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

By Matt McGrain on August 20, 2014
The 100 Greatest Heavyweights of All Time Part Seven: 40-31
Charles did Joe Louis the enormous favor of eliminating Elmer Ray from the title picture.

We’re starting to meet with great heavyweights now. But for me, we won’t encounter any true giants among giants until part nine…

Squint and we’re starting to meet with great heavyweights now. For me, we won’t encounter any true giants among giants until part nine but the slenderest of arguments can be made that the final two entries in this selection are great heavies.

It is not an argument I would make – but nor does anybody need to make excuses for the men who make up the first portion of the top forty heavyweights in history.

#40 Jimmy Bivins (86-25-1)

“Jimmy is a really good fighter,” Joe Louis would say of Jimmy Bivins in June 1943, “who doesn’t always put out all he’s got. I’ve watched him and I can see in spots he’s got the stuff. He just seems to pace himself.” Joe’s ring career had been indefinitely suspended by America’s involvement in World War Two but he seemed neither concerned by or in a rush to meet Bivins who had picked up the interim heavyweight title in his absence. He even appeared briefly to pose with Bivins, placing a cardboard crown upon his head for one or two awkward publicity shots. 

They would never meet in a meaningful contest. By the time their paths crossed in 1951 each was way past his respective prime. How Bivins would have fared with Louis in the early ‘40s might be deduced from the clues littering the Clevelander’s record and of most concern to Louis should be Jimmy’s incredible record versus punchers. He got the better of series with Lee Q. Murray, Curtis “Hatchetman” Sheppard and in individual fights with Billy Smith and Turkey Thompson, both of whom dropped one-punch booms of the highest order but succumbed to the turgid but deadly stylings of Bivins.

As well as repeatedly accusing the interim champ of laziness, Louis repeatedly advised him to “shorten up his punches,” no small matter for the long-limbed 5’9 strongman, whose sometimes inelegant mode was defined as much by his physicality as his outlook. That physicality, that outlook, betrayed him almost completely at the highest level after his honorable discharge from the army, prior to which he was apparently savagely beaten by military police whilst serving with the armed forces. Some close to him claim he was never the same after this altercation, which biographer Jerry Fitch claims left Bivins unconscious for two days. Whatever the details, Bivins went a desperate 2-11 versus Archie Moore, Ezzard Charles, Jersey Joe Walcott, Bob Pastor and Harold Johnson, showing a terrible vulnerability to great boxers. The only wins he posted against this group (at heavyweight) were a razor thin and debatable decision over Pastor in his final fight, and a victory over a 169-lb. Moore. On the other hand, he was almost certainly deserving of at least a share of the decision versus Walcott and he did best both Charles and Moore at light-heavy.

No prizes for beating the smaller boys though. This is the biggest division. In this regard and in others, Bivins had no luck. Almost certainly the best active heavy of the Second World War, he beat numerous good contenders (Knox,  Bettina, Muscato, Mauriello, Savold, Valentino, Walker, Peaks, Henry) as well as that huge swathe of punchers but never fought for the real title. Louis almost certainly would have bested him but from 1942 up until his military service in 1945 he was one of the very best fighters on the planet, at any weight.

#39 Tom Sharkey (37-7-6; Newspaper Decisions 0-2)

Tom Sharkey is Joe Goddard on steroids before steroids were fashionable. Choose your cliché: a blood and guts warrior, an out-of-time warlord, a savage from a more savage age, a fighting Irishman; Sharkey was all of these things, a sawn-off gun-toting pressure-fighter who could only fight one way – straight ahead and with great violence. 

But all heart? No, that cliché really doesn’t fit. “The Sailor,” so named for his daring runaway dash as a teenager all the way from his native Ireland to the United States navy, a combination that makes him, to some, all but unimpeachable, showed yellow against the most dangerous fighter he ever met, Bob Fitzsimmons, with whom he clashed in December of 1896. Wyatt Earp refereed that fight and felt compelled to bring his .45 colt to the ring for some reason, a reason that perhaps became apparent when he awarded Sharkey the fight on a foul that almost certainly never occurred. Fitzsimmons set that wrong to rights by utterly brutalizing the rock hard Irishman four years later; suffice to say here that Sharkey’s greatest win isn’t recognized for the purposes of this list.

That does not mean he does not belong upon it though. As a contender for the heavyweight title he might be named the greatest of them never to win it, aside from the immortal Peter Jackson, between the reigns of John Sullivan and Jack Johnson. His struggles with Gus Ruhlin, with whom he could manage no better than 1-2, tempers that statement slightly, but he went unbeaten in three fights against Choynski and managed 2-0 over Joe Goddard.

