No part of this website may be reproduced distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without permission of Dru Hepkins. Copyright 2010 Andrew Hepkins. All Rights Reserved.
1) Muhammad Ali
Record: 56 wins (37 KO) 5 losses (56-5)
Boxing Era: 1960-1981
In every aspect of the sport, Muhammad Ali was electrifying. Ali was an exciting, outspoken, undefeated boxing phenomenon in is prime and was by far boxing’s best entertainer. Ali would often taunt his opponents, fake punches, and do his famous shuffles in the ring. He was also just as good a boxing promoter as he was a boxer; his loud mouth trash talk, and rhyming antics were truly larger than life and unprecedented in the sport.
Eventually Ali was stripped of the heavyweight title, banned from boxing, and faced imprisonment during his undefeated prime for refusing to fight in Vietnam because of his religious beliefs. This was Ali’s most controversial moment. Ali’s rise to dominance in the boxing world came after the careers of African-American Champions Jack Johnson, and Joe Louis, and many African-Americans still held resentment for the Nation’s treatment of them. Jack Johnson was always kept down and discredited. Joe Louis was a hero but still was betrayed and derailed with taxes. Muhammad Ali was a strong, confident, and a new kind of African-American heavyweight champ encased in many of the controversies of the ’60s. The country tried to shame him as an unpatriotic draft evader for not fighting in Vietnam, but Ali had a very serious argument that reverberated all over the world. He voiced his disapproval of the reasons, or lack there of, why we were at war in the first place. Primarily he made note of his own people being denied rights, jailed and discriminated against. He noted with disgust that his people, even African-American women were being unfairly treated and oppressed, hunted by police, attacked by dogs and hosed down like animals in the street. He asked why he should be forced to fight for a country that hasn’t even given his people their rights and equality at home yet, all to help murder and oppress other people of color 10,000 miles away. One of his famous one-liners was “No Vietcong ever called me N****r.” Ali eventually won his case and through Muhammad Ali and other rulings, there was no more mandatory draft for US citizens. Ali’s case was a very historic event in US history.
Ali returned despite that huge 3 year set back, rebounded and still found a way to emerge on top again beating the best of the best.Ali brought us the most famous fights in boxing and in one of sports most action packed and competitive eras. He got the best of the exchanges with Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton, and Leon Spinks—-and he still found a way to do it when he was no longer invincible, and in his prime. Most of his post-prime fights are all legendary and we know some of them by their nicknames like “The Thrilla in Manilla”, “The Rumble in the Jungle”.
Ali was already a living legend but catapulted himself into all time boxing supremacy after dismantling a young, undefeated, and then unstoppable Big George Foreman. Ali was getting older, and people finally thought of him as the underdog who’s time was up. Foreman obliterated Frazier and became champion, and many thought Ali’s humbling beating was next. However, the event was something magical. It was clear Ali was something much more than a boxer who permanently changed and inspired the entire world. Ali had the entire African town chanting in the streets “Ali, Kumbaye!” When the fight took place, Ali dangerously taking Foreman’s best shots seemed to be a part of the plan. Ali survived out-pointing Foreman and stayed in the fight toward round 8. Foreman grew fatigued as Ali was talking in Foreman’s ear. Ali knocked out Foreman with an unprecedented strategy and became Heavyweight Champion for an unheard of 3rd time. The seemingly unbeatable Foreman now had one loss, Muhammad Ali. No longer seen as arrogant, Ali was special, and he was a special man who always delivered. At this point, referring to him as “The Greatest” began to seem undisputed and justified.
Ali is credited for being the Heavyweight Champion of the world at the most competitive and difficult times to be Heavyweight Champ. He incredibly avenged every loss he ever had, usually coming up best of three, except his very last two fights when Father Time would have his way, both losses to Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick. People also started to notice Ali’s changing demeanor. In his very last fight, the old lion could not be knocked out. He still went the distance but sadly didn’t have the ability to win anymore and retired at 39. Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome three years later.
Muhammad Ali is still one of the most famous, and legendary men in the world. Whenever the greatest of all time are discussed, his name will be at the very top of the list for a very long time to come.
2) Joe Louis
Record: Won 66 Lost 3, 52 KO (66-3)
Boxing Era: 1934-1951
Known as “The Brown Bomber”, Joe Louis was an American Icon. He was clearly a shining star head and shoulders above the rest in his time. He couldn’t lose. Joe Louis only had one legitimate loss against Germany’s Max Schmeling which he later avenged in a sensational and historical 1st round KO. Joe Louis single-handedly dismantled the Nazi image of invincibility and sent a direct and powerful check mate to Hitler. He gave his country a more than sensational day to remember. Joe Louis became an American hero and symbol of national pride, and African-American pride.
