I love doing these lists. I grew up in the 70s and 80s – the heavyweights were always my favorites. Today we are going to rank the most underrated heavyweight boxers since 1950. This list is in no particular order.

 

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Floyd Patterson

Floyd has been consistently disrespected. I’ve never seen his name in any of the top 20 heavyweight lists. He’s still the youngest lineal heavyweight champion of all time and before the Tyson mob cries, please look up the meaning of lineal, that is, if you can read. Floyd was an undersized heavyweight but beat a lot of quality fighters. Patterson was 55-8, with 4 of those losses coming to Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali. The two Liston blowout losses I believe diminishes his legacy the most, but overall, his resume is outstanding. His wins are impressive. He beat Ingmar Johansson two out of three and defeated Archie Moore, Eddie Machen, George Chuvalo, Henry Cooper, and Oscar Bonavena. Both fights against Jerry Quarry were razor close. He could have won them both. His lack of size was the killer in the end against big heavyweights, but he had blazing speed and his legacy should be much more respected than it is.

Zora Folley

Folley was ranked in Ring Magazine’s top 10 for 11 straight years. Yes, 11 years. Great boxing skills, and good power. Folley has largely been forgotten and that’s a damn shame because he was an excellent fighter. Folley gave a good account of himself in a title challenge against a prime Muhammad Ali. That’s what most remember, but Folley had a solid resume. In 1956 he defeated Nino Valdes, KO’d Henry Cooper in Wembley and defeated the likes of Eddie Machen, Doug Jones, Mike DeJohn, and Bob Cleroux. Also, he beat Oscar Bonavena, George Chuvalo, and got robbed in a horrible draw against Karl Mildenberger. Include a win over Bob Foster, but Foster had issues with a lot of heavyweights. 

Jimmy Young

Decisions, decisions, decisions, those are what ruined the career of Jimmy Young. The questionable judging began in a rematch with Earnie Shavers. A very green Young had lost by knockout in just his 11th bout against Shavers. In the rematch that followed, most ringside observers felt Young should have got the nod. Young followed that performance with a win over the very tough Ron Lyle – ranked third at the time and in line for a shot at Ali. Lyle somehow got the Ali fight a few months later.

Young would get his shot about a year later against Ali. He fought well and many observers thought he deserved the decision, but it was not to be. The judges had Young losing by wide margins. Young would recover with a victory over Lyle in a rematch and then defeat George Foreman in what is easily his greatest win. 

Young was ranked number two and would battle number one ranked Ken Norton in a WBC title eliminator. The bout was close but I thought Young did enough to win. The judges didn’t see it that way. Judge Raymond Baldeyrou called six rounds even, and judge Jim Rondeau called five even. Judge Art Lurie scored just one round even and not coincidentally he is the judge that scored the fight for Young. After the fight, referee Carlos Padilla said, “If I had had a vote, I would have voted for Young.”

Young was never the same after that fight against Norton. He lost his next two fights to the limited Ossie Ocasio and seemed to be fighting with little motivation. He was also out of shape in many of his subsequent bouts.

Skill-wise and in-shape Jimmy Young could be a nightmare for any heavyweight boxer at any time, but as it so often happens, the politics of boxing wore him out.

Oscar Bonavena

Ringo was one of the toughest men to ever enter a boxing ring. In just his ninth professional fight he fought Folley and sustained his first loss. A win over the equally tough George Chuvalo put Oscar on the map in the heavyweight division. Oscar’s next fight was against Joe Frazier. Bonavena decked Frazier twice in the second round but couldn’t keep him there. The 203½ pound Frazier came back gamely with a relentless, punishing attack that gave him the close decision in the eyes of the judges, although most of the 9,069 fans at Madison Square Garden, who were Bonavena fans, booed the decision.

It was close enough to go either way with referee Mark Conn giving it to Frazier 6-4 in rounds, while judge Joe Eppy had Frazier 5-4-1. But judge Nick Gamboli had it 5-5 in rounds and Bonavena 7-5 on points. United Press International scored it 6-4 for Frazier.

Bonavena got a berth into the box off that would determine Muhammad Ali’s successor as the heavyweight champion of the world. His first bout in the quarterfinals of the tourney was a dominant display over Karl Mildenberger who tasted the canvas 4 times. He came up short in a semi-final bout against Jimmy Ellis – who started strong by putting Ringo on the canvas twice. Ringo rallied as the fight went deep. He came up just short in a very close decision.

