Best Heavyweight of All Time Always Good for An Argument!
By Ken Hissner (July 15, 2010) Doghouse Boxing  
Nat Fleischer of Ring Magazine called Jack Johnson the best. Italians will go with Rocky Marciano. Before 1960 Blacks went with Joe Louis and after that the younger generation says Muhammad Ali. White old timers talked about Jack Dempsey being the best for years. In the past twenty years you’ll hear Mike Tyson’s name especially prior to his first loss. The following is a top ten with pro’s and con’s.

Number 10 – James J. Jeffries – Jeffries career got tarnished losing to Jack Johnson. When you take a good look at that match-up Jeffries hadn’t fought for six years. His last fight in 2004 he weighed 219. It ballooned over 300. His pastor was calling him a coward from the pulpit for not standing up for the “white race” to come back and beat the first black champion in the division in Jack Johnson.

In 1897 in his fifth fight he knocked down Gus Ruhlin and the referee called time. At the end of twenty rounds the referee declared it a draw. In 1901 Jeffries got his rematch and stopped Ruhlin in five. Right after the first Ruhlin fight Jeffries was held to a draw by Joe Choynski. In 1901 Choynski stopped Jack Johnson in the third round.

In 1898 Jeffries stopped Peter Jackson, “The Black Prince” of Australia in three rounds. Jackson had a sixty-one round draw with “Gentlemen” Jim Corbett along with a 47-1-4 record. In 1899 Jeffries stopped Bob Fitzsimmons in eleven rounds for the world title. In 1900 he stopped future champion James J. Corbett in twenty-three rounds. He repeated this in 1903 in ten rounds. The “Boilermaker” as they called him finished with an 18-1-2 record with fifteen knockouts and seven defenses.

Number 9 – “Big” George Foreman - Foreman won his first thirty-seven fights with thirty-five by knockout with twenty-one straight when he faced champion “Smokin” Joe Frazier. Few gave Foreman a chance but he knocked Frazier down three times in the first and three more times in the second round to win the title. He stopped Ken Norton who had fired his trainer Eddie Futch and paid the price.

Then came the “Rumble in the Jungle” when Foreman fell for Muhammad Ali’s “rope-a-dope” by punching himself out early to the point of exhaustion losing to Ali in 1974. In 1977 he was defeated by Jimmy Young and retired for ten years. He came back beating a lot of mediocre opponents until he got a title fight in 1991 losing to Evander Holyfield. In 1993 he lost to Tommy Morrison for the WBO title. In his next fight in 1994 he stopped Michael Moorer for the IBF and WBA titles to become the oldest fighter to win the title at age 45. His final record was 76-5 with 68 knockouts and two defenses.

Number 8 – Larry “The Easton Assassin” Holmes – Holmes won a split decision over Ken Norton in 1978 for the WBC title. He got up off the canvas against Renaldo Snipes and Earnie Shavers to stop both. In 1980 he defeated Ali who was in no condition to take this fight. In 1983 with a 42-0 record he won a highly disputed decision over Tim Witherspoon, 15-0. He told Don King he was tired of fighting these “young lions” and after one more fight gave up the WBC title and won the newly organized IBF title.

In 1985 Holmes ran into the same problem getting a gift decision over Carl “The Truth” Williams who was 15-0. Holmes was 47-0 prior to the fight. There would never be rematches with either Witherspoon or Williams. In his next fight he defended against light heavyweight champion Michael Spinks losing a close fight making Spinks the first light heavyweight champ to win the heavyweight title.

Holmes lost another battle after the fight when he made the racist remark “Marciano couldn’t wear my jockstrap”. He was one win away from equaling the 49-0 record Marciano retired with and still holds. What Holmes didn’t say is in his forty second and forty eighth fights he got a pair of gifts or he would have never reached 48-0. Twenty-five years later he said that remark cost him many endorsements. He said what he really meant to say was “Marciano couldn’t walk down the same sidewalk I do”. It seems Holmes never lost his arrogance or accepting the Spinks defeat. He lost a disputed decision in the rematch with Spinks. In his next fight with WBC/WBA/IBF champion Mike Tyson he got destroyed in four rounds. He ended up with a 69-6 record with 44 knockouts and twenty defenses.

Number 7 – “Iron” Mike Tyson – Tyson became the youngest boxer to win the heavyweight title at age twenty when he stopped Trevor Berbick in 1986. He added the WBA and IBF titles in 1988 stopping Michael Spinks in the first round.

