The 100 Greatest Heavyweights of All Time Part Eight: 30-21

By Matt McGrain on September 9, 2014
The 100 Greatest Heavyweights of All Time Part Eight: 30-21
He was an out-and-out gunslinger, hands low, chin out, getting by on reactions and guts.

There comes a time on any such list when, although not quite great themselves, the fighters considered are capable of brutalizing even the best…

Entering the top thirty we find that it is men listed here rather than those enshrined within the top twenty that are said to have been some of the toughest opponents for the true immortals of boxing. If you want to read about the man who most tormented the great Sam Langford, you can do so in this installment, not in those covering the absolute quill. The chief nemesis of James J. Corbett, too, is discussed below – as well as the man who in losing most troubled the giant Lennox Lewis. Jack Dempsey’s destroyer is ranked here, as are the men who became the most dreaded opponents of Muhammad Ali and who very nearly changed history at the expense of Joe Louis.

There comes a time on any such list when, although not quite great themselves, the fighters considered are capable of brutalizing even the best.

This is that time.

#30 Sam McVey (66-13-9; Newspaper Decisions 4-5-3)

Sam McVey was often portrayed in the 1990s as “the Tyson of his era.” His physical dimensions were not dissimilar to Iron Mike’s standing, as he did, at around 5’10 and carrying as much as 220 lbs. When footage emerged, the comparisons ceased. McVey fought in a fiercely dissimilar fashion to that of Tyson on every single one of the scant frames which have emerged of him. A stalker more akin to Joe Louis or George Foreman, it is stillness, not motion which defines his approach, suddenly attacking with a fast left-jab with combinations, many of them messy, stitched on behind it. Demonstrating the strength of which his build spoke and the patience of a long-haul fighter, he may be, stylistically, something of a bridge between the early gloved era and the modernization of the sport, jabbing in the old-fashioned “jousting” way but recognizing within himself the power to damage in waves.

And what power. Here comparisons with Tyson are absolutely valid. McVey knocked out fifty-eight opponents at heavyweight and when he couldn’t knock them out, he demonstrated the strength of mind and purpose and the aggression and accuracy to outpoint them, even fighters of such quality as Sam Langford and Joe Jeannette. It is likely that Jeannette holds an edge over him from their torrid and celebrated series of fights, not least because McVey was beaten blind when the two met in the most legendary fight of the era, their second encounter in Paris, won by Jeannette in the forty-ninth round after McVey quit. “No Mas” it was not - McVey couldn’t see, his eyes beaten nearly to slits. If it were only a matter of heart and will they might be fighting still.

Jack Johnson defeated him on three separate occasions, but McVey was yet to reach twenty and the fact that Johnson never matched McVey, a fighter he purportedly admired greatly and for whose funeral he was glad to pay when McVey died broke and young of pneumonia, is to the determinant of his legacy. Probably Johnson always would have bested McVey though; certainly he was the proven inferior of Sam Langford, and here he lags just behind Joe Jeannette. 

#29 Joe Jeannette (83-10-9; Newspaper Decisions 35-16-11)

Joe Jeannette embraced his ironman vernacular early in his career surviving three rounds with Jack Johnson despite being without a win in a recognized professional contest and despite his being outweighed by around twenty pounds. Little more than a greenhorn middleweight, Jeannette had to watch as Johnson butchered the more experienced and bigger Walter Johnson over three before stepping into the ring with the world’s best heavyweight himself; only Jeannette, miraculously, was able to hold his own. 

His mix of excellence and toughness would lead him to the foot of the pinnacle of heavyweight boxing, but no higher. Johnson would beat him more than once before Jeannette came to anything like his peak but the two never met in the ring upon Johnson’s lifting the title. At least once and possibly twice documents were signed for a battle between the two on US soil but by that point the champion was such a divisive figure in American life that the fight failed to come off; meanwhile Johnson was steadfast and consistent in refusing to meet Jeannette for big paydays in either Australia or France.

It was in France that Jeannette really made his legend, defeating a man who shared his frustration in both color and opportunity, Sam McVey. McVey was bigger, stronger and a harder puncher than Jeannette but it was Jeannette who proved himself the better man. Three times they met in Paris, twice in decision bouts and once in a controversial fight to the finish. It is the fight to the finish that lays the bedrock of each man’s legend but it was Joe Jeannette who triumphed, despite being dropped over and over again by his nemesis in a fight that led McVey to name him “inhuman.” 

In their first Paris encounter, the referee had reportedly raised Jeannette’s hand in victory before instead naming McVey the winner. In their third fight in Europe, the referee named the fight a draw, a result that even McVey could not understand, being quoted in La Vie au Grand Air as naming his opponent “better than me.”

“Only two men can now compete with him,” continued the article. “Jack Johnson and Sam Langford.”

Langford’s indomitable presence throughout Jeannette’s career is the reason he may, arguably, never have been the #1 contender to Johnson’s title, though it should be highlighted that in part this is because Johnson never bothered to meet his #1 contender. It is also probable that after his sensational stoppage of Sam McVey followed by a draw in which he was clearly the better fighter likely made him the most interesting opponent for Johnson at that time.

Despite Johnson’s refusal to put the title on the line against him and despite repeated problems with his right hand, a major reason for the extreme culture of his left, he built a career that sees him just inside the top thirty. He beat both Johnson (DQ2) and Langford (TKO8, W12) during his career, and made himself the number three man of the best heavyweight era prior to the 1970s, in his Parisian contests with Sam McVey. He beat Young Peter Jackson, Sandy Ferguson, Jim Johnson, Jim Barry, Al Kubiak, Bill Tate, Jeff Clark, Georges Carpentier, Tom Cowler and Clay Turner. He lost two disputed decisions to Kid Norfolk in his fourteenth year as a professional but it was Harry Wills who really signalled that the end was as hand, outpointing him cleanly in 1919. When they had met in 1914, a much closer fight had resulted in a draw. 

Perhaps the only man to have been avoided by both Jack Johnson (“I regard Jeannette as the next best fighter in the world to myself” – Kalamazoo Gazette, 1912) and Jack Dempsey (“when a man of Jack’s repute ducks a no-decision bout with a veteran like Jeannette he places himself in a very bad light” – The Hudson Dispatch, 1918), “the toughest man in the ring” according to Sam Langford nevertheless finds himself here ranked above many men who did fight for the title.

Justly so.

#28 Max Baer (67-13)

Max Baer derided himself as the owner of a “ten cent brain,” but this is far from the truth. Baer was remarkably sharp-minded, a gift he retained until the heart-attack that killed him, supposedly telling the hotel receptionist that had offered to procure him “the house doctor” that he’d rather have “a people doctor” before informing said doctor “here I go!” He was one of a kind, and the result was a full notebook for every boxing scribe that ever sought him out.

Where Baer did show signs of a low IQ was in the ring, a place where he was outthought by as wide-ranging a line-up as Tommy Loughran, who outthought everyone, to James Braddock, Ernie Schaaf and Johnny Risko, who really didn’t. Risko’s May 1931 experience seems typical. He rode out the hideous storm of Baer’s traditionally brutal first round, clung on both figuratively and literally in the second, split the middle rounds and “punched out an edge” (Associated Press) in the final two. Not a great trainer, and easily distracted in the ring (after a poor second round against James Braddock he supposedly asked his corner, “is that Myrna Loy?” as they attempted to read him the riot), Baer liked to get on top with the violence that lay so inexplicably comfortably with his joyful soul because he just didn’t exhibit the concentration and commitment necessary for an elite-class sportsman.

And yet, here he is, inside the top thirty. Why – how?

