News

From THE RING: The greatest heavyweight of all time

Photo by THE RING
19
Apr

‘THE GREATEST’ IS THE GREATEST

MUHAMMAD ALI IS THE NO. 1 HEAVYWEIGHT OF ALL TIME, ACCORDING TO A POLL OF 30 EXPERTS


Note: This story appeared in the May 2017 issue of THE RING Magazine.


In the past, I’ve overseen fantasy round-robin tournaments in various weight divisions that matched great fighters from different eras against each other with the results of each fight being predicted by a panel of boxing industry experts.

The heavyweight division doesn’t lend itself to this format. The size differential between fighters from different eras is too great. To draw an analogy to another sport, some of pro football’s greatest lineman from the past weighed 240 pounds. They’d be thrown around like rag dolls today. But they were great.

Also, previous polls in this series were limited to fighters from boxing’s modern age (roughly 1940 to date). That’s because there wasn’t enough film footage of fighters from earlier eras to properly evaluate how they’d perform against one another and also because boxing technique has evolved considerably since the days of Joe Gans.

To offer another analogy: Babe Ruth is widely regarded as the greatest baseball player who ever lived and, with the possible exception of Ted Williams, baseball’s greatest hitter. But if Ruth had been forced to contend with sliders, cutters, screwballs, forkballs, two-seam fastballs, four-seam fastballs and the like, he might have been less dominating.

This heavyweight poll has different criteria from previous exercises. Rather than match champions against each other in a round-robin tournament, the electors were asked to rank them in order of greatness. This is more than who would have beaten who. Other considerations are involved.

Top row: John L. Sullivan, James Corbett, Bob Fitzsimmons, James Jeffries; Second row: Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Joe Louis; Third row: Rocky Marciano, Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, George Foreman; Fourth row: Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe; Fifth row: Lennox Lewis, Vitali Klitschko, Wladimir Klitschko

The poll evaluated 20 champions dating back to the dawn of gloved heavyweight championship fights. The fighters, listed chronologically, are John L. Sulllivan, James Corbett, Bob Fitzsimmons, James Jeffries, Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Sonny Liston, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis, Vitali Klitschko and Wladimir Klitschko.

Great is a hard word to define, and greatness is subjective. It was up to each panelist to quantify greatness.

A fighter’s skill level is important. But so too is that fighter’s skill level within the context of his time.

How great was each fighter within his era? Was he the best of his era? Dominant in his era? How many other great heavyweights fought in his era? Great rivalries make great fighters. Did he fight the other great heavyweights of his time? Which elite fighters who were in their prime did he beat? One fight can go a long way toward defining a fighter’s legacy.

A great fighter needs great competition. That doesn’t necessarily translate into a pristine record.

There was an inclination on the part of the panelists to make pound-for-pound comparisons, thereby elevating fighters like Dempsey and Marciano above today’s much larger champions.

Some fighters were more feared than others. Opponents went into the ring against Louis, Liston and Tyson in their prime fearing for their lives.

And the panelists factored in toughness. Some of the fighters on this list had a bit of quit in them. In the eyes of several electors, that was where Tyson came up short.

And then there are fighters like Ali, Frazier, Holmes, Holyfield and Marciano. You could have shot those guys 10 times with a gun, posits one panelist, and they still wouldn’t have quit.

In weighing greatness, the electors also considered intangibles and how important the heavyweight championship of the world was, once upon a time.

Heavyweight champions have resonated in the culture. In that regard, Lennox Lewis (one of the panelists and also one of the champions being evaluated) observes, “A champion’s contribution to the sport is more than how great a fighter he was. It’s also about what he did outside the ring and what we’re left remembering about him.”

Each generation wants its own great heavyweight champion. Some generations have him. Some don’t. How important was a fighter in his era? What impact did he have on his time?

To what extent does the mythology that enshrouds a fighter factor into his greatness?

Tyson foreshadowed today’s social media world where fame often counts for more than character. Thirty years after Tyson ascended to the heavyweight throne, a Google search for “Mike Tyson” reveals 8,590,00 results. A similar search for “Joe Louis” turns up 432,000. For some electors, the magnitude of a fighter’s fame was worthy of consideration. For others, it wasn’t.

For some, character mattered. But one panelist opined, “For what we’re doing now, I don’t care that Joe Louis was a better citizen than Sonny Liston.”

In sum, the criteria diverged significantly from elector to elector. But lurking in the back of many minds was the question: Which of these fighters took boxing to a new level in terms of skills, societal importance, or both?


THE PANELISTS

Trainers: Teddy Atlas, Pat Burns, Virgil Hunter and Don Turner.

Matchmakers: Eric Bottjer, Don Chargin, Don Elbaum, Bobby Goodman, Ron Katz, Mike Marchionte, Russell Peltz and Bruce Trampler.

Media: Al Bernstein, Ron Borges, Gareth A Davies, Norm Frauenheim, Jerry Izenberg, Harold Lederman, Paulie Malignaggi, Dan Rafael and Michael Rosenthal

Historians: Craig Hamilton, Steve Lott, Don McRae, Bob Mee, Clay Moyle, Adam Pollack and Randy Roberts


Lewis and Tyson also participated in the poll. Neither fighter ranked himself. Instead, a weighted average from the other panelists was assigned to their respective slots on their ballots.

Several electors didn’t feel comfortable rating Sullivan, Corbett, Fitzsimmons, Jeffries or Johnson because there’s virtually no film footage of Johnson in action and none of the other four. Once again, a weighted average of the rankings from the other electors was used to fill the void.

One elector stated a preference for replacing Vitali Klitschko and Fitzsimmons on his list with Max Schmeling and Sam Langford. Klitschko and Fitzsimmons were assigned a position behind the other 18 fighters on his ballot.

A weighted average was also employed for Steve Lott with regard to Tyson because of their friendship and close working relationship during the glory years of Tyson’s career.

In previous polls (which used the who-beats-who formula), most electors were confident in the choices. This time, a repeated refrain was, I could do this again tomorrow and, except for the top few guys on my list, I might have a different order.

But in the end, a consensus emerged.

If one of the fighters had been ranked No. 1 on all 30 ballots, he would have had a perfect score of 30. If a fighter was ranked No. 20 on each ballot, his score would have been 600.

