2017 marked the 50th year anniversary of Muhammad Ali’s refusal of the draft. Looking back at this monumental time in history, we can only marvel at Ali–just 25 years and at the peak of his professional career–willing to sacrifice what would turn out to be more than three of his prime years to stand up for a fight he believed in.
Ali was immediately stripped of his championship title and his boxing license was suspended. He would later be reissued a license and the U.S. Supreme Court reversed his conviction for draft evasion. Muhammad would continue his amazing career and rivet the world as “The Greatest of All Time.”
Now, some 50 years later, does he still deservedly remain atop of the list of the greatest boxers during this time period? How does he fare against the likes of the recently re-retired Floyd Mayweather Jr., who was unquestionably the best boxer of this millennium?
So, without further ado, here is my list of the 50 Greatest Boxers of the Last 50 Years, starting at the bottom 25 (No.’s 50-26).
Ricardo Lopez – Strawweight | Record: 51 wins (38 knockouts), 0 losses and 1 draw
Technically sound boxer with a pressuring style and exceptional power for his weight class. The greatest Strawweight of all-time and world champion in two different weight classes: Strawweight (Minimumweight), Light Flyweight. Defended the WBC and Lineal world titles 21 times.
Also won the WBA and WBO versions of the belt and captured the IBF Light Flyweight title. Only blemish is a eight-round technical draw with WBA champion Rosendo Alvarez, which he later avenged via majority decision to capture his title. Only boxer to retire with an undefeated record both as an amateur and professional.
Widely considered among the top five greatest Mexican boxers ever.
Fighting Harada – Bantamweight | Record: 55 wins (22 knockouts), 7 losses
Widely considered the greatest Japanese boxer of all-time. Born Masahiko Harada, his aggressive, whirlwind style helped him capture both the Flyweight and Bantamweight world titles.
He is the only man to defeat the legendary Eder Jofre from their two meetings. Lost a controversial referee’s decision in an attempt to wrestle the Featherweight title from champion Johnny Famechon. Remains the only boxer to win both the lineal Flyweight and Bantamweight titles.
Wladimir Klitschko – Heavyweight | Record: 64 wins (53 knockouts), 5 losses
An intelligent, strategic boxer with great size, powerful right cross and excellent jab. The Ukrainian boxer holds the record, at 4,383 days, for the longest combined world championship reign in boxing history and made the second most total successful title defenses of any Heavyweight boxer with 23, only behind Joe Louis (25).
Klitschko was also the 1996 Olympic gold medalist in the Super Heavyweight division. Retired after facing the most formidable challenge of his career, WBA and IBF Heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, losing in a gallant effort where he had the champion down and on the brink of defeat before a late rally punctuated by a monster uppercut secured a stoppage victory for Joshua.
Roman Gonzalez – Flyweight | Record: 46 wins (38 knockouts), 2 losses (career active)
Known as “Chocolatito,” this hard-punching, pressure fighter became the first boxer from Nicaragua to win world titles in four different weight divisions, and the first to do so in the four lowest weight classes: Strawweight (Minimumweight), Light Flyweight, Flyweight, Super Flyweight.
From September 2015 to March 2017, was considered the No. 1 pound-for-pound boxer by The Ring magazine. Recently was knocked out by Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in Round 4. Sor Rungvisai had previously taken the WBC title from him by majority decision in a fight most ring-siders felt Gonzalez had won. He remains the only man thus far to defeat Chocolatito.
James Toney – Middleweight | Record: 77 wins (47 knockouts), 10 losses, 3 draws, 2 no-contest
American boxer known for his slick, defensive style, vicious infighting, solid chin and no-nonsense “tough guy” demeanor. Toney won world titles in three different weight classes: Middleweight, Super Middleweight, Cruiserweight.
He successfully won the WBA Heavyweight title, joining Bob Fitzsimmons and Roy Jones as the only world Middleweight champions to win a legitimate world Heavyweight title, but was later stripped and the fight was ruled a “no-contest” after he failed a drug test.
Beat many of the top fighters from Middleweight to Heavyweight, including Michael Nunn, Mike McCallum, Iran Barkley and Evander Holyfield.
Erik Morales – Super Bantamweight | Record: 52 wins (36 knockouts), 9 losses
The first Mexican-born boxer to win world titles in four different weight classes: Super Bantamweight, Featherweight, Super Featherweight, Lightweight.
The tall, rangy boxer-puncher was famous for his warrior spirit and trilogies with fellow Mexican legend Marco Antonio Barrera and Manny Pacquiao, although coming up short (one out of three) in both.
Morales defeated 15 world champions including Barrera and Pacquiao.
Marco Antonio Barrera – Super Bantamweight | Record: 67 wins (44 knockouts), 7 losses
One of the finest Mexican technical boxers initially began his professional career as a brawler. His versatility helped him capture four world titles in three different weight classes: Super Bantamweight, Featherweight, Super Featherweight.
Barrera defeated fellow Mexican legend Erik Morales two out of three times, all closely contested, in one of the greatest trilogies of all-time. Also handed hall-of-famer Naseem Hamed his first and only loss for the lineal Featherweight championship. Came up on the short end of his rivalries against Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez towards the latter part of his career.
Miguel Cotto – Welterweight | Record: 41 wins (33 knockouts), 6 losses
The recently retired boxing great is the first Puerto Rican to win world titles in four different weight classes: Super Lightweight, Welterweight, Super Welterweight, Middleweight. Started his career as a hard-hitting pressure fighter before evolving into a more refined boxer-puncher.
His methodical attacking style – highlighted by a stiff jab and punishing left hook – helped him defeat the likes of Zab Judah, Shane Mosley, Antonio Margarito, Sergio Martinez and often faced much bigger opponents as he moved up in weight.
Saul “Canelo” Alvarez – Middleweight | Record: 49 wins (34 knockouts), 1 loss, 2 draws (career active)
The lineal Middleweight champion since 2015 after defeating Miguel Cotto by decision. The Mexican boxer is a three-time world champion in two-weight classes: Super Welterweight (Junior Middleweight), Middleweight. Considered one of the best active boxers, pound-for-pound, in the world.
Only 27 years old, but has already defeated Shane Mosley, Cotto, and captured three world titles against just one defeat–a split decision loss to the sport’s top fighter, Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2013.
Canelo rebounded with seven consecutive wins before settling for a disputed draw against Gennady Golovkin in September for the undisputed Middleweight championship. His bullish strength, punching power, hand speed and toughness has helped him become the game’s biggest star.
