For more than a century, boxing has drawn attention, making its prize fighters into superstars. Today, boxing is viewed by millions of fans worldwide, eager to see who will prove themselves next. History has seen its fair share of incredible warriors, but none quite like these: based off of boxing expert listings from ESPN and BoxRec, here are the 25 best boxers in history to ever put on the gloves and step into the ring.
Known as Smokin’ Joe, Frazier fought by crouching low like a tiger and prowling after his prey in the ring. Shoulders hunched, Frazier would wait until the right moment to deliver his powerful left hook. That tactic earned him a remarkable 32 wins, 27 of them by knock-out.
Smokin’ Joe’s career was very much defined by his rivalry with Muhammad Ali. The two men could not have been more opposite; while Ali waxed poetry (“float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”), Frazier’s tones embodied the blue-collar worker. His phrase was simple, “Work is the only meanin’ I’ve ever known, like the man in the song says, I just gotta keep on keepin’ on.”
Mike Tyson is known for that signature soft voice in his day-to-day life, but in the ring a ferocious and intimidating warrior would emerge. Boxing rivals have remarked that “Iron Mike” Tyson was one of the most intimidating fighters ever, almost as if he was able to win fights just by staring his opponents down.
In the ring, Tyson devastated. Out of 50 wins, 44 were by knock-out. As a result, many boxers have openly admitted being afraid to go toe-to-toe with him. But there was still one figure who could bring Tyson to submission: according to the man himself, it was his own coach, Cus D’Amato, who made Tyson “petrified” whenever he was around him.
Considered by many to be the greatest fighter from Argentina to make his presence known in the ring, Carlos Monzon had a calculated form of aggression that left his adversaries laying flat on their backs. As intense as his in-ring career was, it was equally turbulent in his personal life as well.
Being the mega-star of the 1970s that he was in Argentina, he was often seen with a famous movie star or other celebrity on his arm. But that didn’t distract him from his job – in 1990 Monzon was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame as one of the best fighters in any weight class.
“My father told me when I was young that if you learn to sell, you will never starve.” These words seemed to have hit George Foreman like a punch to the gut. Anyone who never had the privilege of witnessing the heavyweight champion in the ring will likely recognize him from the popular George Foreman grill, or his numerous commercial appearances.
But before he shifted gears, Foreman was one of the most feared boxers in the ring. Nicknamed “Big George,” Foreman was both an Olympic and heavyweight champion before retiring in 1977. But “Big” George wasn’t done yet. In 1994, the 45-year-old fighter came back into the ring, winning a stunning fight by knocking out 26-year-old Michael Moorer, making him the oldest heavyweight champion in history.
Considered to be one of the greatest pound-for-pound lightweights in the history of boxing, Benny Leonard, born Benjamin Leiner, was already a pro by the time he was just 15 years old. Six years later, the young fighter won the World Lightweight Championship and held onto it for seven years.
It seems as though fans and critics were practically climbing over themselves to lavish Leonard with praise. British boxing historian Gilbert Odd once wrote of him, “Leonard was coolness itself in the ring, finishing off a beaten opponent with cold fury, recovering quickly when hurt and talking himself out of trouble.”
NEXT: These boxers may have had humble beginnings, but they grew up to become some of the best!
For Tony Canzoneri, growing up in a poor family in Louisiana meant he had to help his family earn an income by shining shoes as a young boy. At age 16, Canzoneri lied about his age in order to change his life and enter in to professional boxing, where he would become a force to be reckoned with in the ring.
Canzoneri was one of the few fighters to contest world championships at four different weights, winning three of them, while also becoming the first boxer ever to win the lightweight title twice. During one of those lightweight champion fights, the former shoe shine boy set another record for quickest knock-out in a lightweight title, 66 seconds, in a fight against Al Singer.
Holding one world championship title is already a near-impossible task in and of itself. With challengers constantly demanding fights to best you, it requires discipline and fortitude to be training enough to stay on top. If that sounds difficult, then imagine how it must be to hold on to three championship titles simultaneously. That’s exactly what Henry Armstrong did.
Armstrong is still the only professional boxer to hold three weight titles simultaneously: in featherweight, welterweight, and lightweight divisions. Constantly going up against opponents, the champion boxer had to defend just his lightweight title alone 19 different times in the course of three years.
With 229 wins, 1,956 rounds boxed, two featherweight championship title wins, and even having allegedly won a fight without throwing a punch, Willie Pep is still considered one of the greatest forces of nature in the history of professional boxing.
Wait, not throwing a punch? Is that even possible? That legend is understandably disputed. But it was known that Pep was very protective of his hands, which were the means to his livelihood, saying, “If he starts hurting me, I’ll have to get him out of there. But I never try to knock guys out because it busts up my hands.”
