The 100 Greatest Heavyweights of All Time Part Ten: 10-1

By Matt McGrain on October 23, 2014
The 100 Greatest Heavyweights of All Time Part Ten: 10-1
A heavyweight top ten devours logic in the same way that a black-hole devours light.

For boxing people, the great heavyweights, specifically the ones they patronize most of all, help define who they are as boxing people…

The internet is awash with top ten at heavyweight. As Adam Berlin put it on Boxing.com this month, “more people know or think they know heavyweight boxing” than any other weight and that “finding a consensus about who the greatest heavyweight of all time is can be a maddening exercise.” He is right, but I would go further. People invest something of themselves in the greatest heavyweights. For boxing people, the great heavyweights, specifically the ones they patronize most of all, help define who they are as boxing people. Bias becomes more inherent; whether because of time or place or person, the marriage between fan and fighter is never more pronounced, never more defined. For the most part, this is a wonderful thing.

But it is also why our corner of the web groans under the combined weight of debate and abuse, why tumbling down into the warren of heavyweight debate online is the fight-fan equivalent of falling into Wonderland. Logic spirals away into the distance, twisted by the gravity of these fistic titans.

I have my own logic too. I have created my own gravity, too.

My logic, that gravity, is born of an eleven-month exploration of a three-figure total of boxers who qualified for the biggest division in their own era. These men, in the final analysis, they are only opponents for the giants who inhabit the spots above. This is a fact almost hateful to me. As an exercise, even a maddening one, it felt like it had more meaning than that at the time, but it didn’t: below lie the fish these behemoths swallowed to make themselves massive. Above lie krakens. The krakens make the fish seem a sorrowful irrelevance. 

My gravity, my logic carries that weight. Here is what I would like to tell you, what is implied: these months spent in research, ensconced in headphones trying to hear the punches go in, pouring over newspaper articles written about fighters headphones could not help me hear, makes my top ten better than others you may have read – but the truth is more troubling.

The truth is: there is no top ten.

Jim Jeffries, Jack Dempsey, Harry Wills, Evander Holyfield, they all belong upon it and are not upon it. Simultaneously, they do not belong on it, for reasons I cover in detail in Part Nine. How can both of these things be true?

A heavyweight top ten devours logic in the same way that a black-hole devours light. Beyond a black hole’s event horizon, physical laws break down. Beyond the event horizon described by the unoffending Sigel “11” on the list of the 100 Greatest Heavyweights of All Time, logic breaks down. That is because there is more reason for all but two of the following fighters to be ranked at #11 than there are for their being ranked at #10. Mike Tyson is a physical afterbirth of true greatness, an athletic genius aborted by his self-destructive impulses and mental frailty; he does not belong. Rocky Marciano is a small cruiserweight masquerading as a heavyweight, a sitting duck for the booming punches of his modern cousins as he stumbles after them with his tyrannosaur’s reach; he does not belong. Lennox Lewis was twice blasted out by middling contenders revealing a vulnerability anathema, above all else, to Boxing.com’s readers; he does not belong.

Yet here they are, vying for the top spot behind the two twin-suns unoffended by even the gravitational pull of a theoretical singularity. Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali belong entirely, belonged even among the top ten of the One Hundred Greatest of All Time Pound-for-Pound, but even they tortured me anew in separating them. Managing it was no less difficult than placing in order these other eight fighters who do not quite belong.

That ordering is contained in this article. Like the introduction, it is over-written and I would like to invite you to read it in two visits because it is so big that perhaps only this website, our website, would bear that weight uncomplainingly, meaning it is a little longer than is necessarily healthy for human eyes to read upon a monitor.

I offer it to you with an apology, but also as a gift.  I hope you like it.

Now listen.

This, is how I have it:

#10 Mike Tyson (50-6)

“Iron” Mike Tyson denoted the significance of mental strength at the sharp end of boxing. Had he the will to match his astonishing physical capabilities, it’s possible that Tyson would have been the greatest heavyweight of all time. As it stood, a lack of discipline, commitment, grit, prevented him fulfilling his astonishing potential. Tyson scrapes into the top ten here, but for a while it looked like number one was a possibility. 

It was James “Quick” Tillis of all people that showed Tyson what boxing was. “I was out of shape because of [an] illness and also because of drinking and partying too hard,” he said of that fight. “He gave me such a body beating I couldn’t even walk…I found out what fighting was really about that night.”

But Tyson didn’t learn lessons; four years later, at the time of his expected outclassing of James “Buster” Douglas, Tyson was training on a steady diet of hotel-maids and “unconventional Japanese women” while supposedly eating only soup in a drastic attempt to lose the thirty pounds he had gained since the Carl Williams slaughter. He was unfocused, slovenly, complacent. Boxing punished him.

His complacency took hold by way of dominance. He smashed out nineteen overmatched journeymen before Tillis extended him the distance, and more seasoned men followed in similarly one-sided fashion. But it was his mid-late eighties prime that really established him as special, as a series of world-class fighters were dispatched with a steaming barrel of vicious torque unseen since Dempsey, but in this instance, the bull-rushing destroyer weighed 215 lbs. and hit accordingly. A creaking Larry Holmes fell in four, Pinklon Thomas in six, Trevor Berbick in just two; most terrifying of all was his first round knockout of legitimate lineal Champion Michael Spinks. 

Jabbing fast, swinging wide, he had recognized in his prey the by now familiar vacancy of expression that stretched beyond fear and into hopelessness – “I see that moment, I got you” – and abandoned all pretense of humanity. He was a burning ogre of a fighter, delivering hot violence behind technical surety. Spinks was destroyed by Tyson’s malignant psychic presence almost as much as unequalled physical attack and Iron Mike had something that Holyfield never did; a night upon which he arguably could not have been beaten.

I don’t buy that argument, and Tyson crumbled soon after, emerging a convicted rapist armed with an untamed, eerie fury for a second career that could never have matched his first incarnation, but the unique brutality of his first will never be forgotten.

Other top 100 heavyweights defeated: Larry Holmes (Top Ten), Pinklon Thomas (#55), Donovan Ruddock (#63), Trevor Berbick (#64), Michael Spinks (#76),Tony Tucker (#90).

#9 Jack Johnson (55-11-8; Newspaper Decisions 15-0-3)

Jack Johnson began life at #12 on this list, and he did not move for six long months, the reason being his stubborn refusal, explored in Part Eight and Part Nine, to meet either his #1 contender, Sam Langford, or his #2 contender, Joe Jeannette. That he failed to take on his third most qualified opponent, Sam McVey, seems almost irrelevant such were the failings of Johnson’s title reign which I would regard as even worse than Dempsey’s and probably the worst ever by a long reigning undisputed heavyweight King.

Where Johnson differs from Dempsey is in the work he did before he came to the title. Dempsey’s was deeply impressive, but Johnson matched all of the men that he avoided when he held the title. He eliminated a whole generation of lethal heavyweights for Jim Jeffries and his successors then refused to rematch them when he came to the title himself. So why does this matter?

It matters because Johnson’s meetings with them were strictly pre-prime, most especially in respect of Sam Langford, his most dogged and dangerous pursuer during those seven long years for which Johnson tried to enforce his desire to be “the last black heavyweight champion” as well as the first. Yes, for the most part, Johnson drew the color line on his own people.

Langford was a small middleweight when Johnson thrashed him in 1906 and the Champion wanted no part of him when he hit the heights of 180 lbs. Jeannette matched Johnson on many occasions, and Johnson was his clear master, but even on the occasion of their final match in 1906, a newspaper draw in which Johnson may have deserved the nod, Jeannette was described by the Police Gazette as a “comer” who “wasn’t getting opportunities” and not yet the finished article. Indeed, there were times when Jeannette seemed to have gained a new class during Johnson’s title years, but Johnson made sure a rematch never materialized. 

In McVey, however, Johnson beat a fighter close to his best despite his youth who on the occasion of their final match-up was even made a favorite such was the impression he made upon the public. Johnson utterly thrashed him, outclassing him on the way to a twentieth round stoppage. And therein lies the rub. Johnson trashed McVey, Jeannette, Langford and other impressive men such us Sandy Ferguson, Denver Ed Martin, Jim Flynn, and when he was given the chance at a Champion, Tommy Burns in such one-sided and impressive fashion that his title run becomes easier to forgive.

In defending that title, he did avoid his most qualified challengers, but he tended to thrash the opposition, embarrassing near misses against Jack O’Brien and Jim Johnson aside. And there is one more thing. Sometimes, Johnson must have felt that he was facing off against the whole world in matching the most qualified white challengers. It is said that during his ringwalk versus Jeffries the band played “All Coons Look Alike to Me,” and that while he brutalized the former champion in the ring, “Gentleman” Jim Corbett screamed racial insults at him from ringside. Johnson spoke later, perhaps having added a dash of the color for which he was famous, of a single black spectator watching from the furthest reaches of the stadium, having clambered upon the highest bleacher to watch the legend unfold. He was the loneliest man in the world on such occasions, and he kicked ass anyway.

Other top 100 heavyweights defeated: Jim Jeffries (#14), Sam Langford (#15), Bob Fitzsimmons (#27), Joe Jeannette (#29), Sam McVey (#30), Tommy Burns (#35), Denver Ed Martin (#99)

#8 Sonny Liston (50-4)

Springs Toledo in his book The Gods of War reckons Sonny Liston the best heavyweight that ever boxed and “among the most fearsome wrecking machines the heavyweight division has ever known.” I don’t go quite as far as Toledo does but I’d agree with him that Liston is among the most dangerous of heavyweights. Whether he would do better, as Toledo imagines, against the massed ranks of the greatest heavyweights in history than any of the other Champions is a matter buried deeply within the cut. It’s Ali, you see; it’s always Ali with Liston.

The two met twice in confrontations that remain the most controversial title fights in boxing history. In the first, fought in 1964 in Florida, Liston quit at the end of six rounds, dominated for the most part by the fleet-footed Ali. In the second, relegated to a Maine high school grounds such was the stink created by the first, Ali did the incredible, perhaps the impossible, knocking Liston to the canvas in the first round and when befuddled referee Jersey Joe Walcott allowed the time-keeper to do his job for him, Liston had apparently been knocked out. Or had he? 

This depends upon who you talk to. Of the major biographers, Boxing.com’s Paul Gallender is probably the most vociferous in seeking to rescue Liston from the shadow of Ali, trying with writing to reverse two stoppage defeats and resurrect him as among the greatest of heavyweights; not far behind is Nick Tosches who writes without flinching of Liston’s double dive, dives forced upon him by the Italian mob to whom Sonny was beholden. Note, however, that Gallender is open about his use of a psychic in communing with the soul of Liston in advancing his work and that Tosches claims, entirely bereft of meaningful evidence, that Archie Moore took a dive against Rocky Marciano. At the outer edges of Liston’s legend, strange frequencies vibrate.