Muhammad Ali’s score was 46, which, when divided by the 30 electors, averages 1.53. That’s Ali’s power ranking, which put him in first place.

Some of the margins that separated fighters were razor-thin. In one instance, there was no margin at all. Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield tied for 11th place with 328 points each.

Jack Dempsey (No. 6) edged out George Foreman (No. 7) by four points.

Joe Frazier (No. 8), Mike Tyson (No. 9) and Sonny Liston (No. 10) were separated by a total of 12 points. If the electors were asked to vote again, the order of these three might be different.

The same is true of Wladimir Klitschko (No. 16), Vitali Klitschko (No. 17), and James Corbett (No. 18), who were also separated by 12 points.

Nineteen of the 30 electors ranked Ali first. Nine chose Joe Louis. Two voted for Jack Johnson. Fourteen of the 19 electors who ranked Ali first ranked Louis second. Seven of the nine electors who ranked Louis first ranked Ali second.

One elector ranked Ali as low as fourth. One ranked Louis fifth.

As illustrated by the chart above, Ali and Joe Louis were tied for first place in the ranking by trainers. Ali finished alone in first place in the rankings by media, matchmakers and historians. Louis finished second in these latter three categories. Johnson finished in third place in the minds of the media and historians. Marciano finished third among the trainers. Foreman finished third among the matchmakers.

In some instances, the panelists offered commentary with regard to their rankings. We’ll come back to Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis later. A composite of comments with regard to the other fighters follows.

———————————–

NO. 3 JACK JOHNSON

Jack Johnson was ahead of his time in so many ways. He had advanced skills for his era. Impeccable defense. Underrated offense (he carried many opponents). He was the first heavyweight in history to truly master boxing.

———-

Despite being black, Johnson refused to meet the best black contenders while he was champion. There was no interest from the American public in two black men fighting for the heavyweight title. But he’d already beaten most of these men on his rise to the championship.

———-

What fighter today would get in the ring in front of tens of thousands of people who hated his guts and literally wanted to kill him, and talk trash to the guy he was fighting and beat him?

———-

Jack Johnson was the father. He was black America’s first black hero.

NO. 4 ROCKY MARCIANO

Nobody ever got more out of what he had as a fighter than Marciano. No one came into a fight in better shape than Marciano. He could punch. He could take a punch. He learned some rudimentary techniques to accentuate his physical gifts and compensate for his limitations. He was relentless and had a will of iron.

———-

Consider the competition that Marciano beat. Walcott and Charles are derided now as old men when he fought them. But watch the film.

———-

They were great fighters who were nowhere near shot. Charles was 32 years old in the first Marciano fight. Walcott was 37, but he outboxed Marciano for most of their first match. Carmine Vingo, Rex Layne, Roland LaStarza; Marciano beat real fighters on his way up. He did lose (Ted Lowry was robbed in their first match). But when his character was tested, nobody was better. I loved his response when someone asked him what he was thinking when Walcott knocked him down in their first fight: Gee, this fellow hits hard. I might have to get up a couple of times before I knock him out.

———-

Marciano wouldn’t be rated as high as he is without his O. But he has the O and none of the other fighters on this list do. He’d be too small for guys like Ali and Foreman. But he took a better punch and was tougher than all of them.

NO. 5 LARRY HOLMES

Holmes did what he had to do to win. Getting off the floor the way he did against Earnie Shavers and Renaldo Snipes, coming back and knocking those guys out – that showed a special kind of greatness.

———-

What a jab! Larry Holmes could knock you out with his jab.

NO. 6 JACK DEMPSEY

The Dempsey who fought Jess Willard was a stone-cold killer. He learned his craft and perfected his style over years of fighting. He wanted to end fights as quickly as possible. And his power was no myth. He changed the way guys fought.

———-

Dempsey and Babe Ruth were America’s two most important sports figures in the Roaring Twenties, when sports became an integral part of the culture. He was wildly popular. He brought a whole new audience to boxing. In a golden age of sports, he made boxing popular and respectable.

NO. 7 GEORGE FOREMAN

A lot of people who are serious about boxing think George Foreman is one of the most underrated fighters ever. He fought his share of soft opponents. But he’s also one of the toughest men to ever box (watch the Lyle and Moorer fights). He’s one of the hardest hitters ever. And after being heavyweight champion, he came back more than a decade later to do it again.

———-

Foreman was a much better boxer the second time around. He was older and slower, but he’d learned to study his opponents and take advantage of what he saw.

———-

Ali fought Joe Frazier three times and Ken Norton three times. He didn’t mess with Foreman again after he beat him.

NO. 8 JOE FRAZIER

On March 8, 1971, Joe Frazier could have competed with anybody.

———-

Frazier, like Marciano, was pure fighter. But he lost some of his desire before he retired. And when your biggest asset is desire, that’s not good.

———-

Did some of Ali’s greatness rub off on Joe? Absolutely. And some of Joe’s greatness rubbed off on Ali.

NO. 9 MIKE TYSON

Tyson was the legitimate heavyweight champion of the world for more than three years. That’s a long time in boxing. And he has captivated the public’s imagination for three decades.

———-

Mike Tyson is looked at now as a bully who folded when things got tough. But Tyson in his prime would have been competitive against anyone.

———-

Tyson was the greatest six-round heavyweight of all time. But if he couldn’t take an opponent out in six rounds, he started to fall apart.

———-

When Mike Tyson got discouraged, he wasn’t the same fighter. Joe Louis would have discouraged Tyson real fast. A lot of guys on this list would have discouraged Tyson real fast.

NO. 10 SONNY LISTON

Sonny Liston was the best heavyweight in the world for five years. His left hand – jab and hook – were beyond frightening. If he’d been allowed to fight for the championship when he deserved it, all those fights against Cleveland Williams, Eddie Machen and Zora Folley would have been successful title defenses.

———-

If Cassius Clay hadn’t come along, Liston would have had more time at the top.

———-

Sonny Liston was the baddest man on the planet. Compared to Liston, Mike Tyson was a choirboy.

NO. 11 (tie) EVANDER HOLYFIELD

Holyfield, like Ali, fought everyone.

