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Divsion by Division: Heavyweight-Super middleweight

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The following article appears in the December 2021 issue of The Ring Magazine. Subscribe here.

HEAVYWEIGHT-SUPER MIDDLEWEIGHT

A panel of history-minded editors, scribes and pundits contributed their top five fighters in all 17 of the modern weight classes to determine the best of the best in each division.

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Heavyweight

MUHAMMAD ALI

Claimed he was “The Greatest” and lived up to his lofty billing, transcending boxing and sports… A gregarious character blessed with it all, Ali won gold at the 1960 Olympics in the light heavyweight division… Beat the feared Sonny Liston (TKO 7) as an underdog to claim the heavyweight title in 1964… Made nine defenses before a three-year hiatus due to political stance… Returned and lost to Joe Frazier (UD 15) but beat his great rival twice (UD 12, TKO 14)… Shockingly upset George Foreman (TKO 8) to regain the title in 1974… First three-time heavyweight champion.

 

JOE LOUIS

“The Brown Bomber” holds the record for the most consecutive title defenses (25) and the longest uninterrupted title reign (11 years and 7 months)… Level of opposition wasn’t always stellar, but he often dominated and did beat worthy challengers after unseating James J. Braddock (TKO 8) for the title, including a satisfying rematch demolition of Max Schmeling (KO 1), the only man to beat him during his prime… Was brutally efficient in rematches against Arturo Godoy, Buddy Baer, Billy Conn and Jersey Joe Walcott… Better numbers than Ali, but The Greatest fought a better level of opposition.

 

LARRY HOLMES

Hall of Fame title reign followed Ali’s and preceded Mike Tyson’s emergence… Excellent boxer-puncher who had a ramrod jab and champion’s heart… Won the WBC title with an epic split decision win over Ken Norton in 1978 at 28, missing the prime Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman… Reigned for seven years, making 20 defenses… Beat his hero, a badly faded Ali (TKO 10) and several undefeated young guns, including Gerry Cooney (TKO 13), Tim Witherspoon (SD 15) and Carl Williams (UD 15)… Lost the title to Michael Spinks (UD 15) just one win away from equaling Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 record.

 

LENNOX LEWIS

 The erudite British fighter, who won gold at the 1988 Olympics, was the leader of a new generation of bigger-but-athletic heavyweights… Skills and power in abundance, picked up the WBC title after Olympic finals rival Riddick Bowe dumped the belt… Defeated the top contenders of the 1990s, including Razor Ruddock (TKO 2), Frank Bruno (TKO 7), Tommy Morrison (TKO 6), Ray Mercer (UD 10), Andrew Golota (KO 1) and David Tua (UD 12)… Impressive performances against Evander Holyfield (D 12/ UD 12) and Mike Tyson (TKO 8) came after former champs’ primes… KO losses to Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman hurt his standing, but rematch victories proved his mettle… Beat every fighter he faced… Made 14 defenses over three title reigns before retiring as champion.

 

JACK JOHNSON

Had to wait for a shot at the title when then-champion James J. Jeffries refused to face him… Later became the first African American heavyweight champion when granted a title shot vs. Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia… Held the title for seven years after his one-sided beating of Burns was halted by the police during the 14th round… Eight defenses followed, including one against friend and middleweight champion Stanley Ketchel (KO 12) and a faded, out-of-retirement Jeffries, dubbed the “Great White Hope” going into the racially charged “Fight of the Century,” who was battered and stopped in 15 rounds… Hugely famous, infamous and polarizing during his era.

A Notch Below: George Foreman, Jack Dempsey, Rocky Marciano, Evander Holyfield 

 

Cruiserweight

EVANDER HOLYFIELD

The only undisputed cruiserweight and heavyweight champion… Turned professional after winning bronze at the 1984 Olympics as a light heavyweight… Grew into the cruiserweight division (190-pound limit at the time) and edged WBA titlholder Dwight Muhammad Qawi (SD 15) in the first great fight of the new division… Made five defenses, which included Ricky Parkey (KO 3) for the IBF title, Qawi (KO 4) in a rematch, and Carlos De Leon (TKO 8) for the WBC belt. 