For his own part, Sonny claimed the knockout perpetrated upon him by Ali was legitimate, and Ali has since talked up the “anchor punch” that did the job. That the film makes a liar out of both of them after the fact, Liston throwing himself around on the canvas in something more akin to histrionics than hurt, Ali screaming at his fallen foe to rise, has not stopped a huge industry springing up around what has somehow become the most iconic knockout in history. As to the first fight, seven doctors testified to the seriousness of the shoulder injury Liston suffered, that he had apparently suffered long before he stepped into the ring.

Where this leaves us is none-the-wiser; Liston could be a legitimate two-time quitter or an unassailable warrior wearing the cuffs in the two biggest fights of his career. But as Toledo also says, “the fighter who stepped into the ring against Cassius Clay was not the fighter who stepped into the ring against Cleveland Williams five years earlier.” Something had changed for Sonny by the time of his two contests with Ali, even if that something was as prosaic as old age.

Previous to that, he demonstrated to me a jab, a hook, a right hand, an uppercut and head-movement all among the best in the history of the division. He numbers among the strongest, the most technically assured and the most powerful in that division, and despite that first round stoppage against Ali, had one of the better chins. Bangers like Williams landed completely without result, and Marty Marshall, who twice fractured his jaw with two different punches, describes a fighter unblinking in the face of the worst pain the ring can deliver. His run from 1959 through to his lifting the title against Floyd Patterson in a destruction of a legitimate Champion unequalled until Tyson bulldozed Spinks all those years later was as terrifying as anything seen in the ring, ranked men destroyed one after the other by a fighter who seemed without peer. Whether out-punching Nino Valdes, out-boxing Zora Folley or out-hustling Eddie Machen, Liston showed marked and vast superiority. Machen, the only man to last twelve rounds with him, lost almost every round in doing so.

If this were a head-to-head list, Liston would rank even higher; a more balanced view sees him planted near the gate to the top five, massive fist cocked less some more minor fighter should try to creep through.

Other top 100 heavyweights defeated: Floyd Patterson (#18), Zora Folley (#43), Eddie Machen (#45), Nino Valdes (#87)

#7 Larry Holmes (69-6)

Larry Holmes was a 215-lb. war-machine, a Frankenstein’s monster of a fighter combining strata of both Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis to create as unique and brilliant a fighter as the heavyweight division has ever produced.

Bereft of the Louis killing punch, he nevertheless throws combination punches with a fluidity and grace of which the Bomber would have been proud. Not for he Joe’s half-hop shuffle into range though, and although neither does Holmes possess that menacing feint, he substituted a smooth and floating footwork comparable to that of Ali. Lacking the devastation of one and the electric speed of the other he could never amount to quite as much as either, but Holmes was astounding in his skill.

Often criticized for his level of competition, he was the legitimate heavyweight Champion of the world for five years into which time he crushed a commendable twelve defenses, part of a 48-0 run. These defenses were of varying quality, but they produced more top one-hundred victims than any fighters outside of the top four, in conjunction with a surprisingly meandering comeback after his retirement upon his defeat by Michael Spinks. 

So it is not the quality of the opposition that keeps Holmes from the very upper reaches of this list, but rather the terrible difficulties some of these opponents inflicted upon them, and his reluctance to provide rematches. A green Mike Weaver gave him trouble in 1979; Tim Witherspoon pushed him to a majority decision (a draw on my card) in 1983; and as he began to creak, Carl Williams pushed him in a fight so difficult Holmes threatened retirement upon his victory. None of these men received rematches.

Less often considered were the fights in which he surprised, such as his first tussle with the much more established Earnie Shavers in 1978, one of the all-time great jabbing performances at any weight, a fight Holmes won 12-0. Or his astonishing, blistering war with Ken Norton, a fight Holmes won by a hair despite an injured arm. Or his rematch with Shavers, in which he climbed off the canvas after swallowing perhaps the single hardest punch ever thrown by a boxer, a right hand smash which would have stopped all but a handful of the fighters on this list.

Heart, chin, skill, speed, Holmes was also among the ultimate of ring survivors, a quirk that saw him hold a place ring-center for very nearly thirty years.

Other top 100 heavyweights defeated: Muhammad Ali (Top Two), Ken Norton (#22), Tim Witherspoon (#34), Earnie Shavers (#54), Trevor Berbick (#64),  Ray Mercer (#68), Mike Weaver (#73), Gerry Cooney (#95)

#6 George Foreman (76-5-0)

George Foreman, like Liston, is ensconced within the shadow of Muhammad Ali. As Mike Casey put it writing for this website, Ali left Foreman “stripped of his confidence for the remainder of his peak career.” Foreman, though, found a way to clamber out. While all that remained for Liston was a string of knockouts against second-class opposition and a final, ultimate, premature test for that dead-eyed stare of his, Foreman found God, had five sons and three daughters, and made an astonishing return to the ring, Norman Mailer’s “negrotude” no longer, but instead the affable, cuddly, outright charming “Big George.” Hitting the comeback trail in 1987 he rapidly became the humane flipside to Tyson’s rapidly cooling bad-boy shtick. But Big George was serious – a colossal set of arms, built out of sight of prying eyes, was the cornerstone to an offense that was turgid, even slow, but that wrought a punch capable of shaking mountains. Foreman knew this, for all that he also knew that his weaknesses were many.

The Champion was Michael Moorer, an outstanding fighter but one who perhaps had weaknesses where Foreman had strength. For while Moorer was a fighter who might “walk out in the middle of sparring” and was “unsure of himself” according to sometime trainer Teddy Atlas, Foreman was certitude, the scar tissue that thickened around the wounds hacked into his younger psyche by Ali protecting him. Through twelve rounds, he swallowed Moorer’s bombs and began, gradually, to time and hurt him, finally landing a punch that shook the mountain that was the heavyweight title. Foreman tricked and trapped a physically superior boxer on to a punch that few men could have survived. At forty-five years of age, nearly twenty years after he first won the heavyweight title, Foreman had won it again. 

Maybe the greatest achievement by any heavyweight, it is what sees him ranked here nearer the #5 spot than the #10, but Foreman’s first career was that of a great heavy. The dual world-ending destructions of Joe Frazier, alone, make him worthy, but the legends he made against Ken Norton, who crumbled in just two, and Ron Lyle, with whom he made perhaps the greatest ever heavyweight war, are no irrelevance.

Had he not have found Moorer with that incredible and destructive punch though, I think a spot outside the ten would have beckoned.

Other top 100 heavyweights defeated: Joe Frazier (Top Ten), Ken Norton (#22), Ron Lyle (#46), Michael Moorer (#49)

#5 Joe Frazier (32-4-1)

“I couldn’t urinate,” says Joe Frazier of the aftermath to the monumental effort he delivered against Muhammad Ali in the aptly named Fight of the Century. “I couldn’t stand up and walk. I couldn’t eat or drink.” In the build-up, too, he had suffered, from high blood-pressure among other things, describing in his autobiography “a body under siege” but it made perverted sense to Joe that he should burn as the fight neared, as his ire heightened, as the hatred that fueled the fusing of his flesh and his mind quickened. At the bell he told Ali flatly: “I am going to kill you.”  And when the trap sprung, he set to his business with the relish of Achilles.

“The first round I’m a little tight,” Frazier once understated. “That’s when you’ll see the other guy do his thing.” The other guy. The opponent. Some blank-faced bovines for Frazier to butcher. Ali did his thing for the first two rounds while Frazier laughed at him, openly. In the fourth he caught Ali with the first of many deadly hooks, arguably unsurpassable hooks, a hook more ingrained in him than any punch of any fighter on film, his style was that hook, when he threw it he was that hook, and when Ali felt it “bells ring” in his head. “You know what’s coming,” Bob Foster once said of that punch, “but it still gets to you before you think it’s going to get to you.”

Ali found him again; Frazier fought faster. There is a shot taken from a gantry camera for that fight that is as instructive as it was terrifying; Ali moving to his left, that famous floating sidestepping motion, but he couldn’t alight on the canvas for even a second because loping in tandem with him, just as fast but even more deadly, was Frazier, cutting off the ring on Ali before he knew where he was headed, and hooks, and short right hands inside, and grind grind grind. Frazier is unique upon this list because he is arguably the finest exponent of his fighting style in history at any weight. Ali is a blistering speedster but in the end, by a narrow margin, only an imposter to Sugar Ray Robinson. Larry Holmes can be named among the consummate box-punching technicians, but is no Sugar Ray Leonard. It’s gravity, it’s body-mechanics, it’s physical law, but perhaps these did not apply to Frazier because on film even Henry Armstrong did not appear his equal; of course, we do not have much film of Henry Armstrong but he is the only heavyweight that comes off the better when compared to his genius foil, even if it was just for eighteen short months, because who could keep this up for any length of time? 

This win, this greatest of heavyweight wins, toppled Frazier past his prime, the fuel that kept that 205-lb. frame moving forwards under fire in a furnace depleted. He lost his top one percent, and fought in the style that could least spare that one percent. Already, however, he had hammered out his position as a preeminent heavyweight of the stacked 1970s with victories over Oscar Bonavena (twice), Eddie Machen, Doug Jones, George Chuvalo, Buster Mathis, Manuel Ramos, Jerry Quarry and Jimmy Ellis. When Ali fell in the final round to that human-missile left-hook a legend was made; a legend that carries him past George Foreman who would go on to defeat him twice, and into the top five. 

Other top 100 heavyweights defeated: Muhammad Ali (Top Two), Jimmy Ellis (#36), Jerry Quarry (#44), Eddie Machen (#45), Oscar Bonavena (#70), George Chuvalo (#82)

#4 Lennox Lewis (41-2-1)

Lennox Lewis is one of only three men who break into double figures when listing the names of beaten fighters who appear on this list. Of course, some of them were just names – Mike Tyson for example, who was still dangerous for a single round in 2002 when Lewis finally faced him, then target practice. But for every Tyson there is a David Tua, or even better, a Vitali Klitschko, his direct successor as the best fighter on the planet left with his face falling apart in his hands by the best heavyweight offense this side of Sonny Liston.

But there is to be no shying away from his shortcomings in this write-up; Lewis was beaten twice, by knockout, by fighters not of his class. How then, to justify a top five ranking?

