Boxing made a long way from a niche-oriented entertainment to a worldwide-famous great sport. Throughout history, boxers turned from regular guys who fought to get satisfaction and some money into celebrities and big stars.
Every boxer included into this list had a career worth being described in a separate essay, article or even a few books. They are among greatest boxers of all time, and their fame will shine forever.
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Now, let’s get back to our famous boxers. Here is the list of top boxers of all time who remain great and legendary even after their retirement from professional sports.
Wins: 41 (KO: 32)
Losses: 2 (KO: 2)
World Champion: 1993-1994, 1997-2001 and 2001-2003.
The first place goes to Lennox Lewis. I understand that many boxing fans, even most of them, think differently. Still, one may argue opinions but it is much more difficult to argue with boxing facts. Lennox didn’t lose a single mega-fight throughout his career, starting with his victory in the 1988 Olympic Games final against Riddick Bowe, and ending with his last victorious fight versus Vitali Klitschko.
I must remind that the list of his victims includes such huge names of boxers as: Holyfield, Tyson, Tua, Grant, Golota, Ruddock, Morrison, Mercer, Briggs and others. All of them were in their perfect shape (except Tyson, though it still cost lots of efforts to beat the regressed Tyson). The level of competition among top heavyweight boxers was very high back in those days.
Two defeats of Lewis are consequences of his low motivation and underestimation of opponents. Although Lewis had managers, they had always been his assistants he controlled. He never felt a threat of bankruptcy. All the funds earned with a hard work on the rind were kept and multiplied. He is one of a few famous boxers who retired from the ring in time, remained the undefeated champion.
Being Jamaican, he won the gold Olympic medal as a Canadian sportsman, and fought from UK as a professional. Lewis was a cosmopolite and settled in a place he felt the most comfortable. Not many people liked him, but he made everyone respect him. He always remained independent and never followed his public. Communities frequently were tuned against him, but Lewis never worried about it. Lennox always knew who he was. Although most analysts and boxing admirers count his era since the end of the Tyson’s domination, for Lewis it began in 1993, when he became the world champion.
Lennox Lewis is among top heavyweight boxers because he is an almost perfect heavyweight fighter. He’s got everything: huge anthropometric parameters, destructive strikes from both hands and a solid defensive technique.
Lewis was fast and flexible. He could vary the tempo of the fight to shock opponents with explosive actions. His rich technical and tactical skills allowed him being a real universal soldier in the ring. His right cross and uppercut are canonic and designed for learning. That’s Lewis. He could work on any distance both aggressively and defensively. He is good as a proactive and reactive fighter. That’s Lewis, too. That’s why he is the first in this list of supreme boxers.
Wins: 56 (KO: 37)
Losses: 5 (KO 1)
World Champion in 1964-1967 and 1974-1978
Always honest Joe Louis remained himself all the time and people loved him for that. Oppositely, Muhammad Ali was himself only partially, and that part changed on purpose because Ali was a born showman. The whole career of Muhammad Ali was the long lasting fight. It was the fight for his comfort, for his principles and beliefs, and for his place in human history. Louis brought peace for two races. Ali equalized them. He broke through the walls that lasted for centuries. For Muhammad, a ring was not only a place to earn money and get sports achievements. For him, a ring was a theater scene and a battlefield at the same time. There he fought for his beliefs. There he stood his ground for what he said, for his rights and thoughts. He always turned his big fights into social, religious or just scandal phenomenon. Still, most frequently he combined all three features in one event.
In the ring, Ali was an innovator. He was such a great inventor that contemporaries failed to understand him at once. His footwork was a great instrument of attack and defense, but at first it caused nothing but confusion. His hand speed and precision were just amazing and he compensated the deficiency of his striking power with them. I don’t want to say Ali’s strikes were weak, just many boxers of his time could hit stronger than Muhammad.
People also failed to notice his inner spirit of the true warrior at once. But the main advantage of Ali was his feeling of distance. He had that feeling developed almost excellently. He could feel the distance with his skin.
After winning the gold medal of 1960 Olympic Games, Ali moved to professional boxing at once. The description of his career is the material for the whole book or some of them. I would only like to say that it was the time of the most serious competition among top heavyweight boxers.
Think about it yourself: two fights with Liston, three with Frazier, one with Foreman, one with Holmes and three with Norton. Now add fights with Cooper, Patterson, Bugner, etc. It all was one career that turned into an epoch.
Still, no matter how great Muhammad Ali was, he failed to finish his career on time. Louis and Tyson came back to the ring because of debts, while Ali did that for glory and attention. This adventure gave him only attention and he added some glory for those who defeated him: Holmes and Berbick. If there was no such an end of career, Ali would be the first in this rating of best boxers of all time.
Wins: 66 (KO: 52)
Losses: 3 (KO: 2)
The world champion in 1937-1949
Joe Louis was an epoch too, just another one. If the epoch of Tyson was the age of fights mixed with court sessions, scandals, marriages, divorces and other challenges making Iron Mike even more popular, then Louis’s time was rather a diary of a military commander with all his battles, victories, conquests and defeats written there. Joe Louis ruled the ring longer than anyone else. His championship period lasted for 11 years in a row and included 25 title defenses. If there was no World War II, there would probably be more than 30 of them.
Louis had a decent speed, outstanding technique, powerful strikes and an amazing ability to recover. But his main advantage was his accuracy: nobody could hit opponents as precisely as Louis did. He threw strikes in different directions but always landed them right in place. An imperfect defense and poor ability to adjust to fight circumstances (the first fight against Schmeling) were his disadvantages.
