12) Wladimir Klitschko 64-5
(Notable victories: Lamon Brewster, Sam Peter, Chris Byrd, David Haye, Alexander Povetkin)
Heavyweight champion: 2000-2003 (WBO)
Heavyweight champion: 2006-2015 (IBF, IBO, WBO, WBA, RING)
The third longest serving heavyweight champion of all time, a tremendous athlete known as ‘Dr Steelhammer’ and for good reason, with a dynamite left hook and a tremendous right hand which racked up 18 defences of the lineal heavyweight title, I have Wladimir in at number 10 because despite his tremendous technical abilities, the Olympic Gold medallist never really over extended himself in search of dynamic heavyweight performance of obliterating his opponent in a ferocious manner.
he seemed to do the bare minimum to achieve victory, and his loss to Tyson Fury where he seemed unwilling to throw punches added to a tarnished image after his KO losses to Ross Purrity and Corrie Sanders as he seemed unwilling to let grit his teeth and have a fight, that does not take away from the fact he is one of the most gifted boxers technique wise and furthermore with his ability to process and think in the midst of a fight, makes him a tough fight for anybody in the history of the division. He made a gallant attempt to reclaim the title in a memorable, titanic, changing of the guard title clash with Anthony Joshua in his final showing before calling time on a decorated career.
11) Sonny Liston 50-4
(Notable victories: Nino Valdez, Cleveland Williams, Zora Folley, Eddie Machen, Floyd Patterson)
Heavyweight champion: 1962-1964
Liston, in his prime was terrifically skilled fighter with capabilities to fight inside and throw tremendous short punches while also boasting the joint second longest reach of all the heavyweight champions with Lennox Lewis which allowed him to box very well on the back foot, with a terrific jab. Liston is fondly remembered next to Joe Louis as arguably the finest boxer-puncher to ever hold the holy grail of boxing championships.
Liston brought with him into the ring a sense of menace that had not been seen for over 30 years since the era of Jack Dempsey, Intimidation was a big part of his arsenal and he was very clever in the way he used it, the glare, the scowl, the abruptness in the way he spoke to the press, the towels underneath his robe so when he stood across from you at the last minute instructions, he bulked and looked even bigger than he was, he stormed to the top of the heavyweight rankings going toe to toe and overcoming fierce punchers like Zora Folley and Cleveland Williams among others and when he finally landed a chance at the title obliterated the youngest heavyweight champion ever at that time in Floyd Patterson inside a round, he went on to repeat the feat in a rematch with Patterson.
On the other hand what hurts Liston are: his destructive appetite for drugs and alcohol which appeared to lead to Liston struggling to complete the full distance of fights, his ties to the underworld and the mob, which led to him throwing certain fights and most importantly his questionable heart, evident by his two losses to Muhammad Ali where he seemed to be able to not overcome resistance and this led many to believe he was a bully type fighter.
10) Joe Frazier 32-4-1
(Notable victories: George Chuvalo, Jimmy Ellis, Oscar Bonavena, Jerry Quarry, Muhammad Ali)
Heavyweight champion 1970-1973(WBC,WBA, RING)
Smokin’ Joe Frazier, a truly great aggressive fan friendly fighter, who would come forward and take 3 punches to land 1 and with his abilities to close off the ring and connect with power, most frequently with the left hook, and every time he threw the left hook he threw it with such sublime technique to create enormous leverage. He was a truly dominant fighter, beating all the top contenders of his day such as Oscar Bonavena and Jerry Quarry furthermore he was the man culpable for handing Muhammad Ali his first loss in The Fight of the Century in 1971, where Smokin’ Joe turned in one of the finest displays in heavyweight history as well as battling him a further two times and pushing Ali to the very brink especially in their third and final bout, A fight which cemented Joe’s legacy and revealed his heart, threshold for punishment and mental toughness to us all, if there were any doubters left at that point.
Nevertheless if not for being unable to see going into the final round in their rubber match in Manila Joe very well may have regained the heavyweight championship. However what does hurt Frazier’s legacy is that he fought in the ‘golden age’ of heavyweights and he didn’t fight all the top contenders of his day including Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, Ron Lyle, Earnie Shavers, Ken Norton amongst others and the two top contenders that he did fight, George Foreman and Muhammad Ali, he lost 4 times out of a possible 5.
