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This humble blogger has a confession to make: I love boxing.  As a sport that no longer permeates every aspect of American Culture like it once did, I can't help but feel like I was born in the wrong decade.  How did boxing fall from grace so fast?  Two reasons: Mike Tyson's downfall killed the sport, as well as the perceived lack of great heavyweight fighters over the past 15 years or so.  Americans really don't care about the other weight classes.  I'm sure that, back in the 70's, many people saw or knew who won the Thrilla in Manilla (Ali vs. Frazier 2).  If you asked twenty random people on the street who won the fights between Arturo Gatti and Mickey Ward, which are universally hailed as possibly the best fights of all time, most people would probably say "Who are Arturo Gatti and Mickey Ward?"  Welterweights, lightweights, light-heavies, etc., don't command our attention like heavyweights do.  And Tyson's meltdown didn't help, either.  So, in memory of the great heavyweights of recent and distant past, here is my list of the ten best heavyweight fighters, ever. 

The criteria for this list is wins, losses, time of victory, KO's vs. decisions, and time as champion, and dominance as champion.  Notice I used the best as opposed to "greatest;" this is intentional, as best refers to skills in the ring, while greatest can mean something totally different.  Jack Dempsey was clearly a GREATER champion than Lennox Lewis; Dempsey captured our imaginations and galvanized the country.  He was a true national figure.  Lewis, on the other hand, was seen largely as that guy from England.  He was, however, clearly the better boxer, in terms of raw skills.  So the status of, say, Ali or Frazier, as political and cultural icons, will not be factored in to the decision.  I'll make mention of these fighters cultural impacts, though.  On to the list.

10) Sonny Liston - One of the most powerful punchers in the history of heavyweight boxing, Liston was a dominant champion (as well as an extremely interesting person).  His record stands at 50 wins, 4 losses, with 39 wins by knockout.  He was a heavyweight champion (September 25th, 1962 - February 25th, 1964) and a Golden Gloves winner.  Two of his losses occurred at the hands of Muhammad Ali.  Liston was so tough that in his first loss, against Marty Marshall, Liston finished the fight despite breaking his jaw in the third round.  This is what led many to believe that Liston's first fight against Ali was fixed, with Liston betting on himself; he withdrew from that fight due to a shoulder injury, but how could that sideline the man who went the distance with a broken jaw?  Liston later would knock Marshall out in a rematch.  Liston had difficulty getting a deserved shot at champion Floyd Patterson, as Patterson's people attempted to use Liston's links with the mob as an excuse against the fight.  In 1962, Liston finally signed to meet the world heavyweight champion for the belt. The fight was going to be held in New York, but the New York commission denied him a license.  The fight was held in Chicago, and Liston knocked Patterson out in the first round.  He also knocked Patterson out in the first round of their rematch.  Liston died under mysterious circumstances in 1970; many believe that his contacts to the mob killed him.  Liston was not a popular champion, unfortunately.

9) Max Baer - The one-time "killer" and future inspiration to Jews during WWII, Baer is possibly the most feared puncher ever to box professionally.  Baer's record stands at 72 wins, 53 by knockout, and 12 losses.  Baer fought Frankie Campbell in 1930; Campbell died in the ring after two blows to the head from Baer.  It was later revealed that the punches knocked Campbell's brain completely loose from the connective tissue holding it in place in his head.  Baer was profoundly affected by this event.  The movie Cinderella Man, director Ron Howard, in one of the most despicable cases of artistic license ever, makes Baer look sadistic and his remorse for Campbell is not shown.  In all fairness, the media at the time in the 30's played up Baer's image as a killer, and the film does show Baer accepting defeat graciously, smiling and clapping at Braddock's victory. It can also be argued that the depiction of Baer in the film was in keeping with his depiction in the press at the time, and the image of a destructive, savage boxer was often used by promoters to create interest in Baer's fights. And, while the film's Max Baer in the movie never expresses remorse for the death of Campbell, neither does he actually boast about it.  The real life Max Baer helped put Frankie Campbell's kids through college.  Later, Baer became an actor.  He was heavyweight champion from June 14th, 1934 until June 13th, 1935 (when he lost to Braddock).  He died at the age of 50.