Juan Manuel Marquez – Lightweight | Record: 56 wins (40 knockouts), 7 losses, 1 draw
Retired in 2017, Marquez is just the third Mexican boxer to become a four different weight world champion: Featherweight, Super Featherweight, Lightweight, Super Lightweight. He has won nine world titles within these weight divisions.
A fast, technical boxer with exceptional combination and counter-punching ability. His most notable bouts include a four-fight saga with Manny Pacquiao and his rivalry with Marco Antonio Barrera. Only holds one win against Pacquiao–via a spectacular knockout victory–but many fans and experts believe he should have gone 4-0 against him.
Wilfred Benitez – Welterweight | Record: 53 wins (31 knockouts), 8 losses, 1 draw
The youngest world champion in the sport’s history, defeating the great Antonio Cervantes at the age of 17 by split decision to win the Junior Welterweight title. Became the youngest, at age 21, to win world titles in three different weight classes: Super Lightweight (Junior Welterweight), Welterweight, Super Welterweight.
Suffered his first loss to Sugar Ray Leonard in defense of his Welterweight title in a scientific battle that was stopped prematurely with seconds remaining in the fight. An aggressive, highly skilled counter puncher with exceptional defensive abilities. Career best win was a decision victory over Roberto Duran in defense of his Super Welterweight title, later losing the title to another legend, Thomas Hearns, by majority decision.
Carlos Zarate – Bantamweight | Record: 66 wins (63 knockouts), 4 losses
A lanky boxer-puncher with tremendous power for a Bantamweight, he–along with fellow Mexican legend and 118-pound champion Ruben Olivares–were voted as the greatest Bantamweights of the 20th century by the Associated Press. The Ring magazine ranked him No. 21 among the 100 greatest punchers of all-time.
Zarate made nine successful title defenses, all by stoppages. All four losses, including a controversial one against former sparring partner Lupe Pintor, came against other great world champions (Wilfredo Gomez, Pintor, Jeff Fenech, Daniel Zaragoza). Has the distinction of being the only boxer to put together two win streaks of 20 knockouts in a row.
Joe Calzaghe – Super Middleweight | Record: 46 wins (36 knockouts), 0 losses
The speedy southpaw with a high-punch rate and tremendous stamina won titles in two different weight classes: Super Middleweight, Light Heavyweight. Calzaghe is the longest reigning Super Middleweight champion at over 10 years and made a record 21 title defenses before moving up to Light Heavyweight, beating Bernard Hopkins to win the lineal world title.
Wins against Middleweight and Super Middleweight greats Chris Eubanks, Roy Jones Jr. and Hopkins all came when his opponents were past their primes. Considered one of the greatest British fighters of all-time. Retired as one of only 11 men to finish their careers as an undefeated world champion.
Oscar De La Hoya – Welterweight | Record: 39 wins (30 knockouts), 6 losses
DeLaHoya represented the U.S. at the 1992 Olympic games, winning a gold medal in the Lightweight division. As a professional, Oscar amassed ten world titles in six different weight divisions (Super Featherweight, Lightweight, Super Lightweight, Welterweight, Super Welterweight, Middleweight) including three lineal titles.
An aggressive boxer with fast hands and excellent punching power, he was The Ring magazine’s No. 1 pound-for-pound boxer in 1997 and 1998. The first man to stop Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. and defeated another legend, Pernell Whitaker for the WBC and lineal Welterweight titles.
Faced some of the greatest boxers of the past 50 years (Chavez, Whittaker, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao, Felix Trinidad, Bernard Hopkins).
Vicente Saldivar – Featherweight | Record: 37 wins (26 knockouts), 3 losses
Widely considered one of the three greatest Featherweights of all-time. Saldivar is also mentioned among the great southpaws in boxing history. The Mexican brawler was known for his vicious body attack and tremendous stamina. He won the WBA title and twice the WBC titles in the Featherweight division.
Among his three losses, one was due to disqualification which he later avenged and the other to fellow all-time great and hall-of-famer Eder Jofre. His victims included hall-of-famers Sugar Ramos, Ismael Laguna and his title reigns were highlighted by his exciting trilogy with British boxer Howard Winstone.
Eusebio Pedroza – Featherweight | Record: 42 wins (26 knockouts), 6 losses, 1 draw, 1 no-contest
Initially overshadowed by his WBC counterpart Salvador Sanchez, whose title reign coincided with his from 1980 to 1982, the tall, hard punching Panamanian boxer holds the Featherweight division record for most successful title defenses at 19 and the longest title reign at seven years and two months.
He became the lineal title holder after the premature death of Sanchez. Pedroza was an aggressive boxer, often resorted to dirty tactics like throwing low blows to weaken and discourage his opponents and was known for mounting late rallies in fights to secure the victory.
Beat a number of former or future world champions during his title reign, including Ruben Olivares, Juan Laporte, Rocky Lockridge (twice), Royal Kobashi and Jorge Lujan.
Jose Napoles – Welterweight | Record: 80 wins (54 knockouts), 7 losses
The Cuban-Mexican boxer and former Welterweight champion was nicknamed Mantequilla (which means butter in Spanish) because of his smooth boxing style. Frequently mentioned among the greatest Welterweights of all-time. Napoles made 13 successful title defenses in two reigns as champion, which lasted nearly seven years.
His effortless, smooth boxing ability belied his punching power in both hands. His victims were often brutalized, as well as outclassed. Twice dominated world Welterweight champion Curtis Cokes, first to capture his title and also beat future hall-of-famer Emile Griffin. Jose was also one of the top Lightweights and Junior Welterweights of the 1960’s but unable to secure a title shot.
Felix “Tito” Trinidad – Welterweight | Record: 42 wins (35 knockouts), 3 losses
A lanky, aggressive puncher with explosive power and tenacity, Trinidad is frequently mentioned among the greatest and most beloved Puerto Rican boxers of all-time. Tito was also the best finisher in the sport during his career. He is a three-weight world champion: Welterweight, Super Welterweight, Middleweight.
Trinidad made the second most title defenses in division history (15) and holds the record for the longest continuous reign at six years, eight months. He defeated Oscar DeLaHoya by controversial decision to win the WBC and lineal Welterweight titles, Fernando Vargas to win the unified Junior Middleweight titles and handed the great Pernell Whitaker his first “real” loss.
Trinidad’s own first loss came at the hands of Bernard Hopkins in a title unification clash after capturing the WBA Middleweight title.
Mike McCallum – Jr. Middleweight | Record: 49 wins (36 knockouts), 5 losses, 1 draw
Nicknamed “the Bodysnatcher” because of his brutal body attacks, the Jamaican boxer was a three-weight world champion: Junior Middleweight, Middleweight, Light Heavyweight. McCallum was a slick, hard-hitting technician with a granite chin and exceptional toughness.