The ranking justifies itself because Lewis was in such worthy company. Mike Tyson was blasted out by Buster Douglas. Sonny Liston dropped a decision to the otherwise unremarkable Marty Marshall. Larry Holmes also dropped decisions to a former light-heavyweight, both of them in title fights. Joe Louis was blasted out in twelve by Max Schmeling.

Oliver McCall was the first to visit devastation upon Lewis, but hark back if you will to #7, and Larry Holmes. Holmes survived the bomb Shavers rendered in their rematch only at the referee’s discretion. He takes five drunken pace forwards as the referee appraises him and then waves Shavers in. Further back, Louis was a roiling mess versus Schmeling before he was stopped; Johnson beat Jeffries half to death before the great man was rescued. This is the pattern of boxing’s continued accretion of the civilized. Linger not too long with the part of yourself that wishes for the return of those more brutal times and instead apply this logic to Lewis-McCall.

Lewis gets up to quickly. He takes three drunken paces backwards; four forwards – he raises his gloves; and the referee – correctly – waves the fight off.

The point isn’t that the fight shouldn’t have been stopped. The point is that neither Larry Holmes nor Joe Louis would have been stopped. They would have been afforded the chance to fight on. Could he have survived? We will never know. And this is why the rematch, in the modern era, has taken on so much more importance. In the right circumstances, even a technical knockout may not settle matters. Lewis settled matters with a broken McCall in dominant fashion in their rematch.

His knockout at the hands of Hasim Rahman was more clinical. Simply put, Rahman poleaxed Lewis. But again, Lewis was utterly dominant in a rematch (in one of the division’s few perfect performances) meaning he is one of only three heavyweights on this list to have defeated every man he ever faced in the professional ranks. This comes out at twenty-one fighters at one time ranked in The Ring top ten, many fewer than the two monsters lurking at the top of the list, but many more than the likes of Joe Frazier, Mike Tyson, Vitali Klitschko and George Foreman.

Add two victories (please) over a faded but still excellent Evander Holyfield and rather than arguing about whether or not he should be top five, perhaps we should be talking instead about the top three.

Other top 100 heavyweights defeated: Mike Tyson (Top Ten), Evander Holyfield (#11), Vitali Klitschko (#26), Donovan Ruddock (#63), Oliver McCall (#66), Ray Mercer (#68), Mike Weaver (#73), Hasim Rahman (#74), David Tua (#77), Tony Tucker (#90)

#3 Rocky Marciano (49-0)

Number three, instead, is Rocky Marciano. 

His numbers are astonishing. He was undefeated, the proud owner of one of an “0” tested by the best available competition; as a Champion, he only met his #1 or, on one occasion, his #2 contender; he knocked out every ranked man he ever faced; he defeated forty-nine heavyweights, including some near-great ones; he scored forty-three knockouts.

But it is numbers, too, that describe his limitations. Sixty-eight, his listed reach in inches, would provide a 14” reach advantage to current Champion Wladimir Klitschko. Five and ten, his height in feet and inches, makes him seven inches shorter than the previous undisputed Champion, Lennox Lewis. Weighing in at around 185 lbs. during his title years, it is probable he would have turned professional at light-heavyweight under modern weigh-in rules.

Another number that is concerning is the average weight of his top class foes. Among his meaningful opponents, only the overstuffed Don Cockell (205 lbs.), the remnants of Joe Louis (213 lbs.) and Lee Savold (200 lbs.) in Savold’s last fight meet the modern criteria for heavyweights. Worse, the only #1 contender that Marciano never met was Nino Valdes, a fighter in his prime and of broad dimensions who might have satisfied what has become a missing requirement in Marciano’s puzzle of majesty. As it was, the heavyweight title was contested almost exclusively at the modern cruiserweight limit during the reign of “The Rock.”

What this adds up to is a sense that Marciano never proved himself against bigger heavyweights, and given his own size that is a concern to some. Those who love and admire him though seem to think nothing of picking him to defeat the likes of Lewis and Klitschko however, his pathology savage enough for them that he can overcome even those enormous Champions.

I understand why. At his best, Marciano fought like the exhalation of some monstrous motor-oil engine, an avatar of some indestructible metallic god, come to boxing to plunder. Unerring, aggressive, brutal, he made a boon of his short arms, slamming in punches that would be untidy if thrown by a longer-limbed fighter, but coming from him they were compact and murderous, hard to see coming, impossible to absorb for long. He learned, too, pleasing technical augmentations forced upon him by Charley Goldman, who gave him balance and head movement, taking from him the swarmer’s bane of total availability and making him, at least, a less glaring target. And he ravaged the opposition, Archie Moore, Ezzard Charles, Jersey Joe Walcott, all were out-boxing him at one time or another only to find themselves on the ground looking up with glassy, moon-hunting eyes.

“In defiance of accepted chemical analysis that humans are made of bone, blood and muscle, we must disagree where Marciano is concerned,” wrote the Pittsburgh Post Gazette in the aftermath of The Rock’s first fight with Charles. “There must be steel and iron somewhere in his makeup.”

Steel, and a heart the size of a dump-truck compensate for that squat, iron frame. Marciano could not be out-boxed, and if I personally pick him to be out-punched by every superheavyweight that has lifted the undisputed title, I cannot deny that he displayed true greatness in his own era. It is hard for me to imagine him beating many of the men in the top ten – and impossible for me to dream of a top ten without him.

My number three with a shrug rather than a bullet, Marciano ranks here by default because he just gave me fewer reasons to demote him than the others – his ring record was, after all, flawless.

Other top 100 heavyweights defeated: Ezzard Charles (#17), Jersey Joe Walcott (#20), Archie Moore (#38), Rex Layne (#71), Roland LaStarza (#79)

#2 Joe Louis (66-3)

The Bomber, Joe Louis, Chappy, the greatest puncher of all time at any weight, the greatest Champion of any weight in all of boxing history, “the greatest textbook fighter in history” according to Freddie Roach and a dazzling fistic icon rendered in stark black and white for the viewing pleasure of generation upon generation of boxing geeks. The man is not a fighter, the man is an institution. Placing him at #2 has hurt me because I am a Louis fan; an enormous admirer of Muhammad Ali I could never really call myself his fan. But I love Louis, and there is plenty about him to love.

He defeated more Ring ranked contenders than any heavyweight in history. He won a ludicrous twenty-six world heavyweight title fights. He was King for one-hundred and forty consecutive months. He defeated an unprecedented six lineal heavyweight Champions. Every single one of those heavyweight Champions was destroyed.

First up was Primo Carnera just one year after he had been separated from his title, a veteran of the ring with over eighty wins to his name. Louis was 19-0. He first completely out-boxed the much bigger “Ambling Alp” and then he began to feint with his left and drop that booming right hand over the top. It was a performance of astonishing sophistication. “I was drugged!” Carnera protested in the aftermath. “These irregularities exist only in the pugilist’s imagination,” read a distancing statement from the Italian Boxing Federation. “His handlers are in no position to rush [Louis],” reported The Afro American. Three months later Louis was in the ring with iron-chinned power-puncher Max Baer, who had been the Champion of the world until his very last fight. Louis utterly destroyed him in a non-competitive match remembered most as a power-punching salvo, overlooking, sadly, Joe’s astonishing jabbing display in the first round. Showing a technical maturity in great excess of his experience, he jabbed almost exclusively in the opening round, a punch that felt “like a light-bulb exploding in your face” planted squarely on Baer on thirty-six separate occasions by my count. Then, the heavy artillery. “He hit me eighteen times while I was in the process of falling,” Baer said post-fight.

After posting his first loss to Max Schmeling, Louis was matched with another former Champion for his comeback against Jack Sharkey. “I was getting ready to shoot the left,” Sharkey described. “I said to myself, ‘here goes!’ Suddenly, I’m on the floor.”

Incumbent Champion James J. Braddock was next in the Champion’s parade, and he fared better than his near peers, actually flashing Louis on the way to suffering a beating that resulted in a face unrecognizable. The killing combination against Braddock was genius. Reported over and again as a “left to the ribs,” the rhythm of punches that made Louis a Champion actually began with a left to James J.’s left bicep, eliminating the guard for the right hand that drove Braddock’s gumshield through his top lip opening a wound that required twenty-three stitches. Collapsed in other-worldly slow-motion onto the canvas, a crimson stain “a foot in diameter” ballooned around Braddock’s head. Louis was King.

Louis denied himself comfort on his new throne and denied newspapermen the right to call him “Champion” until he had bested former monarch Max Schmeling. This, he did, in a single round of contained violence perhaps only excelled by my own favorite Louis performance some seventeen defenses later, against Buddy Baer. He thrashed no more heavyweight Kings in the interim; not for Louis the pattern of losing and regaining the title, he crushed any glimmer of resistance with skill and power, until, in his last defense, he knocked out a Champion that was to come after him, stopping Jersey Joe Walcott in twelve rounds in 1948. An Emperor by then perhaps, he put the royal feet up only to find the treasury had run dry courtesy of the US Government. An unwanted comeback was the result, but Louis, though still dangerous, was beyond trimming Kings now; Ezzard Charles and Rocky Marciano both beat him.

By then, Louis had established one of the truly extraordinary legacies in ring history. He ranks, for me, among the ten greatest fighters of any weight, and no point illustrates more completely his separation from the pack, from Marciano, who beat him but couldn’t hold a candle to him, from Lewis, who dwarfs him, from all of them; only two spots will do for Louis: one, or two.

Two it is.

Other top 100 heavyweights defeated: Jersey Joe Walcott (#20), Max Schmeling (#21), Max Baer (#28), Jack Sharkey (#39), Jimmy Bivins (#40), Bob Pastor (#48) Primo Carnera (#51), Billy Conn (#62), James J Braddock (#75) Arturo Godoy (#84), Tommy Farr (#86), John Henry Lewis (#96)

#1 Muhammad Ali (56-5)

Muhammad Ali holds wins over thirty percent of the fighters that make up the top ten, and fifteen percent of the fighters that make up the top one-hundred. The thought occurs, a creeping thing that throws up all kinds of difficult questions, has any fighter at any weight beaten more all-time-great top-ten fighters in their respective divisions than Ali? Harry Greb, perhaps? Maybe Joe Gans? Eras rarely overlap so succinctly, and great Champions rarely leave enough oxygen for other great Champions to bloom in their time.

