The 100 Greatest Heavyweights of All Time Part Five: 60-51

By Matt McGrain on July 16, 2014
The 100 Greatest Heavyweights of All Time Part Five: 60-51
The gameness Hart demonstrated in bringing this fight to Johnson cannot be overstated.

The men who beat a giant in his pomp are always, without exception, due recognition for their achievements…

Jack Johnson’s title run wasn’t really up to much. He beat up fighters that you would expect one of the truly elite heavyweights to beat up, men such as middleweight great Stanley Ketchel, men like Jim Johnson, the least deadly of the fabled Black Dynamite Crew. Nevertheless, Johnson is one of the elites. He remains one of the true greats. The number of men who have beaten a truly great heavyweight is pitifully tiny. Beating a giant in his pomp is arguably one of the most difficult jobs in all of sports; the men who pull of such a unique feat are always, without exception, due recognition for their achievements.

In Part Five, we meet two men who would rank in the lower quarter were it not for their triumphs against Jack Johnson, one, The Chrysanthemum Man, met great Champions as a matter of course in a career smothered in the leather of old-time all-time greats. The other, The Louisville Plumber, was a Champion, a caretaker perhaps for the giants that loom either side of his reign, but a Champion nonetheless. 

And one of those giants he laid low.

#60 Joe Choynski (55-15-5; Newspaper Decisions 1-3-1)

Joe Choynski’s magical romp through the pre-Dempsey heavyweights is one of the most astonishing feats in all of boxing. He fought James J. Corbett, he fought Bob Fitzsimmons, he fought Jim Jeffries and then he fought Jack Johnson. Between them, these men ruled the heavyweight division from 1892 to 1915 and are the first four great heavyweight champions to have fought exclusively under the Marquis of Queensberry rules. It is an astonishing feat of longevity and upon two of the results achieved against this absurd killing row of heavyweights is what his ranking inside the top sixty rests upon.

But first, back to 1889 and a Choynski loss, to a man green but only three years from the total defeat of champion John Sullivan – the great James J. Corbett. According to The San Francisco Evening Post, by the eighteenth Choynski had “taken enough punishment to stop ten men” but that he “kept up the pressure” despite the steady tattoo Corbett beat out on his face. In the twenty-seventh Choynski was repeatedly sent to the canvas until, unable to defend himself, Corbett landed the finishing blow. He would later call Choynski his toughest opponent.

Next up on the deadliest run of heavyweights any middleweight ever matched – Choynski tended to weigh between 160 and 170 lbs. – his 1894 match with Bob Fitzsimmons, who basically stopped Choynski in five rounds (the police interfered with the combat) but only after “Chrysanthemum Joe” flirted with immortality, reportedly smashing Fitz half way across the ring, down, and very nearly out.

Having lost two fights against the immortals of early ringmanship, Choynski at last secured a result of positivity and no little renown with his 1897 draw with James J. Jeffries, a 220-pound heavyweight with a fifty-pound weight advantage who would defeat, in the year after their meeting, Joe Goddard, Peter Jackson, Pete Everett, Tom Sharkey and Bob Armstrong. Choynski appears to have boxed the brute Jeffries cautiously and “seldom let his right go, fearing a return” (The San Francisco Call). But he showed an art learned, in part, versus Fitzsimmons and Corbett in controlling the rhythm of the action and in using footwork to repeatedly slip his less cultured foe and both the Call and The San Francisco Chronicle thought that Choynski had done enough to win the fight.

He finally turned this trick versus a pre-prime version of a great fighter in 1901, ditching a young Jack Johnson in just three rounds. By this time a veteran of the ring, Choynski baited Jack into a bodyshot and then countered with a left-hook. “Pardon me for saying so,” Choynski would note dryly, “[but my left hook] was the equal to any man’s punch.”

This is understating things a little. Fitzsimmons named Choynski the hardest puncher he ever faced. Joe Goddard agreed with him, and although I have never been able to source a direct quote, stories circulate that Corbett, too, considered him the hardest hitter in the ring of that day. Jeffries ranked him “one of the hardest hitters in the ring” and admired Choynski’s heart in giving him so much trouble despite his size.

Perhaps that size counted against him in other bouts, for Choynski lost a few, prohibiting his being ranked any higher than he is here. A defeat by welterweight Barbados Joe Walcott must count against him, as must his two first round knockout losses to Kid Carter and his repeated drubbings by Tom Sharkey and Kid McCoy. But it should also be noted that he took some other excellent scalps, including George Godfrey and Peter Maher, during a career as colorful and varied as it was exciting.

A perennially underrated fighter who I hope receives his due here.

#59 Fred Fulton (79-16-2; Newspaper Decisions 5-2-2)

Fred Fulton was a legitimate rarity on two counts. First of all, he was an excellent “White Hope,” turning professional during the frantic search for white men who might be competitive with the majestic Jack Johnson. Secondly, he was even by modern standards a big man, standing 6’6 with a reach listed at 84” by BoxRec, a frame that was legitimately capable of holding the 220 lbs. he often brought to the ring. Unfortunately for Fred, he ran into something even rarer, a legitimately lethal heavyweight who butchered the opposition like so many steer. Jack Dempsey annexed any hopes Fulton would ever have of holding the title aloft in mere seconds of their June 1918 encounter – but that doesn’t mean Fulton wasn’t special. Up until that devastating change in fortune it was he, not Dempsey, who was regarded as champion elect and had Dempsey never been born it is very possible he would have fulfilled that destiny.

As it stands, Fulton’s often under-regarded win ledger is deep enough to warrant his high placement. Even his early career is littered with the names of very reasonable heavyweights, including Al Kaufman who he beat over short distance in 1914, Kaufman having already met Jack Johnson in a world heavyweight championship match. He had been a professional less than two years. 

