A directive was recently issued to me, that of a compilation of the greatest top 10 heavyweights of all time, a daunting task for the serious aficionado full of disputation to be sure. The criteria ain’t specified other than the assumption of my own unique perspective, so with me and myself having seen and made so many such lists as to become fuzzy over time, I am going to recreate two lists based on two distinct criteria; that of the overall excellence of record, and that of looking at heavies who had the biggest impact on boxing and the world in which they lived, both leavened with the unique opportunities and obstacles of their eras.
The first list is the boxing and world impact, both of which have the biggest influence in boxing.
1.Joe Louis…It don’t get any bigger worldwide than the rematch with Max Schmeling on the eve of WW2 in a bout that was relayed worldwide via the nascent radio of the era. Joe was the first black American heavyweight the overwhelming white majority could rally around and set the stage for the post WW2 integration of Major League Baseball and the US armed forces and subsequent civil rights movements. Need I add that Joe was also a major inspiration in the development of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King as young boys avidly listening to his fights on the radio?
2.The Klitschko brothers…Their collective was 109-7, 94 KO and never once took a ten count that averages ot to 55-4, 47 KO. Between them they moved the heavyweight division to Germany and knocked Don King out of the heavy division to usher in the continuing saga of East European dominance of the heavier boxing divisions.
3.Bob Fitzsimmons…A rare trifecta of being part the first proposed full length feature cinematographic project by Thomas Edison’s Black Maria Studio, the first title fight against James J Corbett to be held in Dallas, Texas, circa 1895 that was cancelled when the Texas Legislature made prize fighting illegal. The always overly dramatic Corbett publicly forfeited his title that was then fought over near Langtry, Texas by Fitz and Peter Maher.
Maher had previously claimed the forfeited Corbett title in November of 1895 against Steve O’Donnell with a 1st rd KO. Fitz and Maher were situated in 1896 on a spit island in the middle of the Rio Grande(Bravo) for the first failed full length feature cinematographic project by Thomas Edison. Tragically the crew could not not get properly set up in misty conditions before Maher became his own victim of a first round KO as his claims to the title transferred to Ruby Robert. Whatever may have been filmed has thus far been lost in time though hope springs eternal that it may possibly turn up.
The 1897 Corbett vs Fitz fight held in Reno, Nevada, the first ever successful full length feature film that additionally became the first ever national and international blockbuster that established art of cinematography permanently in the world. Subsequently James J Jeffries helped develop the art of cinematography further when he knocked out Fitz to claim the title though sadly almost all of the Jeffries film has be either lost or waiting to be rediscovered. The first non boxing blockbuster featuring actors was The Great Train Robbery 6 years later in 1903, a film of only 10 minutes for perspective that introduced the first ever silent screen star to the public, Bronco Billy.
4.John L Sullivan, 39-1-1, 33 KO. John L was the first and only unified Bareknucks and Gloved Queensbury champ and the first American to consolidate titles that had previously belonged exclusively to the British. John L first set up the worldwide heavyweight stage in a growing age of literacy and media expansion, where they remained save for a nanoblip by Ingemar Johansson for a century before Lennox Lewis upset the American monopoly.
5A.Jack Dempsey, 55-6-8, 45 KO. Established the modern spectacle of boxing that is seldom matched and never exceeded.
5B.Muhammad Ali, 56-5, 37 KO. Perhaps the 2nd best known fighter in the world only exceeded by the modern phenomenon of Manny Pacquiao and his 3 billion Asian population base enhanced with modern communication broadcasting.
5C.Mike Tyson, 50-6, 44 KO. Youngest ever champ who cleaned up the derelict post Ali era to unify the titles and temporarily wipe Don King’s slate clean. He had already held the record for career purse earnings before King and Robin Givens ever sunk their claws into him.
OK, now, and what about the greatest records?
1.Joe Louis, 66-3, 52 KO. Nominally his 26(27)-1 heavyweight title records were exceeded, but, overall never surpassed. The 27th was Lee Savold who claimed both the white heavy title and the BBBC heavyweight title that Joe is seldom credited with after knocking him out.
2.The Klitschko brothers, 109-7, 94 KO and bukos title fights with nary a 10 count between them. Collectively they smashed the Louis record, and though individually Wlad exceeded his total career heavyweight title fights, he fell short of the overall Louis record. They may well hold the heavyweight record of the most winning rounds scored as overmatched opponents seldom penetrated their defense. More importantly they put down Don King for years of 10 counts and transferred heavyweight title fights to Germany-HERESY to be sure!
3.Rocky, 49-0, 43 KO. The most iconic record in all of boxing. My next door neighbor who knows shinola about boxing can recite Rocky’s record like a mantra.
4.Sam Langford, 178-29-39, 126 KO. Mere numerical records FAIL to capture Sam’s greatness, not the least being the sheer number of fights he had against HOF fighters that greatly exceed all such fights by other fighters.
5.Anthony Joshua, 22-0, 21 KO. Going into his 8th title fight as a unified belt holder, no heavyweight as yet has done as much with such a limited number of fights. I always like to include a current great in rankings just to PO dusty mossbacks not understanding that all the greats in the making were moderns in their day as Josh is.
Consolidating the two lists by working backwards using my fighter ratings as their points totals, that’s Josh with 5 points, Sam with 4 points, Rocky with 3 points, The Ks with 2, and Louis with 1.
Then we have Dempsey, Ali, and Tyson tied with 5 each, John L with 4, Fitz at 3, the Ks at 2 and Louis at 1.
Adding up the two lists with fighters not appearing on both lists being assigned a place value of 6 to keep my rankings on keel, That’s Louis 1+1 with 2 pts, the Ks 2+2 with 4, Fitz 3+6 with 9, John L 4+6 with 10, Dempsey, Ali, and Tyson, all 5+6 with 11 each, Josh 5+6 with 11, Sam with 10, Rocky with 7. Divided by 2 to get the final point rankings in numerical order:Louis 1, Ks 2, Rocky 3.5, Fitz 4.5, John L 5, Sam 5, and Dempsey, Ali, Tyson, and Josh 5.5
Translated into standard numerical ranking order:Louis 1, Ks 2, Rocky 3, Fitz 4, John L 5A and Sam 5B, Dempsey, Ali, Tyson, and Joshua 7A, 7B, 7C, 7 D.
So technically that 11 heavyweights if we split the Klitschko brothers, but they were such a dominating force in boxing that they really have to be consolidated as one unit to understand their impact.
Honorable mention goes to Manny Pacquiao who has a super duty heavyweight heart encapsulated into that compact frame. He’s become a huge name both here and in the largest potential boxing market in the world, the Asian culture. His dynamic style and willingness to take on, beat, and knock out the most Ring P4Pers in history at the start of the 3rd Millennium after being born into one of the poorest families in history in the 3rd world resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars of career purses, most of which was returned to his native peoples in the forms of schools, hospitals, and other desperately needed infrastructure developments as well as holding Congressional duties as well as too many other interests to stagger reality.
Yeah, I know it ain’t yer Pappy’s top 10 heavyweight rankings, but I ain’t much for feeling like your pappy. It’s my list and the one I’m sticking with for now since their is no agreement on how to rank fighters. I at least gave my methodology combining two important elements. Another ranking method many use is who beats who in a fantasy fight. While interesting from various physical and stylistic attributes, seldom do these rankers specify uniform rules and rounds that would average out the wide ranging eras of the competing fighters and always disputes as to who beats who even before fighters glove up with each other today.
Fighting is the nature of boxing!