During this time of world war and racial inequality in America, Joe Louis was larger than boxing. Many of Joe Louis’ fights had unparalleled international, political, and social significance. All across the nation, droves of people were glued to their radios and would explode into the streets upon many of his victories. Because of the times, that type of fervor for boxing or for one athlete will most likely never be seen again. He was the first African-American boxer to be an American hero for whites, blacks and all Americans.
The rest of his only three losses came after his fall from grace. Once a proud symbol of patriotism, he was railroaded with taxes by the US government and severely in debt. This happened to him even despite donating his celebrity, money, morale, free exhibition matches and enlistment to the United States military in earlier years. Consequently, he was forced to keep fighting passed his retirement. With difficulty, Louis still managed to win because of who he was, but suffered a pair of losses, including an embarrassing 8th round knock out right through the ropes by a fresh, up and coming Rocky Marciano. Regardless, the nation will never stop and give another boxer as much acclamation as Joe Louis in 1938.
3) Sugar Ray Robinson
Record: 173 wins, 109 (KO)19 losses, 6 draws, 2 no contests
Boxing Era: 1940-1965
Many consider Robinson to be the greatest pound-for-pound boxer of all time. Just boxing prowess considered, he might be. Robinson may be the best combination of boxing talent wrapped up in one man that the world has ever seen. He was a freakish enigma who somehow possessed awesome KO power in his punch, lightning fast speed, outstanding footwork and dexterity, and a solid chin. However, I list him 3rd when all variables in making a boxer “great” are considered. Ali and Louis had more international, political and social significance tied into them and their fights, and it immortalized them. Ali and Louis had more fights in which the entire world was a buzz and tuned in. Aside from that, Robinson is high above the rest.
In addition to his superior boxing ability, Robinson was also memorable for his good looks and flamboyance. He walked with large entourages and is credited as the first athlete to have an entourage, he owned a famous night spot in Harlem, and he was known to be an excellent singer and dancer. In and outside the ring his presence was large. Despite being a dance star in France and all the flash, Robinson was clearly the best warrior in the ring. Muhammad Ali and many of the best boxers around all concurred that he was the best of all time.
Robinson won the middleweight championship a remarkable and unprecedented five times. Stylistically he had it all. He had amazing speed and finesse. Robinson also dished out sound beatings, and he could take beatings and rally back in most impressive fashion. He was never out, it was always a matter of how this boxing genius would figure his way out and turn the fight around, and as expected—he always did.
There are many boxers who are always criticized for not being challenged enough by real competition to prove their worth—Robinson isn’t one of them. Robinson has proven he was the best of the best with an exclamation point. Robinson defeated a host of Hall of Fame boxers like Jake LaMotta, Kid Gavilan, and Rocky Graziano. Even 16lbs lighter, Robinson beat the legendary “Raging Bull” Jake LaMotta 5 out of 6 fights. Having a check list of over 8 Hall of Fame boxers he eclipsed cements the fact that Robinson should always make the top 3 on any list.
4) Jack Johnson
Record: Won 73 (40 KO), Lost 13, Draw 9, NC, 2
Boxing Era: 1897-1945
Before Muhammad Ali or Roy Jones Jr., the biggest brash, bold trash talker around was the first African-American Heavyweight Champ Jack Johnson. Being the first African-American Heavyweight champ alone should secure him a spot on any top ten listing. For over a decade, nobody could beat him. He humiliated his opponents, holding them up and kept them from being knocked out so he could keep beating on them. Johnson made a mockery of most of his opponents and angered white America with his defiant “in your face” antics. The press abused and discredited him, but Johnson still couldn’t be beaten. For over a decade, Johnson was the most famous and hated African American on the planet.
Jack Johnson is one of the most brilliant boxers of all time, employing an unusual style that made it extremely hard for his opponents to land a punch on him. Large but light on his feet, Johnson was extremely elusive, then battered away on his frustrated challengers.
During Johnson’s insurmountable reign, there was such an outcry for a great white hope that undefeated former champ James J. Jeffries stepped forth to dethrone him. Jeffries came back from retirement to prove “that a white man was better than a negro”. Jeffries trained back into great shape pummeling his sparring partners. The fight was one of the most anticipated fights in boxing history billed as “The Fight of the Century”. Referring to Jeffries, this is where the famous moniker “Great White Hope” originated. As the fight took place, it was obvious that Johnson was too much for Jeffries and overwhelmed him. Jeffries’ corner threw in the towel before the inevitable knockout could occur. All the critics were silenced from this point on.
Johnson’s victory sparked numerous celebrations as well as race riots all over the country. Johnson eventually became a sole victim of jealousy and hatred. He was made an example of many times, received death threats, and was eventually incarcerated because his wife was a white woman, with whom he made travel plans with. A law meant to curb transporting women for the purpose of sexual immorality and fornication, which either way should never be a governments concern in a free country, was used to stick against Johnson.
