1) Muhammad Ali – The greatest heavyweight champion boxer of all time. Like George Foreman, he went through 2 incarnations. The first one was the fastest heavyweight of all time, whose defense made him untouchable.Ali had good power, but not great power, but he would fire off his punches like a machine gun. Most times, like in the case of Brian London, they were overwhelmed. Then the exile occurred and Ali came back three years later. He was slower of hand and foot, but stronger, and Ali used this strength in the clinch. Ali could also hit harder, and he discovered he had an iron chin. Ali’s chin is one of the marvels of the sports world, and no one could take a punch like Ali. Ali used this durability to not only survive fights, but to win them. Ali is the greatest because he always found a way to win using different styles.
2) Joe Louis – Joe Louis was deadpan, silent, and one of the greats. He was the greatest puncher of all time, and put together his combinations with speed, power and accuracy. Louis was also no slouch at defense. Nat Fleischer ranked him with Jack Johnson in terms of defensive technique. His style started with the crouch and the jab. Louis fought out of the Blackburn crouch and used his jab to break down opponent’s defense while setting up his offense. He was perfection on offense, and opponents could not afford to make the same mistake twice. Louis was 10-0 in rematches with 9 knockouts and of his 25 title defenses, 22 were knockouts.
3) Jack Johnson – Johnson was the first black heavyweight champion, and as a result, there was a move to get a White Hope. But for the most part, these people were wasting their time. Johnson had probably the best heavyweight defense, and mastered most of the defensive techniques such as ducking, blocking, parrying, slipping and leaning back. Johnson also had one of the best uppercuts in heavyweight history. He would throw it from an upright position to further confuse opponents, who could not anticipate when the uppercut would land. He was the consummate counter-puncher, who made life miserable for his opponents when he was in the ring.
4) Jack Dempsey – He helped refine the swarmer style and showed how it had to be done.
He used head movement and footwork in his attacks to pressure his opponents and open them to his two-handed punching. His bob and weave technique meant that he was not hit solidly in most fights. Dempsey’s chin and recuperative ability also meant that he was always in the fight. Dempsey’s left hook is the greatest ever, and his right hand was not bad either. His constant attacks made him the heavyweight with the greatest amount of 1st round knockouts at 25. Even in defeat, he managed to knock Gene Tunney down.
5) Rocky Marciano – Marciano was like the Energizer bunny, if the Energizer bunny had boxing gloves. He was a raw novice when he came to Charley Goldman, who polished him until he was a diamond. Marciano applied non-stop pressure punching at all parts of the opponents. If the opponent covered up, then he would punch the body and the arms until the opponent yielded. Marciano is also the only undefeated heavyweight champion who retired and did not have a loss. Marciano was harder to hit than he looked. Joe Louis could not stop him from imposing his will and Ali said he hit hard, while being hard to jab. He was an all-time great.
6) Larry Holmes – Larry Holmes’ jab was an ever-present reminder that there was a higher authority in the fight. His jab is classed as one of the best ever, and it outclassed opponents. Holmes could knock an opponent out with a jab. That coupled with his speed and technique made him one of the greats. He could beat an opponent by boxing from the outside, or by using punch placement to wreck havoc on the inside. Holmes was the first word in versatility. And above all else, Holmes had a world-class chin. Holmes learned from Ali and took those skills to show the world that much of Ali’s style was still in the ring when Holmes went through the ropes.
7) George Foreman – Foreman was the tale of two careers. The first career, he emulated Sonny Liston and tried to knock out all comers with power punches especially those coming from his right hand. The second career, he took Ali as his role model and tried to set up his knockouts with patience and timing. Either one of these Foremans is a top heavyweight. When they are put together in an examination of a career he is an all time great. He was very adaptable for a slugger and could cut the ring off with impunity. And his power is one of the best, if not the best in heavyweight history. The class that Foreman is in with regard to power is one of very low attendance. His best wins are those over Frazier and Moorer more than twenty years apart.
8) Sonny Liston – Liston had the best jab in heavyweight history. His jab was a power punch and it was as if Liston had two right hands. He could also hook off the jabs and throw combinations. He combined boxing skill with brute power. Joe Louis said he would not jab with him, even though Louis had a stellar jab himself. Rocky Marciano said that he would not relish fighting Sonny Liston. Liston was also the intimidator supreme. He did not invent ring intimidation, but he perfected it. Most of his opponents, including Muhammad Ali, were scared of him. Floyd Patterson neglected strategy and went at Liston head on, and was dealt with severely like a disobedient child. Only Ali was able to overcome him when he was near his prime, and the scorecards were even until Liston quit.