He was never stopped in any of his five losses and only suffered one loss near his prime. Throughout the 1980’s, he was the most feared and avoided man in the sport.
Avoided by the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler. He withstood the vaunted punching power of future two-weight world champion Julian Jackson to quickly stop him in defense of his title and his chilling one-punch knockout of another former two-weight world champion Donald Curry remain etched in the annals of boxing as one of the most spectacular endings all-time. He is also known for his rivalry with James Toney in a clash for the Middleweight title.
Miguel Canto – Flyweight | Record: 61 wins (15 knockouts), 9 losses, 4 draws
The legendary Mexican boxer was a fast, elusive pressure fighter who overwhelmed his opponents with a high-punch rate. He also had tremendous defensive abilities, slipping and dodging punches with ease.
Considered by many the greatest Flyweight of all-time, along with Jimmy Wilde, Pancho Villa and Pascual Perez, Canto set a then division record with 14 successful title defenses (still the record for lineal title defenses) and defended his title all over the world.
He beat former or future world champions like Betulio Gonzalez, Shoji Ojuma and Antonio Avela during his title reign.
Azumah Nelson – Featherweight | 39 wins (28 knockouts), 6 losses, 2 draws
The Ghanaian legend is widely considered the greatest African boxer all-time. A three-time world champion in two-weight divisions: Featherweight, Super Featherweight. A fast-handed puncher with thudding power, he was called “the Professor” for the lessons he would teach his opponents in the ring.
As a raw, last-minute replacement to face Salvador Sanchez, had the great champion on the brink of defeat, often outworking Sanchez in a see-saw battle before succumbing the Mexican legend’s powerful left hooks with seconds left in the 15th round.
Knocked out another legend, Wilfredo Gomez, to win his first world title at Featherweight. Known for rebounding well from losses or poor performances in rematches, including his other signature win: a knockout victory over three-weight champion Jeff Fenech, who got the better of Nelson in a prior meeting that resulted in a disputed draw.
Eder Jofre – Bantamweight, Record: 72 wins (50 knockouts), 2 losses, 4 draws
Considered by most boxing historians as the greatest Brazilian boxer of all-time, as well as the finest Bantamweight in the history of the sport.
His unbeaten streak and first title reign as world bantamweight champion had already come to an end by fellow hall-of-famer Fighting Harada in 1966, the only man to ever defeat Jofre as a professional.
His standing here is based on his accomplishments and abilities upon returning to the ring on August 27, 1969 after first retiring following back-to-back losses to Harada.
A superb stylist who fought out of a semi-crouch and had excellent punching power, he was a two-weight world champion: Bantamweight, Featherweight. Eder defeated Jose Legra at the advanced age of 37, to win the WBC and lineal featherweight title.
He successfully defended that title once, against fellow hall-of-famer Vicente Saldivar in a battle of two all-time greats, scoring a 4th round knockout. The Brazilian legend went an incredible 25-0 with 12 coming by stoppage to end his career at the age of 40.
Bob Foster – Light Heavyweight | Record: 56 wins (46 knockouts), 8 losses, 1 draw
One of the greatest Light Heavyweights of all-time, the tall, lanky American boxer was also considered one of the most feared and devastating punchers in the division’s history. Won the world Light Heavyweight title by knocking out the great Dick Tiger in Round 4 with a tremendous left hook, his signature punch. It was the only time Tiger was ever stopped. Foster successfully defended the title 14 times, a division record at the time.
Prior to his last two defeats to end his career, all but one of his 6 other losses came against Heavyweights, including boxing immortals, Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. A round 4 knockout of Mike Quarry to defend his title, along with the Tiger win, are chilling reminders of how powerful Foster was at Light Heavyweight.
Wilfredo Gomez – Jr. Featherweight | Record: 44 wins (42 knockouts), 3 losses, 1 draw
Frequently mentioned among the greatest Puerto Rican boxers of all-time and universally considered the best Super Bantamweight (Junior Featherweight) in history. A three-weight class world champion: Super Bantamweight, Featherweight, Super Featherweight. One of the most prolific punchers ever.
His 17 consecutive knockouts in world title defenses is a record in boxing. The 17 successful title defenses is also a Junior Featherweight division record. Gomez’s streak reached 33 knockout in a row, a record for world titleholders.
One of those knockouts included a five-round defeat of world Bantamweight champion and fellow hall-of-famer Carlos Zarate, who was 55–0 with 54 knockout wins going into the fight. Gomez failed in his first attempt to win the world Featherweight title, losing by eight-round stoppage to the great Salvador Sanchez and suffering his first loss.
After the loss, returned to dominate the Junior Featherweight division, including his last title defense against another great Bantamweight champion, Lupe Pintor, whom he stopped in round 14.
Wilfredo’s other two losses came against Ghanaian legend Azumah Nelson and Alfredo Layne when he was well past his prime, both in title losing efforts of his Featherweight and Junior Lightweight titles, respectively.
Gennady Golovkin – Middleweight | Record: 38 wins (34 knockouts), 0 losses, 1 draw (career active)
The powerful Kazakh has recently been elevated to the No. 1 pound-for-pound boxer in the world by The Ring magazine following his first superfight, a disputed draw that most ring-siders and fans felt he edged out over current fellow superstar Canelo Alvarez, and the retirement of Andre Ward.
Golovkin is a calculated pressure fighter known for his precise power punching and methodical movement. He holds the highest knockout percentage (89.8%) in Middleweight history and his 17th title defense by knockout equalled the record set by Wilfredo Gomez. His chin is considered one of the best in modern boxing history.
With his draw against Alvarez, Golovkin earned his 19th successful title defense, which was one behind Bernard Hopkins (20) for most in division history.
On May 5, 2018, Golovkin tied Hopkins’ title-defense record at 20 with a second-round stoppage of Vanes Martirosyan.
2017 marked the 50th year anniversary of Muhammad Ali’s refusal of the draft. Looking back at this monumental time in history, we cannot but marvel at Ali–just 25 years of age and at the peak of his professional career–willing to sacrifice what would turn out to be more than three of his prime years to stand up for a fight he believed in.
Ali was immediately stripped of his championship title and his boxing license was suspended. He would later be reissued a license and the U.S. Supreme Court reversed his conviction for draft evasion. Muhammad would continue his amazing career and rivet the world as “the Greatest of All Times.”
