight division comes close to this almost all-American lineup?

  6. Mike 12:47pm, 04/26/2013

    How close was Bernard Hopkins to making the list?

  7. Matt Miller 12:02pm, 04/26/2013

    All that said, my strongest feeling about your list overall is gratitude for the thorough job you did, as well as for your delightful prose.

  8. Matt Miller 11:48am, 04/26/2013

    Well there were more active fighters during WW2 than there are now; there were likely more active fighters during ww1.

    Why make this assumption? And why assume that all races are equally good at all weight divisions? The world was bigger and there were far more minority fighters involved on a professional level by WW2.

    “Where they come or what race they are doesn’t really interest me”

    It interests me, and when you look at the number of minority fighters on current P4P lists, I think there’s a case to be made it should be of interest to all fans. How many Anglo-American fighters are there on your current P4P lists, especially in the lower weight classes? Once Mexican, Puerto Rican, black, Filipino (and so on) fighters are allowed to compete, they showed a special ability to excel, and they dominate the lower weight classes.

    The point isn’t that this or that particular fighter was prevented from fighting someone like McFarland. Rather the point is that we can never know how strong these divisions might have been. The potential strength of these divisions was DRASTICALLY limited. A lightweight P4P group without a single Hispanic or Latino fighter? I mean, come on.

  9. Matt McGrain 02:42pm, 04/25/2013

    I do think that Pep is almost as low as he can possibly be on this list.  I could see an argument for his being below Ross (though I don’t favour it) and maybe below Moore, at a reach, but that’s about it.  I do believe, however, there are cognitive reasons to have Pep below every fighter he is listed below, however. So, for example, Walker’s best scalps at HEAVYweight are comparable to Pep’s best at his own weight, feather.  At 175lbs, he has an absolutely astonishing resume for a middle, and right there is the justification for apologising his inconsistency and having him above Pep.  Pep can be argued higher, but he can also be argued exactly where he is because of the quality above.

  10. Don from Prov 02:09pm, 04/25/2013

    Hi Mr. Mosley—Actually, I was referring to humanity in general.
    Mr. Hegan: The 1st Leonard/Hearns fight was stopped too early?

    Maybe too early to keep an exhausted and finished Hearns from being killed.
    I was a big Hearns fan in a room of rabid Leonard supporters and that fight was the first time that Leonard broke my (boxing) heart.  Then came Hagler.

    Mr. Miller, I’d agree with wanting Pep rated higher—
    But this is not my list nor my criteria.

  11. nicolas 01:22am, 04/25/2013

    I agree with Matt Miller somewhat on the idea that some of boxing was very provincial. I often wonder how good really Stanley Ketchel was. It seems that with boxing being illegal in some areas, that Mr. Ketchel might have been in the right place at the right time. From what I understand, most of the boxing at that time was being more contested in the West, and not in the East. It could also be thought that to become a champion at that time, that many who might have been really good, regardless of race, might not have been given the opportunities, because they were not in certain areas where boxing was allowed, or allowed to flourish. In Australia it certainly appears to have been, but then when the 1920’s arrive, it appears to take a backseat on the world stage, while in the time before WWI, it figures very prominently in boxing history. I do however, generally feel that the best boxing, certainly was in the 1940’s.

  12. Matt McGrain 01:58pm, 04/24/2013

    Well there were more active fighters during WW2 than there are now; there were likely more active fighters during ww1.  Where they come or what race they are doesn’t really interest me - the talent pools were unquestionably deeper, and that is probably all that matters.  For the record, McFarland also defeated the best lightweight from Australasia, too.  I’m curious though, which black fighters to you think Packey failed to meet?

  13. Matt Miller 12:24pm, 04/24/2013

    I know these are subjective, and quibbles over positioning are petty, but Pep not in the top 10? I guess I’ll give that some more thought, but hard to stomach Pep so low.