It is perhaps another disqualification win that really sets him aside. In November of 1898 he clashed with former heavyweight champion James J. Corbett, who, whilst unquestionably past his absolute best, had been beaten only once at that stage of his career, by James Jeffries. Moving “as lightly as a feather” according to The New York Sun, Corbett was beyond the reach of the highly aggressive Sharkey in the first round, repeatedly landing his left hand whilst swatting away, slipping or ducking most of what his opponent brought as offense. “His feinting was so good,” the newspaper wrote of Corbett’s work, “that the sailor was constantly putting up his hands and ducking.”

At the end of the second, Sharkey struck a blow for the thug, the back-alley savage, the uneducated pressure fighter getting by on guts everywhere and everywhen. “He rushed to close quarters,” reported The Sun, “and with a tremendous right on the jaw sent Corbett down.”

Corbett was tough enough that his survival was guaranteed, but the tide was beginning to turn. After a rough nine rounds, confusion in the Corbett corner led to his disqualification by referee John Kelly. Corbett began a second fight with the guilty cornerman whilst Sharkey claimed a second win of dubious distinction over an all-time great heavyweight.

Here we must offer some credit, however. Although it is true Corbett was boxing his way back into the fight when disaster befell him it is also true that Sharkey was likely ahead on points when the moment of truth occurred; married to his spirited attempts at an even greater figure in James J. Jeffries, (LPTS 20 1898, LPTS25 1899) it is a performance that justifies his being ranked above all but the very greatest of his peers.

#38 Archie Moore (185-23-10)

Willie Bean (41-26-5) was one of the fighters the immortal Archie Moore met during his second run at the heavyweight title, a fight in which Floyd Patterson beat him so badly Moore looked ready for retirement. Bean is far from qualified to be used as a measuring stick for a fighter like Archie but he provides insight to the difficulties of facing a genius like Moore as well as anyone.

“I wanted to knock him out,” said Bean. “I told my corner that and they were cursing, telling me, ‘don’t get close to that guy!’ He had all these operations and everyone went for [the scar tissue on his stomach]. I dropped my hands to throw a right to the body…and the lights went out.”

This was deliberate. Moore used to make a show of covering his body, provide a window of opportunity for an opponent to hit him there and then counter. It was all a ruse. That darkening power that Bean experienced behind that trap is also described best by a journeyman, “Tiger” Ted Lowry. “He hit me harder than anyone I ever fought,” stated the veteran of two ten-round fights with Rocky Marciano. “I couldn’t eat for a week. It was soup from a straw only.”

Moore used this combination of genius and bone-crunching power-punches to beat more than just journeymen. He beat #5 ranked heavyweight Jimmy Bivins in 1948, the beginning of his prime, and he beat #4 ranked heavyweight Alejandro Lavorante in 1962, six years after Patterson made him look like a has-been. In between he defeated a huge list of men, including Nino Valdes (in an open air fight in which Moore repeatedly manoeuvred the bigger man so that he would be squinting into the sun), Bob Baker (twenty pounds heavier, Baker was stopped with cuts to the nose, mouth and above both eyes), Clarence Henry, Curtis Sheppard, Bert Whitehurst, one time South American champion Alberto Santiago Lovell by devastating first round knockout, the unbeaten Embrel Davidson, and in perhaps his best filmed performance at heavyweight James J. Parker, who looked considerably less than his 210 lbs. and 6’3” as the 175-lb., 5’11 Moore swarmed all over him.

Two failures at the highest level limit Moore despite his astonishing longevity and a skillset which may be unrivalled outside of the top twenty.

#37 Ernie Terrell (46-9)

Ernie Terrell, “The Octopus” is one of the many fighters that suffers historically due to the lack of oxygen Muhammad Ali left in the room for the mortals who plodded in his wake. Terrell was made to look foolish when he met the self-styled “Greatest” and won hardly one of fifteen rounds, but he was not the plodding and static figure of that fight throughout most of what was a superb career, and he deserves to be acknowledged as one of the outstanding contenders of the 1960s. 

Against the huge German southpaw Gerhard Zech, in what is likely his best filmed performance, Terrell was menacing, brutal, rushing, fast, dirty and highly aggressive, bowling a stunned Zech to the canvas twice in the opening round with a combination of roughhouse tactics and storming offense. Standing 6’6 and with an 82” reach, Terrell has often been compared to current Champion Wladimir Klitschko, but this is erroneous. Imagining Wladimir all-but running across the ring with his right-hand cocked is a contradiction that cannot be realized. That Wladimir would not consider standing side-to-side with his opponent on the inside and throwing uppercut after uppercut is a given. In short, all but the most interested of fans has a false impression of Terrell, if they have an impression of him at all. He was neither plodding, patient and nor was he particularly gifted technically, the winging right-hand that defined his attack every bit as much as that more famed jab certainly not a punch that appears in any boxing manual. He did not use his length in a way that might be expected of such a tall man, and his inside game, although often questionable in terms of the rules, was as much a part of his fight-plan as the jab from distance. 

