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Brian Antczak


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Daily Article for 2021-12-29

The 25 Greatest Heavyweight Boxers of All Time by Mark D. Hauser

(To give your answer and view the results to this ranking question (top 10), go to: Boxing: Men: All-time: Individuals).


Bob Fitzsimmons and Sam Langford, both of whom started out as middleweights, and Gene Tunney and Ezzard Charles, both of whom were light-heavyweights, were all great fighters, but only very good to excellent heavyweights. Although, we never really found how great a heavyweight Tunney could be because he retired after only defending his Heavyweight Championship twice (once in a rematch with Jack Dempsey) at the age of 31. Also, he won the title from a rusty (Demspey had not fought in three years), past-his-prime 31 year-old Dempsey (Tunney was 29).

Three of the heavyweights I listed were not World Heavyweight Champions: Harry Wills, Langford, and Joe Jeannette (although all three were World Colored Heavyweight Champions). All three of them are black, all of them fought in the first 30 years of the 20th Century, and none of them got a shot at the heavyweight title because Jack Johnson, Jess Willard, and Dempsey never gave them a shot at the World Heavyweight Championship.

Of course, it goes without saying, that what criteria and factors you used in your rankings can greatly influence your placement of the all-time heavyweights. In my article, "Who's the Greatest of All-time in a Particular Sport", I suggested 7 different criteria for ranking athletes in a particular sport:

1. What were the athlete's accomplishments in their sport? Things to consider are titles (especially majors, olympic, or world titles), championships, records set, rankings (in individual sports), career statistics, all-star selections, awards (especially Player of Year awards and MVP awards), and the length of their careers. Also, did the sport's rules or equipment changes affect the athlete's statistics?

2. For how many years were they considered the best in their sport? How much better were they than contemporaries? How weak or strong in ability were their contemporaries?

3. When you watch the athlete perform, do they do things that other athletes in their sport cannot do? Or, to put it another way: How exciting is the athlete to watch because of their amazing athletic ability?

4. How much impact did the athlete have on their sport or the sports world in general?

5. How much did injuries or a lack of opportunity limit their accomplishments?

6. How consistently great was the athlete? br>
7. How much did the athlete's mere presence intimidate their opponents because of the athlete's dominance? In a team sport, did the athlete's mere presence or greatness make their teammates better? Also, in team sports, did the athlete make their teammates better in other ways (e.g., leadership, teamwork)?

I think most of us use most or all of these criteria and factors (and any that I may have missed) either instinctually, or perhaps, after some thought. In boxing, we would also have to seriously consider (probably more so than other sport) how different styles would affect the outcomes of head-to-head bouts. And this, of course, complicates our rankings because just because a boxer is ranked higher than another boxer does not necessarily mean the higher ranked boxer would beat the lower ranked boxer if they met. Contrasting styles could result in your no. 6 ranked heavyweight beating your no. 4, but losing to your no. 8. Try as you will, I submit to you, that it is impossible to avoid these type of initially apparent ranking contradictions in your (or mine) rankings.

Also, should an all-time ranking for a specific weight class in boxing be only how the boxers would do against other in a round robin tournament (see below), or should you take everything into consideration with major emphasis on this dream tournament? Honestly, I do not know which one is right, in fact, sometimes I had to remind myself that I should probably use the latter when I did in my rankings!

In boxing, overall boxing records can be very deceptive. You must carefully analyze all of a boxer's bouts to evaluate his record properly. How old was each boxer at the time that they fought? Was one boxer rusty? Out-of-shape? Washed-up (either physically, mentally, or both)? Still inexperienced? Was one boxer fighting up a weight class? Did the boxer get robbed of a decision? Did the boxer get a gift decision? Was the fight fixed?

Many, if not most, great fighters "ruined" their great records by still fighting when they should have retired years before. Boxing historians do not put much credence in losses by a boxer over the age of, say, 35-38 years-old (even earlier -- depending how much wear and tear the boxer had), especially when they lost to a much younger fighter. Sadly, in boxing, it is actually not common that two great fighters fight each other when they are similar in age and both in the heart-of-their-prime-years. Boxing history maybe filled with more dream match-ups that did not take place at the ideal time than dream match-ups that took place at the ideal time.

How good were the boxers that a boxer lost to and beat (i.e, the level of his competition) is obviously very important. But, at what point in their careers did the two boxers meet can be just as important. Did the boxer beat any great fighters who were in their prime is also a very important question. So is, did the boxer, while at or near his prime, lose (or worse, was knocked-out) to journeymen fighters? How much credit do you give a heavyweight for beating a boxer who was really a light-heavyweight. How about if the heavyweight losses to a light-heavyweight?

Since we are arguing for ALL-TIME heavyweight bragging rights (baddest man on the planet ever), shouldn't we take into consideration what fighters certain boxers avoided? If you want to claim (or, if your fans want to claim) you are the greatest heavyweight of all-time, shouldn't you have to, at the very least, have fought the best boxers of your era?

I find it despicable that Dempsey (see below), who was white, despite holding the title for over 7 years, did not give ANY of the black heavyweights of his era a shot at the heavyweight title. Johnson, who was black, also did not give the TOP (he fought one black journeyman who was not a threat) blacks boxers at that time a shot at his title (see below) because there was no money in a black-black heavyweight bout at that time. There was plenty of money, however, in a white-black heavyweight title bout. All the white supremacists back then would pay good money to see their hero beat up an "inferior" black boxer. The Johnson-James Jefferies bout in 1910 proved that (although they did not get the result they wanted as Johnson won by a 15th round TKO). (Willard, who was also white, only defended his title 3 times in 4 years and also did not defend his title against any black heavyweights.)

