There is no chance that this ranking will be undisputed. Boxing like no other human activity has always been left to the discretion of third parties. Once the duel between the boxers was over, the final decision of the juries was always required. In other words, if there was no knockout or a contingency of manifest physical inferiority in any of the protagonists, no result escaped the appreciation of others to know which of the two would be the winner. It is calculated that 74% of the rulings corresponded to criteria of justice, 14% were controversial or discussed, and the remaining 12% were registered in the history under suspicion of fraud. By the way, the biggest “steals” favored local boxers and come from the days before television.
No other individual or collective sport transformed into a highly competitive show fails to have a result, a mark or a measurement that legitimizes the winner and therefore will have to make it what it deserves throughout its campaign. By the way, in most of these sports there were substantial modifications of rules, surfaces, tactical, technical, nutritional concepts and even clothing that maximized performance in both individual and collective sports. Even the athletic biotypes have been transformed and any comparison in time lines would be impossible.
This is not the case in boxing. There have been very few changes in the final object of their dispute: one on one, same rules of the last century, the ring measures 6×6, its floor is canvas and it is on a damping filter, same volume of gloves according to the categories, three minutes per round with one rest. The casualties of 15 to 12 rounds in the dispute for the world titles, the insertion of more intermediate categories and the advance in 24 hours of the weigh-ins were positive changes for the boxers. But although the training methods and the nutritional concept have changed, boxers, unlike other athletes, are comparable.
After sixty years of writing, narrating, commenting, interpreting and giving opinions about boxing, the author of this note also managed to dialogue, interview and share with eight of the ten great champions mentioned here. Except for Joe Louis and Ray Sugar Robinson, the others at different times were actors for notes or reports generously given to the chronicler.
Before listing the Top 10, let’s say that the boxer is not only the expression of his art in the ring. So is the signifier of it. And we will see in the course of the note certain glimpses in each one that marked it as great. Probably, and due to the subjectivity that every opinion entails, it can be argued that someone of the same generation hit harder than Fulano or endured more than Mengano. Fine nuances of balance will also be admitted that could well have been inclined towards B or C, instead of A. All that is valid. But what we took into account was the sum of the factors that end up making the whole of a great one. And this also includes knowing how to achieve glory, face the twilight and when it seemed that decrepitude was leading him to the inevitable agony, reinvent himself, resurface and be champion again.
The numbers that for their detail are within the reach of any click towards reliable sources, are the indisputable part of the story, but they are not the story. And that is what we will go through.
1- MUHAMMAD ALI
It was the greatest because it imposed a style of harmonious dynamics. His legs would not have been able to offer the prodigy of so much speed without a determined brain command. Muhammad Ali knew in advance the reaction of his opponents and chose the moments and areas where he would try his offensive. His blows were precise and his volleys austere. He did not shoot randomly and distinguished the physiognomy of his rival avoiding wasting energy on trial shots or approach shots. He was brain stronger than his rivals and that is why he dominated them in the ring.
He had an extremely accurate left jab and after he fired it he used to surprise his opponents by backing away. This allowed him to always have the distance. I went out to either side with a ballet stride and came back with a new left jab. Sonny Liston, who won the world title by TKO (2-25-1964), trusted that after one jab there would always be another. But Ali surprised him and came out to his side for the second hand, a right cross. In the rematch (5-25-1965) he was more clearly noticed as Muhammad knocked him out in the first round.
He always gave everything in the ring. The three fights against joe frazier They were dramatic and devastating. They beat each other to the point of exhaustion and both paid a high health cost. Instead, when he regained the world crown against george foreman in Zaire, he gave a lesson doing the opposite of what the world imagined: he proposed the attack, the friction fight, the action in contact with skin until George Foreman was physically and mentally diminished. He was an impressive and unforgettable eighth-round knockout.
Muhammad was a paradigm in the history of world boxing. His sporty and civil personality exceeded the humble boy from Lousville, Kentucky, who had his bike stolen and learned to box to defend it. He was the first athlete to refuse military enlistment to go to the Vietnam War, he converted to Muslim and never stopped expressing what he felt.
But aside from these known facts, it can be said that we saw three Muhammad Ali. A classic that he resolved against classic rivals such as Floyd Patterson, Jimmy Ellis or Ringo Bonavena. Another who fought blow by blow choosing the fighter more than the boxer as in the three fights against Joe Frazier and a third who put intelligence, tactical value and physical dedication as when he regained the world crown against George Foreman.
2- SUGAR RAY ROBINSON
This is the man who invented a style. His name was actually Walker Smith and he was born in Ailey, Georgia, on May 3, 1921.
