By Cliff Rold
The Eight, Pt. 6
For any new boxing fan, the time is not long before a fellow fan points out a magic number which grows more mythologized with time: eight. As in boxing’s original eight weight classes. The number represents in the mind of many a time when the sport was compressed into fields which couldn’t help but be talented, couldn’t help but draw crowds, because there were so few places on the scale to go. They were divisions marked by single champions ever challenged by a depth of contenders today’s seventeen weight classes rarely know.
Reflection and research reveals this was not always the case, but it was true often enough to bestow a mystique on boxing’s ‘original eight weight classes’ which carries through to the modern day. As good as they can be, as great as some of their competitors have been and still are, weight classes prefixed by a “Jr.” designation will always be seen some as bastard spawn which took something away from the game no matter what they added.
Even with classes taking up space in between the old markers, the eight continue to provide memories and spilled blood today. Over the course of this series, homage is paid to boxing’s original eight by identifying the best of their lot through the years.
As the build finished on the road to Manny Pacquiao-Miguel Cotto, the first part of this examination was offered. Energized by the latest Welterweight memory, the page turns to the top ten. Previously, numbers 11-25 were unveiled as:
25) Harry Lewis (1903-16)
24) Young Corbett III (1919-40)
23) Lou Brouillard (1928-40)
22) Roberto Duran (1968-2001)
21) Felix Trinidad (1990-2008)
20) Fritzie Zivic (1931-49)
19) Jackie Fields (1925-33)
18) Pernell Whitaker (1984-2001)
17) Charley Burley (1936-50)
16) Luis Rodriguez (1956-72)
15) Tommy Ryan (1887-1907)
14) Ted Lewis (1909-29)
13) Carmen Basilio (1948-61)
12) Mickey Walker (1919-35)
11) Tommy Hearns (1977-2006)
Today, the list moves to the top ten.
10) Jimmy McLarnin (1923-36)
Record: 54-11-3, 20 KO, 1 no decision
World Champion 1933-34; 34-35
Welterweight Champions/Titlists Faced – 5: (Jackie Fields, “Young” Jack Thompson, Lou Brouillard, Young Corbett III, Barney Ross)
Born in Northern Ireland, “Baby Face” tangled with the highest levels of competition throughout the bulk of his lengthy ring career. Turned professional on his 16th birthday near the Flyweight limit with a first round knockout, McLarnin had wins over Hall of Fame greats Pancho Villa, Fidel LaBarba, a young Jackie Fields, Bud Taylor, Louis Kaplan, and a failed 1928 Lightweight title shot against Sammy Mandell before he’d turned 21. That was the age when he began his assault on the division which defined the bulk of his career. He twice avenged the Mandell loss in non-title affairs in 1929 and 30, the latter win immediately followed with a win over Jack Thompson on points one bout prior to Thompson winning the Welter crown. From there, McLarnin knocked out former Lightweight champ Al Singer in one and the engaged in three straight with Hall of Famer Billy Petrolle, winning two decisions. These consecutive challenges were followed with a split loss to Brouillard and the retiring of an old Lightweight legend, Benny Leonard. His second title shot, this time at 147, came in May 1933 and McLarnin never let it get to the cards, shocking Corbett in the first for the crown. The reign wouldn’t last long. Making his first start in over a year, McLarnin was upended on a split decision by Barney Ross in his first defense. It kicked off a classic New York rivalry which filled the seats at Madison Square Garden and the old Polo Grounds. Four months later, McLarnin returned the favor by the same verdict to regain the crown only to finally lose in May 1935 by unanimous verdict. McLarnin would fight only three times more, losing and then winning versus all-time great Tony Canzoneri and finishing his career with a decision over reigning Lightweight king Lou Ambers. McLarnin retired at only 29 years of age and was voted to the IBHOF in 1991.
