The 100 Greatest Fighters of All Time Part Seven: 40-31

By Matt McGrain on April 3, 2013
The 100 Greatest Fighters of All Time Part Seven: 40-31
Between late 1964 and mid 1977—for thirteen years—Carlos Monzon went unbeaten.

These men can be “argued” higher, but can the men still to come be seen to be lower? Welcome to the annals of the forty greatest boxers in history…

We’re getting close.

The greatest of champions, the deepest of resumes, the most splendid of boxers, kept from the top thirty only but the true giants of the sport. Yes, all these men can be “argued” higher, but can the men still to come be seen to be lower? 

Welcome to the annals of the forty greatest boxers in history. Mere mortals need not apply.

#40 Jose Napoles (81-7)

In appraising fighters I’ve become accustomed to trying to understand the boxing cultures that birthed them. In my opinion, nothing was tougher for a young fighter than the lower weight classes in Mexico in the 1960s and 1970s. It was strange, then, that Jose Napoles, the last of that generation’s great Cuban émigrés, settled not in Miami, as was custom, but in Mexico City. It made him. He did outstanding work in the lightweight division beating toughs like Carlos Hernandez, who would be light-welterweight champion in 1965, and the Mexican champion Raul Soriano whilst embracing the burden of the exile, traveling to places as far as Japan in search of money and glory. By the time he was matched with the superb Eddie Perkins up at light-welterweight he was more than ready, setting Perkins down on his backside en route to a near shutout. Mantequilla had arrived.

Between this victory and mid ’75, he would lose three fights—one to L.C. Morgan on cuts, thrice avenged, once to Billy Backus on cuts, also avenged, and once up at middleweight to the welterweight’s bane, Carlos Monzon. One of the legitimately great champions, he picked up the linear title from Curtis Cokes in early ’69. Cokes had stopped no less a figure than Luis Rodriguez on his way to the title and had himself posted five defenses. Napoles thrashed him. Their fight was not competitive.  To chants of “Mex-i-co! Mex-i-co!” Jose’s adopted countryman cheered him home as he brutalized a stunned Cokes to body and head. Cokes quit, or was pulled, after the thirteenth round.

Complaining that “something was wrong” Cokes was honored as a former champion with a rematch. The same thing that was “wrong” the first time around was “wrong” again, namely Jose’s utter brilliance, and Cokes was stopped once more, this time in just ten. Napoles brought the most educated pressure it is possible to imagine in the ring. He boxed in a fashion so close to faultless as to make the apparently so.  Fast, what he lacked in terms of absolutely elite hand-speed he made up for in the shortness and accuracy of his snapping punches, punches that brought stoppages in fifty-four fights. A crackling left hook to body and head may have been his best punch by virtue of the fact that it was so difficult to pick at mid-range, but this is a question open for debate. There was not a punch he did not excel at.

This formidable skillset brought him a successful defense against perhaps the only fighter who might have rivaled him for the title of best welterweight between Sugar Ray Robinson and Ray Leonard, Emile Griffith, ditched and beaten wide over fifteen. A routine defense against an ever willing Ernie Lopez followed. Then Billy Backus got to borrow the championship for a while courtesy of Mantequilla’s only real weakness, the sometime tenderness of his skin, the Cuban taking it back in eight the following year. In the interim, slickster Hedgemon Lewis had achieved a sparsely recognized counterclaim to the welterweight title; Napoles shut it down with a knockout. This was one of ten more defenses that ran down his prime, only the ill-advised trip up to middleweight punctuating the winning streak, and then at the end of 1975, eleven years after he first defeated a world champion, he bid farewell to his title, losing to John Stracey.

He immediately retired, ending a career had taken him to all corners of the world, and to the very heights of boxing greatness.

#39 Emile Griffith (85-24-2)

Emile Griffith is the two-time linear welterweight and two-time linear middleweight champion of the world. He also lifted a strap at light-middleweight going 2-1 in “world” title fights at 154 lbs. with his first and last contest for belts at that weight separated by fourteen years. His first ever title fight was at 147 lbs. and was fought less than three years after his turning pro, but by this time Griffith had already served one hell of an apprenticeship. After beating perennial contender and veteran Gaspar Ortega having boxed just sixteen times as a professional, Griffith was matched twice with the future light-middleweight champion of the world Denny Moyer, going 1-1. Immediately, he was thrown back into the deep end, taking an unpopular decision over another welterweight veteran, Jorge Jose Fernandez, immediately rematching him for a cleaner win. Florentino Fernandez, the immensely strong “Ox” followed just a month later, outpointed over the distance and after stopping Willie Toweel in eight and shading the great Luis Manuel Rodriguez in ten, Griffith was deemed ready, faith he repaid by stopping world champion Benny “Kid” Paret in thirteen to lift the title. After knocking out Ortega, Griffith rematched former champion Paret and was controversially beaten on points. Two of the three judges went for Paret, but the ringside press went almost exclusively for Griffith—surviving footage shows Paret being generally outhustled in a close one. Whatever the detail, Griffith would win back the title in what was arguably a needless third meeting between the two in a fight that Paret, tragically, would not survive. He was stopped by a huge attack and died of his injuries ten days after the fight. Griffith would later claim that he had left the most brutal percentage of his offense in the same ring which took Paret’s life.