Now looking back some 50 years later, does he still deservedly remain atop of the list of the greatest boxers during this time period? How does he fare against the likes of the recently re-retired Floyd Mayweather Jr., who was unquestionably the best boxer of this millennium?
Was there someone greater than them both? Fellow boxing great Andre Ward also retired in 2017, while Manny Pacquiao continues on with his career. Is it too early to put them in the conversation? Do they even deserve to be near the top of the list?
Khaosai Galaxy – Super Flyweight | 47 wins (41 knockouts), 1 loss
One of the greatest boxers from Asia. This Thai boxer was known for his exceptional strength and punching power. He fought out of a southpaw stance and relentlessly pursued his opponents around. Thickly muscled, he was surprisingly quick on his feet and capable of throwing fast combinations. In his sixth professional fight, Galaxy was decisioned by Sakda Saksuree. It would be the lone loss of his illustrious career.
Galaxy knocked him out in the rematch. Galaxy knocked out Eusebio Espinal in round 6 to win the vacant WBA Super Flyweight title and defended it 19 times, including 16 by knockout and reigned over seven years. Both accomplishments are records in the division. His powerful left hand was responsible for most of his knockouts and is considered by many the hardest single puncher in the history of the lightest weight divisions. Among his victims was future WBA Bantamweight champion Israel Contreras.
Andre Ward – Light Heavyweight | 32 wins (15 knockouts), 0 losses
An American boxer who won eight world titles in two-weight classes: Super Middleweight, Light Heavyweight. Ward was also the 2004 Olympic gold medalist in the Light Heavyweight class. He defeated Mikkel Kessler to win the WBA Super Middleweight title and WBC champion Carl Froch to unify the super middleweight titles and win the lineal title. Successfully defended those titles against lineal Light Heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, scoring a 10th round TKO.
Ward later moved up in weight and beat Sergey Kovalev to win the unified Light Heavyweight titles. Many boxing historians now consider Ward one of the greatest super middleweights of all-time, along with Roy Jones and Joe Calzaghe. An intelligent, versatile, well-rounded boxer with an underrated left hook. Ward stunned the boxing community when he suddenly retired in 2017 as the No. 1 pound-for-pound boxer according to The Ring magazine and as an undefeated world champion.
Thomas Hearns – Jr. Middleweight | 61 wins (48 knockouts), 5 losses, 1 draw
This American boxer was at his best as a tall, lanky boxer-puncher as a Welterweight and Super Welterweight. Considered by many to be the hardest punching Welterweight of all-time. His excellent boxing skills, hand-speed, long reach, stiff left jab and powerful right cross helped him become the first boxer win world titles in 5 different weight classes.
Scored a round 2 TKO of WBA Welterweight champion Pipino Cuevas and made three successful title defenses, suffering his first loss at the hands of WBC champion Sugar Ray Leonard in a title unification match. Rebounded by moving up in weight and capturing the WBC Super Welterweight title from fellow hall-of-famer Wilfred Benitez by majority decision. Made three successful title defenses, including a spectacular second KO of the legendary Roberto Duran.
Moved up in weight and challenged Marvin Hagler for the undisputed Middleweight title. In an all-out war, Hearns succumbed to a 3rd round knockout. Hearns would eventually go on to capture the Middleweight title, in addition to the Super Middleweight and Light Heavyweight titles to become the first man to win world titles in five divisions.
Aaron Pryor – Jr. Welterweight | 39 wins (35 knockouts), 1 loss
An American boxer who was a two-time Super Lightweight world champion, including the Ring magazine and lineal titles. Pryor was a hard-punching, fast handed boxer who fought in ferocious, relentless manner. A 26 fight win streak, all by knockout, led to a title match against two-time world champion Antonio Cervantes for the WBA Junior Welterweight title. After being knocked down in Round 1, Pryor knocked out Cervantes in round 4 to become champion.
He successfully defended the WBA and IBF titles, respectively, a total of 10 times. Two of those successful title defenses was against fellow hall-of-famer Alexis Arguello, who was attempting to become the first man to win world titles in four different weight divisions and was a 12-5 betting favorite. In a classic battle, Pryor was stunned repeatedly in a brutal, see-saw battle before prevailing in Round 14. He came out quickly in the round and landed a barrage of unanswered punches on Arguello that prompted the referee to stop the fight. The Ring magazine named it the Fight of the Decade for the 1980’s.
The rematch was another action-packed affair but, this time, Arguello succumbed to Pryor’s pressuring attack in round 10. An eye injury and drug abuse led to his first retirement. A shell of his former self, Pryor attempted a comeback which led to the only loss of his career at the hands of journeyman boxer Bobby Joe Young by knockout in round 7. Was voted by the Associated Press as the world’s best Light Welterweight of the 20th century.
Joe Frazier – Heavyweight | 32 wins (27 knockouts), 4 losses, 1 draw
This American boxer was the undisputed Heavyweight champion for three years and, as an amateur, was the 1964 Olympic gold medalist in the Heavyweight division. Known for his pressuring bob-and-weaving fighting style, durability, bullish strength and formidable punching power, especially with his vaunted left hook. Frazier scored a four-round TKO over WBA champion Jimmy Ellis in a title unification match to become the undisputed Heavyweight champion.
He followed it up with a unanimous decision win over the comebacking Muhammad Ali in their much anticipated match billed the “Fight of the Century” to become the lineal champion, but shockingly lost the title to George Foreman by Round 2 TKO.
He had one last attempt to recapture the world title, losing to Ali in their rubber match, billed as the “Thrilla in Manila.” Ali scored a round 14 TKO in a brutal war. Suffered another stoppage loss to George Foreman to end his status as a top tier Heavyweight. Only losses came at the hands of fellow hall-of-famers Ali and Foreman, who defeated him twice each.
Ruben Olivares – Bantamweight | 89 wins (79 knockouts), 13 losses, 3 draws
This legendary Mexican boxer is considered by many boxing historians as the greatest Bantamweight of all-time. A three-time world champion in two different weight classes: Bantamweight, Featherweight.
Olivares was a tremendous puncher, particularly with the left hook. He started his career winning his first 22 fights by knockout. When he knocked out Lionel Rose in Round 5 to claim the world Bantamweight title, his record was 51 wins (49 knockouts), 0 losses, 1 draw.
Ruben suffered his first loss at the hands of Chucho Castillo on cuts, losing the title in the process. He regained the title in their rubber match, decisioning him to go 2-3 in their exciting trilogy.