8) George Foreman - With a record of 76 wins, 68 by knockout, and 5 losses, Foreman was originally a devastating monster who was feared by the media and public.  On January 22nd, 1973, Foreman faced undefeated world Heavyweight champion Joe Frazier in Kingston, Jamaica, knocking him down six times in two rounds and knocking him out in the second round in one of boxing's biggest upsets to become the world champion.  He threw an uppercut that connected with such brutal force that Frazier was lifted off his feet before hitting the canvas.  Foreman was considered an aloof and anti-social champion by the press in his youth.  Foreman held the belt from January 1973 until October 1974, when he dropped the belt to Ali.  He would later stun the world in 1994, on November 5th, when he beat Michael Moorer to become, at the age of 45, the oldest Heavyweight champion of all time. 

7) Lennox Lewis - Along with Muhammad Ali and Evander Holyfield, Lewis is one of three boxers in heavyweight history to have won the Heavyweight Championship on three separate occasions.  Lewis' record is 41 wins, 32 by knockout, 2 losses, and 1 draw.  That draw was on March 13, 1999, and is still one of the most controversial fights of all time.  Most believe (me included) that Lewis kicked the living snot out of Evander Holyfield.  Eight months later Lewis won a much closer match, but it was a unanimous decision.  Many feel that the decision in the second bout was a correction of the mistake made in the first.  Lewis is number six because while Lewis was a dominant champion, his loss to Hasim Rahman (a 20-1 underdog) coupled with his not so lengthy reigns as undisputed champion, as well as his rather lazy in-ring style make him, to me, not as good as some other champions who may have not held the unified belt as many times.  Lewis was great, no doubt, and he did beat the man I am going to make number one, but that man was way out of his prime by then.

6) Floyd Patterson - At the time he won the belt, he was the youngest man to hold it (he was 21 years old).  He had a record of 55 wins, 8 losses and 1 draw, with 40 wins by knockout.  At the age of just 17, Patterson won the Gold medal in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics as a middleweight. 1952 also saw Patterson, in addition to winning the Olympic gold, win the National Amateur Middleweight Championship and a Golden Gloves.  He got his championship chance when he fought Archie Moore on November 30, 1956, for the title left vacant by Rocky Marciano. He beat Moore by a knockout in five rounds, and became the first Olympic gold medalist to win a heavyweight title.  Patterson was also the first man to regain the title after losing it.  In 1959, he dropped the title to Ingemar Johansson of Sweden, in the first of three excellent fights.  Patterson knocked Johansson out in the fifth round of their rematch on June 20, 1960, with a leaping left hook to once again be the world's undisputed heavyweight title. The punch caught Johansson's chin and he hit the canvas, knocked out before he landed flat on his back. Blood could be seen trickling from his mouth, and his eyes were clearly glazed over and his left foot was quivering. After the count, Patterson showed his concern for Johansson by cradling his downed opponent, and promising him a second rematch. Johansson lay unconscious for five minutes.  He was still dazed and unsteady fifteen minutes after the knockout as he had to be helped out of the ring. Despite this, Patterson was very popular among Swedish people, who had made Johansson their national hero after he defeated Patterson (Johansson was the first Swedish champion), and when he went to Europe for an exhibition tour after that match, he was greeted by Swedish fans, who were eager to shake his hand, ask for autographs and take photos with the likeable Patterson.  Patterson would lose the title to Sonny Liston in 1962.  Patterson was also the only "old" fighter to box Muhammad Ali well, losing a 12-round TKO.  Despite calling him "the Rabbit," Ali himself later expressed admiration for Patterson's gentle nature and in-ring skills.  I don't think there can be any greater boxing complement better than to have Ali say that.

5) Joe Frazier - Considered one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, Frazier is most famous for his trilogy of fights with Muhammad Ali, the first of which, won by Frazier in a unanimous decision, has been hailed as one of boxing's greatest matches. Frazier was known for a dogged and merciless pursuit of opponents, quickly cutting off angles of escape using a chugging locomotion that was likened to a train's advance up a hill. The contrast with Ali's dancing, non-linear style could not have been greater.  Together, they are probably boxing's greatest pair of antagonists ever.  Their trash talk was legendary, as was their fights.  Both Ali-Frazier 1 and the Thrilla in Manilla (won by Ali) are debated as the greatest fights ever.  Frazier's record is 32 wins, 27 by knockout, and 4 losses, with 1 draw.  Frazier became undisputed champion when he beat WBA world heavyweight champion Jimmy Ellis with a 5th round knockout in February 1970.  Frazier is extremely hostile toward Ali, still, and claims to have won all three fights between them.  His reign as undisputed champion lasted almost 3 years.  In that time, he was the first man to beat Muhammad Ali.