For the same reasons that Benny Leonard lamented his inability to fulfill his potential, which according to the Ghetto Wizard was nothing less than the capacity to become the greatest heavyweight champion in all of history. Boxing.com’s Norman Marcus feels something similar – I don’t share their point of view, but in the two most crucial areas of heavyweight boxing, Baer is in the absolute elite.

He was never stopped by punches in his prime and when he was stopped for the first time by Joe Louis in 1935 it was to perhaps the best overall hitter in boxing history and it took literally dozens of unanswered power-punches to the face and jaw to convince Baer to quit. His chin is proven iron and only really betrayed him in the final fight of his career. As to power, it is doubtless that he is one of the best pure-punchers in the division’s history.

Despite a training camp more akin to a circus than the Spartan torture chamber preferred by his near-broken trainer Ancil Hoffman, Baer usually rallied after his traditional mid-fight loaf which often included laughter, inactivity and a needlessly wide left-hook seemingly designed to miss – about that hook, though. Every now and again, Baer would drop it to the body. Every now and again he would throw three jabs, too. He never really forgot where he was, and all those punches were adding up because, simply put, Baer brought a Neanderthal’s voodoo to the ring. Sadly, that voodoo would result in the death of the brave Frankie Campbell, upon whom Baer’s punches extracted the heaviest toll. Not so tragic was Baer’s punishment of the brave Max Schmeling, who crowded the deadly Baer in the second half of the fight. The result was a catastrophe for the German, who had a victory over Joe Louis in his future. Baer rendered the most cerebral fighter of his generation drunk with a predominantly right-handed attack that looks, to modern eyes, akin to butchery. He won the heavyweight title from Primo Carnera in his very next fight after a pitiful training camp that infuriated everyone from New York commissioner Bill Brown (“He’s a bum!”) to Jack Dempsey (“He’s not ready.”), but he won, and very much on his own terms.

But even power and punch resistance aren’t enough to close the gap in boxing. Baer lost his title in his first defense to outsider James J. Braddock and his hunger, intermittent at best, deserted him almost completely. A unique talent in every sense, I think Baer, had he turned professional in 2004, would probably be a good bet to dethrone Wladimir Klitschko – but only if he could get past Chris Byrd, which he probably wouldn’t. Flawed genius at its best, Baer has too much flaw for the top twenty and too much genius for the top forty.

#27 Bob Fitzsimmons (63-8-4; Newspaper Decisions 6-4-9)

When Max Baer killed Frankie Campbell it very nearly finished him as a fighter. He was dogged by nightmares. Afraid to savage his opponents in the old and grand style he instead held back. He lost four of his next six fights.

“I was never the same fighter,” said Emile Griffith, speaking of his reaction to the tragic death of Bennie Paret. “After that fight, I did enough to win. I would use my jab all the time. I didn’t want to hurt the other guy.” The same hounds dogged Ezzard Charles.

But not Bob Fitzsimmons. “Ruby Red” killed Cornelius “Con” Riordan during sparring with a single right-hand to the jaw in November of 1984. When the legal issues surrounding his death were cleared up, Fitzsimmons celebrated by smashing Al Allich to pieces in three, following that up with a single round blowout of Mike Connors. He was stone-cold. Overmatched, vulnerable to the brilliance of a heavyweight-championship caliber fighter, Fitz spared them no savagery – the death at his hands of another human being inflicted upon him none of the scars that Charles, Griffith and Baer suffered. Within the squared circle he maintained a strange violence unequalled, part battleship, part trapsmith, part brute. 

“I have no idea which fighting style I will adopt,” Fitzsimmons explained. “I never fight two battles alike. I never go into the ring with any fixed purpose, except that I am going to whip the other man as quick as I can.”

This, the much smaller Fitzsimmons did often and regardless of the class of opposition. He knocked out the world class Peter Maher in a single round – it was reportedly “several minutes” before Maher was recovered enough to understand what had happened to him.

Joe Choynski was smashed out in five rounds, Gus Ruhlin in six. Tom Sharkey managed just two when he wasn’t claiming fouls that hadn’t happened; most famous of all, James J. Corbett, both bigger and faster, was destroyed with a single blow to the heart: “I felt,” stated Corbett in the flood of truth that poured from him upon his eventual recovery, “as if I would die.”

That punch made Fitzsimmons the undisputed heavyweight Champion of the world and arguably the greatest boxer in the history of the sport.

#26 Vitali Klitschko (45-2)

Statistically, Vitali Klitschko is enormously impressive. His two losses were posted against men in the top fifty at heavyweight, and both were retirements forced by injury, in the case of Chris Byrd after suffering a damaged shoulder, in the case of Lennox Lewis after suffering one of the most hideous cuts in the history of televised boxing. 

He was never outpointed, he was never knocked out, he has never been behind on the cards in any fight and he won forty-one of forty-five fights by stoppage, one of the best knockout ratios in the history of boxing. He remained one of the most formidable big men in the world into his forties.

Iron of jaw with an engine powered by the type of will and determination that will make a man a succeed in almost any walk of life (and currently in Ukrainian politics, a career that makes boxing look soft by comparison), six-feet seven inches and weighing in at between 240 and 250 lbs. in shape, still Vitali finds himself outside the top twenty. Why?

In part, it is because Vitali was never the legitimate heavyweight King. Beaten, albeit on a cut, by Lennox Lewis he was never able to meet with the other outstanding heavyweight of his era to establish a new lineage because that other outstanding heavyweight was his brother, Wladimir Klitschko. 

The eleven ranked men he dispatched hardly closes this gap in his fistic history, but the manner of his defeat of them might. He utterly outclassed them. Appraising him head to head then, is extremely difficult. On the one hand, he seemed better than most of his competition by distance, and even in the one case where he seemed, perhaps, to be the lesser man in the ring, he provided the great Lennox Lewis with all he could handle for as long as their fight lasted.

Possibly underappreciated on the side of the Atlantic that controls the big money, Vitali has inarguably been misunderstood in the US and the UK both, described as “robotic” by the usually keen-eyed Donald McRae, boxing mogul Richard Schaefer and (rather endlessly) by former contender David Haye, among many others. Are they blind? Vitali was anything but robotic. He was the opposite of robotic. He was an out-and-out gunslinger, hands low, chin out, eschewing defense in favor of that withering offense, getting by on reactions and guts.

Watch him with Lewis; watch the tiny, nimble steps he takes, trying to shepherd the Champ with a combination of balance and feints – watch him dip away at the waist to try to bring his fellow giant onto his punches.

But for all that Vitali was and is a man hell-bent on self-determination, he was nevertheless a victim of circumstance, circumstances that resulted in a shared ambition that would deny the completion of his more personal ones, and perhaps of a certain prejudice, if not against his skin-color as some more hysterical commentators have suggested, perhaps of his Eastern roots. Neither the robotic duplicate of the Communist system that birthed him nor the marauding conqueror his sympathizers have suggested, he nevertheless finds a birth here in the mid-twenties, one of the highest rated generational number twos in history. 

#25 Riddick Bowe (43-1)

Riddick Bowe and Vitali Klitschko were basically tied on this list until the very moment that I penned Klitschko’s entry. For those who care, it was the fact that Bowe defeated thirteen Ring ranked contenders and Klitschko eleven that finally separated them; it was that close.

Bowe arguably got lucky versus Tony Tubbs in April of 1991 however, scoring a unanimous decision over a fighter many ringsiders felt deserved the nod (I scored it for Bowe, by a narrow margin). For some, this is the first true indication that Bowe would fail to deliver upon his potential as an all-time great, potential that was served nonetheless by the Championship of the world, thrown aloft by Bowe after his defeat of a man with less seeming potential but more storied success, the then 28-0 Evander Holyfield.

