His “Best of British Boxers” article received a double thumbs up from legendary pugilist Riddick Bowe last month, now Ken Irons returns to share his top ten heavyweight boxers of all time. Part one focuses on numbers 10 through 6.
In assessing the comparative merits of fighters whose respective careers span a long period of time, I have resorted to the commonly held premise that all sportsmen/women can only improve as time progresses due to the better fitness levels, diet, training regimes etc. now available.
It is for this reason that I have deliberately omitted some of the champions of yesteryear – men like Dempsey, Johnson and Tunney – from my selection.
However, whilst it is true that Rocky Marciano, had I included him, would not have been the oldest fighter to appear, I feel that his small stature (today he’d have been a cruiserweight) goes against him.
Another negative is the fact that, although he holds the only perfect record in the division, the fifties was not an exceptional era for heavyweights and he never really fought any outstanding fighters (with the exceptions of Joe Louis, at that time well past his best, and Archie Moore – also past his best and, in reality, only a blown up light-heavyweight).
As is inevitable when constructing such lists, there are also other great champions with exemplary records who narrowly miss the cut – Wladimir Klitschko and Riddick Bowe amongst them.
10) KEN NORTON
Record: 42 wins, 7 losses, 1 draw (33 KO’s )
Norton, only the second man to beat Ali, was famous for his idiosyncratic cross armed defence which he used to good effect against the great fighters around in his era. Although he was subsequently outpointed by Ali in a return fight, the judges’ verdict in this contest was deemed at the time to be one of the most ill considered and unfair on record.
Norton’s unsuccessful fight with Larry Holmes for the title is rated one of the very best ever seen in the division.
Unfortunately however, it left Norton with the dubious distinction of being the only heavy weight champion who never won a title fight (the WBC having awarded him the crown prior to the Holmes fight as a result of a contract dispute they had with Leon Spinks). Any dreams Norton may have had of regaining the crown were then crushed by Holmes retaining it for the next 7 years!
9) EVANDER HOLYFIELD
Record: 44-10-2 (29 KO’s)
Holyfield, nicknamed ‘The Real Deal’, was an undisputed world champion at both cruiser and heavyweight.
He is the only 4 time world champion, winning the WBA, WBC and IBF titles in 1990, the WBA and IBF titles in 1993 and the WBA title in 1996 and 2000. Among those he defeated were Mike Tyson, Larry Holmes and George Foreman although, it has to be said, both Holmes and Foreman were in their early forties at the time he fought them.
8) VITALI KLITSCHKO
Record: 45-2 (41 KO’s)
Klitschko, a qualified PhD, nicknamed ‘Dr Ironfist’and currently Mayor of Kiev, was the first European for many years to make an impact on the heavyweight boxing scene.
At 6 feet 7 inches and a superbly fit 240 pounds or so, he brought a new focus to the division which was traditionally ruled by American fighters. Whilst interest in the sport had begun to wane in the states, via the gradual decline of activity in the amateur ranks. By the turn of the century in Europe a new enthusiasm was taking hold. Klitschko took the WBC title in 1999 beating Herbie Hide in 2 rounds.
Klitschko’s height, reach, punching power and boxing skills established him as an all time great. His only 2 losses were to Chris Byrd and Lennox Lewis. He has always maintained a steadfast refusal to fight his younger brother, Wladimir, another outstanding champion.
7) JOE FRAZIER
Record: 32-4-1 (27 KO’s)
“Smokin'” Joe Frazier was an aggressive, bustling type of fighter with a thunderbolt left hook, who won the title in 1970 and, in retaining it in the massively hyped ‘fight of the century’ in 1971, was the first man to beat Muhammad Ali.
He lost the title to another attacking fighter in 1973 when he took on the heavier George Foreman who, after flooring Frazier several times in a brutal encounter, knocked him out in round two.
He subsequently lost twice to Ali (the second of these fights being the gruelling “Thrilla in in Manila“, which left both men in hospital) and again to Foreman, leaving Big George and Ali as his only conquerors.
6) MIKE TYSON
Record: 50-6* (44 ko)
Tyson, the youngest man to win the WBC, WBA and IBF titles at 20, is perhaps the most destructive puncher the division has known.
This made him capable, especially in the early days of his career, of suddenly demolishing an opponent in a split second, no matter the current state of the contest. He won the WBC title in 1986 and the WBA and IBF in 1987. He defended the title 9 times before losing to underdog James ‘Buster’ Douglas in 1990.
His downward slide was not helped when he changed management. He also achieved notoriety for the ear biting escapade in his rematch with Evander Holyfield and activities outside the ring, which included a rape charge, imprisonment and money problems(despite his massive ring earnings and lucrative endorsements).
*Tyson also fought two bouts that ended as ‘no contests’.
Tune in tomorrow for the second part of Ken’s article, where he’ll reveal his top five heavyweight boxers of all time. In the meantime let us know your thoughts on the list so far in the comment section below, and please ask people to ‘like’ our Facebook page.