50 Greatest Boxers of Last 50 Years (1967-2017)
- Muhammad Ali – Heavyweight, 1967
- Floyd Mayweather Jr. – Lightweight, 2003
- Roberto Duran – Lightweight, 1979
- Sugar Ray Leonard – Welterweight, 1982
- Roy Jones Jr – Super Middleweight, 1995
- Pernell Whitaker – Lightweight, 1990
- Carlos Monzon – Middleweight, 1972
- Manny Pacquiao – Lightweight, 2008
- Marvin Hagler – Middleweight, 1984
- Julio Cesar Chavez – Jr. Lightweight, 1988
- Larry Holmes – Heavyweight, 1980
- Alexis Arguello – Jr. Lightweight, 1979
- Salvador Sanchez – Featherweight, 1982
- Evander Holyfield – Heavyweight, 1990
- George Foreman – Heavyweight, 1974, 1990
- Bernard Hopkins – Middleweight, 2001
- Michael Spinks – Light Heavyweight, 1985
- Lennox Lewis – Heavyweight, 1999
- Mike Tyson – Heavyweight, 1988
- Ruben Olivares – Bantamweight, 1970
- Joe Frazier – Heavyweight, 1971
- Aaron Pryor – Jr. Welterweight, 1983
- Thomas Hearns – Jr. Middleweight, 1984
- Andre Ward – Light Heavyweight, 2017
- Khaosai Galaxy – Super Flyweight, 1989
- Gennady Golovkin – Middleweight, 2015
- Wilfredo Gomez – Jr. Featherweight, 1980
- Bob Foster – Light Heavyweight, 1968
- Eder Jofre – Bantamweight, 1967
- Azumah Nelson – Featherweight, 1987
- Miguel Canto – Flyweight, 1975
- Mike McCallum – Jr. Middleweight, 1987
- Felix Trinidad – Welterweight, 1999
- Jose Napoles – Welterweight, 1969
- Eusebio Pedroza – Featherweight, 1983
- Vicente Saldivar – Featherweight, 1967
- Oscar De La Hoya – Welterweight, 1999
- Joe Calzaghe – Super Middleweight, 2006
- Carlos Zarate – Bantamweight, 1978
- Wilfred Benitez – Welterweight, 1979
- Juan Manuel Marquez – Lightweight, 2008
- Canelo Alvarez – Middleweight, 2017
- Miguel Cotto – Welterweight, 2007
- Marco Antonio Barrera – Featherweight, 2001
- Eric Morales – Super Bantamweight, 2000
- James Toney – Middleweight, 1992
- Roman Gonzalez – Flyweight, 2015
- Wladimir Klitschko – Heavyweight, 2010
- Fighting Harada – Bantamweight, 1967
- Ricardo Lopez – Strawweight, 1993
- Julian Jackson – Super Welterweight, 1989
- Yuh Myung Woo – Light Flyweight, 1990
- Terry Norris – Super Welterweight, 1992
- Jeff Fenech – Super Bantamweight, 1987
- Vitali Klitschko – Heavyweight, 2004
- Antonio Cervantes – Super Lightweight, 1973
- Michael Carbajal, – Light Flyweight, 1993
- Riddick Bowe – Heavyweight, 1993
- Michael Moorer – Light Heavyweight, 1991
- Rodrigo Valdez – Middleweight, 1974
Here you see my list in its entirety. I came to my conclusion based on each boxer’s talent, dominance, winning percentage (particularly against other great fighters), ring generalship and adaptability, longevity, durability and toughness.
All who made my Top 50 were no doubt great and extremely talented but some fall a bit short on the other intangibles. So, here is my explanation starting with the bottom of the list and working my way to the top.
This group was mostly dominated by the smallest legends who won multiple world titles in different weight classes.
However, these lighter weight warriors–namely Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Miguel Cotto and Manuel Marquez–all ran into a buzzsaw in all-time great Manny Pacquiao, going a total combined 2 wins, 1 draw and 7 losses against him.
And they also sustained multiple losses to other common opponents, including some to each other.
Juan Manuel Marquez – Went 1-2-1 against Manny Pacquiao, losses to Chris John and Timothy Bradley and Floyd Mayweather Jr, who thoroughly outclassed him.
Canelo Alvarez – Lost to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and was lucky to escape with a draw with Gennady Golovkin in his two high-profile fights.
Miguel Cotto – Losses to Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. puts him a notch below them.