Joe Louis, as far as I can tell, never ducked anybody. Neither did (again, as far as I can tell) George Foreman, Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, and Larry Holmes. Other fighters ducked Foreman (Mike Tyson) and Liston (Ingemar Johansson, Floyd Patterson at first) because of their power and size. Ali fought more great heavyweights than anyone in history, however, he did, technically, have a duck when he did not give Foreman a rematch. But, who can blame him? It took him 7 long years to get back his title back that was unjustifiable stripped of him. To immediately risk his title against the younger Foreman -- who was the heavyest hitter in the history of boxing -- did not seem like a smart move. After all, he DID FIGHT Foreman and he did knock him out -- it is not like he won on a disputed split decision. Besides, there was lots on money to be made on Ali-Frazier III.

I tried to take into consideration everything when I came up with my rankings. I will tell you this was not done lightly: I watched film, looked at numerous boxing writer's and historian's lists of top heavyweights, read numerous short biographies and articles about all the boxers, and studied their boxing records closely. Even after all that, I will admit that my ranking (like yours -- whether you care to admit it or not) is just an educated guess and mine could easily change tomorrow. Ultimately, we may never come up with a definitive answer, but at least we can have some fun trying!

This is one of very favorite ranking questions on the site, partly because I have always (or, at least, since I was 8 years-old) been a big Muhammad Ali fan (see my article, "The Magical Transformation of Muhammad Ali"). And partly because of the different eras and contrasting styles of the boxers. Most of these match-ups would have undoubtedly resulted in exciting bouts. Sadly, these match-ups will never occur in my lifetime (although a few on my list did fight each other).

However, a time machine is always possible in the distant future and it would provide a perfect venue for settling this question. You take the top 20 (or 25) heavyweights of all-time and put them in a round-robin tournament while they are in their prime. Each of the fighters fight each other 3 times and the boxer with the best record is crowned the Greatest Heavyweight of All-time. Given the power of the heavyweights, anything can happen in a heavyweight fight; hence, having each boxer fight 3 times each seems like the fairest way. (We could keep sending them back and forward in the time machine so that they would not be worn out).

It is highly doubtful that Ali, Louis, or any other boxer, would go 57-0 (54-3 would be more realistic), however, I could see Ali having a winning record against all of the other 19 heavyweights and also having the best record. I would be mildly surprised if Louis did not come in exactly 2nd place. Foreman, who in my opinion, was the hardest hitter in boxing history (check out the Frazier and Ken Norton fights if you do not believe me), might have some trouble with scientific, defensive boxers (i.e., Ali, Johnson, Holmes, and Tunney) who could take a punch. However, I would be surprised if he did not have the most knockouts in this dream tournament. Marciano and Tunney might have some trouble because of their lack of size. Holmes would have a chance to get the respect he never got; Tyson would have a chance to prove he was not a flash-in-the-pan.

Several of the match-ups would be unbelievable with Ali-Louis topping the list. I suspect Ali would win the 1st and 3rd fights and Louis the 2nd fight. I think Louis would have more of a problem with Ali's combination of blazing foot and hand speed than Ali would have with Louis's fast hands and his two- handed power. Unfortunately, for now, one can only dream of these fights.

The next most intriguing match-up (at least to me) would be a 21 year-old Tyson going against a 25 year-old Foreman. WOW! Never in the history of boxing would there be more punching power in the ring at the same time. I also find it is interesting because both fighters had the potential to be the greatest heavyweight of all-time (OK, the second greatest), but neither did for various reasons.

The highest that Foreman was on any all-time list was fourth (Ring Magazine, 1998, and noted boxing historian and writer, Monte Cox, 2005). Another, noted boxing historian and writer (and a former boxer), the excellent Frank Lotierzo, rated the all the heavyweights from Louis to Lewis, and he placed Foreman 3rd after Ali (1st) and Louis. Hence, while I rate Foreman about 5 places higher than many people's list (e.g., ESPN in 2007 put Foreman 8th and IBRO (International Boxing Research Organization, 2005) and BBC sports (2004) placed Foreman 9th), I am in good company. Cox and Lortierzo are currently the two most respected and knowledgeable boxing writers out there.

Ring Magazine, now that idiots like Nat Fleisher (in 1967 when Ali was 29-0 and again in 1971 (31-1) he would not put Ali in his top 10 -- Fleischer died nine months later) and Burt Sugar (who does not put Foreman in his top 10 and places Dempsey at no. 1 -- see below), are no longer publishers of the magazine, has respectable all-time rankings. (Although, Ring, in their 1998 list, surprisingly places Evander Holyfield 3rd and Johnson only 9th, both of which are highly questionable.)

I consider Foreman (along with Sonny Liston) to be the most underrated heavyweight of all-time. This is mainly because of his loss to Ali, which had a three-fold negative effect: 1. it shortened his 1st Heavyweight Championship reign; 2. it made people think that he was easier to beat than he was; and 3. he lost his confidence and this would have a negative effect on his boxing style.
>br> Who knows how long Foreman would have been the heavyweight champ if a unique boxer like Ali was not around at the same time as Foreman. Probably no other boxer in history could have handled the bombs that Foreman dropped on Ali the night that they fought. The same goes for when Foreman fought Frazier (see below) and Ken Norton. In his last fight before fighting Ali, Foreman displayed incredible punching power and pulverized the highly regarded No. 1 rated heavyweight contender, Norton (30-2, 1-1 with Ai at the time) with three knockdowns before the fight was stopped in the 2nd round. Foreman had won his last 8 fights with 1st or 2nd round knockouts. He was an impressive 40-0 with 37 knockouts (including TKOs), 30 of which occured in the first 3 rounds. The last 30 (!) opponents did not go the distance against Foreman -- the longest stoppage streak in heavyweight history. It is easy to say that a certain boxer would beat Foreman by out-boxing Foreman and/or by winning the late rounds after Foreman gets tired. It is quite another to survive to the late rounds against Foreman. Extremely unlikely against the Foreman of 1972-1974 when he was at his peak.