Why He’s Here:
If there is a knock on McLarnin, it would be that a lot of his best wins came over Lightweights while competing at Welterweight. It’s a fair argument, but those were some damn good Lightweights and the Welterweights he defeated were of strong fiber. Corbett is an earned Hall of Famer, Ross is one of the game’s all-time greats, and Thompson could easily be in Canastota. McLarnin also gets credit for a consistently tough schedule. While he wasn’t as active as some of his contemporaries, he didn’t waste much time with chattel either. McLarnin was a genuine star and genuinely great fighter.
9) Jack Britton (1905-30)
Record: 104-27-21, 28 KO, 190 no decisions, 2 no contests
World Champion 1915; 16-17; 19-22, 5 Defenses
Welterweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 4: (Perry Graves, Mike Glover, Ted Lewis, Mickey Walker)
Without much more than the occasional knockout punch, Britton competed across three decades. Clinton, New York’s “Boxing Marvel” is forever linked to a 20-fight rivalry with British master Ted “Kid” Lewis. There were a lot of rounds logged before he got to those classics. Turning pro a week shy of his 20th birthday, Britton competed closer to the Lightweight limit early on, learning his trade against Hall of Famers like Packey McFarland and Willie Ritchie. Before either got to the crown, Britton had already faced Mike Glover in a pair of ‘no decision’ bouts, splitting the news verdicts. With official supremacy up for grabs in Boston, Britton bested Glover on points in 12 for his first of three World titles in June 1915. Ten weeks later, Britton’s second bout with Lewis sent the title to the Brit. Lewis would hold on to the crown in a defense one month later and it would take eight more bouts (two of the no decision contests with Lewis) for another shot at the title. On a spring night in Brooklyn, April 1916, Britton won the 20-round decision to regain the throne. This time, it would be Britton’s turn to make a successful defense and he did it twice, over 12 in October 1916 and by draw less than a month later. Four of Britton’s next fourteen would feature Lewis across the ring, the two fighting just often enough to feel married. In a string of four straight bouts, Lewis appeared the news verdict winner twice, with another even, before an officially decided contest, over 20 in June 1917, saw the title change hands again. Yet another four ‘no decision’ contests would pass, among other contests, before the final title exchange. In a March 1919 bout where the title could only change hands on a knockout, Britton scored one in round nine. He would remain champion for three more years, picking up a news verdict over Mickey Walker in 1921 and controversially defending against Lightweight phenom Benny Leonard on a foul in 1922. In his final title bout in November 1922, Britton came off the floor at age 37 to finish the full fifteen, passing the torch to Walker. He would continue on for years but never again fight for the title.
Why He’s Here:
There was much more to Britton than the Lewis rivalry but, like Ali-Frazier or Pep-Saddler, some names just go together. As time has passed, the depth of their disdain and the rounds they logged against each other can sometimes be lost. Beyond Lewis, Britton also managed to beat the likes of Middleweight champ Mike O’Dowd and tough contenders Dave Shade and Lockport Jimmy Duffy. He spent the better part of seven years as the Welterweight champion of the World and was an inaugural member of the IBHOF.
8) Barney Ross (1929-38)
Record: 72-4-3, 22 KO, 2 no decisions
World Champion 1934; 35-38
Welterweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 2: (Jimmy McLarnin, Henry Armstrong)
Already having reigned (and previously rated) at Lightweight and Jr. Welterweight, New York’s Ross became the first man in history to hold three lineal World titles simultaneously when he rose to defeat Jimmy McLarnin for the Welterweight crown in May 1934. Rematching immediately, Ross lost the title in his first defense to maintain a streak of Welterweight champions who had done just that going back to the first reign of Jackie Fields in 1929. It was a statement of depth a parity Ross would ultimately put a stop too following a rubber match victory over McLarnin. While he would defend successfully only twice, Ross won seventeen in a row over the ensuing three years. Among those wins were the defenses against the tough Izzy Jannazzo and future Middleweight champ Ceferino Garcia and a rare for Ross stoppage in two over perennial contender “Baby” Joe Gans. The Garcia defense was the third victory over the Filipino bolo puncher during the winning streak. In was in May 1938 that Ross would lose his title, and end his career, giving way to the man usually credited for first holding titles in three classes simultaneously: Henry Armstrong. Ross’s corner offered to throw in the towel as Ross took a brutal beating but Ross heard the final bell.
