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The Greatest Amateur Boxer of All-Time?:
Who is the greatest and most dominant amateur boxer of all-time? That is a frequently asked question that has produced some very long and drawn out battles on message boards across the internet as fans, fighters, trainers and everyone else weigh in with their picks. Not that long ago I did an unofficial poll not long ago where I emailed a large group of former amateur boxers and posed the question to them. Who was the best amateur ever? I received quite a few responses from some very knowledgeable people and without a doubt the high majority of replies agreed with what I had always thought.
I assumed some would come up with either Teofilo Stevenson, Felix Savon or Laslo Papp and several did, too. Sugar Ray Leonard also got a few votes as did Howard Davis Jr.
Former world champion and Olympic champion Pernell "Sweet Pea" Whitaker (not in my poll) has said it was Johnny Bumphus while I have heard others mention Bernard Taylor as being the best ever.
The previously mentioned amateurs were great as were many others like Cassius Clay, Paul Gonzalez and Eric Griffin but the fact is that no one dominated their weight class in the overall manner that Mark Breland did. Teo was great, too, as his three Olympic gold medals would suggest, but two aspects of the great Cuban's career stand out to me when weighing in on who was the most dominant guy. One is the fact that when he won his second and third gold medals the victories came largely over much younger and less experienced boxers. The class of boxers from his first Olympic year in 1972 had all turned professional and left Teo to deal with a new crop of upstarts that physically and mentally weren't prepared to deal with what he had become.
The original questions went just like this: "Who was the best amateur from your era and who was the best, most dominant, amateur boxer of all time?"
Among the replies I received were these:
"Mark Breland...and Mark Breland." - "Tricky" Ricky Frazier, former light heavyweight contender
"The best amateur boxer was, by far, Mark Breland." - 1985 U.S. National Amateur champion Kevin "KB" Bryant, Bronx, New York.
"1. Pernell Whitaker 2. Mark Breland." - Tim Griffin (brother of former 175 pound champion Montell Griffin)
"Mark Breland was the most dominant of my era (early eighties)." - Dewith Frazier (former top Canadian amateur and current trainer)
"Mark Breland was the best in our era and Stevenson from Cuba was the best ever." - Former two-time world champion Reggie "Sweet" Johnson
"Mark Breland and Roy Jones from my era. Best ever was Teofilio Stevenson. PS: Best punch? John Scully vs. Kertis Mingo (at the National PAL in 1987)." - Former heavyweight contender Lou Savarese
"Best Amateur of my Era: Mark Breland. Most Dominant: Mark Breland." - 1982 World Amateur champion Floyd Favors, Washington, D.C.
"The best amateur boxer from America is probably Mark Breland. Teofilo Stevenson is a great name and there are a few other eastern European and Cuban boxers that won a few Olympic Medals." - Current 140 pound contender Dmitriy Salita, Brooklyn, New York.
Another thing for me is that as great as he was in Olympic and world championship competitions, Teo didn't always exhibit the same dominance in International meets and smaller tournaments. He was defeated by Craig Payne of the USA, for example, in the 1983 North American Championships and Payne was not even the #1 ranked U.S. Super heavyweight at the time.
(I should note out of fairness here that when I posed the question to Mark Breland, he himself said that Stevenson was the best ever)
As a matter of fact there was a span in the 1980's where Stevenson lost four times in under two years and he also lost four times in 1983 alone including the decision to Payne. On top of that while he defeated Germany's Ulli Kaden on six different occasions he also lost to him three times.
Savon was also a great amateur boxer who won many, many amateur titles just as Stevenson did but the thing with him, like with Stevenson, is that he defeated so many guys that were much younger and less experienced than he was. It also should be noted that he has been said to have lost more than a few fights right on his own Island of Cuba to lesser known boxers and I know of at least five different occasions in his amateur career where he has been stopped inside the distance (including twice by fellow Cuban Juan Delis Causse.
So while Savon and Teo stayed amateur and captured many medals I would have to figure that guys like Breland and Whitaker, if they stayed amateur, would have also gone on and continued to dominate amateur boxing in their weight classes in similar fashion. I don't think any of the welterweight Olympians we've seen since 1984 were going to beat Breland, that's for sure.