by Ted Sares
“There’s easier access today to the global scene of boxing, through the internet, and when more information is provided to you more easily, it makes you more knowledgeable about what you’re researching.”—Ed Brophy, IBHOF
Though many a pundit has had a go at it, there is no such thing as the “best” or most “correct “pound-for-pound list. In the end, the subjective nature of any list comparing fighters across different weight categories and different eras is bound to be the focal point of heated debate. At some point one simply has to say “enough “which leads me to my own list of the ten best pound-for-pound fighters since 1945—and I use 1945 as my threshold because I actually witnessed each boxer in action (except Eder Jofre whom I studied at length using rare video footage) and because of this I feel more comfortable in my assessments. Yes, I made generous use of electronic communications and the internet, but I also relied heavily on the YouTube’s that are between my 77 year-old ears.
In addition to a careful perusal of records, style, chin, KO percentages, skill-sets, entire bodies of work, prime years, dominance, quality of opposition, era (s),and the historical context in which boxers fought, I also used the following guidelines:
1) Was there a reasonable distribution regarding weight classifications?
2) Did I know enough about each boxer to make a qualitative judgment?
3) Did I benchmark?
4) Did I avoid personal bias in making the selections?
5) Did Hall of Fame induction bias my selections?
As the list got longer, legends like Alexis Arguello, Fighting Harada, Thomas Hearns, Ruben Olivares, Michael Spinks, Jose Napoles, Louis Manuel Rodriguez, Wilfredo Gomez, Nicolino Locche, Marcel Cerdan, Ike Williams, Holman Williams, Emile Griffith, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Rocky Marciano and others had to be sorted out. In just about every instance, the difference between selections was razor thin, but choices had to be made and here they are:
One caveat: The selectees must be retired which means Roy Jones Junior, Bernard Hopkins, Floyd Mayweather Junior, and Manny Pacquiao are excluded. Also, at this point, Vitali
Klitschko remains somewhat of an anomaly.
1. Sugar Ray Robinson. His final record was a gaudy 175-19-6-2 with 109 KOs. In a career that spanned three decades, Sugar Ray embodied the essence of the Sweet Science. The fact that I don’t have to say much more says it all. Suffice it to say the AP named Sugar Ray Robinson both the greatest welterweight and middleweight boxer of the century.
Sugar Ray Robinson was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990 with the first class of boxing legends.
“‘Pound for pound, the best.’ The claim has been used to describe many boxers, but it was invented for Sugar Ray Robinson.”—Ron Flatter
“He boxed as though he were playing the violin,” –sportswriter Barney Nagler
“You always say I’ll quit when I start to slide, and then one morning you wake up and realizeyou’ve done slid.”—Robinson.
2. Willie Pep. had an astonishing record of 230-11-1 with 65 KOs and an incredible 1955 rounds boxed. Nicknamed “Will o’ the Wisp” for his elusiveness, Pep is considered, along with Nicolino “El Intocable” Locche (117-4-14), one of boxing’s all-time great defensive artists. He held the featherweight title for six years and outboxed all comers. Pep is best remembered for his physical and dirty series of fights against fellow Hall of Famer Sandy Saddler..
“Sometimes there seemed to be music playing for him (Willie Pep) alone and he danced to his private orchestra and the ring became a ballroom.”—Jimmy Cannon
3. Joe Louis. “The Brown Bomber,” 69–3 with 55 KOs, is rated by many as the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. He successfully defended his title 25 times. Joe used a lightening quick jab and was subtly lethal with one-punch KO power in either hand. He was very economical; he never wasted a punch, nor did he waste much foot movement, moving only as much as needed but always within deadly reach of his opponent.
When I was a kid, Joe Louis was everyone’s hero. When he lost to Rocky Marciano, many wept, for Joe had transcended the sport and was viewed as America’s fighter. Fact is, Joe Louis was neither brown nor white; he simply was the most beloved champion in boxing history.
“I was privileged and will always be grateful to have had Joe Louis as my friend. The son of an Alabama sharecropper, Joe Louis fought his way to the top of professional boxing and into the hearts of millions of Americans. Out of the ring, he was a considerate and soft-spoken man; inside the ring, his courage, strength, and consummate skill wrote a unique and unforgettable chapter in sports history. But Joe Louis was more than a sports legend – his career was an indictment of racial bigotry and a source of pride and inspiration to millions of white and black people around the world.”—President Ronald Reagan (April 13, 1981)
4. Eder Jofre. His record was 72-2-4 with 50 KOs. He was the greatest fighter who fought under the radar. Jofre represented Brazil in the 1956 Olympics and then turned professional in 1957 at the age of 21. With one-punch knockout power in either hand, he was one of the few champions to have never suffered a knockout. Eder also was a slickster with great technical skills and reflexes in the style of Sugar Ray Robinson. He had it all including an iron chin.