He moved up in weight and knocked out Zensuke Utagawa Round 7 to win the vacant WBA Featherweight title but was knocked out himself in the third defense of his title by fellow hall-of-famer Alexis Arguello in round 13. Olivares rebounded by knocking out Bobby Chacon in the second round to win the WBC Featherweight title. He, however, lost it in his first title defense to David Kotei by decision.
Mike Tyson – Heavyweight | 50 wins (44 knockouts), 6 losses, 2 no contests
This American boxer was the undisputed Heavyweight champion and the youngest, at the age of 20, to win the world Heavyweight title (knocking out Trevor Berbick in round 2 for the WBC title). Tyson was a two-time world Heavyweight champion and the first to unify the WBC, WBA and IBF titles. He became the lineal champion when he knocked out Michael Spinks in 91 seconds of the first round. After making nine successful title defenses, was knocked out in round 10 by 49-1 underdog Buster Douglas in the biggest upset in boxing history. In 1992, Tyson was convicted of raped and sentenced to six years in prison, ultimately released after serving 3 years.
Tyson regained the WBC and WBA titles by defeating Frank Bruno and Bruce Seldon respectively. He lost the WBA title (after being stripped of the WBC belt) by stoppage in round 11 to Evander Holyfield in another huge upset. In their infamous rematch, Tyson was disqualified for biting both Holyfield’s ears. A vastly depleted Tyson had one last attempt to regain the world title, losing to Lennox Lewis after being knocked out in Round 8.
One of the most feared fighters in history, Tyson fought out of a tight, highly guard, peek-a-boo style and was known for his tremendous punching power and hand speed. He possessed a particularly fast, devastating uppercut and left hook, and was well adept at unleashing quick, powerful combinations and excellent at slipping his opponents’ punches in his prime. Ring magazine ranked Tyson No. 16 on their 100 Hardest Punchers of All-Time and ESPN.com ranked him No. 1 on The Hardest Hitters in Heavyweight History.
Lennox Lewis – Heavyweight | 41 wins (32 knockouts), 2 losses, 1 draw
This boxer, who has a dual British and Canadian citizenship, was a three-time world Heavyweight champion and a two-time lineal champion. He was also an Olympic gold medalist representing Canada as a Super Heavyweight, defeating future world champion Riddick Bowe in the finals match. At 6’5”, Lewis was a tall, powerfully built boxer-puncher with a solid left jab, devastating right cross and well adept at using his tremendous size to neutralize opponents.
He became the top contender by knocking out the hard punching Donovan “Razor” Ruddock in round 2 and later awarded the WBC Heavyweight title after undisputed champion Bowe opted not to fight him. His only two defeats were by knockout at the hands of Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman with the titles at stake. Lewis stopped both men in rematches to reclaim the titles.
He defeated Shannon Briggs for the lineal title and Evander Holyfield to unify his WBC belt with Holyfield’s WBA and IBF titles, in addition to the vacant IBO title (their first fight ended in a controversial draw). Lewis knocked out Mike Tyson to retain his titles in one of the most anticipated fights in history. His last fight was a brutal stoppage win against WBO titleist Vitali Klitschko due to cuts. He retired shortly after the fight.
Michael Spinks – Light Heavyweight | 31 wins (21 knockouts), 1 loss
One of the greatest Light Heavyweights in history. This American boxer first won a gold medal as a Middleweight at the 1976 Olympic games. Spinks was a world champion in two different weight classes as a professional: Light Heavyweight, Heavyweight. He was the first reigning Light Heavyweight champion to successfully move up and win the Heavyweight crown. A lanky, awkward but intelligent boxer-puncher that yielded tremendous punching power in his right hand, which was dubbed “the Spink Jinx.” Spinks used his cagey, unorthodox boxing skills and power to win the WBA Light Heavyweight title from Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. He then unified the titles by decisioning WBC champion Dwight Qawi. After 10 successful title defenses, Spinks challenged Larry Holmes for the IBF and lineal Heavyweight titles. A huge underdog, Spinks scored a unanimous decision win over Holmes to become Heavyweight champion and denied Holmes the chance of tying Rocky Marciano’s unbeaten record of 49-0. Michael made three defenses of the lineal title, including another close decision over Holmes in the rematch. Spinks then challenged Mike Tyson for the undisputed Heavyweight titles and to defend his lineal title. He was destroyed in 91 seconds by Tyson, suffering the first and only loss of his career. Spinks retired shortly after the loss.
Bernard Hopkins – Middleweight | 55 wins (32 knockouts), 8 losses, 2 draws, 2 no contests
This American boxer was a multiple titlist and world champion in two-weight divisions: Middleweight, Light Heavyweight. Hopkins lost to Roy Jones by unanimous decision in his first try for the IBF Middleweight title. He eventually won the IBF title and successfully unified the Middleweight division with victories over WBC champion Keith Holmes, WBA champion Felix Trinidad and WBO champion Oscar De La Hoya.
The first boxer to simultaneously hold world titles from all four major boxing sanctioning bodies. After losing the titles to Jermain Taylor and the rematch in disputed decisions, Hopkins moved up to the light heavyweight division and scored a major upset, defeating Antonio Tarver for the IBO and Ring titles at the age of 42.
He would go on the win and lose the Light Heavyweight titles three more times, the first time, decisioning Jean Pascal for the WBC and lineal titles at the age of 46, becoming the oldest boxer to ever win a world title. He won his last title at the age of 49. Known for his deceptive speed and power, adaptability, durability and longevity for competing at the highest level. Hopkins holds the Middleweight record for the longest reign at 10.2 years and most successful title defenses at 20.
George Foreman – Heavyweight | 76 wins (68 knockouts), 5 losses
This American boxer was a two-time world Heavyweight champion and 1968 Olympic gold medalist. Foreman first won the world Heavyweight title by knocking out fellow hall-of-famer Joe Frazier in round 2. He made two successful title defenses by two rounds or less, including a devastating power display against top contender Ken Norton in round 2 before losing the title to Muhammad Ali in the “Rumble in the Jungle,” his first defeat as a professional. Foreman retired after suffering a shocking loss to Jimmy Young. He returned to the ring 10 years later at the age of 38. His first attempt to regain the world title ended in defeat, a decision loss to undisputed world Heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield in surprisingly competitive battle. Then, at the age of 45, came from behind to knock out Michael Moorer to win the unified WBA, IBF and lineal titles. He became the oldest man to win a world title at the time and remains the oldest Heavyweight champion in history. Known for his unmatch physical strength, fearsome aura, toughness and throwing sledgehammer-like punches with tremendous punching power. Many boxing writers and fans still consider Foreman the strongest man to ever win a world title. Widely considered among the 10 greatest Heavyweights of all time. The Ring magazine named Foreman one of the 25 greatest fighters of the past 80 years in 2002 and also the ninth greatest puncher of all-time.
