The Daily Bread Mailbag returns with Stephen "Breadman" Edwards, as he presents a special edition with breaking down his personal top 10 list... for the greatest fighters of all-time.
Your views and opinions on boxing history are highly respected. So I’ll keep this simple, what is your all time great top 10. I know this is always subjective, but your reasons for each place would be greatly appreciated.
Bread’s Response: I’ve never been asked this directly. Ok here goes. With some good but not great research I will factor in Eye Ball test if available, who they fought, when they fought them, what happened, accomplishments and who would beat who if everyone was same size and in era.
1. Sugar Ray Robinson- Robinson started out at 135lbs and slowly moved up to 160lbs. He was 5’11 with a 72in reach. He had dazzling hand speed and was a lights out puncher with both hands. Robinson is a top 5 most athletic and top 5 most skilled fighters ever regardless of the era. His most impressive feat in my opinion is he was only stopped once in 202 fights in the 6 oz horse hair era moving through 35lbs, and that stoppage was due to heat exhaustion in a fight with light heavyweight champion Joey Maxim that he was winning handily.
Robinson was a dominant lightweight and welterweight. He beat the best lightweight of his era in Sammy Angott 3x. One of those fights happened while Angott was the lightweight champion. He also beat the best welterweights way before he got a title shot. The members of Black Murderers Row get recognized as fighters who were screwed over by the politics of boxing…..
But Ray Robinson beat Fritizie Zivic the HOF who dethroned Henry Amrstrong. Henry Armstrong and Marty Servo. You guys may not know who Servo is but I will explain.. Servo was the fighter who got the welterweight title shot after WWII vs Freddie Cochrane. The title was on freeze for about 3 ½ years. Robinson had defeated Servo twice before the title was on freeze but didn’t get the title shot after it became unfrozen.
After Servo won the title he vacated it and Robinson fought a murderous punching middleweight in Artie Levine as a tune up then the talented Tommy Bell for the vacant title. Robinson was 73-1-1.
Had politics been kinder to Robinson he could have gotten a title shot at lightweight which he deserved and definitely an earlier title shot at welterweight which would have really enhanced his already ATG legacy.
Nevertheless he did enough. He beat a top 7 or 8 welterweight ever in Kid Gavilan. He kod a member of Black Murderers Row who he mythically was supposed to duck in Aaron “Tiger” Wade. He routinely fought the best middleweight in the world in Jake Lamotta in non title fights giving up 15+ pounds as a welterweight.
At middleweight he’s viewed as a great but inconsistent and a vulnerable fighter. But I think this is where his legacy is cemented. He’s the most resilient middleweight in history. Each one of his middleweight elite rivals were younger than Robinson. Each one went to HOF. Robinson is the only one besides Gene Fullmer to regain the title after losing it. Robinson won the middleweight title 5 times. Each time from a HOF. Jake Lamotta, Randy Turpin, Bobo Olson, Gene Fullmer and Carmen Basilio are all in the HOF.
Robinson was the fighter of the decade in the 40s and 50s. There is really no need to say anymore. Except if he’s fighting today in the day before weigh in era. He could win titles from 130-160 in a 50 fight career.
2. Muhammad Ali- Ali was the best heavyweight of the 60s by a lot. He was also the decades best fighter. Then he turned out to be the best heavyweight of the 70s in the division’s best decade ever. Just like Robinson most of Ali’s elite opponents were younger than him. Frazier and Foreman.
Ali is absolutely the most gutsiest fighter in history. He was NO misses in 2 decades as a pro. He fought all of his toughest rivals more than once except George Foreman. He was absolutely CRAZY when it came to his matchmaking. When he tried for his 4th heavyweight title he went after a prime Larry Holmes at 38 years old when there were lesser fighters available.
Ali stood 6’3 and about 215lbs on his best day. He had incredibly long arms and a very strong body. He had bizarre ability to take punishment. And his athleticism would transcend in any era.
Ali defeated 4 Olympic Gold Medalist in Floyd Patterson, Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Leon Spinks. 2 HOF lightheavyweight champions in Bob Foster and Archie Moore. 4 more HOF heavyweight champions in Sonny Liston, Ken Norton, Joe Frazier and George Foreman. And a slew of real contenders for a decade.
The best heavyweight boxer is literally the best fighter ever and that title belongs to Ali. Not in a P4P sense but in actual fights he could beat more boxers than anyone in history.
3. Sam Langford- There is a considerable amount of film on Sam Langford to dissect. What I see is a freakishly strong puncher who was short in height but had freakishly long arms and big legs. Think of Dwight Qawi but more athletic and a one punch ko artist.
I have a hard time imagining any fighter who is naturally 168lbs and below beating Langford in a head to head fight on his best night. The era he fought in definitely affected his already lofty historical status. He had to take too many brutal fights vs evenly skilled fighters like Harry Wills and Jack Johnson but giving up 25lbs in natural size. It’s literally the equivalent of Floyd Mayweather having to fight Roy Jones 10x.
By most accounts Langford should have won his welterweight title fight vs Joe Walcott which was scored a draw. He beat the great Joe Gans as a very young fighter around the lightweight limit. Gans is a top 10ish ever type of guy also. He kod the great Harry Wills a few times before the much larger Wills started to get the better of him in their series of fights. He gave the great Jack Johnson a very tough fight and Johnson never fought him again and rematches were customary for the day. He got the better of the great Jack Blackburn who would later train Joe Louis. He won a News Paper Decision over Stanley Ketchel who was a viewed as a top 10 middleweight ever up until recent times. Fireman Jim Flynn couldn’t do anything with Langford, who repeatedly kod him. Flynn is the only man to stop Jack Dempsey. One of the more impressive wins for Langford is his 2nd rd ko of Tiger Flowers who went on to give Harry Greb hell for 3 fights. Langford was 10 years past his prime when he beat Flowers. Langford also beat Philadelphia Jack Obrien. The great lightheavyweight who many thought outboxed Jack Johnson in a fight that was scored a draw.
