My All-Time Top Five Heavyweights
By Sina Latif
As the old adage states: ‘When the heavyweight division goes, boxing goes.’
There is no division in boxing which generates as much excitement for the hardcore fans and the casual public alike quite like the big boys.
There has been some phenomenal heavyweights throughout history, consisting of men with frightening power, fighters who contradict their physiques with their fighting styles, and men who were greater than boxing.
With some active elite heavyweights plying their trade today and dangerous contenders hot on their heels, the attention and the excitement surrounding ‘the big boys league’ has swayed this writer to put forward his all-time top five big men to leave a lasting legacy during the long history of the heavyweight division.
5) Lennox Lewis (41-2-1, 32 KOs)
Lewis is the most accomplished heavyweight of an era in heavyweight boxing which is second only to the glorious 1970’s. He proved to be the real class act of the 90’s and won an immensely impressive 15 title bouts during a superb career.
He was an Olympic champion who then developed during his professional career into a giant heavyweight who fought with finesse. The late legendary trainer Emanuel Steward put the finishing touches on Lewis as a heavyweight and helped him to become a formidable fighter who possessed the skills and physical attributes to fit into any era and hold his own against any heavyweight in history.
Standing at 6’5 with an 84-inch reach, Lewis had considerable size advantage over the large majority of past heavyweights, but also had the skills to back up the size.
Due to his perhaps underwhelming knockout record of 32 KO’s in 41 victories, there isn’t as much talk as there should be regarding Lewis being one of the hardest punchers in heavyweight history. He had the ability to end any fight at any moment with destructive power in his right hand.
The last man to be undisputed heavyweight champion, running through a heavyweight landscape filled with quality opposition. He beat everyone who climbed into the ring with him, and avenged his only two losses to Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman. A fighter with finesse and power. Lewis’ legacy will always live on.
4) George Foreman (76-5, 68 KOs)
Foreman was a twice-lineal heavyweight champion, astonishingly 20 years apart. He was one of the very best and a stand-out heavyweight during the deepest era in heavyweight history in the 70’s, becoming the lineal champion by beating Joe Frazier in 1973, who had recently defeated the great Muhammad Ali.
Foreman then became a lineal champion again in 1994 during the second greatest era in heavyweight history, beating a prime and undefeated Michael Moorer, who had recently defeated Evander Holyfield. In doing so, he became the oldest heavyweight champion in history at 45.
Big George combined frightening power, size and agility to become one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time.
Foreman fought Ali in the historic “Rumble in the Jungle” in 1974, and then on a momentous occasion in Atlantic City in 1991 when the retired Ali and Frazier were in the ring prior to Foreman’s showdown with a 28-year-old in-prime Holyfield, he had a competitive 12-round battle with a young, undefeated future hall of famer.
Rarely has a boxer found victory in defeat like Foreman did that night. If a man can be amongst the very best in the greatest era in heavyweight history and then be a legitimate top contender who can beat the best of another great era 20 years after, then we are talking about a legend of the blue-ribbon division.
3) Larry Holmes (69-6, 44 KOs)
The Easton Assassin’s longevity, both in terms of his career and title fights, is simply incredible. He had 75 fights over a period of nearly 30 years from 1973 till 2002, amassing a record of 69-6 with 44 KO’s, and after defeating Ken Norton via split-decision after their 15-rounder in 1978, defended his title an unbelievable 19 times.
Like Foreman, Holmes also fought the best of two era’s. He fought Norton, Earnie Shavers, Ali, Trevor Berbick, Leon and Michael Spinks, Gerry Cooney, Tim Witherspoon, Tyson, Holyfield and Ray Mercer.
Holmes showed a special type of greatness at times in his career. In his second fight with huge-hitting Shavers, he got hit flush on the jaw by the trademark punch of one of the biggest punchers in heavyweight history, Shavers’ overhand right. Holmes appeared to be in another galaxy, on shaky legs and wobbling around the ring, but he showed the heart of a lion, weathered the storm in one of the toughest rounds of his career, and prevailed. The same happened against Renaldo Snipes, with Snipes raising his fists in the air believing that Holmes was finished as he scrambled to his feet and fell face-first into the turnbuckle in doing so, before Holmes again showed the heart, grit and recuperative powers that can only be found in special champions by prevailing yet again after going through pain and adversity.