It didn’t stop him excelling. After winning three more title fights, Griffith lost his title on a razor-thin decision to the man he had finished his apprenticeship against, Rodriguez. Pressmen barely favored Griffith, the judges barely favored the challenger. The two met again three months later and he took a controversial decision but the two would meet for a final time in 1964, Griffith winning clean to pick up their series 3-1. Between their third and fourth fights, he had begun his invasion of the division that would yield him his third title, 160 lbs. Despite a disastrous first round knockout loss to Rubin Carter, Griffith beat Holly Mims on his way to taking the championship from all-time great middleweight Dick Tiger. It was a classic Griffith performance, all hustle, a beautiful coagulation of his stymying the opposition offence whilst making room for his own sharp punches. Griffith was no stylist, and the New York crowed loved him for his heart and work-rate rather than his brilliance—there was something honest and workmanlike about his performances that the people responded to in spite of its aesthetic limitations, limitations that didn’t interfere with results. Griffith won ten welterweight title fights against generally outstanding competition and added two wins at title level at 154 lbs. When he got up to middleweight, in addition to Dick Tiger he beat the outstanding Joey Archer twice and Nino Benvenuti once before losses to the Italian and to the brilliant Jose Napoles signaled the end of his prime. It didn’t stop him turning in two tremendously brave losing performances against the deadly Carlos Monzon, but he lost ten of his last twenty fights, damaging an otherwise absolutely outstanding record.

#38 Jack Britton (103-29-20; Newspaper Decisions 136-27-25)

We don’t have room to document in any level of detail where Jack Britton’s career is concerned—that in itself is a ten-part undertaking. One of the great ring careers it stretched from 1904 to 1930, a chasm spanned by more than three-hundred fights.

By the time he beat Mike Glover for what was widely billed as a title fight in June of 1915 he had already fought two careers, listed at 41-7-8, but having fought in as many “no decisions” where the fight reaches a limit but where no verdict is rendered.

Against Glover though, he was made the winner over twelve rounds, but immediately lost that title to the man with whom he would form the greatest rivalry in boxing history, Ted Kid Lewis. Boxing.com allows us as writers and readers to sprawl beyond the normal barriers where wordage is concerned but even here there isn’t room to get into these battles in any detail, so to put it in a nutshell: Britton won. But it wasn’t easy. Given an almost immediate rematch, he dropped another decision. Britton was lucky. Had he dropped two against Lewis even three years before, Ted could have made him wait as long as he wanted, and given how much these two despised each other it was a real possibility—but the fledgling American Boxing Association was flexing its muscles and leaning on fighters to defend their titles. Lewis did so, in a manner of speaking, facing Britton in a no decision bout which was rendered a draw. The two were making money and Britton was getting closer. He came closer still the following February, winning a newspaper decision by most accounts but not taking the title—the title could only change hands in a no decision affair if the champion lost by a knockout. Britton was a defensive genius and master-boxer with a granite jaw and the professionalism and stamina to match, but he lacked a punch. He needed to meet the champion in a decision affair, and he got it in April, beating Lewis clean over twenty rounds following this with a rush fifteen unbeaten, including wins over future middleweight champion Mike O’Dowd and more wins over Lewis. In the middle of 1917 Lewis took his turn to rush, grabbing a clutch of newspaper decisions and then the welterweight title. When Britton was then outclassed by Benny Leonard he looked as though he might be on the slide, but he put together another run of wins, including over Lewis, who was by now only meeting him in non-title affairs or non-decisions. Like all the great ones, Britton did what needed to be done and despite his dearth of power found a way to knock the steel-chinned Lewis out. Britton fought with an uncharacteristic “spiteful and determined aggressiveness” according to the Pittsburgh Press. After being repeatedly smashed to the canvas, Lewis was knocked out in the ninth round. It was one of only two knockouts he suffered in his prime, the other coming at the hands of light-heavyweight Georges Carpentier.

Britton added another dozen defenses, lucky to retain his title in a majority draw to Dave Shade and involved in an even more controversial fight when Benny Leonard was disqualified in strange circumstances (Britton was apparently ahead on the scorecards). Having beaten Mickey Walker in 1921 he was then separated from his title by him in 1922. He was thirty-seven years old. Incredibly, he boxed on for another eight years and when he finally retired in 1930 it was as an unquestioned welterweight great. He had been knocked out just once, twenty-five years before.

#37 Kid Gavilan (108-30-5)

The Keed was a Cuban exile so brilliant that we name him here the greatest of all time to ever drop off that conveyer belt of talent. Gavilan served his apprenticeship on that boxing paradise and, like his fellow exile and welterweight Jose Napoles, actively sought out the massed ranks of Mexican opposition, twice to his detriment in those early years. When he left his home behind in 1948 it was to escape the political gangsterism that plagued that island in the precursor to Castro’s revolution and fought for territory in his new turf against no less a figure than Ike Williams, lightweight champion of the world. The fight was close but Williams had pulled off the rare feat of dropping Gavilan on the seat of his trunks (granite jawed, Gavilan was never stopped despite his boxing on way past his prime) and this turned the fight barely in his favor. The New York Times and Daily News both scored the fight for The Keed as did the not inconsiderable numbers in attendance who booed the decision. Gavilan picked himself up, dusted himself off, and picked off former world champion Tommy Bell before matching new champion, a man named Ray Robinson, in a non-title fight. It is fair to say Gavilan had little luck in terms of timing. He arrived on American shores just in time to meet one of the greatest lightweights of all time on the hunt for the welterweight title and then ran into a man who might just be the greatest, ever, who also happened to be peaking.