In handing The Real Deal his first loss, Bowe flirted closely with immortality, not least because he turned in one of the very greatest displays by a heavyweight – at 6’5 with a recorded reach of 81”, Bowe’s 235 lbs. make him assuredly that. Those who wish to label the Klitschko brothers and Lennox Lewis the heralding of a new type of elastic but enormous heavy seem to want to ignore Bowe, but it is he, not Lewis or Wladimir, that is representative of a truly exciting prototype in my opinion, for all that it is one too complex for mass-production. Unlike his even larger cousins, Bowe did it all.

He jabbed well against Holyfield on the night he would become a King, but it was on the inside that he excelled. Holyfield was exceptional at this range having studied there with Dwight Muhammad Qawi some years before, but it was Bowe that timed a hurtful sneak uppercut, Bowe that turned his man in a tight circle before hitting over the top, Bowe that stepped back to make room for a crushing hook to the jaw; for all that Holyfield fought brilliantly, Bowe was better. Machines this big that work this cohesively are rare – Bowe was perfectly capable of doubling the jab and stepping in with a right-uppercut to the body before sniping to the jaw. In the clinch he gave ground and cracked short-arm right-hands to the ear. Holyfield is perhaps the definitive box-puncher post-Liston due to the overall career arc of these two men, but never let it be forgotten that Bowe was better than him for two of the three excellent fights these two exceptional heavies fought.

Growing up, Bowe suffered in the belly of hideous poverty and perhaps once he escaped it the fire went out a little. He developed an eating problem to partner a sometimes questionable attitude to training and began to arrive for fights out of condition, summiting 250 lbs. on one occasion. Only the more serious discipline problems of one Andrew Golota spared him from suffering an additional pair of losses to go with the one Evander Holyfield inflicted upon him. It was 1996, a few short years after Eddie Futch told him and us that the mercurial Bowe could one day be more special than Joe Frazier, and Bowe was instead retired.

That would never happen – Frazier remains anointed with immortals and Bowe is denied the sun in the shadows of those giants.

But on his best night? Bowe might just have beaten any of them.

#24 Peter Jackson (43-5-3; Newspaper Decisions 8-0-7)

Had “The Black Prince” been, instead, The White Prince, Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis may have had some company. Jackson was openly ducked by Bob Fitzsimmons and, when he held the title, by James J. Corbett. Most blatantly of all he was ducked by John L. Sullivan, who was the Champion of the world during Jackson’s incredible prime. Legend has it that Sullivan would boorishly hammer a fist upon any bar of his choosing and declare himself “able to lick any man in the house.” Sullivan presumably drank in white-only establishments. “I’ll never fight a nigger,” was another one of his favorite little sayings, and Jackson, by Sullivan’s reckoning, was one.

Years later in commenting on the woes inflicted by the color-line long after his retirement he suggested that if ever a white heavyweight was drawing the line, it meant only that there was a dangerous black contender upon him.

The Prince turned professional early in 1882 according to BoxRec, and fought his last fight a little more than seventeen years later, in 1899. He lost his eighth recorded fight, in 1884, and between that time and his first retirement he remained virtually unbeaten. BoxRec lists two losses – but also notes that these were fights where Jackson had agreed to take the loser’s end of the purse if he failed to stop an overmatched opponent over four rounds. 

The two legitimate losses he suffered took place years after alcohol and disease had ravaged him of his best, and three years after his first retirement. Jackson and Sullivan suffered the same fate, ironically, made mortal by booze and inactivity, beaten at last, something no man could ever have hoped to have done, except one the other. 

As late as 1892, Jackson was taking out the top men of the era, beating the favored Frank Slavin by knockout in the tenth; the fight, according to The Pittsburgh Dispatch, made Jackson “one of the greatest fighters in the annals of the prize ring.” The paper also reported that The Marquess of Queensberry himself reckoned it the single best display he had ever seen by a heavyweight.

He surely was all of those things. Little wonder Sullivan preferred to see a paler complexion in the furthest corner.

James J. Corbett, to his great credit, did meet with Peter Jackson and the sixty-one round draw (or no contest) that resulted is the stuff of legends. Adam J. Pollack who has written the definitive biography on Corbett is of the opinion that it was Jackson, not Corbett, who was the defining technician of that generation of heavyweights, and Corbett agreed with him. Pollack also points out that Jackson’s training for this fight was hampered by an ankle injury suffered in falling from a carriage or buggy and it seems typical perhaps of Jackson’s luck that he should carry such an ailment into what would unfortunately remain the biggest fight of his career.

Aside from the draw with Corbett and the destruction of Slavin, Jackson crushed Peter Maher in three, broke George Godfrey in nineteen (using gloves weighing just two ounces), took out Joe McAuliffe in twenty-four, Denver Ed Smith in five. He dominated a generation. Capable of mercy and brutality on the same night in the same fight, he was known for never losing his cool in the ring as well as for his endurance, speed and generalship. He would have made as fine a champion as has walked the earth and it is difficult for me to imagine his getting a shot at both Sullivan and Corbett, which he was due, without his holding aloft the greatest prize in sport at one time or the other.

#23 Gene Tunney (65-1-1; Newspaper Decisions 14-0-3)

Gene Tunney announced in April of 1925 that he would be fighting exclusively at heavyweight in pursuit of Champion turned playboy Jack Dempsey. Nine fights remained in a career that saw Tunney retire the undefeated heavyweight King.

That makes Gene difficult to appraise. Retiring as the undefeated undisputed heavyweight boss almost guarantees an elevated spot in and of itself, but nine fights as a dedicated heavy is so very few. Tunney had always had one eye on the richest title however, and for this reason had dabbled in the biggest division for a number of years, most impressively against the ranked Erminio Spalla, who he outclassed but over whom he likely should have been awarded a DQ rather than a TKO. After becoming the only man to dominate a mature Harry Greb in March of ’25, Tunney became the first and last man to stop defensive wizard Tommy Gibbons, two men who extended every elite heavyweight they ever met, before contesting the two fights for which he will be forever defined: the pair of duels with the Manassa Mauler, Jack Dempsey.

Just as Holyfield’s obsession with Tyson seems now to hint at a self-attested destiny, so too does Tunney’s obsession with Dempsey. According to the golf pro Tommy Armour, Tunney used to run backwards down the fairway during a round, throwing punches, muttering “Dempsey, Dempsey, Dempsey,” stopping on occasion to fire down a hard right-hand. Gene Tunney became the heavyweight Champion of the world in a non-competitive fight with an incumbent all-time great. Dempsey, inactive and his prime firmly behind him, didn’t represent the terrible danger of his hunger-days, but he turned the clock back in the rematch and was still outclassed. 

His second defense, against Tom Heeney, is much maligned, but for better or worse, Heeney was the number four heavyweight in the world at the time of their meeting. Tunney then packed up his riches and retired to society life.

People who know the fight game place Tunney as high as the top five; after showing him the consideration that all the fighters on this list have received, that is not something I cannot understand or condone. He hasn’t the depth of résumé, and his marquee wins at the weight – against Greb, Gibbons and Dempsey – were all against faded versions of those fighters. Despite that, he ranks here just outside the top twenty legitimately, based upon those nevertheless impressive wins, upon his brilliance on film, upon his retiring the undisputed heavyweight Champion of the world.

#22 Ken Norton (42-7-1)

No fighter in the top thirty is more clearly defined by a single win than Ken Norton. His nemesis, of course, was Muhammad Ali and their famous, controversial, enthralling series remains and always will remain Norton’s claim to fame.

Their first fight was a clear win for Norton, 8-4 by my card, a fight that much of his legacy rests upon. Their second was seen to Ali by the judges and by a narrow margin by myself and truth be told only their third and final fight was controversial by my reckoning – an 8-6-1 victory to Norton as I saw it, but a unanimous decision for Ali on the official markers.