 

OLEKSANDR USYK

Claimed gold at the 2012 Olympics in the heavyweight (201-pound) division… Proved to be a road warrior, besting top opposition in their homelands, including Krzysztof Glowacki (UD 12) in Poland for the WBO belt, Michael Hunter (UD 12) in the U.S., Marco Huck (TKO 10) in Germany, Mairis Briedis (MD 12) in Latvia for the WBC title and a near shutout over Murat Gassiev (UD 12) in Russia to become the undisputed Ring Magazine champion… Ended championship tenure with win vs. Tony Bellew (KO 8) in England… The only real challenger to Holyfield as the top fighter in the division’s history.

 

CARLOS DE LEON

 The talented Puerto Rican was a four-time WBC titleholder and two-time Ring champion in the 1980s… Loss to S. T. Gordon (TKO 2) hurts standing, but he beat the big puncher in a rematch (UD 12)… A mainstay in the division throughout the 1980s, but his chin let him down on occasion.

 

 

DAVID HAYE

A real gunslinger in his early days, which cost him against Carl Thompson, who handed him his first loss via fifth-round stoppage… To his credit, he came back well to win the European title with a demolition of Alexander Gurov (KO 1)… Crossed The Channel to face Ring/WBA/WBC champ Jean-Marc Mormeck and recovered from a slow start to stop the Frenchman (TKO 7)… Added the WBO title when he stopped Enzo Maccarinelli (TKO 2)… Vacated to move up to heavyweight, where he also enjoyed success.

 

JUAN CARLOS GOMEZ

A Cuban amateur standout who headed to Germany to live and fight as a professional… Active and dominant during a three-year reign, made 10 defenses of the WBC title before vacating to move up to heavyweight… Solid but unspectacular list of opponents, but none came close to beating him… Shame he wasn’t able to unify titles with either Johnny Nelson or Vassiliy Jirov.

 

A Notch Below: Johnny Nelson, James Toney, Vassiliy Jirov, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Jean-Marc Mormeck 

 

Light heavyweight

EZZARD CHARLES

“The Cincinnati Cobra” is widely considered the premier fighter in the division’s long and illustrious history despite never winning the world title… Was as slick as he was tough and very capable defensively… Charles beat the best 175-pounders of his time, including Archie Moore, Joey Maxim, Jimmy Bivins and Lloyd Marshall… What helps separate him from other light heavyweight greats is that he beat Moore in their three fights (UD 10, MD 10, KO 8)… Impressively won and defended the heavyweight title in the late 1940s/early 1950s.

 

ARCHIE MOORE 

“The Old Mongoose,” who turned pro at middleweight, where he was a top-10 contender for years, didn’t get a shot at the title. It wasn’t until he was a grizzled 36-year-old veteran (according to BoxRec and Wikipedia; according to The Ring and the Boxing Register record books, his title shot came four days after his 39th birthday)… Beat Joey Maxim (UD 15), who was coming off a win over Sugar Ray Robinson, for the 175-pound title and reigned until he was 45 (or 48, depending on your source)… Defended the title vs. Maxim (UD 15), Harold Johnson (TKO 14), Bobo Olson (KO 3) and Yvon Durelle (KO 11/KO 3). Incredible power earned him 132 career knockouts (131 according to the Boxing Register).

 

BOB FOSTER

Possessed daunting height (6-foot-3) and reach (79 inches) that kept opponents on the outside and in the line of his fearsome power punches… Brutally knocked out two-division champ Dick Tiger (KO 4) to become undisputed champion in 1968… Made a then-division record of 14 defenses, 10 by stoppage… scored impressive title-defense knockouts against top contender Andy Kendall (TKO 4), WBA titleholder Vicente Rondon (KO 2) and unbeaten (35-0) Mike Quarry (KO 4), which was particularly chilling… Yearned to be heavyweight champion but lacked the size. He was unsuccessful against Joe Frazier (KO 2) and Muhammad Ali (KO 8).