Robinson outboxed Gavilan but that didn’t stop the crowd booing another decision going against The Keed, who was already a hugely popular fighter.  The reaction guaranteed him a title shot and although Robinson won once more, the first half of the fight was close as could be and only a deeply conservative approach from a cut Robinson seems to have led to his taking over in the second half for a clean win. 

Unable to solve the Robinson problem, he turned instead to the Williams problem twice beating the lightweight champion in rematches. He had adapted his style, swarming in on Williams from a crouch, pressurising relentlessly whilst showing off his superb accuracy. Williams, a hard puncher, was used to having his way when he landed, but not against Gavilan. Such was his durability that he could afford to take even those cracking punches; like Dick Tiger, Gavilan was brilliant in such a way as to negate brawlers—no puncher himself, he was busy, stinging, accurate with a brilliant line in punch selection and timing. He could outwork, out-snipe or out-maul. Power aside, he was complete.

This completeness brought him victories over Rocky Castellani, Beau Jack and Laurent Dauthuille before being outright robbed against Lester Felton and dropping a widely criticized decision to Billy Graham then Robert Villemain. Not for the last time, judges had played a questionable role in a Gavilan loss. He did lose legitimately to George Costner but also twice avenged himself upon Graham and an earlier loss to Gene Hairston. He then picked up the welterweight title from Johnny Bratton in ’51 and defended it against all comers, highlights including his defeat of Carmen Basilio and the brutal stoppage of Gil Turner. In all he managed seven defenses before the judges did what no welterweight on the planet could do and took his title from him in a joke decision against the connected Johnny Saxton. Twenty of twenty-two ringside reporters found for Gavilan.

At middleweight, Gavilan had come within a whisker of beating Bobo Olson for the title having previously scalped several 160 lb. contenders including Rafael Merentino and the huge punching Eduardo Lausse but his second tilt at the middleweights went less well. He was able to add to his resume in the form of Ralph “Tiger” Jones and Gaspar Ortega, but he was not the same fighter post-Saxton and lost fifteen of his last twenty-five fights. In his fierce prime, he was almost as good as it gets.

#36 Tommy Gibbons (57-4-1; Newspaper Decisions 38-1-4)

For a certain type of purist, Tommy was the weaker of the Gibbons brothers. He lacked Mike’s phantasmical qualities and was perhaps regarded as the less skilled overall during their primes, but Mike did not have Tommy’s astonishing career arch.

Turning pro in 1911, Gibbons boxed a fourteen-year stint that saw him lose just two decisions, one newspaper decision, once by knockout and in a disqualification loss to Billy Miske. The knockout came in his last fight, way past his best, against heavyweight champion Gene Tunney. Of the three decisions, two were to Harry Greb and one was to a peak Jack Dempsey—in his own prime, Gibbons proved himself all but unstoppable against that particularly nasty piece of offensive machinery.

Between 1911 and 1922 he was only beaten by Harry Greb and in the same period of time he also beat that great fighter twice. He was so good as to be worthy of Harry’s prime and he handed him one of the worst beatings of his career in 1920, knocking Greb around the ring like he was a preliminary fighter. In addition to Greb his top scalps included Billy Miske on four occasions, George Chip on five, Kid Norfolk, Georges Carpentier and Battling Levinsky, who called Gibbons the best defensive fighter he had ever faced—given that he had faced Greb, Sullivan, Tunney and Stribling, this is high praise indeed.

Whilst he laid claim to the 175 lb. title in his time, he was never universally recognized, although the men who held that recognition during his time in the division, Carpentier and Levinsky, were both outclassed when he got them into the ring. Up at heavy he was heavily avoided with both Tex Rickard and the New York Commission complaining about the difficulty of making fights for him at the weight, such was his reputation.

#35 Julio Cesar Chavez (107-6-2)

Eighty-six knockouts in one-hundred and seven fights posted across three different decades is not normal for a fighter who retired as recently as 2005. That he posted just six official losses, the first coming only after his fourteenth year as a professional fighter is even more astonishing. His habit of winning was matched only by his habit of hoovering up titles.

He won a vacant super-featherweight strap in 1985 against the favored veteran Mario Martinez via an eighth round stoppage, and although his failure to match linear champion Wilfredo Gomez casts doubt over the validity of the title, he did defend against former champions Roger Mayweather, brutalizing him in two, and Rocky Lockridge, whom he decisioned in spite of an injury to his right hand. In total he made nine defenses of his strap and at the time of his move up to lightweight his record stood at 55-0 (reported in some corners as 54-1 due to controversy surrounding his twelfth fight which was originally ruled a DQ loss upon his landing the knockout punch after the bell). 