———-

He beat four other guys on this list: Tyson, Bowe, Holmes, and Foreman. Except for Bowe, they weren’t in their prime when Evander beat them, but that’s still an impressive accomplishment.

———-

Holyfield was bigger than Dempsey and Marciano, but he couldn’t punch like them. And when you’re fighting, punching means a whole lot.

NO. 11 (tie) LENNOX LEWIS

Olympic champion. A giant who fought with finesse. He beat every available contender. He came back to beat the only two fighters who beat him in the pros. And this myth that Lennox had no chin. He got up from that bomb McCall hit him with, and I still think the fight was stopped prematurely. The punch Rahman hit him with in South Africa would have KO’d anyone, and there was the issue of altitude in South Africa. Lewis corrected things with Rahman in the rematch.

———-

Lennox carried himself with dignity and grace for his entire career. That should count for something.

NO. 13 GENE TUNNEY

Tunney is another fighter who learned his craft well over years. A better version of Corbett. But Tunney never fought a black man. He was the only heavyweight champion after Sullivan without a man of color on his record.

———-

Tunney caught Dempsey at the end of Dempsey’s career and after Dempsey had been out of the ring for three years. He was able to play the matador to an aging Jack Dempsey’s bull. I doubt that he could have done that against Marciano. Marciano would have beaten Tunney down. In fact, a young Dempsey might have beaten Tunney down.

NO. 14 JOHN L. SULLIVAN

Sullivan was America’s first massculture hero and the most idolized athlete who had lived up until his time. He stood out as a fighter the way Joe Louis did in his era.

———

Sullivan fought for 13 years, the last 10 of which he was a fullblown alcoholic. Drinking nearly killed him in 1888, yet he whipped the next-best (white) man a year later in a bare-knuckle match that lasted more than two hours. It took Corbett 21 modern rounds to stop Sullivan when Sullivan was 34 years old, had been inactive for three years and was drinking constantly. This to me is mind-boggling and tells me that Sullivan, in his prime, would have whipped Corbett.

NO. 15 JAMES JEFFRIES

Jeffries was a superior athlete who won the heavyweight championship as a virtual novice. That’s quite an accomplishment.

———

Forget about Johnson-Jeffries as a measure of Jeffries as a fighter. It was enormously important as a social event. But as a fight, it was like Ali- Holmes. One guy was a once-great fighter who was shot. The other guy was a great fighter in his prime.

NO. 16 WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO

We can’t be too American-centric. Boxing is a world sport.

———-

The Klitschkos are two big, well-conditioned guys fighting in an era when the best big guys are going into sports other than boxing.

———-

Give Wladimir credit for staying the course.

———-

Wladimir has never seemed to have his heart in it.

NO. 17 VITALI KLITSCHKO

Vitali didn’t have the resume or talent of his brother. But if they fought, I’d pick Vitali. And his role as a serious player in Ukrainian politics adds to his stature.

NO. 18 JAMES CORBETT

Corbett was one of the first successful scientific fighters of the gloved era. Give him credit for that. But he fought for 17 years and had only 18 fights. He beat an old drunk (John L. Sullivan) for the title, defended it once against an aging British middleweight (Charlie Mitchell) and lost it to another aging British middleweight (Bob Fitzsimmons).

NO. 19 RIDDICK BOWE

Bowe was a super talent and a super waste. He had one great fight, the first fight against Evander Holyfield. Then he got lazy. Riddick had the potential to be much higher on this list but never got there. He was a disappointment. When you squander talent like that, you don’t deserve to be ranked high.

NO. 20 BOB FITZSIMMONS

Bob Fitzsimmons won championships in three weight divisions. But he was getting his ass kicked in the Corbett fight until he hit Corbett with a body shot.

ALI AND LOUIS

All of the fighters on this list were great. But Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis stand separate and apart from the rest.

There’s a fight that’s bigger than boxing.

Certain champions touch an entire generation.

Put symbolism aside for a moment. Joe Louis was a better fighter than any fighter the world had seen before. He was the best ever up until his time.

People remember how good Ali was when he was young. They’ve forgotten how good Louis was when he was young. Louis had everything. Power, speed, stamina, a textbook style. He lost one fight in the early years of his career, to a very good Max Schmeling (who Louis took lightly and didn’t train for properly). When they met again with the championship on the line, Louis knocked Schmeling out in the first round.

That night changed the experience of being black in America. Jack Johnson might have been black America’s first black hero. When Louis (the symbol of American democracy) knocked out Schmeling (Adolf Hitler’s favorite fighter), Louis became white America’s first black hero. In 1951, at the end of Louis’s storied ring career, A. J. Liebling wrote, “Joe Louis looks like a champion and carries himself like a champion, and people will continue to call him champion as long as he lives.”

Muhammad Ali had incredible physical gifts, skill, determination and heart. He fought more great heavyweights than anyone and never ducked a challenge. And let’s not forget: Ali was past his prime when he beat Joe Frazier and George Foreman.

Ali wasn’t always a good sportsman. Joe Frazier and Ernie Terrell can attest to that. But as David Halberstam noted, “He knew how to play the role of champion, inside and outside the ring. God, he knew how to play that role.”

Like Louis, Ali changed what it meant to be black in America.

Louis inspired America. Ali inspired the world.

In the end, Ali’s edge over Louis in this poll was that many electors felt he was simply the better fighter.

So, are we talking about boxing’s greatest heavyweight fighter or boxing’s greatest heavyweight champion?

As a symbol, Louis meant as much in his time as Ali did in his; maybe more.

My own preference is to rank Ali No. 1 and Louis No. 1A.

Given Ali’s generosity of spirit, I don’t think he’d mind sharing the No. 1 spot … as long as he’s the one without the A.


Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at [email protected] His most recent book – “A Hard World: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing” – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

READ: Bill Caplan’s 20 greatest heavyweights (2016)

Have strong feelings about this story? Email THE RING Magazine and your comments could be printed in our next issue: [email protected] Emailed letters will include a writer’s email address unless a city and state of origin is provided. Letters may be edited for reasons of space and clarity.