Era mainstay trial horses Dan and Jim Flynn followed, Dan twice outpointed over twenty although he twice dropped Fulton to his knees. The giant had yet to nail down his control of range and was forced to outfight his more experienced opponent. Jim was smashed out in just two rounds, and despite dual DQ losses to fellow white giant Carl Morris, his first four years as a professional were an enormous success.

Maturing, he learned to bang out Dan Flynn, a favor he did the Boston man twice over ever-shortening distances, a measuring stick for his maturity as a fighter. Charley Weinert and Gunboat Smith followed, as did a bizarre revenge DQ win over Carl Morris. Perhaps best of all was the 1917 stoppage victory over Sam Langford, delivered behind a jab against an out of shape “Black Death” who was blinded in one eye during the match. Langford, faded but still dangerous, reportedly hurt Fulton once during the second but otherwise was unable to do anything with the giant. 

A draw with Billy Miske and a three-round stoppage of a faded Frank Moran preceded the first round knockout loss to Dempsey, Jack becoming the only fighter in forty attempts to get over on Fulton by a method other than disqualification. Fulton’s inability to get control of his wilder side may have been his most significant weakness.

Certainly no other fighter was able to take advantage of that, or his allegedly middling chin in the matches that followed, until Harry Wills, the era’s other great heavyweight, banged him out in three. Before and after, Fulton beat everyone who stepped in with him, adding Willie Meehan and John Lester Johnson to his résumé. Time finally caught up to him in the mid-twenties, which were not good to him, and account for most of the losses on his record. Between 1915 and 1921, only great heavyweights and his bad temper were able to get over on him – this aside, Fulton dismantled all-comers.

#58 Billy Miske (45-3-3; Newspaper Decisions 29-10-13)

Charley Weinert is a name that occurs more than once in this series in regards to victories by major heavyweights of the nineteen-teens and twenties, but is far from a household name. Weinert was a ring survivor who put in an incredible eighteen-year shift, meeting most of the best heavyweights in the world during that period. He posted some exceptional wins in that time, including against a green Jack Sharkey, Luis Angel Firpo and many other tough gatekeeper and contender types in what was a relatively stacked era, men like Ad Stone, Chuck Wiggins, Willie Meehan and Battling Levinsky. I briefly considered him for the #100 spot on this list.

But during the same period he was losing to the better men he faced – Harry Wills, Gene Tunney and Harry Greb all performing a beatdown against him at one point or another – and so did Billy Miske, in what amounted to his heavyweight debut, having plied the tough trade at 175 lbs. for a number of years. Nevertheless, the heavier and rangier “Jersey Adonis” was soundly beaten at the heavier weight, Miske eschewing the normal route for the smaller man, namely boxing and moving, for a direct and aggressive approach, outfighting Weinert on the inside. The superb research done by Clay Moyle in his book Billy Miske reflects a one-sided fight in which Weinert won but three of the ten rounds.

Moyle also reveals that Billy Miske was suffering the ill effects of the Bright’s Disease that would kill him at the heart-breaking age of twenty-nine as early as 1915 – two years before he would tussle with Weinert. In other words, the stiffness and soreness that attacked the hips and back of a sufferer dogged him throughout his heavyweight career – Miske did special things despite the constant issue that was his health. 

First and foremost among them is his 1918 draw with future champion Jack Dempsey, by all accounts an absolutely superb give-and-take contest with my impression overall being that Dempsey may have edged it based upon the primary reports, but with just enough ringsiders reporting the draw that it is probably reasonably to grant Miske an historical share. He would meet Dempsey on two further occasions, losing a less exciting six-round decision to him later in ’18 before being stretched in their most famous encounter, their 1920 title fight. 

Even after that one-sided thrashing, Miske did astonishing work in his bid to leave behind him money enough to support his young family. A first round knockout of Fred Fulton is the highlight, though victories over Willie Meehan, Bill Brennan, Jack Renault and a rather fortunate one over Tommy Gibbons help to flesh his résumé out to top-sixty respectability.

A solid, well-schooled heavyweight with reasonable power, outstanding durability and an apparently excellent defense, Miske’s limitations were revealed by Tommy Gibbons, but he ranks above him at heavyweight based upon his overall body of work, which he bought through the type of determination and strength of character that usually brings Hollywood calling.

#57 Kid Norfolk (111-26-7)

Kid Norfolk was one of the great light-heavyweights of the Dempsey era but he built a superb heavyweight résumé whilst typically losing to only the very best higher up the food chain. It was necessity that drove him up north as much as anything else, for it was no easy matter for even a monstrous light-heavyweight like Norfolk to make big money.

As early as 1916 he was chasing these bigger men, and catching them too, going 1-1 with the superb Jeff Clark and outpointing over twenty rounds the enormous Bill Tate, a fighter who outweighed him by forty pounds. Tough gatekeepers like Dan Flynn, Arthur Pelkey and Tom Cowler, who held multiple wins over Dempsey title-challenger Bill Brennan went next, beaten three for three by an ultra-aggressive sawn-off shotgun of a fighter. After he fought Gunboat Smith and was mastered over ten, Norfolk was matched with contender Billy Miske. Billy, who started a six-four favorite, was out-roughed and outfought by a fighter possessed. Norfolk had become a legitimate contender.  When he rematched and knocked out Big Bill Tate before twice trimming the faded wonder that was Joe Jeannette and utterly thrashed a befuddled Miske in a rematch he was established as one of the era’s outstanding heavies. 

Of course, black heavyweights did not get title shots in this era, and it was Miske, not Norfolk who would get a Dempsey match as the Kid continued to happily add to his heavyweight résumé all the way to his 1926 retirement. Between his 1917 defeat by the immortal Sam Langford and his 1921 defeat by the immortal Harry Greb, Norfolk bested every one of the numerous heavyweights he was matched with.

