Top 10 Welterweights in Boxing History

The best of the best
American boxer Sugar Ray Robinson (1921 - 1989) in training with a punch bag at Roger Oquinarenne's gymnasium in Paris for his world middleweight fight against Britain?s Randolph Turpin. Original Publication: Picture Post - 5350 - Sugar Ray - pub. 1951 (Photo by Bert Hardy/Getty Images)

Today I want to discuss the top ten welterweights of all time. You won’t find Roberto Duran on this list. I think Duran was a top-2 or -3 lightweight and maybe the best, but his career at welterweight was brief. Henry Armstrong is lower on the list than you would expect, but, like Duran, I see Armstrong as a top-3 lightweight who would have had significant problems with the size of the guys ranked above him.

10) Joe Walcott (Record: 92-25-24, 58 KOs)

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Before there was “Jersey Joe”, there was the “Barbados Demon”. Walcott beat 5 World Champions: “Mysterious” Billy Smith, Rube Ferns, Dixie Kid, Honey Melody and Jimmy Gardner. Amazingly, Walcott fought a draw with the legendary Sam Langford and the great lightweight Joe Gans. Walcott fought all comers no matter what size they were and was fearless and heavy-handed. He was a true pioneer and seminal historical figure in the sport of boxing.

9) Thomas Hearns (61-5-1, 48 KOs)

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Hearns was a great fighter, but a lot of his success occurred at higher weight classes. He is on this list for his brief dominance in the welterweight division. Had Hearns not fought Sugar Ray Leonard, he might not be here. He outboxed Leonard and won the fight before getting knocked out after running out of gas in the 14th round of their first fight. Hearns beat some excellent welterweight contenders such as Randy Shields, Bruce Curry and Harold Weston.  His knockout of Pipino Cuevas in 1980 earned him Ring Magazine’s Fighter of the Year award.

8) Jimmy McLarnin (54-11-3, 20 KOs)

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McLarnin faced 5 World Champions: Jackie Fields, “Young” Jack Thompson, Lou Brouillard, Young Corbett III and Barney Ross. A case can be made that he was at his best at lightweight, but he still faced a consistently faced a demanding schedule in the ring. He retired at the young age of 29 and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991. Arguably McLarnin’s most significant victory was winning over the great Young Corbett III to win the title in 1933 via first-round knockout.

7) Henry Armstrong (151-21-9, 101 KOs) 

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I believe that Henry Armstrong was, pound-for-pound, one of the top-3 fighters of all time. As stated earlier in this article, Armstrong not only ranks as one of the top lightweights of all time, but he was also one of the best welterweights ever. “Homicide Hank” only really fought three great welterweights in Barney Ross, Fritzie Zivic and Sugar Ray Robinson. He moved up to welterweight to win the title over Barney Ross, between winning the featherweight and lightweight crowns. Undersized and often fighting below 140lbs while welterweight champion, Armstrong still defended the title 18 times over two years.

6) Jose Napoles (81-7, 55 KOs)

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His best days may have been at lightweight also. Still, it is hard to argue with a man that faced and beat five welterweight titlists in Curtis Cokes, Emilie Griffith, Hedgemon Lewis, John Stracey and Billy Backus—known as “Mantequilla” because he was smooth as butter in the ring.

5) Manny Pacquiao (57-5-2, 38 KOs)

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Pacquiao has beaten a who’s who list of fighters, including Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito and Tim Bradley, to name a few. He is not higher because the great Juan Manuel Marquez knocked him out. That is why he is rated below Mayweather at this moment. Of course, that can change on May 2nd.

4) Barney Ross (72-4-3, 22 KOs)

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He was a gifted boxer who became the first man to simultaneously hold the Lineal Title in three divisions, with the third coming when he beat the legendary Jimmy McLarnin to win the Welterweight Championship. Ross also beat the highly-rated Ceferino Garcia three times. He won 2 out of 3 against McLarnin and would be an inaugural inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

3) Floyd Mayweather (47-0, 26 KOs)

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In a win over Marquez, it was the fact that it was Marquez’s first fight moving up to 147 from 135. Hard to rate an undefeated fighter any lower than this. There are wins like the Ricky Hatton fight where it probably should have taken place a couple of years earlier in the junior welterweight division. But, overall, the majority of the Mayweather wins in the last few years have been against excellent fighters.

2) Sugar Ray Leonard (36-3-1, 25 KOs)

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In my opinion, the top two on this list are no-brainers. Leonard, on his way to the title, beat almost every top contender possible. He won the title in 1979 over the great Wilfredo Benitez, stopping Benitez at the end of the 15th round. That set up a fight with Panamanian legend Roberto Duran. Leonard stood toe-to-toe with Duran, almost beating him at his own game. He lost a close decision but proved to everyone that there should be no doubt about his bravery in the ring. In the rematch, Leonard moved, boxed and frustrated Duran to the point where, in the eighth round, Duran turned and walked away. Leonard’s toughness was unquestioned after his epic confrontation with Thomas Hearns.  Trailing going into the 14th round, Leonard mounted a furious assault, leaving Hearns battered and broken. The win cemented Leonard’s legendary status at welterweight.

1) Sugar Ray Robinson (173-19-6, 108 KOs) 

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This list is Robinson and then everyone else. Robinson had an unbelievable record as a welterweight of 110-1-2! Robinson beat the likes of Jake LaMotta, Marty Servo, Fritzie Zivic, Kid Gavilan and Henry Armstrong. To me, there should be no question that Sugar Ray Robinson was indeed the best!

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