Lotierzo only rated the heavyweights from Louis to Lewis because he did not feel that the film footage and audio before Louis was good enough to fairly evaluate the boxers from those eras. It is a good point, however, since it all just a guess anyways (since you are still comparing different eras), I included anyone who fought with gloves -- starting with John L. Sullivan who became the heavyweight champ in 1885.

Dempsey, who did not make my top 10, I consider not only the most overrated heavyweight of all-time (someone has to be), but also the most overrated boxer of all-time (especially before 1963). Throughout most of Dempsey’s lifetime he was considered the greatest heavyweight champion of all-time (why he was rated higher than Louis by people who saw them both fight is mind boggling). In the 1950 AP Poll he was voted the greatest fighter (any weight class) ever! In a 1962 Ring magazine poll of 40 boxing experts Dempsey was named the greatest heavyweight of all-time. (I wonder if all or only 99 % of these so-called boxing experts in these two polls were older white guys.) However, in December 1999, Ring Magazine ranked Dempsey only 10th among the heavyweights (Ali was first, Louis was second), dropping behind Louis, Marciano, and Johnson despite the fact that none of them has fought since 1962. Hmm.

Perhaps Dempsey was finally getting punished for not giving any of the great black heavyweights of his time, particularly Harry Wills (16th in Ring's latest poll), a shot at his title. Dempsey only weighed 188 pounds in his prime and would have trouble against the larger heavyweights above, however, on the basis of his knockout power, I will place him 11th (although I am not convinced he would have beaten the 6'3" 210-215 lb. Wills if they had fought).

In the beginning of his prime years he lost 3 fights, twice to a (good, but not great) fat boxer named Willie Meehan (whom Wills beat) and was knocked out in the 1st round by a journeyman, Fireman Jim Flynn (some claim this was a fix -- Dempsey says he did not throw the fight).

When Jack Dempsey finally became the heavyweight champion, beating a 37 year-old, rusty (he had not fought in over 3 years) stiff, Jess Willard, Dempsey would not fight any of the black heavyweights. Dempsey blamed his manager, however, a few days after he won the heavyweight crown, he was quoted in the New York Times as saying he would "draw the colour line and pay no attention to negro challengers." As a result, Wills, the number one contender and World Colored Heavyweight Champ, Langford, and Sam McVea (although the latter two were both past their prime when Dempsey won the crown; Joe Jeannette was at the end of his career), never got shots at the heavyweight crown.

In the 7 years he held the title he only defended it successfully 5 times (twice against light heavyweights) and went 3 three years without defending it. Then he lost twice to Tunney, who, while a great fighter, spent almost all of his career as a light-heavyweight. In addition, Dempsey never beat a great heavyweight in his entire boxing career. He beat an excellent fighter, Frenchman Georges Carpentier, however, he was a light-heavyweight and at 172 lbs. was 16 pounds lighter than Dempsey when they fought. He also knocked out future heavyweight champ Jack Sharkey (between Tunney fights), however, he is not considered one of the 25 greatest heavyweights of all-time and it would be 5 years before Sharkey won the heavyweight title and presumably in his prime. In addition, Dempsey was behind on points when Sharkey turned to the referee to complain about a low blow and Dempsey punched an unguarded Sharkey.

Even Dempsey's title defenses were not impressive: he beat a past-his-prime 187 lb Billy Miske; was losing on points to Bill Brennan after 10 rounds; then he beat 2 light-heavyweights -- Carpentier and Tommy Gibbons (Givvons); then was knocked down twice by the huge, but raw Luis Angel Firpo -- the second time Dempsey was floored he went sailing head first through the ring ropes, and pushed back into the ring by reporters which was against the rules. One source claims it took more than the ten seconds stipulated by the rules for Dempsey to get back in the ring, but it doesn't appear that way in the film. Dempsey's fan claim it was a push, but it was not ruled that way. (It appears to me to be a solid punch with a push at the end of the punch.) I wonder that if Dempsey had not a very popular champion at the time, that Demsey would have been ruled knocked-out.

As for Demspey's second loss to Tunney and "the long count", if you watch the film, it seems pretty clear Tunney could have gotten up earlier, he was merely listening to the referee's count to buy time (Buster Douglas did the same thing against Tyson years later). It was Dempsey's fault he did not go a neutral corner (as was now required after a knockdown) -- not Tunney's. Ironically, the Dempsey camp requested the new neutral corner rule (which was not yet universal). Which I find interesting because when Dempsey won the title from Willard -- he did not even let Willard stand-up all the way before he started pummeling him again.

Because of his knock-out power and exciting, swarming style, along with his immense popularity, the facts have sometimes gotten lost. I rate Dempsey one slot lower than any list I have seen (everyone else has him in the top 10), so I am expecting criticism. ( However, I have good reasons, so come get me Dempsey fans.) I would favor Tyson of 1989 over Dempsey of 1919 and he lost to Tunney twice, so I cannot put him in my top 10.

Before 1962, the heavyweight champs, especially many of the better ones, were not as big as most of the champs since then. For example, Liston, Ali, Foreman, Holmes, Riddick Bowe, and Lewis, who were all excellent heavyweights, and some of the recent champs (none of them good or proven enough for purposes of our discussion) are all bigger than most of the heavyweight champs of old. How much does this fact effect your ratings? There is no right or wrong answer here. However, if your main criteria for ranking the heavyweights is how each of the top heavyweights would do head-to-head against each other in their prime (seems reasonable to me), then it seems safe to conclude that the smaller heavyweight champs of old would have trouble against the bigger, more modern heavyweights. After all, it is one thing to beat a pretty good heavyweight bigger than you, it is quite another to beat an excellent or great heavyweight (champ) who is bigger than you.