Often outfought or outboxed by the best and often preoccupied with the light-heavyweight rather than the heavyweight ranks, he nevertheless established himself at the higher weight more firmly than many men who had the pigmentation and size to go further.

#56 Marvin Hart (28-7-4; Newspaper Decisions 4-2-2)

Marvin Hart met Jack Johnson in San Francisco, and it was a newspaper that belongs to that city, The Chronicle, that best described how Hart managed to defeat one of the truly great heavyweights over twenty hard fought rounds: “Kentuckian Outgames Clever Opponent in Hard Ring Battle” read the first header. “Colored Man Has The Cleverness But Takes No Chances.”

And that, for me, is as perfect a summary of the various different accounts that appear in print the day after the combat. As I see it, that makes claims by modern revisionists that race, not ability, was the defining factor in this fight highly questionable. The ringside press tells a story in keeping with that era’s narrative.

“Marvin Hart matched his aggressiveness against the cleverness of Jack Johnson,” continues The San Francisco Chronicle, “…and at the end of twenty rounds of fierce fighting Referee Alex Greggains gave an entirely just decision in favor of Hart. He was the aggressor throughout.”

Johnson outboxed Hart for stretches and left him “badly punished” according to the Associated Press report, his face, “battered to a pulp” by the bigger, stronger Johnson, but it also stresses that Hart was the busier and the more aggressive of the two. Just as activity and aggression are valued in this time by judges, so they were in 1905, more so. Just as the immortal Barbados Joe Walcott had rescued a draw despite being outboxed completely by the equally legendary Joe Gans the year before, so Hart had tilted the balance in his favor against Johnson with an equally remorseless assertion. The gameness Hart demonstrated in bringing this fight to Johnson, who must have been entering his prime had he not done so already, cannot be overstated. It is arguable even now that Johnson owns the most insidious uppercut in all of boxing history given the manner with which he deployed it, a weapon more horrifying than that of Liston or Tyson, and Hart had to eat them from bell-to-bell. 

Where others see a robbery based upon race, I see a keynote win upon which to rest an often unheeded legacy.

Heavyweight champion of the world for a short spell after the retirement of fistic Goliath Jim Jeffries, Hart took the vacant title in a duel with reigning light-heavyweight champion Jack Root. Root earned his spot in that contest basically by way of promotional gimmick in becoming the first man to hold a title at 175 lbs.; Hart earned his by surviving Johnson. The winner by knockout in twelve, Hart was relieved of the title by Tommy Burns, after which time he visited the savagery of the furnace less in the ring, his results suffering for it – although he was still good enough to pick up a quick knockout win over Peter Maher in 1907.

Putting together his wider résumé is a difficult and fettered task. A victory over Philadelphia Jack O’Brien is nice, but it must be noted that O’Brien barely scrapped in above the old middleweight limit of 158 lbs. His struggle to 0-1-1 with middleweight Jack Gardner hurts him and there is a deep uncertainty surrounding his 1904 victory over Sandy Ferguson, perhaps a more legitimately questioned decision that of his contest with Johnson, but he reclaims this ground going a combined 2-1 versus two other men to appear on this list, Gus Ruhlin and Joe Choynski. 

A blood and guts warrior alive and working in a blood and guts era, he deserves more than he generally gets.

#55 Pinklon Thomas (43-7-1)

It is often forgotten that Pinklon Thomas turned professional before Muhammad Ali embarked upon his third heavyweight title reign. Associated more strongly with the generation defined by Mike Tyson he actually straddles three decades, battered into retirement by the unheralded Lawrence Carter in early 1993.

Broken hands and the resulting surgeries delayed his arrival in earnest until 1983, when an injury that supposedly befell Tim Witherspoon before his scheduled fight with James Tillis left an opening for Thomas as a late substitute. It was a perceived mi-match and Tillis did indeed outspeed the much more inexperienced Thomas in the first two rounds. But then a strange thing happened. Thomas began to out-jab his opponent. On the Road to Damascus, he realizes, before our eyes, “hey, this isn’t so difficult” and overwhelms Tillis on the ropes to force the intervention of referee Jack Keough in the eighth. His confidence in his next fight, against the world class Gerrie Coetzee, was astonishing. Poised, relaxed, he stalked the supposedly more powerful and more rugged South African, relying upon stellar reactions to drop his opponent’s inferior jab whilst inexplicably neglecting his own. Despite the fact that he didn’t bother to throw the punch that would soon draw comparisons with that of King Holmes, he ate up some hard punches from Coetzee on the way to establishing himself as the more elastic, layered, fluid fighter in a contest that was correctly scored a draw. A searing apprenticeship, against a fighter who was just eight months from lifting a heavyweight strap, had been negotiated. 

Tim Witherspoon, who lurks somewhere above Thomas on this list, was coming off a first round knockout of Tillis and a twelve-round decision over Greg Page when Thomas was matched with him eighteen months later; Thomas out-jabbed another world-class jabber and showed a genuinely superior defense and mode. In his possession, a heavyweight strap. He defended it first against Mike Weaver, who had three consecutive knockouts behind him since his controversial fifteen-round draw with Michael Dokes. Thomas stopped him in eight, first busting Weaver up with the jab and then blasting him with the most fluent of heavyweight combinations. 

Thomas at one time, had it all – one of the best jabs in heavyweight history, work-rate, stamina, good power, superb durability, a great defense and fluid offense. But he doesn’t have the résumé to match. His prime was pretty short, not quite three years, and we have documented here the wins that defined it – outwith, there are no others of great significance.

Trevor Berbick ended that prime in 1986 when Thomas, bereft of legendary trainer Angelo Dundee, was out-brawled and outworked by a career-best Berbick.