By going undefeated in his first fifty fights, he managed to bookend his career in a uniquely positive way—fifty in front and twenty-five at the end. Even the great Sugar Ray Robinson, to whom Jofre is often compared, did not have such an auspicious start and superb ending. Reflecting his low profile status, Jofre was inducted into the IBHOF in 1992. Masahiko “Fighting” Harada, the only boxer to beat Jofre, was inducted in 1995, and is arguably Japan’s greatest fighter ever. Both are in the WBHF as well.
“Herb Goldman ranked Jofre as the Number one All-Time Bantamweight”…Tracy Callis
5. Muhammad Ali, 56-5 with 37 KOs. He was the dominant fighter of the 1960s and 1970s. A fighter of exceptional speed and flair, he won the world heavyweight title on three separate occasions over a period of fifteen years, but his trilogy with Kenny Norton, two mediocre fights against Leon Spinks and controversial wins against Henry Cooper and Jimmy Young diminished, at least to some degree, his self-proclaimed nickname of “The Greatest.” On the other hand, his two hard-fought wins against Joe Frazier, his wins over Sonny Liston, and his upset of George Foreman truly cemented his reputation, as did his victories against Shavers, Lyle, Williams and Quarry. Ali’s fight against an old Zora Folley at Madison Square Garden in 1967 perhaps showcased him at his brilliant best. And no heavyweight ever fought a higher level of opposition. Quite simply, Ali was the perfect person for his time.
“I love boxing and it did a lot for me. But sometimes it made me think how savage human beings could be to each other. That wasn’t the kind of boxer I wanted to be. My strategy was to be as scientific as I could when I fought. I didn’t want to be seriously hurt, and I didn’t want to do that to anybody else either.”—Ali.
6. Carlos “Escopeta” (Shotgun) Monzon finished with a record of 87-3-9 with 59 KOs. This powerful and rangy Argentinean killing machine first captured the World Middleweight Boxing Championship in a shocking upset over the highly favored Nino Benvenuti. Monzon became the toast of the boxing world. Handsome and macho, he became a superstar and a favorite of the jet set. Some said he pushed his punches. If so, he pushed them to 87 wins. Blessed with great stamina and a granite chin, he seemingly was an irresistible force and was unbeaten over the last eighty-one bouts of his career, a span of thirteen years!
“It was one of the purest knockouts in the sport’s history, but equally striking was the way the Argentine nonchalantly turned and strolled back to his corner after delivering the brutal blow, as if he had just punched off work at a factory rather than punched out the revered middleweight champion of the world. Those three minutes were pure Monzón – mechanical, calculating, clever and merciless. Benvenuti would get a rematch the following year in Monte Carlo but this time he only lasted three rounds. Monzón had gone from laconic provincial hardman to international idol.” — Crazy Fist — The Life and Tragedies of Boxer Carlos Monzón
7. Sandy Saddler. His final slate was 144-16-3 with 103 KOs. One of the greatest fighters ever, Joseph “Sandy” Saddler was a two-time featherweight champion of the world, and also held the junior lightweight title. He was Tommy Hearns before Tommy Hearns. Over his twelve-year career, 1944–1956, he scored an eye-popping 103 knockouts. He was stopped only once in his career, and that in his second fight. He is best known for his brutal and foul-filled series of fights with Willie Pep (230-11-1). Had his career not been cut short by a non-boxing accident, there is no telling how far he could have gone.
Willie Pep said: ”He beat me with a double arm lock.”
Sandy Saddler said: “I thought a punch to the kidney did it. If they say I twisted his arm, okay, I twisted it.”
8. Sugar Ray Leonard’s record was 35-3-1 with 25 KOs. Like Muhammad Ali, he was equipped with super speed, ability, and charisma. Leonard filled the boxing void left when Ali retired in 1981. Leonard became another right person for the right time. An Olympic gold medal winner, he was named Fighter of the Decade for the 1980s. Ray won an unprecedented five world titles in five weight classes and competed in some of the era’s most memorable bouts. Sugar Ray also won the unofficial round robin of his era by beating Benitiz, Duran, Hearns and Hagler—enough of a platform for entry into any Boxing Hall of Fame. No one could exploit an opponent’s weaknesses better than Leonard and there have been few more ruthless closers in boxing history. Sugar Ray Leonard was the first boxer to earn over $100 million dollars in purse money. Unfortunately and, like so many, Ray stayed on two fights too many.
