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Top 10 Greatest Defensive Boxers of All-Time!

Publish Date: 06/05/2024
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis
LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 02: Manny Pacquiao throws a right at Floyd Mayweather Jr. during their welterweight unification championship bout on May 2, 2015 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

It’s all about hitting and not getting hit, and today, we will look at the best at not getting hit.

Criteria

This list is kind of easy. This list is for guys who were dang near impossible to hit. Some danced, some stood in the pocket, and made you miss. These men were great at giving angles, and even if they stood in front of you, they were still hard to hit.

10) Henry Armstrong

ESPN recently named Armstrong third on their list of 50 Greatest Fighters Ever, Armstrong earned championships in three weight divisions – which, given today’s less restrictive weight divisions would likely amount to seven championships across seven weight classes had Armstrong been alive at that time.

Armstrong fought a lot and many times in the same week. Armstrong was a legendary offensive fighter, and his defense was spot-on.

Video: Henry Armstrong - Bob & Weave Defense

Henry Armstrong – Bob & Weave Defense

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9) Jack Johnson

Johnson, who hails from Galveston, Texas, is a product of his time. Back then, Johnson took a more measured and patient approach; Johnson would wait patiently until mistakes occurred before seizing on them and capitalizing.

Now, if you watch films of him, I find it hard to believe he would be as effective today, but in his time, he was a revolutionary defensive fighter and one of the most controversial boxers of all time.

Video: The Legendary Jack Johnson

The Legendary Jack Johnson

8) Gene Tunney

Tunney was known as an exceptional boxer with superior boxing ability. He defeated Jack Dempsey twice, including what became known as “The Long Count.” Dempsey was one of the most beloved fighters during this era of boxing history. What if Gene Tunney didn’t retire after beating Jack Dempsey?

Tunneys most memorable win was over Jack Dempsey at Heavyweight, but his mark was made at the Light Heavyweight division where he was one of the best that ever lived at that weight.

Video: Gene Tunney - The Technical Genius

Gene Tunney – The Technical Genius

7) James Toney

Toney is well known for slipping and rolling with punches to avoid taking their full impact. Fading or Swaying allows fighters to counter more effectively by creating opportunities to counter an opponent’s punch; unfortunately, not every fighter possesses the timing needed for such maneuvers – Toney stands out as one of those adept at using them successfully.

Toney started at Middleweight, but his defense was so great that he fought all the way up onto the heavyweight division were he was still beating major contenders.

Video: James Toney - Defensive Slips & Counters

James Toney – Defensive Slips & Counters

6) Young Griffo

Griffo did not treat his boxing career seriously. He usually did not train at all for his fights. If legend is to be believed, he often arrived in the ring drunk or hung over. Even so, he could win more than his share of fights while absorbing only minimal punishment.

It is mindblowing to wonder how great Griffo could have been if he would have trained harder. Griffo by boxing historians is always considered one of the greatest defensive boxers of all-time.

Video: Young Griffo - 03-18-2015

Young Griffo – 03-18-2015

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5) Wilfred Benitez

Wilfred Benitez of Puerto Rican and New York heritage epitomizes what can only be described as the term “boxer-puncher.” Not only was his defense tremendous, but his aggressiveness was unparalleled. He went toe to toe with Leonard and Hearns and beat Duran.

Benitez, like Griffo, was not always committed to training, which probably shortened his career and led to health complications later in life. He still beat Roberto Duran easily but lost a close decision to Thomas Hearns.

Video: Wilfred Benitez - Amazing Defense

Wilfred Benitez – Amazing Defense

4) Muhammad Ali

Ali was an amazing defensive fighter; one of the finest ever at the back-pedal knock-outs and creator of rope-a-dope. Ali moved with the grace of a ballerina in the 60s, and his intelligence and defense continued into the 70s.

His technical defense was not legendary, but he did things others were incapable of doing because his speed was that of a Welterweight fighting in the heavyweight division.

Video: MUHAMMAD ALI-DEFENSE MASTER

MUHAMMAD ALI-DEFENSE MASTER

3) Floyd Mayweather

Floyd’s speed, counter punching and defense led him to an undefeated career. He was at his best below 147 and his defense against Diego Corrales may have been the best fight of his career.

At 147, he hand-picked his opponents, and more often than not, no one could touch Floyd.

Video: Floyd Mayweather Defensive Genius (Defense Highlights) HD

Floyd Mayweather Defensive Genius (Defense Highlights) HD

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2) Pernell Whitaker

Pernell Whitaker earned himself the “Sweet Pea” moniker due to his smooth southpaw fighting style and legendary defense. At only 25 years old, Ring Magazine recognized his hard work by crowning him Fighter of the Year.

Whitaker is one of the greatest Lightweights in boxing history, and that says a lot, as the Lightweight division is one of the most stacked in boxing history.

Video: Pernell Whitaker - This is Boxing

Pernell Whitaker – This is Boxing

1) Willie Pep

Pep’s career spanned 26 years and featured 241 bouts with only 11 losses (that’s less than 5 percent! Pep’s competition was great and if you watch the film on him you will know why he sits ar the top of this list.

Video: Willie Pep - Footwork & Defense Highlights

Willie Pep – Footwork & Defense Highlights

Honorable Mentions

Winky Wright

With an arm span larger than his height, Wright was constructed for defense. His “peek-a-boo” boxing guard allows him to operate behind an impenetrable shield; when Wright puts up his guard, his elbows extend all the way to his waistband while still covering his head.

Roberto Duran

Duran developed a reputation as a brawler, but it was simply not true as Duran was a nuanced technical fighter, more commonly referred to as a boxer-puncher; his combat expertise allowed him to battle skillfully when required and exchange aggressively at any moment.

Benny Leonard

Benny was an unbearable machine in the lightweight division because of his defensive wizardry.

Bernard Hopkins

Bernard Hopkins stands out as a masterful boxer of his generation. Retaining his Middleweight Championship 20 times consecutively is an astounding achievement that still stands as a record today.

Nicolino Locche

Loche was a legendary defensive boxer, he won 117 fights but only knocked out 14 of his opponents. He possessed uncanny reflexes, standing in front of his opponents with his hands lowered at his sides, behind his back or even resting on his knees as he slipped, bobbed and weaved to avoid his opponent’s punches. No matter what he did it seemed nobody could touch him in his prime.

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