His first fight at lightweight was, naturally, a title fight, and arguably his finest moment as he weaved an offensive tapestry that forced the aggressive and brilliant Edwin Rosario back to the ropes time and time again. Making his man miss repeatedly up close even as he threaded his own blows through the eye of the proverbial needle, Chavez exposed Rosario’s defense, which was excellent, and offense, which was superb, arguably winning every single round on the way to a late stoppage. Three more defenses of that strap followed, one of them making him linear champion, the eleventh round technical decision over Jose Luis Ramirez, then it was off to light-welterweight where things got a little more hinky.

He picked up the customary strap straight away of course, against old-time opponent Roger Mayweather, but this time Mayweather lasted ten rounds instead of two. In his third defense of his strap Chavez met with Meldrick Taylor and near disaster, winning by perhaps the most controversial stoppage of all time at the very end of the twelfth in a fight he was losing against an opponent who claimed he was able to continue—but who did not respond in time for referee Richard Steele. Chavez remained champion and added a further nine defenses carrying him into the nineties and the welterweight division where he was gifted a draw by horrific judging against clear winner Pernell Whitaker which all but tolled the bell on his prime, though he would still manage 6-1 in title fights until he was twice beaten down and out by Oscar De La Hoya in ’96 and’98.

As extraordinary a career as has been boxed entirely in color finally ended with defeat to journeyman Grover Wiley in 2005. The raw statistics for that career are astonishing. He fought in 37 world title fights winning 31, including an unbroken streak of 27 successful defenses across three weights, winning 21 by way of knockout. Even allowing for the fact that many of these “world” titles were straps rather than true championships and that he sometimes failed to meet the best in his division, Chavez has earned the right to call himself great.

#34 Marvin Hagler (62-3-2)

They say Marvin Hagler had a chip on his shoulder. I say, no wonder. Sometimes a mass of journeyman, gatekeepers and local toughs can be as intimidating as the ranked men that lie just beyond, tantalizingly out of reach. Hagler seemed to have reached them when, in January of 1976 he got top-ten Philadelphian Bobby Watts into the ring having already chomped through 25-0-1 worth of boot-tough steak. Dropping a questionable decision to Watts, who held, spoiled and mauled his way to a win in spite of Hagler’s crisper punching dropped him right back in that meat-grinder and when he lost another decision to an even tougher Philadelphian, Willie “The Worm” Munroe, it seemed as if he might be stuck there for good. 

Hagler did what he always did, and gritted it out.

He beat the superb Eugene Hart, the third Philadelphian brother Grim, making him quit no less, then brought Monroe out to Boston, smashing him up in twelve then followed him back to Philly and switch-hit him to the canvas in two. A superstitious soul might consider that he had taken Monroe’s victory over him personally…

In 1980 he’d give Watts the same treatment to prove his dominance over Philadelphia once and for all, but before that he’d kick the hell out of Kevin Finnegan twice, best the menacing Bennie Briscoe over ten add Ray Phillips and Mike Colbert to his lengthening list of unbeaten records busted and smash Ray Seales to pieces in a single round ending their three-fight rivalry forever and sending himself into the stratosphere. He’d made it. All he had to do now was take the title from the solid but unspectacular Vito Antuofermo and he was champ—only instead he dropped another strange decision. This one perhaps was less bizarre than his loss to Watts and as in that fight, where he seemed to miss a chance to close the blinds on his opponent, Hagler let his man back into the fight with the championship in sight. It would be the last big mistake of his career but not the last questionable card.

Before that the title passed to Alan Minter and when Hagler got his hands on him it was as though he was seized with the ghost of those past failures and he brutalized Minter in three, the British ring, disgustingly but perhaps fittingly given what Marvin was about to do to the middleweight division, pelted with bottles and anything else that came to hand. Hagler then brutalized and stopped his first seven title opponents, among them Antuofermo , upon whom Hagler wrought a terrible revenge opening his face like a watermelon. His destruction derby of world-class opposition was halted only by Roberto Duran, who managed the full fifteen rounds. Four more knockouts followed including the destruction of unbeaten John Mugabi and that fight against Thomas Hearns but it was clear Hagler was beginning to slip. Even so, I would argue like so many others, that he was unlucky in losing his last fight to Ray Leonard. It seems to me that he went out of title affairs in boxing the same way he came in—furious, embittered and, on my card at least, the victor.

Even if you allow that Leonard defeated Hagler, it is the only un-avenged defeated of a career that made him one of the great champions and amongst the greatest one-weight competitors of all time.

#33 Eder Jofre (72-2-4)

Jofre spent better than fifteen years fighting at the sharp end and lost just twice, to Fighting Harada, a great fighter in his own right. He first came to honors in February of 1960, beating the ranked (some sources have him #1) Ernesto Miranda for the South American bantamweight title and then beating him again several months later by knockout. Joe Medel was then stopped in ten in a title eliminator before he picked up the NBA title against the slipping but still ranked Eloy Sanchez, whom he overwhelmed in just six. He defended against the #3 contender Piero Rollo and the soon-to-be ranked Ramon Arias before polishing off Johnny Caldwell and Herman Marques to unify. Jofre added four more defenses and then ran into Harada who merrily carried his title off, consigning Jofre to history. Three years later “The Golden Bantam” hoisted himself back into the ring, and having made what I consider the toughest leap in boxing, beat Jose Legra for a piece of the featherweight title. In his very next fight he knocked out all-time great Vicente Saldivar. He was thirty-seven years old. He went unbeaten in his second career—unheralded—and beat world-class fighters like Octavio Gomez, Juan Lopez, Jose and Antonio Jiminez. It may be the greatest comeback in the history of the sport.