In 1990 Tyson was stopped by James “Buster” Douglas after having Douglas on the canvas earlier. After coming back from retirement Tyson defeated Frank Bruno for the WBC title. In 1996 he met former champion Evander Holyfield and was stopped. In the rematch in 1997 Tyson claimed to be head butted causing a cut so he retaliated knowing he was on the verge of losing to Holyfield again when he bit Holyfield’s ear. Instead of referee Mills Lane disqualifying Tyson he called a halt and asked the commissioner Marc Ratner what he should do. Ratner advised him he couldn’t stop a fight of this magnitude on a foul. Maybe this is why Ratner is head of the UFC today. Tyson proceeds to do the obvious since he wasn’t penalized by doing it again taking a piece of Holyfield’s ear. Lane had no choice other than disqualifying Tyson in the third round.

Tyson got another chance at the title in 2002 against Lennox Lewis but looked like he only trained for a four rounder when Lewis wore him down by the eighth round. Tyson ended up with a 50-6 record with 44 knockouts and nine defenses.

Number 6 – Rocky Marciano – The “Brockton Blockbuster” defeated former and aging champion Joe Louis in 1951 for his thirty-ninth straight win. Marciano cried after the fight because Louis had been his idol. In his forty-fourth fight he won the title behind on points stopping “Jersey” Joe Walcott with a punch that has been shown over and over again.

Hank Cisco was in the Marciano camp and in the dressing room of Walcott’s after the fight. He overheard the doctor say Walcott should never fight again. He had a facial injury from that final blow and was warned he would not be able to take another hard blow. In the rematch Marciano stopped Walcott in the first round. Rumors were Walcott was tied in with the mob and saw an easy payday since Walcott was ahead at the stoppage of the first fight and could make a profit betting on Marciano.

In 1950 Marciano won a split decision over Roland LaStarza that was disputed. In 1953 he gave LaStarza a rematch and stopped him in the eleventh round. In a rematch in 1954 with former champion Ezzard Charles Marciano had his nose split but still stopped Charles. Many years later after Marciano won the “computer championship” over Ali he was awarded a jewel studded belt worth around twenty-five thousand dollars. He gave that belt to Charles who was in a wheel chair.

Two fights and one year later Marciano came off the canvas to stop light heavyweight champion Archie Moore who still holds the record for total knockouts in a career. Marciano was lifting either his young daughter or an air-conditioner when his back went out forcing his retirement in 1955. When Sweden’s Ingemar Johansson stopped Floyd Patterson in 1959 for the title Marciano went to Italy in secrecy to train to fight Johansson to bring the title back to America. He could never get to where he felt he must be in training to win the title back so decided not to fight again. Marciano still holds the best record of 49-0 along with 43 knockouts and six defenses.

Number 5 – Gene Tunney – The “Fighting Marine” was one of the most underrated boxers in the heavyweight division. He was the first champion to use his legs along with his head to defeat Jack Dempsey for the title in 1926. The attendance in Philadelphia was 120,557 in an outdoor stadium.

The only bout that Tunney ever lost was against the “Pittsburgh Windmill” Harry Greb who was one of the best pound for pound boxers that ever lived. Tunney won three out of four in rematches and a no contest in the other. In the rematch with Dempsey in Chicago Tunney was dropped for what is still known as “the long count”. A new rule had been put in place prior to the fight that if you scored a knockdown you had to go to a neutral corner. Dempsey probably took eight seconds to finally get into one before the referee counted to eight when Tunney got up and would take the decision.

Tunney only had one more fight after this. His final record was 66-1-1 with 48 knockouts and two defenses. With movie star looks Tunney married a very wealthy woman and you know the rest of the story.

Number 4 – Jack Dempsey – The “Manassa Mauler” was one of the most ferocious champions that ever held the title. If you look at his attire when he entered the ring, you have to be reminded of Tyson who had access to the greatest film collection that his manager Jim Jacobs had. Being Tyson loved the old timer’s, this may be where Tyson tried to look like Dempsey when entered the ring.

After Jess “Pottawatomie Giant” Willard became the answer to the “white hope” by stopping champion Jack Johnson he made what would be his final defense against Dempsey in 1919. He had half a foot on the challenger who took it to Willard from the start knocking him down seven times in the first round. Though Willard would not be knocked down again he took one of the worst beatings ever seen in a heavyweight title bout before the referee stopped it in the third round. Loaded hands?