Each one of their fight lacks a defining punch, and aside from the second in which Ali’s spirited performance in the ninth round was crucial, were bereft too of key moments. This is because Norton, if he isn’t knocked out (something George Foreman, Earnie Shavers and Gerry Cooney were all able to do in short order), repeats himself endlessly, but he does so with such insistence that even a ring-general like Ali will find it difficult to capitalize. But Norton’s success against the self-styled Greatest was about more than that. What Norton underlined was Ali’s limited punch selection. He rarely attacked the body and in the third, especially, Norton’s midriff was screaming out for the loving attention of a world-class pugilist – Ali declined. In the second fight, Ali broke out the left-hook and uppercut in a real sense perhaps for the first and last time in any of his “great” fights, such was the pressure Norton placed upon him but my sense was Ali won that fight on conditioning rather than speed of punch. 

While Ali, at his best, used angles beautifully, his lost elasticity meant that he had become something of a jouster – using one plane of movement to attack whilst moving. Astonishingly, and against all fistic reason, boxing’s unpredictable mechanics colluded to offer Norton a style advantage.

He worked with it though. He earned it. Max Schmeling ranks one spot above him based upon his wider résumé, but it was Norton who duelled the monster in his era to a near standstill, over the course of three fights and twenty-nine rounds.

#21 Max Schmeling (56-10-4)

Max Schmeling’s career underlined the necessity of carrying to the ring a specific plan, something mystifyingly ignored by prospects everywhere for the better part one-hundred years. For his 1929 encounter Paulino Uzcudun he set out to step in with his right-hand, shortening the punch, countering the left as it was drawn. Schmeling used that right to “cut the Basque’s face to ribbons” (Associated Press), leaving him “groggy at the finish.” 

Much more famous was the plan he hatched for Joe Louis. The Brown Bomber was at the time of their 1936 confrontation anointed the Champion in waiting and was routinely destroying intimidated opposition. Schmeling was unimpressed.

“A good right hand could beat Louis,” he told those closest to him. “I feel certain when he shoots his left I can cross my right over it and score.”

The essential difference between his plan for Uzcudun and Louis was that Louis should be allowed to throw a punch where Uzcudun was pre-countered. This was an enormous risk and illustrated a fighter of huge heart. Schmeling swallowed so many jabs in the early rounds that he was peering out of a single eye by the time he had dusted Louis in the twelfth. The general astonishment which greeted this result cannot be overstated; in the days following Schmeling’s triumph, as much ink was deployed in a search for the reasoning as would be used fifty years later when Buster Douglas hammered Mike Tyson.

The real answer lay in Schmeling’s brilliance as a pugilist. A genuine eye for weakness combined with one of the hardest right-hands of the era led to victories over Jack Sharkey, Walter Neusel, Mickey Walker, Young Stribling, Steve Hamas, John Risko, Uzcudun, and in Joe Louis earned him perhaps the single greatest victory in the history of heavyweight gloved boxing.

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

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Sam McVea vs Battling Jim Johnson 1910 (Speed Corrected)



Sam Langford vs Joe Jeannette, X



Max Baer vs Primo Carnera



Bob Fitzsimmons vs James J. Corbett Part 1



Bob Fitzsimmons vs James J. Corbett Part 2



Lennox Lewis vs Vitali Klitschko SkySports1



Evander Holyfield - Riddick Bowe 1 [HD]



Gene Tunney -vs- Jack Dempsey I 1926 World Heavyweight Championship (Restored Full Fight))



Muhammad Ali vs Ken Norton I - March 31, 1973 - Entire fight - Rounds 1 - 12 & Interviews



Max Schmeling vs Joe Louis, I (All Rounds)



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  1. Your Name 08:27pm, 11/24/2015

    “But for all that Vitali was and is a man hell-bent on self-determination, he was nevertheless a victim of circumstance, circumstances that resulted in a shared ambition that would deny the completion of his more personal ones, and perhaps of a certain prejudice, if not against his skin-color as some more hysterical commentators have suggested, perhaps of his Eastern roots.”
    I’m sorry, Matt - but this is exactly what you have done here - you cannot find any other explanation to rank a man so low who was never even BEHIND in a fight in his career! I’ll let that last statement stand on its own.

  2. BudCole 08:20pm, 11/24/2015

    My only, and seemingly ALWAYS, exception to this list, and many others is Vitali. Even the summary states it - never behind, never knocked out (or even down), and two losses because of medical disqualifications. He was ahead against Lewis, and WAY ahead against Byrd (rotator cuff - OUCH). He would have knocked Byrd out, and might have knocked Lewis out had he continued. Dominant in every fight! And the most - MOST -  underrated fighter of any class! Putting him behind 4, 7 and even 10 loss fighters is just pathetic and nostalgic.

  3. The Long Count 11:25pm, 09/23/2014

    Congratulations on creating a great list that is both engaging and well written. Now for the debate, I can not place Riddick Bowe over V. Klitschko. I know you make a point of declaring what a tough choice it was to make, but the ring magazine rating is a poor determining factor in this instance. Bowe fought in the 90’s and missed every name opponent of a rich decade of talent aside from Evander. I felt he lost 6-4 to Tubbs, I thought a DQ should of been given in the Mathis fight, a fight he was clearly getting frustrated in. Add in the Golota fights as you mentioned and Bowe comes down to Holyfield. Great trilogy against a much smaller man, lest not forget he avoided Lewis who Klitschko fought. Also if Ali, and Louis get credit for returning from extended lay offs in quality form so should Vitali. Bowe never possessed such dedication.
    I place Tunney inside the top twenty but I understand your reasoning with lack of depth, I however can not place him behind Norton. Norton got bombed out by every big puncher he fought and outside of Ali was outboxed by the very best boxers he fought in Young and Holmes. And finally Schmeling should be inside of the top 20 and ahead of wherever you may place Jersey Joe Walcott. Who could not stop an old faded Louis in two attempts where Max stopped him a far more dangerous version of the man. Max was robbed against Sharkey and denied a fair shot at Braddock. Walcott got 5 chances to be champ. Had more losses and more stoppage defeats.
    Great list just my two cents.

  4. tuxtucis 12:54am, 09/23/2014

    @jethro’sFlute: Wlad Klitschko never won vs Dempsey, Louis, Ali or Holyfield; was kayoed by Sanders, while Vitali kayoed the South African. Bowe at His best would have beaten Wlad. Schmeling and Tunney, if they were born in 1975, would have been taller and heavier.

  5. Matt McGrain 02:11pm, 09/21/2014

    This is not a head to head list.
    I’ve lost track of how many times i’ve said this now, but the fact that someone sees it as a given that fighter x would beat fighter y does not preclude fighter y from being ranked ahead of fighter x.  Furthermore, the opinions are very much like assholes…

  6. Jethro's Flute 01:58pm, 09/21/2014

    “Norton’s best win is past-prime Muhammad Ali”.

    Norton was all of one year younger than Ali and Ali could never solve his style. Even a younger Ali would certainly have struggled against Norton.

  7. Jethro's Flute 01:56pm, 09/21/2014

    “Bowe, Tunney, Schmeling, V.Klitschko and maybe Norton are not at all less than W.Klitschko, ,”

    Tunney and Schmeling would not be allowed to fight Wlad as they are too small. Bowe would be kept away from Wlad by Rock Newman and Ken Norton would be very lucky to make round 2 against Wlad.

    BTW, on what evidence is Peter Jackson in this?

  8. Jethro's Flute 01:51pm, 09/21/2014

    Ken Norton ahead of Vitali Klitschko?

    Is there anyone who doesn’t think that Vitali would beat Norton by massacre in the early rounds?