This rambling offense brought him a stacked win ledger and his run between the summer of ’62 and that ’67 loss to the primed Muhammad Ali is arguably the best of the decade. Chief among the wins this 15-0 streak brought him was his domination of Eddie Machen, though the fact that Machen was past his best tempers the win just a little. This theme is repeated for Terrell’s victory over Zora Folley, but it should be stressed that neither man was washed up, and that Terrell beat each of them thoroughly, dominating two superb technicians with his jab. Secondary wins over the excellent George Chuvalo, Doug Jones, Bob Foster, Cleveland Williams and Amos Lincoln grouped together in the years during which Ali rose to the title make him arguably the best contender to arguably the best heavyweight Champion there has ever been.

#36 Jimmy Ellis (40-12-1)

If you know the story, I’m going to keep it brief, if you do not, you will love it.

In an alternate universe, Jimmy Ellis is a failed middleweight who got knocked around by a who’s who of the stacked 1960s 160-lb. division and then retired. In this universe, his wife persuaded him to write a letter to legendary trainer Angelo Dundee asking him to handle his career. Dundee said yes; Ellis would go on to win the WBA tournament designed to find a replacement champion for Dundee’s other heavyweight, Muhammad Ali.

Quick, clever and gifted with power in both hands that “surprised” Angelo Dundee as well as the rest of the world, Ellis, like Ron Lyle, is defined by one deeply impressive period, this time fought at the end of the ‘60s, and encompassing that WBA tournament. In August of ’67 he hammered Leotis Martin into senselessness in the first and despite a cut over his left eye, busted him up on his way to a ninth round stoppage. In conjunction with slippery footwork and a stern jab, the power in the Ellis right-hand was the consistent difference-maker.

In December of that year he took on the marauding Oscar Bonavena. Ellis would never be better.

Bonavena was every bit the quick starter that Ellis was, but he was quick in backing up as Ellis flashed that right hand, a punch he used to deck the granite-chinned Argentine in the third, tilting him first back onto his heels then tumbling to the canvas. Ellis went right back to his boxing in its wake, torturing Bonavena with that tipsy stance, half-feint, half-challenge, just outside of the range but a range that the American could penetrate at any time with the subtlest of half-steps. Bonavena did work up a head of steam however, after mauling and hooking his way to the eighth and ninth rounds only for Ellis to stop him dead with a left hook in the tenth; in his own inimitable way he kept the hard charge going through the eleventh and twelfth, but Ellis had already proven himself by far the superior of the two, a fact reflected by the unanimous decision in his favor.

An extremely odd fight with Jerry Quarry followed, Ellis generally out-marshalling Quarry although he was aided and abetted by Quarry’s strange determination that the fight should be fought along the ropes, a weak tactic that Ellis took full advantage of. Another narrow decision followed, this time against former Champion Floyd Patterson in what remains to this day a very controversial fight. It is also a rather poor one, with lots of missing and a strangely reticent Jimmy Ellis trying to prod his way to victory, reluctant to mix it inside despite his domination when the two went chest-to-chest. That doesn’t change the fact that Patterson probably deserved the nod (he took it 7-5-3 on my card) but it should be noted that the New York Times saw it for Ellis from ringside, and that the referee saw it to Patterson from within the ring.

Whatever the details, this possible stroke of luck meant that between 1966 and the summer of 1973 Ellis was only beaten at heavyweight by Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, underlying his limitations but placing him right at the foot of the mountain.

#35 Tommy Burns (46-4-8; Newspaper Decisions 0-1-1)

Tommy Burns will be ranked here too high for some, but consider, Burns fought thirteen times in world heavyweight title fights, or something like one, and came out 11-1-1. 

He is most famous for the loss, unfairly but naturally given that it was against a true ring immortal, Jack Johnson, who hammered him in 1908 but by then Burns had already posted more title defenses than men such as Jack Dempsey and Joe Frazier would dream of fighting – and more than Johnson himself.