Since he was a minor and could not start as a boxer, he took the ID of an older companion named Robinson and who was called Ray. And he stayed like this forever.
The enormous virtue of this phenomenon was to have modified the posture and movements of the boxer. Until his advent – he debuted in 1940 – the pugilistic style was of the English school. It consisted of a vertical line of attack and recoil similar to that of fencing. Ray, who was to be added Sugar precisely because of the “sweetness” of his movements, let go of his arms. He showed that vulnerable areas can be covered without a rigid guard. It only takes concentration, speed, and sight to cover the high ground. Sugar Ray also incorporated the waist to the defense movements, This prevented vertical entrances and setbacks that often left both feet on the same line without an angle of support and with the consequent loss of balance.
Robinson was a world champion in middleweight and middleweight. In 1,399 rounds conducted during the 25 years from 1940 to 1965, he faced the best and fought all over the world. His proposal for technical change was so immense that he was hired from countries that were looking for a model of formative reformulation in him.
He was booked to fight in France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, and Canada; that they were countries that wanted to modify the British formation of his boxers. Sugar Ray also opened Las Vegas as an experimental boxing arena at the Hacienda Hotel after the mafia landed in the early 1950s to exploit the game.
His figure was so immense that the press had no choice but to talk and write a lot about his rivals as well. And this is how human stories of enormous cinematographic value were discovered. Two of his defeated were treated by the cinema in a transcendent way. The first film starred Paul Newman and Pier Angeli and was titled “The stigma of the stream”. That film, directed by Robert Wise in 1956, showed the life and dreams of Rocky Graciano, a fearsome fighter whom Robinson knocked out in the fifth round. Another of Sugar Ray’s illustrious rivals who was made into a film was Jack La Motta, with whom Robinson faced off six times in memorable fights. The movie is called “Wild bull” was directed by Martin Scorsese (1980) and earned an Academy Award for Robert De Niro, who played Jack La Motta.
This man caused the technical revolution in boxing. Especially in backwards semi-circular transfer movements and fast and precise upward hitting games. His legs –he was 1.80m– were long and thin, and Sugar Ray used them as a mid-distance entrance. But his style would become a mirror of many generations, especially in gyms and clubs in Latin America where, from him, the handling of the left hand was revalued.
He fought until he was 44 years old. He won 173 fights, drew 6 and lost 19, of which 10 were consecutive. He had retired in 1952 and returned in 1954. He made about four million dollars but died on April 12 at age 68 in Culver City, California, wearing nothing.
If boxing fans were able to enjoy boxers like Cassius Clay, Sugar Ray Leonard and hundreds of other stylists around the world, it is because there was a creator of that school and his name was Ray Sugar Robinson.
3- JOE LOUIS
He was a prodigious heavyweight champion for the speed of his downloads to the body. His attack looked slow on the move until he managed to get close to unload and offer to exchange blows. They called him “The Detroit Bomber” and managed to win 52 fights by knockout of the 70 made. He was the first heavyweight of the era – from 1937 to 1950 – who set out to fight long-term without despairing of the knockout. And although he measured 1.88, his weight did not exceed 91 kilos against the more than 100 of most of his rivals. He defended the crown from him 28 times. He won 27 and lost only one against who would be his successor, Ezzard Charles. This third place in the Top 10 of all time admits debate only against Rocky Marciano (Rocco Francis Marchegiano) who, without the technical conditions of Joe Louis, made 49 fights, achieved 43 kot’s, retired undefeated and defended his crown 12 times. But clearly Joe was a better fighter.
4- JULY CESAR CHAVEZ
A true boxing phenomenon. He made 37 fights for world championships, an unprecedented event in the universal history of boxing. He was champion of three categories: Super Feather, Light and Welter. A “monster” in the middle distance fight. No one hit the body of his opponents like him. He made 115 fights and just lost the undefeated in number 91 against the “Surgeon” Randall. He had an overwhelming style, a lot of courage and an enormous power of assimilation, because in most of the fights he proposed and obtained permanent blow changes. Chavez was the champion who took the most risks in each of his fights.
5- ARCHIE MOORE
He was world champion of the middle heavy. But he had no choice but to almost always face the heavyweights, since the 79,178 kilos were too much for the middleweights and too little for the heavyweights. Strong and visible boxer. He was in force for 28 years and holds the record for achieved knockouts: 145 in 219 fights. By the way, he “tested” a Cassius Clay young man who beat him and “killed” himself against Rocky Marciano whom he knocked down until his head was deformed with his blows, without avoiding the defeat by KO in round 9 of a memorable fight made in 1955. It could be affirmed that there was no middle heavyweight like “The Old Mongoose” who was world champion from 1952 to 1961.
