World Boxing Legends
Over the last century many boxers have proved themselves in the ring but there are a small selection that will always be remembered as true world boxing legends.
Arguably the most famous of the twentieth century’s boxing champions, Muhammad Ali was born in 1942 as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr and went on to win 56 of his 61 professional fights. He won the world heavyweight championships three times and the 1960 Olympic light-heavyweight competition gold medal in Rome. In 1964 Ali was crowned heavyweight champion after beating Sonny Liston at Miami Beach and famously claiming, “I am the greatest, I shook up the world” – it was difficult to argue with him by the end of his career.
Ali’s in-ring exploits were highlighted by a series of particularly famous contents. For example, in 1970, he met his match in what was deemed ‘the fight of the century’ when, meeting undefeated champion Joe Frazier in the ring, the boxers endured a gruelling 14 rounds before Frazier took the title in the 15th round. This would be outshone in 1974, when he regained his heavyweight title in a match deemed ‘the Rumble in the Jungle’ against George Foreman. The great fights continued to come, and just one year later, he would touch gloves with Frazier in the so-called ‘Thriller in Manila’, again taking the fight in the final round under remarkably gruelling conditions.
Ali went on to earn his third and final heavyweight crown in 1978 when he dethroned champion boxer Leon Spinks – but the success was short-lived, as Ali for all intents and purposes moves out of the boxing spotlight. Ali retired permanently in 1982, after being diagnosed with Parkinsons disease but his legacy lives on and in 1999 he was crowned sportsman of the century by the BBC. He is best known as a remarkable pound-for-pound boxer, performing extremely well against boxers of a similar weight but most susceptible to a bigger man. As well as his legendary fighting prowess, Ali has also made a name for himself as a champion of causes in the developing world, travelling across continents delivering aid and campaigning for human rights.
Sugar Ray Robinson
Born in Georgia in 1921 as Walker Smith Jr, Smith became Ray Robinson when he borrowed a friend’s (Ray Robinson’s) boxing card to use the Harlem Gym. Sugar Ray Robinson was a name that stuck after his coach George Gainford saw him box for the first time and described his style and motions as being ‘sweet as sugar’.
Robinson began fighting professionally in 1940 after winning the New York Golden Gloves championship and in 1946 he gained the world welterweight crown. Robinson held his title for five years winning a staggering 91 fights without defeat. The welterweight champion didn’t stop there and between 1951 and 1960 he became middleweight champion five times. When he retired from boxing in the mid-1960’s Robinson had won 128 fights with 84 of his wins being knock-outs and lost just two fights in his professional career. Muhammad Ali described Sugar Ray Robinson as “the king, my master, my idol” and in 1999 the Associated Press honoured him as the greatest middleweight and welterweight boxer of the century. His legend still lives on as arguably the best pound-for-pound boxer ever to put on some gloves.
“Big George” Foreman was an American two times heavyweight world champion and the oldest man ever to have won the heavyweight crown. Starting his career at just 19 years old, Foreman entered the limelight by winning the gold medal in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. His development was remarkable as, between 1969 and 1971, Foreman was undefeated in all his fights, memorably beating George Chuvalo in 1970 and establishing himself as one of the toughest knockout boxers in world history. In 1971 Foreman took on Joe Frazier, the heavyweight champion in the ring and went on to defeat Frazier by knockout in two rounds in a complete demolition job. However, disappointment would follow as Foreman lost his crown to Muhammad Ali in the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ in 1974.
That was not to be the end of Foreman, however, as he continued to box and pick up victories. His longevity was remarkable and, in 1994 at the tender age of 45, he stunned boxing fans world-wide by defeating Michael Moorer in the tenth round to become heavyweight champion for the second time. Foreman finally retired from boxing in 1998 and in 2003 he was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame and named the 9th greatest boxer of all time by Ring Magazine.
Born in 1919 to the boxer ‘‘Fighting Nick Bob, Rocky Graziano” is today best known in relation to the series of popular Rocky films he inspired. Growing up on the streets of New York, Rocky began a life stealing and committing petty crimes but in 1939 he began boxing, winning the Metropolitan AAU welterweight title.
After joining the army in 1942, Rocky became a professional boxer, making his name when he knocked out renowned middleweight boxer Billy Arnold in 1935. In 1946 Rocky fought his first title fight against middleweight champion Zale and although Zale retained his title it was a close game. Marciano would return in 1947 for the rematch and dethroned Zale to become the middleweight champion of the world. The following year Zale defeated Rocky again but Rocky again responded with a series of wins. However, the challengers continued to come and, in 1948, he took on the legendarySugar Ray Robinson. Although Rocky lost the fight, Robinson claimed that no boxer ever stung him as much as Rocky did. Marciano’s impact was still palpable and has endured even after his retirement. At his funeral in 1990 Vito Antuofermo, former middleweight champion, summed up Rocky’s legacy, claiming that he was “tough, could hit like a mule and had all the guts in the world.”
Olympic gold medallist and world heavyweight champion, American boxer Joe Frazier was born in 1944, moving to New York after his parents died where he demonstrated a natural ability for boxing. His career began with a series of fights around the country, the reward being the Middle Atlantic Golden Gloves heavyweight championship, and in 1964, after Buster Mathis injured his hand, Frazier went on to represent America in the Tokyo Olympics. Frazier won the gold medal and made his name worldwide.
Becoming a professional boxer in 1965, it took Frazier just 5 years to pick up his first heavyweight title at the expense of Jimmy Ellis. The challengers flocked to Frazier, starting with Muhammad Ali in 1971’s ‘Fight of the Century’. Despite losing to Ali, he would remarkably shake off the loss and respond with a victory in the rematch, becoming the first man to beat Ali in his professional career.