Arguably the definitive box-puncher, Jofre knocked out fifty men, something he was capable of doing with either hand, but also boasted a superb defense and speed. He pulled of the rarest of tricks relying upon no single attribute to get the job done—when he was in his absolute prime it is possible that there is not a bantamweight who would have beaten him.

#32 Jimmy Wilde (132-4-1)

Sources would have us believe that Jimmy Wilde turned professional very late in 1910 or early in 1911 but such are the vagaries of the era that either of these dates is highly debatable. Wilde seems to have fought for money for many years before this, perhaps as early as his fifteenth year. Can we credit his own claim of 850 fights? Although this seems unlikely I would also consider it a given that Wilde fought more than the 150 fights he is credited with by BoxRec.

Tracing Wilde’s title claim is difficult. For some it can be counted first from 1914, when he first lifted the European flyweight title against the even smaller Eugene Husson a fight also billed for something called the “gnatweight title,” a world title. Unfortunately, this claim is opposed by fellow Welshman Percy Jones, who held the IBU flyweight title at the same time, who then lost the title to Joe Symonds. Symonds claim is strengthened over Wilde’s because he was able to defeat the man who stopped Wilde in 1915, Tancy Lee, ending his run of one-hundred fights unbeaten. Furthermore, the gnatweight title fell by the wayside (thank goodness) and the European title Wilde held remained just that in terms of lineage; the IBU title, held by Jones and Symonds, morphs into the flyweight linear title—although Wilde’s holding the European title leads to his claim as world champion being recognized by many due to America’s failure, at this point, to recognize a flyweight division. I prefer to recognize the IBU champion, meaning that Wilde doesn’t come to the title until his victory over Symonds in 1916.

What does all this mean for Wilde’s legacy? Well, whilst his involvement in all manner of weird and wonderful title fights from 1914 speaks of his elite status, he cannot be named the best flyweight in the world until 1916, especially not in light of his knockout loss to Lee in 1915. This, in addition to concern over his level of competition and a lack of any real longevity starts to make Wilde’s status questionable; fortunately he removes such concerns with his career post-Lee.

First, he renewed his status at fly (boxing as a light fly—Wilde would never weigh in at the division limit of 112 lbs. in his career), mowing down former flyweight champion Sid Smith in eight one-sided rounds before lifting the IBU title a year after his first failed tilt, knocking out Joe Symonds in twelve. These are two of the outstanding fighters in the division’s infancy. He then avenged himself on the still red hot Tancy Lee before anointing the world flyweight title proper against American contender, Young Zulu Kid, in a fight where Wilde for once found himself the taller man. A red hot war for the first few rounds, it was Wilde who emerged, as he almost always did from any firefight, triumphant in eleven. 

Then things started to get a little spooky.

Jimmy Wilde dispatched featherweight Joe Conn. Conn was on a hot streak but couldn’t live with Wilde in spite of a weight advantage of around 20 lbs.—around 20% of Wilde’s total bodyweight. Jimmy chopped him off in twelve. Next was Joe Lynch who would go on to become one of the definitive bantamweights of a golden generation for that weight division. Wilde nipped him over three rounds in December of ’18 and over fifteen in March of ’19. More bantamweights followed including world-title claimant Pal Moore, whom he shaded over twenty with an aggressive punching display that nearly saw him knocked out late in the fight. Moore was a handful for any of the era’s superb bantamweights—that Wilde proved his master whilst outweighed by 8-11 lbs is extraordinary. A three-round defeat to Moore and a poor performance which saw him drop a decision to Jackie Sharkey are the only losses he suffered in this extraordinary period.

His going 1-1 with Tancy Lee, likely the best flyweight he met, and my decision to acknowledge his title claim from his lifting the IBU rather than the gnatweight or European flyweight titles, undermines his supposed domination at flyweight and there is no question that his level of competition, for the most part, is a concern in what was a semi-recognised division. But Wilde rendered most of that irrelevant by stepping up to an established division and beating some excellent bantamweights in what was a true pound-for-pound achievement. The man Gene Tunney named the best fighter he had ever seen may rank lower here than on similar lists but his incredible run between his 1915 loss to Tancy Lee and his 1919 loss to Jackie Sharkey makes him a lock for any top forty.

#31 Carlos Monzon (87-3-9)

Carlos Monzon systematically destroyed opponents. Perhaps most instructive was his deconstruction of former world champion Nino Benvenuti. Benvenuti had quit with an injury in a non-title fight in March of 1970, but wouldn’t be knocked out in a fight until his fifth defense of the middleweight championship that November, a fight in which he was devastated by a Monzon right hand. In the rematch, Monzon showcased what was to make him the greatest middleweight champion ever to live. 