Both good and bad fortune defined Ali’s unique place in the heavyweight pantheon as a destroyer of great Kings. He gatecrashed the division in 1964 all arms, legs and mouth, his body betraying his lack of physical maturity in its length, his mouth betraying his lack of literal maturity in a never-ending rush of narcissistic self-realization. He was charming, infuriating and he arrived at a time when Champion Sonny Liston had allowed alcohol and age to take hold, bringing with him to the party a pronounced stylistic advantage over a Champion more fearful of humiliation than pain. Two times Ali mastered this man, in some shadowy form or another, a testimony to his angelic brilliance or to darker forces at work. Either way, Ali’s luck changed and he was forced out to pasture by the politics of the most confused time in America’s modern history. When he came back, three years lost, the three years that may have represented his absolute prime, it was his ear into which fistic old age had begun its ceaseless whisper, he who was at a terrible stylistic disadvantage. Frazier seethed and sent Ali back to contendership, the undisputed heavyweight title Ali considered his birthright adorning the waist of a man who hated him.

Frazier coasted, his surety at having dispatched his true nemesis understandable, missing the tank in his rear-view mirror. That tank rolled right over him and George Foreman unfurled himself, Liston’s terrifying reincarnation.

If ever a fighter was motivated by his own internal world it was Ali. He created truth with words and reinforced it by repetition. The circumstances of his fight with Foreman – it took place in Africa among “his people,” for the heavyweight Championship of the world Frazier had taken from him, against a younger, stronger fighter in his absolute prime – inflamed his massive and cruel heart and Foreman became the enemy of his soul. Foreman, unaffected by Ali’s voice in the certainty of his invulnerability represented a perfect foil for Ali’s psychic enhancement of his self and by the time of the first bell in Kinshasa he may have been beyond the reach of mortal blows. In stages he wore Foreman down to an exhausted nub, his physical disrespect of Foreman’s person the key to opening up the secret world Ali’s words could not reach. Raging, out of control, Foreman morphed from some unconquerable Everest to a beacon for punches under a disbelieving, ecstatic crowd’s very nose. It was not a close fight. It was a demolition.

Having bested Joe Frazier in a dull and uninspiring rematch nine months before he thrashed Foreman, Ali matched him again the following year, 1975, in the by now infamous “Thrilla In Manila.” As Ali beat out a tattoo on Frazier’s defenseless face in those early rounds, he was horrified to see the re-emergence of a familiar sick smile on Smokin’ Joe’s face. War ensued. 

As critics are quick to point out, both men were by now far past their primes, overweight, technical shadows of their best selves, but in their entwined descent they had become an exceptional match again. Only one thing hadn’t changed: the iron each nursed at their core. In the course of those fourteen rounds in Manila they bored through that iron to whatever fuels the darker shadows of human endeavor; there are plenty of heavyweights we can name that would have beaten Frazier on that night, but perhaps only one that could have joined him on that deadly journey and bested him, and that is Muhammad Ali.

Frazier; Liston and Foreman. Three of the deadliest men ever to box and he mastered each. What is incredible is, if you strip Ali of these wins, he still has a résumé comparable to that of Joe Louis. Listed below is the full extent of Ali’s massive footprint upon the division and it is crystallized by altitude because no other big man ever walked these heights.

This is Ali’s final truth. I leave for others the argument as to whether or not he is the canonized saint of myth or the racist wife-beating philanderer of revision. I don’t care. It is obvious to me that neither one of these represents the man truly, but rather reveals our own projections onto boxing’s most infamous, glittering son, and that the conclusion of each man or woman tells us more about them than it does about him.

He’s an industry now, for better or worse, a money-machine, an embodiment of what boxing has become and what we most fear for its protagonists, a silent and shuffling shadow of what was once lightning on water.

The final act of what will be my last dance with heavyweight division for some time: I turn off the lights and watch the DVD of the guiltiest of Ali pleasures, his 1966 beating of Cleveland Williams. As his detractors gleefully point out, Williams was quite literally shot for this fight, having been fired upon by a state-trooper in 1965 and badly injured.  Well when I watch, I don’t see the opponent at all. I watch him; speed, such speed, speed of hand, speed of foot, speed of thought. There are technical dead ends in boxing and this is one of them. Although it didn’t stop a generation trying, nobody fights like this; not at 210 lbs. – not at 130 lbs.; not at any poundage. What you see is impossible.

Rumble, young man.

Rumble.

Other top 100 heavyweights defeated: Joe Frazier (Top Ten), George Foreman (Top Ten), Sonny Liston (Top Ten), Floyd Patterson (#18), Ken Norton (#22), Jimmy Young (#33),  Jimmy Ellis (#36), Ernie Terrell (#37), Archie Moore (#38),  Zora Folley (#43), Jerry Quarry (#44), Ron Lyle (#46),  Earnie Shavers (#54), Oscar Bonavena (#70), George Chuvalo (#82)

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

Mike Tyson Vs. Michael Spinks HD



This Day In Boxing History - December 26, 1908 - Johnson KOs Burns in 8



Sonny Liston vs Cleveland Williams March 21, 1960



Larry Holmes vs Ken Norton (High Quality)



George Foreman - Ron Lyle



Joe Frazier vs Jerry Quarry I



Lennox Lewis vs Hasim Rahman 2 - The Rematch - Undisputed Heavyweight Championship



Rocky Marciano vs Ezzard Charles, I



Joe Louis vs Max Schmeling, II (Full Film, HD)



Sonny Liston vs Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) Boxing Match



Discuss this in our forums

Related Articles

Comments

This is a place to express and/or debate your boxing views. It is not a place to offend anyone. If we feel comments are offensive, the post will be deleted and continuing offenders will be blocked from the site. Please keep it clean and civil! We want to have fun. We want some salty language and good-natured exchanges. But let's keep our punches above the belt...
  1. J Danforth 09:54am, 01/22/2017

    Ranking Ali first has become universal but I disagree strongly for the simple reason that so many of his victories were so hard for him, going for total distance decisions time after time. Sadly, this grinding punishment probably contributed to his Parkinson’s disease. Thus, his record is impressive but not what you’d call so dominant it justifies the title greatest of all time. That should go to others who were more dominant, although I’m not the one to judge who.

  2. Tuxtucis 03:29am, 09/24/2016

    @Scott: my god… Foreman fought most of his title fights after he was 40!
    He had few titles fights but he destroyed Frazier and Norton. Holmes fought no less than 20 pure bums! Really you have some doubt about Foreman vs Scott, Zanon, Rodriguez, Ocasio, Evangelista etc.?  Johnson after title, avoided best fighters of his era and fought middleweight Ketchel and 6 year retired Jeffries…That’s why someone can rate Foreman higher than Holmes or Johnson

  3. Scott 03:05am, 09/24/2016

    George Foreman’s record in title fights: 6-4.
    Yet he’s ranked ahead of truly dominant champions like Mike Tyson, Larry Holmes and Jack Johnson.

  4. Joel Brunner 01:02am, 11/19/2015

    Great list, with good background and evidence.  My top 10 is slightly different and I’ve spent hundreds of hours working on it:

    1. Joe Louis (better record than Ali, ridiculous mark of 25-1 in Title Fights and less pathetic performances than Ali, by far).  Louis’ technique is much more perfect than Ali’s and he hit harder. 

    2. Muhammad Ali - accomplished an amazing amount over his 21 year career.  I only rank him 2nd because he lost 5 fights handily and he probably should’ve lost 3 or 4 more (Norton 3, Shavers, J.Young) .  Better than everyone but Louis, though.

    3. Lennox Lewis - I know it isn’t popular to revere Lennox so highly but he was possibly the favorite in all 44 of his fights.  There isn’t a man alive who has a winning record against him.  His losses to McCall and Rahman were flukes in a way, although they must be counted against him.  Had so much size, strategy and skill that he deserves to be ahead of guys like Holmes and Johnson.

    4. Larry Holmes - a fantastic boxer who had tremendous skills and one of the greatest jabs of all time.  He could’ve competed very well with Ali on any night and would’ve outboxed nearly every other man in history.

    5. Jack Johnson - hard to judge someone with so little film, but his long unbeaten streak speaks for itself as does the record of opponents avoiding him.  By all accounts, a master boxer who deserves the credit.

    6. George Foreman - he’s hard to rank because he was so powerful yet so sloppy.  Good boxers exposed him but if you traded with him, it was lights out.  George was the greatest slugger of all time.

    7. Rocky Marciano - gotta give him his due but you can’t get crazy.  Rocky was so small that he would’ve had extreme difficulty with many of the champions that came after him.  I respect the 49-0 and place him at 7.

    8. Jack Dempsey - again, you have to give him credit based on a few video clips and newspaper articles.  Obviously a great puncher, but he’s another guy that would’ve probably struggled with the big technicians that came along after the 1960s.

    9. Joe Frazier - that win over Ali earns him the spot.  The heart of a lion.  A little light on strategy but his power and speed at his best must be respected.

    10. Evander Holyfield - edges Tyson for the final spot because he edged Tyson in the ring.  So many thrilling fights and epic victories.  He falls a bit due to his number of losses, but he deserves to be placed with the greats.

  5. Joe Anthony 07:44pm, 11/16/2015

    You forgot to add Joe Louis to the list of those defeated by Marciano, one of the most brutal K.O.‘s ever.

  6. John 11:47am, 11/16/2015

    No way Ali no.one.  He lost to Norton, Frazier .  Both were destroyed by Foremen.  If Foreman had proper trainer in his corner he would have never punched himself out against Ali and fallen to the canvas after Ali’s little punch.  He lost because of exhaustion not Ali.  Furthermore good management wouldn’t let a boxer with stamina problems fight in the heat outside. Finally their was no rematch because Ali feared Foreman.  Ali should be ranked somewhere between 7- 10

  7. Jason 01:02am, 09/27/2015

    My top 3 list is quite different.
    1. Lennox Lewis : I am convinced that given enough opportunities he’d eliminate   without doubt any heavyweight contender in front of him. Beyond his undoubtedly physical talent, tactician and unsurpassed skills,  (talking about the after Steward, Lennox) he had smarts that placed him way ahead of anybody else. That would be the decisive factor.
    2. Mike Tyson : A great athlete, with a natural pounching talent and raw animal killing instinct. Furthermore, I remind everybody that If he wasn’t the self-destructive guy he was that killer instinct wouldn’t materialize as it did. It was part of who he was that made him THAT dangerous. There is no meaning in separating the two. Finally, I am convinced that he’d destroyed anybody on that list aside of Lennox.  (Lewis was far better tactician, closely dangerous to Tyson but did not allow his instinct override his intellect - that’s how he won many close fights, by being conservative).