Liston, Foreman, and Tyson were all modern day destroyers. Liston and Foreman title runs were interrupted by the greatest boxer (or, at least the greatest heavyweight) of all time (Ali), while Tyson did it to himself when he fired his trainer, Kevin Rooney (along with other reasons). Tyson, who was the youngest heavyweight in history at age 20, hit his peak at age 21 when he knocked out Michael Spinks in 91 seconds! While it was obvious that Spinks was scared of Tyson, it was also obvious that the Tyson intimidation factor was part of made Tyson great at that time.

Hence, I could see Tyson coming in around 5th in our dream tournament. I think a 21 year-old Tyson would knock out Frazier in his prime most of the time -- it seems like it would Foreman-Frazier all over again. Although, I am not convinced any of the boxers I rated in the top 10 would be that intimated by Tyson, but they would be respectful of his power which would give Tyson an advantage. The bottom line is that I do not know where Tyson belongs because his prime was so short and he was never a great fighter after the age of 21.

Tyson of 1986-89, like Dempsey (1919-1923), Louis (1937-May 1941), Liston (1959-1963), and Foreman (1970-Sept. 1974), seemed invincible because of his tremendous power, intensity, and his ability to intimidate the other boxer. Then he was exposed physically and mentally in February 1990 by 42-1 underdog Douglas and was never the same fighter. Essesionally, Tyson was washed up at 23 and as it turns out, he hit his peak when he was 20-21 years old (he knocked-out Spinks 3 days shy of 22nd birthday). Here is a good summary from wikipedia:

"In late 1988, Tyson fired longtime trainer Kevin Rooney, the man many credit for honing Tyson's craft after the death of D'Amato. Without Rooney, Tyson's skills quickly deteriorated and he became more prone to looking for the one-punch knockout, rather than using the combinations that brought him to stardom. He also began to head-hunt, neglecting to attack the opponent's body first. In addition, he lost his defensive skills and began to barrel straight in toward the opponent, neglecting to jab and slip his way in."

In addition, Cus D'Amato had died in 1985, Jim Jacops died in 1988, and then Tyson foolishly allowed Don KIng to wrestle the management and promotion of his career away from the respectable Bill Cayton. Tyson slowly deteriorated mentally, both as a person and as a boxer. He displayed mental weakness in the ring when things did not go his way (e.g., biting of Holyfield's ear -- twice!). In the last 15 years of his career he was, at best, only a good heavyweight.

I get the impression from reading the internet that Tyson fans (some of which rank Tyson as the greatest heavyweight ever -- which is silly) want the rest of us to forget about the last 15 years of his career when evaluating his greatness. (I will forget his last 2 fights -- just like Ali's last 2 fights -- and fights of many other great heavyweights who were pushing 40 and washed-up at the end of their careers.) I do not think the rest of us are willing to do that. (Lotierzo, in particular, is critical of Tyson and does not think he was a great heavyweight. IBRO and Ring ranked him 14th, Cox placed him 10th, and he was not in ESPN's top 10).

I, for one, am torn when it comes to ranking Tyson. I think Douglas and Evander Holyfield (and other fighters), who were not intimidated by Tyson, exposed Tyson both mentally and physically. However, I also feel that that if they fought the Tyson of 1988 they would have both been knocked-out within 5 rounds. The same could be said for many of the heavyweights on the list above. And like I implied above, if we had my dream tournament, there is no way Tyson would come in 14th place out of the 20 (or 25) greatest heavyweights. While some of the greatest heavyweights would undoubtedly exploit Tyson's weaknesses (Ali would have the easiest time), they would still have to last 12 (or 15) rounds without getting knocked-out. Like Foreman, Louis, and Liston at their destroyer-peak-period, not likely for most of them.

I guess what I am trying to say to the Tyson critics is that it is much easier to exploit a boxer's weaknesses when he longer has confidence in himself, is mentally lost, lacks focus and intensity, did not fight for four years, and has picked-up bad habits offensively and defensively -- than when a boxer is at his peak. (As implied above, Tyson skills were deteriorating before his rape conviction and subsequent layoff.) And to the Tyson's fans, they need to accept the fact the fact Tyson had some weakness even while he was at his peak -- it is just that Tyson had only fought boxers who were either not good enough, did not have the right size or skills, did not have a good enough chin, or were intimidated by him -- and his weakness had not yet been exploited yet by the right boxer.

Quick, name a great heavyweight that Tyson beat (Holmes was 38) that was anywhere near his prime when they fought. Exactly, none. Ali beat 5 of the 25 above (Patterson was a 30 years-old ex-champ the first time they fought and everyone else was either in the heart of their of prime, or the heavyweight champ, or both). So get with reality Tyson fans -- he is not the greatest heavyweight of all-time. And while we are at it, boxing experts, 14th for Tyson is a little low.

Before we get to another difficult heavyweight to rank (Mariciano), let me point out that the experts seem to be in universal agreement that Ali fought the highest caliber of opponents in the history of heavyweight boxing and (I'm excluding his two fights when he was old against Holmes and Trevor Berbick) he beat all of them, had a winning record against of all them, and was never knocked-out. He fought more heavyweight champion contenders than anyone in history: 80% (49 out of 61) of the boxers Ali went up against were either a former or current top 10 boxer. Louis is second with 76% (54 out of 71), whereas Marciano fought fewer than 33% (16 out of 49). Ali fought boxers who had an average record of 33-5-1, Louis opponents had an average record of 38-10-3 and Maciano's opponents were 30-10-2 on average. Ali won an amazing 12 times (losing 3) against heavyweights who at one time held at least part of the heavyweight title (Liston, 2-0; Patterson, 2-0; Jimmy Ellis, 1-0; Ernie Terrell, 1-0; Frazier, 2-1; Foreaman, 1-0; Ken Norton, 2-1; and Leon Spinks, 1-1). If we limit it to widely accepted heavyweight champions (eliminating Ellis, Terrell and Norton), Ali's record was defeated 8 (losing 2) against heavyweight (or ex) champs. Hmm.

