Boxing must be the oldest unarmed hand-to-hand form of combat in the human history, when people fought with bare knuckles. Its reference is also found in the ancient Indian epics as Mushtiyudh or fist-fighting. As an organised form of sports, it dates back to the Greeks as an Olympic event in 688 BC.
Modern boxing started in England in the 17th century. Boxing as we know today is a combat sport in which two people wearing protective gloves punch each other for a fixed set of time and rounds in a rectangular boxing ring.
A Brief History of Boxing through the Ages
The earliest known depiction of boxing dates back to the 3rd millennium BC, as evident from archaeological finds. Boxing was a popular sport in amphitheatres of Ancient Rome which drew huge crowd. This was a fight till death and fighters fought within a circle drawn on the floor. Thus the term boxing ‘ring’ originated. In 17th century boxing became popular in England, and the first recorded boxing took place in 1681.
The first heavyweight title, was held by James Figg, from 1719 to 1730. The second heavyweight champion, Jack Broughton of England, introduced the first boxing rules in 1743, which was called the Broughton’s rules. In 1867, the Marquees of Queensberry rules for boxing were published. These new rules limited the number of 3-minute rounds, made the use of gloves mandatory and codified several acts as fouls.
During this time boxing also spread to USA and became a very popular sport. During 16th to 18th century boxing was played for prize money. Modern boxing came into existence in the mid 19th century after the Queensbury rules, first in England and later in the USA. In 1892, the first world heavyweight championship in USA was held in New Orleans under the Queensberry rules. James Corbett, nicknamed “Gentleman Jim” defeated John L. Sullivan, to become the first heavyweight champion. As boxing grew in popularity, several weight categories were introduced. Today there are eight weight divisions, spanning from flyweight to heavyweight. In 1908, amateur or non-professional boxing was introduced in the Olympic Games.
Top Greatest Boxers of All Time
Every weight categories or divisions in boxing have a long list of illustrious champions. It is difficult to compare among all weight divisions, as to who were the overall best. The most popular category, which draws the largest crowds to the stadium, is the heavyweight category. However, some fans feel that the choice of best boxers should not be restricted to any one weight division, but to the best among all categories. Some propound the theory of “pound-for-pound” which implies that the boxers at lower weight categories should be given corresponding weightage in assessment. Another yardstick is the popularity of the boxer during his time amongst people in general.
Here is a list of all time top boxers who are best remembered not just for their boxing prowess and wins but also for the place they made in people’s heart.
Here are the top 12 Most Famous & Greatest Boxers of all time
Table of Contents
#12. Julio Cesar Chavez
Julio César Chávez is a Mexican boxer who is considered as one of the greatest boxers of all time. He dominated boxing for about 12 years from 1984 to 1996. He is a six-time world champion in three weight categories; super featherweight, lightweight and junior welterweight divisions. He held the WBC super featherweight title from 1984 to 1987; the WBA lightweight title from 1987 to 1989; the WBC lightweight title from 1988 to 1989; the WBC light welterweight title twice, from 1989 to 1996; and the IBF light welterweight title from 1990 to 1991.
Chávez has the longest undefeated streak of 13 years in boxing history. He also had an 87-fight continuous win streak which ended with a draw with Pernell Whitaker in 1993. Chávez successfully defended his world titles 27 times, which is a world record. He also holds the record for most title fights and victories. He was known for his outstanding punching power and devastating body attacks which led to many knockout wins. He attacked and pummelled his opponents non-stop and relentlessly, to the cheers of the crowd.
No wonder his boxing bouts made records for the largest attendance for a boxing match. He had a remarkably strong ‘granite’ chin which withstood the attacks on him. He was nicknamed “El Gran Campeon Mexicano” or ‘The Grand Mexican Champion’, and pound-for-pound is considered the most invincible boxer. He is the father of boxer Omar Chávez, and boxer Julio César Chávez Jr who is a former WBC middleweight champion. Out of his total fights numbering 115, he won 107, out of which 86 were knockout wins.