    3. You can put anybody else with equal chances to defeat each other aside from top two.

    Cheers.

  8. Giulio 08:47am, 07/21/2015

    Lewis 4???? No Dempsey or Tunney?  WTF O.o

  9. Mitch Farley 06:33pm, 06/23/2015

    farley

    My Top 10 -

    1. Ali
    2. Johnson
    3. Foreman
    4. Louis
    5. Holyfield
    6. Holmes
    7. Tunney
    8. Frazier
    9. Liston
    10. Marciano

  10. Scott 12:42pm, 06/17/2015

    Larry Holmes had nineteen successful title defenses, not twelve as this article claims. And he was the heavyweight champion of the world for seven years, not five. If you want to try and rewrite history, go ahead, but those are the facts. And the reason he never got stopped was not because the referees were doing him favors, it’s because every time he got in trouble he came back punching so they never had an excuse to stop it. He had an extraordinary will to win.

    Larry Holmes didn’t quit after fighting a few old-timers (Marciano), he didn’t get blasted out by middling contenders (Lewis), and he didn’t duck the top contender for years like Lewis did with Wladimir Klitschko (one could argue he ducked a lot of people, actually). Larry did nothing but win for twelve years and didn’t lose a fight until he got old - and even the losses to Michael Spinks were close and disputed by many. It’s a unique accomplishment.

  11. Jimmy Steward 05:49am, 05/17/2015

    To those of you who believe you have all the answers, you rally don’t.  You have to really study boxing to get any idea.  Great Champions have been beaten by lesser men.  You never know who is going to win.  Some boxers have trouble with different kinds of opponents.  take Frazier and Foreman.  Foreman liked taking out little guys.  He had more problems with fighters closer to his height.  It is really hard to say who could beat who.  I think Ali was tops on the list.  I think a young Tyson was good as long as he had Cus D’Amato in his corner.  Marciano was a little guy, but if you ever saw the tiger in him fight, you’d understand why he is usually rated high.  Lots of heart.  Joe Louis was one of the greatest boxers ever.  It would be hard to honestly rate them all.  I do know my list would go like this ...
    1 - Ali
    2 - Louis
    3 - Foreman
    4 - Tyson
    5 - Marciano
    6 - Holmes
    7 - Jack Johnson

    I wont go any further, but I believe my list is pretty good.

  12. jason 01:39am, 05/11/2015

    There is no doubt that Tyson was one of the most impressive Heavyweights ever, However his fight record Doesn’t stand up to Scrutiny, 18 of his first 20 wins were against fighters with Awful records, Hector Mercedes a career total of 5 fights and was KO’d in 4 of them Alderson a career total of just 7 fights, Robert Colay a career total of 20 fights and was KO’d in 12 of them, Trent singleton a career total of 5 fights and was KO’d in 4, Sterling Benjamin 5 wins and 7 losses, the first time Tyson fights against ranked journeymen opponents Tillis and Green they take him the distance, Berbick had already been KO’d in 1 round by Mercado and Spinks was just a blown up Light-Heavy who had only had 4 heavyweight fights,  and Larry Holmes was 38 yrs old hadn’t fought for 2 yrs and was way past his best , Tyson lost at 23 to Douglas who was basically just another journeyman. 6 Losses and 2 NC’s is not a great fight record.
    so in my opinion Lewis with just 2 Losses should be higher than Tyson

  13. Anthony Galvin 01:59pm, 05/10/2015

    Any list that puts Rocky Marciano at three (or even in the top ten) loses all credibility, and there is really no need to read on. Marciano ahead of Holmes, Lewis, Klitschko (either one)? Give me a break.

  14. Jason Phillips 05:52am, 03/31/2015

    I mostly agree with the Boxing rankings But I would like to Point out that Lennox Lewis was Knocked out only Once. Oliver McCall put Lewis down, But Lewis Got up at around a count of 5, he was on Wobbly legs and the referee stopped the fight on a TKO not a KO. The Rahman Knock out was a proper KO as Lewis failed to beat the count of 10, I wanted to point this out as no one say’s Tyson was knocked out 6 times, he Had 3 KO’s and 3 TKO’s against him.

  15. tuxtucis 01:16am, 01/22/2015

    @Moontan: please, read before you write. Matt McGrain doesn’t uses an head to head fantasy match criterium, but a career achievement criterium. He said at start of his ranking and he repeated many times.

  16. Moontan 03:33pm, 01/21/2015

    Matt
    Very impressive research, just very confused on how you processed the information. This list can’t be taken very seriously with Marciano at #3, for all the reasons you stated. Paul Gallender knows boxing and I agree with him, Marciano was one dimensional and very limited. Marciano was one of the greatest fighters in history fighting humans his size but you can’t ask him to give up 5 inches in height and 40 pounds in weight and reach an think he is going to out work those differences. I won’t even comment on these ridiculous comparisons. Now could Marciano beat any cruiser weight that ever fought, yes, he is a truly a great fighting machine and a legend or god of the sport. If you had a Mount Rushmore of the heavyweight division I think he would have to be on it not because of his ability to beat modern day fighters but rather what he meant to the sport. He beat everybody he faced and was the best of his time. Modern athletes are much more talented and gifted.
    I love Marciano but he was very popular and lucky and extremely smart to retire at the top.
    How you put Frazier ahead of foreman makes absolutely no since. How can this list be taking seriously. Foreman losing to Frazier after what foreman did to Frazier in their two fights.
    To me Foreman is the dividing line for best ever. How many fighters could beat foreman. Louis would not go five rounds with the 1973 foreman. People look at who Louis beat, good lord a bunch of white bums. Fat out of shape depression riddled want to bees. Tony Galento dropped Louis. I love Louis, I feel very strongly that he was the first modern heavyweight with the possible exception of Gene Tunney.
    I would give the following fighters the advantage over Foreman, Lennox Lewis, both Klitschko’s, Ali, Liston. Fighters that would be real close to beating Foreman but not clear advantage would be Holmes, Holyfield, Bowe and a young Mike Tyson.
      In order to beat George Foreman in his prime you had to have great boxing ability, take a punch, avoid the monster long enough to survive. So that puts the top five Lewis, Wladimir( old version)’ Vitali, Ali and Sonny Liston. At number six is Foreman with the next four being Holmes, Holyfield, Bowe and Tyson. Now if you want to get a real nice neat 1,2,3 order to me that gets very difficult. I think Jack Johnson was the best of his time, Tunney the best of his , and Louis the best of his. Size, speed, power, reach , boxing ability and ability to move and take a punch are all factors.
    Matt you makes strong arguments about fighters and then go against your argument which makes no sense.
    For what it’s worth we are brothers because we both have respect and passion for this brutal sport that seems to be dying. I hope I never see the day. Check out heavyweightaction.com
    Thanks Matt

  17. Mike 05:49am, 01/12/2015

    If Sonny Liston had learned such as Foreman cut of the Ring and maybe
    a slightly better footwork i would put Sonny Liston as the best Heavyweight of all Time after Muhammad Ali.

    Liston´s Jab was way ahead of his time including this
    84 inch reach , looks very futurity for this time of heavyweight boxing.
    But place 8 is Okay , Liston should on any good list be in the top 10.

  18. Thomas Ray 05:43pm, 12/25/2014

    Jack Johnson said that Jim Jeffries was the best ever, as did many others.

  19. Rohit 07:22am, 11/20/2014

    I am surprised that Maricano, Frazier and Lennox Lewis are above George Foreman in this list. He bounced Frazier and Ken Norton off the canvas like a basketball; The same Frazier and Norton who were in their prime and had beaten Ali. At his peak, Foreman was a murderous punching machine and only Ali managed to truly stop him. Joe Louis MIGHT have manged with superior speed.

    And this is just the first part of Foreman’s career. Even in his come back, he knocked out younger fighters and stood his own against Hollyfield before beating Moorer for the title. The fact that only Ali ever managed to KO Foreman shows the man’s durability and strong chin as well.

    I would say

    1) Ali
    2) Louis
    3) Foreman

  20. GlennR 03:43pm, 10/28/2014

    Big word of thanks Matt
    Just like your Top 100 fighters, and your various articles on Joe Louis, i thoroughly enjoyed this and im sure ill use it as reference points for many years to come

    Bravo good Sir!

  21. Matt McGrain 10:56am, 10/28/2014

    I scored the fight 10-2 in rounds, Machen taking only the first two. Liston did have points deducted for low-blows (or rather the referee intimated that he wanted to take points away), but Machen was entirely out-classed.

  22. klompton 10:37am, 10/28/2014

    Liston did not win almost every round against Machen. Machen who was fighting one handed was only two swing rounds away from earning a draw against Liston. Had Machen had the use of his right he probably could have improved on that.

  23. George Thomas Clark 07:56pm, 10/27/2014

    Two or three people have mentioned Ali’s shocking loss in Leon Spinks in their first fight in 1978.  Ali, who’d literally become masochistic, threw the fight away by unnecessarily leaning back on the ropes and letting a young, well-conditioned fighter use him as a heavy bag and without paying a price.  When an even more used up Ali fought Spinks several months later, he boxed and moved - albeit much more slowly than his former self - and won by six or seven rounds on all three cards. 

    Regarding Ali’s fight with Jimmy Young, let’s remember that every time Ali hurt or was about to hurt the challenger, Young stuck his head outside the ring, something one rarely see in a world title fight.  Let’s also acknowledge that for a time Jimmy Young was one of the finest fighters on earth.  Waitching the fight on live TV, I thought he decisioned Ken Norton.  And who was that guy who outboxed and even knocked down a young but exhausted George Foreman, sending him into his first retirement - Jimmy Young.  Aging Ali’s performance against a prime Jimmy Young is another star on Ali’s unprecedented record of fighting, and usually beating, excellent fighters.

  24. Paul Gallender 03:23pm, 10/27/2014

    Louis vs. Frazier is a fight I would have loved to see. I look at it as an even fight. But, both were little heavyweights, at least compared to Ali, Liston, Foreman and Lewis. Eddie Futch said that Frazier’s problem was that he was too small. Put a prime Louis next to a prime Liston and he’d look like he was 20 pounds lighter, even though their weight differential was closer to 10 pounds.
    Also, I just don’t get why people think Marciano belongs in any top 10 heavyweight list. He was a 185-pound fighter with a 67-inch reach. He had no jab, and I don’t think there’s ever been a truly great fighter who didn’t have a great or at least very good jab. Rocky could only fight one way, and that was by coming straight at his opponent. To put his punching power in the same class as Foreman, Lewis, Tyson, or Liston is just ludicrous. Rocky was a good man and liked by everyone but I can’t see him surviving the second round against any of the four guys I just mentioned. And frankly, I think I’m being charitable.