    And Packey McFarland in the top 20? I guess I’ll repeat my comment from a previous batch of 10: I do not believe lists like this take seriously enough the reality of racism for these early fighters, who could (and usually did) avoid minority fighters. Though not their fault, minority fighters careers were likewise limited. The other factor I would cite is that boxing was FAR more provincial and internationally limited sport back then. These are huge factors in the the careers of early fighters. How can we say that the best fought the best in the early eras when boxing was largely a segregated sport? And with a comparatively limited pool of talent, focused almost entirely on Americans and Europeans, why privilege this era so much in these lists?

    I feel strongly about these points, but I also appreciate the hard work and quality research that went in to these rankings.

  14. Michael Hegan 10:44am, 04/23/2013

    I have to agree with Clarence George…re leonard..
    He was beaten ...and I mean BEATEN by Roberto Duran…who came up two weight divisions to take the Welterweight crown back to Panama.
    I thought the first Hearns match was stopped too early…with Hearns ahead at the time…..and Hearns should have won the second fight on points…
    That hungarian dog fuk of leonard taking the Lt Hvy Title from Donny Lalonde still stinks to high heaven…..Lalonde had to weigh in some ten pounds lighter than his 175 Title….168 I think it was…before leonard would get in the ring…and then call it a Lt Heavyweight Title challenge..

    ..and I simply outright disagree with the Hagler reem job…
    leonard was good for Boxing…but his talents were much greater at contract negotiating

    I’ve read almost every article available to me , written by Mr McGrain…and hope to read more of them

  15. nicolas 03:37am, 04/22/2013

    The following are my top ten predictions: Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Sam Langford, Ezzard Charles, Bob Fitzimmons, Harry Greb, Roberto Duran,  Sugar Ray Robinson, Henry Armstrong, Joe Gans, and of course not in that order.

  16. tuxtucis 10:41am, 04/21/2013

    @Fred It’s better you talk about mma and not boxing…boxing is not your cup of tea…

  17. Fred 09:14am, 04/21/2013

    I totally disagree with your comments about Whitaker vs. Ramirez and Chavez. Ramirez beat Whitaker twice and was robbed in one fight. Chavez beat Whitaker period, despite the fact that Whitaker fouled him at least twenty times and was never given even one solitary warning. If anything, it was Whitaker who always treated by kid gloves by the media and judges. One example, Wilfredo Rivera completed dominated Whitaker, yet Whitaker got the win, and on, and on.

  18. Matt Mosley 04:57am, 04/20/2013

    Don, i take it you are referring to those two pieces of crap in Boston, and i wholeheartedly agree.
    My meaning there was aimed at the racism in the old days though.

  19. tuxtucis 02:38am, 04/20/2013

    My humble opinion of pound for pound is about a boxer who succeeds in different weight classes or beats heavier foes…For boxers who have great accomplishments or great skills in a single weight class, there are yet single classes weight rankings…

  20. raxman 11:26pm, 04/19/2013

    having slept on it…i think when talking pound for pound one really needs to break into a discussion on the semantics of the term. more and more i get the idea that the majority of people consider p4p ranking by relating one boxers accomplishments in their given weight class against anothers accomplishments in theirs . so vlad klit’s dominance at HW means he belongs on a p4p list. i would argue that the original meaning of the term given to Ray Robinson most definitely meant that were Ray the equal in weight to any other fighter he would be their better.  if that is the measuring stick one must not measure vlad’s worth by his accomplishments but by his level of skill. were vlad to weigh pound for pound with manny pac would vlad dominate 147 as he has 200+? of course not - vlad’s greatest asset is the way he uses his size without his size….?
    so for p4p to be applied with its original ray robinson content as each fighter being of the same weight, then accomplishments stand right along side boxing skill, and most importantly variety of those skills - because different weight classes have different demands. a list made up of fighters under those stipulations would be a rarified list indeed.
    the bottom line is that like valentines day and all star games, pound for pound lists are a gimmick.  a term originally used to describe the greatness of 1 fighter has been extrapolated to a point where its meaning has not only been lost but in the losing diminished its original value

  21. GlennR 03:19pm, 04/19/2013

    You speak in riddles Clarence! ;)

    Using you HW comment, maybe a “by the decade” judgement is the way to go .
    Its a lot easier to compare Tyson-Holyfield than say Tyson- JJohnson. And then let it rest there….. best HW of that decade/era was…. and so on.