Why He’s Here:
A gifted boxer, Ross was probably not his very best at Welterweight which says a lot about how good he truly was. Trained by Ray Arcel, the same man who helped to hone the violence of Duran, Ross was a beautiful boxer. The only two men who could defeat him at Welter, McLarnin and Ross, share space with him in this top ten list and he had a case for being 3-0 against McLarnin. Three victories over the near great Garcia only add to the picture. The Hall inducted Ross of course on day one, an inaugural inductee in 1990.
7) Emile Griffith (1958-77)
Record: 85-24-2, 23 KO
World Champion 1961, 1 Defense; 62-63, 3 Defenses; 63-66, 4 Defenses
Welterweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 3: (Luis Rodriguez, Benny Paret, Jose Napoles)
Born in the Virgin Islands, Griffith was trained by the legendary Gil Clancy and became a staple of the New York scene. A pair of split decision losses, one to future Jr. Middleweight champ Denny Moyer, were his only blemishes on the way up the ranks, weighed against wins over Moyer, Luis Rodriguez (the Cuban’s first), and tough contenders Jorge Fernandez and Gaspar Ortega. In his 25th bout, Griffith topped Cuba’s Benny Paret with a 13th round knockout on April 1, 1961 to win his first of three World titles at Welterweight. Two fights later, the men would swap the title again at Madison Square Garden, Paret awarded a debated split decision. In March 1962, the rubber match between the two became a tragedy. Griffith, perhaps angered in part by being called a slur for homosexuals at the weigh-in, laid a beating on Paret and the Cuban passed away from the injuries. It became a defining moment for Griffith and the sport but didn’t stop Griffith from continuing to win. One fight after a brief step up to win the inaugural Jr. Middleweight crown, Griffith would suffer a decision defeat to Rodriguez for the Welterweight crown in March 1963. Three months later, a split verdict sent the belt back to Griffith. A first round knockout loss to end the year, versus Middleweight Rubin Carter, was a minor setback as Griffith, in June 1964, would add one more split decision win over Rodriguez. Three more title defenses, among a ten fight stretch where Griffith went 8-2 through the end of 1965, led to a successful rise to the Middleweight championship. Griffith would return to the Welterweight division one more time, after two reigns as the king at 160 lbs., losing a lopsided decision to Jose Napoles in October 1969. He would go on to give Carlos Monzon two spirited, if losing challenges, for the Middleweight throne in the early 1970s and continue on until near the end of that decade.
Why He’s Here:
While not the biggest hitter ever seen, Griffith had deceptive power and the deception came with a pair of hands which were blazing fast. Often a thriller in the ring, Griffith gave fans their money’s worth and did so against a talented pool of Welterweights. He suffers in comparison here on one of two factors: his era wasn’t as deep as some of the eras of the men in front of him or the men in front of him showed greater consistency. His ability to come back from defeat was an admirable quality, as was his ability to seize moments. Three World title reigns were no accident; Griffith knew when to bring it. As to any questions about Griffith’s sexuality, hey, it never saved anyone from an ass whoopin’ so who cares? Griffith was an inaugural member of the IBHOF in 1990.
6) Jose Napoles (1958-75)
Record: 81-7, 55 KO
World Champion 1969-70, 3 Defenses; 1971-75, 10 Defenses
Welterweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 5: (Curtis Cokes, Emile Griffith, Billy Backus, Hedgemon Lewis, John Stracey)
Mexico’s Cuban import lived up to his nickname. He was “Mantequilla,” smooth as butter in the ring. Beginning his career as an 18-year old Lightweight, Napoles didn’t grow into the Welterweight division full time for almost a decade. At Lightweight and Jr. Welterweight, he made a strong impression, even beating Hall of Famer Eddie Perkins along the way. In April 1969, Napoles entered his first World title shot a strong 59-4 and battered champion Curtis Cokes into surrender in 13 frames. Cokes lasted less time in a rematch two months later, retiring in his corner in the tenth. Napoles finished the year with Griffith, dropping him en route to a unanimous decision and continued winning to open 1970, stopping the rugged Ernie Lopez in the 15th. Two non-title wins preceded a shocking upset in December when cuts led to a fourth round stoppage title loss against Billy Backus. Napoles wasted little time avenging the slight. In June 1971, he dropped Backus twice in the eighth and ironically won his titles back when the bout was officially stopped on cuts. His second reign would be an impressive one with two wins over Hedgemon Lewis, another stoppage of Lopez, a decision over Clyde Gray, and a pair of victories over the game Armando Muniz. His lone loss over the tenure came via stoppage in an attempt to move up and capture the Middleweight crown from the great Carlos Monzon. Napoles would end his career, and reign, in December 1975 with a cut stoppage in six versus John Stracey.
