Oleksandr Usyk’s defeat of Tyson Fury has prompted a rethink in some quarters of where both men stand in the pantheon of all-time heavyweight greats. Fury, at least, had been creeping up some all-time lists, and although he has a chance to regain his status with victory in a rematch, his historical greatness is for now somewhat up in the air. 

Usyk’s placement also has yet to be determined, and it is possible, perhaps even likely, that perceptions of each man’s overall body of work will change between now and the day when, as inevitably they will be, they are inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Neither of them appear on this, one man’s attempt to come up with an all-time Top 15, largely because it is tricky to assess a boxer’s career while it is ongoing: consider by way of evidence a 1991 Ring Magazine ranking that placed Evander Holyfield at 3 and a young Lennox Lewis at 32.

A few notes about the list below: it does not include African-American fighters from the segregation era – names such as Harry Wills, Sam Langford, and Joe Jeannette – because, their undoubted greatness notwithstanding, it is hard to draw comparisons between fighters who were swimming in such different waters. You may consider that a cop-out or even an affront, and perhaps you’d have a point.

There is a case to be made for the inclusion of the likes of Ezzard Charles and Jersey Joe Walcott in place of, say, Tyson or Klitschko; but it is difficult to ignore the longevity of the latter and the raw impact of the former.

Nobody’s list – of anything – should be taken definitively or even seriously. Outside of Ali and Louis being some combination of 1 and 2, pretty much any and every position on this one is open for debate. If you think Dempsey is too high, or that Marciano should be higher: cool. Maybe you’re right. That’s why no two of these lists are ever the same.

One final note: the records of some fighters from earlier eras can be open to interpretation; in all cases I have relied on the records listed by the Hall of Fame.

15. Wladimir Klitschko

Career: 1996-2017

Record: 64-5 (53 KOs) 

Over the course of two reigns, held at least a portion of the heavyweight title for longer than anyone else in history (12 years and two days). After an upset loss to Lamon Brewster in 2004, he rebounded to win the IBF belt and embark on a nine-year reign, in which he notched 18 successful defenses and added WBA and WBO straps. Retired after losing back-to-back bouts to Fury and, in a classic fight in front of 90,000 at Wembley, Anthony Joshua.

14. Mike Tyson

Career: 1985-2005

Record: 50-6 (44 KOs), 2 NCs

The youngest person ever to win a portion of the heavyweight title when he flattened Trevor Berbick in 1986 at age 20, he became lineal champion with a one-round blowout of Michael Spinks two years later, but personal demons and technical limitations meant that he never became quite the force it at one point seemed he would. Upset losses to Buster Douglas and Evander Holyfield sandwiched a prison spell for rape; he was disqualified from the Holyfield rematch for twice biting his opponent’s ears. A late career tailspin culminated in an embarrassing loss to Kevin McBride, but he has retained his appeal and, at age 58, will fight 26-year-old Jake Paul in August.

13. Gene Tunney

Career: 1915-1928

Record: 61-1-1 (45), 1 NC, 19 NDs

One of only four heavyweights in history to retire as champion, Tunney lost only once, was never knocked out, and suffered only one knockdown – in the controversial “Long Count” fight, his 1927 rematch with Jack Dempsey. Considered one of the more cerebral champions of his era, he eschewed the more widespread penchant for slugging in favor of detailed analysis and patient dissection of his foes. He also, for good measure, became the first boxer to earn a million dollar purse (technically, anyway: he was paid a little over $990,000 for the Dempsey rematch, but fronted promoter Tex Rickard the difference so he could receive a check for an even million.

12. Sonny Liston

Career: 1953-1970

Record: 50-4 (39)

It’s difficult to know where to place Liston, if at all. On the one hand, the losses to Muhammad Ali, especially the rematch, remain controversial, justifiably or not. The accusatory stench of Mob involvement followed him for much of his career and even after his death. But at his peak, Liston possessed a level of intimidation that could never be challenged until peak Tyson; there was a reason Floyd Patterson avoided him for so long, and it manifested itself in a pair of first-round knockouts that Liston inflicted on him. Possessed of a thumping jab and devastating knockout power, Liston’s career petered out ignominiously following the Ali losses and he was found dead, at age 38, of an apparent drug overdose – although suspicions of foul play persist.

11. James Jeffries

Career: 1895-1910

Record: 18-1-2 (15)

It is a sign of how much things have changed that Jeffries, at 6ft 2 ½ins and 220 pounds, was considered a giant of a man. In preparation for his title shot against the taller but skinnier Bob Fitzsimmons, he developed his patented “Jeffries Crouch”: bending low at the waist, his left arm extended and his chin protected by his right arm. It worked: he knocked out Fitzimmons in the 11th round of a scheduled 20. He defended successfully against Tom Sharkey (a decision over 25 rounds), John Finnegan (KO1), James J. Corbett (KO23), Corbett and Fitzsimmons again, before retiring undefeated following a knockout of Jack Munroe – only to emerge unadvisedly from a nearly six-year retirement to make an unsuccessful challenge of champion Jack Johnson.

10. Evander Holyfield

Career: 1984-2011

Record: 44-10-2 (29)

An indomitable spirit who regularly conquered larger foes, Holyfield’s claim to be a four-time heavyweight champ owes much to the proliferation of belts, but he is a legitimate two-time lineal champion, as well as a former cruiserweight kingpin, courtesy of his knockout of Buster Douglas and his revenge win over Riddick Bowe in the “Fan Man” fight. Twice faced down Mike Tyson, and lost part of an ear as a consequence. Has, however, been dogged by unproven claims of PED use.

