Who were The Very Best Heavyweights?

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Boxing expert Mike Lockley Picks His Legends From the Golden Past of Pugilism

By Mike Lockley – Birmingham Daily Mail

This week Birmingham Mail columnist Mike Lockley, former deputy editor of Boxing News, throws his hat into the ring and list the top ten in each division from the dawn of the gloved era.

It’s his opinion – and, no doubt, your views will differ. Please let us know, even send your own hit parade

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali

1, No contest. The self-styled Greatest lived up to his billing. Fighting legends have to meet three criteria: their ability, the calibre of their opposition and their impact beyond the sport. Muhammad Ali ticked all boxes. There has not been a faster heavyweight. Few have possessed his iron chin. Few have shown his bravery: how many other fighters would’ve risen in the 15th round from that Frazier left hook? How many would’ve battled Ken Norton with a broken jaw?

In Sonny Liston and George Foreman, Ali dismantled two men considered unbeatable, considered monsters. He also defeated Norton, Frazier, Floyd Patterson, Jerry Quarry, Ernie Terrell, Earnie Shavers.

His stance against the Vietnam War – and boxing suspension that followed – pushed his profile beyond boxing.

Ali frequently announced: “I am the greatest.” He wasn’t kidding.

  Joe Louis

Joe Louis

2, Joe Louis. A master technician – every move from every remaining film of the Brown Bomber in action could come from a boxing manual. The statistics speak for themselves. In a career spannig 1934 to 1951, Louis lost only three times in 69 fights. After taking the title from Cinderella Man Jim Braddock in 1937, he made 25 title defences and was champ for 12 years.

OK, Louis embarked on a “Bum of the Month” spree of lacklustre opponents, but there are plenty of big name victims on his record. Men like Jersey Joe Walcott, Max Schmeling, Max Baer…

Influence outside the ring? Joe’s annihilation of Schmeling – revenge for a previous stoppage loss to the German – was one in the eye for Hitler’s master-race.

Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson

3, Jack Johnson. In an era when black fighter were blocked from fighting for boxing’s greatest bauble, Johnson showed bravery – some may say belligerence – both inside and outside the ring. He enraged society by dating and marrying white women and delighted in taunting the rednecks who could not abide having a black champ.

Highly skilled and powerful, Johnson virtually had to chase reigning champ Tommy Burns around the world before shaming him into a 1908 title defence in Sydney, Australia. Burns was trounced, sparking a feverish search for a white fighter capable of knocking Johnson off his perch.

Was Mayweather-Pacquiao the biggest fight of all time? No, it was Johnson’s 1910 defence against James J Jeffries, a former champ lured out of retirement to “whup the negro”. In its preview, the New York Times wrote: ‘“If the black man wins, thousands and thousands of his ignorant brothers will misinterpret his victory as justifying claims to much more than mere physical equality with their white neighbours.”

Johnson destroyed Jeffries – a victory that sparked riots across America. Johnson won 73 of 104 contests, losing just 13.

Larry Holmes

Larry Holmes

4, Larry Holmes. The most underrated champ of them all, cursed for reigning immediately after Ali. Holmes had it all – including the best jab ever thrown by a heavyweight. Holmes reigned from 78 to ‘85, making 19 defences. What’s more, in 1992, after coming out of retirement, he took Evander Holyfield the distance.

Forget the loss to Mike Tyson – he was then way past his best. Similarly, forget the win over Ali – The Greatest was no longer great.

Holmes was vilified for announcing: “(Rocky) Marciano couldn’t carry my jockstrap.” Maybe he shouldn’t have said it, but he was right.

   George Foreman

George Foreman

5, George Foreman. This big hitting heavyweight’s legacy was forever tarnished by the loss to Ali, but he was one fearsome fighters – and one of the biggest hitters the division has known. He destroyed Joe Frazier in two rounds in 1973 to take the title, bludgeoned Ken Norton and even blasted out granite chinned George Chuvalo. What’s more, he regained the title by halting Michael Moorer in 1994, aged 45.

Joe Frazier

Joe Frazier

6, Joe Frazier. Magnificent buzzsaw of a fighter who had the misfortune of sharing the ring spotlight with Ali. In 1971, Smokin’ Joe became the first boxer to beat him and that thunderous left hook also destroyed the very best the division had to offer in the mid 60s to early 70s. Quite simply, the man was never in a bad fight.

Sonny Liston

Sonny Liston

7, Sonny Liston. A brooding, malevolent figure who struck fear into the hearts of opponents. He was considered invincible following two, one round wins over Floyd Patterson in 1962 and ‘63. He also hammered top contenders Cleveland Williams, Zora Foley and Nino Valdes.

His standing in the game was irrevocably damaged by Ali. His second loss – a one round dive in ‘65 – was particularly shameful.

Rocky Marciano

Rocky Marciano

8, Rocky Marciano. You can’t argue with perfection – Rocky retired with a perfect 49-0 record, but you can argue with the quality of opposition. White and of Italian stock, he was box-office dynamite – and those around the champ did everything to ensure the dollars kept rolling in by feeding him a series of soft touches.

The only big names on his record – Joe Louis, Ezzard Charles and Jersey Joe Walcott – were way past their prime when they faced Marciano. Even light-heavyweight Archie Moore dropped him. Yes, Marciano was strong, brave and exciting, but he was also small, clumsy and cut-prone. Would George Foreman and Larry Holmes have beaten him? Yes, easily.

Lennox Lewis

Lennox Lewis

9, Lennox Lewis. British fans still don’t know what they witnessed in Lewis, the nearest thing we’ve come to a heavyweight great, even though the Canadians had a greater claim on the towering fighter. He had the build, brains and ability. Just look who he beat – Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, Andrew Golota, Vitali Klitschko. Lewis could be ill-disciplined – lack of application accounted for his losses to Hasim Rahman and Oliver McCall, but at his peak, he was a perfect fighter.

Mike Tyson

Mike Tyson

10, Mike Tyson. I’ve begrudgingly bowed to pressure from our sports desk, but it’s hard to make a case for Tyson to be listed among the all-time greats. He appeals to the casual boxing fans who enjoy spectacular knockouts. Tyson provided plenty of those, but against moderate opposition. Who did he beat of any note?

He won the heavyweight title against one of the division’s most mediocre champs in Trevor Berbick, lost it to Buster Douglas and was beaten by Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis.

Mike Tyson was a TV myth, not a monster.

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