    Whilst i think Matts work is great, i cant help thinking that a lot of the guys in there are there due to the number of fights they had. Something the modern era fighters, through no fault of their own, can compete with.

  22. Clarence George 04:23am, 04/19/2013

    You raise an interesting point, Glenn.  I would argue that a historical ranking has to be historically removed to a very large extent (paradoxical as that seems).  This is true of division, as well as of p4p, ratings.  Otherwise, how could one formulate a list of, say, best heavies of all time?  One would be limited to a per-division, per-decade ranking—e.g., the best light heavies of the 1950s, who couldn’t be compared to the best light heavies of the 1990s, let alone compared to the best of other divisions of other eras.

  23. GlennR 03:58am, 04/19/2013

    Thanks for that Clarence.

    Well its a tough one isnt it, comparing guys from different weights… and eras i should add.

    Personally, i find it really hard to compare per se and would rather compare their achievements. Styles and scoring have changed over the years and i take that into account.

    Does Mayweather compete with, for example, Dixon in his day.?.... i dont know, and i dont know how you can really compare the two given the rule difference in the day.

    Personally, i think Matts list is primarily history based (what they achieved in their era) as opposed to pnp

  24. Clarence George 03:46am, 04/19/2013

    I do indeed, Glenn, in that Matt is comparing boxers regardless of weight.  He’s not saying that featherweight Willie Pep could beat heavyweight Gene Tunney (which would be absurd), but that Pep’s skills, accomplishments, and record are more impressive than Tunney’s.

    The only way to compare and contrast boxers across weight divisions is to render those divisions irrelevant.

  25. GlennR 03:21am, 04/19/2013

    So do you see Matts list as a PnP?

    i dont….. i view it in a historical/style context to a degree

  26. Clarence George 02:55am, 04/19/2013

    An interesting discussion, Raxman, in which I was glad to participate.  I’ll throw in the last of my two cents by observing that while the title of the series doesn’t contain the words “pound-for-pound,” a comparison across weight classes necessarily implies just that.

    I agree, Glenn, that Mayweather is the best current pound-for-pounder, but I’m more interested in p4p comparisons at the historical level.

  27. GlennR 11:17pm, 04/18/2013

    @  Matt
    Thanks again for the list, bring on the top 10!

  28. GlennR 11:16pm, 04/18/2013

    @ Clarence, i agree with your take on P4P, its not about imagining them at the same weight, its, regardless of size, what level they achieve as a boxer in regards to skills, heart, wins, opposition and so forth.
    With that in mind, my current no1 is Mayweather, but i feel Ward will soon stack up and surpass him.

    @ Raxman, yes, this list is about the greatest “fighters” which, IMO, you dont have to be a P4P to qualify

  29. raxman 08:33pm, 04/18/2013

    CG - to shut down i’ll come back to where I start which was in regards to this list, it isn’t named pound for pound greatest fighters. its just greatest fighters - coz it measures accomplishments ahead of all around ability or as you say, who is the better boxer - which I don’t believe is accurate to the true and original meaning of pound for pound as given to SRR. I feel very few fighters measure up to being labelled as pound for pound. I think one needs the sort of all around abilities of box, bang, counter, inside or outside. so yes an inartful term is today definition, a misnomer in fact, and having given this way too much thought I now understand why some boxing scribes refuse to make p4p lists

  30. Clarence George 07:43pm, 04/18/2013

    I think, Raxman, that “pound-for-pound” (and perhaps the term is indeed inartful shorthand) isn’t meant to imply that a heavyweight Robinson could beat Louis, but that Robinson is the better boxer regardless of Louis’ weight advantage.  The unacceptable alternative is that Eric Esch is superior to Pancho Villa because Villa couldn’t hurt Esch, while Esch could crush Villa.  But Villa is among the greats and Esch…isn’t.

