The Heavyweight division has produced some of the greatest fighters ever to have laced on a pair of gloves. The top five Heavyweight champions established a legacy that will live as long as the sport; providing fans with memories to last a lifetime. Placing the fighters in their rightful order among the pantheon of great boxing champions is a subjective endeavour. What is inarguable is that these five men wove their names into the fabric of the Heavyweight division.
Joe Louis 65-3 (51 KO’s)
Joe Louis remains in the eyes of many the greatest of all Heavyweight champions. An explosive boxer-puncher who ruled the division for an unprecedented twelve years. His 25 defences (including 21 KO´s) is still a divisional record, and he counted five world champions among his knockout victims while reigning as champion.
His win over Max Schmeling, the only man to defeat him in his prime, remains one of the signature moments in boxing. Louis possessed enough versatlity to run down the boxers and demolish the sluggers and though he could be hurt and dropped he could not be discouraged.
He retired with a 57-1 record and only came back when tax problems forced him out of retirement. His two sad losses in his fighting dotage cannot efface the memory of his coruscating brilliance as champion. Arguable the greatest combination puncher ever, Ring Magazine rated The Brown Bomber as the greatest puncher of the last eighty years.
Muhammad Ali 56-5 (37 KO’s)
Muhammad Ali was the first three-time Heavyweight champion and arguably the fastest and most graceful boxer ever to grace the division. A boxing prodigy in his first reign between 1964-7, his second reign established him as one of the greatest fighters who ever lived. Signature wins over Frazier (twice), Foreman, Norton, Lyle and Shavers placed him at the top of the pile in arguably the greatest Heavyweight era ever. Ali’s stellar career sees him claim the number two sport in the list of the top five Heavyweight champions.
Larry Holmes 69-6 (44 KO’s)
“The Easton Assassin” is arguably the most under appreciated Heavyweight champion ever. Toiling for much of his career in Ali´s formidable shadow he was denied much of the credit his stellar run at the top deserved. His twenty defences (a record second only to Louis) were racked up during a seven-year title reign, which established him as the undisputed champion of his era. Holmes was a superbly gifted and versatile fighter, brave, agile and skilled. While his opposition may not have rated as highly as Ali´s he certainly defeated a role call of the 1980´s top Heavyweights, including Witherspoon, Smith, Weaver, Snipes, Shavers and Williams. His jab is regarded by many as the greatest the division has ever seen. Larry’s run of 48 consecutive victories sees him claim a deserved third place among the top five Heavyweight champions.
Lennox Lewis 41-2 (32 KO’s)
Lennox Lewis is something of an enigma. The dominant Heavyweight of the last fifteen years, yet often a reluctant warrior. He was a three-time champion, who avenged his only two losses. His total of 13 successful defences proves his longevity, while his list of victims is a veritable who’s who of the top Heavyweights of the day. Powerful and quick, with a rapier like jab and devastating right hand Lewis could look invincible when the mood took him. The 6´5´´ stylist would have held his own in any era.
Rocky Marciano 49-0 (43 KO’s)
Rocky Marciano remains history’s only undefeated Heavyweight champion. His record of 49-0 (43 KO´s) is the principal reason for his presence among the all-time top ten. He only made five defences before retiring at the age of thirty-two. Crude and often ungainly, he was nevertheless one of the most devastating punchers in the history of the sport. His resilience and implacable will to win was tested in his wins over Walcott, Moore and especially the second fight against Ezzard Charles. While critics point to he lack of depth in the division during his reign a champion can do little more than defeat everyone placed in front of him.
The Greatest Heavyweight Champions in History
The greats of the Heavyweight division have provided boxing fans with a lifetime of thrills, controversy and inspirational stories. While Louis and Ali lead a stellar field, Holmes, Lewis and Marciano follow resolutely in their wake. The five men on this list established a legacy that time will never efface. Their battles, courage and skill will be remembered as long as the sport endures. They have earned their place among the pantheon of Heavyweight greats. Part two of this analysis will focus upon the fighters rate six through ten in the history of the division.