Jack Johnson was broken down and eventually time caught up with him. He only won 2 of his last 9 fights because he attempted to keep fighting after his exile and imprisonment well into his 40’s. Perhaps in a different time, Johnson’s rise to greatness would be less stressful or obstructed by interruptions unrelated to the sport enabling him to reach his full potential. Regardless, when Jack Johnson was on top, he was in a different stratosphere and he made his point very loud and clear. Ring Magazine founder Nat Fleischer considered Jack Johnson the greatest Heavyweight Champ of all time.
5) Jack Dempsey
Record: Won 66 (KO 51), Lost 6 (KO 1) , drawn 9
Boxing Era: 1914-1927
Jack Dempsey is definitely one of the most popular American boxers in history. He is known for setting the highest attendance and purse records and had the very first million dollar fight ever. Jack Dempsey was worth it; he was known for being the most savagely brutal and entertaining boxers of all time. Missing teeth, broken jaws and swollen eyes were all things one would expect from a Dempsey fight.
Dempsey was described as a “superhuman wild man.” Jack Dempsey is one of those old school genuine tough guys who used to fight in saloons for money. He reigned as heavyweight champion for 7 years, 7 years in which he severely punished his opposition trying to dethrone him in bloody, barbarous fights.
Eventually Dempsey lost his title to Gene Tunney, which was the highest grossing fight in boxing history for a long time. He also lost a close rematch to Tunney a year later.
The boxing world has never forgot Dempsey, he is definitely one of the most popular American boxers in history. Dempsey is known for setting the highest attendance and purse records and had the very first million dollar fight ever.
Dempsey retired and eventually opened a successful restaurant named after himself in NYC. He also has a NYC street named after him in his honor and appeared on a US stamp. The boxing world has never forgot Dempsey for his ferocity in the ring and his dominance of the Heavyweight division in his time.
6) Julio Cesar Chavez
Record: Won 107 Lost 6, 2 draws, 86 KO
Boxing Era: 1980-2005
His record speaks for itself. Chavez is a Mexican legend who has gone over ten years straight without a loss. He was known as a tough as nails fighter who would always bring a great fight to the table. Chavez has earned himself the uncontested distinction of being recognized as “Mexico’s Greatest Fighter”.
Chavez is a 6 time champion in 3 different divisions. He also amassed a career record of 88-0 before his first loss to Frankie Randall that he later avenged twice, the 2nd time being the most convincing. Before that he had a draw with Pernell Whitaker that many felt he lost.
Chavez could take punishment all night long. Regardless, he would give punishment all night long. In order to beat Chavez a challenger would expect to go the distance, and expect to feel pain.
Chavez has beaten Roger Mayweather, Hector Camacho, Sammy Fuentes and many other great fighters through the years. Even before his retirement he was already seen as a Mexican legend who garnered respect and admiration. Chavez was always a huge boxing draw that packed stadiums and was an internationally famous star in the sport. Chavez’s name is still currently resounding in the sport through his son and namesake, Julio Chavez, Jr.
7) Rocky Marciano
Record: Won 49 Lost 0, 43 KO (UNDEFEATED)
Rocky Marciano is one of the hardest punchers in boxing history whose greatest claim to fame is being the only undefeated Heavyweight champion. Marciano was not that smooth as far as finesse is concerned, but he made up for it by punishing his opponents with power.
There’s been a back and forth Marciano debate for decades. Some people call him the greatest. However, Marciano is never ranked high amongst the greatest by boxing analyst in contrast to his undefeated status. You will need to look nowhere else to understand why. His less than stellar rankings are primarily because the competition he faced was not as strong as many of the other champions like Ali or Robinson. Ali and Robinson beat many other all time great Hall of Famers you might find on similar lists, and while these fighters were in their prime. Simply being undefeated can be easily nullified. Many of the boxing greats were also once undefeated boxers for long periods of time. Willie Pep was once 61-0. Sugar Ray Robinson was 85-0 as an amateur and once 40-0 as a pro. It is only when these warriors fought other legends, took losses, and reasserted their dominance did people learn how good they were as they earned their places in boxing history. Most of the biggest names Marciano fought were passed their prime and were not great litmus tests. Marciano took the Heavyweight title from a 38 year-old Jersey Joe Walcott. He also famously knocked Joe Louis out of the ring, but Louis was obviously not the same Louis, old, weathered and forced to keep fighting because of debt. Robinson had Jake LaMotta and beat him. Ali had Frasier and Foreman and beat them. Unfortunately and to no fault of his own, Marciano won all his fights and never had a fresh legendary nemesis to prove his worth with an exclamation point. Regardless, Marciano will always be remembered for his ferocity and no losses. He was a class act who never took more credit than he deserved. Being the only undefeated Heavyweight champion of all time will keep him relevant in boxing debates and rankings for a very long time.