Struggling to locate a copy of RING magazine? Try here or…

SUBSCRIBE

You can subscribe to the print and digital editions of RING magazine by clicking the banner or here. You can also order the current issue, which is on newsstands, or back issues from our subscribe page.

  • maxx

    Ali outboxes Louis any day of the week!

    • Dee Money

      I’d agree that if they fought that fight a dozen times Ali would win more often than not. It’d probably look a lot like the first Conn fight, except going up against a bigger, natural heavy. However, I believe there is a tendency to look down on Louis because of his style (hands low, limited mobility) and say 2 points for Louis that I keeps him in the fight and gives him a shot:

      1) He has incredible head movement and an ability to avoid punches. There are few fighters I have ever seen who could stand there with there hands low and feet planted and avoid getting tagged. He was a great judge of distance and had good reflexes. Of course this was compounded by my second point.

      2) Nobody not named Sugar Ray Robinson threw as deadly of combos as Joe Louis. He was freaking devastating as a puncher, and his punches were so compact and precise.

      Like I wrote, Ali wins more often than not, but if they did it a dozen times Louis would get his wins too.

      • maxx

        I can see the speed of Ali’s backhands giving Joe fits, a major flaw of Joe’s was he used to drop his hands low after firing his jab, Ali would have timed Joe’s jab with backhands all night long and do not forget how Ali used to feint fighters out of position with his incredibly swift footwork and feints, I feel Ali would have made Joe look pedestrian and archaic, Joe only has a punchers chance and given the recuperative powers of Ali , even if Joe landed a perfect short compact ultra-precise punch on the button, I can see Ali getting up, clearing his head and moving out of trouble or indeed putting Joe in a vice like clinch till……..Kudos Dee

    • Julio

      Outboxes Louis the entire night, and then knocks him out.

      • maxx

        A likely outcome in my humble opinion.Kudos Julio

    • wrecksracer

      I’d have to see it to believe it (originally from Detroit here…Louis is still a hero there).

      • maxx

        Of course.Kudos

    • Abraham E. Hernández

      Louis needn’t more than a combination to knock out anyone that has ever walked this good earth.

      • maxx

        Indeed the technique of Louis was second to none, his punches were so short and precise though I have a feeling prime Ali would have been way too elusive for Louis.Kudos Abraham

  • william ellis

    This was a reasonable attempt to solve a pretty impossible task. The problem is that almost all of the heavyweight champions (and indeed fighters in that division) before Liston and Ali were cruiserweights. So we can do one of three things: (1) divide the history of the heavyweight division into two halves, and have two ratings: one for the pre-cruiserweight champions and one for the post-cruiserweight champions; (2) try to compensate by estimating the height and weight of the pre-cruiserweight champions had they been born in a later era. It’s pretty much a given that modernity has made us taller and heavier – so maybe a fighter like Marciano, if he were born now, would grow to be bigger than, say, Joe Frasier. (3) Rate the champions on a PFP basis.

    • Dee Money

      I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of the problem, and like the idea of rating pre-war Heavyweights comparatively as cruisers

  • Dee Money

    I wish they would do this poll and leave out the “societal impact” and other criteria that is outside of the ring. It further muddies an already convoluted discussion.

    Based off of what they were in the ring, Holyfield and Lewis are too low.

    • william ellis

      Agreed.

    • bradman

      Agreed. I don’t really see how your societal impact outside the ring affects your skills and abilities inside the ring.

      • Fᴦeeןɑϖce fгorn үouᴦ հoսse fгoʍ Ƨ tං 6 h on dɑɪlү Ꮟɑsıƽ, αnᏧ colleϲt cһeck in тh℮ ᴦαռgе $1ՕOଠ˗$ЗଠO0 аt tһе eπd ०f each week. Aрp|y hеre> ru.vu/6d2yw

    • wrecksracer

      My issue with Holyfield is that he was having steroids shipped to his house. Would he have even been successful as a heavyweight without help?

      • Dee Money

        My thoughts on that are I only base it on what he did in the ring. That may come off as a bit callous but its the way I look at it. Its like with Bonds and the HOF, there was no punishment at the time of his infraction banning him from the HOF so I say okay.

        With Holyfield, he was allowed to fight, his record stands; I evaluate on what he did in the ring and not so much how he got there.

        • wrecksracer

          Yeah, I’m generally a Holyfield fan, but when looking at things historically and ranking him over boxers who (presumably) weren’t having steroids shipped to their house? I don’t know. Look at him as a Cruiserweight, and then as a Heavyweight. He sure got big awfully quick.

          • Dee Money

            Yeah, there was probably something going on there. Still, like the article pointed out, he’s got wins over 4 others on the list. He’s a top 10 HW in my book.

          • wrecksracer

            Yeah, 3 weren’t in their prime, and I’m not even sure Bowe belongs on this list. All the same, I don’t have a problem with him being in the top 20.

          • Andy

            Loads of guys that the all time greats beat were not in their prime.
            Marciano is number 5 on the crap list, and all four of his best wins were against old men or guys from lighter weights or both. Archie Moore was possibly 45. Louis had been retired for two years and came back to a loss.
            Tyson had only one defeat, and was still wrecking people. Holyfield was supposed to lose in one round according to the Ring magazine at the time, so obviously they didn’t see him as washed up, and in fact it was Holyfield who was considered washed up, after his performance against Czyz. Also Foreman was unbeaten in his comeback. Holmes was past his absolute best, but had just beaten the unbeaten Mercer and was still winning 8 years after the Holyfield fight. Bowe does belong on the list, he was excellent, and definitely capable of beating most, if not all the guys on the list, if he would have trained like he was supposed to.

          • wrecksracer

            Bowe gets a demerit from me for ducking Lennox Lewis. That was about the most blatant duck I ever saw. Plus, his prime was remarkably short.

          • Andy

            That is why Eddie Futch left him. He just would not train.

          • Andy

            No he didn’t get big awful quick. The cruiserweight limit is 14st 4lbs and for the Bowe fight he was 14st 10lbs. He was training with a pro body builder and had a personal nutritionist. He was still a smaller man than his heavyweight opponents apart from height.

          • wrecksracer

            and he was having steroids sent to his house.