Why He’s Here:
The best days of Napoles may well have been in lower weight classes but his defining days came at Welterweight. But for tougher skin, he was almost unbeatable for the better part of six years. While Griffith was aged when he defeated him, it remains a quality win for Napoles in light of Griffith’s tough challenges of Monzon afterwards. Add in 13 defenses over two title reigns and Napoles stands as one of the most dominant champions in history at 147. At this level of these ratings, anyone who would like to see Napoles higher can feel free to move him up but the quality of competition of the men in front of him can be argued as just marginally superior. Napoles was an inaugural member of the IBHOF in 1990.
5) Kid Gavilan (1943-58)
Record: 108-30-5, 28 KO
World Champion 1951-54, 7 Defenses
Welterweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 5: (Sugar Ray Robinson, Johnny Bratton, Carmen Basilio, Johnny Saxton, Tony DeMarco)
Born Gerardo Gonzalez, the “Cuban Hawk” was a big star in the early television era, flashy and involved in a series of classics. Beginning as a sixteen-year old featherweight, Gavilan quickly grew into the Welterweight class and by 1948 was gaining valuable experience, losing a distance battle with former Lightweight king Ike Williams, narrowly edging veteran contender Tommy Bell, and giving Robinson all he could handle in a spirited ten round non-title affair. Two revenge defeats of Williams and the quality of the Robinson loss helped to land Gavilan his first title shot in July 1949, defeated on points over 15 against Robinson. Gavilan bounced right back with wins over the tough Rocky Castellani and former Lightweight champ Beau Jack. 1950 opened with a debated split decision loss to Hall of Famer Billy Graham, the birth of what would become a memorable four bout rivalry. It would be the first of three losses in four fights to open a 15-fight campaign for the year which ended 10-4-1 and included a narrow revenge decision over Graham before the year was out. Unbeaten in twelve 1951 contests, Gavilan would enter his finest years, defeating Johnny Bratton in May for the NBA title and assuming the title vacated by Robinson who moved to Middleweight. Gavilan would in fact lose only one non-title affair between November 1950 and an April 1954 challenge of then-Middleweight champ Bobo Olson, a span of 36 bouts which included all seven of his title defenses. Those thwarts of contenders included wins over Graham, Bratton, Gil Turner, and Basilio along with a wildly hyped stoppage of undefeated former NCAA champion Chuck Davey. He followed the Olson loss with a points defeat to Johnny Saxton in October 1954 to end his championship days and begin the inevitable slide. Gavilan would lose 15 times in his final 26 bouts after Saxton.