#11. Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Floyd Joy Mayweather Jr. won fifteen world titles in four different weight classes during his boxing career from 1996 to 2015. Mayweather was born in 1977 in USA, in a family of boxers and began practising since his childhood. In the 1996 Olympics at Atlanta he won a bronze medal in the featherweight division. Same year, Mayweather turned professional, and in 1998, he won his first world title, the WBC super featherweight championship. He moved up in weight class four times, winning the WBC lightweight title in 2002, the WBC super lightweight title in 2005 and WBC and IBA welterweight titles in 2006. In 2007 he won the WBC super welterweight title.
He announced his retirement in 2007, but returned in 2009 and won a bout against Juan Manuel Marquez by unanimous decision, for a purse of nearly $60 million. Later he won a 12-round unanimous decision over Shane Mosley. In 2013, he won the WBC welterweight title defeating Robert Guerrero. In 2015 Mayweather defeated Manny Pacquiao, in what is called the “Fight of the Century”, as earlier he had been avoiding to fight Pacquiao. Mayweather fought a total of 49 fights and won all of them, equalling the record of Rocky Marciano. After taking up retirement in 2015, he now works as a boxing promoter.
#10. Roberto Duran
Roberto Duran was nicknamed “Manos de Piedra” which means “hands of stone” for his devastatingly powerful punches. He had a long boxing career spanning 33 years from 1968 to 2001. He had one of the longest careers in professional boxing, which speak of his calibre and class as a boxer. He was a professional boxer from Panama and held four world titles in the lightweight, welterweight, junior middleweight, middleweight divisions. In 1972 he defeated Ken Buchanan to win the lightweight championship.
In 1980 he beat Sugar Ray Leonard to become welterweight champion. In 1983, when he was 32, he took the junior middleweight belt from Davey Moore. In 1989, in his 32 year of professional boxing, he won the middleweight belt by beating Iran Barkley. In his long career, he consistently delivered solid powerful punches to his opponents and was often described as a savage, a warrior and a monster inside the ring. He fought a total of 119 fights, winning 103 out of which 70 were won by Knock Outs.
#9. Evander Holyfield
Evander Holyfield was born in 1962 in USA and took up boxing at a young age. Nicknamed the “Real Deal”, he was a four-time world heavyweight champion. In 1983 Los Angeles Olympics he won the bronze medal and thereafter turned a professional boxer. He won the World Boxing Association’s (WBA) World Cruiserweight title in 1986. In 1990 he became the world heavyweight champion after beating James “Buster” Douglas.
In 1992, he lost to Riddick Bowe, his first loss in 29 professional fights. Next year, he won the title from Bowe in a rematch. In 1994, he lost the title to Michael Moorer. Holyfield beat Mike Tyson in their first encounter in 1996, winning the WBA championship. In their next fight, Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear. Tyson was disqualified and fined for this sordid act. Later, Holyfield took back his world heavyweight title from Michael Moore making it his third title victory.
In 1999, Holyfield’s attempt to win the WBC heavyweight title from Lennox Lewis ended in a draw, and Holyfield lost in the rematch. However, in 2000, Holyfield succeeded in winning the WBA heavyweight championship after defeating John Ruiz. Next year, Ruiz beat Holyfield in a rematch. In 2006, he beat Jeremy Bates, before announcing his retirement. Out of his 49 matches, he won 39 out of which 26 were by Knock Out.
#8. Jack Dempsey
Jack Dempsey, also known as Manassa Mauler, was the heavyweight champion from 1919 to 1926, and was the most loved boxer of his time. Dempsey made his reputation as the most savagely brutal boxers of all time. He used both his fists with equal dexterity and force.He was born in 1895 in America and was the most famous boxers of the First World War era. His fight against George Carpentier was the first million dollar collection in boxing history. A Street of the Madison Square Garden is named after him. His record includes 61 wins, 50 knockouts and 6 losses. Out of the 50 knockouts, 26 came in the first round itself. After his retirement he chose to open a restaurant in New York.