        • Ultimate sceptic

          Steroids do not help you take a massive shot from Bowe, Tyson or Lewis and have the courage and bravery to come back with all guns blazing. You won’t find that on the small print of your steroids bottle

          • Dee Money

            To be fair, steroids do help with someone’s ability to recover after workouts and develop muscles- including neck muscles which would help someone deal with taking a massive shot.

            That being written, I still support Holyfield as an ATG; as I wrote above I evaluate based off what he did in the ring.

          • Andy

            No one knows which heavyweight (or any other weight) boxer took what. Especially ones from eastern European countries. Cocaine helps numb pain I believe, weed calms nerves, I believe. Tyson entered the ring with both(by his own admittance) and he isn’t a guy I would call a gentleman, so who knows what else he took? He is not going to admit that he took something that would take away his credit and place in history. Holyfield was rumored to have taken steroids which would mean they would test him,more than the average guy, but they NEVER found anything. It is no big deal to come from the cruiserweight limit of 14st 4 to 14st 10 which he weighed when he fought Bowe, specially when he was trained by a pro body builder and had his own nutritionist. Tyson fans are never fair. Accept that he was beat, by a guy that Ring magazine said would not last one round.

        • Andy

          Well said. He only took them in order to be able to get to a weight in which he would be allowed to fight at heavy, and had NO advantage in the ring, being a 14st 10 man, in with guys up to almost 23st.

      • Andy

        He was still only 14st 10lbs when he fought the massive Bowe. He NEVER TESTED POSITIVE PRE OR POST FIGHT, either, so how does he have any advantage IN THE RING?
        His fight with Valuev is the biggest weight difference in boxing history, and he was totally shot, but STILL should have won that fight and become the only 5 time heavyweight champ in history.

        • wrecksracer

          Shane Mosely also never tested for steroids, but is on record as having used them. Are we to suspect that Holyfield was using the steroids shipped to his house for scientific testing on lab rats? There wasn’t proper testing being done at that time. Cheating is cheating. Holyfield had an impressive career, but he was cheating.

          • Andy

            He was a natural 12 1/2 st man who wanted to fight the giants, so if he stepped into the ring at 14st 10lbs against up to almost 23st stone men (who by your logic) may also have been on steroids, how was he at an advantage?

    • Ultimate sceptic

      Agreed. They were true masters. But there is a tendency to favour the legends of yesteryear, who we cannot see clearly on film and so have to rely on verbal and written testimony.

      • Andy

        Did anyone notice the massive hypocrisy in the criteria for being marked down in this list?
        Apparently the writer thinks that Holyfield didn’t punch as hard as Marciano or Dempsey, and he goes on to state that to be able to fight you need a punch. Yet Ali who is the lightest puncher on the list, is NO1! Does this mean that Mayweather jnr, Sugar Ray Leonard, Willie Pep and Pernell Whittaker are not as good as guys in their weight classes who could punch harder? Holyfield dropped Bowe with one punch, Dempsey swarmed, and Marciano clubbed old men. The list is b.s.

    • TNT

      These rating should only concern boxing. Anybody who lists societal impact should be shot on sight.

  • Doob13Ashstray

    Was a weighted average used for Teddy Atlas because of his disdain for Tyson?

  • bradman

    Very enjoyable article. I do have a couple of Qs though.

    1. Everyone knows Tyson is a boxing historian, so that was his category as a panelist. Lewis was the other fighter on the panel, but what category was he in? He was no trainer, no matchmaker, wasn’t a media member and wasn’t a historian that I’m aware of. So how does he fit in?

    2. I would be very interested to know whom the other 28 panelists were.

    3. I found this paragraph odd. “Put symbolism aside for a moment. Joe Louis was a better fighter than
    any fighter the world had seen before. He was the best ever up until his
    time.” Louis was only the best fighter “up until his time?” As soon as his time started, then he stopped being the best fighter the world had seen before? Wasn’t he the best fighter during his time and even after his time until Sugar Ray came along?

    • Dee Money

      It is awkwardly worded isn’t it? Also, Henry Armstrong was as good, if not better (p4p), and they fought at the same time. Langford may have been better p4p too.

    • RingTV

      Thomas Hauser confirmed that both Tyson and Lewis were categorized as historians for this poll. The other 28 panelists are listed in a chart.

  • WildArrow

    Riddick Bowe. All potential. Smh. If only he had the dedication and work ethic of Ali.

    • wrecksracer

      Yeah, I have a hard time putting him in my top 20. He clearly ducked Lewis.He gets into the top 20 based on wins over Holyfield, Dokes, and Pinklon Thomas?

      • WildArrow

        Mythical Matchup:
        Bowe vs Lewis

        • wrecksracer

          That’s a tough one. The Riddick Bowe who beat Holyfield is a tough night for anybody. Lennox Lewis’ chin let him down against lesser opponents. I still think I would take the Emanuel Steward trained version of Lewis against Bowe.

        • Dee Money

          I know styles make fights and all but I look at how each fared against Golota as an indicator of what would’ve happened

        • philoe bedoe

          With his win in the amateurs and the fact Bowe didn’t want to fight him, I’d have taken Lewis to win.
          Although at the time the fight was being talked about I favoured Bowe, he seemed the more impressive of the two before Lewis got with Steward………..

  • RStech

    Figured they would put his overrated ass at the top. Fixed wins versus Liston, gifts against Doug Jones, Shavers, Norton III, Jimmy Young, Chuvalo II, sketchy win over Cooper, wins over much smaller opponents and old Moore and Patterson. Guy screams he’s the greatest over and over into Cosell’s microphone and the world laps it up.

    • Orca

      Lol. Always someone. By the way, nothing sketchy about the win over Cooper. Don’t believe the hype.

      • RStech

        Nothing sketchy about Dundee slicing Ali’s glove to buy more time and tear up Cooper’s face? Ok, if you insist.

        • Orca

          Tear up Cooper’s face? Nonsense. You just had to point at Cooper’s face to make him bleed. As for the extra time, that’s a myth. Don’t believe all those documentaries. Someone with the tape timed the break to close to a minute. Ali’s wins trump every fighter on that list easily.

          • RStech

            Times are disputed but he had close to two minutes to recover after Dundee tore the existing hole open AND illegal smelling salts to revive him. But hey, he’s “The Greatest” so history gives hin a pass.