“Someone once said there was a comparison between Sugar Ray Leonard and Sugar Ray Robinson. Believe me, there’s no comparison. Sugar Ray Robinson was the greatest.”-Leonard
“A fighter never knows when it’s the last bell. He doesn’t want to face that.”—Leonard
9. Roberto “Manos de Piedra” Duran finished with a 103-16 with 70 KOs record. He was regarded by many as the greatest lightweight of all time and one of the top five pound-for-pound fighters ever. He held world titles at four different weights: lightweight (1972–79), welterweight (1980), junior middleweight (1983–84), and middleweight (1989). He was also the only boxer to have fought in five different decades. When he lost to Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980, his record was 71-1.
After hitting a bad patch in 1982, he mounted a comeback and beat fellow Hall of Famer Pipino Cuevas by stoppage. Against WBA junior middleweight champion Davey Moore in June 1983, Roberto showed his savage side by perpetrating a brutal beatdown. Duran had won his third world title. The crowd was up and roaring, “Doooooran, Doooooran.” He later beat Iran “The Blade” Barkley in a thriller to cop his final championship. Again, “Dooooooran, Doooooran” rang out. Both were spine tingling affairs.
10. As for Number 10, a number of possibilities emerged. Great fighters like Aaron Pryor, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Archie Moore, Salvador Sanchez, and Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. could fill the slot, but if forced to pick just one man who fought at the very highest level of competition, it would be difficult not to select the great “Cincinnati Cobra,” Ezzard Mack Charles.
10. Ezzard Charles (1940-1959)
“Someday, maybe, the public is going to abandon comparisons with Joe Louis and accept Ezzard Charles for what he was – the best fist-fighter of his particular time.”—Red Smith
Charles (aka the Cobra) won his first fourteen professional fights but then lost to Ken Overlin (120-19-6) in 1941. He later drew with Overlin who finished with a record of 133-19-9. After losing to the very capable Kid Tunero (75-23-12) in 1942, he beat legendary Charley Burley (52-6-1) in back-to-back fights. Among other subsequent victims was the enigmatic Lloyd Marshall (59-13-3) twice. Marshall was no slouch and defeated eight fighters who held world titles including Charles. Charles also whipped Oakland Billy Smith twice, but lost to hard punching Elmer “Kid Violent” Ray in 1947 in what was called by many observes a terrible decision. Ring Magazine said Charles “was the faster, the better boxer, and the sharper hitter.” (From The Ring, October 1947, page 42).
The “Cobra ”beat Joe Maxim five times (they fought 62 rounds in all), Layne, Jersey Joe Walcott twice, mean and dirty Lee Oma, Nick “The Fighting Marine” Barone, Joe Louis , Freddie Beshore (in a classic), Gus Lesnevich, Archie Moore thrice (88-13-8 coming in), and the great Jimmy Bivins twice.
In 1948, Charles knocked out Sam Baroudi who died from injuries sustained in the bout held at the Chicago Stadium. Some later speculated that the emotionally devastated Charles had become overly cautious afterwards.
Like many greats, Charles faded into obscurity, especially after his last draining fight against Marciano. And from 1955 until his retirement in 1959, he fought twenty four times, winning only ten which to some extent diluted his legacy. However, nothing can ever dilute the following encapsulation reflecting, in part, the incredible level of his opposition:
Rocky Marciano (twice) IBHF/WBHF
Joe Louis IBHF/WBHF
Jersey Joe Walcott (four times) IBHF/WBHF
Archie Moore (thrice) IBHF/WBHF
Rex Layne (thrice)
Joe Maxim (five times) IBHF/WBHF
Jimmy Bivins (four times) IBHF/WBHF
Charley Burley (twice) IBHF/WBHF
Lloyd Marshall (thrice) WBHF
Gus Lesnevich WBHF
Ken Overlin (twice)
Elmer Ray (twice)
Harold Johnson IBHF/WBHF
Names like Moore, Burley and Bivins are mentioned in conversations reserved only for the legendary, but when you add Marciano, Walcott, and Joe Louis, well, maybe “legendary” becomes “immortal.” Charles fought them all.
Postscript: The above is a refined and revised version of an article that first appeared in the July 2013 edition of Boxing World Magazine, and is reproduced here with their grateful permission
Ted Sares is a private investor who enjoys writing about boxing. He also is a member of the Ring 4 International Boxing Hall of Fame and a member of Ring 10. A member of both the RAW and the Elite Powerlifting Federations, Ted is one of the oldest active competitors in the world and holds several U.S. records.