By Chris Le
Before Saturday night’s fight, ESPN The Magazine released an article in which Floyd Mayweather audaciously claimed to be the greatest fighter ever. Perhaps possessing the biggest ego in all of sports, he has, on several occasions, grouped himself with legendary fight figures such as Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali. While his split-decision victory over Oscar De La Hoya helped his argument, I’m here to tell you that he’s not even close. With today’s weak pool of talent, infrequent activity and the profusion of irrelevant belts and weight classes, it is nearly impossible for any present-day boxer to approach the greatness of past fighters.
So if Mayweather isn’t the greatest fighter to ever don a pair of boxing gloves, then who is? Here’s my take:
10. Joe Louis, 68-3 (54 KOs) – It pains me to give one of the most revered icons in sports history (and my personal favorite fighter of all-time) such a low ranking; it just seems natural to place him among the top five since he was so admired. Though his less-than-elite level of opposition hurts his standing, he made up for it by being the most dominant champion the world has ever seen. Being possibly the greatest puncher ever, “The Brown Bomber” held the heavyweight title for nearly 12 years, defeating 25 consecutive challengers — both records. But more than anything, it was Louis’ first round knockout of Nazi-poster boy Max Schmeling that elevated his reputation to mythical proportions. In a time of war and segregation, Joe united a divided nation and was loved by all, blacks and whites. Notable Victories: KO 13 Billy Conn, KO 4 Max Baer, KO 8 James J. Braddock, KO 11 Jersey Joe Walcott
9. Ezzard Charles, 96-25-1 (58 KOs) – Having to follow the wildly popular Joe Louis as heavyweight champion, Charles, lacking his predecessor’s charisma and electrifying punching power, was underrated his entire career. However, upon inspecting his resume, it seems impossible to undervalue such an accomplished fighter. The list of men “The Cincinnati Cobra” defeated is simply astonishing, with Archie Moore, a consensus top-three light heavyweight of all-time, topping it — Charles beat Moore three times, once by knockout. It is a credit to his transcendent skill that he was able to become a great heavyweight despite being a natural 175-pounder. Notable Victories: KO 8 Archie Moore, W 10 Charley Burley, W 15 Joe Louis, W 15 Jersey Joe Walcott
8. Benny Leonard, 85-5-1 (69 KOs with 121 no-decisions) – “The Ghetto Wizard” did not have a single flaw in his game, possessing unparallel boxing skill, respectable power in either hand and a defensive aptitude that puzzled over two hundred opponents. He was pretty much the Floyd Mayweather of the early 20th century but with more force behind his blows. Yet, unlike Mayweather, Leonard fought a murders-row lineup of opponents. In possibly the richest era of lightweights, Leonard was the best of them all, and it wasn’t even close. Also, he nearly took the welterweight crown from Jack Britton but was disqualified for hitting Britton while he was still down. Notable Victories: W 15 Lew Tendler, KO 3 Johnny Kilbane, KO 9 Freddie Welsh, W 15 Rocky Kansas.
7. Willie Pep, 229-11-1 (65 KOs) – If you think Mayweather was a virtuoso in the art of being elusive, you need to watch “Will-o-the-Wisp” in action; “The Pretty Boy” looks like Arturo Gatti next to Pep. Renowned as the greatest defensive fighter to ever step into a ring, Pep danced circles around his foes with embarrassing ease and once won a round without throwing a single punch. His defensive acuity along with unmatched boxing ability led him to 229 triumphs in the squared circle, the most by any boxer in history. A comeback after being severely injured from a plane crash (most doctors believed he would never walk again, let alone box) only enhances his greatness. Notable Victories: W 15 Sandy Saddler, W15 Chalky Wright, W 10 Manuel Ortiz, W 15 Sal Bartolo
6. Muhammad Ali, 56-5 (37 KOs) – What else can be said that hasn’t already been said? Perhaps the most recognizable name in sports and one of the most beloved figures in history, Ali was the self-proclaimed greatest of all-time like Mayweather. But what separates Mayweather from “The Louisville Lip” is that Ali has a legitimate claim of defeating three genuine top-10 heavyweights of all-time in Sonny Liston, George Foreman and of course, his famed rival, Joe Frazier. In the greatest era of boxing’s most glamorous division, Ali ruled with the hand and foot speed of a much lighter man, an inhuman will to win and a mental approach to the sport that, in some instances, assured him a triumph even before the opening bell. There will never be another like him. Notable Victories: KO 8 George Foreman, KO 7 Sonny Liston, KO 14 Joe Frazier, KO 7 Jerry Quarry, KO 7 Floyd Patterson
(to be continued…)
Some may find Muhammad Ali’s placement to be shockingly low, as we are accustomed to seeing him top most lists. However, I believe that his persona and humanitarian achievements outside of the ring sometimes influence people’s perception of his greatness as a boxer. My list is based purely on accomplishments and skills within the boxing ring. And yes, the fighters ranked ahead of him are that good.
Check back later in the week for my top five.