5 Best Heavyweight Boxers of All Time

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A Brief History

On June 29, 2017, we take a moment to reflect on the history of boxing, specifically, the history of the big boys, the top dogs, the Kings of the World, the Heavyweight Champions.  On June 28, we discussed former Heavyweight Champion Mike Tyson and his bizarre personality, and while he was a pretty good boxer, he does not make this list.  Why only a top 5?  Once you get past the 5, the next 5 are not in serious contention for being Number 1, and we prefer to keep this list only about boxers that our readers may reasonably consider as being Number 1 of All Time, as we recognize the personal preference bias involved in compiling such a list.  

Digging Deeper

1.  Wladamir Klitschko.

The big (6 feet 6 inches) Ukrainian “Dr. SteelHammer” won the Superheavyweight boxing Gold Medal at the 1996 Olympics and won his first professional heavyweight championship in 2000.  Klitschko held the major sanctioning body titles, WBA, WBO (twice), IBF, IBO, Ring Magazine and Lineal titles giving him great credibility as Best of All Time.  He held the title longer than any other Heavyweight boxer except Joe Louis, and defended his title 23 times, losing the 23rd defense to Tyson Fury in November of 2015 ending a 9-year reign as the supreme heavyweight boxer on the planet.  Klitschko fought all the best opponents available and never ducked a fight, his brother, Vitali (also a Heavyweight Champion, having held the WBC, WBO, and The Ring titles) being the only top fighter Wladimir did not box.  Klitschko fought in 29 Heavyweight title fights (the record) with 23 successful defenses (to Joe Louis’ 25, while Larry Holmes had 20 defenses and Muhammad Ali had 19).  In 2015 BoxRec ranked Wladimir the Number 1 pound for pound fighter in the world, while in 2014 The Ring rated him the Number 2 pound for pound fighter in the world.  Record: 69 fights, 64 wins, 53 knockouts.  Note: Vitali is currently Mayor of Kiev, Ukraine.  Vitali and Wladimir both have PhD’s!  (No kidding, not the honorary kind, the real kind!)

2.  Rocky Marciano.

Born Rocco Marchegiano in Brockton, Massachusetts, Rocky won the Heavyweight crown in 1952 and held the title until his retirement in 1956, having defended the title successfully all 6 time.  Marciano retired as the only undefeated Heavyweight Boxing Champion ever, with a spotless record of 49 wins and 0 losses, with 43 knockouts.  His 88% rate of knockouts is among the best ever as well.  Although only 5’10 ½” and around 190 pounds he seems tiny by today’s heavyweight standards, though he was known as having an iron chin and blockbuster punches, not surprisingly resulting in a swarming, brawling style of boxing.  Consideration of Marciano as possibly the Best of All Time is controversial given his lesser number of title defenses and smallish stature.  Still, you just cannot take away that one of a kind perfect record.

3.  Joe Louis.

What stops this author and other pundits from unanimously proclaiming the “Brown Bomber” the unequivocal best of all time is the allegation that he fought many of his title defenses against less than the best available challenger.  Otherwise, his reign as Heavyweight Champion was the longest (140 consecutive months) and he had 26 consecutive title defenses, deserving of at least serious consideration as the best ever.  His stellar record is 66 wins in 69 fights, 52 by knockout, and only 3 losses.  In 2005 Ring Magazine ranked Louis as #1 of the Top 100 Punchers of All Time, and the International Boxing Research Organization ranked him as the top heavyweight boxer of all time.   Joe’s legacy is marred by the 29 months from 1939 to 1941 when he entertained a whopping 13 title defenses, an unheard-of number of fights in that amount of time.  The top contender was ranked #2, so he never even fought a #1 contender during this period, though he did fight 2 opponents that were not even Top 10, and one was a light heavyweight.  (As opposed to Klitschko who only fought the best opponents.)  This period was derisively called “The Bum of the Month Club.”

4.  Larry Holmes.

Ranking 3rd all-time with 20 title defenses, the “Easton Assassin” fought 75 times with 69 wins, 44 by knockout.  Holmes was poised to match the peerless record of Rocky Marciano when he took a perfect 48-0 record into a title fight with Michael Spinks in 1985.  Crushed by his lost brush with history, Holmes demanded and got a rematch with Spinks, and retired after losing that bout.  As many fighters do, Holmes came out of retirement and fought another 25 fights.  Larry Holmes is one of only five fighters to defeat Muhammad Ali, and is the only boxer ever to score a TKO against Ali.  If Holmes had only won one of his (or more) five attempts to regain the Heavyweight Championship he may well be considered #1, but we can only rank him #4.

5.  Muhammad Ali.

Born Cassius Clay, the “Louisville Lip” consistently proclaimed himself “The Greatest,” which causes many fans to mistakenly believe Ali was indeed the greatest heavyweight boxer, but we do not think so.  Larry Holmes slaughtered a 38  year old Ali in 1980, so bad that Holmes had won all 10 rounds and Ali’s corner would not send him out for the 11th Round.  Of Ali’s 5 losses, one came at age 29 to Joe Frazier and another came at age 31 to Ken Norton, times when Ali was presumably at the peak of his career.  Ali’s career record of 61 wins (37 by knockout) and 5 losses is extremely good, and worthy of ranking on our list, just missing out on being considered #1 because of those losses in his prime and his low knockout percentage compared to the other boxers listed here.

Question for students (and subscribers): Who would you add to the list?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Hudson, John.  The Greatest Heavyweights.  2015.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.