He lifted the title against Marvin Hart, not a great Champion but one who is ranked here among the hundred greatest heavyweights nonetheless. Burns gave away twenty pounds. He completely outclassed the reigning King in a one-sided twenty-round decision from which Hart emerged with “his left eye closed, his right eye dimmed, his nose bruised, his mouth bleeding, and lips so swollen he could barely talk” according to the LA Herald. Hart was nine months removed from his narrow defeat of Jack Johnson.

His first defense was against “Fireman” Jim Flynn, who would go on to crush a young Jack Dempsey in a single round. Burns knocked him out so brutally that the referee was criticized for not ending the slaughter earlier, a rarity in a 1906 ring. Next up was a pair of defenses against Philadelphia legend Jack O’Brien, who would hold Jack Johnson to a six-round draw whilst the great Champion owned the title. Their first match was a poorly received draw in a fight most seemed to feel the aggression of the Champion might have been a defining factor, though O’Brien was almost universally lauded for his generalship. In the rematch, a fight that remains one of the most controversial heavyweight title-fights in history, Burns had to promise to take a dive in order to get O’Brien into the ring. Reneging at the last moment, Burns instead chased a terrified O’Brien all over the ring and won a dominant and one-sided decision. 

Still Burns went disrespected, a fact painted clearly by his being made a slight underdog when matched with Australian champion Bill Squires. An augmentation of public opinion was in order. Burns delivered it with a first round knockout. Burns then took the title on tour, posting softer defenses overseas but in valid fights against live opponents. By the time Johnson rolled around he was disrespected no more, but even his years with the title couldn’t prepare him for the thicket that was Lil’ Arthur, and the title was ripped from him.

Johnson reigned longer but fought less, and although Burns did not stage defenses of enormous quality, nor did he tread water. Having said that, it should be acknowledged that his claim to the title was not universally regarded as sound in his own era even if it is admitted historically almost without question – and let it not be forgotten that when Johnson beat Burns he immediately became The Man. That, you can only do by beating The Man.

#34 Tim Witherspoon (55-13-1)

“Terrible” Tim Witherspoon was bequeathed his nickname by one Muhammad Ali with whom, in his fistic infancy, he sparred. Only 14-0 as a professional he was matched with former world title challenger Renaldo Snipes and although out-thought and out-manoeuvred by his more experienced opponent his power and athleticism closed the gap. The year was 1982 and in 1983 he would box in the now near-legendary encounter with all-time great Champion Larry Holmes. 

Several myths have mossed their way up this great oak of a fight, first and foremost the story that Witherspoon out-jabbed Holmes – not true. Certainly there were short spells where his jab looked better but for the most part it was Witherspoon who was out-jabbed, just as he had been in the Snipes fight. But like the Snipes fight, Witherspoon’s athletic excellence and a brilliant taste for the range brought him to within a single combination of winning a decision. The fight could not have been closer. I saw it a draw, the judges saw it barely for the Champion – Holmes denied Witherspoon a rematch and Witherspoon was anointed. Floyd Cummings, James Tillis and Greg Page all fell before him in quick succession, Tillis by brutal first round KO. 

Witherspoon was out-jabbed again versus Pinklon Thomas in the summer of 1984. Witherspoon dropped another close decision and illustrated a vulnerability to mortal fighters. But I believe at least one loss was all but inevitable for Witherspoon boxing to a schedule from a darker, harder era. Cummings, Tillis, Page, Thomas, a youngster named Mark Wills, then James Broad, James “Bonecrusher” Smith, two journeymen, an unbeaten Tony Tubbs and huge-punching Frank Bruno all in the space of three breakneck years. It’s very possible that the only men who would have emerged from that savage dance lurk above, top twenty-five. Either way, Witherspoon cobbled together a deeply impressive résumé in these savage months before a rematch with Smith ended the good times. Witherspoon was stunned by a first round knockout loss and then the warrior went to war with the unwinnable foe, one Don King. Witherspoon won some scratch on paper but there is no doubt the battle sapped his will in the ring. He added some decent names, Jose Ribalta, Carl Williams, Alfred Cole, but overall the nineties were not kind. Remembered for his 1980s form and that thumping technical athleticism, he belongs inside the top forty.

#33 Jimmy Young (34-19-2)

Jimmy Young’s career is a red-hot streak that included two of the very greatest heavyweights to have ever drawn in a breath bookended by a mediocrity only an indifference to training and clean living can ever explain. Between 1974 and 1977, Young matched Earnie Shavers twice, Ron Lyle twice, George Foreman, Ken Norton and Muhammad Ali, and, according to some, remained unbeaten. Arguably no heavy ever took on so many devastating punchers in such close proximity, and the single boxer, Ali, was perhaps more dangerous than all of them.