          • Orca

            They story has grown arms and legs now. He had barely over a minute and the ripped gloves played no part in the cuts. As for the smelling salts, he wasn’t the first nor the last to have the corner use them. There is just no doubt the man was a great champion. I just fail to see how it can be disputed. It has nothing to do with every boxing historian and knowledgeable fan being brainwashed by him calling himself the greatest. His achievements speak for themselves but hey it’s cool to have a downer on the Beatles too, so carry on 🙂 There’s always going to be a merry band of contrarians going against the grain.

  • Quirt Evans

    It’s hard for me to understand how Tyson ranks ahead of Holyfield.

    • Dee Money

      I think the idea is that Mike Tyson 1986-89 was better than anything Holyfield ever was at heavyweight. So the perceived height of his peak outweighs the limited time frame of his peak, and his losses to Holyfield post peak.

      • Koninbeor

        That and this list isn’t about if Tyson would defeat another fighter in a match. This is about how great they were as champions. Tyson was awe inspiring and truly feared. I think that Holyfield was the greater fighter but I never looked at Holyfield the same way that I looked at Tyson in his prime.

      • Quirt Evans

        The only great fighters Tyson ever beat was a past his prime Larry Holmes and a Light-Heavyweight in Spinks. He had an impressive steak against lesser talents, but had he not lost to Buster, Holyfield would most likely of beaten him just as he did years later.

        • Dee Money

          Its less of who he beat, and more of how he beat them. If you evaluate the boxer himself, and not just his resume, then Tyson for a couple years had a skill set that puts him in the top 10 (I don’t think it puts him ahead of Holyfield either though). Speed, strength, a vast arsenal of punches, and crazy head movement that worked well with his style; allowed him to be a threat to anyone who ever fought.

          Obviously he had some clear flaws, and anyone who took him into deeper waters could easily expose him. But based off of what he was (and not what his opposition was) he clearly was a top 10 guy for a short period of time.

          • Quirt Evans

            I appreciate your reasoned responses, rare here and on the Internet in general. Tyson’s legacy will always be a controversial subject. The excitement and buzz he brought to the sport hasnt been equaled since, and like with Ali, that social impact is difficult to separate from his boxing. He had an impressive run against mediocre opposition, but his prime came to an abrupt end at the fists of another unheralded fighter. Maybe I put more emphasis on resume than I should.

          • Dee Money

            I probably put less emphasis on resume than I should, we all got the things we like. And for what its worth, I don’t have Tyson ahead of Holyfield or Lewis.

          • Quirt Evans

            I agree on both Holyfield and Lewis.

  • maxpain912 .

    For me Marciano always has a special place in my heart for the sheer will and determination that is present in those great warriors. I’m surprised Holyfield isn’t regarded higher within the historic heavyweight ranks but it’s to each their own.This was a good article that shines a light onto how amazing the heavyweight division once was, and the impacts that boxing can have on society. Good stuff.

  • Tony Nightstick

    A reasonable and respectable list, though that doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of room for disagreement. For example, I wouldn’t have Bowe on at all, though I would have the surprisingly unmentioned Walcott and Charles. Also, Sullivan, Corbett, and Tunney are too low.

    For me, Louis is head and shoulders above every other heavyweight there ever was, with Ali taking the second spot.

  • Niall Burns

    How Lennox Lewis is only 11th is ludicrous

    • Orca

      I was a big fan of Lewis but do struggle where to rank him in lists like this. I’d have him around 8-10 (for now) Holyfields wins over a still young Tyson, Bowe and a motivated Foreman elevate him to around the same, or slightly lesser, standing.

  • Giuseppe

    It’s really hard to evaluate the REALLY old fighters, the ones who you read about rather than watch. Context and personal experience plays a huge role. In 100 years Wlad may look incredible because of the length of his reign and our current understanding of his era as a rather weak one may fade. i personally never rank or rate anyone i wasn’t alive to see on TV or in person – their good fights and bad. You never know what you personally would have thought of the fighter at the time. For example, no-one has ever shown me a DVD called “Willie Pep’s shit performances” or “Ali’s worst nights”. I believe you need to personally experience the narrative and ups and downs of a whole career to have a proper perspective. Archival perspective is too incomplete and wrapped up in the biases of the writers and cultural context of the time.

    anyway – its all for fun. The best heavyweight of my era is probably lennox, followed by Holyfield, followed by 90s foreman, probably!

  • John Grady

    The best heavyweights in history is always a favorite debating topic amongst fans, with the criteria for ranking being subjective (leading to lots of heated discussions – we are using slightly different criteria).

    For me, historical significance is a key, and this includes quality of competition, championship longevity and dominance, best wins, significant losses, social impact, etc. I very much enjoyed the lists above, and mostly agree with the top 8, but I am very surprised that Mike Tyson is rated so high. He was far more compelling and his star shone brighter than most, but his dominance ends at a very young age. Then again, I’m value accumulation as much as dominance, so I can understand those who agree that he is a top 8 fighter.

  • Joshua Lilly

    Unfortunate that – mainstreamly-speaking anyway – you only see Fitzsimmons listed as a “heavyweight”. It’s absolutely fine, considering that he not only fought and beat heavyweights, but actually held the lineal heavyweight title for a while, before running up against a legit all-time great TRUE heavyweight in Jeffries. And even then, Fitzsimmons did tremendous damage to a guy who naturally outweighed him by, what, 50, 60 pounds? It’s insane. He probably does belong in last place on this precise list, but I hope to people unfamiliar with him, they don’t just dismiss him based on these few glimpses of his name on heavyweight lists like this one. On an all-time pound-for-pound list, he’s right up there with Sugar Ray Robinson in a contest to see who’s #1 and #2.

    Some similar words could be said about Corbett. If there’d been a Cruiserweight division in his time, and he never tangled with any 200+ pounders, he’d have been practically unbeatable in his prime, especially in a big ring with 15 or fewer rounds.

    So many guys on this list never weighed 200 pounds. Leave aside technique, gloves, number of rounds… heavyweight has also changed even in terms of what weight it is! Even Joe Louis weighed under 200 pounds in his fights with Schmeling (so did Schmeling, for that matter). Joe Louis had to have been the greatest Cruiserweight of all time!