Marco Antonio Barrera – Back-to-back losses to Junior Jones marred his career early on and went 0-2 against both Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez towards the end of it.
Erik Morales – Went 1 for 3 against the aforementioned Barrera in their classic trilogy and 1 for 3 against Pacquiao.
James Toney – Just one of two boxers in this group ranked the top fighter in the sport, was thoroughly dominated by Roy Jones to prove who was superior. Lacked the motivation to stay among the game’s elite and career was largely inconsistent after the Jones’ loss.
Roman Gonzalez – The other man in the group ever considered the top pound-for-pound boxer, whose high profile status among contemporaries might have been elevated by regularly being featured in HBO and PPV cards, fighting vastly inferior competition. Proved to be mortal in his back-to-back losses to Sor Rungvisai.
Wladimir Klitschko – Fragile chin cost him in all but one of his five losses. Never defeated a high profile opponent and only once displayed an ability to mount a comeback from adversity (against Samuel Peters).
Fighting Harada – By 1967, was already one to two years past his prime, losing the Bantamweight title to Lionel Rose on February 27, 1968.
Ricardo Lopez – Never faced a high profile opponent and passed on opportunities to move up one weight class to challenge boxing superstars Michael Carbajal or Humberto Gonzalez.
This group consists of greats that were denied the opportunity of a superfight and legends like Wilfred Benitez, Azumah Nelson and Carlos Zarate lost to boxing icons that were just a little better (namely, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Salvador Sanchez, Pernell Whitaker, Wilfredo Gomez).
Miguel Canto – Fought and defeated arguably only one great opponent in Shoji Oguma. Fought sporadically and went 1-4 in his five last fights after losing his title to Chan Hee Park.
Mike McCallum – Deprived the opportunity to match his skills against boxing’s elites. We just do not know how much greater he could have been.
Felix Trinidad – Had trouble with versatile boxers with good hand speed. Was thoroughly dominated by Bernard Hopkins and was lucky to get a “gift” decision over Oscar DeLaHoya in his two biggest fights.
Jose Napoles – Cut-prone skin first cost him the title against Billy Backus and probably would have hurt his chances against the slashing fists of his successors – namely Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and maybe Wilfred Benitez.
Eusebio Pedroza – Overshadowed by the great Salvador Sanchez and became the lineal champion after Sanchez’s untimely death. Fans were deprived the opportunity to see a title unification and find out who was better.
Vicente Saldivar – Was near his peak after first retiring on October 1967. Did manage to regain the world Featherweight but skills had greatly diminished, losing his last fight to fellow hall-of-famer Eder Jofre.
Oscar De La Hoya – Defeated the smaller Julio Cesar Chavez and Pernell Whitaker when both were past their primes. Lost many of his biggest fights, including to Shane Mosley twice, Felix Trinidad, Bernard Hopkins, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao when he was past his peak.
Joe Calzaghe – Avoided fights with Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. in their primes, as well as other marquee matchups in the U.S.
Carlos Zarate – Only real blemish during his prime was a costly one, being stopped by the bigger Wilfredo Gomez. Unable to dominate and win world titles in higher weight classes.
Wilfred Benitez – Lost two of his three biggest high profile fights, to Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns respectively. Erratic training habits and lack of focus eventually caught up to him.
Many of the greats in this group include those whose careers may be more defined by their losses than their victories.
Joe Frazier – Went 1-3 against Muhammad Ali and was no match for the bigger George Foreman, suffering devastating knockout losses to him to go 0-2.
Aaron Pryor – Unable to secure mega million dollar fights with Sugar Ray Leonard, Ray Mancini and Hector Camacho. Fans were left wondering if his aggressive, whirlwind style would have transcended to success against other of boxing’s elites.
Thomas Hearns – Lost his two biggest fights, knocked out by Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler respectively in title fights. Shaky chin and defense cost him in four of his five losses.
Andre Ward – His unblemished record and career accomplishments will probably be judged more kindly later (and perhaps more accurately) depending on how Sergey Kovalev finishes his own brilliant career.
Khaosai Galaxy – Never faced his WBC counterpart Gilberto Roman, who was initially considered the better boxer and was the lineal champion before his untimely death.
Gennady Golovkin – Now shares the record for most successful Middleweight title defenses with Bernard Hopkins. Will slip or move up on this mythical list depending on how he fares against Canelo Alvarez in their Fall rematch.