To a large extent, Frazier’s career has been defined by his rivalry with Ali and this would culminate in two matches in 1974 and 1975 respectively. Sadly for Frazier, he would lose both of these but the 1975 ‘Thrilla in Manila’ illustrated just how well-matched they were, being one of the closest meetings in boxing history (Frazier’s coach refused to let him out for the last round, as both men struggled in extreme conditions). Frazier retired in 1976 after losing to George Foreman in the sixth round but his rivalry with Ali continued and during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics Frazier provoked Ali by claiming that he would have liked to push him into the Olympic flame!
England born Frank Bruno won forty of his forty-five matches and finally became world heavyweight champion in 1995. Bruno began his professional career in 1980, beating a string of contestants by knock-out until he was taken down by James “Bonecrusher” Smith. Bruno had several opportunities to gain the world boxing crown but after starting off well, brought about a series of defeats against Tim Witherspoon, Mike Tyson and finally Lennox Lewis. Bruno was finally crowned champion after beating Oliver McCall” after twelve rounds but his title reign did not last long and he was knocked out by Tyson in three rounds before retiring from the game in 1996.
American-born world heavyweight champion, Mike Tyson became the youngest boxer in history to earn the heavyweight crown. Nicknamed “Iron Mike Tyson”, Tyson was known for his superior strength in the ring which meant that many boxers were too afraid to hit him. He was also renowned for his hand-speed, coordination, accuracy and timing and for effective defensive abilities marked by his legendary ‘peek-a-boo’ style.
After defeating a string of heavyweight champions during the 1980s, Tyson was crowned world heavyweight champion in 1988 after dethroning Leon Spinks. He remained undefeated for two years until he succumbed to James “Buster” Douglas in Tokyo during 1990.
Feared in the ring, Tyson was also a dangerous man outside of the boxing world and in 1992 he was sent to prison for raping an American beauty pageant contestant. Emerging from prison in 1995, Tyson staged a series of ‘comeback fights’ until he lost to Evander Holyfield. Two years later, Tyson and Holyfield met in the ring once more and became one of Tyson’s most talked about fights when, after receiving what he saw to be intentional head butts from Holyfield, Tyson bit off a portion of Holyfield’s ear. After his final win against Clifford Etienne 49 seconds into round one in 2003, Tyson went on to lose three fights before finally retiring in 2005. In 2003, Tyson was named 16th on a list of a hundred greatest punchers of all time and his legacy as one of the greatest boxers of all time, as well as one of its greatest tragedies, lives on today.
Born in 1953 in Missouri, Leon Spinks was the brother of the Olympic middleweight gold medallist Michael Spinks. Unlike his brother, Leon Spinks was a heavyweight boxer but at just 205 pounds he was the lightest heavyweight boxer in history. In 1976, Spinks won the heavyweight gold medal at the Montreal Olympics but his most significant fight came just two years later when he met Muhammad Ali in the ring. Spinks’ meeting with Ali came as only his eighth professional fight but he was undeterred and became one of very few heavyweight boxers to beat Ali in the ring during his prime. Seven months later the pair met again and Ali dethroned Spinks making his title reign one of the fastest gained but shortest lived crown in boxing history.
Known as a ‘killing machine’ in the boxing ring, Sonny Liston was also a brute outside of the ring and over the course of his professional career he won fifty fights and was arrested nineteen times.
His first true success came in 1962, beating Floyd Patterson to become world heavyweight champion, and he would defeat Patterson again in 1963 courtesy of a first round knock-out. In 1964 Liston faced the-then Cassius Clay but, after claiming a shoulder injury, refused to come out for the second round, deeming Clay the victor. The out-and-out favourite Liston was accused of throwing the match and, when he lost to Ali in the first round in their 1965 rematch, similar accusations were made with some claiming that Liston was not actually hit by the punch that floored him.
After a series of wins Liston had another attempt at the heavyweight title in 1969 but was knocked out by Leotis Martin. In 1970 Liston won his last fight defeating Chuck Wepner by knock out. A year later his body was found by his wife in their Las Vegas home and although his death remains a mystery some believe he was victim of murder.
Known as ‘the Lion’ in the boxing world, Lennox Claudius Lewis was born in England in 1965 and moved to Canada at the age of 12, going on to win championship titles for both England and Canada and losing only two matches in his entire career. In 1988, Lewis made a name for himself by winning a gold medal for Canada in the summer Olympics. He then went on to win the European heavyweight title in 1990, the British heavyweight title a year later and the Commonwealth title in 1992. In the same year Lewis knocked out Canadian boxer Donnovan “the Razor” Ruddock in two rounds, earning him the crown in the World Boxing Council championships. He then went on to defend his title three times, most significantly in an eight round defeat of Mike Tyson. Lewis’ career ended in 2003 after a match against Vitali Klitschko which ended prematurely after Klitschko received a serious cut above his eye. Lewis was crowned the winner despite Klitscko’s lead and Lewis retired with his championship title still in place.
Arguably a legend in the making, British-born Ricky Hatton, aged just 29, is already regarded as one of the greatest British boxers of all time and one of the top pound-for-pound boxers in the world. Making his debut against Colin McAuley at a leisure centre in Widnes, Hatton was immediately noted for his skill in the ring and his second fight was in the legendary Madison Square Garden, New York.
Since then, Hatton has won many important welterweight competitions, including the WBA title, and has beaten some of the world’s best players. He is set to fight Floyd Mayweather in December 2007 in what has been called by some as one of the biggest fights in the history of the sport.