By Jerome Foster
Ranking boxers is a tough thing to do. There are many factors to take into consideration. The competition a boxer faced, the era he fought in, his style and his record are among some of the things one considers when compiling such a list. These lists are fun to do though because they can spark debate and conversation about the topic. Listed below is my list of the top 5 boxers are all-time.
- Roberto Duran
Duran comes in as my fifth best boxer of all-time. Nicknamed “Hands of Stone”, his career record was 103-16-0 with 70 knockouts.
His career spanned five decades. Duran won titles in four weight classes: lightweight, welterweight, super welterweight and middleweight. He is considered to be one of the best lightweights boxing history. He won the lightweight title in 1972 via knockout over Ken Buchanan. He would defend the lightweight title 12 times, which included unifying the WBA and WBC lightweight titles in 1978. After unifying the titles, he would relinquish them and move up to welterweight. In June 1980, Duran would challenge Sugar Ray Leonard for Leonard’s welterweight championship. Leonard came in as the favorite, but Duran would give one of the best performances of his career and win the bout by unanimous decision.
He would lose the title back to Leonard five months later in the infamous “no mas” fight. Three years later, he defeated Davey Moore to win the super welterweight title. Duran would win his final world title in 1989, defeating Iran Barkley by split decision to win middleweight title. In 1998, Duran would challenge William Joppy for the WBA middleweight title. Joppy would defeat the 47-year old Duran by third-round knockout to retain the title. Duran retired in 2001. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2007.
- Joe Louis
Joe Louis comes in a number four on my list. “The Brown Bomber” had devastating punching power and finished with a career record of 66-3-0, with 52 knockouts. Louis won his first 24 fights before his first defeat. That defeat came at the hands of Max Schmeling via 12th-round knockout in June of 1936 at Yankee Stadium. After the defeat, Louis won his next seven fights, six by knockout. He challenged heavyweight champion Jim Braddock for the title at Comiskey Park on June 22, 1937. Louis recovered from a first-round knockdown and won the heavyweight title by knocking Braddock out in the eighth round. Shortly after the fight, Louis said he would not consider himself to be heavyweight champion until he avenged his loss to Schmeling. The rematch with Schmeling took place June 22, 1938 at Yankee Stadium. The fight was basically billed as America versus Nazi-Germany, even though Schmeling was not a member of the Nazi party. Louis got his revenge against Schmeling, knocking the German out in the first round.
Joe Louis went on to defend the heavyweight title 25 times, a span that covered 11 years, 8 months and 8 days. He remains the longest reigning heavyweight champion in boxing history. He was named the Fighter of the Year by Ring Magazine four times. Louis was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
- Henry Armstrong
Henry Armstrong ranks as my number three boxer of all time. Armstrong compiled a career record of 151-21-9 with 101 knockouts. He was also the epitome of the phrase “pound-for-pound.” Armstrong is the only boxer in history to be world champion in three divisions (featherweight, lightweight and welterweight) simultaneously. Armstrong accomplished this incredible feat in a time where boxers fought once or twice a month and catchweights were not the norm. In 1937, Armstrong fought 27 times. He won all 27 fights and 26 of those wins came by knockout. He won the featherweight title in October that year by knocking out Petey Sarron in the sixth round. He was named Fighter of the Year in 1937 by Ring Magazine. Armstrong went undefeated again in 1938. He was 14-0 with 10 knockouts. In May of that year, he defeated Barney Ross and took the welterweight title by unanimous decision.
In his next fight, three months later, Armstrong added the lightweight title to his collection by winning a split decision over Lou Ambers. Shortly after beating Ambers, Armstrong relinquished the featherweight title. Armstrong then made seven defenses of his welterweight crown before losing the lightweight title back to Ambers via unanimous decision in August 1939. Armstrong defended the welterweight title 11 more times from October 1939 to August 1940. He lost the welterweight championship by unanimous decision to Fritzie Zivic in October 1940. He never held another world title and retired in 1945.