Marciano, as boxing fans know, retired undefeated (49-0) while he was the heavyweight champ when he was 32 years-old. He is ranked 5th all-time by IBRO, 6th by Ring, ESPN, and myself, but only 11th by Cox. I have seen him 1st on some boxing fan's lists on the internet. This is doubtful: as my father said when I first said asked what about Marciano (?), "come on, whom did he beat that wasn't old and/or washed up?" (my father always considered Louis and Ali the two greatest heavyweights ever and to my father's credit, he was saying it about Ali back in 1967 before practically anyone else was suggesting it and while he was not in Ring Magazine's top 10). Marciano fans will counter with "he can only beat the fighters that are in front of him, besides you have to give him credit for always finding a way to win." Both valid points -- let's examine them.

Marciano was 28 years-old when in the 8th round he knocked-out a washed-up 37 year-old Joe Louis. A 29 year-old Marciano was put on the canvas by a 38 year-old Jersey Joe Walcott and was behind on all three (2 of them badly) score cards (4-7-1, 5-7, 4-8), before knocking out Walcott in the 13th round. It should be noted that Walcott was a better boxer in his 30's than his 20's, however, he was not a big heavyweight (196 lbs., 6'0", 74 inch reach) and 38 is still, well, 38 years-old. Despite the win, it was not a very impressive showing by Marciano. However, they fought eight months later and Mariciano knocked out a 39 year-old Walcott in the 1st round. Then, at ages 30 and 31, Marciano twice beat (one by knockout, one by decision) Ezzard Charles, who was 32 and 33 years-old at the time of the fights. Charles was an excellent boxer, but was at his peak as a light-heavyweight and was not a great heavyweight, losing twice to a much older Walcott as well as lesser known heavyweights. Then in his last fight, a 32 year-old Marciano is knocked down by a 41 year-old Archie Moore (who was a light-heavyweight most of his career), however, Marciano went on to knock-out Moore in the 9th round.
The bottom line is that the main reasons that Marciano was undefeated was because: 1. he came up in one of the weakest periods in heavyweight history (only now has it been weaker); 2. he did not fight a top tier heavyweight over 200 lbs.; 3. he retired after only 6 title defenses before he got old (32 in his last fight); and 4. received a dubious decision in his first fight with Roland La Starza. If he had fought in the Ali-Frazier-Foreman era -- I guarantee you he would not have been undefeated.

I should mention that Marciano had 43 knockouts in his 49 bouts and that his 87.75 knock-out percentage is the highest among the heavyweights. However, at 5'10" and with only a 67 or 68 reach and 184-188 lbs, he would realistically have trouble with some of the big heavyweights above. He also had great stamina, but was not a good technical boxer.

Louis was the champ for 12 years, had 25 successful title defenses, fast hands, excellent technique (perhaps the best ever in the heavyweight division), and power in both hands -- pretty impressive stuff. However, he was not a big heavyweight (200 lbs in his prime), had slow feet, had a solid, but not a great chin, and his first bout with 23 year-old light-heavyweight Billy Conn while Louis was in his absolute prime (27 years old, 52-1 record), makes it impossible for me to rate him higher than Ali. If Conn gave Louis that much trouble with his boxing skills and speed, imagine how much trouble Ali -- who was better, bigger, and had faster hands and feet than Conn -- would give Louis. In addition, Ali had the excellent lateral movement that Conn had that gave Louis so much trouble -- only better.

And if a young-in-his-prime-Foreman (who had more power than Louis), could not knock-out a 32 year-old Ali, why would you except Louis to knock out a 25 year-old-in-his prime Ali? Ali -- was never knocked out in his entire career and had the greatest chin in heavyweight history -- would simply (note: I did not say easily) out-box Louis almost every time they met. My guess is that Ali would win at least 75 % of the time against Louis. And I am big Louis fan (just like my father) -- I especially liked his workman like approach in the ring.

Another mark against Louis was his first bout with ex-heavyweight champ, a German named Max Schmeling (a 10-1 underdog) in June of 1936. Louis was 22 years-old, 27-0, and in the beginning of his prime, when he was badly out-boxed and knocked-out in the 12th round by the 30 year-old Schmeling. Schmeling was considered to be on the down side of his career and he was an excellent, but by no means, a great all-time heavyweight. Louis admits he was overconfident and got sloppy (for 12 rounds?), but a loss is a loss. More importantly, being knocked-out, especially when you are not over 35 is, well, a knock-out. To his credit, an improved Louis destroyed Schmeling two years later (Louis was now the heavyweight champ) in their rematch with a first round knock-out in a politically and racially (with Hilter trying to prove white supremacy) motivated match.

I had a tough time deciding whether to put Foreman or Johnson 3rd. There is not a lot of footage of Johnson and the footage that exists is grainy, incomplete, and some of it is lacking in audio. Fleischer, who was the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Ring Magazine from 1922-1972 (the time of his death), rated Johnson the Greatest Heavyweight Champion ever (in September 1971) and considered Johnson the greatest defensive boxer he ever saw. IBRO, Cox, and BBC Sports (2004) place Johnson 3rd all-time, ESPN and myself place him 4th, and Ring Magazine surprisingly places him 9th (I guess the current editors of Ring do not respect Fleischer's opinion anymore than I do).

