20) Riddick Bowe
Like Mike Tyson, Bowe was his own worst enemy, but when he was at his best he was special. His three-fights with Holyfield were one of the best trilogies in heavyweight history. In fact, the first fight with Holyfield is what gets him on this list. He was damn good that night.
19) Mike Tyson
Why so low? The people listed ahead of him were mentally tougher! Tyson was a terror against inferior competition but did struggle against the likes of James Tillis and Bonecrusher Smith. His best win was against an over-the-hill blown-up light heavyweight in Michael Spinks. Tyson was defeated by Holyfield twice and then Lennox Lewis, and before you delusional Tyson fans start screaming, Tyson was past his prime. Remember one thing, Tyson was supposed to beat an over-the-hill Holyfield. In the end, Tyson’s resume does not match up to the guys listed above him. Put it like this, Norton beat Ali, Klitschko was champ for a decade, and Tunney beat Dempsey twice.
18) Ken Norton
This man is one of the most underrated heavyweights ever. He could have easily won decisions three times over the great Ali. Styles make fights. His war with Holmes was razor-close, and Ali and Holmes are two of the greatest heavyweights of all time.
17) Wladimir Klitschko
Klitschko dominated the division for a decade and beat everybody. Early in his career, Wladimir was derided as being a glass chin white hope, but by the time his career was over, Klitschko was finally getting the credit he deserved.
16) Gene Tunney
Tunney pound for pound is an all-time legend. He ranks this low because he really only has two fights at heavyweight, but what fights! Tunney upset Jack Dempsey and then beat him a second time and both were blowout wins.
15) Vitali Klitschko
Why Vitali here and not Wladimir? That’s easy you can’t question Vitali’s chin! His greatest win may have been his loss in a bloody battle with the great Lennox Lewis. Injuries shortened the number of title defenses Klitschko would have but anybody on this list would have trouble in a fight against Vitali.
14) Ezzard Charles
Charles was the greatest light heavyweight that ever lived who never got a shot at the title. Charles moved up to heavyweight and owns victories over an older but still tough Joe Louis. He also defeated Jersey Joe Walcott, and defended the heavyweight title numerous times. He gave Rocky Marciano all kinds of hell losing a 15 round decision to the Rock and then split Marciano’s nose open, before Rocky recovered to stop Charles in the eighth round.
13) James J. Jeffries
Jeffries retired as an undefeated heavyweight champion and had wins over James J. Corbett, Bob Fitzsimmons, Joe Choynski, and Tom Sharkey. Jeffries was an all-time great fighter and was considered that way at the time of his retirement. Unfortunately, he will most be remembered for coming back five years after retirement to fight Jack Johnson. Jeffries was a shadow of himself that day. I will make the case that a prime Jeffries may have beaten Jack Johnson.
12) Harry Wills
Wills holds wins over a host of top heavyweights including Luis Firpo, “Big” Bill Tate, Kid Norfolk, Sam Langford, Billy Miske, Sam McVea, Battling Siki, and the great Joe Jeannette. He never got a shot at the title against Jack Dempsey even though he was more than deserving.
11) Sonny Liston
Liston had a great jab and was a menacing personality in the ring. He destroyed Floyd Patterson in the first round not once, but twice. Liston was a 7-1 favorite over Ali but of course, nobody foresaw Ali someday being the greatest of all time. Liston also knocked out Cleveland Williams, Nino Valdes, Roy Harris, Zora Folley, and Eddie Machen.
10) Jack Johnson
There are so many false myths about Johnson that people believe that are ridiculous. One thing that is not a myth is the fact that Johnson was a great fighter. Johnson beat the likes of Sam Langford, Tommy Burns, James J. Jeffries, Stanley Ketchel, Jim Flynn, Joe Jeannette, and Sam McVea. He eventually would lose his title after being knocked out by Jess Willard. A lot of people think the fight was fixed. It wasn’t.
9) Jack Dempsey
Most heavyweights before Dempsey were straight-up fighters, Dempsey was different with his bobbing and weaving attack. He was a relentless body puncher who would cut you down to size.
8) Evander Holyfield
Holyfield was the greatest cruiserweight in boxing history and when he moved up to heavyweight most thought it would be a lost cause with a man named Mike Tyson sitting on the throne. Tyson of course was upset by Douglas who Holyfield emphatically wiped the floor in three rounds to win the title. Holyfield then stood toe-to-toe and beat George Foreman. All in all, Holyfield always gave fans their money’s worth and would go on to beat Tyson twice and Bowe once.
7) Joe Frazier
Frazier’s only losses were to Ali and Foreman twice each, but he did win the first fight with Ali and on that night in March he could have beaten anybody who ever fought, that night he was special. He owns wins over Jimmy Ellis, Buster Mathis, Jerry Quarry, Joe Bugner, Oscar Bonavena to name a few.
6) Lennox Lewis
Lewis is at number six because the two losses to Rahman and McCall make it hard to put him over the guys in the top five. But Lewis was a legend and defeated an older version of Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson. He beat and dominated a prime David Tua and at the end of his career won an epic war with Vitali Klitschko.
5) George Foreman
Foreman was a wrecking machine in the 1970s as he blew through the heavyweight division. He destroyed both Joe Frazier and Ken Norton in two rounds each and would later beat Ron Lyle in an all-time classic slugfest. Foreman retired for a decade after losing to Jimmy Young. While most thought Foreman’s comeback was a joke, he proved it wasn’t by giving a prime Evander Holyfield all he wanted. Finally, at the age of 45, he knocked out Michael Moorer to regain the title he had lost to Ali twenty years before.
4) Larry Holmes
Holmes won the title by beating Ken Norton in one of the greatest heavyweight title fights of all time. He then defended that title over an 8-year span. Holmes had one of the greatest jabs in history and was one of the toughest men in boxing history. He was knocked down by Earnie Shavers and looked like he was about to lose his title. Holmes got up and stopped Shavers in the 11th round. It is true that he did not fight guys like Page, Coetzee, and Dokes but does anybody think he really losses to any of these fighters. None of those guys had the heart to dethrone Holmes.
3) Rocky Marciano
I know this will piss the younger generation off. Marciano never lost and beat Jersey Joe Walcott twice. Yes I know Walcott was 38-years-old, but that was when Walcott was at his best. He beat the great Ezzard Charles twice, and Charles was one of the greatest fighters of all time. His win over Joe Louis is always discounted, but Louis was favored over Marciano and was ranked number one. “The Brown Bomber” had beaten multiple top ten contenders over the previous two years. Marciano fought all of the deserving contenders of his time and deserves more respect than what he gets.
2) Joe Louis
Louis was champion for almost 12 years and defended his title 25 times. The Brown Bomber scored maybe the greatest win any boxer ever got with his rematch win over Max Schmeling.
1) Muhammad Ali
Nobody comes close to fighting the quality of competition that Ali did during his reign. Wins over Liston, Frazier, Foreman, Norton are pretty special but throw in the Quarry, Patterson, Bonavena, Lyle, Shavers, Folley, Ellis, and Ali is number one.