Having survived Shavers, with whom he fought a draw in 1974, and Lyle who he defeated on both occasions, Young decided to take on the only man more terrifying than even these men, George Foreman. Young fought the former champion brilliantly, walking and feinting him out of position while gathering points with a grazing jab and a sneak right. He showed incredible heart to survive the seventh after a Foreman hook hurt him terribly, Young stepping away from Foreman gingerly, using the exaggerated steps of a man negotiating a garden rake while in his cups, and Foreman received and understood that signal, following up with the brute attack of old. At the bell, Young was fighting back. He threw his hands into the air, as though in triumph. “I don’t know how I survived that round,” he would later confess. But it was Foreman who came closest to suffering a knockout defeat when a Young combination married Foreman’s fatigue whereupon they spent a brief honeymoon on the canvas. It was an astonishing punching achievement for a man with a KO percentage in the low twenties.

He wasn’t able to deposit Muhammad Ali to the canvas in similar style when they had met a year earlier in Maryland, but he managed the metaphorical equivalent in out-thinking perhaps the greatest heavyweight general of them all. In the end, it was probably not a fight that either man deserved to win, although Young got the nod on my card and from the card of most ringsiders. That did not include the judges who allowed Ali to escape with a dubious decision win. 

He dropped another questionable loss to another wonderful fighter in Ken Norton, eight months later, a winner 8-6-1 for me but a loser by split decision on some of the strangest cards in fight history , the judges scoring no fewer than twelve rounds dead even between them. The fight is at least close enough that the official decision should be respected, but Young’s performance was superb against a fighter generally lethal against even moderate punchers. Young was not that, and had to adapt his sneak-boxing for an opponent who boxed him to the body almost entirely without respect for his punches, perhaps the hardest job a fighter can take on in the ring.

Young boxed like a shadow, always present, but intangible, his spoiling defense as intransient as his oft-maligned offense, but in his own way he was every bit as elemental as Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, perhaps the very thing that made these great fighters struggle so desperately to master him.

#32 Jack Sharkey (37-13-3; Newspaper Decisions 1-1)

Jack Sharkey is the only man in history who had to fight both Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis. Think about that for a moment. These two probably only have Liston and Tyson for company as far as precision butchery goes and arguably even those two terrifying, blood-drenched bogeymen don’t belong in the Dempsey/Louis class. For a fighter to run across one of these genius-savages in a career can surely be considered unfortunate but to suffer an arc that encompasses both of them very possibly disproves the maxim that a fighter “makes his own luck.” 

Despite this disaster of fate, Sharkey did hold the Heavyweight Title between June twenty-first 1932 and June the twenty-ninth 1933. He managed a total of zero defenses and lost it to a Champion regarded by history as one of the weaker, Primo Carnera. And that pretty much sums Sharkey up. He was fierce in his inconsistency, capable, in one evening, of both the sublime and the ridiculous. Nothing illustrates this more perfectly than his first brush with the immortality that would elude him, against a past-prime but furious Jack Dempsey, who he unexpectedly brutalized almost beyond the point of recovery in round one, before neglecting to defend himself from the punches of a fighter who had just retired the nickname “Man-Killer” in the seventh with predictable results. Sharkey could have beaten Dempsey that night but elements of his temperament kept him from what would have been a tremendous result and would have given Sharkey the shot at King Tunney. Tunney and Sharkey would have been a fabulous match because it would have settled once and for all the question of who was the better heavyweight technician of that era – between them, the two basically stand as the high water mark for boxing technique and the modernization of the fight game, such was their excellence on film, of which there is plenty. 

Sharkey’s elimination bout with British Empire champion Phil Scott is probably his most technically proficient performance and he can be seen moving beautifully throughout that fight, a three-round TKO victory for the American of Lithuanian extraction, on his toes and ready to punch. He marshals Scott beautifully, feinting him out of position on the outside, outfighting him with tight punches on the inside. Low gloves and black and white film are the only signs that we are not dealing with a fighter born forty years later.

Of the negatives, perhaps most disturbing is the fact that he likely never should have held the title, his victory over Max Schmeling (in a rematch of a fight decided in Schmeling’s favor on a foul) generally regarded as an outright robbery. Whether or not he was gifted the title, he certainly passed it on, losing in his very first defense by knockout to Primo Carnera. The infamous draw with Mickey Walker and the weird gap in his mental make-up that cost him lackluster decisions against Johnny Risko and Charley Weinhert, who all but outclassed him in their other meeting, exercises considerable drag on his placement, but he rehabilitated himself from 1925 through to that controversial loss to Jack Dempsey, going 17-1 in that period. Included among his list of scalps was the remnants of Harry Wills who he outclassed on his way to a DQ win.