    • Dee Money

      Yeah I always think of Fitzsimmons as a light heavyweight, and probably would have been more a Super Middleweight at his peak if the weight class existed.

      I probably wouldn’t rank him as highly as you do p4p (and based on the picture you have there I aint looking to argue his merits with you), especially as he did most of his work in the 19th century and thats really hard to gauge. But he’s probably up there on p4p most powerful punchers ever.

    • John Grady

      I enjoyed your points regarding the weight, Joshua – very true. This is why I don’t understand how many make such rankings based upon who they believe would win in fights… by that standard, a 188lb all time great Marciano would struggle in the age of super-heavies.

      Reviewing based upon accomplishments, best wins, championship competitive longevity, etc. seems more fair and logical.

      • Dee Money

        I’m someone who enjoys “rankings based upon who they believe would win in fights.” This works basically on all levels except with heavyweights (as you’ve noted above). When ranking heavies of the past there are two ways you can do it:

        1) Go straight up, 200 lber of the past vs 240 lber today. Usually this doesnt work out well for the old guy, but heck Joe Louis KO’d guys who were super heavyweights so not impossible. 2) Look at it as a p4p and treat old heavies as modern cruisers. Basically look at a baseline cruiserweight then relatively compare the oldtimers to that. Then take this relative comparison and transpose vs a heavyweight baseline.

        • John Grady

          Thank you for your thoughts, Dee. You are right about the other weight categories, my comments were designed for the heavies.

          The P4P format works very well, too (another great point), but that seems different than most of the “who would win in a fight” arguments that I see (in regards to the heavies). It is fun to wonder who would win in an actual fight between greats like Marciano and Holmes, but I’m not sure if this is a good way to pick the historically great fighter.

          The above all said, it really wasn’t until the 90’s when being huge became beneficial. Even the great Foreman wasn’t a dominant champion. Giants won but they were not enduring champs… it just seems as though the emergence of Lennox Lewis and the K brothers ushered in a new phase that size matters a great deal.

  • Ultimate sceptic

    Louis, Ali, Holmes and Tyson equal third, Foreman, Liston, Lewis, Marciano, Holyfield, Frazier, Wladimir, Bowe. This is without making a study of the pre WWII film footage.

  • Bar Kokhba

    Can’t argue too vehemently with any of the rankings – it is, after all, purely opinion (mixed in with a heavy dose of speculation).

    But I will say that Fitzsimmons should at least rank above Bowe. Reducing Ruby Robert’s accomplishments to a lucky one-punch kayo of Corbett sells him short; on his way towards fighting for the heavyweight championship, he took on some tough hombres: Peter Maher, Tom Sharkey, Joe Choynski and more. He beat most of them despite being much smaller, and drawing with a prime Choynski needs to be regarded as an impressive feat: Choynski was a serious force at the time, was pummeled pretty brutally by Fitz, and only salvaged a draw because of an agreement between the fighters.

    Furthermore, though he was dwarfed by Jim Jeffries, he had pulped the champ’s face something fierce before he was stopped. And after he lost the title, he was still able to starch the iron-tough Sharkey in two rounds, just a year after the Sailor took Jeffries the full 25-round limit. Give Bob his due!

  • Joel Corona

    well, now we can discard the bogus 49-0 record of floyd mayweather..

  • Wee Den Broon

    Whilst this is all subjective, I’d drop the great Joe Louis to 5th. Joe fought the worst set of heavyweight contenders ever, even worse than the standard faced by Klitschko. Louis’ hardest opponent may have been Billy Conn. Conn, of course, was winning that fight until Louis KO’d him. However, this does not seem to have been remarked on by Thomas Hauser who chose to point out that Fitzsimmons was losing until he KO’d Corbett. Ha ha …charade you are!
    Mike Tyson. Where do you start? Tyson biggest win was probably against little Mikey Spinks or the old bloated version of Holmes. Tyson was such a warrior, in fact, that he paid millions to avoid having to face Lennox Lewis, until, that is, it was Tyson who needed the money. When the going got tough, Tyson cheated. This is nothing personal. Tyson seems a changed man and has an encyclopedic knowledge of the old timers that can only come from a love for the game. But Tyson at his best was as about as good as Patterson …and Patterson ain’t on the list. Rating Tyson above Lewis or Hoyfield must be based on Tyson’s fame outside the ring alone… because in fighting terms, inside the ring, both were undisputedly his master. Tyson is not in my top 20.
    Lastly, this article, the criteria, the results etc, were produced by a writer whose good name was earned through his prolific writings on Muhammad Ali. Luckily Ali won, or all Mr Hausers award winning books on ‘the greatest’ would have been rendered incorrect. Just saying….

  • Ivan You Bastard

    I’m surprised to see Tyson ranked above Holyfield? It’s hard to rank some of the older heavyweights just because of the size difference between modern heavyweights to yesteryears.

  • Andy

    The list is B.S. Holyfield wipes the floor with some of the others who are ranked above him.
    Listen, the fact is Marciano was only unbeaten because he fought guys with up to 57 losses. The four all time greats he beat were either old, or from smaller weights, or both. Holyfield was a natural light heavy of 12 1/2st yet stood and traded with giants like Lewis, Bowe, Foreman, and the guy everyone was terrified of Tyson. Hopkins always looked for a way to win by DQ and often writhed on the floor in agony from what replays showed to be nothing, whilst Holyfield wanted to carry on fighting even after having part of his ear bitten off. He not only did not make a fuss when robbed of Olympic glory, he did not make a fuss when robbed of becoming the only 5 time heavyweight champ in history…and also the oldest man to win the HW title in history, when robbed against Valuev. He was also docked a point against Ruiz, for a low blow that replays CLEARLY showed should have been scored as a clean knockdown. So instead of getting a 10-8 win, he gets a 10 -8 loss….but to add insult to injury, Ruiz then lands a low blow on purpose AND DOES NOT GET DOCKED. Add this to the Valuev robbery and he would have been a six time heavyweight champ.