#7. Mike Tyson
Mike Tyson, also known as Iron Mike, was born in USA in 1966. He became the heavyweight champion at the age of 20. He was the youngest boxer to do so, a record that still stands. Tyson won the WBC heavyweight title in 1986 after defeating Trevor Berbick through knockout.
He was a very aggressive boxer having won his first 19 professional bouts through knockouts only. In 12 bouts he knocked out his opponent in the first round itself. In July 1991, he was accused of rape, and sentenced to 6 years imprisonment. After his release in 1995, he made a comeback. He faced Evander Holyfield in 1996 and was knocked out in the 11th round.
In 1997, he had a rematch with Holyfield, but the match did not finish because Tyson had bit Holyfield’s ears in the second round. The judges disqualified Tyson and he was fined $3 million. It was a very inglorious end of career for an illustrious boxer who became world heavyweight champion at 20. Out of his 58 boxing bout, he won 50 out of which 44 were by knockouts.
#6. George Foreman
George Foreman, nick name ‘Big George’, was born in 1949 in Texas, USA. He had a very long boxing career from 1969 to 1997. He is also the oldest heavyweight champion in the world at the age of 45. His professional career started in 1969. In1968 Mexico Olympic Games he won a gold medal in the heavyweight division. Next year he turned professional, and won all of his 13 matches including 11 by Knock Out. In the second yearof his professional career he won all of his 12 matches by Knock Out.
By 1971, in his third year, his win-lose record was 32-0. In 1973 he won the world heavyweight title from Joe Frazier after knocking him down six times in two rounds. In 1974, he was beaten by Muhammad Ali in the “Rumble in the Jungle” fight in Zaire. In 1977, he retired after losing to Jimmy Young. In retirement he became a preacher. However, after 10 years of retirement, he again returned to the ring. In 1994, he knocked out Michael Moorer in the 10th round, becoming the heavyweight champion again. He achieved this feat at the age of 45, which remains a record. Out of the 76 fights he won, 68 were by Knock Outs.
#5. Joe Frazier
Joe Frazier, also known as Joseph William “Joe” Frazier, was born in 1944 in USA. He was nicknamed “Smokin’ Joe”, and was the first fighter who defeated Muhammad Ali. His professional boxing career spanned from 1965 to 1981. He turned professional after winning the gold medal in 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
He was the undisputed heavyweight champion from 1970 to 1973. Frazier was known for his formidable punching power, sheer strength to withstand opponent’s attacks and his all-out aggressive non-stop attacks. On his way to the top, Frazier defeated many great boxers like Jerry Quarry, Oscar Bonavena, Buster Mathis, Eddie Machen, Doug Jones, George Chuvalo and Jimmy Ellis, to be crowned undisputed heavyweight champion in 1970. This was followed in 1971, by defeating Muhammad Ali in the famous “Fight of the Century”. Two years later Frazier lost his title to George Foreman. He fought on defeating Joe Bugner.
He then lost a rematch to Ali but beat Quarry and Ellis again. Frazier’s last world title challenge came in 1975, but he was beaten by Ali in their brutal known as the “Thrilla in Manila”. He retired in 1976 after losing a second time to Foreman. He made a comeback in 1981, fighting just once, before retiring. A fact that came to be known later was that he was legally blind by his left eye due to a practice injury sustained in 1965. That makes him really great that he fought with the top fast heavyweight boxers with only one eye. He won 32 of his 37 matches and 27 were won by Knock Outs. He lost only 4 of his matches against Ali and George Foreman.
#4. Rocky Marciano
Rocky Marciano is the only heavyweight world champion who was never defeated. Out of his total fights of 49, he won all of them and 43 were won by Knock Out, that’s what makes him a great fighter. He has the highest percentage of his wins through Knockouts. Although he had a very short career, he defeated many of the greats of his time such as Joe Louis, Jersey Joe Walcott and Archie Moore. Marciano had won the heavyweight belt in 1947, by knocking out Jersey Walcott in the 13th-round. He retired in 1956, undefeated. After retirement, he became a boxing referee. The movie series “Rocky” by Sylvester Stallone is loosely based on his life and career.