#54 Earnie Shavers 74-14-1

Earnie Shavers may be the literal hardest puncher in the history of boxing; certainly the testimony of those who shared a ring with him would indicate he is there-or-thereabouts as a pure puncher, although he failed to deliver against the best he faced – saying that, Muhammad Ali was perhaps never so close to being knocked out as he was against Shavers and Larry Holmes was certainly never so badly hurt in his rare prime. Shavers was awesome.

He creeps into the top sixty here by virtue, in the main, of four quick knockouts; his three-round dispatch of a green Jimmy Young in February of 1973, his brutal one-round destruction of Jimmy Ellis a few months later, perhaps the most devastating uppercut ever thrown in a boxing ring, his merciless one-round bludgeoning of Ken Norton in 1979 and his two-round mauling of Joe Bugner in 1982. 

Outside of these cornerstone wins, the dual victories granite-chinned Henry Clark are nice but there is little else to get excited about, although his total massacre of the various journeymen to cross his path and the near misses he inflicted upon both Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes are worth a couple of supplemental spots on this list.

#53 Ernie Schaaf (54-13-2; Newspaper Decisions 4-2)

Ernie Schaaf lost his life to boxing. A thunderous blow landed in the dying seconds of his 1932 contest with Max Baer reportedly left him stiff-necked and complaining of headaches. These headaches reportedly still ailed him four months later when he met the giant Primo Carnera and was stopped in the thirteenth, the only occasion upon which he was halted in his career – more than likely he should not have been in the ring. He never recovered. He was twenty-four years old.

Baer and Schaaf – just as Baer is often misremembered as the brute that “killed two men in the ring,” so Schaaf is often remembered as the victim, a man injured by the huge-punching Baer before the enormous Carnera finished the job. Both remembrances are false. For most of his career, Schaaf was a dyed-in-the-wool ass-kicking badass. Indeed he had kicked Baer’s ass almost two years earlier in December of 1930.

Schaaf “took everything [Baer] sent his way,” riding and absorbing the heaviest blows one of the hardest pure-punchers in the sports history volleyed his way before “stabbing away with a straight, jolting left hand hammering away with heavy rights.” Schaaf didn’t want to rewrite the manual, he boxed by numbers in many ways, but he got the job done. “Fighting a sound, intelligent, but overly cautious battle,” continued The Associated Press report, he had “Baer reeling all over the ring in the seventh, eighth and ninth rounds and might have scored a knockout had he been able to overcome the dynamite in Baer’s right hand.”

Schaaf played Baer like a violin to lift a narrow decision, out-guiling and outthinking his man as well as outfighting him. Against Tommy Loughran, on the other hand, who he met four times in tied series he showed flexibility in hustling, swarming and brutalizing the slickster to two unlikely defeats, thereby tying series with both he and Baer.

Never given the chance to advance much further than a ranked prospect, he nevertheless found time to defeat two future heavyweight champions of the world, outpointing James J. Braddock in addition to Max. Title challengers such as Young Stribling and Tony Galento fell too, contenders such as Jack Renault and Paulino Uzcudun help to fill out a ledger cruelly limited in tragic circumstances.

The tied series with Baer and Loughran might seem to peg him a little higher when taken in tandem with this solid work, his 200 lbs., broad skillset, durability and tactical flexibility, but he did drop decisions in keeping with his inexperience and scheduling. Schaaf packed more than seventy fights in to those twenty-four short years.

For someone remembered principally for dying, he did a hell of a lot of living.

#52 Tommy Loughran (90-25-10; Newspaper Decisions 31-7-4)

“Just get that guy into a ring with me,” Tommy Loughran, then the light-heayvweight champion of the world told manager Paddy Harmon of Jack Sharkey. “Give him whatever he asks for and I’ll take what’s left.”

Loughran got his fight and was stopped in three rounds for his trouble. A right hand did the greater part of the damage, but apparently Sharkey, quite by accident, drove his knee into Loughran’s face as he fell forwards into his tumbling opponent (the film is inconclusive), ending his night completely. But Loughran did not give up on Sharkey, perhaps in part because he was paid 50k. In 1933 he got his man, winning a close decision against a former world heavyweight champion. This is typical of Loughran, a thinking fighter with a thinking approach to fighting. There were very, very few men who met him more than once who were able to beat him more than he them. Ad Stone, Jack Sharkey, Ernie Schaaf, Steve Hamas and King Levinsky all beat him at one stage or another only to lose rematches. 

But he could also be beaten in rematches. Loughran was brilliant enough that almost anybody – even the great Harry Greb, eventually, in their celebrated and repeated duels down at 175 lbs. – could be outthought and outboxed, but not everybody could be outfought up at heavy. Loughran didn’t have the physical power or physical strength to control the opposition in the necessary way and he could be found and outhit by the right combination of attributes.

This didn’t stop him building a quite extraordinary heavyweight résumé. In addition to Schaaf, Hamas, Levinsky, Stone and Sharkey, Loughran beat Al Delaney, Al Ettore, Arturo Godoy, Paulino Uzcudun, Jack Gross, Jack Renault, John Risko, Chuck Wiggins and a second man who would hold the world’s heavyweight title, Max Baer whom he outpointed with ease.

Inconsistency operates a severe drag on Loughran’s placing. Probably he lost as many important fights as he won. At his best though, he operated almost independent of the quality of his opposition and against some great fighters of a certain size he might very well achieve some quite astonishing results.

He fought everybody, and beat almost all of them at one time or another.

