Friday, March 24, 2023  |


The best of all time A to Z: Zale


This is the last in a 26-part series in which endeavors to name the best boxers of all time based on last name – A to Z. We’ll post one letter each day for 26 days. Our criteria in making the selections were fairly simple: Accomplishments in the ring, with heavy emphasis on strength of opposition, as well as impact on the sport. This wasn’t easy, as our first installment — the letter “A” (Armstrong vs. Ali) — demonstrates. However, we’re confident that our choices are arguably the best. We also are including five more fighters for each letter to indicate others who were considered. Also, noted author and boxing historian Bert Sugar — who provided input — tells us where he ranks our choices among the greatest fighters pound-for-pound and gives us a thought on each selection. And, finally, we’d love to get your thoughts on the project. Here goes ÔǪ today’s letter: “Z.”

Lifespan: 1914-97
Hometown: Gary, Ind.
Record: 67-18-2 (45 knockouts)
Active: 1934-48
Weight class: Middleweight through light heavyweight
Titles: World middleweight
Sugar’s ranking: None
The thought process: The final installment of our series was a tough one. Carlos Zarate could’ve been the choice here. The Mexican’s gaudy record and knockout ratio – 66-4, 63 KOs – are eye catching to say the least but he had only one monumental victory, over Alfonso Zamora. Fritzie Zivic had the most victories over elite opponents, Jake LaMotta, Lew Jenkins and Henry Armstrong among them. He also had 65 losses. That leaves us with Zale, who is our top choice because of his success and impact on the sport. Zale is a boxing clich├® from a bygone era, a Midwestern kid who grew up in site of forbidding steel mills but escaped that fate in terms of a career by becoming a world-class boxer. His proximity to the mills might account for his nickname – “The Man of Steel” – but his legendary resilience also had to play a role. Zale could endure a tremendous amount of punishment and continue to give it back, particularly with a vicious body attack. Time and again, he seemed to wilt under a barrage of punches only to come back with startling ferocity and turn the tables. He was similar to Arturo Gatti in that way – but much more talented. Zale claimed the unified middleweight title by outpointing also-rugged Georgie Abrams in 1941 but it was three title fights against a dead-end kid from New York between 1946 and 1948 that would earn him eternal fame. Zale and Rocky Graziano engaged in the most-savage and dramatic trilogy in the history of boxing, three excruciating tests of the courageous warriors’ perseverance that thrilled boxing fans. All three ended in a knockout, Zale winning the first fight, losing the title in the second and then regaining it in the third. All subsequent series are judged against the original, which hasn’t been topped. The final fight in the series was Zale’s last hurrah. His body finally gave out in his next bout, against the great Marcel Cerdan. Zale went out on his proverbial shield, though: He gave the Frenchman hell before falling in 11 rounds in THE RING Fight of the Year in 1948. Zale, who never fought again, gave the fans absolutely everything he had.
Five more (alphabetical order): Hilario Zapata, Daniel Zaragoza, Carlos Zarate, Fritzie Zivic and Juan Zurita.
Sugar quote: “Zale was the greatest body puncher in the history of boxing. He knocked out Rocky Graziano in their first fight by burying his hand up to the wrist in Graziano’s midsection. When you talk about heart, you’re talking about Tony Zale, particularly his three fights with Graziano. He would come back time and time again. He was Mr. Boxing.”

A: Armstrong:

B: Burley:

C: Charles:

D: Duran:

E: Elorde:

F: Foreman:

G: Greb:

H: Hagler:

I: Ibeabuchi:

J: Johnson:

K: Ketchel:

L: Louis:

M: Moore:

N: Napoles:

O: Olivares:

P: Pep:

Q: Qawi:

R: Robinson:

S: Saddler:

T: Tunney:

U: Uzcudun:

V: Villa:

W: Walker:

X: Alfredo Xeque:

Y: Teddy Yarosz: