Living Legends: Who is the greatest fighter alive?
The question was raised early this year as a group of knowledgeable boxing people – writers, publicists and others who have been around the sport for many years – had dinner the night before a big fight in Las Vegas:
Who is the greatest living fighter, pound for pound?
The first name out of almost everyone’s mouth was Muhammad Ali, arguably the greatest heavyweight of all time and one of the best without regard to weight. “The Greatest” was truly the greatest.
Since that meeting, sadly, we lost Ali. So the answer to the question that was asked that evening in Las Vegas isn’t quite as cut and dry.
Who is it? Who is the greatest living fighter?
THE RING editors, with input from knowledgeable contributors, came up with a Top 10 list of best living fighters. We know our choices will spark debate – they did so among ourselves – but we feel they’re a good place to start.
Note: These are Nos. 6 to 10. THE RING will release one result per day until Tuesday, Aug. 9, when the greatest living fighter will be announced. On that same day, the November 2016 issue will be released in its digital format, within which this feature will appear in full.
10. LARRY HOLMES
Birthplace: Cuthbert, Ga.
Record: 69-6, 44 KOs
Major titles: WBC heavyweight (1978-83), RING (1980-85), IBF (1983-85)
Key victories: Earnie Shavers (title eliminator) UD, 1978; Ken Norton (first title) SD, 1978; Muhammad Ali (Ali’s second to last fight) TKO 10, 1980; Gerry Cooney (huge event) TKO 13, 1982; James Smith (after Holmes was awarded his second title) TKO 12, 1984.
Summary: Holmes started as one of Muhammad Ali’s sparring partners and ultimately became his successor, building a legacy of his own as one of the greatest heavyweights of all time. Holmes used his pile-driving jab, refined all-around ability and underappreciated fighting spirit to dominate the division for seven full years, including a total of 20 successful title defenses against the best heavyweights of the day. The run started with a classic split-decision nod over fellow Hall of Famer Ken Norton in 1978 and ended with two controversial decision losses to another Hall of Famer, Michael Spinks, in 1985 and 1986, when Holmes was 35 and 36. That was followed by the only knockout loss of his career, a fourth-round TKO against a prime Mike Tyson in 1988. Holmes fought twice more for the heavyweight championship, losing decisions to Evander Holyfield in 1992 and Oliver McCall in 1995, but would never again reach the heights of his historic run through the heavyweight division. He ended his three-decade career with a victory over Eric “Butterbean” Esch at the age of 52. The fact he went out a winner was appropriate given his profound success.
9. MANNY PACQUIAO
Birthplace: Kibawe, Bukidnon, Philippines
Record: 58-6-2 (38 KOs)
Major titles: WBC flyweight (1998-99), IBF junior featherweight (2001-03), RING featherweight (2003-05), RING/WBC junior lightweight (2008), WBC lightweight (200809), RING junior welterweight (2009-10), WBO welterweight (2009-12), WBC junior middleweight (2010-11), WBO welterweight (2014-15).
Key victories: Chatchai Sasakul (first title) KO 8, 1998; Lehlo Ledwaba (U.S. introduction) TKO 6, 2001; Marco Antonio Barrera (first fight with Mexican trio) TKO 11, 2003; Erik Morales (rematch of loss) TKO 10, 2006; Juan Manuel Marquez (first victory over rival in four-fight series) SD, 2008; Oscar De La Hoya (became superstar) TKO 8, 2008; Ricky Hatton (most devastating KO) KO 2, 2009; Miguel Cotto TKO 12, 2009; Tim Bradley (rematch of loss) UD, 2014.
Summary: Pacquiao probably was no better than the second best fighter of his era – behind only the unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jr. – but nobody has a more robust resume. “Pacman” won major world titles in an unprecedented eight divisions from flyweight to junior middleweight, almost half of the 17 weight classes in boxing. He had 17 fights against possible future Hall of Famers, going 12-4-1 in those matchups. He had a record of 6-2-1 in his riveting series against the great Mexican trio of Juan Manuel Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales, all of whom are future Hall of Famers. And he did it all in dramatic fashion. Pacquiao’s one-punch knockout of Ricky Hatton might be the most memorable moment of his long career but it was filled with drama, which captured the imagination of the public and made him a true icon. Pacquiao had his setbacks, most notably a stunning one-punch knockout against Marquez and a one-sided decision against Mayweather in the richest fight ever. Nevertheless, his popularity never seemed to wane. That’s a tribute to the indelible impression he has made on boxing.
8. JAKE LAMOTTA
Birthplace: Bronx, New York
Record: 83-19-4 (30 KOs)
Major titles: World/RING middleweight (1949-51).