#51 Primo Carnera (88-14-0; Newspaper Decisions 1-0)

In writing about the 100 Greatest Fighters of All Time I named the capricious Young Griffo “the list maker’s nightmare,” such were the difficulties involved in un-picking his career. Once again I must insist upon bemoaning my fate – how to properly rank “The Ambling Alp,” Primo Carnera? For his apologists he represents a reasonable comparison to Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko and for the sceptics he is little better than a professional wrestler; a patsy who can kindly be judged to be unaware that many or even most of his big fights were fixed by connected men who robbed him blind of almost every penny he ever earned.

The truth?

Ah, shall we agree to somewhere in the middle?

Which is my way of saying that I can’t solve this riddle – only appraise it to the best of my ability in relation to other, more easily resolved questions. Join me if you have the patience.

An auspicious beginning that saw Primo Carnera run 47-3 was mauled horrifically by Time in October of 1931, his opposition perhaps unfairly dismissed as “incompetent” but boldly and controversially also labelled as having been “bribed to lose.” This is a belligerent position to say the least, but it was taken not without reason. Still three years from winning a version of the heavyweight title and already Carnera’s career was littered with controversy. His 1930 contest with Leon Chevalier was rotten to the core with everyone from Leon to his wife crying foul play in the wake of a fight which had seen the African-American Chevalier brutally assaulted by the crowd in the aftermath. According to The Evening Independent, even “Carnera’s own countrymen” stood upon their chairs and demanded that Carnera be brought back to the ring and “made to fight again.” Seemingly losing the fight, apparently in more distress than his opponent, Chevalier’s corner tossed in the towel and pandemonium erupted in the stands. Carnera would be suspended in the aftermath.

There were roars of “fake!” too at Carnera’s summer 1930 run in with George Godfrey, who seemed to deliberately foul out in five. A foul from “start all the way to contact” according to the AP report, such was the suspicion surrounding Godfrey’s performance that he was fined and banned from boxing in the State of Pennsylvania.

His first important win over Young Stribling is dismissed with two cursory words by who reckon the fight “probably fixed.”

But there are other performances that hint at, yes, a world-class heavyweight. Colossal for his era at 6’6 and sometimes as much as 280 lbs., Carnera is worth a second look by those wishing to appraise him on film. First, emergence of footage of his much maligned knockout of Jack Sharkey in his 1933 world-title tilt proved that it is almost certainly on the level.  Second, he is a surprisingly decent mover with a surprisingly difficult style that led to almost certain legitimate victories over fighters like Walter Neusel (TKO4), Tommy Loughran (UD15), two close points victories over King Levinsky, two over Paulino Uzcudun, a newspaper decision over Art Lasky and the tragic knockout victory over Earnie Schaaf.

It is an excellent win résumé, hampered a little by certain suspicions that will probably never, now, be alleviated and made lighter by near-proof of nefarious arrangements made by what Time called “shady” characters associated with his career. But he had to win the title, and from a near-great fighter in Jack Sharkey and although he is best remembered today as the hapless “Ambling Alp” of both legend and the Max Baer and Joe Louis films, the notion that every fight he fought was against a bribed opponent is patently ludicrous. Among those he beat legitimately are world-class opponents, many of whom make an appearance on this list.

He’s also the fighter that marks the halfway point on our list. We’re not quite into the great ones yet, but somewhere up above Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis are beginning to stretch off.

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

Billy Miske Fight The Saint Paul Thunderbolt

Big Bill Tate v. Kid Norfolk 1/2

Big Bill Tate v. Kid Norfolk 2/2

Pinklon Thomas KO's knocks out Mike Weaver

Earnie Shavers Battle Royale with Larry Holmes

Primo Carnera vs Ernie Schaaf

Tommy Loughran vs James Braddock

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  1. Barry 09:58am, 07/30/2014

    Sorry, i simply cannot accept Earnie Shavers as being a Top 100 fighter. IMO Shavers was no better than Dane Brian Neilson, Peter McNeely, Bert Cooper, Joe Bugner or Danny Williams.. Shavers was very mediocre and other than his Norton victory his record is full of journeymen. Shavers boxing ability was very limited indeed and his punching power in my opinion is vastly overrated.

  2. matt donnellon 07:22am, 07/28/2014

    Not a bother, roll on the top 50!

  3. Matt McGrain 06:56am, 07/28/2014

    Aye, fair enough, horses for courses.  Choynski has Maher, Goddard, Godfrey, Smith, Childs, wars with four heavyweight champions, KO3 Johnson and D Jeffries, D Sharkey.  I think that considerbaly better than the below…put it this way.  McCall is ranked in the last clutch because he beat Lewis.  What Choynski did would be the equivalent of beating pre-Steward Lewis AND drawing with Tokyo Tyson (Douglas).  If someone did that and nothing else, never beat any other noteworthy contenders, they would rank above the guys you’ve mentioned, almost inarguably.
    So it is with Choynski, as I see it.

  4. matt donnellon 10:29am, 07/27/2014

    Cant agree on Choynski, Ruhlin beat Sharkey, CHOYNSKI, Maher and drew with Jeffries and Hart. Maher beat Choynski peak for peak pretty devastatingly and drew with Sharkey, defeated Goddard and Ruhlin and a slew of others. Goddard crushed Joe twice and beat Maher and drew with a peak Peter Jackson.McCoy beat Choynski, Ruhlin and Maher and so on.

  5. Matt McGrain 05:33am, 07/26/2014

    I think that Choynski’s D Jeffries, D Sharkey,  Johnson, Ed Smith, Childs, Everett and Maher is better than the guys you list for resume; hence, he ranks above them.  The marquee win isnt’ in and of itself a thing.  It’s just representative of a fighter belonging in a certain class.  The draw with Jeffries and the knockout win over Johnson place Choynski in a special class.  This is something someone like McCoy flat out never acheived.  McCoy’s ticket to class is basically Choynski; Choynski’s is Johnson and Jeffries. 
    There are loads of fighters who have achieved McCoy’s level of excellence proven in the ring, but far fewer who have proven Choynski’s.