  31. raxman 07:26pm, 04/18/2013

    CG - so…. we’re saying the same thing? as in we agree with each other yeah. we got to the same destination but by a different route.
    so by this perspective I wouldn’t have the klits on a p4p list because lets say they were 6ft tall welterweights. I don’t see them beating any of the top 147pounders

  32. Clarence George 07:09pm, 04/18/2013

    It never occurred to me to interpret “pound-for-pound” as anything other than a boxing expression for “all things being equal.”  What’s the equalizer?  Removing the issue of weight from consideration.  Not doing so renders the comparison across weight divisions impossible.  Flyweights would be the best because they’d be the quickest.  Heavyweights would be the best because they’d be the strongest.  Lightweights would be the best because they’d be the happy medium.  Or would it be welterweights?

    But you’re right, Raxman, that “pound-for-pound” is somewhat misleading.

  33. raxman 05:52pm, 04/18/2013

    CG- I don’t think so. isn’t it the notion that all things being equal etc? pound for pound by definition means same weight does it not? a pound for a pound. its how I’ve always viewed it and its certainly a literal definition. so in this case if ray weighs 200 pounds would he be as dominant as at 147 or 160?
    but i’ll give you that the way the current p4p list is presented it certainly meets the model you suggest at a closer point than what I believe the original meaning to be.
    which is my point about this list. it isn’t a pound for pound list. its an accomplishment list - which supports your model of p4p which gives accolade to which fighter had the greater achievement in their weight class.

  34. Clarence George 05:32pm, 04/18/2013

    Isn’t the point of the pound-for-pound category to take the issue of weight out of the equation?  It’s not whether a 30-pound-heavier Sugar Ray Robinson could have beaten Joe Louis, but if Robinson was the superior fighter in terms of skills and accomplishments.  Was Robinson more impressive as middleweight than Louis as heavyweight or, for that matter, than Willie Pep as featherweight?  If the answer is “Yes,” then he’s the superior P4P fighter.

  35. raxman 03:49pm, 04/18/2013

    Tuxtucis -  ““To have a jr. middleweight title after having been Fly linear champ is an incredible pound for pound accomplishment”- that’s my point its a great accomplishment. its not a great pound for pound accomplishment - pound for pound has totally lost its meaning. the true, the original pound for pound is mythical, an imagining if you will, of what would happen if certain fighters weighed the same weight. and my point is IF pac was 175 pounds would he have the style and tools to beat a chad dawson whose all around boxing accomplishments are no where near that of pacs. I say no. I say pac’s great accomplishments (although I wont give you the 154 title as he won it by limiting his opponent to a catch weight of under the limit) do not (except with the modern misnomer that the expression has become) make him a pound for pound contender. pacs wins were largely against the same style of fighters and that is because he is vulnerable to a counter puncher. the point of p4p when invented for SRR was that the skill set enables you to beat any style fighter at any weight.

  36. Don from Prov 02:03pm, 04/18/2013

    “There were some horrible people in the those days.”

    I fear one or two may linger, Mr. Matt

  37. Matt McGrain 07:50am, 04/18/2013

    I’m working on it tux (literally)!  Watch this space.

  38. tuxtucis 07:47am, 04/18/2013

    I’m sure about 9 names in your top 10… I’m tortured waiting for the 10th name :-)

  39. Matt Mosley 07:44am, 04/18/2013

    Great saying!
    My dad always said that to me after my grandmother used to say it to him.

  40. Matt McGrain 07:38am, 04/18/2013

    As the man once said, believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.

  41. Matt Mosley 07:09am, 04/18/2013

    But, whatever, you have done much more research than i have on this (seen as i have done hardly any:), but i do like to get info from different sources and form my own opinion.
    Saying that i take hardly anything i read as the gospel truth, especially in a sport like this.
    What you said has been duly noted though.

  42. Matt Mosley 07:03am, 04/18/2013

    I don’t think he meant he was drunk for the fight, McGrain.
    I suspect he meant that he was soused in booze in general, as in, not in peak shape and not as committed to training.
    He meant he was not living the life of a boxer.