The day after his bizarre victory over Schmeling, the Daily Chronicle named Sharkey’s career “the strangest, most paradoxical career in all modern ring history,” and it is a statement that may remain true even today.

#31 Elmer Ray (85-17-5)

There is a story here, and a better man than me will tell it one day. For my part I’ll only say that Ray came steaming out of the south gathering losses around him like they justified his savage existence, taking on vastly more experienced men and turning in a torrid mixture draws and defeats by all manner and means imaginable. One Joe Walcott knocked his green behind out of the ring in 1937, an insult Ray remembered on and seethed. He was 2-7-3. 

Unable to reach Walcott for that moment, he inexplicably continued his insane series with the bigger veteran Obie Walker. Bloody-minded and bloody-faced, the green Ray was mixing it repeatedly with a fighter who had held a claim to the “colored” world heavyweight champion, a man who had defeated George Godfrey and Tony Galento. His insane sequence of matches with Walker went draw, loss, draw, loss and then finally in 1938 Ray turned Walker over in a ten-round decision. By the early forties he was Walker’s master. There is some sick pain in Ray’s early career, a self-destructive life-affirming determination to succeed that was a relic to a bygone era.

No longer green, by 1943 he a hand grenade drawing dangerously close to boxing’s cockpit. The savage Turkey Thompson checked his progress by repeatedly smashing him the testicles in their first fight and then repeatedly smashing him in the face in their second. This would be his last definitive loss for five years and more than fifty fights. He went 15-0 with fourteen knockouts in 1944. He went 14-0 with twelve knockouts in 1945. He went 15-0 with fourteen knockouts in 1946.  The one man to survive him that year was Jersey Joe Walcott.

In front of a near sold-out Madison Square Garden, “Ray skyrocketed up to the number one spot among the challengers for Joe Louis’s title” according to the Associated Press.

Take note: Ray was the only man who would inhabit the #1 contender’s spot during the greatest reign in boxing history who did not get a shot at the title. It is reasonable to ask why not. 

His forty-eighth straight victory was a typically vicious one, as he bored and tricked his way into Walcott’s breathing space and then hit him, everywhere, with everything. Ray was “on top by a clear margin,” the judges flattered Walcott with their split decision verdict. They may have flattered him again in the rematch although so close was the fight by most accounts that Walcott probably cannot be begrudged his revenge. So Ray moved on, to the great Ezzard Charles then in his absolute prime with wins over Jimmy Bivins and Archie Moore in his immediate past and Lloyd Marshall in his immediate future; The St. Petersburg Times reported after his match with Elmer that “Ray has smashed the myth that was Ezzard Charles…he had to hold on – for his life.”

The article goes on to compare him to Sam Langford.

Charles would come again, as Charles always did, to do Joe Louis the enormous favor of eliminating Ray from the title picture. Louis versus Ray would become a “what-if” for boxing aficionados. That tiny sliver of uncertainty you feel is not unreasonable.

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

Archie Moore vs Jimmy Bivins



Jim Jeffries-Tom Sharkey # 2 - Nov 3 1899



Rocky Marciano vs Archie Moore (All Rounds)



Ernie Terrell - Gerhard Zech



Jimmy Ellis vs. Oscar Bonavena



Tommy Burns vs Bill Squires - July 4, 1907



Larry Holmes vs Tim Witherspoon



George Foreman vs Jimmy Young (17.03.1977)



Jack Dempsey vs Jack Sharkey (July 21, 1927) -XIII-



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  1. nicolas 01:39am, 08/27/2014

    ERIC: Pardon my writing. Watching the Ali-Young fight on Youtube, I had Ali winning 8-7, and maybe a point taken away from Young as the ref scored one of Young’s duck under the rope a knockdown. The real travesty of that fight was the scoring of the judges, who had Ali winning by a greeter margin. When I watched that Ali-Spinks fight back in the 70’s, I remember having it 9-6 for Spinks. I gave Spinks the first four rounds, and the last three. As for Young also being robbed in his career, I saw the second Young-Ocasio fight, and felt Young was robbed in that fight.

  2. Matt McGrain 01:56pm, 08/22/2014

    On another note; check those hots lights above Charles and Ray.  Imagine that in conjunction with the smoke.  A savage pursuit.

  3. martin donnellan 01:53pm, 08/22/2014

    Matt, I think it’s our old criteria difference but it’s your thread, so your rules, so no problem. We could go back and forth on this foe days but to what purpose?
    I agree Young is hard to rate but the Foreman win on it’s own was a helluva coup at the time and doesn’t get the credit it deserves. I could live with him been in the lower top thirty.

