Not very many sports can match the sheer joy and excitement the world of boxing provides. Perhaps the most exciting game mankind ever witnessed was the brutality provided to the audiences in coliseums by gladiators but boxing dials down on such violence by rewarding skill and technical ability. The sport maintains a huge following to date despite its origins going as far back as the 1880s.
From Sugar Ray Leonard to Floyd Mayweather Junior, boxing has seen its share of superstars but no division has seen a large number of stars and superiors athletes like the heavyweight division. The likes of Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua, and Deontay Wilder might have resurrected the heavyweight category in recent years, but this weight-class was cream of the crop in years back. Ranking the greatest fighters in heavyweight boxing is going to serve up a never-ending debate, so we considered legacy, skill, power, and heart before coming up with the final list. Here’s the list of fighters we considered to have been the best of the best in the heavyweight division.
Born Rocco Francis Marchegiano on September 1, 1923, in Brockton, Massachusetts. Rocky remains the only heavyweight boxer to have gone undefeated throughout the entire span of his career. The American competed as a professional boxer for just eight years (1947 to 1955), holding the world heavyweight belt from 1952-1956. For a somewhat undersized fighter (5 ft 10 in) in a powerful division, Rocky was revered for his punching power, stamina, relentless fighting style, and very strong chin.
Rocky's impressive knockout-to-win ratio remains the highest in the history of the heavyweight division 43 of his 49 victories came by knockout. Rocky successfully defended his heavyweight title on six occasions against Joe Walcott, Roland La Starza, Archie Moore, Don Cockell, and Ezzard Charles (on two occasions). Rocky passed away in a plane crash on August 31, 1969.
Known as “The Baddest Man on the Planet” at some point in his illustrious career, Brooklyn’s very own Mike Tyson is regarded as one of the greatest heavyweight boxers ever. Revered for his ferociousness and immense punching power, he won the first 19 fights of his career by knockout with 12 of those wins coming in the first round. Tyson, whose career spanned 20 years (from 1985 to 2005), claimed his first heavyweight title at the young age of 20 and still holds the record for the youngest boxer to win a heavyweight belt. He was the first-ever fighter to hold the WBA, WBC, and IBF belts simultaneously and remains the only fighter to unify them in succession.
Tyson held an impressive record of 37-0 before a shock loss to Buster Douglas in Japan in 1990. Barring his off-ring problems, he would easily go down as one of the greatest, but these problems including a jail term see Tyson overlooked from a lot of people’s top five heavyweights of all-time. His record stands at 50(44)-6. The fight at the Tokyo Dome in February of 1990 is considered the biggest "upsets" in sports history and Tyson never got a chance for a rematch. Japan got its first world champion title in 1952 and has since produced 85 world champions but the golden years of Japanese boxing were between 1950 and the early 70s. Despite the rise of sports betting in Japan in recent years, international bookies focusing on the Japanese market rarely offer odds on Japanese fighters unless we are talking about Naoya Inoue. More options are available at the Japanese-operated betting sites, many of them available in both Japanese and English.
Before becoming an ordained minister in 1977, George Foreman nailed boxers to the proverbial cross with some of his punches. Regarded as one of the heaviest punchers in history, Foreman’s orthodox style saw him win 76 fights (68 knockouts) and lose only 5 one of which was to the great Muhammad Ali.
After unofficially stepping away from the ring in 1977, he announced in return in 1987 before going on to win and unify the WBA, IBF, and Linear heavyweight titles in 1994, 20 years after winning his first heavyweight title.
Foreman’s fighting career lasted for an incredible 28 years and he remains the oldest world heavyweight champion in history, at the age of 46 years.
Probably the least most popular name on this list to the non-hardcore boxing fans. Joe Louis is regarded as the greatest ever heavyweight boxer in some circles. He was the poster child for America’s recruitment of soldiers during World War II and the fight against Adolf Hitler. Louis reigned as heavyweight champion of boxing for 12 years (1937 to 1949), successfully defending his title a record 25 times —fighting 21 boxers in the process.
Louis’ boxing record reads 68-3, with 54 of those wins coming by way of knockout. In 2005, the International Boxing Research Organization named Joe Louis the greatest heavyweight fighter of all-time.
If ever there was a debate for the greatest of all GOATs (Greatest of all time) in different sports, Muhammad Ali would be in the conversation. Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in Louisville, Kentucky, he changed his name to Muhammad Ali in 1964. An Olympic gold medalist at the age of 18 in the 1960 summer Olympics, Ali became a heavyweight champion following a major upset victory over Sonny Liston at just 22.
Ali was more than just a boxer, he was an activist, a philanthropist, and a showman of the highest form. Nicknamed, “the Greatest”, Ali’s “rumble in the jungle” against George Foreman is one of the biggest events in sports history and was watched by an estimated one billion viewers worldwide. He remains the only three-time lineal champion of the heavyweight division and his record of winning 14 unified bouts lasted 35 years.