  9. Darrell 09:36pm, 09/15/2014

    @Matt McGrain

    You seem to “kick against the pricks” judging by the tone of the local “commentariat”, so to speak…...American boxing aficionados do tend to lionize Dempsey and those north & south of that era…...the “Dempsey brush” indeed.  With good reason I guess, it was a bit of a golden era for both the fight game and the nation.

    I am enjoying seeing you sticking to your criteria fairly strictly.  As a bit of an amateur programmer, the logic of it is refreshing in the face of some of the rather emotional attachment to certain eras or styles that we usually see in these lists and comparisons.

  10. Eric Jorgensen 04:37pm, 09/15/2014

    Thank you for the kind words, tux; I have a high opinion of you as well.

    My view is that, while Dempsey may have been “faded” against Tunney in the sense that he was not as great as he had been, circa 1918-1923, he was still a great fighter and he was certainly far superior to a lot of guys rated ahead of Tunney here, including Floyd Patterson and Ken Norton.

     

  11. Matt McGrain 08:13am, 09/15/2014

    That’s the goal Rax; sometimes i’m not so sure i’m managing to hold myself to those ideals, but that’s what i’m after.  I do let my gut rule when it’s close.

  12. raxman 05:49pm, 09/13/2014

    i can never get past Bowe’s shameful ducking of Lewis. And dressing it up in theatrics only makes it worse for me
    the thing with these types of lists is that no one is ever going to be happy. but what make Matt McGrain’s list better than (IMO) all others like them, is because he sets up a system by which he judges; and using that system all fighters are judge by those same rules. as such his system - within itself at least - is very accurate and consistent

  13. Matt McGrain 07:34am, 09/13/2014

    I think Patterson and Norton are in the same class - which is to say, they are part of a secondary clutch of heavies that should be ranked closely…I agree with you that Sharkey is Dempsey’s best win, and there was a clear difference between Tunney I and Tunney II in my view.  I think Tunney beat a better fighter second time around.

  14. tuxtucis 07:27am, 09/13/2014

    Jack Sharkey (at His very best in His fight with Dempsey) is probably the best name in Dempsey resumee (but the victory was clearly due to a foul).Norton was clearly uglier to watch than Patterson: The reason i would rate him ahead of Patterson is the difference in their fights with Ali. I would say Ali signature wins (Frazier, Foreman, Lyle) are all after Norton loss.

  15. Matt McGrain 07:03am, 09/13/2014

    But Patterson flat out beat more top men than Norton - he has more longevity, more top ten guys, more top five guys, he held and defended the legitimate title, he was the youngest champion at that time, he was the first champion to regain the title and he does not look notably worse on film - I think he looks better.  The case for ranking him above Norton and Tunney is easy to construct and difficult to refute without saying “he would have lost to Dempsey” etc.
    Ranking Dempsey very high would indeed help explain ranking Tunney a bit higher but Dempsey was clearly further removed from his prime than Ali against Norton.  Ali beat ATG fighters AFTER Norton, Dempsey barely got by Sharkey.

  16. tuxtucis 06:55am, 09/13/2014

    And anyway, personally, I think there are strong arguments for Norton in or around top 20. Stronger arguments than for Patterson. I’m waiting for next installement :)

  17. tuxtucis 06:49am, 09/13/2014

    Probably it depends too on the ranking oj Jack Dempsey: If you rate him in top 3 (as Jorgensen does), it’s normal to see the two victories of Tunney on the Manassa Mauler (even past prime) as wonderful accomplishments. Many even think that Ali was no more in his prime when he was beaten by Norton.

  18. Matt McGrain 05:36am, 09/13/2014

    Sorry, that Tunney wouldn’t do as well as Norton did against Ali.

  19. Matt McGrain 05:27am, 09/13/2014

    But that’s the problem i’m having with this exercise Tux.  “If people rank Tunney ahead of Norton perhaps it’s because he beat past prime Dempsey 19 out of 20 rounds and Norton wouldn’t last one round.”  IF.  It’s an opinion.  My opinion is that Tunney wouldn’t do anything like as well as Norton did against Tunney.  What’s the difference?  Why judge them upon guesswork when they BOTH have wonderful careers upon which they can be judged?
    You are right when you say Norton may have beaten Ali the the third time, and right when you say Young may have beaten Norton but that’s evened itself up nicely.
    And more than anything else you are right to say Tunney is at his best at LHW, and absolutely right to name his resume at HW “limited”.  It is limited.  It’s possibly the worst heavyweight resume in the top thirty.  That’s worth repeating - he MIGHT have the weakest resume in the top thirty.
    So placing him at 23 is grand, given that he retired undefeated at the weight (after relatively few fights) and managed two defences of his title.
    Tunney is a sacred cow.  But it makes absolutely no sense to me.

  20. tuxtucis 05:08am, 09/13/2014

    Well, about Ken Norton I would say his second best win is not Young (who, I think beat clearly the Norton in their match), but Ali III (although the Ali after Manila was totally shot), and would say he drew the second match with Ali and near drew his match with Holmes. No way He has a better resumee at weight than Tunney, who was at his best at light heavy and has a limited resumee at heavyweight. Maybe if someone rate Tunney ahead of Norton, it’s cause Tunney won 19 rounds on 20 with (past prime) Dempsey, while even the best Norton would have not lasted one round against any version of Dempsey.

  21. Matt McGrain 03:49am, 09/13/2014

    Well for example, Norton defeated Muhammad Ali, which is clearly better than Tunney’s best win at the weight - he also beat Jimmy Young and Jerry Quarry, who are better *heavywights* than Harry Greb and Tommy Gibbons, which are Tunney’s next best wins…so if Norton beat the better heavyweights, beat more heavyweights, has the the best win of the two, why do people labour under the impression that Tunney is CLEARLY the better fighter?  Where does that come from?  A lot of people are saying “Tunney is great, Tunney is greater than Norton”, but literally nobody has explained why - why?
    I think there are fifteen legitimately great heavyweights, and I think neither Norton or Tunney is one.

  22. Magoon 03:41am, 09/13/2014

    I also agree with Mr. Jorgensen. There aren’t 100 great heavyweights - maybe 20 or 25 - and Tunney is sure one of them. I don’t think Patterson is and I don’t see how Norton can be categorized that way - not at all.

  23. Matt McGrain 03:32am, 09/13/2014

    IF he is a great heavyweight, it is for reasons other than the competition he defeated, and reasons I don’t quite grasp.
    I think he’s definitely a great fighter, and I’d see him as top ten at LHW, possibly top five, although his failure to meet ANY black fighters in his career must be a concern.  Compare the bodies he took at 175 to the bodies he took in unlimited though and i’d say his superiority at LHW to HW is literally inarguable.

  24. tuxtucis 03:20am, 09/13/2014

    @Eric Jorgensen: I’ve great respect of you, and I think you’re one of the best boxing writers in the bunch.

  25. Eric Jorgensen 04:46pm, 09/12/2014

    In my opinion, there are only a handful of heavyweights who really deserve to be identified as “great,” and Gene Tunney is one of them. 

  26. tuxtucis 11:46pm, 09/10/2014

    If Greb would have born in 1970, he would have fought V.Klitschko at around 200 lbs and not 165. He would have lost for sure, but even slower than he really was at middleweight, he would have been far more difficult target to hit for the Ukrainian than Briggs.  5’9 Greb vs 6’7 Fulton would have been very interesting.

  27. Matt McGrain 11:39pm, 09/10/2014

    A lot of oxygen being administered I would bet.

  28. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:21pm, 09/10/2014

    Matt McGrain-“I think imagination has been prioritized at the expense of reality a little too much in this thread, frankly.”.....I guess so…I was just imagining what would have happened to Harry Greb if he were on the receiving end of the punch that Vitali landed on that 275 lb roided up brute in the photo above.