Why He’s Here:
During his peak years, Gavilan kept the sort of schedule which was already rapidly becoming a thing of the past, facing the best of his time almost always more than once. His record was occasionally peppered with odd losses but with so many fights, it’s not hard to fathom. In total, at Welterweight, he beat six World champs of Hall of Famers and many more top contenders. Gavilan was an inaugural member of the IBHOF in 1990
4) Joe Walcott (1890-1911)
Record: 92-25-24, 58 KO, 21 no decisions, 2 no contests
World Champion 1901-04, 2 Defenses
Welterweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 5: (“Mysterious” Billy Smith, Rube Ferns, Dixie Kid, Honey Mellody, Jimmy Gardner)
Before “Jersey,” there was the “Barbados Demon.” Standing just shy of 5’2, the stout Walcott fought classic talents from Lightweight to Heavyweight never scaling much outside the 140s. Walcott worked his way through the ranks methodically, drawing twice with Welterweight champion Billy Smith and losing twice to Lightweight great George Lavigne, the second time by stoppage for the Lightweight crown in 1897. His second chance at a title went only slightly better because he finished, Walcott losing a twenty round decision to Smith in December 1898. He rebounded, winning 23 of 26, including two non-title wins over Smith, a decision over future Light Heavyweight champion George Gardner, and a seventh round knockout of Heavyweight contender and Hall of Famer Joe Choynski. He earned another crack at the Welter crown and broke through with a fifth-round knockout of the historically underrated “Rube” Ferns in December 1901. While he didn’t defend frequently, Walcott fought often. He lost a rematch with Gardner, avenged a controversial loss to Tommy West, stopped Smith in four, and drew with Light Heavyweight great “Philadelphia” Jack O’Brien. Disqualified in the twentieth round, Walcott lost his title to Dixie Kid though the reason for the DQ was hard to find and the verdict highly disputed. Walcott continued on, billed often as still the champion, while facing many of the best of the day including draws with Sam Langford and Lightweight champion Joe Gans. Any doubts about his claim to the title were eliminated in October 1906 when he lost on points to Honey Mellody and the following month by stoppage (Mellody had defeated Dixie Kid for the lineal crown). Walcott continued on, but with little positive affect. Walcott was added to the IBHOF in 1991.
Why He’s Here: Fighters from this era can be hard to assess. Limited film, awkward written accounts, and the possibility of being forced to throw fights (as alleged after the first bout with West) is tough to compare to fighters with more voluminous, live action documentation. Walcott stands out no matter the comparisons. A small Welterweight with big guts and heavy hands, his quality of competition was phenomenal, among Welterweights and generally. If the Dixie loss was as disputed as documented, one can see evidence of Walcott being the best Welterweight in the world for more than half a decade while putting solid scares, and official losses, to quality Middleweights and Light Heavyweight. A true pioneer, Walcott is one of boxing’s seminal historical figures.
3) Sugar Ray Leonard (1977-97)
Record: 36-3-1, 25 KO
Lineal World/WBC Champion 1979-80, 1 Defense; 80-82, 3 Defenses
WBA titlist 1981-82, 1 Defense
Welterweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 3: (Wilfred Benitez, Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns)
A media darling before he ever turned pro, Leonard captured the public imagination as a Gold Medalist at the 1976 Olympics and kept it for a generation. Loved and despised in almost equal measure at his professional peak, there was no denying the speed, power and boxing ability on display when Leonard was at his best. Joining the paid ranks in February 1977, Leonard quickly amassed 25 wins to earn a shot at the lineal World champion, a 38-0-1 future Hall of Famer in Wilfred Benitez, dropping Benitez in the third and stopping him with a flurry in the fifteenth. A nasty knockout of Dave “Boy” Green led to an epic showdown with the great Roberto Duran in Montreal in June 1980. Leonard battled gamely but was outworked and outmanned by perhaps the best Duran there ever was in a classic. A rematch in November reversed the result as Leonard turned both boxer and psychologist, spurring Duran to turn his back and quit in round eight and handing the World title back to Leonard in the eighth round. The build began in earnest to the next major event, Leonard defending once and moving to 154 lbs. to knock off lineal/WBA titlist Ayub Kalule, before a unification showdown with undefeated WBA titlist Thomas Hearns in September 1981. Troubled with the size and length of Hearns, Leonard turned attacker, hurting Hearns badly in the sixth and rallying from behind on the cards to score a knockdown in round thirteen. One round later Leonard pummeled Hearns along the ropes to force the stoppage. A single defense followed before a detached retina forced an early retirement in 1982…but Leonard would of course return many times over, if not at Welterweight. Most notably, in 1987 Leonard emerged to win the Middleweight championship from the great Marvin Hagler.