4) Joe Louis - I have to admit, most of my knowledge of Joe Louis came from the Eddie Murphy movie Coming to America.  I found out later that Joe Louis was not 75 years old when he fought Rocky Marciano.  Louis held the title over 11 years (from 1937 until 1949) and made a record 25 successful heavyweight title defenses and a total of 26 heavyweight championship fights, a record which still stands.  Louis' record is 69 wins, 55 by knockout, and 3 losses.  A prolific puncher, he knocked out Primo Carnera, a former heavyweight champ, in 6 rounds.  Louis then knocked out the iron-chinned former heavyweight champion Max Baer in four rounds. Before losing to Louis, Baer had been knocked down only once, by Frankie Campbell. Louis also knocked out Paolino Uzcudun, who had never been knocked down or out before he met Louis.  Louis lost to Max Schmeling, but was awarded the title shot against James Braddock when negotiations with Schmeling failed.  Louis would later defend his title against Schmeling, defeating him handily.  At a troubled time in America right before the outbreak of World War II, he became a popular and national American hero, along with Jesse Owens, for both black and white America, much like fighters Max Baer and Max Schmeling had become heroes. 

Interestingly, at the time he fought the Jewish Baer, Schmeling was called a N*zi by many fans due to his popularity among the party, a title which stuck to him like glue.  In reality, the N*zis stopped using him in their propaganda after his loss to Louis, which was a relief to him. In 1928, he hired Joe Jacobs, a Jew, to be his manager. He would point this out for the rest of his life in defending himself against charges of Nazism.  Schmeling also visited American soldiers in hospitals, and hid Jewish children in his hotel room from the Gestapo during the Kristallnacht.  The two boys, Henry and Werner Lewin, were eventually smuggled out of Germany with Schmeling's help.  Though the N*zi government tried to help Schmeling get the title shot he deserved against Braddock, he despised them and opposed them.  He also was very good personal friends with Joe Louis, paying his medical bills later in their lives, and acting as a pall bearer at Louis' funeral.  Some reports claim Schmeling paid for the funeral, though this has been debated.  

In 2003, Ring Magazine rated Joe Louis No. 1 on the list of 100 greatest punchers of all time. In 2005, Louis was named the greatest heavyweight of all time by the International Boxing Research Organization.

3) Muhammad Ali - In my opinion, the greatest showman in sports, ever.  Ali has a record of 56 wins, 37 by knockout, and 5 losses.  He defeated every major contender in the heavyweight division during the Golden Age of Heavyweight boxing.  He participated in some of the greatest matches of all time, including two against Frazier that some say are the greatest ever, period.  Ali dominated the division like no-one had up to that point.  He destroyed Sonny Liston, twice, when Liston was seen as invincible.  He beat Floyd Patterson, and Patterson was a legitimate threat to the title his whole career.  And then, when his career was winding down, he defeated the younger, stronger George Foreman at the Rumble in the Jungle.  I don't think anything else needs to be said about Ali.

2) Rocky Marciano -  With forty-three knockouts to his credit out of 49 wins (which makes for an 88% knockout rate), Marciano remains the only heavyweight champion in boxing history to retire without a defeat or a draw in his professional career.  His undefeated record makes him one of the top two in my opinion.  Marciano held the belt from 1952 until 1956.  He did lose to Colley Wallace in 1948, but that was in a Golden Gloves tournament.  Marciano faced world heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott in Philadelphia on September 23, 1952, to win his title. After being dropped in round one, Marciano got up and knocked Walcott out in the thirteenth round.  In their rematch, one year later, Maciano knocked Walcott out in the first round.  He would never lose the title.  After he retired, he began receiveing criticism for never fighting Floyd Patterson.  The truth is, while Marciano was champion, Patterson was not a contender for the heavyweight title and he was not a ranked heavyweight.  In fact, during Marciano's title years, Patterson fought mainly in the light heavyweight class. 