  29. tuxtucis 12:41pm, 09/10/2014

    If Tunney would have born 40 years after his real birth, he would have probably taller, with longer reach and, for sure, heavier. Ali met many great and good sluggers and swarmers, but not many good boxers/counterpunchers. He fought only Zora Folley, who was well past prime in his meeting with The Greatest, and Young, when he was over the hill. Anyway an younger Ali, though much faster, for sure would have had the same tactical problems he had in 1976. Tunney probably would have lost to Ali, but could have been a real problem for him.

  30. Matt McGrain 11:47am, 09/10/2014

    It’s impossible for me to imagine Tunney in with any top-drawer prime heavyweight, because it never happened.  He never fought one.  Ever.  I think imagination has been prioritised at the expense of reality a little too much in this thread, frankly.
    As to Tunney-Ali, i’ll take Ali’s 2” reach advantage, 3” height advantage, 20lb weight advantage, speed advantage, power advantage and strength advantage to bring him some sort of victory…

  31. tuxtucis 11:20am, 09/10/2014

    @Eric: Not sure Tunney would had no chances with Ali. Ali was a counterpuncher and never liked to male the offender…he would had troubles vs the Fighting Marine…I agree with you about the test…really someone can imagine Tunney knocked out by Johannson or knocked down by Rademacher at His pro debut?

  32. Matt McGrain 10:27am, 09/10/2014

    I agree with you Eric, about Dempsey; but Patterson was a swarmer and Tunney was a box-mover.  In other words, Patterson has absolutely the wrong style for beating Dempsey and Tunney has the absolute right one. 
    You may be right about Tunney’s chances against Patterson’s opponents, i’m unsure, but what is definitely true is that Patterson did more, for much longer, against many more heavyweights.  The only reason - the only reason - Tunney is even with six or seven places of Patterson is that he retired without losing at the weight, and that that is special.
    This is a classic case of underrated-overrated; Patterson gets the shit end of the stick whereas Tunney has had the Dempsey brush, so to speak.

  33. Eric 09:57am, 09/10/2014

    Point taken. No doubt that Floyd had a more impressive resume at heavy than Tunney. However, if you were to place each fighter in each one’s respective era, I couldn’t see Floyd dominating an even past it 32 year old Dempsey the way that Gene did for 20 rounds. Dempsey had been inactive for years, but 32 isn’t exactly ancient. Gene on the other hand would’ve beaten the version of Archie Moore who showed up against Floyd and would’ve dominated Roy Harris, Rademacher, McNeeley and the other B-list type of fighters that Floyd defended against the first time around. Gene had respectable power, but I do think Floyd hit harder, and Floyd is probably the second fastest hvy in regards to hands, but Floyd had a style made for Tunney. Can’t see Tunney getting past Liston or Ali, but I can see Tunney besting Chuvalo, Quarry, Bonavena, and Ellis.

  34. Matt McGrain 08:21am, 09/10/2014

    Eric: Vitali is absolutely NOT a top ten heavy and can’t be ranked above Floyd Patterson when the #1 criteria is what you actually do in the ring.  Vitali’s results versus top five contenders is 1-2.  It’s awful.  He hardly fought any of his era’s top ranked guys *when they were top ranked”, at all.
    Patterson on the other hand beat numerous guys in the top five, more ranked contenders by Ring, was ranked himself for more years by Ring.  He beat more guys on this list, too.
    As I wrote above, Vitali had a unique problem, he shared the division with his brother, but it’s no reason to go ranking him above guys who flat out did more.
    Tunney’s resume just isn’t a top twenty resume: that is a stone-cold fact.  He didn’t beat enough guys to be in the top twenty upon this basis.
    1) Old Dempsey (ranked above but way past-prime)
    2) Old Greb (#47, but way past-prime)
    3) Old Gibbons (#69, but past prime)
    4) Tom Heeney (unranked)
    5) Ermenio Spalla (unranked)

    Now look at Patterson:
    1) Archie Moore (#38, past prime)
    2) Ingemar Johansson #(41, prime)
    3) Eddie Machen (#45, past prime)
    4) Oscar Bonavena (#70, prime)
    5) Geoge Chuvalo (#82, prime)

    We haven’t even exhausted the top 100 guys that Patterson defeated at his top five, and when you add in the robberies (or close to it) versus Ellis and Quarry…it’s, frankly, ridiculous to insist that Tunney HAS to be above Patterson.  Patterson beat more top men, more great men, however you want to say it - Tunney NEVER beat a top man in his prime, it did not happen in his whole HW career.
    Tunney is grotesquely overrated.  He was special but he didn’t DO in the ring what should be required of a fighter who receives his acumen, not at heavyweight.  Clearly greater at LHW.

  35. tuxtucis 08:13am, 09/10/2014

    I agree with Patterson in top 30, not top 20; same for Ezzard Charles. As for Bowe, I see him even in top 15.

  36. Eric 07:05am, 09/10/2014

    Patterson in the top 20 is not that far fetched actually. The fact that Floyd ranks above Vitali and Gene Tunney is ridiculous though. I think Patterson probably belongs with this group and Tunney and Vitali belong much higher. Vitali as I stated earlier is a top 10 heavyweight. Tunney should be in the top 20 at the very least. But Floyd did have a pretty impressive career and probably peaked in the years after he lost his title. He beat some pretty good fighters in those years, flattened Henry Cooper in 4, whipped Eddie Machen, beat two bruisers named Chuvalo & Bonavena. Floyd drew with Quarry and lost a very close decision in their rematch, both fights were close and many thought Floyd deserved the nod in one or even both fights. Patterson was robbed against Ellis, and should have captured the title for the third time. And before all this, Patterson did best Ingo in their trilogy in 2 of their 3 bouts. Liston was a monster and was capable of knocking out many of the legends had they fought IMO. I can’t see a Marciano, Dempsey, or maybe even a Louis lasting with a prime Liston. Floyd in the top 20? Maybe not. But definitely in the top 30.

  37. NYIrish 03:51am, 09/10/2014

    Classic pic of Briggs eating a right !

  38. Matt McGgrain 02:32am, 09/10/2014

    I love the idea of Jackson in the top 20, and when I set off, I did indeed have him in there, at #20.  But it just wasn’t going to happen.  IN the end, through no fault of his own, he missed out on two of the very best of his era, never defined himself as the best of the era, never held the title.  I really think it’s possible that if he had gotten a title shot he could have wound up top five, or even top three, but you gotta judge him on what he did, not what he maybe could have…
    ...but on the other hand, you can see it the other way.  OK, he was carrying an injury during training for his big shot at Corbett, but it was Corbett, not Jackson, who was keen to carry on with the fight when it was called.  My impression is that Jackson was more done in than Corbett (though neither was in good shape!!).  Maybe the difference, had Jackson not been troubled in training, is simply that.
    Sadly, we’ll never know.

  39. Darrell 02:18am, 09/10/2014

    Vitali Klitschko, Peter Jackson &, in spite of his lack of size, Bob Fitzsimmons should be in the next instalment…....who to shift out?  Beats me.  For mine, Bowe & Norton are probably low 30’s selections.

    Great writeups about all of these guys though…....and sound reasoning behind it all too.  Fair play.

