The 100 Greatest Punchers of the last 100 Years: 11-20
On this day (December 1) in 2018, Deontay Wilder defended his WBC heavyweight title with a split-decision draw against unbeaten former Ring/unified champ Tyson Fury. Wilder dropped Fury in Rounds 9 and 12, seemingly finishing the giant Englishman one minute into the final round. But Fury miraculously beat the count and finished the round.
Fury is the only Wilder opponent to survive being dropped by the Bronze Bomber. Wilder, who cracked the top 20 of The Ring’s recent ranking of the 100 greatest punchers of the last 100 years, has stopped everyone else he’s knocked down in 42 pro bouts. The following article segment, penned by Gareth A Davies, lists Nos. 11-20 from the June 2020 issue (the 100 Greatest Punchers of the Last 100 Years) which is on sale at the Ring Shop.
11. Rocky Marciano
(49-0, 43 KOs) • Active 1947-1955
Unorthodox and a brutal puncher, Marciano could always rely on “Suzie Q,” the ring sobriquet for his game-changing right hand, no more in evidence than his winning of the world heavyweight title from Jersey Joe Walcott in September 1952. Dropped in the first and controlled by the savvy champion for 12 rounds, Rocky pulled out that right hand 33 seconds into the 13th – a short right to the jaw. Walcott was felled like he had been shot, his left arm hooked over the middle rope, for one of Rocky’s most memorable moments, beginning his three year-reign as undefeated champion. “The Brockton Blockbuster,” standing just 5-foot-10, was an explosive puncher, his natural physique enhanced by his interest in weightlifting in his youth, working out with homemade equipment, and later under the guidance of Charles Atlas. His strength was also enhanced through his early days laboring on the railroads and ditch-digging. Marciano won his first 16 bouts by knockout and ended his career with stoppages against Joe Louis, Walcott (twice), Ezzard Charles (in their rematch) and Archie Moore. To land punches, you need to be in range, and “The Rock” – aptly named with his granite chin – would walk indestructibly through punches to reach opponents. A fierce finisher with no fear, he had killer instinct and was happy to hit arms and torsos on his way to stopping his rivals, only five of whom lasted to the final bell (Ted Lowry did it twice).
12. Sonny Liston
(50-4, 39 KOs) • Active 1953-1970
Sonny Liston’s life was as mysterious as his menacing hands. One of 25 siblings, Liston fled rural Arkansas at the age of 13 to live with his mother in St. Louis. He spent more time in the streets than in school and found the troubles that come with such a life. An armed robbery conviction landed him in the Missouri State Penitentiary, where he was introduced to boxing. No stranger to crime before he turned pro (he worked for racketeers as an intimidator and enforcer) his connection to organized crime was no secret as his life and career progressed. However, his punching prowess is unquestionable. Liston’s mean, moody aura added to his physicality. Liston had an astounding, powerful physique. He stood 6-foot-1, had an 84-inch reach, and had massive fists that measured 15 inches around, reputed to be the largest of any heavyweight champion. And he put those huge paws to devastating use. Everything came off his left hand, a ramrod punch that sent his opponents’ heads buffeting back, to set up his deadly club of a right hand or powerful hook. He knocked out 39 of his 50 victims in the ring, including the feared Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams, whom he bested twice (TKO 3, TKO 2). He also stopped top-10 contenders Wayne Bethea (TKO 1), Mike DeJohn (TKO 6), Roy Harris (TKO 1) and Zora Folley (KO 3). Notably, Liston flattened Floyd Patterson twice by first-round knockout in back-to-back title bouts. His undoing was meeting one of the smartest fighters in history – Muhammad Ali. As the adage goes, a boxer beats a puncher … and Ali proved too much. Twice. It was to signal the end of Liston’s brief but dominant reign.