  6. matt donnellon 03:20pm, 07/25/2014

    Again like the bio’s and agree with the worthiness of most of the picks if not quite the positions. I don’t think any should be higher and I have one major gripe that I think should be much lower, perhaps not even top hundred, and it pains me to slate Joe Choynski.
    Criminally underrated as a middleweight, light heavyweight and p4p puncher, as a heavyweight I see him as a top gatekeeper type. I realise you place great weight on a marque win but even here I don’t see it. If the Johnson win is the one then Gypsy Daniels, Marty Marshall, Fireman Flynn and Willie Meehan should be included too. The Jeffries draw was very good but balance that again ten years of beating really good contenders and losing every time he stepped up to fight a peak elite fighter, Sharkey, Fitz, Maher, Goddard, Ruhlin and McCoy must rate above him. A great fighter who fought them all but like Chuvalo he didn’t win enough to cut it for me at heavy.

  7. Eric 10:23am, 07/18/2014

    I’m definitely not a fan of Jack Johnson, but no one can deny that he definitely had tremendous courage. Ali said that his story was similar, but only replace the white women with his religion. No way did Ali go against the same odds as Johnson did, to say that was an overstatement is putting it mildly. That being said, Johnson is vastly overrated as a fighter. I stated on an earlier thread about Johnson being quite articulate, as well as educated, he sure wasn’t Sonny Liston or Leon Spinks. Johnson definitely didn’t speak ebonically correct like many would imagine. A lot of that could be attributed to how Johnson’s character was portrayed in the movie, “The Great White Hope.” I’ve never seen Sam McVea or Joe Jeannette fight, but they were quite good from what I’ve read, and at least they were true heavyweights. But I also heard and read Kid Norfolk was special. I just viewed the video on Norfolk above, and quite frankly, I’m not too impressed at all. I’m judging Johnson from what I’ve seen of him against much smaller men,  a mediocre Jim Flynn,  a shell of a ghost that was Jim Jeffries, and the Willard fight. Johnson didn’t impress me in any of those fights.

  8. George Thomas Clark 09:54am, 07/18/2014

    Irish - You harsh judgment of Jack Johnson may soften a bit if you’ll watch this five-minute clip of an articulate, 51-year-old man introducing himself and then lighting it up as a dance and jazz band conductor…

  9. tuxtucis 02:55am, 07/18/2014

    @Eric and GTClark: about Shavers-Alì, it was scored by rounds and not with the actual ten points system. So I’ve that match draw (6-6-3), but with the actual system I would have Shavers winner by 1 point (second round 10-8 for the Akron even with no knockdowns). I agree fifteenth round was the last great thing Alì gifted to the fistic world

  10. tuxtucis 02:52am, 07/18/2014

    Dear Harry Greb, your place is in the heaven of the heroes, with Ajax, Hector and Roland, not with the humanoids like Klitschkos…so let it loose, the idea that you can beat both the Ukrainians is the same Ajax can destroy two Israeli drone with a single shot of his spear…

  11. The Flea 01:30am, 07/18/2014

    Great stuff McGrain. You assess Carnera exactly as I do.

  12. Harry Greb 03:15pm, 07/17/2014

    Jack Johnson is the greatest fighter of all time, just ask Nat Fleischer, the gawd of boxing. He could even beat me, and I can beat the Klit brothers at the same time. I would be the ideal opponent for Black Jack. I’m 5’8” tall, and weigh about 158-165lbs in fighting trim.

  13. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 02:24pm, 07/17/2014

    It’s not surprising that the years of unGodly slavery, and the follow on clusterfuck of Reconstruction and dehumanizing Jim Crow would produce an unmitigated sociopath such as Johnson. Much is made of his courage in facing not only his adversaries in the ring but the hostile crowds numbered in the thousands….when you’re batshit crazy…. courage has little to do with it… fact it’s little more than fun and games for a world class attention whore such as this.

  14. Matt McGrain 01:16pm, 07/17/2014

    The fact that Johnson marked Hart’s face heavily is well known, and has no bearing on the matter as far as I can see it.  Johnson outboxed Hart, but was far less aggressive to his huge detriment and the deep concern of his corner.  The decision went in favour of the more aggressive fighter which is not uncommon for the era.  Is race a possible motive?  Yes.  Is it possible to write off the decision, as you have done here, as reasonable “only in the racial wet dreams of corrupt judges”?  No.  Not even with footage of the fight in our hands could we make such a judgement.  Without footage of the fight and with general disagreement among primary sources, that is not a reasonable attitude to take.  It is a part of the Johnson legend, and a false one.

  15. George Thomas Clark 01:07pm, 07/17/2014

    This matter is far beyond being “hideous circular logic” that you impudently assert.  Had you been more forthcoming in your quote of referee Greggains, you would’ve continued his self-contradictory note that “Hart’s face was battered to a pulp, but Johnson’s blows did not seem to have much sting to them.”  That statement is absurd.  Who the hell was battering Marvin Hart’s face?  Maybe the referee was doing so, and therefore withheld the customary points for Johnson.