8) Mike Tyson
Record: 50 wins, 6 losses, 44 KO, 2NC (50-6)
Boxing Era: 1985-2005
Let’s just be real; Tyson is snubbed, misplaced, or left out all together on almost all the lists I’ve seen. We’ve forgotten what he was and moved on. It’s outrageous and unfair. There is absolutely no other boxer in boxing history that has amassed such a legendary fear factor and buzz in the sport than “Iron” Mike Tyson.
In the 80s and early 90s, Tyson was looked at as an unbeatable juggernaut who knocked out every contender of every size and caliber within the first few seconds or rounds of almost every fight. It became an entertaining query just how long the next unlucky sap would last. Iron Mike Tyson, the once “Baddest Man on the Planet” was the youngest heavyweight champ ever. He snatched the title by way of humbling 2nd round (smacked down to the canvass…attempt to get up…10 second dazed chicken dance, then back down again…) knock out at 20 years old—a kid. He also was the first ever, and youngest to hold the WBA, WBC and IBF titles AT THE SAME TIME. Say what you will, Mike Tyson is the only boxer that probably could’ve annihilated every other boxer on this list or any other list on a good day in his prime. From 20-26 years old, no one could beat a focused, mentally healthy, and hungry Mike Tyson.
Tyson was absorbed into the forefront of Pop culture. From the very popular Nintendo Game “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out”, to his cartoons and comic books in Asia, to Will Smith’s “I Think I Could Beat Mike Tyson”, the world gravitated to Tyson like an otherworldly super hero. Either by knocking people out within seconds or in a very controversial loss later in his career, the fact remains that Mike Tyson was a sensational spark to the boxing world and deserves to be on this list. Years after his meteoric rise and fall, he remains one of the most talked about boxers of all time.
After the death of trainer and father figure Cus D’amoto, a three year imprisonment (that should never have happened—it was an obvious rail roading with a girl who had a history of falsely crying rape), a highly publicized fiasco of a failed marriage, fall outs with Don King who owed him lots of money, mismanagement, and an eventual loss of heart for the sport, his star and prominence eventually faded into a series of controversial or lackluster losses and performances. The era of Mike Tyson is still unprecedented and he remains a point of reference for every young sensation on the rise.
9) Henry Armstrong, Jr.
Record: 150 wins, (100 KO) 21 losses and 9 draws
Boxing Era: 1931-1945
Henry Armstrong was the first and only boxer to hold 3 world championship division titles at the same time. He would have won a fourth, something that no one has come close to doing ever, but fell short due to a controversial draw against Ceferino Garcia. Many thought he should have won. Regardless, his greatest achievement is defending the welterweight title more times than anyone else in boxing history.
Armstrong started his professional career on the losing end but then began several stunning, long winning streaks. Many times in his career, Armstrong answered a loss with over 10 consecutive victories. One of his hottest streaks was 27 wins in a row, all of those 27 wins by way of knockout. Henry Armstrong’s 27 knockout win streak is viewed by many as the best winning streak ever in boxing. No one does that anymore. Mayweather and Pacquiao are beasts in the game at the moment, but they could never boast of that kind of a streak while fighting the sports best.
Ring Magazine voted Armstrong 2nd in the greatest fighters of the last 80 years list in 2007. One may find variations on his record because a lot of the older boxers fought so much and under different names that it is hard for boxing historians to tell. Regardless, Armstrong’s win streak under his own name is something that is not hard to credit and will not be duplicated anytime soon.
After retirement, Armstrong trained young boxers and also became a Baptist minister.
10) Willie Pep
Record: Won 229 (KO 65), lost 11, drawn 1
Boxing Era: 1940-1966
Willie Pep is an Italian-American boxer who fought for 26 years with a total of 229 wins out of 241 fights, perhaps the most impressive record in boxing.
Pep was the World Featherweight Champion with an astounding record of 61-0 before finally losing to another World Champion and fellow future Hall of Famer, Sammy Angott by decision in 1943. Pep bounced back and won 5 fights for the rest of that year. He did it again for the entire year of 1944, winning all 16 fights he fought in. Pep continued his career with a staggering amount of victories at a championship level cementing the fact that he is one of the best of all time. He won 73 fights in a row which set an amazing boxing record.
Willie Pep was an asset to the sport and his weight class. The middle and heavy weight classes made the most money and attendance. Pep changed that expectation eventually fighting before packed arenas. Setting boxing records from the start of his career until the end, William Pep is definitely one of the greatest pugilists of the century.