 

MICHEAL SPINKS

Claimed gold at the 1976 Olympics and rapidly made his way up the ranks with the goal of unifying the WBA and WBC titles, which had remained separate since Foster’s retirement… Beat good opposition, including Yaqui Lopez and Marvin Johnson, during his march to coronation against WBA titleholder Eddie Mustafa Muhammad (UD 15) in the summer of 1981… Made 10 defenses over a four-year period… Most notably outpointed Dwight Muhammad Qawi (UD 15) to add Ring and WBC championships to his collection… Retired as undisputed champ and made history by beating Larry Holmes for the Ring and IBF heavyweight titles.

 

GENE TUNNEY

“The Fighting Marine” served in World War I… Known for his late-career surge at heavyweight, however, he excelled at 175 pounds… Beat Battling Levinsky (PTS 12) for the U.S. title… Impressively beat future middleweight champion Harry Greb in three of their four meetings at light heavyweight… Could also boast wins over Georges Carpentier (TKO 15) and Tommy Gibbons (KO 12).

 

A Notch Below: Roy Jones Jr., Sam Langford, Tommy Loughran 

 

Super middleweight

JOE CALZAGHE

Quick-fisted Welshman showed championship mettle in his first test, against Chris Eubank (UD 12), which earned him the WBO title in 1997… Compiled 21 defenses, a joint division record he shares with Sven Ottke… Busy southpaw turned back the challenges of Richie Woodhall (TKO 10), Charles Brewer (UD 12) and Byron Mitchell (TKO 2), but he established himself as a future Hall of Famer toward the end of his 10-year reign with masterful performances against the favored Jeff Lacy (UD 12) for the vacant Ring Magazine championship and IBF title, and Mikkel Kessler (UD 12) for the WBC and WBA straps… retired undefeated (46-0). 

 

ROY JONES JR.

The IBF middleweight titleholder tested the 168-pound waters against Thulani “Sugar Boy” Malinga (KO 6) in a super middleweight non-title bout… Showed he was a once-in-a-generation talent by dominating unbeaten (44-0-2) IBF super middleweight champ James Toney (UD 12)… Reigned for less than two years, which hurt his chances of being No. 1 in this ranking, but many believe he was untouchable at 168 pounds… Made five defenses, including the blitzing of respected contenders Antoine Byrd (TKO 1) and Tony Thornton (TKO 3).

 

ANDRE WARD

Took time to settle in the professional game after winning gold at the 2004 Olympics… A calculating but tenacious technician and a very good tactical fighter… Beat pre-fight favorite Mikkel Kessler (TD 11) for the WBA title in the first round of the Super Six World Boxing Classic 168-pound tournament… Advanced to the Super Six final by posting near-shutout wins over Allan Green (UD 12), Sakio Bika (UD 12) in an out-of-tournament bout and Arthur Abraham (UD 12)… Widely outpointed Carl Froch (UD 12) in the final to unify WBA/WBC titles and win the vacant Ring Magazine championship… Lured light heavyweight champ Chad Dawson down to 168 pounds, stopping the talented southpaw in 10 rounds.

 

JAMES TONEY

Made a name for himself at middleweight, where his IBF title run in 1991 earned him The Ring’s Fighter of the Year award, but weight issues forced him to move up… After testing the super middleweight waters against veteran Doug DeWitt (TKO 6), Toney impressively took apart IBF kingpin Iran Barkley (TKO 9) in February 1993… A throwback fighter who lived in the gym and thrived on activity, he fought seven times in 1993, notching a solid win over respected Tony Thornton (UD 12) in his maiden defense. Notched two thrilling defenses, vs. Tim Littles (TKO 4) and Prince Charles Williams (TKO 12), in 1994 before his loss to Jones.

 

CARL FROCH

“The Cobra” was a three-time super middleweight titleholder… Always looked to test himself and fought a murderers’ row of opposition… Not as gifted as those above him, but was heavy-handed, iron-jawed, physically strong and disciplined… Used his toughness and underrated skill to beat several world-class fighters, including Jean Pascal (UD 12), Jermain Taylor (TKO 12), Andre Dirrell (SD 12), Lucian Bute (TKO 5), Kessler (UD 12) and George Groves (TKO 9/KO 8).

 

A Notch Below: Mikkel Kessler, Sven Ottke, Nigel Benn, Steve Collins, Lucian Bute, Canelo Alvarez 

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Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected].

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