  • Andy

    The list is B.S. Holyfield wipes the floor with some of the others who are ranked above him.
    Listen, the fact is Marciano was only unbeaten because he fought guys with up to 57 losses. The four all time greats he beat were either old, or from smaller weights, or both. Holyfield was a natural light heavy of 12 1/2st yet stood and traded with giants like Lewis, Bowe, Foreman, and the guy everyone was terrified of Tyson. Hopkins always looked for a way to win by DQ and often writhed on the floor in agony from what replays showed to be nothing, whilst Holyfield wanted to carry on fighting even after having part of his ear bitten off. He not only did not make a fuss when robbed of Olympic glory, he did not make a fuss when robbed of becoming the only 5 time heavyweight champ in history…and also the oldest man to win the HW title in history, when robbed against Valuev. He was also docked a point against Ruiz, for a low blow that replays CLEARLY showed should have been scored as a clean knockdown. So instead of getting a 10-8 win, he gets a 10 -8 loss….but to add insult to injury, Ruiz then lands a low blow on purpose AND DOES NOT GET DOCKED. Add this to the Valuev robbery and he would have been a six time heavyweight champ.

  • Andy

    The writer of the article is a very privileged man. To have such poor judgement, and have such a great job, is truly bewildering. He claims Holyfield could not punch as hard as Dempsey or Marciano.
    Holyfield decked the massive Bowe with one punch. Marciano clubbed away at (approximately) 45 year old light heavy, Archie Moore for nine rounds, and age and tiredness was what stopped him. The only hard one punch Marciano ever knocked anyone out with was on a tired 37 year old after 13 rounds.
    Dempsey was strongly rumored to have had plaster casts on his bandages when he decimated Willard, which although unproven, would seem to hold some value, since he was nowhere near as destructive whilst twice fighting tiny (in comparison to Willard) Tunney.

  • Andy

    Other former, future or current champs Holyfield beat…
    Parkey
    DeLeon
    Qawi x 2
    Douglas
    Dokes
    Thomas
    Holmes
    Foreman
    Tyson x 2
    Ruiz
    Moorer
    Bowe
    Czyz
    Mercer
    Ocasio
    Whilst some are cruiserweights, they were as big as Marciano, Dempsey, Louis and others plus Ocasio fought for the heavyweight title and Deleon fought as a heavy in some bouts.
    Add to this list a guy who was 25-0 all 25 by KO (Alex Stewart) and this list is far more impressive than those of Liston, Marciano, Frazier, Dempsey, Foreman Johnson and even Louis.

  • Andy

    Sonny Liston with ONE title defence, against a guy with a weak chin, whom he had already beaten in his last fight is rated above a guy who should have been not only a six time heavyweight champ, but should also have the record for being the oldest to ever win the heavyweight title, and who beat 15 (17 if you add that he beat two of them twice) other champs. As well as the fact that he should have been Olympic champ. Holyfield beats Liston in accomplishments by a MASSIVE margin. I will never bother reading the ring magazine again, it is obviously written by people who either know little or who have an agenda.

  • Andy

    Other former, future or current champs Holyfield beat…
    Parkey
    DeLeon
    Qawi x 2
    Douglas
    Dokes
    Thomas
    Holmes
    Foreman
    Tyson x 2
    Ruiz
    Moorer
    Bowe
    Czyz
    Mercer
    Ocasio
    Rahman
    Whilst some are cruiserweights, they were as big as Marciano, Dempsey, Louis and others plus Ocasio fought for the heavyweight title and Deleon fought as a heavy in some bouts.
    Add to this list a guy who was 25-0 all 25 by KO (Alex Stewart) and this list is far more impressive than those of Liston, Marciano, Frazier, Dempsey, Foreman Johnson and even Louis.
    Then add to this, that if he were not robbed in the Valuev and 3rd Ruiz fight, he would have been a 6 time heavyweight champ. He was robbed of a knockdown against Ruiz, and instead was docked a point for a low blow that replays showed was a legit knockdown Then Ruiz PURPOSELY hit Holyfield with a low blow, but he was not docked. That totals four points Evander should have had, which would have won him the fight.

  • Andy

    Can’t believe how biased the writer is regarding Marciano’s placement at 5.
    Because he was unbeaten, seems to be the main reason he is listed so high, yet the writer acknowledges that Lowry actually beat him whilst not mentioning that La Starza was also thought to have beaten him, in what was apparently universally recognized as a bad decision, by newspapers and reporters.
    He tells us to watch how good Walcott looks in the ring, which proves he wasn’t shot, whilst negating to mention that he was bound to tire by round 13 being that he was 37 and having to use his legs a lot. A 37 year old in the fifties was older than today’s equivalent due to more fights, less good food and supplements, fights over 15rds, and many had been through real war and rations.
    He also does not mention that Moore and Charles had fought as middleweights and were at their peaks as light heavies, nor does he mention that Moore may have been 45 yrs old.
    One other thing he fails to mention, is that the 49-0 was mostly achieved by beating no hopers with up to 57 losses.

  • Andy

    Other former, future or current champs Holyfield beat…
    Parkey
    DeLeon
    Qawi x 2
    Douglas
    Dokes
    Thomas
    Holmes
    Foreman
    Tyson x 2
    Ruiz
    Moorer
    Bowe
    Czyz
    Mercer
    Ocasio
    Rahman
    Botha WBF title
    Valuev should also be on this list
    and if Oquendo beats Briggs, then he can be added too.
    Whilst some are cruiserweights, they were as big as Marciano, Dempsey, Louis and others plus Ocasio fought for the heavyweight title and Deleon fought as a heavy in some bouts.
    Add to this list a guy who was 24-0 all 24 by KO (Alex Stewart) and this list is far more impressive than those of Liston, Marciano, Frazier, Dempsey, Foreman Johnson and even Louis.
    Add to this the fact that he should have been 6 time heavyweight champ if not for the unfair refereeing in the 3rd Ruiz bout and the blatant robbery in the Valuev bout.
    Yet somehow Liston with ONE defense against the weakest chinned HW champ ever, and then quit against light punching Clay/Ali, is rated above him? LUDICROUS BIAS!

Get Our Newsletter.

Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest news, events and deals in your inbox!

x

19

Posts Remaining

Subscribe | Login