Evander Holyfield – Heavyweight | 44 wins (29 knockouts), 10 losses, 2 draws, 1 no contest
This American boxer is the only individual to reign as both the undisputed Cruiserweight and Heavyweight champion. He is the only four-time Heavyweight champion and was twice the lineal champion. As an amateur, Holyfield won a bronze medal in the Light Heavyweight division for the U.S. after a controversial disqualification in the semi-final match against New Zealand’s Kevin Barry. Known for his exceptional toughness, durability, counter left hook and superb conditioning. In only his twelfth professional fight, Holyfield defeated champion Dwight Muhammad Qawi by split decision to win the WBA Cruiserweight title in what many still consider the greatest title fight in the division’s history. Holyfield would go on the defeat IBF titleist Rickey Parkey and WBC titleist Carlos DeLeon to become the first and only undisputed Cruiserweight champion, becoming the lineal titleist as well. Holyfield moved up to Heavyweight and become the undisputed champion by knocking out James “Buster” Douglas in the 3rd round. He made 3 successful title defenses, including wins over comebacking former champions George Foreman and Larry Holmes, before losing the titles to Riddick Bowe by decision in an action packed battle. Holyfield defeated Bowe by majority decision in the rematch, becoming just the third boxer to regain the lineal Heavyweight title. Lost the titles to Michael Moorer and then forced to retire due to medical advice. Returned two years later to defeat Mike Tyson to reclaim the WBA title in a major upset. Holyfield won the rematch via round 3 disqualification in the infamous ear biting incident when Tyson bit both Holyfield’s ears. He defeated Michael Moorer in the rematch to capture the IBF title. Holyfield’s first attempt to reunify the Heavyweight titles, against WBC champion Lennox Lewis, ended in a controversial draw. He lost his titles in a rematch with Lewis by majority decision. The following year, Holyfield defeated John Ruiz for the vacant WBA title to win a version of the Heavyweight title a record fourth time.
Salvador Sanchez – Featherweight | 44 wins (32 knockouts), 1 loss, 1 draw
This Mexican boxer was the WBC and lineal Featherweight champion and many experts predicted, had it not been for his premature death resulting from a fatal car crash, he would have gone on to become the greatest Featherweight of all-time. Sanchez defeated Danny “Little Red” Lopez by round 13 TKO to win the WBC featherweight title and made 9 successful title defenses, including signature wins over fellow hall-of-famers Wilfredo Gomez and Azumah Nelson. Known for his great stamina, granite chin, punching accuracy and exceptional power. Sanchez dissected the previously unbeaten Gomez, the WBC Super Bantamweight champion, who had 33 wins with 32 knockouts entering into the fight to score a stunning round 8 knockout. His last fight was against a young and hungry Nelson, withstanding tremendous bombs throughout the fight to outlast Azumah, scoring a round 15 TKO. Three weeks later, Sanchez was tragically killed in an auto accident at the young age of 23.
Alexis Arguello – Jr. Lightweight | 77 wins (62 knockouts), 8 losses
This lanky, hard-punching Nicaraguan boxer was a three-weight world champion: Featherweight, Super Featherweight, Lightweight. Many experts consider Arguello the greatest Featherweight of all-time. A calculated boxer with tremendous power in the fashion of Joe Louis. Arguello won the WBA Featherweight title with a Round 13 knockout of fellow hall-of-famer Ruben Olivares.
It was his knockout of Ray Mancini in defense of his WBC Lightweight title, however, that made Arguello a household name in America. He never lost any of his world titles in the ring. Arguello may be best known for twice challenging Aaron Pryor for the WBA Super Lightweight title, losing both in brutal, action-packed battles. He tried unsuccessfully to become the first boxer to win world titles in four-different weight classes.
Larry Holmes – Heavyweight | 69 wins (44 knockouts), 6 losses
This American was Heavyweight champion for seven-and-a-half years and successfully defended the title (WBC, lineal and later the inaugural IBF) 19 times. Holmes won his first 48 fights, one shy of Rocky Marciano’s record. Known for his boxing ability, intelligence, toughness and perhaps the greatest left jab in Heavyweight history. Holmes was always dangerous when hurt and respected for his ability to rally back after being stunned.
He defeated Ken Norton to win the WBC Heavyweight title by split decision in one of the greatest title fights of all-time. Holmes defeated an ill-prepared Muhammad Ali–his former boss and mentor–being the first and only boxer to stop Ali, scoring a Round 10 TKO. He defeated seven men to have held a world Heavyweight title at some point in their careers, including Ali, Norton, Mike Weaver, Tim Witherspoon and others.
An aging Holmes lost his title to undisputed Light Heavyweight champion Michael Spinks by unanimous decision and also lost to Spinks in a close rematch–the first Heavyweight champion to lose to a reigning Light Heavyweight titleist. He made four unsuccessful attempts to reclaim the Heavyweight title (Spinks, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Oliver McCall).
Julio Cesar Chavez – Jr. Lightweight | 107 wins (86 knockouts), 6 losses, 2 draws
Widely considered by most historians and boxing fans as the greatest Mexican boxer of all-time. A six-time world champion in three weight divisions: Super Featherweight, Lightweight, Super Lightweight. Chavez won his first world title by defeating the favored Mario Martinez for the vacant WBC Super Featherweight title by knockout.
He defended the title nine times. He moved up in weight and captured the WBA Lightweight title by dominating the hard-punching Edwin Rosario en route to scoring a TKO in Round 11, cementing his status by many boxing experts as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world. Chavez captured the WBC and lineal titles as well by defeating Jose Luis Ramirez and later the WBC, IBF, WBO and lineal Super Lightweight titles. Known for his hard-punching, pressuring style and tremendous body attack, Chavez also had a granite chin and considered one of the most durable boxers in modern day history.
His signature wins include coming from behind to stop the previously unbeaten IBF Super Lightweight champion Meldrick Taylor in a title unification fight and dominating WBO super lightweight champion Hector Camacho in their highly anticipated fight. Chavez’s 87 unbeaten win streak was snapped when he and Pernell Whitaker settled for a controversial draw in an attempt to wrestle the WBC Welterweight title from Whitaker.
He suffered his first loss at the hands of Frankie Randall by majority decision, losing the WBC and lineal Super Lightweight titles in the process. Chavez won the rematch and reclaimed the titles when he was awarded a technical decision win after he was accidentally cut and unable to continue in Round 8. He holds several records including the most successful world title defenses (27), most title victories (31), most title fights (37) and the longest unbeaten streak in boxing history (13 years). Chavez also had the second most title defenses by knockout (21), bested only by Joe Louis (23).