6- SUGAR RAY LEONARD
An exponent of Olympic training, like his paradigm Cassius Clay, who like him won the gold medal (Montreal ’76). In those Games, as soon as I saw him fight, I had the feeling that we were facing a huge project that came to vindicate boxing style. The Olympic boxing of the United States team actually stimulated the “return to the sources” of orthodox boxing to face the tanks of the mechanical formation offered by the Soviet Union and its other representatives of Eastern Europe and Cuba.
In those Games the most notable member was Leonard. Who later, already as a professional, He offered us the art of his movement, his defense on the move, his upward volleys and that determination to stand up and exchange blows if necessary. His fights against “Mano de Piedra” Durán, Tommy Hearns and Marvin Hagler are part of the classics that can not be missed when you want to enjoy intelligent, handsome, aesthetic boxing masters, of different styles and with a high athletic level. The best of them was Leonard. Which makes it one of the top ten in history.
7- CARLOS MONZON
He was clearly an extraordinary champion. His boxing was not easily visible. He did not fight for the spectators but he did feel the rigor of three determining elements in his attitude: a) concentration and patience; b) control of the distance and c) degradation of the resistance of their rivals until generating opportunities to finish. In six years –1970 to 1976– he won the world title (KO Nino Benvenuti) and defended it 14 times against the best of the time, including Emile Griffith, Jean Claude Bouttier, Benny Briscoe, Napoles Butter and Rodrigo Valdez.
He was the best world champion Argentina had and the only one who would have beaten any of the illustrious middleweights from Ray Sugar Robinson down. Furthermore, they would have been extraordinary Monzón fights against Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Duran or Mayweather. In the hypothesis any of them could have beaten him. Under the same projection, any of them could well have lost, especially the bloodiest, Hagler, Hearns and Stonehand Duran. It would have been very harsh on Leonard and very intricate and repeated against Mayweather.
8- ALEXIS ARGUELO
Nicaraguan. He was world champion in three categories: Feather (1974 to 1977); Superfeather (1978 to 1980) and Liviano (1981 to 1983). He made 90 fights. Of them, 82 were wins (65 by knockout) and he suffered 8 losses. He measured 1.78 – very high for his category – and his campaign spanned from 1974 to 1983. Few boxers split their straight punches with such precision and speed. Alexis also knew how to take risks in definition zones and provoked such circumstances. He was of clear and pendular movements. He had a huge domain to top it off. He was one of the best that Latin America gave and his memorable fights are remembered, such as when he beat Alfredo “El Salsero” Escalera by KO in the 13th, Ruben “Chucho” Castillo in the 11th, Royal Kobayashi in the 5th and Rigoberto Riasco in the 2nd. This great champion, also known as “El Caballero del Ring” or “El Flaco Explosivo” was mayor of Managua in 2008 as a representative of the Sandinista National Liberation Front and He was found dead at his home under unclear circumstances. The official version indicated suicide. The family doubts it…
9- FLOYD MAYWEATHER
A boxer of undisputed class. Little generous. great athlete. Probably the closest to the reader’s knowledge since his retirement officially occurred in 2016. Floyd was a great champion and he had a time of easy accessibility against clearly inferior rivals. Unlike other world champions, Floyd’s challengers had to be found and offered a lot of money, since he turned out to be the contractor of his rivals in his double capacity as champion and promoter with obligations already signed with the MGM and the Pay per View. This does not detract from his recognition of his exceptional technical conditions. He was an almost impregnable defensive player who dosed his counterattacks taking as little risk as possible. At the conclusion of his last twelve fights, we always had the feeling that Mayweather could have offered something more. In that aspect he was behind the other greats.
10- ROBERTO “STONE HAND” DURAN
It is not just a boxer. Roberto “Mano de Piedra” Duran is a world. He fought for 33 years, between 1968 and 2001. He was world champion in the following categories: Lightweight (vs. Ken Buchanan in 1972), Middle Middleweight (vs. Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980), Junior Middleweight (vs. Davey Moore in 1983) and Middleweight (vs. Iron Barkley in 1989). All the titles that he won, he lost. And he went from being “National Hero of Panama” (after winning in Montreal against Leonard by points) to “National Shame” (after giving up fighting against Sugar himself in 1980, after the eighth round, when he voluntarily retired of the ring).
He fought for glory and survival. She was a star and partner. As long as she had motivation, training and dreams, she was a true beast in the ring. No ranking will fail to recognize him as the fighter who reinvented himself. The one who transformed agony into apotheosis.