Johnson, was the reining World Colored Heavyweight Champion when in 1908 he easily defeated Tommy Burns to become the first black World Heavyweight Champion. Burns, who was 5 '7 168" lbs and really more of a middleweight, was no match for the 6'1/1/2" 192 lb in-his-prime Johnson. Of course, this did not go well with a large percentage of the white community at the time who considered blacks inferior to whites in all ways. However, in a perverse way, this fact generated great interest in any heavyweight championship fight between a black and a white. White people were more than willing to shell out big bucks to see their white challenger defeat the "inferior" black boxer. However, they had little interest in seeing two blacks fight for the heavyweight crown. Hence, Johnson see no monetary upside to defending his title against a top black challenger -- all of whom he fought and beaten before he became champion. Hence, Johnson, much to the anger of the black community, never defended his title against a top (he fought one black boxer, journeyman Battling Jim Johnson, who was not much a threat to defeat Johnson) black challenger in the 7 years he held the world championship crown.

Since there was interest in any black-white heavyweight championship fight, Johnson was not in the exact same situation as Dempsey and Willard. However, it is not fair to criticize Dempsey and Willard, and not criticize Johnson. Johnson, after all, could have taken three big paydays against the top 2 white contenders and ex-heavyweight champ Jeffries (which he made $225,000 (including $60,000 in film rights) in 1910) and then risking his title against the top black contenders. This way Johnson could have made some money AND Langford, Joe Jeannette, and Sam McVea (McVey) could have all got a shot at the heavyweight crown. But, he did not, and sadly 4 (Wills -- the No. 1 contender when Dempsey was champ) excellent black boxers in the first quarter of the 20th Century did not get a shot at the heavyweight crown that they deserved.

Johnson started his pro career in 1900 and became the Black Heavyweight Champion in 1902 and the World Colored Heavyweight Champion in 1903. He lost a bout to Jim Choyski in 1903 and placed in a prison cell for 23 days because boxing was still illegal in New York. The more experienced Choyski taught Johnson about different boxing skills and is credited with improving his defensive skills. Johnson continued to develop as a boxer as a result of this unusual encounter.

Because they were both flamboyant and because the white establishment of the times did not like both Johnson and Ali (mainly before Ali beat Foreman in 1974), although for different reasons, Ali and Johnson are often compared to each other. Here is some excerpts from Lotierzo's excellent article, "Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali: Alike But Definitely Different":

"I know today many writers go by two things, what the writers of Johnson's era said, and the film they have seen of him. I don't belong to that fraternity. The film available on Johnson is so herk-jerky with missing frames, I defy anyone who says they know how great Johnson was based purely on the film they have studied. It's not like there is a library full of it to view. ... Johnson fought defensive and sought to block, slip, and parry his opponents punches before striking offensively. ... Some base their evaluation on a five minute highlight reel justifying Johnson's defensive wizardry on. ... Ring Magazine founder Nat Fleischer loved Johnson and despite supporting Ali's stance on the Vietnam war, didn't care for his fighting style. At that time Fleischer was the voice of boxing and was the major influence. Those who did have a voice and a pen usually never challenged Fleischer on any stand he took regarding a fighter or boxing. A lot of Johnson's legendary status today is derived mainly from Fleischer singing his praise from 1922 through his death in 1972."

After coming across Fleischer's top 10 heavyweight list from 1971 and reading Lotierzo's article on Johnson and Ali, I was inspired to write my article, "Thank Heavens Nat Fleischer Opinions No Longer Influence the Boxing World." Here is the majority of that article:

"Fleischer was held in such high esteem that he was often referred to as a noted boxing historian and writer "who saw every heavyweight champion from Jim Jeffries to Joe Frazier." As if that meant that he knew more about boxing than the rest of us and that we should cherish his opinions. Well, I for one -- do not cherish his opinions -- and feel some of his opinions were moronic (that is the nicest word I could think of) and totally lacking in objectivity. Not a good combination for someone who was the most influential writer, editor, and publisher in boxing for 50 years. Nowadays, from what I have read recently on the internet, boxing fans and writers take some of his ridiculous opinions with a grain of salt. Take for example, his last rankings of the all-time heavyweights, which were published in Ring Magazine in September 1971, about 9 months before he died.

The title of this article in Ring Magazine was "Clay an All-time Top 10? Definitely No!". Keep in mind, at this time, Cassuis Clay had changed his name to Muhammad Ali seven years before this and practically the entire media no longer called Ali by his birth name, Clay. Ali was 31-1 and just lost his first fight to Frazier in the "Fight of the Century." The last five fights before Ali's exile from boxing were, in my opinion, the most impressive display of boxing ever. The tremendous power and incredible combinations and elusiveness that Ali displayed in the Cleveland Williams bout was breathtaking. (After Fleischer died, Ali went on to beat Foreman and Frazier twice -- displaying an amazing ability to take a punch, ring smarts, and heart. However, Fleicher had seen enough of Ali to rate him near the very top before Fleischer died, in fact, Ali was never the same fighter after his 3 and a half year exile due to the loss of bounce in his legs.)

However, this was not just about Ali; Fleisher only rated Joe Louis 6th (considered 1st or 2nd all-time along with Ali by every other knowledgeable boxing fan, writer, or historian), and the first 5 heavyweights he listed all fought before 1930. Were there really 40 straight years of mediocre heavyweight boxing? Two of the boxers in his top 10 were really middleweights (Bob Fitzsimmons and Sam Langford -- both great fighters, but not great heavyweights) who would have likely been destroyed by Louis, Ali, Liston, and Frazier (the last two also did not make Fleischer's top 10). 7 of the top 10 boxers listed in his top ten were white -- the only three black boxers listed were Louis and Jack Johnson (who was No. 1 on the list) and Sam Langford (no. 7).

I could go on, but I think you get the point. While any of these all-time lists are just a guess -- I found his list laughable and totally lacking in logic and objectiveness. I find it shocking that his boxing opinions were held in high regard for 50 years. Thanks heavens the boxing world came to their senses after he died."