In 1969, shortly before he died, Marciano participated in the filming of the fantasy movie/fight, The Superfight: Marciano vs. Ali. The two boxers were filmed sparring, then the film was edited to fit the predictions of a computer simulation that staged a hypothetical fight between them, considering each in their prime. The bout was aired on Tuesday, January 20, 1970. Marciano won by KO in 13.

And now, for my number one:

1) Mike Tyson - That's right, Iron Mike Tyson.  In his prime, Tyson was unbeatable.  Displacing Patterson as the youngest man to ever have won the belt, Tyson unified the belts in the broken and destabilized heavyweight division in the late 1980s and won many of his fights by knockout. Tyson knocked out his first 19 professional opponents inside of 6 rounds, 12 of them in the first round. He reigned as undisputed heavyweight champion for over two years, until he was upset by Buster Douglas.  This loss would herald the downfall of boxing as we know it.  His record stands at 50 wins, 44 by knockout, and 6 losses, with 2 draws.  Some could say that if he hadn't made all these dumb comeback attempts, his record would be even better (much like QB's who play past their prime and drag their stats down).  Though he effectively killed the sport, and made a mockery of himself, keep this in mind: the man was an animal from the streets.  Every father figure in his life either left him or took advantge of him, and despite this, he became the most feared boxer of all time at the age of twenty.  Tyson would knockout opponents so fast you would miss it if you blinked.  In terms of raw skill and dominance in his prime, Tyson is the best by far.

So there you have it.  For those of you huffing with indignation, let me explain: yes, I left off Evander Holyfield and Jack Dempsey.  I did this when I saw I didn't have room for Frazier.  If you think I'm wrong, let me know!  Think I missed someone?  Think Tyson shouldn't be number one?  Think Dempsey, Holyfield, Ken Norton, or someone else was snubbed?  Then you let me know.  But this is how I see it. 

May 9, 2012  11:10 PM ET

You have Mike Tyson at the top of your list? In Mike's prime he was unbeatable because he fought noone. He would not fight Holyfeild for years, and he would not take a fight with Foreman. Foreman was 45 and Tyson avoided him! The boxer of Tyson's Era are nothing compared to the boxers of Joe Louis's era, and Joe Louis would not fight Archie Moore! and I think Jersey Joe Walcot. Tyson does have power and speed, but he was no slouch in those departments later in his career when he started to lose. The truth is, he could not overwhelm certain opponents, the ones that he avoided. He also could not fall back on those skills. I do think his victory over Bruno was awesome, but who is to say that that fight wouldl have been stoped in Louis's time. So he was able to win an a new more regulated era. You can not give him so much credit, there are just to many factors. Check out Ernie Shavers.

May 9, 2012  11:18 PM ET

One more comment. Why isn't Sonny Liston's collection of first round knock outs just as impressive to you as Tyson's. The people to the time thought he was invincible. Why not Shavers? Why not Foreman's 35 straight knockouts, most in round one? The reason? Because you experienced Tyson. Liston would have given you the same sentiments. It is well known that Tyson avoided a 45 year old Foreman. You don't think it is a kind of coincidence that Forman comes out of retirement right after Tyson became the youngest world champion, and you further don't question the fact that they never fought? Foreman could not get a fight with Tyson! It has been said that Cus D'Amato said that Tyson's own style was suicide against Formen. Please open your mind to other great fighters so that you can become an analyst and enjoy these discussions even more. You are completely enamored by what you saw on TV, there were other eras, and the people were just as enthralled.