Being an African-American fighter in the early 1900s meant that even though Joe Gans was one of the best boxers of his era, he still had to overcome any number of discriminatory barriers in order to get into the ring. Even after going pro, promoters would threaten to ban him if he didn’t allow weaker white fighters to last a certain number of rounds, and even beat him on occasion.
In spite of these restrictive and unjust conditions, Joe Gans fought his way to the top, and succeeded. At 28 years old, he won the lightweight title by knocking out fighter Frank Erne in just a single Tround. He was so skilled in the ring, that many began to call this professional boxer the “Old Master.”
Denied an opportunity to fight for the world heavyweight title because of the color of his skin, Sam Langford nevertheless has gone down in history for being one of the greatest boxers in its history. Langford was also a versatile fighter, competing in lightweight and heavyweight competitions.
Sadly, Langford’s career was cut short when he began suffering from vision problems. Afraid to quit and end up destitute, he opted to keep on fighting, staying close to his opponents and even using the ropes to guide him. Fans and sports writers thought so highly of him that they began a fund, which allowed one of the best boxers of his day to live comfortably through retirement.
Almost constantly on the defensive, Dempsey was famous for remaining in a crouch, bobbing and weaving from side to side as he dealt short, fast, devastating blows to his opponents. This skill in the ring made the Colorado native a world heavyweight boxing champion, a title he held onto for over seven years.
Dempsey retired a legend and became a referee in the ring. After the United States entered World War II, Dempsey left the boxing world for good and served as a lieutenant commander in the Coast Guard. Dempsey’s life was full of action and excitement, and well into his 70s, still told reporters he was able to knock out two attempted muggers.
NEXT: These boxers left their mark on history both in the ring and out of it!
Welsh professional boxer and world flyweight champion Jimmy Wilde fought a total of 143 professional fights during the seven short years he was in the ring. During that time, Wilde became the first world flyweight champion after two separate fights, in which he beat both the American and European flyweight champions.
Prior to going pro, Wilde had numerous unrecorded amateur fights. In these “booth” fights, the future champion was pitted toe-to-toe against combatants, many of whom were in fact much bigger than him. Wilde didn’t back down though, and was known for beating many of these unfairly large men, some of whom were heavier by dozens of pounds.
Born to parents who had survived the shackles of slavery, legendary boxer Jack Johnson made history for one very important reason: before 1908, no African-American had been allowed to compete for a world heavyweight championship, Johnson became the first to not only compete, but to also win.
Motivated by racist tabloids, former heavyweight champion James Jeffries promised to come back and defeat Johnson, who by then was happily retired as an alfalfa farmer. Motivated by his fans, Johnson begrudgingly accepted the challenge, and in 1910 came back to face Jeffries in the ring. Jeffries eventually threw in the towel to avoid a knock-out, and was reportedly humbled by his match against Johnson, saying: “I couldn’t have hit him. No, I couldn’t have reached him in 1,000 years.”
A former Marine who served during World War I, Gene Tunney was reportedly inspired by charismatic president Teddy Roosevelt to become physically fit, which eventually led him to professional boxing. Unlike many fighters, who came in swinging from the start, Tunney would pull back, study his opponent, finding their weaknesses, and exploit it.
His cerebral method of fighting would prove to be effective. In 1926, the boxer known as “The Fighting Marine” beat Jack Dempsey to become the world heavyweight boxing champion. His most famous fight, The Long Count Fight, could’ve been taken from a movie. Knocked to the ground by Dempsey, Tunney got up just before the ref counted to 10, and proceeded to dominate the rest of the fight.
Born Edward Henry Greb, Harry Greb was better known by his nickname “The Human Windmill,” given to him for his technique of throwing non-stop punches at his opponents until they dropped. He punched his way to earning the title of world middleweight champion, a title he would defend for three years.
Not only famous for his fights within the ring, Greb was also popular tabloid fodder for his life outside of boxing. Reportedly, the Human Windmill trained very little, preferring partying and womanizing to training and dieting. When asked how he was able to stay in professional shape, the champion boxer credited his high number of matches, numbering in the 400s.
While a soldier awaiting discharge at the end of World War II, Rocky Marciano was already finding his way in the ring. Representing his unit in amateur boxing matches put on by the Army, he won the 1946 Amateur Armed Forces boxing tournament. A year later, and Marciano had already gone pro.
Marciano won an unprecedented 49 fights in a row against numerous adversaries, without losing a single fight. One of his greatest moments happened in 1952, where the veteran fighter beat Jersey Joe Walcott and won the world heavyweight championship. Retiring a champion, Marciano is one of the few who has never been beaten.
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When Joe Frazier, the man who had fought determinedly against Muhammad Ali several times, entered the ring for his fight against Roberto Durán, he could only think of one man to compare him to: “Charles Manson.” Durán was undoubtedly an intimidating fighter, describing himself by saying, “I was Mike Tyson before Mike Tyson came along. Fighters would take one look at me and crap their pants.”
