Boxing fans love a list. There is just something about boxing and lists that go together. Whether it is a list of top contenders, Champions, or fights we’d like to see, or even fights we don’t want to see. We’ve all either written or read a boxing list.
With this list of my ten most exciting TV fighters of all time I am attempting to give my own personal list of fighters who have played a part in having me hooked onto this crazy sport. It’s not an easy list, because there have been so many fighters and so many fights, which have imprinted themselves upon my mind over these past 30 plus years. (Gawd… am I that old!). I’ve wrestled, analyzed, and paced the room a few times, (it’s a small room) until finally, I have come up with a magic ten.
In an attempt at fairness, I have varied the weight divisions from where I have plucked my top ten, as it would be too easy for me just to pick out ten bantams or ten heavyweights in a row. The idea of this list is that it gives an overview of the whole weight divisions and the varying outstanding fighters at different weights. Although every division isn’t represented here, the weights do go up and down a bit.
What makes an exciting fighter? The obvious answer is; a fighter who isn’t afraid to mix it with his opponents, stands toe to toe, and makes every fight he is in a war from beginning to end. It’s more than that though. Some fighters create excitement due to certain abilities they may have, while others may cause drama due to shortcomings. For instance, fighters with either a good or bad chin can be involved in drama between the ropes. An iron chinned fighter will often thrill an audience with the shots he can take without flinching, a weak chinned fighter however will keep his fans on edge wondering whether the next minute will see him take a punch that will turn the lights out for him.
Perhaps one of the most sought after attributes for a fighter is the big punch. No boxing fan appreciates anything better than a fighter with the knockout punch. These fighters can often turn a fight or indeed, end a fight, when all has seemed lost.
Then there are a chosen few, a small number of boxers who can be exciting, even in a fight where nothing much dramatic is happening. Like a great actor such a Deniro or Pacino, they have something about them which makes anything they are in memorable.
One facet, which tends to run through every fighter who can be called ‘exciting’, is the ability to come back from behind, from certain defeat. These are fighters who climb off the floor, endure swellings, cuts, and broken bones, and keep going and trying to win.
My list is made up of a variety of boxers, with a variety of abilities and shortcomings in and out of the ring. At one point in their career, each one made an indelible imprint upon my mind.
Matthew Saad Muhammad had a background made for a “rags to riches” movie.
Abandoned at the age of five by the roadside, Matthew’s life was one of facing adversity from an early age. Despite having good boxing skills, Saad seemed to seek out violent confrontation, often starting fights slowly, only to come back from behind to claim dramatic victories. Such was Saad’s notoriety, for snatching victory from seemingly certain defeat, that he was given the nickname ‘Miracle Matthew’ by fans and media. Saad’s world championship reign was a series of thrillingly savage fights in which he seemed to fight better the more he was hurt. Many of Saad’s fights would look far- fetched if acted out on the big screen.
2. Bobby Chacon: WBC World Featherweight Champion 1974-1975 and
WBC World Junior Lightweight Champion 1982-1983.
To say that Bobby Chacon’s life was dramatic, both inside and outside the ring, would be a huge understatement. Chacon had it all as a boxer, a brilliant boxer-puncher, who graduated from being a bad boy of the street, to being World Featherweight Champion by the age of twenty-three. ‘School Boy’ Bobby Chacon lived as fast out of the ring as he did inside it and was an ex-champion within a year. In an era where the 126 and 130 pound divisions were packed with dynamite talent, Chacon mixed it with the best. He engaged in classic confrontations with fellow 126 pounder legends Ruben Olivares and Danny ‘little Red’ Lopez before he even fought for the world title. This was a time when you had to be a little special just to get into contendership.
After losing his title Bobby’s life and career went on a roller-coaster ride for almost a decade. Along the way, he began his epic four-fight series with Rafael ‘Bazooka’ Limon and had the first of two classic bouts with Cornelius Boza Edwards. Amongst the out of the ring trauma Chacon had to endure, was the death by suicide of his wife, because Bobby wouldn’t stop fighting.
When Chacon won his second world title by beating Limon in their fourth meeting, it involved the kind of drama seldom seen in the ring. Many who have seen this fight consider it the standout, toe to toe, all out brawl of its era. Chacon then went on to defend his title against Cornelius Edwards, in a fight which almost exceeded the Limon bout for bloodletting and savage exchanges. One of the first videos I ever bought, as a young boxing collector, was a VHS video with Chacon’s fights with Bazooka Limon and Cornelius Boza Edwards. No wonder I got hooked.
3. Muhammad Ali: World Heavyweight Champion 1964-1967, 1974-1978, and 1978-1979.
Ali was one of those boxers who created excitement just by entering the ring. A showman and boxer-supreme, in the latter part of his career he was involved in some of the most exciting and savagely fought heavyweight fights ever. The secret of Ali’s greatness is that as his speed and reflexes dimmed he showed he had the heart of a true warrior and a chin of granite.
4. Roberto Duran: World Lightweight Champion 1972-1979, WBC World Welterweight Champion 1980, WBA World Light-Middleweight Champion 1983-1984, and WBC World Middleweight Champion 1989-1990.