Marvin Hagler – Middleweight | 62 wins (52 knockouts), 3 losses, 2 draws
One of the greatest Middleweights of all-time, this American boxer was the world undisputed Middleweight champion for 6.5 years, the second longest title reign in the division’s history and made 12 successful title defenses, including thrilling wins over Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns and John Mugabi. His classic battle with Thomas Hearns resulted in a third round knockout victory and is still considered one of the greatest title fights ever.
Hagler was a rugged, pressuring, versatile boxer-puncher with one of the best chins in boxing history. He was denied the opportunity to break the then record for most Middleweight title defenses (held by Carlos Monzon at 14) with a shocking defeat at the hands of a returning Sugar Ray Leonard via disputed majority decision. Hagler retired after the fight and never made a comeback.
Manny Pacquiao – Lightweight | 59 wins (38 knockouts), 7 losses, 2 draws (career active)
A Filipino boxer and one of the richest, most recognized athletes in the world. Widely considered the greatest Asian boxer of all-time. He is an 11-time world champion and the only eight-division world champion in boxing history: Flyweight, Super Bantamweight, Featherweight, Super Featherweight, Lightweight, Super Lightweight, Welterweight, Super Welterweight. In addition to being the first boxer to win the lineal championship in five different weight classes. Pacquiao is also the first boxer in history to win major world titles in four of the original eight weight classes of boxing: Flyweight, Featherweight, Lightweight, and Welterweight.
A quick southpaw with exceptional hand speed, punching power, great stamina and foot work that allows him to create angles for his explosive attacks. His victims include a list of current and future hall-of-famers: Oscar DeLaHoya, Erik Morales (twice), Marco Antonio Barrera (twice), Juan Manuel Marquez (twice), Shane Mosley, Ricky Hatton, Timothy Bradley (twice), Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito.
BoxRec’s currently ranks him No. 4 of the greatest pound for pound boxers of all time. In 2016, ESPN ranked Pacquiao No. 2 on their list of top pound-for-pound boxers of the past 25 years. He was named Fighter of the Decade for the 2000s by the Boxing Writers Association of America.
Carlos Monzon – Middleweight | 87 wins (59 knockouts), 3 losses, 9 draws, 1 no contest
Widely regarded as one of the greatest Middleweights of all-time, this Argentine boxer was known for his punching power, hand speed, granite chin and a tireless work rate to overwhelm his opponents. Monzon defeated Nino Benvenuti by 12 round knockout to win the Middleweight title and defended it a then-record 14 times. Among his victims included fellow hall-of-famers Benvenuti (twice), Emile Griffith (twice), Jose Napoles, Bennie Briscoe and Rodrigo Valdes (twice).
Was stripped of the WBC title for not fighting mandatory challenger Valdes. Valdes would go on to win the WBC title while Monzon remained the WBA champion when the two eventually met. Monzon used his calculated aggression and superior work rate to twice defeat Valdes by decision, the first time to reunify the titles. The second time, Monzon had to climb off the canvas in round 2 – the only knockdown he would suffer in his illustrious career – to win a close decision. Monzon retired after the fight, winning his last 80 fights.
Pernell Whitaker – Lightweight | 40 wins (17 knockouts), 4 losses, 1 draw, 1 no contest
This American boxer was a four weight world champion: Lightweight, Super Lightweight, Welterweight, Super Welterweight. He was also the 1984 Olympic gold medalist in the Lightweight division. Whitaker was an elusive southpaw, a defensive wizard with fast reflexes, brilliant hand speed, stinging right jab and stiff left cross. Was denied at his first try for a world title, losing a highly controversial decision to Jose Luis Ramirez for the WBC Lightweight title.
Defeated Greg Haugen for the IBF title by 12 round unanimous decision. Gained some revenge by defeating Ramirez by a resounding shutout decision to win the WBC title in his second try, and unified the Lightweight titles by scoring a Round 1 knockout over WBA champion Juan Nazario.
In what should have been his most signature victory, Whitaker had to settle for a controversial draw against WBC Super Lightweight champion Julio Cesar Chavez in defense of his WBC Welterweight title and the mythical pound-for-pound title when 2 of the 3 judges scored their fight a draw.
Most ringsiders felt Whitaker earned a clear cut victory. He lost his title in another close, disputed decision at the hands of Oscar DeLaHoya. By then, age and drug abuse began to take its toll on Whitaker’s incredible skills. He suffered his first non-controversial loss in a decision to Felix Trinidad for the WBA Welterweight title.
Roy Jones Jr – Super Middleweight | 66 wins (47 knockouts), 9 losses
This American boxer has a dual Russian citizenship. Jones was a six-time world champion in four different weight classes: Middleweight, Super Middleweight, Light Heavyweight, Heavyweight. As an amateur, was awarded the Val Baker trophy for the most outstanding boxer of the 1988 Summer Olympic games even though he was denied a gold medal, losing in the Light Middleweight division finals match in a fight he had completely dominated. Defeated Bernard Hopkins by an uncontested unanimous decision to win the vacant IBF Middleweight title.
After making one title defense, moved up in weight to thoroughly shutout champion James Toney – who was undefeated and considered by many the top pound-for-pound boxer in the world – to win the IBF Super Middleweight crown. After moving up in weight again to capture the vacant WBC Light Heavyweight title, Jones suffered his first loss as a professional. In a closely contested match, Jones was disqualified for hitting Montell Griffin while his knee hit the canvas. Five months later, Jones destroyed Griffin in the rematch, knocking him out in round one.
He would go one to unify the WBC, WBA and IBF titles. Jones solidified his standing as one of the greatest boxers of all-time when he moved up again, this time two weight classes, to capture the WBA Heavyweight title. In doing so, he became the first Junior Middleweight (Super Welterweight) to win a Heavyweight title and the first Middleweight champion to do it in 106 years. In his prime, Jones possessed unparalleled hand speed, athleticism and cat-like reflexes combined with knockout power. During his prime, Jones possessed exceptional hand speed, athleticism, movement and reflexes. He was named the Fighter of the Decade for the 1990’s by the Boxing Writers Association of America.
Sugar Ray Leonard – Welterweight | 36 (25 knockouts), 3 losses, 1 draw
This American boxer won world titles in five different weight divisions: Welterweight, Super Welterweight, Middleweight, Super Middleweight, Light Heavyweight. Leonard was also the lineal champion in three divisions. He was also the 1976 Olympic gold medalist in the Light Welterweight division as an amateur.