  4. tuxtucis 08:45am, 08/22/2014

    I would have rated higher Terrell and T.Sharkey than J.Sharkey and Ray. Young very difficult to rate: a journeyman in most part of career, an all time top 20 in his short prime. His match with Ali was a real toss up, with about 9 rounds even: clearly robbed vs. Norton (I have Young winning for 3-4 points).

  5. Matt McGrain 08:28am, 08/22/2014

    Well I don’t think we need to disregard them.  I just think we have to accept that even when allowing them, they don’t indicate a “probably poor” decision, I don’t think that is a reasonable thing to say.  They just indicate a close fight that Ray pretty clearly won according to a majority of ringsiders.
    AS for your other points, most of them are reasonable, and I don’t see a point in arguing a for a flip for fighters who are back to back, but here is the counter argument:
    Sharkey couldn’t beat Walker who was a middleweight.  Sharkey should have lost twice to Schmeling, and only won the biggest fight of his life, and the title, via robbery.  You’ve stressed Walcott and Charles both won returns, but Sharkey, too lost rematches, but in Carnera and Loughran - his two best wins, probably - he lost rematches to LESSER fighters.  Look at it this way -  Walcott and Charles never really proved their superiority to Ray.  That brings Ray up.  Sharkey never proved his superiority to Loughran and Carnera.  You stress ATG Charles KO’d Ray in the rematch - well the not great Ambling Alp KO’d Sharkey.  That brings Sharkey down…so does the fact that he was losing to guys like Bud Gorman and John Risko in his physical prime.  Ray, in his physical prime, lost ONCE, to borderline great Jersey Joe Walcott on a narrow split decision.
    No, I think Ray and Sharkey are very much neck & neck, with Ray’s CLEARLY superior best wins making him the greater of the two in my eyes.

  6. matt donnellon 02:07am, 08/22/2014

    OK, even if we disregard AP, The Ring, The 2-8 Judge and 8,000 people we are left with a close win over essentially a light heavyweight as his best win, which was avenged in decisive fashion and you haven’t addressed the other factors in Sharkey’s favour. The other smaller gripe I have is the placement of Tom Sharkey which I feel is a tad too high. Ruhlin really bested him, as did Fitz and Jeffries but Tom does deserve great credit for the Jeffries affairs. Maher held him even and the first Choynski fight was all Joe, and I feel you are giving him too much credit for the Corbett win, good as it was. Jim had only three fights in the previous sis years, a facile win over the small and past-his-sell-by-date Mitchell, a four round draw with Sharkey and the title loss to Fitz. Corbett would win only one more fight, a probable fix v McCoy. A decent win yes but not quite as impressive as it seems.
    The others such as Ellis, Bivins, Witherspoon, Young, Terrell I agree 100 per cent with, I’m only taking issue because the list is so good!

  7. Matt McGrain 12:33am, 08/22/2014

    MD - in the end, the reports are overwhelmingly for Ray from ringside.  By my count it’s 5-2, assuming we allow Ring, which doesn’t actually produce a card.  The only media CARD that goes against Ray does so by a single round.  There’s absolutely no reasonable indication that the result should be called into question, never mind “overturned” for ranking purposes - unless you want to overturn every decision where a minority of cards find for the loser?  Daily News acknowledged that the fight might have looked like Charles was doing well from “Ten rows back” but that at ringside it was very clear Ray was winning.  There is no reason to dispute this.

  8. Eric 05:45pm, 08/21/2014

    nicolas….If anyone could sympathize with Jimmy Young, it would be Norton. Both fighters were victims of bad decisions on more than one occasion. I actually believe Norton won all 3 fights in his trilogy with Ali and did enough to earn a victory over Holmes in their bout. With that said, maybe Norton did deserve the nod over Young, it was close enough to go either way. Have to disagree with you on the first Ali-Spinks bout. Leon won that one going away. Ali did absolutely nothing in that bout and was pummeled by Spinks all night. Remember vividly watching it on television and recalling the crowd booing, “we have a split decision.” I can see where people would give the Ali-Young bout to Ali, neither fighter did much of anything, another boring Ali title defense of the mid/late ‘70’s.