May 9, 2012  11:31 PM ET

One of the reasons that boxing is not like it use to be is simply because there are other mediums of entertainment. There are also more ways to make a living. There were more fighters back in the golden era, so there was more competition. Archie Moore, Jersey Joe Walcott, they were so tough, this was before dancing (don't get me wrong, Ali really was untouchable). The whole reason that Tyson could steam roll over the competition was because there was no Walcot's, Williams, or Liston's. Boxing was a jon in those days, they fought more because that is how they made a livinig. Tyson was able to capitalize on this era, because he had a trainer from the old days. He did only boxing, there was no other life, just boxing. The same way the guys that did it to support themselves fifty years before. The best of the best that did exist when Tyson came to be. Buster Douglass beat Tyson and he was delivering carpet three months before thinking his career was over. Archie Moore fought hard for years, and could not get a title shot. They called a guy that was not even active for Tyson to fight! While Lennox Lewis, and Holyfield had to wait. Archie Moore would have eaten their lunch. Do your research.

December 18, 2012  01:36 AM ET

Best by far? Great fighters face and beat other great fighters. In his prime he was knocked out by a second rate Buster Douglas. Worst list ever dude. Where is Riddick Bowe or Larry Holmes. Just to mention a few. Jack Johnson? Tyson doesnt make the top 15 in most respected list. Never make another list ever again friend lol

December 18, 2012  02:37 AM ET

What a joke. In his prime Ali would have taken Tyson apart without even working up a sweat.

January 2, 2013  12:00 PM ET

Larry Holmes was without a doubt the greatist of all time. He could knock you out with his jab. He fought everyone and ducked nobody. The only thing I ever had against him was the remark he made about Rocky Marciano.

July 17, 2013  07:14 PM ET

I like this list, also Tyson was ducked by everyone including Lennox Lewis until he got out of prison in 95, nobody thought he would ever be beat prior. He pretty much just gave up in the Douglas fight for mental reasons and a car crash he was in, but aside from that fight the guy was unbeatable for those 6 years. Watch all his fights, it doesn't take long with all those first round knockouts. He also retired more promising boxers than anyone else in their boxing career. People say he fought chumps but he turned them into chumps they weren't supposed to go down so fast.

July 17, 2013  07:15 PM ET

Also, Larry Holmes should definitely be high on this list too though, if nothing else because he defended his belt a million times and gave Ali a major beating. Also Ali is like Michael Jordan and unanimously recognized as 1 (maybe2), he won clutch fights, so I think 3 is a bit far down.

September 22, 2013  09:35 PM ET

Marciano never lost. Period. End of discussion. Tyson got beat by Buster Douglas. Holyfield was having his way with Tyson when the infamous ear biting incident happened. Tyson couldn't have stepped in the ring with Ali and Ali would have been destroyed by Marciano.

November 12, 2013  09:01 PM ET

I like that you have Tyson number 1. He's my favorite fighter and it's not too much to fathom him beating anyone on his best night. In terms of achievements he's not close to being the top dog. Louis was champion for 11 year and made 25 title defenses. Ali has wins over Liston, Frazier, Patterson, Foreman, Norton, Quarry, it's a who's who list for heavyweights. Holmes was champ for 7 years and one win away from tying Marciano. Jack Johnson was winning despite death threats in a time where black men were considered dogs. Marciano was undefeated. Tyson was the youngest and only fighter to unify the belts. He's around 6th overall for greatness. Head to head I have him #1. My Baker's Dozen list of top heavies:
1 - Louis
2 - Ali
3 - Holmes
4 - Johnson
5 - Marciano
6 - Tyson
7 - Lewis
8 - Foreman
9 - Frazier
10 - Dempsey
11 - Holyfield
12 - Liston
13 - Wlad

Sucks, but Wlad is inching closer to the top 10.

November 12, 2013  09:07 PM ET

Also I believe Tyson beats Ali in their primes. He was born and bred to hunt down the mobile and slick movers from Ali's era and the talented crop of 80's fighters. Riddick Bowe is Tyson's most dangerous opponent. Holyfield the toughest. Foreman can bang but he's to slow and sloppy. Speed is always a problem for George. Add a dynamic offensive arsenal and a stellar defense, the definition of Tyson, and Foreman's in all kinds of trouble. Louis is outgunned. Johnson too old. Marciano too small. Lewis too chinny. Frazier too ballsy. Dempsey fighting a bigger version of himself. Liston too slow. Wlad too scared.

 
March 19, 2014  02:08 PM ET

You should be a 'humble' blogger because you know nothing about boxing and your list reflects your ignorance. To not include Larry Holmes in the top 3, mama mia and oye vey, what a fool!

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