9) Mike Tyson 50-6 (2 NC)
(Notable victories: Trevor Berbick, Larry Holmes, Michael Spinks, Frank Bruno, Razor Ruddock)
Heavyweight champion 1986-1990 (WBC,WBA,IBF,RING)
Heavyweight champion 1996 (WBC,WBA)
The youngest heavyweight champion of all time is ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson. That speaks volumes for me personally, to have been such a complete fighter at such a tender age. He also is technically one of the best fighters of all time in the way he achieved the goal of being able to hit hard with either hand and be defensively proficient in the way he makes you miss with incredible elusive abilities with his head. He was well schooled by the renown Cus D’Amato. However what hurts his legacy is that Mike Tyson always struggled to complete the full distance of a championship level bout.
Also to my eye, there were issues with his mental toughness exhibited when he was knocked out in his prime against an unremarkable opponent in James ‘Buster’ Douglas. Furthermore he was knocked out against the two best fighters of his generation in Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis and similarly to Sonny Liston, he was perceived to be a bully type fighter who came up stuck against a fearless opponent.
8) Jack Dempsey 65-6-11 (1 NC)
(Notable victories: Jess Willard, Georges Carpentier, Jimmy Darcy, Luis Firpo, Jack Sharkey)
Heavyweight champion 1919-1926
Dempsey spearheaded the golden age of sports, the 1920’s and revolutionised the sport both in the ring and out of it, with his record breaking first million dollar gate against Georges Carpentier and his revolutionary style of swarming and attacking with mean intentions, wearing a scowl and looking to finish you with every punch he throws, in an age when boxing was very stand-off.
Dempsey first and foremost was a dominant champion of his time, finishing men much, much bigger than he was, proven by his victories against Jess Willard and Luis Firpo in particular. Dempsey stylistically was a ferocious puncher with concussive kayo power in either hand and showcased his power in his prime with 8 first round KO’s in 11 fights in the lead up to his heavyweight title shot versus Jess Willard, his power was legendary he hurt every man he ever fought including the fighting marine; Gene Tunney, who I believe was knocked out in the rematch in Soldier Field, Chicago.
Anybody who has ever been hit hard ever knows you can recover and shake off the fogginess of it inside a blink of an eye and Tunney needed those precious four seconds. However what does hurt Dempsey in my mind in his quest of being the number 1 heavyweight of all time is the fact that he was a very inactive champion, not fighting for 3 years of his title reign from 1923 through 1926 and his legacy is tainted by his and his legendary manager Jack Kearns’ refusal to fight black contenders and in particular Harry Wills.
7) Evander Holyfield 44-10-2(1 NC)
(Notable victories: George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Riddick Bowe, Mike Tyson, Michael Moorer)
Heavyweight champion 1990-1992(WBC,WBA,IBF,RING)
Heavyweight champion 1993-1994(WBA,IBF,RING)
Heavyweight champion 1996-1999(WBA,IBF)
Heavyweight champion 2000-2001(WBA)
The only 4-time heavyweight champion of the world, he was written off so many times and the mark of true champion is to defy the odds and show their longevity. Holyfield had such a thorough arsenal of weapons which makes him one of the best fighters we have seen in this modern era of boxing.
He was a fighter who could win coming forwards and going backwards, he has one of the best chins we have ever seen, and has a very effective spoiler style of fighting where he smothers you and lands combinations to the body and head before his opponent can get punches off, he is very capable defensively with his ability to catch punches and ability to counter while also having good lateral movement among many other weapons demonstrates what a complete fighter he was.
Evander’s legacy is underlined by his abilities to outfight some of the hardest punchers in heavyweight history in Mike Tyson and George Foreman in particular, but Evander is not higher on the list due to his struggles when a bigger man fights him on the back foot using the jab as a predominant part of their game plan evident in his losses against Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis.