Coming to the United States from Panama, Durán didn’t let his broken English get in the way of trash talking, mentally breaking his opponents with his shameless verbal jabs. He is remembered as a world champion for several weight classes: lightweight, welterweight, junior-middleweight, and middleweight champion.
Born in Ciudad Obregón, Mexico, Julio César Chávez became one of his country’s most popular sports figureheads during his 25-year tenure in the ring between 1980 to 2005. Considered by many publications to be the best pound-for-pound fighter, Chávez’s long career included 107 wins, 86 of which were by knock-out.
Over the course of Chávez’s infamous run, he was the junior lightweight champion from 1984 to 1988 before moving up to welterweight. He then won the International Boxing Federation’s welterweight title in 1990 in one of his most famous fights, knocking out Meldrick Taylor with only 12 seconds remaining in the match.
Before even stepping into the ring professionally, Sugar Ray Leonard (born Ray Charles Leonard) was an Olympic athlete who won gold in the 1976 games in Montreal. Apparently, Leonard actually had no plans to turn his Olympic success into a professional career, preferring to cash out after his medal.
But family woes changed his mind, and Leonard put the gloves back on and stepped once more into the fray. His professional career proved to be just as fruitful as his amateur one. In 1979, Leonard won the World Boxing Council’s welterweight title, and continued to win 36 of his 40 fights over the next five years, more than half by knock-out.
Archie Moore, aka the “Old Mongoose,” was a colorful and charismatic champion, loved by fans as much as he was feared by his challengers. In fact, after so many refusals by other fighters, Moore was essentially cornered into fighting in the heavyweight division, after so many lightweight and middleweight champions stepped back from facing this formidable fighter.
At 39 years old, the Old Mongoose became the world heavyweight champion after beating Joey Maxim in 15 rounds. That title was held for 10 years, until he was knocked out by none other than one Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali), having accepted the boxer’s challenge at 49 years old.
Legendary fighter Joe Louis had a feared and revered knock-out punch. Accurate and effective, it was his finishing move in 43 of his professional fights from 1934 to 1949. During that career, Lewis made history by becoming the longest reigning heavyweight champion, for 12 years, and also holding a title for longer than anyone, even from another weight division.
His career was interrupted by World War II. Louis enlisted to fight for his nation in 1942 and, because he was African-American, was sent to serve in a segregated unit. That Army unit also happened to be the same one that baseball legend Jackie Robinson was in.
The argument has been made by numerous boxing analysts and publications that six-time world champion Sugar Ray Robinson was the best to ever set foot in the ring. As an amateur fighting under his given name of Walker Smith Jr., the future champion won 89 amateur fights in a row, never once suffering a defeat.
Beginning as a professional, it seemed as though he was unstoppable. Robinson won another 40 fights in a row before finally losing one of his six fights to the “Raging Bull”, Jake LaMotta. From 1946 to 1951, Robinson was the welterweight champion. Then, after moving to middleweight, he was champion five times in a row, from 1951 to 1960.
The world seemed to stop for a moment in 2016 when Muhammad Ali, described in the New York Times as a titan of boxing, passed away at age 74. A gold medalist in 1960, Muhammad Ali made history after defeating favorite Sonny Liston in 1964 to become heavyweight champion of the world. Born Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali had an unusual influence, who got him interested in boxing.
After getting his bike stolen as a child, he went to police officer Joe Martin, telling him he wanted to beat up whoever took it. Officer Martin responded simply, “Well, you better learn to fight before you start challenging people.” Luckily, Martin happened to train boxers at a local gym, and thus began the journey of the man who would go on to become one of the best boxers in history.
Beginning his career in 1995, Philippines-born Manny Pacquiao (aka Pac-Man) has become the only boxer in the sport’s history to win twelve major titles in an astounding eight different weight divisions. Pacquiao didn’t stop there though. In July 2019 the Pac-Man broke another record after he defeated Keith Thurman to become the oldest welterweight world champion ever, at age 41.
Pacquiao is regarded as one of the best professional boxers in the history of the sport according to historians, having been chosen as fighter of Fighter of the Decade for the 2000s by the BWAA. Beyond boxing, Pacquiao has played his hand at basketball, TV hosting, acting, and music recording.
It seems as though Floyd Mayweather was born to be a boxer. As a young boy, his father would bring the future champion to the gym with him, holding him in front of speed bags shortly after he started walking. Fast forward to 1998, and Mayweather had already claimed his first championship in the super featherweight division just two years after beginning his professional career.
Mayweather went on to earn championship titles in another three weight divisions, and was known for selling out arenas. The most viewed fight in boxing history, the 2015 fight between Pacquiao and Mayweather, was viewed by 4.6 million people — and won by Mayweather.