  16. Matt McGrain 12:43pm, 07/17/2014

    This is hideous circular logic because it means that any source that contradicts your point of view can be dismissed as “racist” and therefore irrelevant.  To be fair, my notes show that the SF Bulletin thought “Race prejudice” was the reason for the favour shown Hart by the crowd, so there is some precedence, but it was far from uncommon, whatever the colour of the protagonists, for the sheer aggressor to get the decision in this era.  I reference two such fights above.  Race was not the defining factor, but aggression, in fights where newspapers preferred the more skilled fighter.  It was not uncommon.  Jabez White, who was British, watched the fight and thought that Hart “was the aggressor all the way and the referee could do nothing else but give him all the glory.”  The Call, from ringside, disagrees with you that the fight was all Johnson in the first half, naming Hart “slightly the better at the half way point” and that the decision was “entirely just.” The Examiner wrote that “pluck and awkwardness better than mixture of cleverness and cowardice.”  The referee said that he gave Hart the decision because he “was the aggressor throughout and carried the fighting all the way.”  This is exactly in keeping with the attitude of the era.  You really believe all these people were lying because of racism?
    What, then, of Johnson’s own corner?  Were they racist?  According to Pollack, Johnson’s seconds for the fight were literally begging Johnson to attack as Hart took over in the second half - “for God’s sake go after him” and, most damningly, Johnson’s second Tim McGrath apparently yelling to Johnson, “Please hit him. YOU CAN’T WIN unless you hit him.”
    Johnson attacked only when forced to do so in the second half of the fight.  For ten rounds, he purely countered.  Because it was such a close fight, it is possible to find people who thought either man won - this isn’t indicative of boxing by race, at all.

  17. Jim Corbett 12:42pm, 07/17/2014

    Irish….teehee. Good one. What was happening back in those days with some of those old-timers trunks? Nearly as bad as the gear those big boys in Sumo wrestling wear.

  18. George Thomas Clark 12:33pm, 07/17/2014

    And Erislady Lara and Canelo Alvarez are, physically, evenly matched fighters.  Marvin Hart and Jack Johnson were not, and their fight should have been a mismatch but a laid back and overconfident Johnson let Hart make it fairly close and a biased referee chose Hart as the winner.  Johnson should’ve remembered that a knockout is the best decision…

  19. George Thomas Clark 12:28pm, 07/17/2014

    I quoted the LA TImes and George Siler about the poor quality of the decision:  “I’m not excusing Johnson’s relative lack of aggression the second half of the fight but, according to the Los Angeles Times, the ‘Fight Decision was a queer one,’ and George Siler later told the Police Gazette it was ‘the opinion of fair-minded witness that Johnson beat Hart.’”

    I did not say Siler and the Times were commenting on the influence of racism.  I’m doing that based on the overwhelming racism of the day, which dominated boxing, too.  That’s why Johnson had to chase Tommy Burns for years and thousands of miles, and that’s why there wasn’t another black champ, even in a title fight, until Joe Louis.

  20. Eric 12:23pm, 07/17/2014

    @tuxtucis…I agree that Norton would’ve fallen to Shavers and Cooney, even in his prime. Big punchers were Norton’s kryptonite, no doubt about that. And Norton wasn’t too far past it when he lost to Shavers, he was less than a year removed from his epic matchup with Holmes. Bringing up Norton is interesting because I’m very curious as to where Norton will rank on this list. A Lyle vs. Norton matchup in the mid ‘70’s would have been interesting due to Norton’s allergic reactions to punchers.

    GTC…You might be referring to tuxtucis, I give Ali the decision in his fight with Shavers also.

  21. Matt McGrain 12:21pm, 07/17/2014

    Neither Siller nor the LA Times prints that racism was the deciding factor as you have said. Both disagreed with the decision. There are numerous reports that disagree with the decision, just as there are numerous reports that agree with it.  That is not the same thing.  Many people think Lara beat Canelo.  But he did not.

  22. George Thomas Clark 12:17pm, 07/17/2014

    The Los Angeles Times qualifies as “primary” source and so does the distinguished George Siler.


  23. Matt McGrain 12:08pm, 07/17/2014

    GTC - There are loads of primary sources that have Hart a winner or in a very close fight with Johnson.  There are literally no primary sources whatsoever that allude to racism clouding the decision.  In the definitive work on the subject, In The Ring With Jack Johnson, Pollack refers, rightly, to the possibility, but goes on to draw conclusions only from primary sources, just as a good historian should.  The primary sources are divided.  That the fight was close under the rules of the era seems almost certain, as described in the passages above.  Hart DID beat Johnson, and it is very reasonable to say so.
    Unforgivable Blackness is a good book which is very light on primaries and IMO is guilty of love for the subject of the book.

  24. nicolas 11:00am, 07/17/2014

    First off: interesting having both Carnera and Hart in this group, as they are the only men to have held the heavyweight championship and not at least be on the IBHOF old-timers list. You would think that since it is before 1943 retirements, that they would be on that list at least. GEORGE THOMAS: You are spot on about Marvin Hart win over Johnson. Only one man determined the winner. Also as once pointed out, accounts of fights between black fighter and white fighters were not always accurate at the time, quite often in favor of the white fighter, if not always, as was pointed out during a win for Sam Langford over I believe Gunboat Smith in Los Angeles. But because of the results of that fight, I do feel that Jim Jeffries had he fought Jack Johnson in 1905, would have beaten Johnson then, though it probably would have been his toughest win, and might have even been controversial, though perhaps not as the win for Hart over Johnson.

  25. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 10:24am, 07/17/2014

    Hart shown to be a very cheeky fellow in the photo above….probably made it difficult for Johnson who just loved white meat…. to focus….which reminds me….Dick Gregory said he loved fried chicken but he never tasted white meat until he got “up North”.....which further reminds me….sometimes when we compile lists comprised of ancients and moderns I feel that we are comparing apples and nectarines.

  26. George Thomas Clark 10:05am, 07/17/2014

    Eric, please re-watch the classic 15th round of Shavers and Ali.  The champ did a number on him.  Extraordinary…

  27. tuxtucis 09:59am, 07/17/2014

    @Eric: although Norton was past prime in his fights vs Cooney and Shavers, I think simply he could have not matched their power in no part of his career. About Shavers, I think he could have probably won his fight vs Alì, although Alì was clearly over the hill.