The last real shot for Oscar was a fight against Muhammad Ali in Ali’s second comeback fight. Ali called Oscar his toughest fight up to that point. Ali was the only man to ever stop Oscar in a 68-fight career.

Harry Wills

Harry Wills was a contender. What he should have been was a world champion. I guess he was a champion, a three-time holder of the world’s-colored heavyweight title, but Wills was never able to get a fight with Jack Dempsey.

Dempsey was adamant about giving Harry a title shot, and the two signed for a fight in 1925, but promoter Tex Rickard, who had promoted Jack Johnson’s biggest fight, balked at the prospect of letting another black man fight for the crown.

The next year, Wills, poorly trained and handled, suffered a disqualification against future champ Jack Sharkey. By then, Wills was 37, and his skills had faded. It’s a damn shame that in 1920 he didn’t get his shot against Jack Dempsey.

Wills defeated Sam Langford, Joe Jeanette, Gunboat Smith, Sam McVea, He beat them all multiple times. Wills will never get the respect he deserves because of racism that existed at the time, but he has a case to make anybody’s top 10 heavyweight list.

James J. Jeffries

Unfortunately, Jeffries is only remembered by most for his loss to Jack Johnson. Jeffries had been retired for five years and had to drop a hundred pounds to get in shape for the fight. I say unfortunately because Jeffries was an all-time great whose legacy gets lost in the shuffle because he came out of retirement.

Jeffries had only 24 professional fights but the wins in his short career are quite impressive. Early in his career, he defeated Peter Jackson. He beat Tom Sharkey, and former heavyweight champions Bob Fitzsimmons and James J. Corbett, twice. To be fair he did fight two draws and two no contests.

Tommy Farr

In his early career, he didn’t have much success. He garnered some wins but also losses. This explains why his overall record does not tell the truth on how good Tommy Farr was.

His first big win came in a hotly disputed decision against the great Tommy Loughran. The fight that catapulted Farr into contender status was a clear-cut decision over former champion Max Baer.

Next up was a title shot against the seemingly invincible Joe Louis. Farr was no “Bum of the Month” and proved it to the whole world by giving Louis one of his toughest title defenses. Referee Arthur Donovan amazingly had Louis ahead 13-2, the other two officials scored the fight much closer at 9-5-1, and 10-5. After the fight, Louis said Farr was one of the toughest men he had ever faced.

Farr’s next fight was against the “Cinderella Man” James J. Braddock. Farr’s decision loss was debatable as most ringside observers thought he deserved the win. Farr lost a rematch to Max Baer and was never really in world title contention again, but I guarantee you anybody that ever saw him fight will never forget the man from Wales.

Joe Frazier

This man is underrated by most and I will puke the next time somebody says Mike Tyson would beat Joe Frazier. Frazier had way too much heart for Tyson. He would have “smoked” Tyson. Please go back and watch Ali/Frazier 1. On that night Frazier would have beat any man that ever lived. Toughness separated Frazier from most and he was tested by the tough Oscar Bonavena in just the 12th fight of his career. He got off the floor twice to defeat Bonavena.

Frazier then ran off a string of impressive wins over the likes of Doug Jones, George Chuvalo, Eddie Machen, Buster Mathis, Manuel Ramos, Jerry Quarry, Jimmy Ellis, and ultimately Ali. Frazier lost fights to Ali and George Foreman. That’s it. It’s criminal the way fans judge Frazier today. Of course, the real fans know the true greatness of Joe Frazier.

Max Schmeling

His first fight against Louis was brilliant, a tactical masterpiece. Schmeling turned it into a battle of his right vs. the Louis jab. His right delivered the coup de grace. There were a mere handful of exchanges, and those were short-lived. Schmeling was considered past his prime when fought Louis. He tamed the young stud and shocked the entire world.

He should have gotten a shot at James J. Braddock’s title after that win but politics got in the way. Louis got the shot and won the title. Instead, Schmeling fought Louis again and was destroyed in less than a round.

Schmeling won the Heavyweight title by disqualification in 1932 against Jack Sharkey and would lose the title to Sharkey in the rematch. Schmeling is not just a Buster Douglas who had one great night. He was a good tough and skilled boxer. Schmeling should be remembered for more than just being from Hitler’s Germany and being destroyed by the great Joe Louis.