The 15 Most Underrated Boxers in Boxing History

The 15 most underrated boxers in history
La secrétaire du masseur Straboni admire les muscles de Holman Williams, boxeur, avant que celui-ci n'affronte Marcel Cerdan sur le ring, en 1946 à Paris, France. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

15) Luis Rodriguez

107(49)-13(3), went 1-2 against Emile Griffith, one of the elite welter and middleweights of the past fifty years. Both losses were split decisions and could have gone either way.

The late Angelo Dundee said this about Rodriguez, “Rodriguez, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated boxers ever.” He further rates Rodriguez as the boxing equal of Ray Leonard, with quicker hands.

Dundee is known to overhype his fighters, but Reading it in the words of the legendary trainer added some merit to having him on this list.

14) Vitali Klitschko

44(40)-2(2) is the better of the two brothers, and he’s far more underrated.

Vitali is the more aggressive and rugged fighter. His only two losses are on cuts (for which Lennox Lewis deserves credit) and due to a shoulder injury. Meanwhile, Vitali went years since he even lost around.

He has one of the best KO percentages in the history of the heavyweight division. If he were American, he’d be written about as one of the greatest of all time.

13) Billy Graham

102(27)-15-9 was a durable defensive technician, notable among other things for having never been knocked down during his entire career. As usual, though, defensive fighters find it hard to respect the average boxing fan.

During the early 1950s, he engaged in highly competitive rivalries and recorded victories over celebrated middleweight champions Kid Gavilan, Carmen Basilio, and Joey Giardello.

12) Eder Jofre

The two-division world champion compiled a glittering 72(50)-2-4 record yet does not appear very high on most all-time rankings.

At the same time, his quality of competition can be legitimately criticized. He lost twice to Fighting Harada, the biggest name on his resume. However, if you watch the film about this fighter, you will see how great he really was.

11) Esteban De Jesus

When boxing critics list Roberto Duran as the greatest lightweight in history, part of their judgment is based upon the work he did against, 58(33)-5(3).

De Jesus gave Duran the first loss of his career. In the rematch, he knocked Duran down before falling to “Hands of Stone” by TKO in 11. Finally, Duran KO’d De Jesus in the rubber match.

10) Carlos Palomino

31(19)-4-3 is a classic case of an outstanding fighter overshadowed by greater contemporaries. But he held the welterweight title for three years and seven defenses, including two legendary wars with Armando Muniz, before dropping a split decision to Wilfredo Benitez.

After losing to Benitez, Palomino lost a one-sided unanimous decision to Roberto Duran. Even though the Duran fight was one-sided, it was still a very competitive fight.

9) Wilfred Benitez

If Carlos Palomino was an outstanding fighter overshadowed by his great contemporaries, Wilfredo Benitez, 53(31)- 8(4)-1, is a great fighter overshadowed by his (perhaps) slightly greater contemporaries.

He lost by TKO to Sugar Ray Leonard in a 15th-round stoppage that has been criticized often over the years. He was badly cut but still seemed more than capable of defending himself through the last seconds of the fight.

It should be noted that he was alert enough to be among the very first people to congratulate Leonard after the stoppage. But he was also clearly behind on points.

Benitez beat Duran at the start of 1982 and lost a majority decision at the end of the year to Thomas Hearns. After that, his career went downhill quickly.

He was a defensive wizard and a boxing prodigy with a track record for hanging tough in the deep waters. On his best night, he is a major problem for any fighter at 147 pounds.

8) Bob Fitzsimmons

A matter of historical record is that he was the first man to hold world titles in three weight classes—middle, light heavyweight, and heavyweight. Furthermore, Fitzsimmons is still the only middleweight champion ever to go all the way up and take the world title from the Lineal Heavyweight title.

I rarely see his name high up on pound-for-pound lists. I’m not sure how high I rank him myself—it’s just too hard to know what to do with a fighter who fought in a radically different era and often under an older set of rules.

But there is no doubt that he routinely beat the biggest and best opponents in the world; he was truly a great fighter in his time.

7) Sam McVea

62(48)-12(5)-8 was a contemporary of Sam Langford, likewise, shut out of many opportunities because of his race. The two Sams fought each other nearly two dozen times, often for what was billed as “The Colored Championship.”

Langford had the better record, but McVea won his share, and many of their bouts were draws. This would absolutely suggest that McVea deserves a fairly high all-time ranking, but he remains an obscure figure.

6) Mike McCallum

49(36)-5-1 is another great fighter like Benitez overshadowed by the quartet of Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, and Duran. But in my opinion, “The Body Snatcher” would have been a very difficult out at 154 pounds for any fighter in history.

McCallum never lost until he moved up to middleweight and challenged Sumbu Kalambay for the WBA belt. After moving up, he was never the same dominant force but remained one of the elite fighters at that weight into the early 1990s.

5) Juan Manuel Marquez

53(39)-6-1 is one of the greatest fighters of the present and recent past. He has been consistently underrated throughout his career.

He didn’t get his first title shot for six years. Then, after he lost his first attempt against Freddie Norwood, it was four more years before he got another chance.

That’s two title shots in 10 years for an all-time great, first-ballot Hall of Famer.

He finished his series with Manny Pacquiao with one of the most convincing knockouts in boxing history, and a case can be made that he won every fight against Manny.

4) Jimmy Bivins

86(31)-25(5)-1 was one of the top light heavyweight and heavyweight contenders during the late 1940s and early 1950s, during the post-war era when boxing was undergoing a huge resurgence in popularity.

Although he never managed to win a belt, Bivins did record victories over a laundry list of former and future world champions, such as Archie Moore, Ezzard Charles, and Joey Maxim. However, he went the distance with Joe Louis and lost to Jersey Joe Walcott via split decision.

You could argue that most of Bivins’ contemporaries who rank ahead of him deserve it. But I consider him a classic example of a much better guy than anybody can really appreciate from across the decades.

3) Ezzard Charles

One of the 5 best light heavyweights in history and probably a top 20 heavyweight; his skill and heart are beyond reproach.

2) Charley Burley

83(50)-12-2, never had the opportunity to fight for a world title.

This Cyber Boxing Zone biography quotes such authoritative experts as Eddie Futch, Ray Arcel, and Archie Moore as having called Burley the best fighter ever.

In my opinion, he is one of the most underrated boxers of them all and quite likely the most talented boxer to never win a world title.

1) Holman Williams

145(36)-30(3)-11 is another all-time great who never got his shot at the title. Williams was a defensive wizard who was largely avoided by the top welterweights and middleweight of his era.

I rated him ahead of Burley because I just think fewer people have heard of him. He fought fellow underrated contemporary Charley Burley multiple times, splitting the series, and he also owned a win over the legendary Archie Moore.

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