  25. Eric 02:32pm, 10/27/2014

    Yes, but Joe Louis never fought anyone quite like George Foreman either. I doubt Frazier would take 13 rounds to knockout a 170lb featherfisted Billy Conn either, much less be actually losing after 12 rounds to an undersized light heavy. Look at the trouble Louis had with crouching type fighters Godoy & Tommy Farr, and neither one of them are even close to being as talented as Frazier. Louis, while way past his prime, was bothered by Marciano’s style, and Frazier fought similar to Marciano. And Louis wouldn’t break Joe’s skin as he did with Marciano, Farr, or Godoy. Can’t ever recall Frazier having a problem with thin skin, swelling yes, cutting no. I’ve stated that Marciano would’ve defeated all of Louis’s opponents, and I would make the same claim for Frazier. Nearly all the big names that Joe defeated were past their prime like Sharkey, Baer, Braddock, Carnera, Schmeling. And the “bum of the month club?” Frazier slaughters guys like Abe Simon, Johnny Paychek, Buddy Baer, Tony Galento, Gus Dorazio, etc. Louis deserves his high ranking but he was far from unbeatable as others make him out to be, he would lose to a few of the other heavyweights in H2H matchups IMO. Styles make fights.

  26. Jethro's Flute 01:55pm, 10/27/2014

    “and a past prime Max Schmeling could dominate and knockout Louis out”.

    Louis was a rookie when he first fought Schmeling and won the rematch by massacre, having corrected the flaw in his defense, after the first fight.

    Simples.

    “It might be Louis’s chin that gives out first, Joe NEVER took a 10-count.”

    On the other hand, no one decked Joe Louis at will and nearly killed him in less than 5 minutes.

  27. Jethro's Flute 01:53pm, 10/27/2014

    “what makes you think a prime 1968-1971 version of Frazier couldn’t do the same”.

    Frazier was an extremely slow starter.

    Foreman could have beaten Joe Louis, it’s true, but the fight could go either way. Liston wouldn’t have had a huge size advantage over the brown bomber and was as obvious a bully as has ever held the title. Who says he wouldn’t have retreated into his shell if Joe Louis was able to land punches on him? Joe Louis wasn’t Cleveland Williams.

    Let’s list all the fighters who came back to beat Joe Louis after getting punched many times by him in the first 2 or 3 rounds? Louis probably wasn’t as big a puncher as Foreman but he was an accurate puncher and threw a lot of punches.

    Also, on a different topic, it’s awful convenient that Ali’s loss to Leon Spinks at the age of 36 is overlooked while Lewis’ loss to Rahman at the same age is apparently of great significance.

    Lewis’ weak point was not his chin but his tendency to take his eye off the ball against men he was a huge favourite over.

    His loss to McCall was due to the fact that he had contracted ‘puncher’s disease’ after his surprise demolition win over Razor Ruddock and he had a nincompoop in his corner in the form of Pepe Correa.

  28. Eric 01:22pm, 10/27/2014

    If a prime Sonny or George Foreman connected with the Brown Bomber’s chin it would be, “Goodnight Irene.” Louis NEVER fought anyone who could remotely match Sonny or George’s power and strength. I’m not so sure Louis ever fought anyone who could punch as hard as Frazier, other than Marciano. I could easily see Louis losing to all three fighters.

  29. Eric 12:36pm, 10/27/2014

    Frazier only lost to Foreman & Ali. While it is true that Joe never defeated a puncher who punched as hard as Louis (Foreman hit harder IMO), Frazier did defeat some respectable “bangers.” Quarry, Bonavena, Chuvalo, and light heavy Bob Foster could all punch pretty well, certainly well enough to take a man out. If someone like Tony Galento could floor Louis, and a past prime Max Schmeling could dominate and knockout Louis out, what makes you think a prime 1968-1971 version of Frazier couldn’t do the same. Crouching fighters like Arturo Godoy seemed to bother Louis as much as fleet flooted or fancy dan boxers. I would say Frazier’s chin was better than Louis’s chin, btw. Frazier was only put down by Foreman & Bonavena. Louis was put down by Buddy Baer, Tony Galento, Walcott X 4, Marciano and Schmeling decked him a couple of times also. Frazier vs. Louis? It might be Louis’s chin that gives out first, Joe NEVER took a 10-count.

  30. Jethro's Flute 12:04pm, 10/27/2014

    ” I can’t see Louis defeating Liston, Frazier or Foreman either in their primes.”

    Big puncher vs Joe Frazier?

    I wonder how that will work?

    As for the ‘Thrilla in Manila’, Ali gave Frazier a brutal, one-sided pasting. I have the match on DVD and the DVD came with a 1975 newspaper that reported the same thing.

    It is revisionism of the very worst kind to pretend it was a fine contest.

  31. Jethro's Flute 11:54am, 10/27/2014

    “a well known Boxing Writer of the day ...when commenting upon Frazier’s win over Ali…..
    ....‘No man alive, could have beaten Frazier that night “”

    What utter rubbish. Frazier was blind in one eye and a prime Joe Louis would have creamed him that night.

    If Sonny Liston had been a decade younger and still alive, he would have beaten him as well. If George Foreman had been a year or two older, he would have murdered Frazier.

    How on earth is Joe Frazier above George Foreman in this list?

    What possible reason can be given for this? Foreman demonstrated that he would beat Frazier any day of the week and would need to be tranquilized to lose to Frazier.

  32. Matt McGrain 05:28am, 10/27/2014

    Only two of these guys are top ten material.

  33. The Flea 04:51am, 10/27/2014

    Marciano isn’t top ten material in my opinion.

  34. Matt McGrain 01:49am, 10/27/2014

    Both those guys could be in it, but neither one of them defies exclusion.  Neither one of them is a lock.  I think I wrote in part one or perhaps two, that there are about forty names that could have been placed in the bottom quarter.  For various reasons, I prefered others to them and am comfortable with that.

  35. tuxtucis 12:36am, 10/27/2014

    I think Morrison could be in top 100, although his wins were vs over the Hill boxers. I think opposite it’s a Real shame to have not (if i’m not wrong) Ike Ibeabuchi in this ranking, cause he had beaten Tua and Byrd in their Absolute primes.

  36. bikermike 06:17pm, 10/26/2014

    a well known Boxing Writer of the day ...when commenting upon Frazier’s win over Ali…..

    ....‘No man alive, could have beaten Frazier that night “‘

  37. bikermike 06:03pm, 10/26/2014

    Time machine matches don’t count….anymore than the thousands of times I’ve jerked off ...when I was with Raquel Welch..ffs

  38. bikermike 05:58pm, 10/26/2014

    Author makes a good case for Tyson being there….kazillion dollar talent with a three cent head….Tyson was not an educated ..nor anywhere near refined individual.  As long as he was doing his thing…under Jacobs and Cayton….a legacy in the making.

    Jacobs passed away…in came doink ing…and Boxing was ruined..again

  39. Eric 05:44pm, 10/26/2014

    Razor Ruddock TKO-6
    George Foreman W-12
    Carl Williams TKO-8
    Pinklon Thomas TKO-1
    James Tillis TKO-1

    Won:48 Loss:3 Drew:1 42 knockouts

    Not in the top 100 of all time heavyweights.

  40. bikermike 05:38pm, 10/26/2014

    Guys guys ...
    This article brought out some very informed posts…from some very informed posters…..

    For that ..and that alone, this is a very good article.

    I’m with some of you on who should and who should not be there…but still…these guys…in their own way ..and in their own time ....made boxing fans come alive

  41. bikermike 05:31pm, 10/26/2014

    Thank you Matt McGrain for this article. 
    I especially wish to commend you on your recognition of BIG CAT Larry Holmes, as an honest mention for the top ten Heavyweight Champions of all time

  42. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 02:35pm, 10/26/2014

    Sorry if I offended…..I should have added that 154 lb. Floyd Mayweather Jr. would slice and dice a goodly number of the heavyweights on this list especially those from the era when they hadn’t quite mastered the basics of keeping their chins down and their guards up which would include many that preceded Joe Louis and his reign…it’s frightening to think what carnage 160 lb. GGG and 175 lb. Kovalev would cause to this aforementioned group.

  43. Matt McGrain 01:25pm, 10/26/2014

    hahahha that’s the first time i’ve seen Trinidad and Tobago’s armed forces used to illustrate the limitations of the era on era argument, quite a moment.

  44. tuxtucis 01:09pm, 10/26/2014

    @Irish Frankie Crawford: and Trinidad&Tobago; army would defeat Gengis Khan or Alexander the Great’s Army, so is greater army…what kind of brilliant brain you have…

  45. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 12:11pm, 10/26/2014

    (1) 2014 San Antonio Spurs 170 to 20 over the 1950 Minneapolis Lakers
    (2) 2014 Seattle Seahawks 99 to 6 over the 1950 Cleveland Browns
    (3) Jesse Owens reaches the 90 meter mark as Usain Bolt sprints past the 100 meter finish line
    (4)Vitali KOs Jack Johnson, Joe Louis andTKOs Frazier and Marciano….makes Tyson and Liston quit…..decisions Ali, Holmes and Foreman
    (5) Lennox does the same and with his win over Vitali is the number heavyweight of all time

  46. nicolas 09:13am, 10/26/2014

    I have often said that while Louis allowed the black man to become champion, it was Ali who allowed the black man also to become challenger. Look at an interesting statistic. Joe Louis in 25 defenses only defended 3 times against black fighters, not his fault, as he was basically told who to fight. Marciano on the other hand, fought of his six title defenses against four. Patterson only successful defended once against Tommy Jackson, and then of course defended against Liston, and we know what happened there. Ali’s behavior probably made the public hope that anyone could defeat that ‘loud mouth American hating black man from Louisville”. Louis none the less would have given Ali all that he could have handled, even in his prime, but in a three fight series, would have to give Ali a two to one edge. I however fault no one for saying that Louis is there number best heavyweight.

  47. Matt McGrain 07:32am, 10/26/2014

    Hello gents, thanks for any kind words.  Rax, i’ll try and get the top 100 together at some point and re-create it here.
    As to the (inevitable) Louis v Ali stuff; for me, I can stand to see either one of them on top, with the caveat that criteria becomes crucial, because it’s inarguable that Ali beat better fighters.  That’s just stone-cold fact…so if someone sees Louis top it’s ok by me, as long as there’s consistency there.  What I would reject, utterly, is any notion that the rating of one over the other is somehow “flawed” or indefensible.  That I find nonsensical, and reject flat-out.  Whenever I get talking to someone who says “it has to be Louis” or “it has to be Ali” I know i’m looking at an agenda rather than a thought.
    Thanks again.

