Boxing, it has been said, is ‘the sweet science’.
The aim of the sport sport, in its simplest form, is to ‘hit and not get hit’.
However, there are few things more exhilarating than witnessing a legitimate, bona fide knockout artist in full-flow.
Here we take a look at the sport’s premier power-hitters, coming up with our top five pound-for-pound punchers in boxing today…
#5: Murat Gassiev (26-0-0, 19 KO’s)
While Murat Gassiev’s KO percentage may lag behind the other titleholders appearing in this feature, numbers can be deceiving.
The reigning WBA and IBF cruiserweight champion is the youngest and greenest man on our list in terms of cumulative amateur and professional experience. Four of his seven victories via decision came within the first eight fights of his career.
The Gassiev of today is a completely different animal, much of it down to the tutelage of renowned trainer Abel Sanchez working out of Big Bear, California, who has helped his young charge to develop the boxing craft and technique to complement his raw strength and power – said anecdotally to literally cause the gym to shake!
Tales of Gassiev’s punching prowess have abounded for years among sparring partners such as former world title challenger Ola Afolabi, who labelled Gassiev as the hardest hitter he had ever stepped into the ring with.
Sparring is one thing but doing it in the prize-fighting ring is another. Gassiev and his power are for real. Just ask Jordan Shimmell who found himself out cold on the canvas for two minutes courtesy of a Gassiev left hook to the head that seemed to rob him of his soul. Or former cruiserweight champion Krzysztof Wlodarcyk who was left hunched over in agony on his knees by a pulverising body shot.
In his last fight, Gassiev produced the best performance of his career against fellow knockout artist Yunier Dorticos in the semi-finals of the World Boxing Super Series, out-boxing the former Cuban amateur standout before knocking him down three times in the final round for an explosive stoppage victory, demonstrating that he carries his power late into the fight.
Put the numbers aside. Murat Gassiev is quite simply one of the hardest hitters in boxing today.
KO percentage: 73.1%
#4: Naoya Inoue (16-0-0, 14 KO’s)
The lighter boxing weight divisions are among the deepest today and home to some of the sport’s most sublimely-skilled fighters. Traditionally, attributes such as speed, movement have been the key to success in these divisions, but some of the most fearsome contemporary punchers walk around under 118lbs.
Few can be more fearsome than Naoya Inoue. ‘The Monster’ is already a multi-weight World champion at just twenty five years of age and starting to crack pound-for-pound lists.
He stalks his opponents in the ring, deploying fluent movement, an educated jab and excellent punch variety. In particular, he boasts a devastating body attack which, combined with non-stop pressure, breaks opponents down over time.
In only his eighth professional contest, he challenged long-time super flyweight titlist Omar Narvaez who held the record for the most world title defences across all weights and governing bodies and whose only previous loss was on points to a prime Nonito Donaire at bantamweight.
Inoue obliterated the vastly more experienced man in two rounds.
Unable to make fights with the other big names at super flyweight, Inoue despatched a series of overmatched challengers before moving up to bantamweight to face another veteran belt-holder.
The UK’s Jamie McDonnell was one of the most experienced and proven names at 118 lbs and unbeaten in ten years. He had a reputation for durability having never been stopped and was the much bigger man. By fight night, he had rehydrated to 144 lbs, making him a functional welterweight. It did not make a shred of difference. Inoue tore through him in one round to capture a third world title in the same number of weight divisions.
‘The Monster’ may be by far the smallest man on this list, but he punches well above his weight.
KO percentage: 87.5%
#3: Gennady Golovkin (38-0-1, 34 KO’s)
Gennady Golovkin will go down in boxing history as one of its greatest middleweight champions: a brilliant amateur and Olympic silver medallist who achieved championship glory in the paid ranks with outstanding boxing skills, a granite chin and concrete fists.
Admittedly, his resume is not on a par with middleweight champions of the past such as Sugar Ray Robinson, Carlos Monzon and Marvin Hagler, partly due to the simple fact of fighting in a weaker era, but partly because the top middleweights of his generation have avoided him like the plague.
Nevertheless, he managed to face a whole host of top ten contenders and former/reigning champions while chalking up a twenty three-fight knockout streak between 2008 and 2016, including seventeen title defences.
A deserved but razor-thin points win over an inspired Danny Jacobs brought the streak to an end in March 2017, followed by a controversial draw in one of the most highly-anticipated fights of that year against Canelo Alvarez which many felt Golovkin clearly won.
Now thirty-six-years-of-age and seemingly having peaked as a fighter, the man known to fans and fighters worldwide as ‘GGG’ no longer carries an aura of invincibility, but remains an undefeated World champion and is still very much a world-class fighter.
While power is Golovkin’s calling card, one could argue that it’s not so much his power as his ability to set up his power shots that makes him particularly devastating. Pressure and precision account for the majority of his stoppage wins and both were on full display in his last fight against Vanes Martirosyan which saw Golovkin tie Bernard Hopkins’ record of twenty consecutive middleweight title defences.