#3. Sugar Ray Robinson
Sugar Ray Robinson was described by Muhammad Ali as the best of all time, because he was the most technically sound and complete boxer of all time. He was the world champion at welterweight and middleweight. Since he was not in heavyweight category, it is said that for his weight, that is pound-for-pound, he was the greatest boxer of all time. He won the world welterweight title in 1946, and defended it five times. Then in 1951, he won the middleweight championship which he defended for six years. He lost only one of his first 175 fights, against Jake LaMotta, and later he beat Jake five times. Out of his 175 wins, a massive 109 were knockouts.
#2. Joe Louis
Joe Louis, also known as the Brown Bomber, was the longest reigning heavyweight champion, for more than 11 years, and is one of the titans in the world boxing history. Like Ali, he was an icon among the African-American community. He was born in 1914 in America in a poor family and rose up to the top. He turned professional in 1934 and his first knockout victory was against Max Baer, who had already boxed to death on of his opponents in the ring.
He became heavyweight champion of the world in 1937, which is now called the ‘Fight of the Decade’ and beat Max Schmeling, who had defeated him by knocking him out one year earlier in 1936. He continued his reign as the world heavyweight champion till his retirement in 1949, while defending his title 25 times, which is a record in any weight category. Out of the total 70 fight, he won 66 out of which an astonishing 52 were Knock Outs. He also acted in a few films and is also credited with a few memorable quotes such as, “Everyone has a plan until they’ve been hit” and “He can run, but he can’t hide”.
#1. Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali is considered the greatest boxers of the 20th century, being the only boxer who won the world heavyweight championship title three times; in 1964, 1974, and 1978. Out of his total 61 fights, he won 56, and 37 were Knock Outs. He is the only boxer to be named The Ring magazine Fighter of the Year six times, ranked as the greatest athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated, the Sports Personality of the Century by the BBC, and many more such recognitions. Ali was also known as an inspiring social activist.
Muhammad Ali was born on January 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, and named Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. Ali took up boxing early at the age of 12. At the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, he won the gold medal in the light heavyweight category when he was 18. He became a professional next year. It is said that he threw his gold medal into the Ohio River in protest against racial segregation of blacks in USA. In 1964, when he was 22, he won the WBA, WBC heavyweight titles from Sonny Liston in a big upset. Later Clay converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. He set an example of racial pride for African Americans and resistance to white domination during the Civil Rights Movement
In 1966, two years after he became the heavyweight champion, Ali refused to be drafted in the U.S. army which at the time was fighting the Vietnam War. He was arrested and stripped of his boxing titles. He won his case in the U.S. Supreme Court, in 1971. During this period he could not participate in boxing and lost about for years of his career when he was at his peak. However, this made Ali an icon as a conscientious objector of the Vietnam War. Ali has boxed out some of the great boxer of his time, like Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Sonny Liston, Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers, Floyd Patterson and Ernie Terrell. His most memorable fights were; ‘The Fight of the Century’ and the ‘Thrilla in Manila’, both against Joe Frazier; and the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ with George Foreman. These bouts were watched by billions on TV.
Ali was also interested in music and recorded songs and was also nominated twice for Grammy Awards. Ali also acted in several films and also wrote two autobiographies. After retiring from boxing in 1981, Ali devoted his life to philanthropic activities. Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1984. He lived in the care of his family till his death on June 3, 2016, in Scottsdale, Arizona. The world came together to pay tributes to “The Greatest”, as he was called.
Every boxing enthusiast has his own favourite list of all-time great boxing stars, and this list might disappoint or upset many, if not by exclusion of any boxer, then by their relative rankings. In compiling this list while ‘pound by pound’ factor has been considered, due weightage have been given to the heavyweight champions. Truth be told, heavyweight champions brought more popularity, fame, prestige and money to the sport of boxing. They are the ones who faced more hard-hitting punches inside the ring or outside the ring in public arena. They deserve their right place under the sun. Do feel free to send in your comments, whether you agree or disagree with this line-up.