Heavyweight boxing is one of the greatest sports on the planet and the heavyweight division has given us some of the biggest names and stars in the history of the sport. Here we're looking throughout history and across generations to determine the top 10 best heavyweight boxers of all-time.
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10. Rocky Marciano
Record: 49-0 (43)
Years Active: 1947-1955
Notable Opponents: Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles, Roland La Starza.
Rocky Marciano is one of the great heavyweight boxers of all-time, perhaps best known for managing to retire undefeated, one of very few to achieve that feat. Not many know when to retire and boxing ultimately retires them first but Marciano managed it. He may not have faced the talent that many of the others have in this list, but with that record it's impossible to not include him in any list of the great heavyweight boxers of all time. With a career knockout-to-win ratio in world heavyweight title fights of 85.7% the 'Brockton Blockbuster' has one of the best in the history of the division.
9. Jack Dempsey
Record: 54-6-8 (44)
Years Active: 1914-1927
Notable Opponents: Fireman Jim Flyn, Gunboat Smith, Gene Tunney.
The story of Jack Dempsey is one of achievement and overindulgence. He went from living on the streets, having left home at 16, without a penny to his name, to becoming the biggest star in the world in the 1920's. He enjoyed his successes and ultimately this lifestyle damaged his boxing. His aggressive style made him a sensation and he broke many financial and attendance numbers during his prime, most notably becoming the first fight to have gate receipts of over one million dollars.
8. Joe Frazier
Record: 32-4-1 (27)
Years Active: 1965-1981
Notable Opponents: Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Jerry Quarry, Jimmy Ellis.
"Smokin" Joe's left hook has gone down in history but it's his many battles with Muhammad Ali that are what he's known for. He was the first heavyweight boxer to ever beat Muhammad Ali, in 1971, but subsequently lost twice to Ali in '74 and '75. His other two defeats were to George Foreman and his remains a key player in the greatest era in the history of heavyweight boxing.
His relationship with Muhammad Ali was complicated, having originally been friends with Ali things soured dramatically between the pair with Ali famously calling him an "Uncle Tom". Their fights took on huge cultural significance but in very late life he told Sports Illustrated that he no longer had bad blood with Ali, with his former rival in attedance at Frazier's funeral.
7. Jack Johnson
Record: 56-11-8 (34)
Years Active: 1897-1931
Notable Opponents: James J Jeffries, Bob Fitzsimmons.
Sometimes in life you have to take people's world for something, this is one of those occasions. When composing this list it would be easier to focus on those who have boxing in our lifetimes, but such is Jack Johnson's influence on heavyweight boxing that he needs to be highlighted. Jack Johnson is known as the man who took boxing to another level. He was a pioneer, being the first Black American world heavyweight champion who overcame horrific racial injustice to reach the pinnacle of his sport.
Jack Johnson wasn't just a heavyweight boxer, he transcended that and became part of the history of race relations in the US. He rose to greatness when the Jim Crow laws were still prevalent with his 1910 bout against James J. Jeffries, "the fight of the century", a major historical moment. Jeffries had originally retired after refusing to fight Johnson because of his race but decided to come out of retirement to prove "that a white man is better than a Negro." The fight was huge news and racial tension was hightened, with guns and alcohol banned from the arena to ensure that things didn't get even nastier. The fight took place in Reno, Nevada and Johnson knocked out Jeffries in the 4th round. The outcome of the fight saw riots trigger across the country such was the anger at the result. His legacy remains huge and he was an inductee to The Ring magazine's inaugural Boxing Hall of Fame.
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6. George Foreman
Record: 76-5 (68)
Years Active: 1969-1977 & 1987-1997
Notable Opponents: Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Jimmy Young, Ken Norton, Evander Holyfield.
The first sighting of one of the two heavyweight boxers involved with heavyweight boxing's most famous fight, the "Rumble in the Jungle".
For the youth of today he might be better known for his lean, mean, grilling machines but he was a nasty and destructive boxer. They say styles make fights and his style is one of the many reasons why that era of heavyweight boxing is so beloved.
Some stars shine for a short time but Foreman lasted longer. He effectively had two careers, returning to the ring in 1987 after a ten year break and when he regained the world title in 1994, defeating Michael Moorer at the age of 45, it cemented his place as an all-time great heavyweight boxer. He e
Not only was he a two-time world heavyweight champion but he also won an Olympic gold. His two fights against Joe Frazier are amongst the greatest in heavyweight boxing. He was only knocked out once in his career, which was against Muhammad Ali in Zaire. He notably bridges multiple generations having not only fought Ali, Frazier and Norton earlier in his career, but also fighting Evander Holyfield, one of the greatest boxers of the 90's, during the latter half of his career.
5. Mike Tyson
Record: 50-6 (44)
Years Active: 1985-2005
Notable Opponents: Michael Spinks, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis.