Martirosyan was a natural light middleweight coming off a lay-off of nearly two years, but had been shared the ring with the likes of Erislandy Lara, Demetrius Andrade and Jermell Charlo. He had been competitive in defeat against all three.
Against Golovkin, he was emphatically not. Although Martirosyan was able to catch Golovkin’s attention with a left-hook at the end of the opening stanza, it only seemed to propel the Kazakh fighter into action. A full-on Golovkin assault followed in the second round which put Martirosyan down and out for the count. Afterwards, the awe-struck loser likened Golovkin’s punches to being hit by a train.
Golovkin might be past his peak, but he is still a great fighter with formidable punching power. And as they say, power is the last thing to leave a great fighter.
KO percentage: 89.5%
#2: Deontay Wilder (40-0-0, 39 KO’s)
Like his fellow knockout artist Golovkin, Deontay Wilder has been the subject of criticism for the level of opposition he has faced during his career up to and after becoming the WBC heavyweight champion.
More strictly speaking, a trawl through his ring resume makes Golovkin’s list of opponents seem like a veritable murderer’s row.
Wilder was brought along incredibly slowly at the start of his professional career, feasting on opponents who ranged from out-of-shape to undersized to over-the-hill. Not one of them heard the final bell. In fact most of them didn’t hear the bell to end the opening round.
The man known as the ‘Bronze Bomber’, in nod to his Bronze medal win at the 2008 Olympics, at times still looks wild, uncoordinated and unrefined in the ring, but he can flat out punch.
Since becoming World champion, Wilder has stepped up his level of opposition, but the outcome has remained the same; a victory by knockout, often in violent and highlight reel fashion. Only one man to date has gone the distance with him, Bermane Stiverne, who Wilder widely outpointed to capture the heavyweight title in January 2015.
In their November 2017 rematch, Wilder erased Stiverne in the first round, leaving him looking like he was playing limbo with the bottom rope.
His most recent title defence against Luis ‘King Kong’ Ortiz was by far his toughest fight to date. Ortiz, a skilled fighter with excellent power of his own, outboxed Wilder for large portions of the fight and had him badly hurt and nearly out in the seventh round. Wilder not only demonstrated the heart to survive, but recovered and came back with his own withering barrage in the tenth round to stop Ortiz in explosive fashion.
The jury may still be out on who the true king is at heavyweight, but there can be no doubt that the Bronze Bomber is the best pure puncher in the division.
KO percentage: 97.5%
#1: Artur Beterbiev (12-0-0, 12 KO’s)
Artur Beterbiev turned professional in 2013 with the expectation that he would be moved along quickly in part due to an extensive and distinguished amateur background, but also due to his advanced age (in boxing terms) of twenty eight years.
So it proved to be when in 2014, with just five professional bouts to his name, he faced former belt-holder Tavoris Cloud.
Cloud was coming off a title loss to Adonis Stevenson, but had showcased abnormal toughness in that fight by never being taken off his feet – despite being hit with everything but the kitchen sink by the Haitian-Canadian knockout artist – before his corner wisely pulled the plug after the seventh round.
Beterbiev blitzed Cloud, knocking him down three times in the first round and, finally, for the full count in the second.
It was a major statement and immediately put the rest of the light heavyweight division on notice.
Since demolishing Cloud however, Beterbiev has only fought six times against underwhelming opposition, including his last fight which saw him stop the obscure Enrico Koelling in the final round to capture the IBF light heavyweight title.
Despite achieving his dream of becoming a World champion, Beterbiev has failed to really capture the imagination of the boxing world in the way that might have been envisaged back in 2014 when he flattened Cloud.
It is a shame, as the man from Dagestan, Russia may well be the sport’s premier puncher.
He has knocked out every opponent he has faced as a professional – many of whom, like Cloud, entered the contest with a reputation for durability or having never been stopped – in frightening fashion.
Paraguayan hard man Isidro Ranoni Prieto had gone twelve competitive rounds with the WBC’s number one ranked contender Eleider Alvarez. Beterbiev put him down twice, rattled him with every meaningful punch landed and left him looking like the victim of a mugging, all in the space of one round.
Beterbiev’s power is such that even his short-range cuffing punches, the type usually thrown in clinches, can discombobulate an opponent.
The Caucasus seems to be a breeding ground for world class grapplers, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that Beterbiev has unbelievable strength on the inside.
He is economical with his punches and wastes little, stalking his opponents with patience and poise. When the ending comes, it is swift and brutal. Just ask the unfortunate Gabriel Campillo. The former light heavyweight titlist did his best to keep away from Beterbiev but only survived till the fourth round when a vicious left hook put him to sleep on his feet and caused blood to pour from his mouth as he crashed to the canvas.
Campillo later declared that Beterbiev hit even harder than fellow light heavyweight power puncher Sergey Kovalev. That, ladies and gentlemen, is some serious power.
KO percentage: 100%
Article by: Paul Lam
You can follow Paul on Twitter at: @PaulTheWallLam