Why He’s Here:
Leonard had a short run at the top of the Welterweight class and lacks in terms of length of title reign and number of total fights. Where he does not lack is in the quality department. If one is going to build a championship legacy in little more than two years, Leonard is the road map on how it is done. He was the first man to officially defeat Benitez (though Bruce Curry could argue he’s already done it and been robbed); the first to defeat Hearns; and the Duran he faced had lost only once in over seventy professional contests. All three were or will be selected to the Hall of Fame. All went on to titles in one or more weight classes after Leonard defeated them. Of all the men on this list, it might be the best trio of scalps collected over a two year period. While he may have occasionally been a pain at the negotiating table, he was also a seminal figure in terms of control of one’s own career and generation of income. Would it have been nice to see what happened in the bulk of the time he was off (minus one night with Kevin Howard) between 1982-87; nice to see Leonard-Donald Curry, with Hagler earlier, or in rematches with Hearns and Duran sooner? Certainly…but the consummate showmen always leave the crowd wanting more. Leonard was added in the IBHOF in 1997.
2) Henry Armstrong (1931-45)
Record: 151-21-9, 101 KO
World Champion 1938-40, 18 Defenses
Welterweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 3: (Barney Ross, Fritzie Zivic, Sugar Ray Robinson)
Previously rated in the top ten at Lightweight, and top three at Featherweight, Armstrong makes what will be his last of three top ten appearances. That’s how good a fighter “Homicide” Hank was. In between winning the Feather and Lightweight crowns, Armstrong stepped up to Welterweight and battered Ross for the crown over fifteen in May 1938, birthing the greatest title reign ever seen at 147 lbs. He would lose only one of his next 23 bouts into October 1940, splitting a pair for the Lightweight title with Lou Ambers and racking up a record 18 consecutive defenses of the Welterweight crown along with a non-title knockout of then-reigning Lightweight champion Lew Jenkins and a still-debated draw for the Middleweight title with Ceferino Garcia in March 1940. Garcia would be the first contender for Armstong’s Welterweight crown in November 1938 as well, defeated on points over 15. While the competition was not always spectacular, Armstrong added tough defenses against Hall of Famer Pedro Montanez, longtime Featherweight and Lightweight rival Baby Arizmendi, and contenders like Davey Day and Paul Junior. The blitzkrieg reign would end in by decision in October 1940 versus Fritzie Zivic. The rematch four months later went worse, ended with a 14th round stoppage to bring Armstrong’s championship years, if not career, to a close. Armstrong would continue on through the war years, gaining a measure of revenge with a decision win over then-former champion Zivic in October 1942 and a knockout of future Jr. Welterweight champion Tippy Larkin, and decision over Lightweight great Sammy Angott versus losses to excellent fighters like a young Robinson and Beau Jack. Armstrong was an inaugural member of the IBHOF in 1990.
Why He’s Here:
A case can be made that Armstrong really didn’t beat many great Welterweights, but Ross and Zivic give him two and Garcia was a hell of a fighter as well. He was small for the class, often weighing less than 140 lbs. early in his title reign. However, 18 title defenses, in little more than two years, are hard to ignore as is his general quality of competition. While perhaps not the greatest Welterweight of all time, he was by far its greatest champion and that counts for a lot. There are few Welterweights in history that would not have been forced through hell against the Armstrong of the late 1930s, a fighter who was almost unbeatable in three weight divisions for almost half a decade.
1) Sugar Ray Robinson (1940-65)
Record: 173-19-6, 108 KO
World Champion 1946-50, 5 Defenses
Welterweight Titlists/Champions Faced - 5: (Marty Servo, Fritzie Zivic, Henry Armstrong, Kid Gavilan)
Born Walker Smith Jr. in Georgia and reared in Harlem, New York, Robinson built on a stellar amateur career with a quick succession through the professional ranks beginning in October 1940. Fighting much of his first year nearer the Lightweight limit, Robinson bested Lightweight great Sammy Angott before three fights in a row against future and former World Welter champs Marty Servo and Fritzie Zivic from September 1941 to January 1942. The run began with a decision in ten over Servo followed by a decision and then 10th round stoppage of Zivic, running his record to 27-0 before he’d even hit his 21st birthday. Robinson continued winning, adding additional victories over Servo and Angott along with his first win in defining rivalry with Middleweight Jake LaMotta in October 1942, giving up over 12 lbs. on the scale and winning a decision. Five fights and six months later, they would face off again with Robinson being dropped and suffering his first loss via unanimous ten round vote, outweighed by some 16 lbs. He bounced back just three weeks later to avenge the slight and added a victory over an aging Armstrong later in the year.