  43. Matt McGrain 06:49am, 04/18/2013

    I suspect Fleischer exaggerates somewhat Mosley.  Dixon was definitely faded, but he was no shell, nor was he drunk for his fight for McGovern…Boxing News also exaggerates, there were one or two strange decisions against Dixon but there were one or two in his favour, too…I would say more or less the same as any other busy champion.  I’d say he got a fair shake with that Johnny Murphy horror-show out of the way.  For the most part…thanks for recognising, like Mr.Spoon, the work that’s gone in.  It has been a beast from start to finish.

  44. Matt Mosley 06:18am, 04/18/2013

    I think this has been a really great series btw, Mr McGrain.
    One thing is for certain is that none of us are going to agree on the placement of every fighter. That would be similar odds to winning the lottery, i imagine, but i think you have done a commendable job in, at the very least, bringing to my attention some fighters i knew little to nothing about, and also adding to what i already knew about others.
    It’s clear to see when reading these articles just how much work you have put into them.
    BTW, just as an example of how much respectable opinions can differ, Bert Sugar had Packey MacFarland ranked at no.97 in his Top 100 from a few years ago.
    When talking ATG’s like all these guys, i think there is very little to split most, if not all of them.

  45. Matt Mosley 06:12am, 04/18/2013

    Re: Ray Leonard. I agree that his short career could be held against him but find it interesting that other ATG’s like Stan Ketchel, George Dixon, Salvador Sanchez and Rocky Marciano also had similarly short spans as pro boxers, relatively speaking.

  46. Matt Mosley 06:08am, 04/18/2013

    I find it quite sickening that George Dixon had to live in the times that he did. Boxing News reports that most, if not all of the 44 draws on his record were actually one sided wins, yet the racists at the time refused to give him the W on his record. There were some horrible people in the those days.
    I also found it interesting to read a Nat Fleischer quote that Dixon was “shot full of booze….a mere shell of his former self” when Terry McGovern stopped him.

  47. tuxtucis 03:05am, 04/18/2013

    @Matt McGrain: even if i disagree on some ranking, your work is very worth of reading…About mediocre Jack Johnson reign I would consider he arrived late at a title shot for his skin..sure he was better some year before…
    @Raxman: sure Pacquiao would have no chances against Dawson, but you can’t forget he started as light fly! To have a jr. middleweight title after having been Fly linear champ is an incredible pound for pound accomplishment…only Jimmy McLarnin has beaten world top class opposition from flies to welters…

  48. Matt McGrain 01:44am, 04/18/2013

    Thanks for the kind words gents.

  49. Gajjers 01:35am, 04/18/2013

    “Kudos for a job well done. One can learn a lot about boxing just reading this series.” Hit the nail right on the head, Mike. This has been as entertaining & educational a write-up on boxing’s best as I’ve ever read. It’s funny though, how some fans express pleasure at the exclusion or apparent demotion of certain fighters. Lists are lists, and it’s usually difficult to separate the emotive from the objective, in their creation. Well done, Matt - can’t wait for your top ten faves!

  50. Mike Silver 07:55pm, 04/17/2013

    Matt, I may not agree with all your placements but you analyze with such clarity and your knowledge and insight of the technical side of boxing is so keen that one has to consider your choices. I would rate Tunney over Moore, put Benny Leonard in the top ten and move Ray Leonard back many paces but that’s just my opinion. Nevertheless, this is a very enjoyable and enlightening read. Kudos for a job well done. One can learn a lot about boxing just reading this series.

  51. raxman 07:02pm, 04/17/2013

    eddie lee - no jack Dempsey - matt has already said - in the second entry I think 90-81 - that jack non pareil made it in his top hundred but jack the manassa mauler did not.

  52. Eddie Lee 06:44pm, 04/17/2013

    Top ten probably composed by Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Henry Armstrong, Bob Fitzsimmons, Jack Jonhson, Joe Gans, Roberto Duran, Sam Langford and Jack Dempsey.

