By Jimmy Krug.
On April 22, 1903, Jack Root defeated Kid McCoy (W10) in Detroit, Michigan for the newly created, Light Heavyweight title. This past April, the Light Heavyweight division quietly celebrated its 106th birthday. And while there was no fanfare, no parades, and probably barely a mention anywhere on the planet of this fact, the Light Heavyweight division has certainly given us plenty to celebrate over the last 106 years.
In picking the top four Light Heavyweight fighters off All-Time, the four fighters chosen could have undoubtedly done well in fighting in any era besides their own. This can’t be said with what you might call – 100% certain with every fighter of every era.
Beneath the top four are three other Light Heavyweights who have been given (and rightfully so) honorable mention.
Ezzard Charles is best known as a Heavyweight, and as being a former Heavyweight Champion of the World. Earlier in his career, however, Charles was an excellent Middleweight and an outstanding Light Heavyweight as well. Charles fought and defeated the great Archie Moore 3 times, including one stoppage victory over a “prime” Moore. Charles also lost 3 of his prime fighter years when he was drafted into the military during WWII.
Charles’ record was 30-1 during the stretch between 1946 and 1949 when he won the Heavyweight crown. Charles became a different fight, post-1948 when his opponent, Sam Baroudi, died of head injuries sustained in their battle.
According to the record books, Archie Moore had approximately 220 fights. According to Moore himself, the number was well over 300. The record keeping was a little shoddy in those days! And if that number isn’t amazing enough, Moore also has an amazing 131 knockouts to his credit! Another number that, according to Moore, is much higher. Most of Moore’s amazing 27 year career was spent in the Light Heavyweight division beating a list of “who’s who” in the 175 lb. class. More was a thinking fighter – par excellence! Everything about the man was unique, from his cross arm defense, to his training methods… right on down to his personality.
Like many Light Heavyweights before and since, Bob Foster is remembered by many, more for his failures – north of 175 lbs. A few smaller men have had success moving up in weight. Usually, however, for very limited amounts of time. An exception might be a fighter like Evander Holyfield who began his career in the Light Heavyweight division. Bob Foster stood 6’ 3” and had one of the great jabs in the history of the division. Foster mowed down the great Dick Tiger for the belt and went on to log 14 title defenses – 10 of which ended inside the distance. He eventually vacated the title after 11 years without a loss at 175.
The “Fighting Marine,” like Ezzard Charles, is remembered for his achievements as a Heavyweight. Most of his career, however, was spent in the Light Heavyweight division. Tunney defeated a list of “Who’s who” in boxing history opponents. In 1922 he defeated Battling Levinksy for the American version of the Light Heavyweight title. He defeated Harry Greb in 3 or their 4 meetings. His loss in his first meeting with Greb was the only loss of an 83 bout career. Greb’s aggressive, physical style resulted in a broken nose and badly cut eye. Nevertheless, Tunney sucked it up and went the distance – losing by decision. Tunney also defeated many other great fighters including Tommy Loughran, Tommy Gibbons and Georges Carpentier.
There are other great Light Heavyweights we could mention here, but for now, we’re just looking at the top four in detail. Tommy Loughran fought 173 career bouts, but scored only 17 kayos. He was a defensive minded fighter – first and fore mostly. Billy Conn and Michael Spinks are considered amongst the best by many, but neither man fought the level of competition that our top 4 picks did. John Henry Lewis fought professional from the age of 14 till 25. He retired after getting kayoed by Joe Louis in his try for the Heavyweight crown.
Out of curiosity (is there any better reason), I found myself wondering who would win a match up between a prime Ezzard Charles and a prime Gene Tunney – both at 175lbs.
So as always, the stats were feed into the computer and here’s what happened.
Ezzard Charles vs. Gene Tunney
Pre-Fight: Charles has all the tools to beat any Light Heavyweight who ever ducked through the ropes. That includes, Tunney. Likewise, Gene Tunney (one of the most underrated all-time greats in history) can beat just about any fighter in history on the right night.
The pre-fight pick: Tunney seems to perform better in major fights than his counterpart in this fight. Tunney, however, never faced a Rocky Marciano. In Dempsey, Tunney bested a post-prime version of the fighter who terrorized the Heavyweight ranks several years earlier. The pick here is Tunney by close decision.
THE FIGHT: Ezzard Charles beats up Gene Tunney – out punching him more than 2 to 1 and winning an easy 15 round unanimous decision. This is the version of Charles many have been waiting to see. Charles out boxed, out punched and outmaneuvered the Fight Marine at every turn. Gene’s right eye was badly swollen and he appeared relieved to have survived when the bell sounded to end the 15th round. To Tunney’s credit, he didn’t get knocked out!
Charles landed 48% of his punches. Tunney landed a weak 25%.
There you have it. Tunney was great at 175, but it seems that “on this particular night,” he just couldn’t put it together against the “Cincinnati Cobra.”