Armstrong was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
- Muhammad Ali
“The Greatest” comes in at number two on the list. Ali used his quick hands and feet to compile a record of 56-5-0 with 37 knockouts. He won his first 19 fights to get a shot at the heavyweight champion of the world, Sonny Liston, on February 25, 1964. Ali, who was still going by his given name Cassius Clay, taunted Liston all the way up to the fight. Many thought that Liston would use his superb punching power to get rid of Ali. But Ali neutralized Liston’s power with precise combination punching and pulled off one of the biggest upsets in boxing history when Liston couldn’t answer the bell for the seventh round. Ali beat Liston in the rematch a year later by first-round knockout. He made eight more defenses of the title before being stripped of the heavyweight crown in 1967 because he refused induction into the Army. Three years later, Ali returned to the ring.
On March 8, 1971, Ali fought heavyweight champion Joe Frazier for the title. The matchup, called “The Fight of the Century” pitted the current champion (Frazier) against the man who never lost the title (Ali). Frazier retained the title by unanimous decision against Ali. On January 28, 1974 the two met again and this time Ali prevailed via unanimous decision, setting up a bout against the undefeated heavyweight champion George Foreman. Ali employed the famous “rope-a-dope” method to dethrone Foreman, knocking him out in the eighth round in the fight billed as “The Rumble in the Jungle.” Ali went on to defend the title ten times, including the classic “Thrilla in Manila” fight against his nemesis Frazier. In February 1978, Ali lost the title to Leon Spinks by split decision. He won the title back a few months later, making him the first fighter to win the heavyweight crown three times. He retired a year later but came back and challenged WBC champion Larry Holmes for the title in 1980. Ali lost that fight and his final fight against Trevor Berbick a year later. Ali competed in what’s called the “Golden Age of Heavyweight Boxing.”
In an era filled with great heavyweights, Ali was the greatest. Ring Magazine named him Fighter of the Year five times, more than any other boxer in history. The list of boxers he defeated who are enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame is impressive: Foreman, Bob Foster, Frazier, Liston, Archie Moore, Ken Norton and Floyd Patterson. Ali was inducted in 1990.
- Sugar Ray Robinson
There should be no surprise that Robinson ranks number 1 in my list. He is considered by most as the best boxer pound for pound that ever lived.
In his 25-year career, Robinson amassed a record of 173-19-6 with 108 knockouts. From October 1940 to November 1946, Robinson’s first 75 fights, he went 73-1-1. In that span, he beat future hall of famers Sammy Angott, Fritzie Zivic, Jake LaMotta and Henry Armstrong. He won Fighter of the Year in 1942. His only loss was by unanimous decision to LaMotta in February 1943. Robinson and LaMotta fought six times in their career and that would be LaMotta’s only win in the series. After such an impressive run to begin his career, Robinson finally received a shot at the vacant welterweight title against Tommy Bell in his 76th fight. Robinson won the title by unanimous decision over Bell. He successfully defended the title five times, including against future welterweight champion and hall of famer Kid Gavilan, before moving up to middleweight.
In February 1951, Robinson and LaMotta met for the sixth and final time, this time for LaMotta’s middleweight title. Robinson scored a 13th-round knockout in the fight dubbed “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” to take the middleweight title. He lost the title in July 1951 to Randolph Turpin only to take it back two months later. Ring Magazine once again named him Fighter of the Year for 1951. In his next two fights, Robinson successfully defended the title against future Hall of Famers Bobo Olsen and Rocky Graziano by unanimous decision and third-round knockout, respectively. On June 25, 1952, Robinson stepped up to fight the light heavyweight champion and future Hall of famer Joey Maxim, at Yankee Stadium. The temperature that day was over 100 degrees. Robinson led comfortably on all the cards but because of the heat, couldn’t answer the bell for the 14th round and lost the bout. He retired in December 1952 but returned to the ring in January 1955. Robinson knocked out Olsen in December that year to once again become the middleweight champion. In 1957 and 1958, he lost and won back the title from future hall of famers Gene Fullmer and Carmen Basilio. Robinson lost the title to Paul Pender by split decision in January 1960. He got a rematch against Pender for the title five months later but also lost that bout by split decision.
Robinson fought five more years and retired in 1965. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.