13. Mike Tyson
(50-6, 44 KOs) • Active: 1985-2005
Mike Tyson’s reign of terror belies the fact that his style was unique and innately brilliant. He may have created an invincible aura for a period of time – no socks, no robe, a force of nature who dominated the heavyweight division in the 1980s with knockout power that made him a global attraction and the self-styled “Baddest Man On The Planet” – but there was method behind the mayhem. With a come-forward, bobbing, peek-a-boo style to get inside, Tyson was able to unleash hooks and uppercuts as he transferred his weight with brutal effect. From there, Tyson could unleash everything – hooks with either hand from various angles, vicious uppercuts – as he went head-hunting. A very short heavyweight by modern standards, that style and his ferocious intent made him an irresistible star. His first 19 fights were won by knockout, 12 in the first round, in the first year of his professional career, and in 1986, 20-year-old “Iron Mike” became the youngest heavyweight champion ever when he knocked out Trevor Berbick in the second round. Tyson’s popularity peaked in 1988 with a brutal knockout of Michael Spinks in 91 seconds, when Tyson was one of the world’s most famous people. He was involved in one of the craziest stories ever to transpire in boxing (biting off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear in 1997) and one of the biggest upsets in the history of sports (being KO’d himself by Buster Douglas in 1990), but his star waned as opponents figured him out. But at his peak, Tyson was one of the most destructive and overwhelming combination punchers ever to enter the ring.
14. Bob Foster
(56-8-1, 46 KOs) • Active: 1961-1978
So dominant was Bob Foster that the long, angular fighter who reigned as light heavyweight champion for six years (1968-1974) challenged the top heavyweights of his era. Defeats to Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali demonstrated that he was simply not big enough to compete with the best of the glamour division. But at 175 pounds, where it took him eight years to get a title shot, Foster’s piercing, rangy jab, followed by power in both hands up close, made him a near-perfect punching practitioner. One of many highlights in a record-setting career of 14 title defenses was Foster’s KO of Nigeria-born idol Dick Tiger in the fourth round in May 1968, when he claimed the crown with a big left hook to the jaw, short and sweet, knocking out Tiger for the only time in his 81-fight career. Foster had a 79-inch reach and a phenomenal jab, but his left hooks could put opponents to sleep. He landed it to the jaw of challenger Mike Quarry at the end of the fourth round of their fight in 1972, leaving Quarry out cold. Trained by the great Eddie Futch, he also trounced WBA titleholder Vicente Rondon in two brutal rounds.
15. Thomas Hearns
(61-5-1, 48 KOs) • Active: 1977-2006
He was known as “The Hitman” for good reason. Hearns claimed victories in his first 17 fights by knockout. The Detroit star recorded 48 KOs in his 67-fight career, including, of course, his stoppage of Roberto Duran, the only knockout defeat of the Panamanian’s career while at the top level, brutally dismantling his underprepared foe with devastating right hands in two rounds. Hearns’ punching power – plus his tenacity, speed, height and telescopic reach – carried him to winning titles in five weight divisions, the first man to do so. With a superb upper-body physique, the looseness of his muscles typified the skills of a power puncher. Fast and mobile, he was once described as “a fighting machine who might have been built by a committee.” The only aspect that let him down, though later in his career, was his chin. His tactics in the famous fight with Marvelous Marvin Hagler were reckless and suicidal in many ways. Yet it is a fight that has also immortalized his courage, and it was born of knowing just how destructive the Kronk Gym legend could be with his hands.
16. Deontay Wilder
(42-2-1, 41 KOs) • Active: 2008-present
Deontay Wilder is simply one of the biggest single-punch knockout artists in the history of the heavyweight division. A raw, unorthodox stalker, the 6-foot-7 Wilder is known – and perhaps feared – for his exceptional power. His punches, notably his straight right hand and the left hook, have accounted for 41 knockouts in his 42 career victories, dispatching every opponent he has faced (he followed a decision win over Bermane Stiverne with a first-round KO in the rematch) apart from Tyson Fury. The Alabamian’s knockout-to-win percentage stands at 97.6 percent – 69.2 percent in title bouts – with 20 knockouts in the first round. Until losing the WBC crown in the trilogy of contests with Fury, Wilder had defended the title 10 times in five years, including a chilling first-round KO of 2012 U.S. Olympian Dominic Breazeale and a one-punch, seventh-round knockout of perennial contender Luis Ortiz in 2019 (the latter won The Ring’s KO of the Year award).