Wilfredo Gomez – Dominated the Junior Featherweight division like no other but was knocked by Salvador Sanchez and Azumah Nelson at Featherweight. All three losses were by KO.
Bob Foster – So dominant at Light Heavyweight but against mostly questionable competition and lacked the versatility and toughness to overcome opponents that were bigger and stronger.
Eder Jofre – Had past his prime by 1967, suffering his only two losses – both to Fighting Hirada – in 1965 and 1966. Would, however, rebound to win his last 25 fights.
Azumah Nelson – Great victories over Wilfredo Gomez and Jeff Fenech were sandwiched between losses to Salvador Sanchez and Pernell Whitaker
This group includes some of the most talented and accomplished boxers ever, whose talents transcends in any era.
Larry Holmes – Unfortunately most of his career was under the shadow of Muhammad Ali. While he failed to capture the same magic of Ali, Holmes forged his own great legacy. Lack of significant wins against other Heavyweight legends in their primes, however, puts him a notch below.
Alexis Arguello – As technically sound a boxer-puncher as we have ever seen but fast, nimble opponents always troubled him. The losses to Aaron Pryor keeps him from ascending any higher on the list.
Salvador Sanchez – Was tragically denied the opportunity to prove he was even greater than those that rank higher. We can only speculate.
Evander Holyfield – The greatest Cruiserweight of all time lacked size and significant power as a Heavyweight. Was lucky to have fought George Foreman and Larry Holmes when both were at the age of 42. Went 1 for 5 (including a dubious draw) against bigger, taller Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis.
George Foreman – Imagine combining the youth and rage Foreman fought with in the 70’s with the poise and intelligence he fought with during his comeback. That would have been scary! Still, Big George accomplished plenty during his two, combined title reigns and would have beaten most of the other Heavyweight legends on this list.
Bernard Hopkins – His longevity and accomplishments speak for themselves but an uncontested loss to Roy Jones Jr. and back-to-back losses to Jermain Taylor keeps him outside my Top 10.
Michael Spinks – Unfairly known more for his lone loss, albeit a devastating one to Mike Tyson, than all his previous victories. His cagey, unorthodox boxing ability and powerful right cross made him the greatest Light Heavyweight since Archie Moore.
Lennox Lewis – With his size, boxing skills and tremendous power, he was nearly unbeatable when properly motivated. When he was not, however, his manageable chin and mental lapses made him vulnerable particularly to hard punching opponents who were durable and largely responsible to his two lone losses, both by one punch knockout.
Mike Tyson – The most explosive and feared Heavyweight in history. Many fans believe he could have become its greatest too. Others feel his limitations were just eventually exposed once he lost that aura of invincibility. I feel he falls somewhere in between.
Ruben Olivares – Arguably the greatest, hardest punching Bantamweight of all time and a boxing immortal. A partying lifestyle and indifference towards training eventually caught up to him. Suffered many losses once he started losing his edge.
Now cracking the Top 10, these boxing icons rank among the greatest fighters in boxing history.
Pernell Whitaker – Although he lacked the power and strength to put away larger opponents like others on my list, the brilliant defensive and elusive counterpuncher is the only boxer who could challenge Roberto Duran for the top spot as the greatest modern day Lightweight.
Carlos Monzon – The greatest Middleweight since Sugar Ray Robinson. Underrated for his hand speed and savviness. Had no real weaknesses. We may never again see another boxer win his last 83 fights.
Manny Pacquiao – One of the most decorated boxers in history and one of the best ever in the smaller weight classes. His loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and subsequent losses keeps him from moving up further on the list.
Marvin Hagler – Continued to improve and excel into his early 30’s. What hurts him was his inconsistency and mental lapses in the late rounds of the first Vito Antuofermo fight, close battle with the much smaller Roberto Duran and his surprising loss to a comebacking Sugar Ray Leonard.
Julio Cesar Chavez – One of the toughest, most durable boxers–regardless of weight–we have ever seen. Combined with his aggression and technical infighting ability, would have been more than a match for most. But, like Alexis Arguelo, had trouble with fast handed opponents Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor and Oscar DeLaHoya.
The Cream of the Crop. All have a legit claim to being considered the top boxer of the last 50 years.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. – Universally recognized as the best boxer of this millennium and arguably the greatest defensive fighter in history. Floyd was also one of the most accurate punches of all time and his lead right cross and whistling left hook counters helped him effectively neutralize his opponents’ offense better than anyone we have seen in modern day boxing history. It allowed him to reached an unblemished career record of 50-0 and fight at the highest level until age 40.