Having held multiple world championships in the middleweight and light heavyweight classes, Bernard Hopkins was considered to be one of the best boxers of the modern era. His journey to the top began in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where we washed dishes in a restaurant to supplement his passion for boxing.
Not only did Hopkins fight with a superior combination of speed followed by an impeccable counterpunch precision, but he fought until an advanced age – 49 to be exact, something few boxers are able to do. His skills combined with his age earned him the nicknames of “The Executioner” and “The Alien.”
Born in North Africa to French parents, Marcel Cerdan captivated the French people with his remarkable record combined with his skill and ruggedness. It’s possible that Cerdan would’ve been higher up on the list, but a year and a half of his prime was lost while he was involved in World War II.
The war didn’t completely stop Cerdan from becoming the champion he is today. By 1946, just a year after the war ended, Cerdan was dealing punches at Madison Square Garden in front of hundreds of cheering fans. Bad luck seemed to follow this ferocious Frenchman though, while on route from Europe to the United States in 1949, he died in a plane crash.
Considered to be the best pound for pound boxers since the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson, Ezzard Charles worked his way up numerous weight classes; beginning at light heavyweight as a teenager and then working his way up to the heavyweight division.
After becoming heavyweight champion of the world on June 22, 1949, many boxing critics began comparing him to the venerable Joe Louis. Yet there were numerous skeptics who believed that Charles would never beat “The Brown Bomber,” including former champion Gene Tunney. But in September 1950 Charles did what few before him could, he bested Louis in the ring and solidified himself as one of history’s best boxers.
Known in the ring as “Terrible Terry,” John Terrance McGovern was honored with both the World Bantamweight Champion title along with the World Featherweight Title. The latter he defended five times against some of the best champions of the day, truly making himself a force to be reckoned with.
Sadly McGovern died at the age of 37 after becoming sick while visiting a World War I embarkation port in Long Island. It took awhile, but in 2003 McGovern was named to Ring Magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Punchers of all Time. Since then, numerous boxing historians have looked over McGovern’s records and concluded that he is, indeed, one of the best boxers.
Jose Napoles was born in Cuba, and there he began a long string of victories against a number of Cuban champions. It looked as though he had a clear path to the top but then, in 1961, President Fidel Castro banned all professional boxing in Cuba and Napoles was forced to leave and find fights elsewhere.
After moving to Mexico, Napoles found himself back inside the ring, fists flying. His hard work and dedication to the sport paid off, the Cuban-born fighter moved up from featherweight to lightweight to welterweight to welterweight champion. His smoothness in the ring earned him the nickname “Mantequilla,” or butter.
Born in the US Virgin Islands, Griffith had no initial desire to become a professional boxer. The only reason he got involved in the field was after he took off his shirt at the hat factory he worked at and his boss, noticing his build, offered to train him. His boss had a great eye, Griffith would go on to become to become a welterweight, junior middleweight, and middleweight world champion.
Griffith’s finest moment came in the 1962 title match against Benny Paret. During the weigh-in, Paret began publicly taunting Griffith for being a homosexual. Rather than engage in verbal sparring, Griffith waited until they were in the ring where he won the fight by knockout – shutting up his opponent for good.
Anthony Joshua is a two-time unified heavyweight champion – meaning that he simultaneously holds heavyweight titles in all four major boxing organizations; WBA, WBC, IBF, and WBO. Not content with just being a champion in the big four, Joshua also represented Great Britain in the 2012 London Olympics, winning gold for his country.
His medal, combined with his titles, makes him the second British boxer in history to win both, and the first British heavyweight. By December 2019, BoxRec named Joshua the world’s best active heavyweight, and that same month he appeared in The Guardian demanding a fight with American heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, to prove who the real world champion is.
Deontay Wilder’s record can basically speak for itself; the fact that 98 percent of his fights have been won by knockout shows the amount of power Wilder wields with each punch. His record and ability earned him the nickname “The Bronze Bomber,” after Joe Louis who was called “The Brown Bomber.”
Not only is Wilder an Olympic medalist, but since 2015 he has held the World Boxing Council’s heavyweight title. This broke the cold streak that the United States has faced with heavyweight titles, Wilder’s victory was the first time an American heavyweight boxer had become a world champion in nine years.
Ranked one of the world’s best active pound-for-pound boxers by BoxRec, Alvarez is indeed a formidable force to be reckoned with, having only lost one fight. In nearly every weight that Alvarez has fought in he has become champion including light heavyweight, middleweight, light middleweight, and super middleweight.
Alvarez is considered one of the best in the world due to his ability to exploit openings against his opponents all while avoiding punches by just moving his body and head rather than blocking. Additionally, he is an excellent counterpuncher and a formidable body puncher, a fact which has not been lost on numerous boxing publications, many of whom have named him one of the best.
Sources: Boxrec, ESPN, SportBible