My All-Time Top 5 Heavyweights
By Sina Latif
As the old adage states: ‘As goes the heavyweight division goes boxing.’
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 became bigger 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 blue-ribbon division 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) George Foreman
George Foreman had two historic careers, becoming a twice lineal heavyweight champion 20 years apart.
Foreman’s first career was from 1969-77. At this time, Foreman was a 6’3, human wrecking ball weighing in anywhere between 217-232 lbs, winning the heavyweight title by destroying undefeated undisputed champion Joe Frazier with six knockdowns in two rounds in 1973 and also demolishing Ken Norton in two rounds. Legitimate all-time greats were being brutalised by Big George.
He was a dominant heavyweight during the deepest era in heavyweight history in the 70’s.
Foreman then became a lineal champion again in 1994 and became the oldest heavyweight champion in history in the process after knocking out an undefeated Michael Moorer during his second career, which was from 1987-97. In his second stint, he usually fought between 240-267 lbs. He was slower due to the heavier weight and older age, but smarter and more calculated.
If a man can be amongst the very best in the greatest era in heavyweight history and then be a world champion in another great era 20 years after, then we are talking about a legend of the blue-ribbon division.
4) Lennox Lewis
Once Lennox Lewis linked up with late legendary trainer Emanuel Steward and refined his style, he became 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 and weighing over 240 lbs, Lewis had considerable size advantage over the large majority of past heavyweights, but also had the skills to back up the size.
Lewis had the ability to end any fight at any moment, establishing a long jab which would set up a destructively powerful right hand, and he was a lethal finisher. However, Lewis was not a one-dimensional fighter. He possessed tremendous boxing skills. He had the boxing ability to out-box great fighters. A real boxer-puncher.
The last man to be undisputed heavyweight champion, running through a heavyweight era filled with quality opposition.
He knocked out Donovan ‘Razor’ Ruddock, Andrew Golota and Mike Tyson. He out-boxed Evander Holyfield and David Tua. He went to the trenches against Ray Mercer and Vitali Klitschko, and prevailed.
He beat everyone who climbed into the ring with him, and avenged his only two losses to Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman.
Lewis could always adapt according to his opponent and circumstances in a fight.
A fighter with finesse and power. Lewis’ legacy will always live on.
3) Larry Holmes
After the ‘Easton Assassin’ defeated Ken Norton via split-decision after their thrilling 15-round war in 1978, Larry Holmes defended his title an unbelievable 19 times during a dominant seven-year reign.
Although Holmes did not receive the respect and appreciation he deserved at the time, the heavyweight division needed somebody worthy to be handed the torch as the glorious 70’s era was coming to an end with the conclusion of some legendary careers, and with the beauty of hindsight and perspective, Holmes was the perfect man for the job.
Holmes was an imposing figure with the best jab in heavyweight history and educated footwork, with the most courage and heart you will ever see in a fighter. On his day, Holmes had the potential to beat any heavyweight in history, past or present.
Holmes was one victory away from equalling Rocky Marciano’s undefeated 49-0 record before a controversial points decision loss to Michael Spinks.
Like Foreman, Holmes also fought the best of two era’s. He fought Norton, Earnie Shavers, Muhammad Ali, Trevor Berbick, Leon and Michael Spinks, Gerry Cooney, Mike Weaver, Tim Witherspoon, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Ray Mercer.
Holmes showed a special type of greatness at times. In his second fight with huge-hitting Shavers, he got hit flush on the jaw by arguably the biggest punch in heavyweight history, Shavers’ overhand right. Holmes got up, 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 by stopping Shavers. The same happened against Renaldo Snipes, with Snipes raising his fists in the air believing that Holmes was finished as he tried rising back up and fell face-first into the turnbuckle in doing so, before Holmes again showed the heart, chin and recuperative powers that can only be found in special champions by prevailing yet again via stoppage.
During his prime, when he had the longest individual heavyweight title streak in modern history, Holmes was one of the greatest champions boxing has ever seen.
2) Joe Louis
Louis is the most complete heavyweight in history. He had outstanding footwork, two-fisted punching power, hand speed, dominant left jab, combination punching, inside-fighting and was a great finisher. All delivered with balance and precision. He could execute combinations with power, accuracy and speed. He had it all.
He has a record succession of 25 consecutive title defences, the longest single reign in heavyweight history, from 1937-1949. 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.
Louis’ domination was such that he participated in a “Bum of the Month” club in order to stay busy.
In the ring, he was one of the greatest boxer-punchers of all time. 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 to and during World War Two, Louis’ cultural impact was felt in the United States and beyond as a vital point of anti-Nazi sentiment.
The rematch between Louis and Max Schmeling carried significant political and racial significance, and Louis achieved his biggest career victory, finishing the German in the first round, avenging his sole pro career defeat until that point in devastatingly emphatic fashion.
Louis was a phenomenal fighter in the ring, and a national hero out of the ring.
1) Muhammad Ali
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.
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. There was genuine fears for Ali’s health. The 22-year-old ‘shook up the world’. Again, when preparing to take on Foreman in 1974, the most seemingly indestructible of them all, nobody believed that Ali could beat Foreman. Ali’s health was deemed to be in danger again prior to this fight. Similarly, Ali managed to pull off the biggest of upsets in the historically transcendent “Rumble in the Jungle”. This victory sealed Ali’s legend.
Ali was a big man who moved like a welterweight, the most physically gifted heavyweight to grace the division. His speed and movement made him unbeatable during his prime in the 1960’s. His greatness was established in the 1970’s due to the intangibles. Iron chin, probably the best in boxing ever, unbreakable will to win, and the willingness to absorb tremendous punishment in order to prevail.
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.
Prime Ali owned the ring and danced whilst outclassing opponents with such flair and charm, it was a beauty to watch.
“The Greatest” he was.