As thumping a jab as has been seen in the weight division, consistently thrown from maximum distance is the first crucial ingredient. A points gatherer and a sadistic softener it also worked as Monzon’s first line of defense—even the toughest fighters took their durability in their hands when pressuring the Argentine. It also worked as a direct challenge to the opponent’s balance, inviting counterpunchers to travel the entire length of what was essentially a staving maneuver, and lurking at the end of this stave was Monzon’s devastating right hand. His own balance, meanwhile, bordered on supernatural.  he temptation when analyzing a fighter’s offense is naturally to concentrate upon the punches a fighter lands, but even the punches Monzon misses are important. If he misses a straight right hand, he’s bringing a left to the gut behind it. No matter how compromised he appears to be physically by some winging miss, he finds a way to bring some unwanted gift in compensation.

An inside game that was less nuanced but that married great strength with a mauling aggression, Monzon was every bit the boxer-puncher Eder Jofre was but with added malice. He may have been an even better general, moving opponents with a combination of careful footwork and shepherding punches that gave him eventual control of pacing in every title fight he ever fought. Even the rematch with Rodrigo Valdez, fought past his prime in his final match, eventually ended up in his control despite his being outgunned in the first half of the fight; Monzon, ice in his veins, remained calm and outthought his physically superior opponent for a UD.

It is a combination of skill and will that made Monzon almost unbeatable. The three losses he suffered all occurred within the first eighteen months of his career. Between late 1964 and mid 1977—for thirteen years—he went unbeaten, stopping fifty-nine opponents. He was never stopped himself. He was victorious in a record fifteen middleweight title fights, none of which he came close to losing. He retired the undefeated champion of the world—his two-time victim Valdez beat out Hagler-era contender Bennie Briscoe for the title.

Monzon was brilliant, and purely in terms of ability may rank even higher. Above him, there are only monsters.

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

Jose Napoles



Dick Tiger vs Florentino Fernandez



Kid Gavilan TKO10 Chuck Davey



Jack Dempsey vs Tommy Gibbons (July 1923)



Julio Cesar Chavez vs Edwin Rosario



Marvin Hagler vs John Mugabi



Éder Jofre X Joe Medel I



Jimmy Wilde vs Joe Symonds 1916-02-14



Carlos Monzon breaks Nino Benvenuti



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  1. johnny yuma 10:04pm, 04/04/2013

    Speaking of Pryor I learned my lesson the hard way in 1st Arguello fight!! ha ha ha. I loved Kostya, what a fight,but have to go with Pryor!! Anybody know why after Alexis fights Pryor hardly fought,like about once a year for a few years??Seems like he could have made $$$,fighting nobodies.Jofre rated way to low.I usually(always)  go with old-timers Jofre exception. He is in top 5 bantys,dont forget feather,although really a bantam.Harada who beat him another modern GREAT!!Napoles ,Griffith both greats,ha ha may be going modern.ha ha ha.You know many people thought Emile beat Monzon 2nd fight, But Monzon up there. I usually say top 10,its hard to rank with eras especially.But Monzon cant go ahead of Ketchel,Greb,Walker,my boy Sugar Ray,he just cant!!!

  2. Matt McGrain 09:26pm, 04/04/2013

    I like Kostya to make a good start but maybe get out-monstered a bit down the straight.  Is it a cop out to pick Kostya in 12 and Pryor in 15?

  3. GlennR 08:46pm, 04/04/2013

    Prediction? (but without Pryor having a special drink)

  4. Matt McGrain 08:23pm, 04/04/2013

    That would be some wild-west shit.

  5. GlennR 08:16pm, 04/04/2013

    Yes, and its been enjoyable reading your article and hearing the differing opinions.

    And i think thats a good place for KT, though just below Pryor

    Pryor-Kostya…... be a good fight wouldnt it!

  6. Matt McGrain 07:56pm, 04/04/2013

    Below Pryor but above, say, Ken Norton.  But these are estimates.  The most rewarding part of all this has been doing the detailed working and discovering revelations as to how fighters rate relative to one another.  It’s been really good.  So in earnest, I don’t know.  But that would be my gut’s opinion.

  7. GlennR 07:51pm, 04/04/2013

    You only said the Dempsey thing so as not to upset Clarence!

    Well its the old problem isnt it, quality of opposition generally defines a boxer, whether its his choosing or not.

    And as far as looks goes, man, Pryor looks like a nightmare to me!

    By the way, where would you put Kostya Tszyu?

  8. Matt McGrain 07:51pm, 04/04/2013

    rax, you’re true, but both Duran and Hearns talked to McCallum who was as qualified as anyone around.  Those two then fought each other.  It’s deeply frustrating, because @154 I would name Hearns & McCallum as the best ever - ever, in terms of the actual weight division (so a 154lb Burley or Robinson wouldn’t count).  They should have met man, more than Pryor and any of those dudes.  To my mind, anyway.