9. Lennox Lewis

Career: 1989-2003

Record: 41-2-1 (31)

A two-time lineal champ who defeated every man he faced in the ring, even if he required two attempts against Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman. Not always appreciated at his peak, his stature has grown with time. Although a showdown with Riddick Bowe never happened, he met and beat the best of the rest of his era, including Tyson, Holyfield, David Tua, Andrew Golota and, in a bloody finale, Vitali Klitschko. Could jab his opponents to a standstill (e.g. Tua) or flatten them with his right hand (see Michael Grant, Golota, the Rahman rematch, among others). Before Usyk, the last undisputed heavyweight champion.

8. Jack Dempsey

Career: 1914-1927

Record: 61-6-8 (50), 6 NDs

The “Manassa Mauler” may not have had the prettiest style ever seen, but his bobbing, weaving, two-fisted attack was highly effective and made him hugely popular. Half of his knockouts came in the first round, and he won the world title from Jess Willard after flooring him seven times in the opening frame and forcing him to quit after three. Lost his title on points to Gene Tunney, who beat him again in a rematch that was rendered controversial by a “long count” administered to Tunney in the seventh round.

7. Joe Frazier

Career: 1965-1981

Record: 32-4-1 (27)

Largely defined by his intense rivalry and three-fight series with Muhammad Ali, Frazier possessed one of the greatest wills of any heavyweight champion. Used his comparatively short stature to his advantage, bobbing and weaving under the punches of taller opponents to assault their body and head with a ferocious attack. Became recognized as champion in Ali’s enforced absence and underlined his status by dropping Ali in the final round on his way to victory in March 1971. He couldn’t get to grips with George Foreman, who stopped him twice, but otherwise terrorized perhaps the greatest ever generation of heavyweights.

6. Rocky Marciano

Career: 1947-1955

Record: 49-0 (43)

The “Brockton Blockbuster” is most famous for retiring undefeated with one of the most recognizable records in the sport, but his career was a byword for fortitude and strength. An all-action fighter who would be dwarfed by today’s super heavyweights, he defeated Hall of Famers Ezzard Charles, Jersey Joe Walcott, Archie Moore and a badly shopworn Joe Louis on his way to and in defense of his heavyweight crown, frequently showing relentlessness in the process: Walcott dropped him in round one and built a points lead, but Marciano rebounded to stop the champ in the 13th; and Charles all but split Marciano’s nose in half in their 1954 rematch, prompting Marciano to go all-out for a knockout, which came in the eighth.

5. Larry Holmes

Career: 1973-2002

Record: 69-6 (44)

Perhaps the most technically adept man on the list, Holmes rode his signature jab to 17 successful defenses of the world title he won in an epic battle against Ken Norton in 1978. Scored a dominant win over an Ali who by that stage should not have been anywhere near a ring, and a knockout of Gerry Cooney in a bout that was heavily hyped and racially-charged. Retired after two decision losses to Michael Spinks, but made a series of comebacks before finally retiring for good at age 52.

4. George Foreman

Career: 1969-1977; 1987-1997

Record: 76-5 (68)

Foreman would likely have been on this list even if he had remained retired following a loss to Jimmy Ellis in 1977, but his legendary status was cemented when he returned a decade layer on a seemingly quixotic attempt to regain the heavyweight title, which he succeeded in doing at age 45 by knocking out Michael Moorer in 1994. Won his first title in 1973 by dropping Frazier six times in two rounds; lost it to Ali in the “Rumble in the Jungle” the following year. Retired for good following a controversial loss to Shannon Briggs in 1997.

3. Jack Johnson

Career: 1897-1928

Record: 77-13-14 (48), 19 NDs

Forced because of his skin color to wait for his title shot, the “Galveston Giant” finally became the first African-American heavyweight champion when he beat Tommy Burns in Australia in 1908. As notorious for his playboy lifestyle as for his in-ring exploits, Johnson inspired and scandalized in equal measure. Victories over Stanley Ketchel and a comebacking James Jeffries solidified his status; he lost his title to Jess Willard in 1915 at age 37. He continued boxing sporadically until he retired for good in 1928, aged 50.

2. Joe Louis

Career: 1934-1951

Record: 66-3 (52)

Plenty would argue Louis should be number 1 on the list and for good reason. After winning the world title in 1937, he held on to it until 1948, making a record 25 successful defenses. Louis won his first 27 contests before being upset by Max Schmeling; he won the rematch inside a round. Possessed of a stiff jab, solid left hook and powerful right hand, his punches were strong and compact. Retiring as champion in 1948, he came back in 1950, going 8-2 and retiring for good after being knocked out by Marciano in 1951.

1. Muhammad Ali

Career: 1960-1967; 1970-1981

Record: 56-5 (37)

The tragedy of Ali’s career was that “The Greatest” had his best years taken away from him. After dominating Cleveland Williams, Ernie Terrell, and Zora Folley in quick order, he was stripped of his title and banned from boxing for refusing induction into the United States military; by the time the US Supreme Court ruled the move was unconstitutional in 1970, three years had passed and he was 28. He suffered his first defeat to Frazier in “The Fight of the Century” in 1971, but regained his title by shocking Foreman in Zaire in 1974. Victory over Frazier in Manila should have been his swansong, but he fought on, losing the title to, and regaining it from, Leon Spinks before retiring, unretiring, and shuffling to two unnecessary and damaging defeats to Holmes and Trevor Berbick.

Read the full article here