After Rocky Marciano knocked out Jersey Joe Walcott to become the heavyweight champion of the world he was quoted saying, “What could be better than walking down any street in any city and knowing you’re the heavyweight champion of the world?”; a rhetorical question that expressed very simply what a world title meant to Marciano, and ultimately, to any professional boxer. But, some of boxing’s greatest fighters never got the same satisfaction for one reason or another. I have decided to compile a list of my top 20 greatest fighters to never win a world title.
Many of the men on the list were avoided by some of the contenders and champions of their eras, others were chained down by the business side of boxing, while the rest fall under a long list of complications that prevented them from being champions – but an endless amount of skill and ability is something they all had.
Here is my personal top 20 in order:
1. Sam Langford
Langford was the bogeyman of boxing. Probably the most feared and avoided fighter in any era because of his skills and knockout power. He often fought men much larger than himself and was successful doing so. Langford fought all-time greats from lightweight to heavyweight and won bouts against 10 different Hall-of-Famers.
Some of his wins were against but not limited to: Sam McVey, Harry Wills, Joe Jeanette, Joe Gans, and Stanley Ketchel.
2. Charley Burley
Burley had issues with the business side of boxing, but it was about the only thing he didn’t master regarding the sport. He fought men much larger than himself, including light heavyweights and heavyweights, despite being a welterweight and middleweight during his career. He beat multiple fighters who would go on to be champions while never getting a title shot himself.
Some of his wins were against but not limited to: Holman Williams, Archie Moore, Jack Chase, Aaron Wade, and Cocoa Kid.
3. Mike Gibbons
Gibbon’s masterful boxing and defensive craftsmanship along with a solid punch made him hard to beat for any all-time great, and very few turned the trick in his own era. Gibbons set the bar for all middleweights that followed him and very few have come close to the St. Paul Phantom’s greatness even a hundred years later.
Some of his wins were against but not limited to: Harry Greb, Jack Dillon, George Chip, Chuck Wiggins, and Jeff Smith.
4. Packey McFarland
McFarland tackled any foe in sight. Great footwork, a nasty punch, and great ring generalship kept McFarland winning with consistency from the start of his career until the end. He felt best at a weight just above the lightweight limit (which was 133 lbs. at the time) and not many of the lightweights in his era were eager to swap wits or punches with him.
Some of his wins were against but not limited to: Owen Moran, Jack Britton, Mike Gibbons, Freddie Welsh, and Cyclone Johnny Thompson.
5. Holman Williams
Williams was such a brilliant boxer that heavyweight champion Joe Louis acquired advice from him. Even legendary trainer Eddie Futch couldn’t help but notice and brag on Williams’ unbelievable skills and talent, saying he had the finesse of Ray Robinson. Williams met a plethora of killers through his 16-year career and after bad hand injuries at the beginning of his career, still managed to find success when he changed his style by fighting more defensively.
Some of his wins were against but not limited to: Charley Burley, Archie Moore, Lloyd Marshall, Bert Lytell, and Eddie Booker.
6. Tommy Gibbons
Gibbons was a well-rounded boxer who stayed consistent throughout his career and never lost to a fighter that is not in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. With great footwork, high ring IQ, a hard punch, and an iron chin, there were very few fighters who beat him.
Some of his wins were against but not limited to: Harry Greb, George Chip, Kid Norfolk, Battling Levinsky, and Georges Carpentier.
7. Cocoa Kid
Kid possessed a lightning-quick left jab paired with a brain rattling right hand that kept some champions/contenders far away from any ring Cocoa Kid stepped in. Cocoa Kid’s dazzling footwork allowed him to glide across the ring as he ripped win after win. He was thrown in with stiff competition all through his career and several of his losses were by split decisions.
Some of his wins were against but not limited to: Jimmy Leto, Eddie Booker, Jack Chase, Holman Williams, and Louis ‘Kid’ Kaplan.
8. Joe Jeanette
Jeannette was a real-life ironman who seemed to fight harder as the fight got rougher. With a great jab and well-rounded skills, he was a tough match for anyone. If you add in his cast iron chin he became a nightmare. Heavyweight champion Jack Johnson refused to face Jeanette in a long route fight, while the champion admitted his style was too hard for him to solve. Jeanette knew his trade so well that many in his and later eras asked for Jeanette’s advice and help in training.
Some of his wins were against but not limited to: Sam Langford, Sam McVey, Sandy Ferguson, Georges Carpentier, and Jeff Clark.
9. Lew Tendler
Tendler was a savvy and rugged left-handed lightweight that fought in what many think is the toughest era for lightweights in boxing history. Tendler came close to dethroning lightweight champion Benny Leonard, who I consider to be the best lightweight of all-time, but just fell short. ‘Lefty’ Lew was not afraid of bigger competition either and went after those in the welterweight division as well.
Some of his wins were against but not limited to: Ever Hammer, Johnny Dundee, George ‘KO’ Chaney, Richie Mitchell, and Rocky Kansas.
