As one of the world’s most popular sports, boxing has been home to some of the most historic athletic performances ever seen. It has also produced some of the most popular athletes of all time, with the likes of Muhammed Ali and Mike Tyson plying their trade in the boxing ring.
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In an effort to narrow it down to only the top 5 most worthy athletes that have ever excelled at the sport of boxing, you might notice that notable names such as Floyd Mayweather have not made it to this list. So who are the top five boxers, and how have they managed to position themselves as the greatest athletes of all time?
Of the many heavyweight greats to have captured the world’s attention over the years, Joe Louis – also known as the Brown Bomber – is certainly worth a mention.
Active between 1934 and 1951, Louis had a dominant reign as heavyweight champ. Louis finished his career with a 66-3, 52 KO record, which included holding the heavyweight title for 140 months. During this time, he defended the belt a record 25 times.
Louis also broke barriers in other ways, and as the first African-American athlete to achieve mainstream stardom, he achieved huge success despite facing pervasive racism in the US.
Even when compared to some of the heavyweight greats of today, such as Tyson Fury, Louis is still in a league of his own.
Willie Pep was one of those fighters from the classic era of professional boxing who should always be included in a list of the all-time greats.
Pep was a featherweight fighter who was known for his speed and durability. And over the course of his career, Pep amassed a record of 229-11-1, with 65 knockouts. Even by today’s standards, Pep was a dominant featherweight.
Of the many battles Pep slugged out, his four fights against Sandy Saddler are perhaps his best known. Pep originally lost his featherweight title to Saddler in 1948, and although he would later avenge this loss, Saddler was the only fighter to ever give him any trouble – with Pep eventually going 1-3 against Saddler.
Although he often gets forgotten in preference to Sugar Ray Robinson, Henry Armstrong is another of the all-time greats who should be included in any halfway decent “pound-for-pound” list.
Armstrong’s reign fell just before that of Sugary Ray Robinson. And from 1931-1945, when he was active, Armstrong won featherweight, lightweight and welterweight championships. This came in addition to a fairly incredible career record of 150-21-10. Of these, 101 fights were KOs.
What this record doesn’t show is how game Armstrong was in taking on opponents. Over the course of his career, Armstrong was known for competing against the toughest opponents across multiple weight classes.
If you were to conduct an informal survey on the street among members of the public, you would be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t include Ali on their list of the all-time greats.
In his early career during the 1960s, Ali had a historic run of wins that saw him pick apart everyone in the heavyweight division. And had the Vietnam War not occurred, it is likely he would have gone on to secure one of the best win streaks of all time.
Despite this, Ali saw considerable success in the 1970s. Although lacking some of the stylistic flair he displayed during his 1960s run, Ali still managed to put on some incredible displays during the second half of his career—beating a who’s who of heavyweight boxers. This saw him beat the likes of George Foreman and Joe Frazier in what have become historic battles.
Sugar Ray Robinson
Given that this article has focused on outlining the achievements of the top five pound-for-pound boxers to ever step in the ring, it would be bordering on negligent of us not to mention the boxer for whom the term “pound-for-pound” was introduced to describe.
Although the exact origins of the term are somewhat murky, the conventional story is that it was introduced during the dominant reign of Sugar Ray Robinson.
Robinson is truly one of the greatest boxers of all time. His combination of incredible speed, agility and calculated power saw him assume a dominant position across two weight classes during his professional career.
During the 1940s and 1950s, Robinson beat an incredible range of elite competition in the welterweight and middleweight divisions. This saw him win the 160-pound title five times. Over the course of his career, Robinson had an unbeaten streak of 40 fights, followed by 91 more fights.
In light of these many accolades, Robinson is consistently identified as the best to ever step into the boxing ring, with the Associated Press voting him the best fighter of the 20th century.