  9. raxman 07:48pm, 04/04/2013

    matt - re the body snatcher- but he came sort of half a generation after those guys. pryor was on the rise at the same time. by the time mccallum won his first title those guys had been stars for years. he was a contemporary of the next generation of 47 &54;‘s like the guys he fought curry and Jackson and an older guy for that era of brit 160’s graham, Watson and collins etc. by the time mccallum was a world champ hearns had already fought SRL and Duran and was about to fight hagler. those guys were in the stratosphere and already doing what would evolve into the Floyd model of event fighting.
    having said all that the body snatcher would’ve given those guys are run and probably, as styles make fights, a beating had he fought them. he was a beast

  10. Matt McGrain 07:35pm, 04/04/2013

    I think Pryor’s best win is Cervantes.  The first Arguello fight is tainted to say the very least, and the second one is over a shot Arguello who was better two weights south anyway.  A heft of defences, no unification, one squeaky decision middling comp.  It’s not a lock - you want to compare him to Sanchez, but Glenn, Sanchez has more wins, as many title fights, and beat by far the better competition - Lopez, Nelson, Cowdell, Gomez, Laporte.  He looks better on film and has less filler.  I’m not saying Pryor wasn’t special - what i’m saying is that he wasn’t top 100.  I’d have Dempsey above him, for what that’s worth, haha.

  11. GlennR 07:26pm, 04/04/2013

    @ Matt…. gee im glad i bought Pryor up.

    Personally, i think you have to take into account whether a fighter was ducked, and Pryor was by 3 guys on this list, not to mention comprehensively beating Alexis twice.

    And i refer to Salvador Sanchez once again, what a fighter to watch with a tragically short cut career, but what did he achieve over and above Pryor?

    You say he doesnt have the p4p achievement? Well compare his career to a Joe Frazier for example, Joe loses his career defining fights (except the first Ali fight) and gets on here.

  12. Matt McGrain 07:17pm, 04/04/2013

    I’d say that McCallum was the guy that really got ducked there - outrageously so by Duran and Hearns.  We can agree that ducking is as old as boxing though.

  13. raxman 07:11pm, 04/04/2013

    pryor is number 1 on the list of those who were ducked by the best fighters - of the famed 4kings - pryor would’ve caused trouble for the 3 nearest his weight leonard, hearns and duran - same era - close enough in weight. who says ducking is a new thing in boxing.

  14. Matt McGrain 05:54pm, 04/04/2013

    It doesn’t matter if he is “better” than them.  Probably there are guys outside the top 10 at welterweight today who would beat Tommy Ryan over twelve (depending upon how you feel about era v era).  That isn’t enough to get you on.  He doesn’t have anything like the p4p achievement, top to bottom resume or dominance of a guy like Chang (#99) or O’Brien (#96). Berg (#95) barely scraped onto the list and he won more than 150 fights!  I’m confident, happy, that neither man you mention belongs.

  15. Eric 05:27pm, 04/04/2013

    Well, Duran should be in the top 10-12 and is definitely the all-time greatest lightweight. Pryor not making the top 100 is almost as bad as Dempsey not making the cut. I’m thinking Aaron was at least a better fighter than many of those towards the bottom of this list.

  16. Davor 04:48pm, 04/04/2013

    Monzon ahead of JC and Eder Jofre. In the name of all the argentinians: we love you. Now we want Duran in the Top 10 and El Roña Castro over Ray Robinson (?).

  17. Eric 04:14pm, 04/04/2013

    If there are 30 places left, does this mean the middleweights will grab at least 4 more spots with former champs Ketchel, Greb, Walker, and Robinson?

  18. Frank 04:14pm, 04/04/2013

    I totally disagree with you about the Chavez-Whitaker fight. Whitaker fouled Chavez at least fifty fights (i.e. hitting below the belt, elbows, etc.) and should have divided several points. It was close, but Chavez beat Whitaker! Jose Luis Ramirez best Whitaker twice and was robbed in one of the fights. Whitaker was also beaten by Wilfredo Rivera clearly, but was robbed as well.

  19. Matt McGrain 01:42pm, 04/04/2013

    Glenn - yeah, heavies are far and away the most visible fighters and the fighters that are most displeasing people by virtue of their being left out - Dempsey is far and away the biggest bugbear, as I knew he would be, Tyson is next.  Pryor was not under consideration for the top 100 in a serious way so I would expect to see him come in at about 135.

  20. Matt McGrain 01:40pm, 04/04/2013

    I get the feeling that Robinson, at his Bull-Basing best might have got round the corner on an outsped Monzon too…but I guess that’s not the point.  He was just one of the most wonderful of champions, a more wonderful *champion* than any other middleweight.  Others have him pegged for competition, and by some distance, hence his ranking, but as a champ? Beast.

  21. GlennR 01:34pm, 04/04/2013

    @Matt.
    Big call leaving Tyson out. I know (for some reason) that a lot of people think he was overrated but gee he could do things that no HW could do, and he set the world on fire. Theres no HW mentioned here that, on his day, he doesnt beat. Even though his peak career may have been short compared to many, id point out Salvador who you judged on a very short (though amazing career).

    So RJJ and whitaker will be top 30 i guess….. im fine with that but im thinking a few guys here wont be happy.

    And Pryor? He’s obviously not going to appear, where do you place him?