  28. George Thomas Clark 09:45am, 07/17/2014

    I agree that Carnera was underrated and abused, and have always admired his size and enormous physical strength as well as his competitiveness.  If he had been born in 1970s in the same Ukrainian neighborhood as the Klitschkos, he would’ve had greater development as a boxer but, after forever being outmaneuvered by his fellow giants, might have chosen mixed martial arts in which his strength and wrestling ability, combined with his striking, would have made him a fearsome opponent.  Probably, though, Cain Velasquez would’ve been too quick for him in the octagon, like the K boys in the ring.

  29. George Thomas Clark 09:19am, 07/17/2014

    I had to run an errand and had just scanned the rankings before taking care of business and returning to read the story about Johnson and Hart.  Let’s review a little:  Hart wanted to fight middleweights out West but couldn’t get the fights so was in debt but still unwilling to fight Johnson until the latter went to his gym and called him a “coward.”  Hart then reluctantly took the fight.  At that point, the majority who wanted Hart to win started to try to convince themselves that he would.  I’ve never read an account that doesn’t give Johnson a large lead after 10 or 11 rounds.  Johnson’s jab battered and puffed Hart’s face.  Johnson should thereafter have been more aggressive but Hart didn’t do a hell of a lot except be aggressive, which is admirable but should not have been decisive.  Alex Greggains, the promoter and referee and sole judge, had a pronounced and oft-stated dislike of Johnson and, according to author Geoffrey C. Ward, “was suspicious of counterpunchers and dismissive of Johnson’s courage.”  That’s hardly the guy Johnson would’ve wanted judging his fight.  I’m not excusing Johnson’s relative lack of aggression the second half of the fight but, according to the Los Angeles Times, the “Fight Decision was a queer one,” and “George Siler later told the Police Gazette it was ‘the opinion of fair-minded witness that Johnson beat Hart.’”  This information comes from pages 69-71 of the hardcover edition of “Unforgivable Blackness” by Geoffrey C. Ward.  Marvin Hart was a tough guy but he didn’t beat Jack Johnson.  Ask yourselves: If Hart had been black and Johnson white, who would have won?  And please don’t say leave race out of this.  Hart was talking about coons before the fight, after the fight, and probably for the rest of his life.  I hope grinning Jim Jeffries enjoyed his ringside seat.  He should have fought Johnson in 1905.  It would’ve been a great fight.  But, as we know, he waited until he was way beyond his prime in 1910, and grinned very little that day in Reno. 

  30. Eric 08:54am, 07/17/2014

    Shavers might be a little high, when you think his only meaningful wins were against Jimmy Ellis, a very young Jimmy Young, and past peak versions of Joe Bugner & Ken Norton. His sheer punching talent has to rank him somewhere on this list, but like Carnera, Shavers doesn’t deserve ranking above some fighters below him. I would venture to say that two fighters ranked way below Shavers, Tua & Cooney, punched every bit as hard as Shavers. Shavers was a heavier version of Bob Satterfield, and would be stopped by Ron Stander, Jerry Quarry, Bernardo Mercado, Ron Lyle, Tex Cobb, and Larry Holmes. Very classy guy, and one of the greatest punchers ever, but as an overall fighter, his ranking might be a tad high. Fighters like Thomas and Weaver, who are ranked below Shavers were better fighters, while I do feel Earnie was much better than Carnera.

  31. Eric 08:36am, 07/17/2014

    Very suprised that Carnera is ranked that much higher than Willard. Carnera and Willard are often ranked at or near the bottom of heavyweight title holders. While I do think Carnera and Willard were better than a handful of past heavyweight champions like Leon Spinks, Bruce Seldon, Tony Tubbs, etc., but I can’t see Carnera ranking above fighters like Tua, Weaver, Cooney, Tucker, Thomas, Chuvalo, Bugner, Bonavena, Braddock, etc. Willard was ranked at #80 which is probably much more appropriate than Carnera’s ranking at #51. I would rank Carnera only a tad higher than Willard, however, I could definitely see why people would rank Willard above Carnera. Mostly Willard is in fact ranked higher, or seen as a better fighter than Carnera. While Carnera was much better than the character portrayed in the fictional movie, “The Harder They Fall,” I can’t see him being ranked above many of the fighters below him on this list.

  32. George Thomas Clark 08:34am, 07/17/2014

    By the way, I sense that has uncovered the treasured, and long missing, first fight between Greb and Tunney and will unveil it when the Shakespearean is rated…

  33. George Thomas Clark 08:31am, 07/17/2014

    I’ve generally agreed with, or at least understood, most selections so was shocked when I saw Jack Johnson’s photo, thinking the Galveston Giant was being rated in this range.  But of course the allusion was to Marvin Hart, who beat Johnson only in the racial wet dreams of corrupt judges.  Johnson, I’m sure, will be rated much higher.

  34. tuxtucis 04:13am, 07/17/2014

    Well chosen, maybe I would have Thomas a little lower and Shavers a little higher.

  35. Clarence George 07:10pm, 07/16/2014

    “A blood and guts warrior alive and working in a blood and guts era, he deserves more than he generally gets.”  Well said, and I couldn’t agree more.  I’ve never understood why Hart is dismissed as though he somehow picked up the Heavyweight Championship of the World at a flea market.  I’m also glad to see the much-maligned Carnera included, and pretty much where he should be.

    I don’t want to cavil, but I’m not at all convinced that Shavers or Schaaf belong.  The same may be true of Loughran.  An interesting selection, but I think of him more as a light heavy.  I don’t know if I’d have Thomas anywhere on this list.  If I did, he’d be lower.  And I’d probably have Choynski a bit higher.

    Will the wonderful, however disgracefully neglected, Obie Walker make an appearance?  I submit his name for your consideration.

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