6) George Foreman 76-5
(Notable victories: George Chuvalo, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Ron Lyle, Michael Moorer)
Heavyweight champion 1973-1974 (WBC, WBA, RING)
Heavyweight champion 1994 (Lineal, WBA, IBF)
In my estimation, he is the hardest puncher to ever walk the earth and probably the hardest puncher p4p in the history of boxing although that is debatable with fighters such as Julian Jackson. Nevertheless, on top of that, he also holds the record as the oldest man to ever win the heavyweight championship of the world.
He had tremendous power in either hand and he came out with the swagger and aggression that was historically associated with the heavyweight champion, seen by champions like Jack Dempsey, Sonny Liston and Mike Tyson. He came into the ring with the mindset to finish the fight as soon as possible, his sole focus was to destroy his opponent and threw every punch with bad intentions.
George also embarked on a monumental comeback after a 10-year hiatus from the ring and achieved unprecedented success by breaking the record set by Jersey Joe Walcott to become the oldest reigning champion in history, a record which would stand until 2011 when Bernard Hopkins dethroned Jean Pascal in Montreal, Canada.
5) Lennox Lewis 41-2-1
(Notable victories: Evander Holyfield, David Tua, Hasim Rahman, Mike Tyson, Vitali Klitschko
Heavyweight champion 1993-1994(WBC)
Heavyweight champion 1997-2001(WBC,WBA,IBF,IBO,RING)
Heavyweight champion 2001-2003(WBC,IBF,IBO,RING)
Undeniably, the last man standing in his era, he cleaned out his division when it was probably aside from the 1970’s at the best it ever had been, he dominated and cleaned out the division and beat top contender after top contender, His left hand was one of the most accurate and powerful jabs we have ever seen and his right hand was a thing of beauty, alongside Earnie Shavers the best right hand I have ever seen in the history of the heavyweight division. 14 defences in all speak volumes about the legacy he left in the division.
However, his inability to climb up off the canvas and fight on hurts his legacy and leads some to believe he was another on top fighter. I believe in terms of technical ability he could be the most complete to ever be heavyweight champion and in a head to head matchup, on top of his game I feel only Larry Holmes and Muhammad Ali at their peaks would make competitive fights with him, but fatigue issues and a lack of ability to move his head does leave him susceptible to some, especially those who can throw the looping right hand, the punch which knocked him out twice.
4) Rocky Marciano 49-0
(Notable victories: Joe Louis, Roland La Starza, Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles, Archie Moore)
Heavyweight champion: 1952-1955
The most relentless, the fiercest fighting machine that ever walked the earth, without a shadow of doubt in my mind. If there was ever one man who defined the world champion it is Rocky Marciano, every time I watch the man he gives the vibe that he is ready to die before surrendering his title. I understand he is an outdated fighter and after the 1960’s, Marciano would not have been competitive. But for his day he is a dominant champion that stopped some of the slickest and skills wise complete fighters of all time in Ezzard Charles and Archie Moore.
He had such rare gifts that set him apart from his tolerance for pain, his dedication to condition himself into ultimate shape with every fight and his ability to summon his absolute best when on the brink of destruction highlights that Marciano’s legacy shows that fighters can show greatness despite being limited in terms of conventional boxing ability. The fact remains he dominated his time like no other heavyweight champion beating everybody into submission without ever having faced defeat.
Marciano’s legacy is hurt by the fact his defining fights were indeed against fighters who had been part of the prior era and were all in and around 40 years of age at the time of fighting Marciano and the fact that as prior mentioned in match ups with the other champions on this list he wouldn’t be able to compete due to the growth in size of the heavyweight division over the years.
3) Larry Holmes 69-6
(Notable victories: Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers, Muhammad Ali, Gerry Cooney, Ray Mercer)
Heavyweight champion: 1978-1985(WBC,IBF,RING)
The snappiest and most technically sound left jab in the history of boxing defines Larry Holmes, 20 consecutive heavyweight title defences on top of fighting his first 48 fights without a defeat also defines Larry Holmes.
Holmes was a masterful fighter who is overlooked a lot this is mostly due to the fact his era was sandwiched between the era’s of Muhammad Ali’s reign and Mike Tyson’s reign arguably the 2 fighters who had the most significant cultural impact on boxing ever. Nevertheless, Holmes was such a well-rounded fighter with masterful footwork and lateral movement, with heart and a chin of a true champion proving as much by getting off the floor against Earnie Shavers.