  53. raxman 05:46pm, 04/17/2013

    i’m glad you put SRL was out of top ten for the same reasons you gave. anyone who reads my comments on ducking knows how I feel about ray re aaron pryor. having said that ray’s all around skills would certainly place him top ten had he fought enough and had he fought all comers. if we talk about gatti before gatti then ray leonard was certainly Floyd before Floyd. if the internet existed in ray’s day the hype for ray v hagler would’ve been as huge as Floyd vs Pac - the fight happening when it did would be like Floyd and pac fighting now. however like the original sugar he could do it all - box, bang, counter, fight inside and out.

  54. raxman 05:34pm, 04/17/2013

    matt mc - correct me if i’m wrong matt, but I don’t see this as a p4p list - I see it as an accomplishment list. I think that the true meaning of pound for pound was long ago lost. the notion of ray robinson at 200 pounds would be every bit as dominant as he was at 147 or 160 is the basic premise. SRR all round ability is what made him great - box, bang, counter - inside or outside. pacmans place on p4p lists always bothered me. on a list of dominant fighters - no worries. at that time around 147 he was the top fighter, and his dominance at his weight puts him on the top of a list of boxers - but true pound for pound? the true meaning. no way. a pac at 175 pounds would not beat chad dawson - no way. yet was pac a better boxer in his division than chad in his? no doubt. conversely would a 147 pound vitali or vlad beat Pac? come on. no way. yet at HW the klits dominance means they must be on a list for accomplishments
    I guess what I’m saying is there must be seen to be a difference between p4p and a list like this. having said that I know that my opinion will change nothing - pound for pound is an entity of its own now - but I need it known that what was

  55. Eric 04:02pm, 04/17/2013

    Oops. Didn’t read your comment regarding the vastly overrated Jack Johnson. Good Call. I MIGHT include him in my top 10 all-time heavyweights but it would be at number 10 at the highest.

  56. Eric 01:33pm, 04/17/2013

    Walker and Pep belong in the top 10. Ugh. Don’t tell me, Jack Johnson makes the top 10? Johnson would do well to make the top 75 IMO. I couldn’t stand Ray Leonard but I don’t see how anyone can say Hagler beat Leonard. Leonard won that fight handidly. Remember watching the fight as it happened via closed circuit and I also remember everyone at the time of the fight commenting that Leonard was winning the fight suprisingly easy. Funny, only days or even weeks after the fight did all this talk about Hagler being “robbed” occur. Look at both fighters after the final bell and look at their body language and facial expressions. Hagler looks all the world like the “defeated man” and Leonard looks extremely confident about the decision. Now the first Leonard-Duran fight was all Duran and how anyone can say that was a close fight is beyond me also. Duran totally dominated Leonard, and should have been awarded a comfortable decision instead of the close decison that was announced.

  57. Springs Toledo 01:21pm, 04/17/2013

    Ray Leonard is not in the top 10. That was a -no THE- critical hope of mine when it came to this series, Matt.  Whew! You came through! The quibbles are less important and I’m just enjoying the writing and the placements. Most of them.

  58. tuxtucis 11:05am, 04/17/2013

    Here I agree…Lopez and Calzaghe are very very near….I would put the welshman ahead for his better wins…

  59. Matt McGrain 10:20am, 04/17/2013

    Johnson - Johnson’s title reign is hideous.  He beat pre-prime versions of McVey, Jeanette and Langford, his three top contenders, but avoided the primed versions like the plague once he came to the title.  His pre-title efforts are indeed impressive, but not more impressive than someone like Frazier for example.  I have Johnson outside my top 10 heayweights, just, and he was never in serious contention for this list.

    Lopez - Lopez compares negatively to Chang on all fronts outside of the “0” and I have Chang in the low ninties.  So that’s a roadblock to Lopez’s inclusion.  I have Lopez in the next clutch however, and he was considered - he’d be between 105 and 115.  Behind…wait for it…Joe Calzaghe.

  60. Matt McGrain 09:57am, 04/17/2013

    Taking these one at a time tux:

    Dixon - boxed twenty times successfully for a title at two weights, dominated for a decade, was pound for pound top 1 for much of that time and top 3 for all of that time, almost certainly.  More than twenty of his losses came past-prime boxing on for disastrous financial reasons - during his prime he was beaten four times in ten years, avenged.