17. Khaosai Galaxy
(47-1, 41 KOs) • Active: 1980-1991
Arguably the greatest junior bantamweight ever (and named after a nightclub) Khaosai Galaxy had unbelievable punching power, particularly in the southpaw’s legendary left hand. Originally a Muay Thai fighter, schooled in the art from childhood, he switched to boxing on the advice of his manager and trainer. Khaosai’s modus operandi was closing the distance and firing the left hand from several angles. As his experience grew, he added combination punching to that destructive left, which was just as often aimed at the midsection. Fast feet also enabled Khaosai to walk down the best boxers he faced. He won the vacant WBA title at 115 pounds against Eusebio Espinal in 1984, knocking out the previously undefeated Dominican in the sixth round to begin the longest title reign in the division’s history. Khaosai defended the belt 19 times across seven years, winning 16 of those title fights by knockout. In the mid-1980s, when heavyweight champion Mike Tyson was in his prime and scoring knockouts over everyone, boxing fans nicknamed Khaosai “The Thai Tyson” for good reason.
18. Alexis Arguello
(77-8, 62 KOs) • Active: 1968-1995
“El Flaco Explosivo” (“The Explosive Thin Man”) was a poker-faced stalker with textbook technique and fight-ending power in both hands. “Bring me the best,” the Nicaraguan would say, “and I will knock them out.” Oh, and he did. Arguello started early, a professional aged 16, boxing for $10 a bout. He was tall at 5-foot-9 and an excellent body-puncher with an armory of brutal hooks. In his 40th fight, Arguello knocked out Mexican ring master Ruben Olivares to win the WBA featherweight crown in 1975, adding the Ring championship three fights later against Rigoberto Riasco. He took his punching power up to junior lightweight in 1978, stopping Alfredo Escalera in 13 rounds in “The Bloody Battle of Bayamon,” leaving Escalera with a broken nose and cuts above his eyes. They met again in 1979. Escalera was behind after 12 and was stopped again in the 13th. Arguello was a smart boxer, combining clever ring skills with his combinations and taking the opportunity to bulldoze his opponents if the pattern of a fight needed to change. Those skills and punching prowess allowed him to become the first fighter in history to attempt becoming a four-weight world champion, but he was outgunned by Aaron Pryor in two junior welterweight title fights, losing in the 14th and 10th rounds. There are weight divisions for a reason. But it was stamina that cost him against a naturally bigger fighter in Pryor, not punching power.
19. Carlos Zarate
(66-4, 63 KOs) • Active: 1970-1988
One of the greatest Mexican boxers in history – belonging in the pantheon alongside Ruben Olivares, Julio Cesar Chavez, Salvador Sanchez and, arguably, Canelo Alvarez – Ring Magazine’s Fighter of the Year in 1977 was a bantamweight from Mexico City with power, skills and tenacity. Growing up, Zarate was expelled from schools for always being in fights. He was tall for his weight, and due to his reach he could hit opponents with a rapier left jab before dominating with combinations from the mid-range. By May 1976, when he challenged Rodolfo Martinez for the WBC title, Zarate had a record of 39-0, with 38 of those wins by stoppage. In that fight, he won by knockout in the ninth round, confirming his hard-hitting style all the way to world level. Nine times, Zarate defended the world title, but arguably his greatest triumph was viciously taking out former stablemate Alfonso Zamora in four rounds in a 1977 non-title bout. He was a victim himself of Wilfredo Gomez in 1978, and two bouts later he lost his title via controversial decision to stablemate Lupe Pintor in Las Vegas the following year.
20. Max Baer
(66-13, 51 KOs) • Active 1929-1941
Baer might have been dubbed “the clown prince of boxing,” but there was nothing laughable about the physique, power and fearlessness of the 6-foot-2½ heavyweight champion. Baer stamped his authority as a puncher in the first 15 months of his career, winning 20 times by knockout in 27 fights. Overall, his right hand was a hammer, and the man from Omaha is credited by some sources with more than 100 career knockdowns. Famously, Baer knocked Primo Carnera down 11 times in as many rounds to capture the title in 1934. “You’re nothing more than overstuffed salami, and when I get through with you, you’ll think you’ve been through a meat grinder,” Baer had told Carnera at the weigh-in, even pulling chest hairs off the champion. They were the antics of a character of the time, a star indeed. An out-and-out playboy to boot, Baer lost the title in 1935 to “Cinderella Man” Jim Braddock and said afterward, “He can use the title; he has three kids. I don’t know how many I’ve got.” But Baer’s punching power and knockout tally took him into an exclusive club in the sport with over 50 knockouts. A heavyweight puncher in every department.