Joe Louis became a champion when Afro-American boxers were perceived exclusively through the Jack Johnson’s image of a rebel. Louis was different, he was a noble warrior refusing to play roles, he just was himself. Everyone loved and respected him.
Still, despite all his humanism and achievements, Joe was a bad businessman. He earned millions of dollars and became a bankrupt as a result. That is why he entered the list of top heavyweight boxers who failed to quit the ring on time. It was poverty that made him come back to the ring in 1950 to fight against Charles and lose by points. It was poverty that made him go on boxing again. Everything finished with a brutal knockout by Rocky Marciano in the 8th round. On the 26 of October 1951, the epoch of Joe Louis as a boxer came to an end, leaving a huge legacy for the boxing history.
Wins: 50 (KO: 44)
Losses: 6 (KO: 5)
The world champion in 1986-1990 and 1995-1996
It is impossible to write about Mike Tyson shortly. George Foreman is a human-history. Mike Tyson is an epoch of the world boxing and a mass culture phenomenon of the worldwide scale. This epoch lasted for almost 20 years. Even those who defeated Mike failed to outshine him. His epoch continued even when Tyson lost his championship belts and had been only his own shadow as a boxer.
Tyson had no chance to fight on 1984 Olympic Games but never felt confused because of this fact. Mike and his father-coach Cus D’Amato estimated their strength properly and knew what they were ready for. Tyson was incredibly gifted physically, had excellent speed abilities and just killing strikes from both hands. But the main thing was his unique striking technique and that “peek-a-boo” defense style that suited his anthropometric parameters perfectly.
His temper was his main disadvantage that later caused all his struggles. But at the very beginning, everything was fantastic. Tyson became the world champion in 1986. Mike was only 20 and became the youngest heavyweight champion in history. His professional career had been lasting for just slightly more than 18 months at that time. It was the fastest rise in the history of boxing and I doubt anyone would be able to get the same achievement in our times. Tyson’s road to the top was the fastest, and his way to the bottom was the longest.
The peak of his career was the victory upon Michael Spinks by knockout in the first round. Back in those days, people used to think that Spinks was the only boxer able to compete with Tyson. And then Tyson destroyed him, broke him and finished his career. Many boxing fans then thought the human able to beat Tyson hasn’t been born yet. And his loss to James Douglas in 1990 became the loudest sensation in the history of boxing.
Still, nowadays, when time passed and Tyson’s name doesn’t cause worries anymore, we can analyze the situation deeper. Till that time, Mike didn’t have any faithful person in his environment and continued degrading as a person while being carefully guided by Don King. He had been degrading as a boxer during nearly 2 years before that fight. All his life was a chain of different scandals, court sessions, law problems and other troubles. At that moment, Mike didn’t treat boxing as his life calling and passion. He had his old skill base, and this base allowed him staying among best boxers for more than 10 years after his first defeat. Every boxing fan knows the end of this story. Lennox Lewis finished the Tyson’s age in 2002 after knocking Iron Mike out in the 8th round.
Many boxers, including greatest ones, are likely between themselves: they can’t stop fighting on time. There can be various reasons for that, and Tyson had his. After earning hundreds of millions of dollars, Tyson bankrupted and demonstrated his incompetence in finance management. Poverty was the reason for Mike to shame himself twice at the very end of his career, though public could perfectly see he had no will to box anymore.
But no matter what Tyson’s financial status is, he remains the epoch of the world boxing forever. And the name of Mike Tyson, the main of his assets, can earn him more that enough funds at any time.
Wins: 76 (KO: 68)
Losses: 5 (KO: 1)
The world champion in 1973-1974 and 1994-1995
Those numbers above can already tell that Foreman’s biography is unique and his record still remains unbeaten. Nobody knows if it would be beaten one day.
Foreman is a huge physical strength, a monstrous right hand and a good technique. But his main feature is the metamorphosis happened inside his mind and soul. It divided his life into “before” and “after” periods. After winning the 1968 Olympic Games, Foreman began frightening people in professional boxing at once. With time, he earned a glory of the most dangerous fighter of his time. Nobody made opponents fear them so much since Sunny Liston’s times. In his first championship fight he literally swept Joe Frazier out of the ring (Frazier defeated Muhammad Ali before that and was thought to be undefeatable by many people). It seemed that Foreman would be the champion as long as he would like to be. But his first championship run lasted just slightly longer than 18 months. Foreman suffered a defeat against Ali in 1974. And it took him a while to recover from that loss.
Foreman was shocked so much that he retired from the ring for 10 years after several victories and one more loss to Jimmy Young. But at that time it seemed that his retirement was forever. Only God and George Foreman himself know what happened in his soul back in those days. George threw all TV-sets away from his house and said they prevent him from thinking. He became a religious man and moreover a preacher. What made him come back to the ring later? Was it poverty, heart calling, or both? Nobody would ever know for sure. The only thing we all know is that George Foreman made it.
His huge popularity among middle-age people gave him a chance for title fights. Passing through first defeats from Evander Holyfield and Tommy Morrison, Foreman used his chance in the fight against Michael Moorer by knocking out the opponent in the 10th round. It was 1994 and Foreman would be 46 in 2 months.
After that, George most probably lost his motivation. Additionally, he clearly understood the situation in boxing and his chances, so Foreman retired from professional boxing after a few more fights. At that time he became not only a millionaire but a hero for millions of Americans. Almost all of those Americans bought his famous electric grill devices and made him even richer.
George Foreman is a classical blacksmith of his fate. He is a human that showed the world that impossible is nothing. He has a unique place in the history of boxing, and the fifth line in our list of best boxers of all time.