  48. Eric 06:51am, 10/26/2014

    Oops, forgot to add that Jersey Joe whipped Louis in the their first fight and was doing quite well in the rematch before Louis caught up to him in the 11th round. Jersey Joe floored the Brown Bomber a total of 4 times in both bouts. I can’t see Louis defeating Liston, Frazier or Foreman either in their primes.

  49. Eric 06:46am, 10/26/2014

    I have a great deal of respect for Ali as a person and as a fighter. His treatment of Frazier was just a WWE style act to help promote interest, and Smokin’ Joe was just too sensitive and maybe not smart enough to realize it. Louis never faced the caliber of fighters that Ali faced, no one did. No heavyweight fighter ever faced a trio of monsters like Liston-Frazier & Foreman. I will be the first to say that Ali did influence the judges in many of his fights, IMO, Ali lost all 3 fights to Norton, although the 2nd & 3rd bouts were pretty close. I also think Ali lost the bout to Young, but neither fighter did much of anything at all, so I could see Ali maybe grabbing a decision. Norton & Frazier were the only two fighters who truly whipped Ali before he became old and fat. Doug Jones probably edged Ali, but it was another close and debatable fight. Norton just had an odd style and was all wrong for Ali, but Ali clearly avenged the Frazier loss, not once, but twice. Ali wouldn’t have nearly lost to a 170lb light hitting Billy Conn, knocked out by a past prime Schmeling or floored by Tony Galento. In a head to head matchup with Louis, Ali wins pretty easily, if Louis had trouble with Billy Conn, imagine what Ali would do with Louis. A prime Ali would only have trouble with the modern big boys like Lewis or the Klits, and maybe swarmers like Dempsey and Tyson.

  50. Clarence George 02:34am, 10/26/2014

    While I don’t completely agree with Trevor Ross, he makes valid and interesting points, especially in his Ali-Louis comparison.

    On the one hand, I don’t think one can successfully argue that Ali isn’t one of the truly great heavyweights.  Indeed, while no more a fan of his than is Matt, I nevertheless have him second (albeit a distant second) only to Louis.  On the other, his grotesque self-deification has been facilitated and bought into by a whole host of people, many of whom should know better.  Matt’s too thoughtful to be considered among these knee-jerkers and flat-earthers, but I strongly, however respectfully, disagree with his conclusion that Ali is the greatest heavyweight of all time.

  51. tuxtucis 12:36am, 10/26/2014

    @Trevor Ross: Ali was completely over the hill after The thrilla in Manila, when he fought Young and Spinks. He would have never lost to Spinks in 1967 or 1974…
    @McGrain: can you put here your complete ranking, as you did for p4p?

  52. Trevor Ross 09:54pm, 10/25/2014

    More Ali worship. if louis would have lost his crown to a pro making his eight professional fight, he wouldnt be in the top 30. Ali was NOT considered the best before 1996, then the rewriting of history began with his olympic games torch appearance. ever since then , it is impossible to get to the truth of Ali, because they won’t allow it. It is only canonization after canonization of the man. when he loses to jimmy young in reality because he showed up fat and out of shape, and had to cheat to get by henry cooper, he is number 1. show me where joe louis cheated? Ali at number one is just feel good dressing. It’s quite ridiculous. You can’t give Ali the three years of absence because he didnt fight during those years, just like Louis lost a few years also because of world war II. If Louis would have made 10 or 12 more defenses, and had 36 or 37 consecuritve defenses of his title, would he still be number 2?  anyway, louis didnt fight during those years but neither did Ali when he was dormant. you cant give accolades to the years for a fighter during which he didnt fight because you dont know what would have happened.

  53. Eric 07:19am, 10/25/2014

    If Smokin’ Joe had been born in 1974 instead of 1944, unless he changed parents, he still would’ve been a 5’11” 205lb fighter. Being born at a later date isn’t going to increase a fighter’s size. Sure the average height and weight for people has increased over history, but the average height of 5’10” for males in the United States has remained the same for quite sometime now. If Smokin’ Joe were 6’3”, I’m sure that would alter his bobbing and weaving style anyway, the reason for Frazier’s style was his lack of height. There have always been huge heavyweights around even in Frazier’s time. Jim Beattie was 6’9”, Ernie Terrell was 6’6”, Ali beat a guy named Duke Sabedong who was about 6’6”-6’7” or somewhere in that range. It is just now, these huge guys have more skills, stamina, speed, power, etc. Most of the huge guys in the past weren’t that athletic, lacked speed, stamina, agility, etc. And in America, most really big men chose a more secure and lucrative career in football or basketball over boxing, where as in Europe, they don’t have that choice.

  54. raxman 07:46pm, 10/24/2014

    its interesting that only once we got to the top ten did we all start wondering how fighters would go against ones from another era.
    frankin dallas raises the idea that we should separate fighters into their rough era - so I assume he means - 60’s&70;‘s, 80’s&90;‘s and 00’s&10;‘s - I think its a good idea because it allows for generational changes - both in the sport and the changes of man
    I always look at those comparisons that say the 5ft11 205pound Joe Frazier would be destroyed by a 6’6 250pound Klittschko - I figure to be fair we have to entertain a “size inflation” - if we imagine frazier had been born in mid 1970’s his size would be modified in keeping with the average size of man. so although the real joe frazier would just be too small, a modified one say 6ft’3 and 225 - would bob and weaver and left hook either klit into unconscious.

  55. ch. 06:43pm, 10/24/2014

    Al Weill’s main objective was making as much profit from the largest gate that could be generated. That’s what drove Weill. Marciano’s place in history was not too much of a concern. Valdes (and Baker, Jackson, Wallace or Henry for that matter) never showed any particular drawing power, not even in Miami where their was a large Cuban population. Weill had Marciano take on Charles, and not Valdes, because it meant a lot more money at the box office and closed circuit…...........................
    Funny how today many fans regard Hopkins, Mayweather, Marquez, etc. as still highly regarded fighting machines, even at their advanced ages but disregard Rocky’s victims, Joe Louis, Walcott, Charles and Archie Moore (four of the greatest fighters ever) as hapless “old men” when Rocky bludgeoned them. Few recall that Louis was the top contender on an 8 bout win streak and favored by Nat Fleischer to win back the title right before the Marciano fight. That being said I rate Joe Louis the greatest heavyweight ever.

  56. Eric 11:53am, 10/24/2014

    Probably is pretty hard to compare fighters before the Dempsey era to modern day fighters. Maybe Dempsey would be a good starting point, but even during Dempsey’s reign, a fighter wasn’t forced to go to a neutral corner after knocking down a fighter. Can you imagine what would have happened had Earnie Shavers or Renaldo Snipes been allowed to stand over a fallen Holmes, and started pummeling Holmes without having to wait for a standing 8-count to be issued? Tyson might have even beaten Douglas under pre-Dempsey rules.

  57. nicolas 11:50am, 10/24/2014

    I for one have Marciano over Valdez. The up and down career of Valdez speaks for itself. However, Valdez was listed as number one contender by Ring Magazine after 1953 and 54. Marciano’s group gave the title shot to Ezzard Charles, who had lost to Valdez in around that same year. After Marciano beat Cockell, Valdez whipped him in three in England. Of course of interesting note, LaStarza after losing to Marciano, lost a decision to Cockell in England. It is just strange to me, that Marciano, a man who unlike Dempsey defended the title four times against black fighters, a record until Ali, did not face Valdez. What is the problem here, Valdez would have outweighed Marciano by twenty pounds. Also, it has been written that Moore’s win over Valdez the second time was somewhat controversial. It was fought in Nevada, as a world title fight recognized by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, and the sole arbitrator and judge was referee James J Braddock, who scored it 8-5.

  58. FrankinDallas 11:35am, 10/24/2014

    Matt, all kidding aside, seriously good work. It takes large cojones to print such a list, as you’re sure to get sniped by everyone with a belly button, much less an opinion. (John L. Sullivan FFS!). The amount of research you’ve done is amazing, and I really like the way you used a near scientific system and stuck to it religiously. I hope you got paid for publishing this work, either here or somewhere else.

    Now that you’ve asked, my own opinion is that ranking by decades or by eras makes a lot of sense. In this manner, you can move away from placing a small guy like Marciano in with giants like Lewis and the Klits and a John L (AKA fat drunken slob) in with his peers. Also would be more fair to the fighting styles and training methods popular through the ages. Pre Louis, certainly pre-Dempsey, in my mind the Johnsons and Langfords of the boxing world were (in 2000’s parlance) more like clumsy MMA/UFC fighters than practitioners of the Sweet Science.

    Whatever…great work Matt.

  59. Paul Gallender 11:11am, 10/24/2014

    Matt, I congratulate you on this undertaking. Only a well-informed, dedicated boxing historian would even think of embarking on such a project and I’m sure anybody who has read your work would congratulate you on it. I know I do. Whether or not I, or anyone else, agrees with all of your conclusions is relatively unimportant, I think. So, thank you for doing this.
    I do need to correct you and also amplify on one thing regarding my personal involvement with Sonny Liston. You wrote, “Gallender is open about his use of a psychic in communing with the soul of Liston in advancing his work.” The person you are referring to is a psychic, a medical intuitive and, most important, a medium. I did not seek her out and we met quite serendipitously. I had just completed my Liston biography and had sent it to my publisher when I met her. She had not even heard of Sonny Liston and thought then, as she does now, that boxing is a barbaric sport. My book contains nothing of what I’ve learned about Sonny through her, nor do any of the articles I’ve written for boxing.com. All of her information is hers, and hers to do with as she pleases. Do I feel closer to the man we knew as Charles “Sonny” Liston as a result of my interaction with this medium? Definitely. And while I have been advised by many people, in and out of boxing, not to ‘advertise’ this association, lest it damage my credibility, let me say this: Sonny has communicated approximately 70 pieces of information (including several names and places) about his past life, most of which are not in my book. The point is, based on all that I know about Sonny’s life and career, I can verify the accuracy of this information. I can’t help but think that this is a big deal. Now, I realize that many who read this will no doubt disparage me and think I’ve been duped. So, if anyone feels the need to ridicule me, take your best shot. Six months from now, everyone will have a lot more information on which to base their conclusions. Nevertheless, it is not my intention to change the conversation that you have started here, Matt. And I’m glad that in bringing this matter up you did so in such a non-judgmental way.