Key victories: Sugar Ray Robinson UD, 1943; Marcel Cerdan (won title) TKO 9, 1949; Laurent Dauthuille (title defense) KO 15, 1950;
Summary: We don’t know which fact about LaMotta is most remarkable. The fact he is 95 even though he took part in many ring wars is mind boggling. The fact he never went down in spite of his aggressive, punishing style makes no sense. He might be the toughest fighter ever. The fact he beat a prime (albeit much smaller) Sugar Ray Robinson once in their six-fight series says a lot about how good he was. And the fact the film about his life – “Raging Bull” – is considered a classic only added to his legend. LaMotta campaigned at a time when boxers sometimes fought every few days; hence his 106 fights in only 13 years. And a stunning percentage of those fights were against the best of the era – Robinson, Fritzie Zivic, Holman Williams, Bob Satterfield, Tony Janiro, Marcel Cerdan. The list goes on. LaMotta lost some, won most but took every opponent to hell and back every time out with his relentless attack and otherworldly durability. He was fortunate when he won his title against the great Cerdan, who had to quit with a shoulder injury. However, LaMotta had already demonstrated his greatness.
7. FLOYD MAYWEATHER JR.
Birthplace: Grand Rapids, Mich.
Record: 49-0 (26 KOs)
Major titles: WBC junior lightweight (19982002), RING lightweight (2002-04), WBC lightweight (2002-04), WBC junior welterweight (2005), IBF welterweight (2006), RING welterweight (2006-08), WBC welterweight (2006-08), WBC junior middleweight (2007), WBC welterweight (2011-15), RING welterweight (2013-15), WBA junior middleweight (2012-16), RING junior middleweight (2013-15), WBC junior middleweight (2013-15), WBA welterweight (2014-16), WBO welterweight (2015).
Key victories: Genaro Hernandez (first title) TKO 8, 1998; Diego Corrales (title defense) TKO 10, 2001; Jose Luis Castillo (close fight) UD, 2002; Castillo (rematch) UD, 2002; Arturo Gatti TKO 6, 2005; Zab Judah UD, 2006; Oscar De La Hoya (gained superstar status) SD, 2007; Canelo Alvarez (big event) MD, 2013; Manny Pacquiao (richest fight ever) UD, 2015.
Summary: Love him or hate him, you have to acknowledge Mayweather’s once-in-a-generation ability. “Pretty Boy”-turned-”Money” barely lost a round, let alone a fight in a perfect 49-0 career. Jose Luis Castillo came the closest to beating Mayweather in their first meeting, in 2002, but fell short and no one really pushed him after that. Mayweather was primarily a defensive fighter – doing just enough to win, particularly later in his career – but it’s arguable that nobody in the history of boxing was more difficult to hit. And it should be noted that Mayweather took more risks early in his career, allowing him to stop 23 of his first 34 opponents. It also should be noted that Mayweather didn’t rely solely on his natural gifts, his speed and athleticism; he has been a focused, hardworking gym rat since he was a toddler in a boxing family. He had everything a fighter needs to succeed except, perhaps, punching power. And it certainly paid off for him. He made in the neighborhood of $700 million in the ring, according to Forbes magazine. We might never see another fighter like Mayweather again.
6. JULIO CESAR CHAVEZ
Birthplace: Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, Mexico
Record: 107-6-2 (86 KOs)
Major titles: WBC junior lightweight (1984-87); WBA lightweight (1987-89); RING/WBC lightweight (1988-89); WBC junior welterweight (1989-94); IBF junior welterweight (1990-91); WBC junior welterweight (1994-96).
Key victories: Mario Martinez (first title) TKO 8, 1984; Roger Mayweather (second title defense) TKO 2, 1985; Juan Laporte (title defense) UD, 1986; Edwin Rosario (second title) TKO 11, 1987; Jose Luis Ramirez (unification) TD, 1988; Meldrick Taylor (classic rally) TKO 12, 1990; Hector Camacho (title defense) UD, 1992; Greg Haugen (title defense) TKO 5, 1993.
Summary: Chavez became perhaps the most popular fighter in the history of Mexico with undeniable ability and a magnetic personality that touched millions. His style wasn’t complicated. He walked down opponents like a big cat does its prey, using as his signature weapons a brutal and relentless body attack and the ability to take his foes’ best punches. The formula was profoundly successful. Chavez started his career 87-0 and was 89-0-1 before finally losing to Frankie Randall in 1994, a setback he avenged twice. And there were a number of memorable victories along the way. That includes the fight that defines him if any does, his last-second knockout of Meldrick Taylor in a fight he was losing on two of three cards. J.C.’s fighting spirit was never more evident. Chavez had mixed results as he began to age but was always a favorite of fans, who never, ever lost faith in him or their love for him. A passing of the torch took place in 1996, when a young Mexican-American star stopped the great man in four rounds and it was downhill from there. Still, to this day, fans swoon when they see their favorite son.