  22. tuxtucis 11:59am, 04/04/2013

    @EricJorgensen: I don’t think so…Monzon had an allergy to southpaws, Hagler would have won a match-up…
    @Walt: the level of competition of Monzon was not the highest; Benvenuti, Griffith and Napoles were past prime and anyway better at lower weights; his best wins were the two vs Valdes.

  23. Walt 10:43am, 04/04/2013

    Monzon was unbeaten over the last eighty-one bouts of his career, a span of thirteen years!

  24. Eric Jorgensen 10:06am, 04/04/2013

    I swing along with the group that believes that Jack Dempsey should be on the list—and not just on it, but very high on it.  The IBRO list had Dempsey just inside the Top 20 and that’s about the lowest ranking of the Mauler I’ve seen from guys whose opinion is well-informed enough to carry any weight.  The sportswriters who voted Dempsey #1 pound-for-pound (by a mile) in the AP Mid-Century Poll couldn’t all have been morons, I don’t think. 

    That said, I do want to recognize what I consider to be the real gem of your list—namely, that it includes many great fighters from the 1930s and 1940s who are under-appreciated today.

    Finally, two more things:  (1) glad to see you include Tommy Gibbons; (2) much as I hate to stump for a reprehensible wife-killer like Carlos Monzon, he was the strongest freakin’ middleweight I’ve ever seen, and I like him head-up against any of the others except maybe Harry Greb.  I think he would have absolutely cleaned Hagler’s clock.

  25. Clarence George 06:01am, 04/04/2013

    What gross venality!  I’m appalled…but I’ll take it under advisement.

  26. Matt McGrain 05:55am, 04/04/2013

    If you’re serious about the car i’ll install Dempsey at #1.

  27. Kurt 04:53am, 04/04/2013

    Why are Dempsey and Gibbons both fighting southpaw in the first round of the clip you’re showing???

  28. Clarence George 02:47am, 04/04/2013

    You’re right, Glenn, that I’ll never forgive Matt for not including Jack Dempsey.  I had planned on getting him an Aston-Martin for Christmas, but now…

    That said, I think Matt has done very well with this installment.  I could quibble about a placement here or there, but that’s about it.

    Up next?  Pancho Villa?  Sam Langford?  And I’m curious about some of the great middleweights, such as Tony Zale (my favorite) and the truly extraordinary Marcel Cerdan.

  29. Matt McGrain 02:42am, 04/04/2013

    Morning gents!  How i see these issues, each in turn…
    @GlennR, hey Glenn, you’re right, Tyson missed out.  If you go waaaaay back to Part 1 you’ll see in the intro i agonize about the dozen different guys I had in the #100 spot…Tyson was one of those.  He ranks between 100-110 for me.  @“Walt”, “Walt” i’m interested - what’s the case for Monzon appearing in the top ten?  What would be the case for ranking him above, say, Muhammad Ali? @tuxtucis nailed my reasons for Jofre ranking where he does…as for my high rankings of these Cuban fighters, they are two of the greatest welterweight champions in history with considerable achievements in other weight classes…i couldn’t see them much lower than this, personally…

  30. Gajjers 12:26am, 04/04/2013

    @GlennR - “...with only 20 places left…”. If I read the article correctly, Monzon (the last on this list) was ranked 31st. That suggests there are 30 fighters ranked above him, no? One thing though - I suspect I’m going to be pretty upset with some of the upcoming choices, due to iffy inclusions & no doubt outrageous exclusions. Well, it’s one man’s list, so it is what it is. It looks a lot like Pernell Whitaker & Roy Jones are gonna be pretty well pleased with their placings, as would I, should they make the remaining roster.

  31. tuxtucis 11:54pm, 04/03/2013

    Oh, about Monzon who was never close to losing his title: some think that razor thin the decision in his second match with Griffith…but that’s more a great accomplishment for Griffith than a shame for the Argentinian

  32. tuxtucis 11:50pm, 04/03/2013

    I agree about the ranking of Eder Jofre, lower than usual…He was complete and very beautiful to see, but his level of victories is one of lowest in this top 100…the same maybe can be said about Wilde (although he has victories against great bantams in their primes)...Opposite, I think near indefensible so high rankings of thw two Cubans (Gavilan and Napoles) and so low of Chavez…As said in previous post, I don’t think Hagler can’t be in a top 40 pound for pound ranking, cause his most celebrated matches were against fighters from lighter divisions…Totally agree with the high ranking of Tommy Gibbons, one of most underrated fighters of all time…

  33. Walt 09:30pm, 04/03/2013

    Jofre 33. You are kidding, correct Matt?  And Monzon not in the top ten?

  34. GlennR 08:58pm, 04/03/2013

    And i reckon Clarence will have a fit when he sees Gibbons on, after Dempsey has been left off!

  35. GlennR 08:55pm, 04/03/2013

    Nice list Matt, though a few of the fighters i cant really comment on as i dont know that much about them… Britton for instance

    But im doing my sums and im thinking that ,with only 20 places left, some big names are going to be left off the 100 altogether.

    For example,I dont think Tyson gets on now

  36. FrankinDallas 08:14pm, 04/03/2013

    No referee in the Wilde-Symonds bout? Interesting .....

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