With the Welterweight title frozen while champion Freddie Cochrane served in World War II, Robinson simply kept winning and waiting. He defeated LaMotta twice more in 1945, besting contenders Tommy Bell, Izzy Jannazzo and Jose Basora along with another win over Angott. In 1946, Servo won the crown from a returning Cochrane but quickly vacated. Robinson was matched with Bell for the vacant title in December 1946, his record showing 73 wins against a single loss and draw. Bell dropped Robinson in round two only to have the act revenged late in the bout on the way to a unanimous verdict for Robinson. During his title reign, Robinson flirted often with non-title affairs inside the Middleweight limit but made quality defenses against tough contender Charley Fusari and the great Kid Gavilan, the latter in a rematch of an exciting non-title win. Fusari would in fact be the final defense and bout at Welterweight in August 1950. Already having won the Middleweight title (as recognized in Pennsylvania), Robinson was off to chase LaMotta, and ultimately five Middleweight titles, over his final fifteen years as a pro. When his hand was raised at the end of the decision over Fusari, Robinson’s record was an astonishing 110-1-2.
Why He’s Here:
It’s hard to say if, without the war, Robinson couldn’t have been the champion sooner. If he had, who knows numbers he could have cultivated. It doesn’t really matter; Robinson was great without the title. Four of five wins, in six fights, with LaMotta came while he was regularly at Middleweight and only in one did he weigh a few pounds over 147. Servo and Angott, the first times, came in his first year and the first Zivic win was just a couple weeks shy. While Armstrong was aging, he was still a real contender and real world class fighter and those are just a few names and Gavilan was a great final rivalry for the class.
None of this gets at the obvious.
“Sugar” Ray Robinson is almost casually argued as the greatest fighter who ever lived. There is a reason for that. Some of it comes in the numbers (110-1-2 bears repeating) and some in the high quality of opposition. There is also the hushed awe of those who saw him in his Welterweight prime, an era not adequately filmed but well documented. The greatest of all time was at his very best, at the height of his speed and power, at Welterweight.
This list is Robinson and everyone else.
And, of course, he was an inaugural member of the IBHOF. He was probably the first selection.
Previous Installments of “The Eight”:
Top 25 Flyweights
Top 25 Bantamweights
Top 25 Featherweights
Top 25 Lightweights
Top 25 Light Heavyweights
The results here are compiled in two parts which tweaks the format used for the review of the nine Jr. Divisions conducted earlier this year.
First, a points-based comparison assigns points in part based on:
• Number of fellow champions faced (total) then divided into a competition score to flatten the field due to the fluctuation in titles recognized.
• Lineal World Titles
• Sanctioning Body Titles
• Title Defenses
• 2 Points per KO; -2 per KOBY; 1 per UD against fellow titlists
• Quality Wins (Points Assigned based on opponent accomplishments; i.e. lineal champions can count for 1, a single sanctioning body champion based on their sanctioning body total, discretionary points for established champions from other weight classes)
• Quality Losses (Losses to champion opponents -1 point; selective non-title losses)
• Draws (.5 points)
From this, a baseline is established and the top fifty fighters are identified. Further analysis focuses on the context of wins and losses, the relative dominance displayed in a fighter’s prime, and the strength of one’s era versus the competition faced, to get to a final top twenty-five.
The websites of the IBHOF, Cyber Boxing Zone, International Boxing Research Organization, and BoxRec.com were all heavily consulted in compiling this effort.
Coming Soon: The Top 25 Middleweights of All-Time
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at