  9. matt donnellon 03:38pm, 08/21/2014

    As you said AP went for Charles as did The Ring. The split judge went 8-2 for Ez and “The crowd of 8,200 who chipped In to a grass gate of $35,921, greeted the decision with a loud, long and lusty roar of boos—so loud and long and lusty, In fact, that the announcer was unable to Introduce the preliminary bout put on after the main event.” Certainly doesn’t sound clear cut to me. Ezzard left no room for error in the return with a vicious ko.
    Rex Layne accomplished as much as Ray but neither has the depth of Sharkey. As for the better marque performances the wins over Schmeling, Wills and Godfrey are up there. The defeat to Dempsey and the disqualification to Max when he was giving a masterclass also trump a lot of Ray’s performances. Some reports have the first Ray-Thompson even at the finish and Thompson stiffened him in the return.
    Sharkey’s inconsistency is overstated. His losses to Weinert were in only his second year of boxing. and from then until the second Carnera fight he had 32 contests with losses to Risko(split) Gorman(avenged) Dempsey, and Schmeling on a foul. In that period he beat Renault, Maloney (2),Risko, McTigue, Wills, Godfrey, Gorman, Delaney, Stribling, Scott, Delaney, Carnera and drew with Heeney and Walker. Sorry, can’t put Ray ahead of that.

  10. Matt McGrain 01:45pm, 08/21/2014

    Hey MD.
    I don’t think that Ray’s decision over Charles was suspect at all.  In fact a single line from The Ring, quoted by Boxrec, is the only thing i’ve seen to ever suggest that this might be the case.  No other source i’ve seen indicates an odd decision, and the only detailed report I have states that Charles was repeatedly warned for holding, ran his way through the fight and was clearly out-punched.  The New York Times scored it for Ray.  Sid Roth scored it for Ray.  UP scored it for Ray. Daily News had it for Ray. NSJ scored it for Ray…I’ve no idea where you’ve gotten the idea that this decision is suspect?  The AP card for Charles, by one round?  So he’s 1-1 with a top 20 heavyweight in his prime. On the other hand, Ray’s loss to Walcott was so close that any one of three results clearly would have been fine - as for the first fight, as I write above, “the split decision flattered Walcott.”  That is my position. SO, he is 1-1 with TWO prime guys in and around the top twenty, all time.  That is where Ray comes from.  That is the angle for his ranking.  I’m quite happy that it puts Ray with Sharkey, and quite comfortable that the latter’s inconsistency is the factor that “drags” him.  To whit, yes, Ray beat a lot of “second raters” but Sharkey lost to a couple.  Perk Daniels, Turkey Thompson (Who he beat up), Leroy Haynes, Willie Redish, Obie Walker, Otis Thompson, Sid Peaks are a decent basket of fringes to supplement that pair of victories…Ray has the best win of the two AND the second best win of the two.

  11. matt donnellon 01:22pm, 08/21/2014

    Elmer Ray is above Jack Sharkey. Elmer beat Ez Charles on a close but probably poor decision and was Ko’d in a rematch. His one big win is another split win over Walcott who he also lost to in a return. Other than that he ko’d a string of second raters and….his next best win is Lee Savold(who had 31 other losses at the timt) after that nobody of note.
    Sharkey beat at least ten fighters better than Savold, off my head Risko, Schmeling, Loughran, Wills, Carnera, Stribling, Godfrey, Maloney, Gorman, McTigue, Renault etc. Add in the Dempsey fight and no way on earth has Ray a better resumee than Jack. No way.

  12. nicolas 11:48am, 08/21/2014

    ERIC: I was working at night on the West Coast when Ali would defend his title, though I did see him lose to Leon Spinks. having finally watched the fight on Youtube, I felt that Ali won 8-7 in rounds. Young did to much of ducking under the ropes, which finally I think cost him a knockdown by the referee, thaknig another point away from him. Haven’t seen the Norton-Young fight for years, saw it when it first was fought, and agree that Young should have gotten the decision. Thye probably gave it to Norton because of his being robbed against Ali in the third fight.

  13. Eric 06:32am, 08/21/2014

    Never saw Shavers-Young II, but I would judge Young as the victor in the Ali and Norton fights. The Ali-Young bout as you stated was a bout neither fighter deserved to win, however, Ali did even less than Young. After losing another close decision to Norton, Young must have lost some drive. Losing a couple of bouts to Ossie Ocasio, effectively ended his career as a serious contender. Witherspoon seems to be quite high, don’t seem him being that much better than other fighters of his era like Thomas, Weaver, or Tucker

  14. mattdonnellon 01:27am, 08/21/2014

    Now we’re getting to the meat!
    Probably the most interesting section of the top 100 for me. As usual well argued and ,I at an initial glance, like eight of the placements. The two problematic ones? Ray and Sharkey (Tom) too high and I always rate Jack Sharkey higher than most, probably a personal blind-spot.
    I’ll return with more detailed argument later.

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