Holmes had possibly the best jab in boxing history and during his prime when he had the longest individual heavyweight title streak in modern history, he was one of the greatest champions boxing has ever seen.
2) Joe Louis (66-3, 52 KOs)
When Louis was in fight mode, nobody could stand up to his lethal ammunition. The man known as “The Brown Bomber” had serious power and courage.
Louis is the most complete heavyweight in history. He had two-fisted punching power, hand speed, crushing left hook, deadly right cross, dominant left jab, combination punching, inside-fighting and was a great finisher. He had it all.
His career lasted from 1934 till 1951 with a record of 66-3 and 52 KO’s. He has a record succession of defences of the heavyweight championship title with 26. He was champion for nearly 12 years, before retiring as champion in March 1949, although he did subsequently make a comeback. Louis’ longevity was simply astounding.
In 2005, the International Boxing Research Organization ranked Louis as the best heavyweight of all time and the Ring Magazine ranked The Brown Bomber as number one in the “100 greatest punchers of all time”.
In the ring, he was a wonderful boxer-puncher. Outside of the ring, he had a real cultural impact in the United States, being viewed as the first African-American to be a nationwide hero. In the lead-up and during World War 2, Louis was a vital point of anti-Nazi sentiment.
The rematch between Louis and Max Schmeling carried significant political, racial and cultural ramifications, and Louis finished the German in the first round.
Louis was a phenomenal fighter in the ring, and a national hero out of the ring.
1) Muhammad Ali (56-5, 37 KOs)
If No.1 isn’t Louis, then it could only be one man.
The self-proclaimed “The Greatest”. He fought during the division’s greatest era and proved himself to be the best. He defeated other all-time greats such as Foreman, Sonny Liston and Frazier, just to name a few of the heavyweight greats he defeated whilst dazzling fans worldwide.
Ali is the most popular and well-known fighter ever, and his influence on the sport and many other fighters and figures in boxing is incredible. He inspired many fighters to take up boxing and believe that they can be one of the greatest and also inspired many more people around the world for various reasons.
Ali was truly greater than boxing.
Let’s put one thing straight. Ali’s actions outside the ring and the manner in which he would stand up for his beliefs were very inspirational, but his out-of-the-ring exploits are not the sole reason this man is known as “The Greatest”.
He fought all-comers during the 70’s golden age of heavyweight boxing and became the first three-time heavyweight world champion.
In 1964, nobody believed that Ali could beat the ferocious Liston, who was knocking almost everybody out. Many thought Liston would literally kill the young challenger. The 22-year-old ‘shook up the world’. Again, when preparing to take on Foreman in 1974, nobody believed that Ali could beat Foreman.
Many were fearing for Ali’s life against the undefeated 25-year-old undisputed world champion who had recently destroyed Frazier and Norton in a combined four rounds. Ali used the genius and ever-since famous rope-a-dope tactic, playing possum, letting Foreman punch himself out before knocking the fearsome puncher out in the eighth round.
Ali could talk the talk and walk the walk. He possessed athleticism and self-belief in abundance to achieve great things in the ring, and had the courage to stand up for black Americans and challenge racial discrimination and segregation which plagued the US at the time out of the ring. Ali had a voice and when he spoke, the world listened.
Ali wasn’t able to box for over three years during his prime as he was stripped of his world heavyweight championship and lost his boxing license due to his refusal to be drafted into the US military for the Vietnam war. Ali was a man of principle who put his career on the line to stand up for his beliefs during his peak, and it still didn’t affect his career or legacy. He continued to become the greatest heavyweight of all time.
Ali owned the ring and danced whilst outclassing opponents with such flair and charm, it was a beauty to watch.
There will probably never be another like him.