  60. Eric 07:03am, 10/24/2014

    Danny Hodge, an outstanding wrestler out of Oklahoma, became a boxer instead of attempting a run at the Olympic games of ‘60. He would go on to record a record of 7-2 with 5 knockouts. Hodge’s last fight was against Valdes, and he was stopped on a cut in the 8th round. Hodge stated his own corner caused the cut when they found out they weren’t going to get paid. Apparently Hodge had been stiffed of his money in other fights. This was in ‘58, and the Hodge camp might have been rushing their fighter by putting him in with the Cuban after only 8 pro fights. Is this the same guy that Marciano “avoided?”

  61. Eric 06:37am, 10/24/2014

    Archie Moore took Nino Valdes out of the picture by decisioning him in an elimination bout if I’m not mistaken, giving Archie and not Valdes a shot at the title. The whole Valdes caca is nearly as played out as the Dempsey avoided Wills deal. I can’t see Valdes, even with his significant size advantage, troubling Marciano, much less beating the Rock. Valdes lost 3 fights in a row to Harold Johnson, Archie Moore, and Bob Baker in ‘52 & ‘53 while Marciano held the title, so it isn’t if Valdes was some Tyson like terror destroying all contenders in his path. The slow, lumbering Wills was made to order for Dempsey, and I can’t see the Rock losing to Valdes either.

  62. Clarence George 02:36am, 10/24/2014

    Nicolas:  You have a good memory.  I do indeed have Sullivan among my top 10, as well as Corbett.  In his first installment, Matt wrote, “No fighters who turned professional after 1880 were included, so that means no John L. Sullivan – for that matter no James Figg or Daniel Mendoza, towering figures of boxing history, but belonging too much to a bygone era for me to properly understand and compare them.  I had to cut them off somewhere and that date seemed as reasonable as any.”  I completely disagree, at least as far as Sullivan is concerned, but as Matt added, “No doubt some will disagree with me and that’s fine.”

    Like Matt, I also have Marciano among my top five (at number four).  I knew as soon as I read it that you’d appreciate his reference to Valdes, but I don’t see it myself.  I don’t know where I have Holyfield, but he’s nowhere near my top 10, never mind my top five. 

    When all is said and done, I’m in 50% agreement with Matt (though not on placement), and I agree with three of his top five (but, again, not on placement).  I strongly disagree with the inclusion of Lewis, Foreman, and Holmes, but at least he doesn’t have Ken Norton among his top 10, which would have made me want to reach for the nearest Louisville Slugger.  I was also glad not to see Ezzard Charles.  He’s one of my favorites, but I don’t approve of this recent trend of including him among the top 10 (as Bert Sugar did).  I think I have him at 13.

  63. nicolas 12:01am, 10/24/2014

    RAXMAN. I think his original manager, Jim Jacobs, realized some of the problems that Tyson would have, not boxing, but living outside of boxing. So I think that he kept him quite busy, knowing that it would be better to destroy people in the ring legally, than outside the ring illegally, and possibly go to jail. Also, it was good publicity for Mike at the time. Don’t also forget, that when he beat Berbick, he was only twenty years old.

  64. raxman 09:17pm, 10/23/2014

    Nicolas - yes by too long I obviously meant too many. the Tyson highlight ko real is littered with those first dozen opponents that were mostly ko’d in the first round - what did that serve? I bring a dog to this fight because I think it one of the worst things in boxing when fighters, particularly those with great amateur records, fight loads of fights vs inferior opposition before stepping up. (lomanchenko is the obvious breath of fresh air). I get that some may need the distance in their legs, some rounds to adjust to the mindset of pro fighting - but that’s not the case when you’re ko’ing your opponents in the first round as Tyson largely was.

  65. nicolas 08:18pm, 10/23/2014

    CLARENCE: One man that is not on this list, and I believe that you had in your top ten was John L Sullivan. You made a very good point a few years back about the loss against Corbett not being fare to hold against him, pointing out that he had not been active, and was definitely past his best years. Did Mr. McGrain leave him out because he is more of a product of the bare knuckle era? Also, I knew that Matt would have Marciano in his top ten, but top five? I have Hollyfield in my top ten, and Marciano in the top twenty. His argument about Nino Valdez also resonates with me. three of the five fighters he has in his top five I also agree with. Perhaps the Marciano listing here is because as I believe he wrote earlier, it is what they accomplished.

  66. nicolas 08:09pm, 10/23/2014

    RAXMAN: your comment about Tyson needing nearly 30 fights to fight the likes of Berbick, Thomas etc was quite amusing. Yes he was 27-0 before he fought Berbick, but he had only fought in the pros for less than one year and nine months. He was a very busy fighter.

  67. raxman 07:20pm, 10/23/2014

    the Tyson argument. hmmm? I support Matt McGrain’s lists in as much as he sets a formula for judgement and all logic flows on from that. so Tyson’s beating of 6 other top 100’s permits his entrance into this top 10 given the reality of this list - however all I’ve ever been able to say about Tyson is that he looked amazing as he destroyed guys he was always going to destroy. IMO Tyson’s record alone would not make him as relevant as he is today. his relevance is based on his profile and his profile first and foremost was built on the way he went about the sport of boxing - his look, his style and the way he destroy said victims. but Tyson was matched far to lightly for far too long. did he really need close to 30 fights to step up to a berbick/pinklon t/bonecrusher level?
    post jail, holyfield handled him relatively easily - was that after he slipped. I suppose a little. although, out of jail he was again wrecking havoc in the ring albeit without quite the same agility. but agility is definitely something that diminishes with age regardless of any fall from grace
    we’ll never know how Tyson would have gone had he face holyfield in his circa 1988 form - I’m of the belief that even the most prime and even minded Tyson - a Tyson where cus lived and robin givens was avoided - that Tyson, still loses to holyfield (even if it was his first fight above 200pounds) and lewis (not in 88 obviously but even a pre man-stew beats Tyson) . he would also lose to the other mobile giant Riddick Bowe (the bowe of 1990 who destroyed Pinklon and bert cooper would’ve easily handled mike)
    for mine mikes greatness was the impact he had on the sport - more so than in the ring.

  68. Bernard 04:33pm, 10/23/2014

    Joe is my number one.

    I understand the love for Ali, but can’t rate him as high as most other people do for the fact that he was hit way too much to be called best.

    Great, great work!

    Respect.

  69. Art 03:47pm, 10/23/2014

    Strange and funny if compare with another list in which Dempsey was first in all categories!!=))))  Authors can speak between themselves -  it is question to chief editor !=))

  70. FrankinDallas 03:45pm, 10/23/2014

    You just HAD to mention Harry Greb, didn’t you?

  71. The Fight Film Collector 12:43pm, 10/23/2014

    Excellent work Matt.  Your background and analysis of each fighter has been very impressive.  I’d like to add another thought.  All the Best of Boxing posts I have ever read assume that one fight settles the account between two fighters.  I like to consider the prospect of rematches.  When ranking legacy boxers, there are those fighters who never failed to be more dangerous in return fights.  Just as those boxers who, even after a great win, often returned less prepared or no stronger than before.  For instance, it’s likely Ali would decision Louis if they fought only once.  But in a rematch I’d bet on Joe.  Ali almost always came to fights well prepared the first time, and in rematches he usually made tactical changes if any.  His series with Frazier and Norton were all close and competitive.  A prime Louis, on the other hand, always killed the second time around, no matter how successful his opponent was in the first match.  Worth adding to the mix, especially since history seems to favor the rematch winners.

  72. Ted Spoon 10:45am, 10/23/2014

    A superb mix of great writing and objectivity. Dempsey may still be snarling from above, but perhaps if the Mauler reads this he’ll go easy on the other side.

  73. Peter 10:21am, 10/23/2014

    No argument on either count, Eric. When Jerry told me that in 1991, I could’ve used a standing-8 count myself.

  74. Eric 09:31am, 10/23/2014

    “Quarry showed complete contempt for Mathis’s punching power.” That was from an AP article describing the Mathis vs. Quarry fight. You could also make that same claim about Frazier not respecting Mathis’s power. Joe just did as he pleased against the big man.

  75. Eric 08:57am, 10/23/2014

    @Peter…I find it odd that fighters always claim that someone they beat, hit them harder than any other fighter. Hard to imagine Buster hitting harder than Frazier. Archie Moore claimed that Yvonne Durrelle hit him harder than any other fighter including the Brockton Blockbuster. Dwight Qawi claimed the hardest blow he ever took came from Saad Muhammad, and not George Foreman. This list could go on and on.

  76. Peter 08:39am, 10/23/2014

    Jerry Quarry himself said the guy who hit him with the hardest punch he ever took was ... Buster Mathis.

  77. Eric 08:11am, 10/23/2014

    Looking at some of the top 100 opponents for these all time greats makes me wonder how Tommy Morrison didn’t make the top 100. Morrison was winning pretty handidly against Mercer at first, and would have probably won a rematch. Morrison also knocked out Ruddock, another top 100 heavy. Marciano at #3???? I haven’t seen the Rock rated that high since the ‘70’s. As much as I admire Marciano, no way is he the 3rd greatest “heavyweight” of all time. I would rank fellow swarmers Dempsey & Tyson ahead of Marciano, while Frazier & Marciano are nip and tuck. You have to wonder if Marciano’s “murderous” punches would have the same effect on a 224lb Foreman as they did on a 185-192lb Ezzard Charles or Archie Moore. Had Quarry & Marciano switched eras, I could very easily see Quarry becoming champion in the early ‘50’s and Marciano assuming the role of a top notch contender in the ‘70’s. I have never seen Frazier rated in the top 5 on any list, and why Frazier should rate higher than Big George is beyond me. Not just the fact that Foreman manhandled Frazier in two bouts, but also throw in Foreman’s historic second career to boot. Remember Smokin’ Joe’s one fight comeback against ex-con muscle man Jumbo Cummings? Frazier was awarded a disputable draw in a fight that many thought Cummings won. Frazier also benefitted by beating up smaller men. He never seemed as dominate against larger men like Ali, Foreman or Bugner, as he did beating up small heavies like Quarry, Ellis, or light heavy Foster. Buster Mathis was a huge blob who couldn’t crack an egg with a punch.

  78. Clarence George 06:21am, 10/23/2014

    Yes to Ali, Louis, Marciano, Frazier, and Johnson, though my ordering is different; Louis in first place, for example.

    No to Lewis, Foreman, and Holmes.  A somewhat reluctant no to Liston and a very reluctant one to Tyson.

Leave a comment