  40. tuxtucis 12:11am, 09/10/2014

    Well, in his articles on 100 pound for pound fighters of all time, the author ranked Tunney 28th and Charles 5th, so it’s normal to find her the first one not in top 20 and the second in top 20 (for me, that’s ludicrous, but that is: you can’t hear an appreciation of American foreign policy from Noam Chomsky). I’m curious to see if W.Klitschko will be in top 20 or will be excluded as active fighter: simply I don’t see how he can be rated ahead of Norton. Klitschko never has beaten (twice, really) Muhammad Ali and lost to Puritty, Brewster and Sanders, not Foreman, Shavers and Cooney. V.Klitschko has less wins respect his brother, but he kayoed Sanders, so the two brothers have to be very near; Schmeling won a far better version of Joe Louis than Ezzard Charles, and was a natural (though small for nowadays standards) heavy, so in an heavyweight ranking I see him ahead of the Cincinnati Cobra. He was kayoed by a prime Baer, but a prime Baer would have kayoed Charles too. I can’t see anyway Patterson in a top 20: when he was champion, he avoided all his most dangerous contenders, and still lost to Johansson. How many all time top 20 heavies would have possibly lost to Johansson?

  41. FrankinDallas 08:03pm, 09/09/2014

    Interesting that this group contains numerous boxers that never reached their full potential. Many of the old black boxers of course who were denied a title shot….Vitali because he wouldn’t/couldn’t fight his brother…Baer because he was frankly nuts…...Bowe especially comes to mind.

  42. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 05:15pm, 09/09/2014

    The photo above is sports photo journalism at its very best, a veritable work of art and clearly captures the cause that resulted in the effect i.e. the batshit craziness that characterizes Briggs’ present day behavior.

  43. GlennR 02:06pm, 09/09/2014

    With you on Haye Clarence, heart of a lemming.

    Good list Matt, i wont wade in on the current debate regarding these ten fine men but, needless to say, they are true Champs regardless of era.

    ps. Would have had Vitali higher though ;)

  44. Matt McGrain 01:14pm, 09/09/2014

    Indeed, i’d say clearly the most important criteria, but certainly not the only one.  The criteria for this list again, quoted from part 1:

    ” Those criteria became in the main about quality of opposition bested, although head-to-head comparisons became a vital way of separating fighters who seemed all but tied; who beats who became a far more crucial ingredient here than it was there, for obvious reasons. And the Title – the tarnished blood-ridden belt, once and remaining the greatest prize in sports, the title was never far from my thoughts. Often some contender was cheated of a chance to lift it by a crooked promoter, by racism, by bad judging, but for the fighters who threw the once-burnished gold aloft there is a ranking enhancement. Physical equipment, miscellaneous achievements, appearance on film, longevity and comparison of prime runs also played their part in establishing rankings and deciding ties.”

  45. Clarence George 01:11pm, 09/09/2014

    I agree with Don re Tunney-Patterson (as well as with his broader implication that a fighter’s opposition is only one, however legitimate, criterion).  But Patterson was heavyweight champion when that title actually meant something; he’s more than earned the right to be mentioned here.  Haye, however, is the poster boy for the fighter as cream puff.  What was it, a broken toe?  A hair out of place?  Either way.  Can you imagine Jack Dempsey or any other toughie from the past (and they were all tough) pulling something like that?  Me neither.

  46. Matt McGrain 12:48pm, 09/09/2014

    And I, on the other hand Don, have Patterson outspeeding Tunney for a decision.  The only struggles Tunney had were against clearly faster fighters, and Patterson was one.  Which leaves us exactly nowhere…what is inarguable is that Patterson did more great work against prime top heavies.
    Records are more reliable than opinions on fantasy fights, no doubt.

  47. Don from Prov 12:43pm, 09/09/2014

    Mr. McGrain: The parameters that you are using limit (as parameters ALWAYS will) and define what your outcomes are going to be.  Records of who a fighter faced might lead you to claim that Tunney belongs nowhere near Floyd Patterson, but what I see when I watch their fights tell me that Tunney beats Patterson’s behind seven days out of seven, week in and week out.

  48. Don from Prov 12:37pm, 09/09/2014

    Eric—Glad someone pointed out the Norton/Holmes fight.
    If a fighter couldn’t keep him from coming forward, Norton was tough indeed.  He came as close as possible to neutralizing, over a period of their fights, both Holmes’ and Ali’s jabs and dealing with their right hands: If either one of them went to the body better or had a superior left hook, well then. ...

  49. Eric 11:27am, 09/09/2014

    Even at H2H the only cruiserweight on that list who I think would have a shot at Louis, Dempsey, or a Marciano would be Evander Holyfield. Holyfield is perhaps the greatest cruiserweight of all time and one of the better heavyweights of all time. Holyfield could arguably be a top 10 heavy. I do think the old-timers were a tougher breed and definitely better conditioned. When you look at both Marciano vs. Charles fight or his bout against Archie Moore, Marciano’s workrate/volume of punches was astounding. That kind of conditioning presents a problem to anyone regardless of size. The guy just overwhelmed opponents with his non-stop punching.

  50. Matt McGrain 10:42am, 09/09/2014

    Mike, nobody in this series of articles has “speculated” about who would beat who at all.  Well, maybe in rare cases where two very closely rated fighters are concerned.  This is NOT a head to head list, as is explained in the opening of Part One which you should read before making another giant irrelevant post.

  51. Mike 10:36am, 09/09/2014

    What writers should be doing is speculating how the current cruiserweight champions would do against the old-time heavyweight champions. There are plenty of cruiserweight champs that would do very well against the old time heavyweight champs. David Haye, Thomaz Adamek, Evandar Holyfield, Steve Cunningham, Marco Huck, Joan Pablo Hernandez, Juan Carlos Gomez. All of them match up very well against past champs. All of them are bigger or equal to past heavyweight champs. And all have at least as much skill, athleticism, speed, and power as the past champs. David Haye, for example fought his fights against men the same size as Joe Louis, Haye is taller with more reach than Louis, has a much better KO percentage, is more slick, and is faster. Louis was nearly beaten by a light heavyweight champion. No light heavyweight champion including all time greats Hopkins or Calzaghe has ever challenged Haye to a fight. The fact is that if you brought most of the past heavyweight champs back and put them in the with cruiserweight champs, they would get KOed. And then the writers of today have the gall to compare those old timers to Lewis, and the Klitschkos. Lewis, the Klitschkos, and other current heavyweights have beaten every one of the cruiserweight champions I mentioned with the exception of Hernandez. In contrast Louis was nearly beaten by a light heavyweight champion and Holmes was BEATEN twice by a light heavyweight champion.

  52. Clarence George 09:28am, 09/09/2014

    Admittedly, I tend to prefer or favor the old-timer, but that doesn’t mean I think he’s invariably and inherently the more recent or current guy’s superior.  That said, he’ll almost certainly be tougher, which is an important criterion for me, and will have fought in a time when boxing was king; when it wasn’t seen as MMA’s embarrassingly senile grandfather.

  53. Matt McGrain 09:16am, 09/09/2014

    I agree with you - there’s no more point in arguing with a guy who is certain modern fighters are “better” than there is arguing with a guy sure that old-time fighters are “better.”  It’s the fighter, not the era that counts.
    I do think it’s insane that guys like Jack Johnson used to dry-out pre-fight.  That is an enormous disadvantage.

  54. Clarence George 09:13am, 09/09/2014

    You’re right, Matt, that we both disagree with Mike.  I didn’t bother refuting, because I find knee-jerk presentism tedious, and I’ve already answered it so many times.

  55. Matt McGrain 09:03am, 09/09/2014

    Bigger is indeed almost always better.  But it’s also just one factor.

  56. Eric 09:01am, 09/09/2014

    @Mike…The bigger is better thing was embraced by boxing writers back in the Ali era and up until the Lewis & the Klitschko brothers came along. I remember back in the Ali & Holmes era, many boxing experts considered past greats like Marciano, Tunney, & Dempsey too small to compete with “giants” like Foreman, Ali, & Holmes. That had a lot to do with the cruiserweight division being put into place in ‘79/80. But now when you bring up the same argument concerning a 215-220lb 70’s heavyweight vs. a Klitschko or a Lewis, the size factor doesn’t enter into the equation. If anything the large size of the modern heavyweight is now looked upon as a handicap rather than an asset by many.