10. Wesley Ramey
Ramey tore into the professional boxing scene from the very beginning of his career and didn’t slow down until his retirement nearly 12 years later. During his career he was ranked in the top 10 of the lightweight division in nearly every year he fought but never got a shot at the lightweight title. He beat numerous champions in his career and was a clear threat to anyone in the division.
Some of his wins were against but not limited to: Lew Jenkins, Cocoa Kid, Tony Canzoneri, Benny Bass, and Chino Alvarez.
11. Jimmy Bivins
Bivins wreaked havoc in every weight class he fought in, which started at middleweight and ended at heavyweight. In his 15-year career he conquered many of his era’s world champions and many more Hall of Famers. He didn’t shy aware from many of his era’s deadliest punchers either, some of which weren’t world champions or hall of famers but certainly could make it on a longer version of this list of uncrowned fighters. Some of his wins were against but not limited to; Archie Moore, Charley Burley, Lloyd Marshall, Gus Lesnevich, and Ezzard Charles.
12. Willie Joyce
Joyce, by many accounts, had one of the best left jabs in his division’s history. He veered into wars with larger men as well and was never stopped. An educated left jab and an almost endless bag of tricks made Joyce one of the best fighters in his era. Unfortunately, like Lew Tendler, he was a victim in a stacked class and had to deal with some of the toughest competition in the division’s history.
Some of his wins were against but not limited to: Henry Armstrong, Chalky Wright, Allie Stolz, Ike Williams, and Leo Rodak.
13. Kid Norfolk
Norfolk was a vicious two-fisted attacker with speed and agility that tackled light heavyweights and heavyweights alike. Norfolk battled men larger than himself but with his short but powerful build he was a menace to anyone that stepped into the ring with him. He was able to collect wins over some of the champions and Hall of Famers that he did manage to get in the ring with him.
Some of his wins were against but not limited to: Joe Jeanette, Billy Miske, Tiger Flowers, Battling Siki, and Jack Blackburn.
14. Lloyd Marshall
Marshall was a strong and heavy-handed terror in the ring. Some of the avoided men in Marshall’s era were happy to steer clear of him and for good reason. Marshall’s skills and merciless assault made him a fan favorite and an obvious choice for champions to ignore. To add to his troubles, Marshall had the misfortune of fighting at a time when shady characters (like the mob) had their hands in boxing, which effected many boxers, including him early in his career.
Some of his wins were against but not limited to: Ezzard Charles, Charley Burley, Freddie Mills, Jake LaMotta, and Joey Maxim.
15. Jack Blackburn
Blackburn carried a stinging shot in either hand that was setup with his crafty boxing and agility in the ring. Like many others on this list, Blackburn was willing to tackle men much larger than himself throughout his career. Blackburn showed a mean streak inside and outside of the ring that made many of his contemporaries skittish.
Some of his wins were against but not limited to: Joe Gans, Dave Holly, Mike Donovan, Harry Lewis, and George Cole.
16. Billy Petrolle
Petrolle was as tough as old boots and nobody had a more savage assault than the ‘Fargo Express’. Petrolle is one of boxing’s best body punchers who displayed bone-breaking power whenever he landed on an unlucky foe. Petrolle was feared by some of boxing’s all-time greats because of his bloodthirsty battle tactics.
Some of his wins were against but not limited to: Jimmy McLarnin, Jack ‘Kid’ Berg, Tony Canzoneri, Battling Battalino, and Cuddy DeMarco.
17. Eddie Booker
Booker was a crafty and cerebral fight with decent power. Booker’s calculated counter-punching and defensive skills made him a hard night’s work for any pugilist. Along with Charley Burley, Archie Moore called Booker the best fighter he ever fought. With better backing and the right opportunities Booker might have been a champion.
Some of his wins were against but not limited to: Lloyd Marshall, Archie Moore, Holman Williams, Harry ‘Kid’ Matthews, and Johnny ‘Bandit’ Romero.
18. Jose Basora
Basora was a tall, hard-punching middleweight with a ferocious body attack. Basora was another fighter that didn’t have many knocking down the door to fight him. But even so he was matched hard by his manager that seemed to have no concern of his fighter’s well-being. Although he didn’t win, Basora managed to hold a prime ‘Sugar’ Ray Robinson to a draw in a grueling fight.
Some of his wins were against but not limited to: Jake LaMotta, Fritzie Zivic, Holman Williams, Henry Brimm, and Young Gene Buffalo.
19. Jack Chase
Chase never won a world title, but his talent and skills showed results by winning many regional titles. Some of his out of the ring issues (prison) put a pause on his boxing career for a few years and even though he had success when he returned to the ring, he just never could catch a break, or a title shot.
Some of his wins were against but not limited to: Aaron Wade, Lloyd Marshall, Eddie Booker, Harry ‘Kid’ Matthews, and Archie Moore.
20. Billy Graham
Graham had one of the best chins in boxing history, a brilliant left jab and was a master of range and timing. Graham kept a busy schedule in his 14-year career and made a habit out of winning consistently throughout his time in the ring. More than half of his losses (mostly against all-time greats), were by very close decisions.
Some of his wins were against but not limited to: Kid Gavilan, Carmen Basilio, Art Aragon, Joey Giardello, and Paddy Young.