He was also an explosive, lightning quick offensive juggernaut as a Junior Lightweight and Lightweight. But his low risk, high reward fighting tactics as he moved up alienated fans and his apparent refusal to face superstar opponents that were in their respective primes even further alienated them. His greatness, however, is undeniable and deserves to be in the conversation with Muhammad Ali as the best boxer we have seen in the last half century.
Roberto Duran – Perhaps the greatest brawler since Harry Greb from the 1920’s. No one was better at combining brutal infighting and dirty tactics with scientific boxing and slippery head movement. Arguably no one was better at Lightweight than Duran. Then, he moved up two weight classes to beat a prime Sugar Ray Leonard.
Maybe no other natural Lightweight could have given the much bigger Marvin Hagler one of his toughest battles in an attempt to capture his Middleweight title and then actually win it at the age of 39. The best pure fighter I have seen in my lifetime and one of the sport’s most well rounded in both offensive and defensive abilities.
Sugar Ray Leonard – The most complete boxer since the original Sugar Ray [Robinson], Leonard had the toughness, confidence and durability to match his considerable physical talents. His ferocity, footwork, left jab, punching power and voluminous offensive output would have given him a clear edge over Mayweather at Welterweight or higher.
He also fought and beat far greater opposition than Floyd, especially fellow boxing legends that were at their peaks. Leonard is largely responsible for bring glamour and excitement to the lower weight divisions like no one before. In many ways, Leonard could do things Ali could not, but mimicked a lot of Ali’s moves, persona and antics. His reign as the sport’s best boxer and title runs in the talent filled decade of the 80’s, by comparison, were relatively short and career did not stretch as long as Ali’s.
Roy Jones Jr. – The most gifted athlete to ever don the boxing gloves and the fastest hands in the sport’s history. Jones’ talents were immeasurable and attributes were so great, he was nearly unbeatable. His cat-like reflexes were so superior, for much of his professional and amateur career, it allowed him to dominate every opponent.
Even the greats, namely Bernard Hopkins and James Toney, were no match for him. He was simply too fast, too good. Jones probably reached his peak as a Super Middleweight but unmatched physical abilities allowed him to conquer the Light Heavyweight division and win a world title as a Heavyweight.
Although he was much bigger and heavier than Mayweather, his hands were so quick, he had a distinct edge in speed and was a much harder puncher. It can be argued that, at his peak, Jones was the best ever.
Unfortunately, once his reflexes began to slow just a notch, it exposed a brittle chin and an inability to adapt a more conventional boxing style and the intestinal fortitude to overcome adversity like the other greats on this list. Subsequent losses, after his first dramatic defeat by the hands of Antonio Tarver, were mostly by knockout. This leaves a real stain on his overall standing amongst the all-time greats.
And then there was The Greatest.
Muhammad Ali – He was at the peak of his powers in 1967, with exceptional hand speed and unparalleled footwork for a Heavyweight and an uncanny ability to dodge and avoid punches. Ali dominated the 60s with blinding speed, movement and uncommon reflexes.
It was in the 70s, however, he proved himself the Greatest of All Time, using savvy, grit and an unyielding will to win, combined with his diminished but still useful skills and timing, to best the likes of fellow hall-of-famers Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton and others in the talent riched decade. Ali fought every top contender from the 60s and 70s and never handpicked his opponents or waited to fight them until he felt he had a decisive edge like Ray Leonard and Floyd Mayweather Jr. did.
He used every ounce of his reserve when his skills eroded, displaying an incredible heart, ability to adapt to find a winning strategy and summoning the will to comeback from adversity. No one on this list did it better or longer once he had past his physical prime like Ali. No one fought and beat such top level quality of opposition nearly all throughout his illustrious career as Ali did either. Almost every other boxer on this list defeated other great opponents when they were mostly in their respective primes.
Ali mostly did so when he was four-to ten years past his peak years. Leonard came the closest but during a much shorter span and mostly all throughout his peak years. Mayweather fought smarter, was more disciplined and never suffered a professional loss. But he was never tested like Ali was and could not match the same level of competition as him. The most famous, significant, impactful boxer in the sport’s history still remains one of its greatest champions and easily, in my opinion, the best we have witnessed the last 50 years.
Header photo by Marilyn Paulino/RBRBoxing