  57. Matt McGrain 09:00am, 09/09/2014

    CG:  Tunney was indeed more sophisticated and more intelligent - but once again, these are not major factors in determining the list.  Even if they were, they can easily be countered by pointing out that the undeniably world class Norton was thirty pounds heavier and 3” taller with a 4” reach advantage.  Even if Tunney could indisputably beat Norton (Which of course cannot reasonably be asserted) they still are just not a class apart based upon who they actually beat in a real life ring.
    There’s reason for these two to be ranked together. In the end, I went for Norton because his single best win is so much in excess of Tunney’s - but it’s definiteliy, definitely close between them.
    For all that you and I would both disagree with Mike’s post below, I do think he’s right that judgement is sometimes clouded when it comes to Tunney.  He just didn’t do the things necessary to ranked in a top ten.  It’s nice that he’s clever and all, but so were quite a few fighters.

  58. Mike 08:48am, 09/09/2014

    Only in boxing do writers speculate whether old-timers who were smaller, slower, less athletic than today’s athletes were better than the athletes of today. Nobody thinks that Jim Thorpe could beat current running backs in football despite the fact that his statistics were better in some instances. NOBODY THINKS IT BECAUSE IT’S RIDICULOUS. The fact is that those old timers were almost entirely drawn from one nation, the USA. And that same nation can barely compete today at heavyweight because so many other nations are contributing fighters. You get away with speculating that those old-timers could beat the current heavyweights because you know that they will never compete showing what a fool you were. Lennox Lewis and the Klitschkos have better records than nearly all of these old-timers and against competition that would have given them the beatings of their lives. Most of these old-timers wouldn’t even compete at heavyweight and the current cruiserweight champs would KO most of them. Sports moves on, but the demented boxing writers are caught in a haze of nostalgia.

  59. Clarence George 08:39am, 09/09/2014

    Matt:  Tunney was a far more intelligent, skilled, and sophisticated boxer than Norton, who only excelled at going all atremble whenever he faced someone who might conceivably hit harder than his little sister.  Tunney was also superior to Charles, though the difference there can perhaps be measured in centimeters; incomparably superior to “Peekaboo” Patterson, arguably the least impressive of all the undisputed heavyweight champs.

  60. Eric 08:22am, 09/09/2014

    Bob Fitzsimmons is another fighter hard to place. Even with his freakish punching power and despite his victories over much larger men back in his day, you have to wonder how Ruby Robert would have survived against a big, modern heavyweight. You can’t help but vision these fighters going H2H when ranking them. Size has to enter into the equation when evaluating heavyweights whether we want to admit it or not.

  61. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:09am, 09/09/2014

    Head to head match ups are verboten here I guess but one can’t help but picture what Vitali would do to the Pittsburgh Windmill who is only a few rungs below him on this ATG fistic ladder. As our President has recently said “I’m being honest now” when I say that touch puncher Chris Byrd was a fighter with great skill. heart, and pride and you can bet your bippy that if Greb tried to windmill on Chris it would have been off to dreamland for Harry in short order.

  62. Matt McGgrain 07:52am, 09/09/2014

    GTC: I *can* see Schmeling beating Norton, and would favour him to do so in fact, but head-to-head is only a small consideration here.
    I would unfortunately have to agree that Max is too small to defeat Vitali, who is granite-chinned after all.

  63. Matt McGrain 07:50am, 09/09/2014

    CG!  I’ve already done a comparison of Tunney and Norton, but i’ll do a more thuggish version here.  Let me say first, that I think you could rank Tunney above Norton (i almost always think that on the basis of back to back rankings) but it would be based upon his unbeaten status and his owning the legitimate world heavyweight championship.  In terms of resume, it’s edge Norton.
    Norton’s best win is past-prime Muhammad Ali.  Tunney’s best win is past-prime Dempsey.  This, for me, is far and away advantage Norton.  Ali had victories over stuck-on ATG fighters Joe Frazier and George Foreman in his future.  Dempsey was all-but done, won just one more fight.
    Next best fighter Heavy (Arguably): Tunney, past-prime Greb, Norton, prime Young.  Young is easily the bigger and greater and almost certainly better HW, and is in his prime as opposed to half blind and on the slide.  Next: Tunney has past-prime Tommy Gibbons, Norton has past-prime Jerry Quarry.  Quarry was bigger, arguably flat out better but inarguably a greater heavy than Gibbons. 
    We start to slide a bit then with both men, but what have we learned?  Simply put that Norton beat better guys.  That’s pretty much not on the table.  H2h, I think it’s Norton who has the style advantage.  On film I think Tunney looks better - but also considerably smaller.  I think Norton would do better against the field, as is indicated by his superior record.
    I think that Tunney, as I said, CAN be ranked above Norton, but i’d have to dismiss the notion that it should most definitely be the case.  I don’t think Tunney has the qualifications to get anywhere near the top ten - frankly his resume is utterly dwarfed by that of someone like Floyd Patterson or Ezzard Charles.

  64. Eric 07:46am, 09/09/2014

    Tunney was definitely the best fighter listed but his career at heavyweight was pretty brief. Nonetheless, he nearly shutout Dempsey in 20 rounds of fighting. I can’t see Schmeling or Norton being ranked above Tunney even at heavyweight. The weak chin aside, Norton was still a strong, formidable fighter. Norton’s fight with Holmes was a classic and many feel Norton deserved the victory. The Holmes bout, the trilogy with Ali, and victories over Quarry and Young seem to be enough to place Norton just outside of the top 20. Vitali is definitely a top 10 IMO, and should be ranked much higher than underachiever Bowe. Bowe, like Norton, gets here more or less due to his trilogy with an all time great and a couple of solid wins over decent opposition. Bowe avoided Lewis, but his ranking seems justified.

  65. George Thomas Clark 07:34am, 09/09/2014

    Vitali, as alluded to here, was not only not robotic but almost a young Ali, sticking and moving as he held his hands low.

  66. George Thomas Clark 07:29am, 09/09/2014

    Irish Frankie Crawford will be outraged that Vitali is ranked only 26th, four spaces behind his least-favorite heavy Ken Norton.  Can’t see Der Max, at 21st, beating either Vitali or Norton.  He was too small, except in the first Louis fight.  But this is a good group, and nice to see long-denied contenders Peter Jackson, Joe Jeannette, and Sam McVey move into the title picture.  I’m afraid Gene Tunney will have to fight at least two of them to move up in the rankings and get his next big money fight.  Since Tunney was often very critical of Joe Louis, he won’t hesitate to fight a prime Peter Jackson, will he?

  67. Clarence George 03:05am, 09/09/2014

    My promise not to be judgmental only applies to my own article, “Why Not the Best?”  Not that I’m here to quibble.  In fact, the placement of these boyos makes more sense than not.  And agree or disagree with the argumentation, it’s well thought out and articulated.  But Gene Tunney in 23rd place?  Come now!  While I agree that he shouldn’t be in the top five, I do indeed have him among my top 10.  At the very least, “The Fighting Marine” deserves better than to be considered Ken Norton’s lesser.  Ken Norton?!  Well, at least Norton isn’t among the very top, a sure sign that reason isn’t tottering upon its throne.

  68. tuxtucis 11:57pm, 09/08/2014

    This time my comment is no, no, no…Bowe, Tunney, Schmeling, V.Klitschko and maybe Norton are not at all less than W.Klitschko, Charles, maybe Walcott and, for sure, Patterson…but the author has his strong bias (specially vs Tunney) and wide favouritism to boxers of the forties and the fifties…Ok, anyone has the right to his prejudices, and his work still deserve Great respect…

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