He had everything you want a fighter to have and I really thought hard about whether he warranted the number 1 spot.
The Spinks fights definitely hurt him, while I still believe Holmes clearly won the second. The way Spinks unorthodox movement puzzled him, I see how problems could arise against a prime Cassius Clay, but nevertheless one of the greatest fighters of all time.
2. Muhammad Ali (AKA Cassius Clay) 56-5
(Notable victories: Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, George Foreman)
Heavyweight champion 1964-1967(WBC,WBA,RING)
Heavyweight champion 1974-1978(WBC,WBA,RING)
Heavyweight champion 1978(WBA,RING)
At the peak of his powers, he has the fastest hands, feet and reflexes ever seen at heavyweight, if you go back and watch the footage of the Cleveland Williams, Zora Folley fights, the speed is breathtaking. He stormed onto the boxing scene by beating up and making Sonny Liston quit and from then he proclaimed he was ‘The greatest’ and when you look at his resume its hard to disagree after having his prime unfairly taken from him, he remade himself as a bigger fighter with a greater tendency to stand and trade with an opponent and he shocked the world once again 10 years on from the Liston fight against the unbeaten George Foreman to become the first man to regain the heavyweight championship before rounding off an epic trilogy with Joe Frazier by stopping him in Manila a year later.
However Ali’s problems are that he does not have the one punch power you typically associate with a heavyweight champion, he does not punch to the body and his over reliance on his speed and reflexes led to him taking a lot of punches once his speed deteriorated. But it should be said that this also led to us discovering one of the greatest chins of all time. I do think he is the most talented heavyweight of all time and while I do think he would stop Joe Louis between 13 -15, I do not think he accomplished as much as Joe did in his respective reign.
1) Joe Louis 66-3 (1 NC)
(Notable victories: Max Baer, Primo Carnera, Max Schmeling, Billy Conn, Jersey Joe Walcott)
Heavyweight champion: 1937-1949
The longest championship reign of any heavyweight champion, that accomplishment must set Louis apart. To make 25 consecutive defences undeniably means that you are the most dominant of any fighter ever. Louis fought all comers and beat everybody and was involved in the most monumental of all fights in his 1937 match against Max Schmeling was fuelled with so much political and racial hatred involving the ‘champion of the Aryan race’ where Hitler had used Schmeling as a symbol especially after his KO of Louis, a year earlier.
Louis had the expectations of all Americans heaped onto his shoulders and he obliterated Schmeling within 1 round. From there to go on and make 21 defences of the title over the next 12 years was remarkable and there were some very stellar wins, being pushed to the brink of destruction in 1941 against Billy Conn and summoning his best and forcing a stoppage with his signature uppercut was a remarkable accomplishment. He did the same thing again when he was approaching the twilight of his career against the slick Jersey Joe Walcott after a very disputed decision in their first bout he obliterated a great fighter with a savage uppercut combination.
Joe Louis warrants the number 1 spot on this list because he is simply put the best puncher of all time, technique wise and the way he delivered his punches, how short they were, the leverage he summoned and where he placed his punches was immaculate. He could knock your head off with either hand and he could do it with various shots, the uppercut, the hook, the right hand etc. However I do understand why some would disagree that Louis deserves the number 1 spot, some may cite he was too easily hittable, but regardless nobody in the history of boxing and I don’t think anybody ever will accomplish more than Joe Louis.
The criteria I tried to incorporate when ranking my list include cultural impact, how they dominated their era, how they did against the best fighters of their era, records, how they responded in bleak situations, technical skill set.
Once again, on a final note I would just like to add some honourable mentions to my list: Jack Johnson, James J Jeffries, Gene Tunney, Max Schmeling, Ezzard Charles, Riddick Bowe, Jersey Joe Walcott, Vitali Klitschko, Max Baer, Floyd Patterson and Sam Langford. All deserve their spot in the pantheon of heavyweight greatness but I based my list on the total body of work while at heavyweight and these legends just missed the cut. I hope nobody gets upset with the list! If it does upset you, I’m sorry and it is not what I intended.