Roberto Duran fought with intensity that few fighters before or since could match. Seldom has a mixture of such savagery and skill been endowed by one fighter. As a lightweight, Duran was fearsome to behold. His crowning achievement was to out-psyche and outfight Sugar Ray Leonard in their first fight, to win Leonard’s Welterweight title.
In the second phase of his career, Duran became a comeback king, returning several times, after he had been written off by fans and press alike. Duran’s victory over Iran Barkley to win the World Middleweight title at the age of 37 was an epic performance of infighting and guile over youth and power.
5. Salvadore Sanchez: WBC World Featherweight Champion 1980-1982.
Salvadore Sanchez seemed to have everything. He was blessed with the ability to both box and brawl. He had speed, power and an iron chin, plus a ring intelligence, which belied his years. Sanchez was thrilling to watch because of his ability and the quality of his opposition while champion. Few World Champions have packed more into just a two and a half-year reign. Sanchez made nine successful defenses, including classic confrontations with Danny Lopez, Wilfredo Gomez, and Azhumah Nelson. When Sanchez’s reign was ended by a fatal car crash, we were left wondering not whether he was a all-time great, but just how great he could have become, had fate been kinder to him.
6. Ruben Olivares: World Bantam Champion 1969-1970, 1971-1972 WBA Featherweight Champion 1974, and WBC Featherweight Champion 1975.
Ruben Olivare’s record reads like an encyclopedia of the best fighters who fought from Bantamweight and Featherweight in the golden era of the 60s and 70s. Olivares could box skillfully when he chose too, but favoured a swashbuckling style, which made every fight he was in entertaining. As a Bantamweight in his prime, Olivares was a lethal puncher and finisher, and possessed the kind of knockout punch rarely seen in the lighter weights.
7. Aaron Pryor: WBA World Light Welterweight Champion 1980-1983, IBF World-Light-Welterweight Champion 1984-1985.
Aaron Pryor was a wild two-fisted fighter, who could box or brawl and often chose to do the latter. With a style that was likened to the legendary Henry Armstrong, Pryor was a tireless whirlwind of a fighter, who often seemed to care little for defence. Pryor’s defining moment came when he defeated the legendary Alexis Arguello, in one of the greatest fights of the 80s. ‘The Hawk’ could have perhaps achieved so much more, had he not lost his talent and career to drug addiction. In the end, Pryor’s whirlwind lifestyle outside of the ring consumed him.
8. Arturo Gatti: IBF Junior Lightweight Champion 1995-1998, WBC Light and Welterweight Champion 2004-2005.
Arturo Gatti was a throwback to the days of Saad Muhammad and Bobby Chacon. He often seemed to be at his best after he was hurt. Gatti’s position as one of the most exciting fighters of his era was assured even before his now legendary trilogy with Micky Ward. The fact that ‘Thunder’ was in so many classic wars has led some to overlook the fact that Gatti was a world class fighter with underrated (and often under used) boxing skills, rather than an overrated club fighter as some now seem to see him.
9. Frank Fletcher:
Few fighters have been so well named, as Frank ‘Animal’ Fletcher. Every round of every fight was a war for Fletcher. A short, stocky Middleweight, Fletcher utilized a savage body attack and an almost indecent ability to sponge up punishment, to climb into contendership for a title shot. The ‘Animal’ won the USBA Middleweight title and became something of a cult figure amongst boxing fans, with a string of brutal brawls with Clint Jackson, William ‘Caveman’ Lee, and James Green that took him to the brink of a shot at Marvin Hagler. However Fletcher became a prime example of ‘burnout’ after too many tough fights in a row, as losses to Wilfred Scypion, Juan Roldan and John Mugubi, cost him his title shot, and then ended his career.
10. Kelvin Seabrooks: IBF World Bantamweight Champion 1987-1988.
A casual look at Kelvin Seabrook’s career tally of 27 wins against 22 defeats doesn’t begin to tell the story of his career. After starting off as a journeyman fighter, taking fights at late notice and often in his opponent’s backyard, Seabrooks landed a break and captured the IBF World Bantamweight title, traveling to Columbia to do it.
Like many in this list, Seabrooks could be hurt, but being hurt just seemed to make him fight better and harder. Seabrooks defended his title successfully 3 times, each time in spectacularly violent fashion. Against Theirry Jacobs, Kelvin was floored three times, yet fought through an almost unbelievably savage fight to finally force a stoppage. When he lost his title to Orlando Canizales, in his 4th defense, Seabrooks lost to a future all time great, and only after giving one of the bravest displays of his career. Despite all his exciting displays in the ring, Kelvin Seabrooks is not mentioned too often these days. Partly due perhaps to him being a lighter weight champion, and also because many of his title fights took place abroad. Anyone who has seen one of his title fights knows that Seabrooks was a memorable champion and one of the most exciting fighters of his day.
There are many fighters who played their parts in my fascination with this sport. They may not have made this list, but hopefully I will write about some of them in the near future.