OK, Nat, we get it, you did not like Ali's style and the fact that Ali was not a great knockout puncher. Fleisher mostly favored (with Johnson being the exception) old-time fighters who stood toe-to-toe and slugged it out with their opponents. The young Ali circled his opponents, jabbed at them, and then moved away so they could not hit him. Ali was merely taking advantage of his amazingly quick hands and feet and his uncanny ability to judge the distance of the other fighters' punches. Ali did not fight this way because he was not tough or could not take a punch. This is actually a superior to way box if you have the athletic ability to pull it off -- only Fleisher was too blind to see this -- and as a result grossly underrated Ali.

Ali is the only heavyweight in history to have the athletic ability to fight this way and is one of the reasons that Ali is, not only the greatest heavyweight of all-time, but also the greatest pound-for-pound boxer ever. Even the great Sugar Ray Robinson, considered the greatest boxer by many boxing experts (I put him second), did not have the athletic ability to fight like Ali. Only Sugar Ray Leonard (whom I put 3rd), the best boxer of the last 30 years, had the athletic ability to box like Ali -- and he was a welterweight.

You cannot obviously just look at how long a boxer was champion to see how great he was. You must also look at the level of his competition during that time period as well as other factors. Louis was the Heavyweight Champion for 12 straight years, however, during that time time period he never beat a truly great heavyweight. When he beat Schmeling (whom I ranked 20th all-time) in their rematch, Schmeling was 32 years-old (Louis was 24 and in his prime) and past his prime. Most observers felt Louis lost his 1st match with Walcott, but was given a gift decision (Louis was knocked down twice by Walcott). OK, Louis was 33 years old when they fought, however, Walcott was actually 4 months older than Louis. To his credit, Louis, in their rematch 7 months later, knocked-out Walcott (now 34 1/2 years-old) in the 11th round. While in no way am I suggesting Louis fought weak competition or ducked anybody, his competition was not as tough as Ali's and Louis did not have his title taken away from him (unjustly) while he was in his absolute prime (between the ages of 25 1/4-28 3/4) like Ali. Just something for Louis fans to think about before they start spewing out the the 12-year-reign-25-title-defenses argument.

I know that my father and I agree (along with any Ali fan) that Ali would never have lost to Frazier (I actually think Ali won 8 rounds to 7 in that fight, but that is another story) or Norton if he did not have to endure the 3 year, 7 month lay off during his prime years. I am sure Ali would have lost eventually -- especially if he fought Foreman more than once while Ali was in his 30's. Ali was not one to retire early like Marciano wisely did. If Ali lost to a young-in-his-prime Foreman, say, the second time (which is a reasonable guess) they fought, Ali would have held the title close to the same 12 years Louis held it -- with greater competition. (Ali won the title in 1964 and fought Foreman in 1974.) And Ali might have had enough in his tank to win the title back from Foreman in a 3rd bout. Who knows? You would think they would both try to avoid each other, but the money might be too great to resist.

Sonny Liston is another underrated heavyweight whose too short heavyweight reign was interrupted by Ali. I am sure them some of Liston's personal problems Liston brought upon himself. In boxing, however, with the possible exception of the second Ali fight, Listion appeared to have some bad luck or else he would have been the heavyweight champion for a longer time. First, he had trouble getting a shot at the title (Patterson fought 6 lesser fighters (Johansson twice) first over a 6 year period), then after a short reign, along came the talented, too-fast-for-Liston Ali.

Liston looked invincible according to the boxing experts and the media before his first fight with Ali (called Cassius Clay at the time). Liston was a 7-1 favorite and a poll of the media picked Liston to win, (many predicting an early knockout) 43-3. Liston's age was listed at 32, however, he exact age is in dispute and some think he was older than that. He did not look old against Patterson whom he destroyed twice the year before. Then Ali relatively easily out-boxed Liston before Liston quit before the start of the 7th round (claiming a sore shoulder). Liston quiting or his sore shoulder did not effect the outcome of the match. If you watch the bout it was obvious, that despite Liston's great power and size, that Ali was too good a boxer for Liston, especially given the 22 year-old Ali's blinding hand and foot speed. Of course, Ali critics did not give Ali his due afterwards, claiming the fight was fixed and that Liston "got old in the ring." The last excuse is logically impossible (people get old gradually -- not in instance), but I must admit, creative none the less.

My theory about all this is that in effort to not give Ali credit for being a great boxer, the press and boxing experts ending up unintentionally underrating Liston historically. Liston was the Forman of his day, with the main differences being their ages when they won the title and the age of Ali when they lost to him. And, of course, the fact that Ali gave Liston a rematch, but not Foreman.

Which brings us to Ali-Liston II -- one of the most mysteries heavyweight fights in boxing history. Liston was knocked out in the first round with one punch -- one that some people at ringside claim they never saw. Well, there was a punch and it did not connect, however, it did it not appear to be a punch that could knock-out a heavyweight boxer. Liston was known to have connections with the mob and some people think Liston took a dive to satisfy the mop bettors. But, if that was the case why did he get up and keep fighting? Referee Jersey Joe Walcott had never counted out Liston because Ali did not go to a neutral corner. Then after the time keeper (and Fleisher) told Walcott that Liston had been down for than 10 seconds he stopped the fight -- improperly -- since Liston had never been officially counted out. Why didn't Liston and his corner put up more of a protest when Walcott stopped the fight? Everything that transpired from the moment Liston was punched till the fight was stopped was very strange; from Liston unexpectedly hitting the canvas to Ali standing over Listion screaming at Liston to get up and fight to Walcott incompetent handling of the knockdown (never directing Ali to go a neutral corner) and the stoppage of the fight. I do not know what to make of their second fight -- I basically consider it a non-fight. I do know that judging from outcome of the first fight, the confidence it gave Ali, and Liston and Ali both being another year older (both of which favored Ali), I think Liston had very little chance of winning regardless of his best efforts.