In 1923 Dempsey was knocked out of the ring by South American Luis Angel Firpo. The reporters helped him off their ringside table back into the ring. Dempsey came back and stopped Firpo in the second round. He didn’t fight again for three years then losing to Tunney. He ended with a 61-6-9 record with 50 knockouts and five defenses.

Number 3 – Muhammad Ali – Calling himself “The Greatest” while calling out the round he would finish his opponents at times. The brash Cassius Clay became known as Muhammad X before changing that to Muhammad Ali days after defeating champion Sonny Liston in 1964. In the rematch he scored the “phantom punch” that only Angelo Dundee his trainer seemed to see land. Backing away from Liston Ali through what looked like a light punch to the jaw and down went Liston for the count. This time the mob had controlled Liston who seemed to have no problem “taking the count”.

Ali had the fastest hand speed and footwork of any heavyweight champion. This former Olympic Gold medalist had nicknames for most of his opponents like Liston the “Bear”; Frazier the” Gorilla”; Patterson the “Rabbit”; Shavers the “Acorn”; Foreman the “Mummy” and Holmes “Peanut Head”.

Ali refused military induction in 1967 causing him to lose his license to box. He returned to the ring in 1970 and after two wins lost to Frazier in 1971 for his first loss. He defeated Frazier in the next two meetings including possibly the greatest heavyweight title fight “the Thrilla in Manila” in their final bout. He regained the title in 1974 in the “Rumble in the Jungle” defeating champion Foreman in Zaire.

In 1978 Ali lost to Olympic Gold medalist Leon Spinks who only had seven fights. Ali easily won the rematch. Then retired for two years and came back to lose to then champion Holmes in 1980. His final record was 56-5 with 37 knockouts and nineteen defenses.

Number 2 – Jack “Galveston Giant” Johnson – Holding the “colored title” is about all Johnson could win until 1908 when champion Tommy Burns defended his title against him. In his first defense he drew with light heavyweight champion Philadelphia Jack O’Brien.

Johnson came off the canvas against Middleweight champion Stanley Ketchel who was one of the greatest middleweights of all time. He stopped Ketchel almost immediately after getting up from the canvas. The following year he stopped former champion Jeffries who came out of retirement. In 1913 Johnson was forced to fight Battling Jim Johnson in France. It seemed Johnson drew his own “colored line” in not defending against any of the black fighters after becoming champion. In fighting Johnson, who was black, the fight ended in a draw. People screamed for their money back because neither fighter was trying. Seems Johnson injured his arm in the third round.

In 1915 Johnson lost to Willard in a fight many feel he took a “dive” when he shielded his eyes from the sun while laying on the canvas outdoors in Havana, Cuba. After 1912 Johnson married a white woman and was forced to leave the country to avoid prison. He had four bouts out of the country prior to Willard. He never returned to fight in the United States until 1926. His final record was 55-12-7 with 36 knockouts and eight defenses including two draws.

Number 1 – Joe Louis – The “Brown Bomber” (pictured above) was the first black boxer to fight for the heavyweight title since Johnson lost it in 1915. The difference in attitudes between Johnson and Louis were like night and day. Johnson was very arrogant while Louis was very quiet and called “a credit to his race”.

Louis was known to drop his left hand once too often when the former champion Max Schmeling dropped him in the fourth round and again in the twelfth round dealing Louis his first loss in 1936. Louis had previously defeated former champions Max Baer, Jack Sharkey and Primo Carnera. In 1937 he got a chance at the title stopping James J. Braddock. The rumors were Braddock would get 10% of all title defenses Louis would make if he won. Considering Louis made twenty-five defenses that add’s up to quite a few dollars.

In 1941 Louis was behind against light heavyweight champion Billy Conn when he scored a knockout in the thirteenth round. Conn talked about a rematch and Louis told him “you had the title for twelve rounds and didn’t know what to do with it”. From 1942 to 1944 both fighters were in the Army before they finally had a rematch in 1946 with Louis scoring a knockout over Conn who had lost most of his skills. In 1947 Louis won a split decision over “Jersey” Joe Walcott that most felt was disputed. In a rematch he stopped Walcott. In his next fight he lost his title to Ezzard Charles but never got a rematch.

In 1951 he lost to Marciano and retired from the ring. His final record was 66-3 with 52 knockouts and a heavyweight record of twenty-five defenses.

Now everyone can start arguing who the best was. Louis, Johnson and Ali usually have their names mentioned first. They fought in three different era’s and to compare them would be very difficult but my money would be on the “Brown Bomber” who could take you out with a six inch punch!

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