Looking back on the last hundred years of boxing history, the sport has left us with a impressive roll-call of great Heavyweight Champions.
…these are just a few of the names that surface in the continuing debate of “who would have beaten who,” had these fighters actually met at their peaks.
What was it that made these fighters great? Usually, when asked this question, fans will point to specific opponents and specific fights to validate their opinions. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, of course. It’s been used for years to present one argument against another.
Upon closer examination, turning up the magnification another notch, you can see a specific attribute or skill each man possessed that carried him above and beyond the men he competed against in his respective era.
Like Superheroes from the Marvel Comics Universe, they were all strong, they were all good, but each had that “special ability” that made the great!
Let’s take a look at a few of the special “abilities” possessed by the all-time great – heroes of the ring.
Joe Louis: No fighter in the history of Heavyweight division possessed a more dangerous right hand than the “Brown Bomber.” Louis could deliver fight ending right hands from any distance and just about any angle. There are very few fighters that will leave your jaw hanging in amazement when watching old fight films. Joe Louis’, however, is one of them.
Louis is perhaps the closest thing to being the perfect Heavyweight fighting machine. He racked up an amazing 25 title defenses in a career that was interrupted by the World War II.
Joe Louis stopped five challengers in the opening round and carried single punch power into the late rounds.
For those younger readers… imagine the power of a George Foreman right hand traveling at twice the speed. That was Joe Louis.
Sonny Liston & George Foreman: George Foreman and Sonny Liston possessed not just great punching power, but the ability to win fights before the first punch was ever thrown. Possibly the two most intimidating Heavyweight Champions of all-time, Foreman and Liston didn’t possess the speed/power combination of a Joe Louis. They simply possessed the physical ability to deliver – blunt force trauma on demand. They say if you’re going to be a fighter, you can’t mind getting hit. Well, even those who didn’t mind getting hit – found they did, when on the receiving end of a Liston or Foreman bomb!
Muhammad Ali: Every fighter can and usually does hit the canvas if he fights top flight competition during his career. It’s what happens once you’re there that defines them. Ali was floored by Sonny Banks, Henry Cooper and Joe Frazier. Some say Ernie Shavers, also, but it wasn’t counted as a knockdown. Ali’s magic wasn’t his ability to stay off the floor… but his ability to recover from punches that would leave others slumbering soundly – long past the ten count!
By his own admission, Ali stated in several interviews that George Foreman almost had him out on his feet. Foreman himself said, “I thought I had him out! His eyes would close, then suddenly, he’d wake up again!”
Although Ali later admitted that telling Foreman, “Is that all you got?” probably saved him from getting stopped, it still takes incredible powers of recuperation to walk back to your corner after taking that kind of punishment.
In the 15th round of Ali-Frazier I, the Fight of The Century, Frazier’s left hook that sent Ali to the canvas was a picture perfect punch that landed right on the button.
Ali got back up fairly quickly and survived the round, although losing the fight. After taking 15 rounds worth a punishment before getting hit with that big left hook… only a man with super recuperative powers could be able to rise so quickly.
Rocky Marciano: If the name “Rock” was ever appropriate for a fighter, it fit Marciano like a glove. Marciano’s punch output, on average, was about double of that of a “normal” heavyweight. Sometimes even more. He kept up his remarkable work-rate, round after round.
“He could hurt you, sure, but it was the quantity of his punches. He just had more stamina than anyone else in those days. He was like a bull with gloves.” Archie Moore
“I would throw a hard punch, then he would throw a hard punch. The difference was that Rocky would throw 10 more. He just never stopped throwing punches.” Roland LaStarza
Marciano was one of the most durable champions to ever step into the ring. Whether he was dishing out the punishment or absorbing it, Marciano’s energy, endurance and sheer willpower lifted him to forty-nine victories without a defeat. A feat forever entrenched in boxing lore.
Fighters in the Marciano-mold usually burn out well before the 30-fight mark. Marciano was one fight shy of fifty!
If there was ever a fighter who was the sum of his parts, it was Marciano. If any one part of Rocky Marciano could be described as “super” powered, it was his amazing durability.
Some may argue that Jim Jeffries had durability above and beyond that of any man who ever stepped into the ring. Jeffries stood just about 6’ 1” tall and weighed (on average) around 225 lbs. Jeffries only climbed through the ropes 21 times, however. With forty-nine fights without a loss or draw, Rocky Marciano gets the nod.
Mike Tyson: In his prime, Mike Tyson possessed an uppercut that was a punch to behold! Not only could he deliver this punch faster than anyone else in the history of the heavyweight division… but he sometimes threw two and even three at a time! Tyson’s left uppercut was sort of the trademark of the younger, in-shape fighter who tore his way through the division to become the youngest Heavyweight Champion in history. Before the money, fame and women ate away what could have been the career of the ages, he wowed both old-timers and contemporaries alike. His career was like a streaking meteor. And no fighter has dominated the division as he has for the past 20 years.
– The Boxing Magazine: August 2009