Another selection which could draw some criticism, especially with the likes of George Foreman and Rocky Marciano rated behind him. If this was countdown of the most feared heavyweight boxers of all time then Iron Mike would be sat at one. He was fearsome in and out of the ring, a man from a deeply troubled background who tried his best to escape it via boxing. He fought angry and was known as the most dangerous man on the planet for a reason.
He was ferocious and brutal knockouts of Michael Spinks and the disqualification against Evander Holyfield, when he bit off a chunk of his right ear, only served to build his reputation.
After three years in prison his return to the ring in 1995 saw him regain the WBA and WBC titles in '96, something which put him in a small band of heavyweight boxers to regain their titles, featuring just Floyd Patterson, Muhammad Ali, Tim Witherspoon, Evander Holyfield and George Foreman.
While he was an animal in the ring he now cuts a rehabilitated figure, perhaps showing that with hard work you can overcome your mistakes.
His impact on modern culture cannot be underrated though and besides Ali and Jack Johnson he's probably the most influential heavyweight boxer of all time. He's a pop culture icon and changed the way that we look at athletes.
4. Lennox Lewis
Record: 41-2-1 (32)
Years Active: 1989-2003
Notable Opponents: Frank Bruno, Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, Vitali Klitschko.
This one might be controversial but in my view Lennox Lewis is at the top table when it comes to the best heavyweight boxers. He, alongside Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield made heavyweight boxing glamourous again.
He beat of all those men of course, and Vitali Klitschko, in a career that saw him beat everyone he ever faced, at least once.
His career highlights include winning the 1988 Olympic Gold against Riddick Bowe, who later gave up the WBC Heavyweight title to avoid facing Lewis as a professional, a contest which he always ran scared of.
His two fights against Evander Holyfield were epics and he was incredibly unfortunate for the first of those to be given as a draw, something that Lewis put right when the two heavyweight boxers met eight months later.
A dominant victory over Mike Tyson, who had long been the fight that heavyweight boxing fans wanted, led to Goerge Foreman calling Lewis "the best heavyweight of all time".
3. Larry Holmes
Record: 69-6 (44)
Years Active: 1973-2002
Notable Opponents: Muhammad Ali, Ken Norton, Gerry Cooney, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield.
In many ways Larry Holmes was unlucky, he rose to prominance at a time when the heavyweight division had lost some of it's spark. The boxing world had seen the heavyweight division dominated by three icons when Ali, Foreman and Frazier fought and now it was largely one man who took the reigns.
Holmes achieved so much within the sport though, having defended his title against 19 men, second only to Joe Louis. Not only that but he was the only man who managed to stop Muhammad Ali inside the ring, and as of today, the only man alive to have beaten him.
He was 48-0 when a shock loss to Mike Spinks in 1985 stopped him from levelling Rocky Marciano's famous 49-0 record. Another loss in the rematch forced him to retire before a series of illadvised comebacks saw him face some of the best up and coming fighters in the game, losing to Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, amongst others.
When you watch clips of Holmes fighting it's his jab that stands out, but besides that he was an accomplished boxer and a true great.
2. Joe Louis
Record: 66-3 (52)
Years Active: 1934-1951
Notable Opponents: Max Schmeling, Billy Conn.
Most of us weren't alive during Joe Louis time at the top of the heavyweight division but "The Brown Bomber" will go down in history regardless. His ring craft is said to be amongst the greatest that was ever seen, with his boxing IQ amongst the very best.
He became a national hero in the US, with many claiming that he was the first African-American to do so. His fights against Max Schmeling, the German, coincided with the rise of Nazism and after losing in the first fight it led to the Nazi party holding up Max Schmeling as evidence of racial superiority, something which was shattered when Louis knocked out Schmeling in just over 2 minutes at a sold out Yankee Stadium.
1. Muhammad Ali
Record: 56-5 (37)
Years Active: 1960-1981
Notable Opponents: Joe Frazier, Goerge Foreman, Sonny Liston, Ken Norton, Jerry Quarry.
Muhammad Ali isn't the great heavyweight boxer of all time, he's the greatest sportsman of all time. His 21-year career is the stuff of legend and his cultural impact cannot be discounted. He was the best heavyweight boxer in the division, when the division was at it's very peak. He defeated Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier and George Foreman, alongside many more.
His isn't just a heavyweight boxer, he's an icon who has become bigger than the sport. His words, his movement and his fierce political beliefs have cemented his status as the greatest to ever do it. Even the crystal white shorts in which he boxed have become iconic. A true icon.
Cassius Clay won Olympic Gold at 18 before winning the world heavyweight championship against Sonny Liston in 1964 before changing his name to Muhammad Ali. His refusal to fight in Vietnam saw him facing 5 years in prison and although he avoided time in jail thanks to appealing the decision, it stopped him fighting for nearly four years.
He was vocal outside of the ring but his trash-talking in it was legendary and when combined with his incredible footwork and speed, not to mention is charisma, it made him a global star. The 'Rumble in the Jungle' became the most viewed sporting event ever at the time, with an estimated one billion people watching on television.