Liston went on to continue boxing successfully for another 4 years before his mysteryious death in 1969. Before the Ali fight, Liston was x-y with xx knockouts -- in the first 2 rounds. Patterson and Johansson fought each 3 times instead of either one (initially) giving Liston a shot. Eventually Patterson succumbed to public pressure and his worst fears were realized twice (2 first round knockouts) as Liston pulverized him. If not for Ali, Liston might have been champ until the rest of the decade. While Liston would have been a good match up Frazier (judging from the two Foreman-Frazier fights), by the time they fought, Liston might have been to old to win.

Which brings us to Frazier -- a fighter whose stature in boxing history was sky high after beating Ali in a close bout and remaining undefeated. Then Foreman demolished Frazier in 2 rounds -- shockingly knocking him down 6 times ("down goes Frazier" as Howard Cosell screamed after the first knockdown). Never in the history of heavyweight boxing had the reigning heavyweight champion been so throughly destroyed inside the ring. And in just sit short minutes, Frazier reputation in boxing was destroyed also. It has not yet recovered and probably never will. Whether this is fair or not is a matter of opinion. Personally, I think Frazier is underrated. While Frazier would have problems Ali, Foreman, Louis, and Liston in their prime, he stood a good chance (or, at least an even chance) to beat any other heavyweights in history.

Larry Holmes unfortunately had to follow the popular Ali as the next dominant heavyweight champ. This, coupled with mediocre competition and a lack of charisma, put a damper on his popularity and perhaps his place in boxing history. Holmes was the champ for x years and made y successful title defenses. Then, with a record of 48-0 and approaching Marciano’s record of winning the first 49 matches of a heavyweight career, he lost his crown in a close bout to former light heavyweight champ, Michael Spinks. Then, apparently out of frustration (Holmes thought he won the fight) and poor judgment said after the loss that, “Marciano couldn’t carry his jock strap. “ (Not that Marciano wanted to; beside he was dead at this point, so it might be a little difficult). This disrespectful comment did not help Holmes’ already limited popularity. Then, in a bout that most observers felt that he won, he lost in his rematch to Spinks in a split decision. Holmes couldn’t seem to catch a break.

However, he was an excellent boxer with one of the best left jabs in history, good defense, a solid chin, and good size (6’”, lbs, “ reach). He also displayed good power at times, but lacked the one-punch knockout power. At times, he was not as dominant against weaker competition as he should have been. It is hard to know where to place Holmes because of the lack of another great heavyweight during his era to gage his greatness. It should be noted that some boxing fans and writers think he is underrated for the reasons discussed above. I think he would do well in our dream tournament because he could handle a variety of boxing styles.

As noted above, Tunney, at age 29, won the heavyweight crown in 1926 against a rusty, but not-too-old (31) Dempsey. A year later, Tunney won again in their rematch. Tunney retired shortly after that in 1928-29 with a 70-1 record and no losses as a heavyweight. His only loss came against Harry Greb, whom boxing historians consider to be one of the 10 greatest fighters ever (2nd in IBRO poll). Tunney beat Greb in their rematches. Tunney was formally the light heavyweight champion of the world where he spent most of his career. He is considered one the 4 greatest light heavyweights ever. Many people list Dempsey ahead of Tunney, but that makes little sense to me and is another example of people (without good reason) rating Demspey too high. While in the first bout Dempsey was rusty, the rematch bout was Dempsey’s third bout in a year (Dempsey beat Sharkey in between the Tunney fights) while Tunney had not fought in a year. Tunney was only 2 years younger, smaller, beat Dempsey both times, was clearly a better technical boxer, lost only once in his career and never as a heavyweight; while Dempsey lost x times, sat on his crown while avoiding black heavyweights, and never beat a great heavyweight. Let’s see , um, advantage … (I paused, because I just realized that Burt Sugar, who rates Dempsey as the greatest heavyweight ever, is almost as big an idiot as Fleisher. I can see Ali beating Dempsey at least 9 times out of 10 and I do not think that most of the bouts between them would be close.)

Since any all-time ranking is really just a guess, I tried not to be too critical of other people's rankings, unless they did not seem to me to be in touch with reality. Dempsey's fans are not going to like my low ranking of Dempsey (11th) and Marciano fan's are not going to like Cox's low ranking of Marciano (also 11th, which is the lowest I have seen him on any list.) Cox wrote a whole article basically criticizing his fellow boxing historians at IBRO (29 of them) for ranking Marciano too high (5th). Cox made some good arguments in the article and despite Marciano's 49-0, I cannot say for sure that 11th is wrong for Marciano (even though I ranked him 6th). I did not see as this ridiculous like Fleisher not putting Ali in the top 10, or Sugar placing Dempsey first, or Tyson and Marciano fans (no boxing expert that I saw put them first on their list) placing them 1st. Another boxing writer, David Martinez, ranked the top 10 heavyweight and listed 4 others he considered, and never mentioned Foreman. Not putting Foreman in the top 14 is just plain silly.

But, then again, who knows? Let's say we poll the 100 foremost boxing experts in the world and average out their top 20 or 25 rankings of the greatest heavyweights all-time. Then we crank out our time machine and have our the dream tournament that I proposed by having the top 20 or 25 heavyweights of all-time fight each 3 times while they are in their prime. Now you know as well as I do, that the results of the tournament will never (OK, a one in a million chance) match anyone's ranking exactly or the average of the expert's rankings (which theoretically would be the heavyweights' seedings for the tournament). At least a couple of the heavyweights would do significantly better than expected and at least a couple of the heavyweights would do significantly worse than expected. Of course, my ranking would be the closest to how they would finish and yours would be the second closest, but nobody's would be perfect. Just something to think about when you look at somebody's else rankings or when and if you think your ranking is the be all and end all to the all-time heavyweight's rankings.


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