    McGovern - It was a short prime in terms of time but it was a *forty fight prime*.  Far more than Ray Leonard, and many many other fighters.  He knocked out champions at three old school weights during that prime - it’s an absolute phenomena.

  61. tuxtucis 09:31am, 04/17/2013

    Well, I would put yours 30-21 at the places of yours 20-11…strongly disagree with your last ranking…I don’t see Moore ahead of Tunney…Dixon (too many losses and draws) and McGovern (very short prime) far too high…I can’t see Benny Leonard out of top 10…I don’t agree with Johnson, Cerdan and Lopez out of top 100 (although it’s simply impossible to see the small Mexican top 50 or even 25, as many do)...

  62. Mike Casey 08:15am, 04/17/2013

    Yes, he was a wonder, Matt. That ‘Bully’ character he beat in 1902 was one Charles McElderry, who came from Joe’s hometown of Baltimore. I’d like to know what was going on in that one!

  63. Matt McGrain 08:08am, 04/17/2013

    Cheers Ted.  Leonard at #11 was a last minute demotion.  That and Pep are the ones that hurt my eyes the most looking at my top twenty, but alternative arrangements hurt me more…you’ll catch my drift as to why in the final full paragraph as the above…
    Mike—Gans originally held the #14 birth.  Then #12.  And the more I learned the more he climbed…and climbed…

  64. Mike Casey 08:00am, 04/17/2013

    He’s left out the St. Mary’s County Bully - I can feel it in my blood.

  65. Ted Spoon 07:50am, 04/17/2013

    Tremendous effort here on this series, Matt.

    Pep is boldly lower than usual, but the gripe for me is B. Leonard at #11.

    From Willie Ritchie-Freddie Welsh, Lew Tendler-Richie Mitchell and Rocky Kansas-Johnny Dundee, Benny tamed such a variety of GREAT opposition, and in dominant fashion.

    At a single weight it’s difficult (if not impossible) to think of a more impressive ledger - Robbie’s welterweight siege included.

  66. Clarence George 06:55am, 04/17/2013

    I’ll also give it a go, in ascending order:

    Sam Langford
    Jack Johnson
    Roberto Duran
    Muhammad Ali
    Pancho Villa
    Marcel Cerdan
    Joe Louis
    Harry Greb
    Henry Armstrong
    Sugar Ray Robinson

  67. Matt McGrain 06:54am, 04/17/2013

    Jack and El Finito both languish outside the 100.  I think i can reveal that without giving too much away!

  68. tuxtucis 06:47am, 04/17/2013

    Ok, sorry…but now some great name is out…at least once between J.Gans, J.Johnson and R.Lopez….

  69. Matt McGrain 06:28am, 04/17/2013

    Loughran made it tux:
    Top 50.

  70. tuxtucis 06:11am, 04/17/2013

    I’ve 9 of your ten :-) : M.Ali, H.Armstrong, E.Charles, R.Duran, B.Fitzsimmons, J.Gans, H.Greb, S.Langford, S.R.Robinson…
    But now for sure one between Finito Lopez, Jack Johnson or Tommy Loughran are out of top 100…can’t believe that

  71. Matt McGrain 05:31am, 04/17/2013

    I hear you.  I would never have Pep as high as top five because I believe there are five men who clearly out swing him for opposition and achievement, but it definitely hurts me to see him at #13.  I don’t like looking at that.  The thing is, how to rank him above Walker?  Walker has a heavyweight resume to compare with NATURAL heavyweights…and he’s a welterweight/middleweight.  His light-heavyweight resume is legitimately comparable to Pep’s best featherweight stuff.  Hard on Will-o, but I couldn’t force him any higher.

  72. Clarence George 05:24am, 04/17/2013

    Another good installment, but I’m not going to let it rest there.

    I suppose the inclusion of Sugar Ray Leonard was inevitable, but I never cared for him myself—and that’s putting it mildly.  And he’s nowhere near in the same league as Sugar Ray Robinson, who is indeed the greatest of them all.

    My only strenuous objection is to Willie Pep at #13—he should not only be among the top 10, but among the top five.

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