9) Joe Frazier – He was the candle that burned brightly before it became dark. Frazier took the swarmer style and used his strengths to become a nightmare for opposing heavyweights. Frazier worshipped at the altar of the swarmer. His bob and weave technique was among the best ever and he had a left hook that was carved from the netherworld like Thor’s Hammer and Arthur’s sword. Frazier owns the best victory over an all-time great heavyweight when he defeated Muhammad Ali, and dropped him with that left hook. Underrated speed of hand and foot, a good jab, an adept ability to cut off the ring, and stamina that could not be tamed help round out the Frazier package.
10) Lennox Lewis – Lewis was the best heavyweight of his generation. Everyone Lewis fought, he won against and the two men who beat him suffered knockouts. He had the punch of a slugger, but also brought the table good hand speed, an exceptional reach, and two-fisted power. He would often look on his opponents with disdain, which hurt him when he underestimated them. But Lewis was never more formidable than against an opponent he saw as a threat, which is shown in the Tyson fight. Lewis’ right hand was one of the best of all time, and chopped down grown men with impunity.
11) Evander Holyfield – Holyfield had the soul of a warrior of ancient times brought to life inside a boxing ring. Sometimes this mentality hurt him, because he was so focused on warring that he forgot to win. He faced the best opposition of anyone besides Ali. And although he did not always win against this opposition, he always gave his best. He was a superb counter puncher and although he did not have the benumbing hitting power of Tyson, Holyfield could string together combinations that did as must damage. Holyfield’s win over Tyson was shocking, but it was the result of intense preparation and focus. Although Holyfield was not the fastest, he could move and use his movement to set up his punches.
12) Mike Tyson – Tyson was the terror that reigned in the heavyweight division. He was not only modern but ultramodern, trained to fight in ways that other heavyweights did not comprehend or fathom. He was physically gifted and that coupled with intensive training brought him to the heavyweight championship of the world. Tyson’s fights were often a question of how long the opponent would last rather than if the opponent could win. But then, Cus D’amato died and Tyson began to unrival. Tyson forgot his training, and in forgetting his training, he did not use his skillset. The head movement became stationary, the combination punching was reduced to one at a time punching, and body punching was neglected. Tyson in his second career lost as many fights as he won. But Tyson in his first career was one of the all-time greats.
13) Ezzard Charles – He was the small fish in the big sea of heavyweights who managed to rule over them as king. Ezzard Charles made 9 defenses as a heavyweight, which is a statistic that many people are unaware of. Only Jack Johnson, Tommy Burns, Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes, and Joe Louis made more title defenses. He faced off against the best fighters in 3 divisions. Charles was a technician of style, and many foes found it impossible to beat him. He beat Jersey Joe Walcott and Joe Louis, and managed to give Rocky Marciano 2 of his toughest fights. He had speed, combination punching, defense, a punch, footwork and so much more. Good things indeed come in small packages.
14) Sam Langford – Langford was the best heavyweight who never won a title. He won against Joe Gans when he was young and against Tiger Flowers when he was old. The fact that he knocked out Tiger Flowers when blind further testifies to Langford’s skill and power. A large portion of Langford’s opponents ranked him as the most powerful heavyweight they had faced. These victories speak to the longevity and greatness of Sam Langford. Langford can be seen as an early prototype of Joe Louis, with a moderate crouch, combination punching, and deadly counter punching off of misses. He combined a potent offense with an impenetrable defense. Langford had it all but missed the biggest prize of the heavyweights.
15) Jim Jeffries – He was the prototypical slugger of his era, and helped developed this style from being a raw brawler. He coupled learned boxing skill with natural strength and punching power. Jeffries was the first heavyweight champion to fight from a crouch, and he was very effective with head movement. But even if a fighter was able to get to Jeffries’ jaw, he could harm his hands on Jeffries titanium chin. Jeffries beat boxer-punchers like Peter Jackson and Bob Fitzsimmons, outside boxers like Jim Corbett, and swarmers like Tom Sharkey. And except for Tom Sharkey, all of these boxers were knocked out and counted out. This speaks to the raw power that was in Jeffries veins and in his fists.