Defeated fellow hall-of-famers Hagler, Hearns, Duran, Benitez and was named Boxer of the Decade in the 1980’s. Stopped defensive wizard Wilfred Benitez with seconds left in round 15 to win the WBC Welterweight title. Lost the title to former undisputed world Lightweight champion Roberto Duran by decision, suffering his first loss as a professional.
Regained the title in the infamous “No Mas” fight when a frustrated Duran inexplicably quit in Round 8 after Leonard began to mock him in the ring. Briefly moved up in weight to knockout Ayube Kalule for the WBA Junior Middleweight title. Returned to the Welterweights and unified the WBC/WBA titles by coming from behind to stop Thomas Hearns in Round 14 in a classic see-saw battle. Leonard then retired due to a detached retina injury, making a brief one fight return before re-retiring. Then, three years later, Leonard shocked the world by defeating Marvin Hagler by split decision to win the undisputed world Middleweight title.
He would go on to win the WBC Super Middleweight and Light Heavyweight titles. A brilliant ring strategist with tremendous hand speed, heart and good punching power, Leonard was also very durable and a great finisher when he hurt his opponents. His battles with the fellow legends brought relevancy in the lower weight divisions and made him the most popular and richest boxer after the post-Ali era. Leonard made several comebacks after retiring, losing his last two fights.
Roberto Duran – Lightweight | 103 wins (70 knockouts), 16 losses
This Panamanian boxer was called Manos de Piedra (Hands of Stone) because of his devastating punching power. Duran was a pressuring, versatile brawler with tremendous in-fighting skills and the ability to slip punches. He was a four weight world champion: Lightweight, Welterweight, Super Welterweight and Middleweight. Duran captured his first world title by scoring a 13th round TKO over champion Ken Buchanan for the World Lightweight title after landing what appeared to be a low blow to the groin. Buchanan was unable to continue in a fight Duran had dominated from the opening seconds. His signature win was a 15-round unanimous-decision victory over Sugar Ray Leonard for the WBC Welterweight title.
Duran masterfully outmaneuvered and roughed up Leonard, handing Sugar Ray his first loss as a professional. Duran surrendered the title six months later in the rematch, uttering the infamous words, “no mas” (no more in Spanish) after being mocked and embarrassed after Round 7 in a closely contested fight. Leonard was awarded a Round 8 TKO. Duran was able to rebound from the loss and initial failed attempts to claim the Super Welterweight and Middleweight titles, including winning the WBA Junior Middleweight (Super Welterweight) title from Davey Moore and then WBC Middleweight title at the age of 39 by scoring a majority decision win against Iran Barkley.
Duran had previously lost to Marvin Hagler for the undisputed Middleweight title, giving the much bigger, stronger Hagler one of the toughest fights of his career. The Associated Press ranks Duran as the greatest Lightweight of all-time. In 2002, the Ring magazine ranked Duran the fifth best boxer of all-time.
Floyd Mayweather Jr – Lightweight | 50 wins (27 knockouts), 0 losses
This American boxer was a multiple world champion in five different weight classes: Super Featherweight, Lightweight, Super Lightweight (Junior Welterweight), Welterweight, Super Welterweight (Junior Middleweight). He was also the lineal champion in four weight classes and, as an amateur, earned a bronze medal as a Featherweight at the 1996 Summer Olympics. ESPN named Mayweather the greatest boxer, pound for pound, of the last 25 years in 2016.
BoxRec currently ranks him the No. 1 fighter of all-time and the greatest Welterweight ever. He is often recognized as the best defensive fighter in boxing history and the most accurate puncher since the existence of CompuBox. His patented shoulder-roll technique, exceptional hand speed, counter punching ability, lead right cross and ring intelligence all helped him finished his career with a record of 50-0, beating Rocky Marciano’s unbeaten record of 49-0.
The richest boxer in history, his fight against Manny Pacquiao–the highest grossing and most anticipated sporting event of the 21st century–earned him more than half of the reported 400 million in revenue the fight generated and his unanimous-decision win firmly cemented his place as the best boxer so far in this millennium. Mayweather made a record 26 consecutive wins in world title fight, 24 wins against former or current world titlists, 12 wins against former or current lineal champions, and 2 wins against hall-of-famers (Oscar DeLaHoya, Arturo Gatti).
Muhammad Ali – Heavyweight | 56 wins (37 knockouts), 5 losses
This American boxer is the first to win the world Heavyweight title three times and remains the only three-time lineal champion. As an amateur, he was the 1960 Olympic gold medalist in the Light Heavyweight division. After shocking the sports world by defeating the supposedly invincible Sonny Liston by Round 7 TKO, Cassius Clay–who had recently converted to Islam–changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
Three years after winning the title, Ali was striped of his crown for refusing to be drafted into the U.S. military, citing his religious beliefs and opposition to American involvement in the Vietnamese War. He was arrested and charged with draft evasion. He successfully appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction. By then, Ali lost nearly four years of his athletic peak performance period. His first try to regain the title resulted in a unanimous decision loss–his first defeat as a professional–at the hands of Joe Frazier in the “Fight of the Century.”
Three years later, Ali successfully completed his comeback from exile, scoring another huge upset by knocking out champion George Foreman in Round 8 to reclaim the Heavyweight title. After losing the title to the unheralded Leon Spinks, Ali defeated him six months later to become the lineal Heavyweight champion a record third time.
He retired shortly thereafter but then launched an ill-fated comeback, losing WBC champion and former sparring partner Larry Holmes by Round 11 TKO–his first and only stoppage loss. Ali beat every top Heavyweight of his era, which is still considered the golden era of boxing and was involved in several historical and classic battles–including his terrific trilogy with Frazier and Ken Norton, and battles with Liston, Foreman and Earnie Shavers.
In the 1960’s, Ali relied on his unparalleled hand and foot speed for a big man, superb reflexes and constant movement to dodge punches, throwing fast combinations and dancing away from danger. In the 1970’s, a much slower version of Ali utilized his excellent ring generalship, intelligence, counter right cross and exceptional toughness and durability to outthink or outlast opponents.
The Ring magazine named Ali the No. 1 Heavyweight of all-time in 1998, the No. 3 best pound-for-pound boxer of the last 80 years (behind only Sugar Ray Robinson and Henry Armstrong) in 2002, and named him the Fighter of the Year a record six times. Sports Illustrated and ESPN both named Ali the Athlete of the 20th Century in 1999.
Header photo Ed Mulholland/HBO