So all in all Langford beat or got the better of the best lightweight, best welterweight, best middleweights, best lightheavyweight and best heavyweight of his day.
He would have most likely peaked out as a middleweight and super middleweight today and if you look at his youtube fight vs Bill Lang you see a special, relaxed, technically efficient killer.
4. Henry Armstrong- Armstrong would only be junior lightweight if he fought today. He just wasn’t a big guy. But his engine and physical strength could be the best P4P in history. Given the fact that his best division was welterweight it’s really incredible. If Armstrong were fighting today in day before weigh ins, he would have went from 122lbs to 135-140 and he would be a reign of terror. None of those little men could keep up or keep him off.
Armstrong got off to a typical slow start of the time but once he got rolling he could have the highest peak years ever. From back to back losses in 1936. He went on the best TEAR in boxing history. From that point in 1936 until he lost his welterweight title to Fritize Zivic in 1940. Armstrong went 69-2-1. My GOD! You talk about a pressure fighter making a run.
He won the featherweight title from Petey Sarron, the welterweight title from the Great Barney Ross, then dropped down to lightweight and beat the HOF Lou Ambers. A DQ loss, a tight decision to Ambers in a rematch and draw to the middleweight champion are his only blemishes during his 4 year peak.
Then after his best days were over in 1940 he avenged his Zivic loss, beat future champion Juan Zurita and HOF Sammy Angott.
Armstrong would not be able to fight middleweights today. Or even junior middleweights. But small fighters like Meldrick Taylor were able to win the welterweight title. And Sadam Ali was able to win a junior middleweight title. Armstrong would be hell for today’s welterweights just like Manny Pacquiao is. And any weight division below he would peak out. No man 122lbs or 126lb could contain him. Think Joe Frazier mixed with Aaron Pryor. That’s Henry Armstrong.
5. Harry Greb- As you know there is no known footage of Greb fighting. So I can’t rate him on the eyeball test and that is very hard for me but I am fair and objective. Greb has possibly the best resume ever.
Before 1960 even the best fighters had records that were littered with double digit losses, hard beginnings and bad endings. But Greb never had a real down spot. He got stopped a couple of times in his first 3 years as a pro and he basically ran high for over a decade. He only lost 2 fights in a row once and that was early. He consistently went 20 and 30 fights without a loss.
After that he became the best middleweight and best lightheavyweight simultaneously. He’s the only man to beat Gene Tunney but he also held him to a draw and a few hotly contested losses. Again imagine Floyd Mayweather fighting Roy Jones 5x in hotly contested fights.
Tiger Flowers did take his title but never overly convincing and Greb also beat Flowers in a non title fight. Greb scalped The Gibbons brothers, The Great Mickey Walker, The Great Tommy Loughran, Battling Levinsky, Willie Meehan a very good heavyweight.
Loughran is a top 5 or 6 ever at lightheavyweight and he couldn’t do much with Greb. Walker is a top 10 ever at middleweight and Greb bested him in his super fight. Tunney is unique because his overall ranking is somewhere in the top 50 ever. He’s among the best fighters ever at lightheavyweight although he didn’t win the World Title there and he retired as heavyweight champion. Greb is much smaller and gave Tunney hell in every fight except one where Tunney dominated. Tiger Flowers is also a top 10 middleweight ever and a top 5 southpaw ever.
So while we can’t see Greb fight, we can see who he fought. I can imagine that Greb was an average height middleweight, long armed swarmer who could box and improvise with an iron chin and oxygen filled stamina. Through research I say Greb would look like a Jeff Fenech mixed with Eusabio Pedraza. Savvy, gritty, athletic and dirty. Always found a way to win.
6. Ezzard Charles- Charles is one of the more underrated fighters in history. He wasn’t a speed demon like Robinson. He wasn’t a pure boxer like Willie Pep. And he wasn’t a lights out puncher like Joe Louis. These were all of his best contemporaries. But Charles was that well rounded guy, who do everything as well anyone else. Think of a bigger Terence Crawford without the switching.
Charles’s run from 1943-51 is on par with Robinson’s run from 1940-52 and Armstrong’s from 1936-40.
Charles got off to a god start. He went 17-0 before he lost to the much more experienced Ken Overlin. After that he beat the prime Charley Burley twice. And dominated the much bigger HOF Joey Maxim twice. In 1943 he took back to back losses to Jimmy Bivins and Lloyd Marshall, then he ran the town from middleweight to heavyweight until he got clipped by Jersey Joe Walcott in 1951.
I’ve always believed that the hardest jump in boxing is middleweight to lightheavyweight as far as body types. The playing field is also harder because there are more men naturally that size. So during the 40s which is boxing’s best decade ever, Charles probably had the hardest run out of any of the greats. During this incredible peak run, he got Bivins and Marshall back kos. He avenged his only loss a SD to Elmer Ray by ko. And he completely dominated Archie Moore who would go on to a claim of being the best lightheavyweight in history.
Charles was 3-0 vs Moore. He stopped him once, shut him out once and one of their fights was a MD. Charles never got a shot at the middleweight or lightheavyweight titles. Despite being clearly the best fighter in both weight classes. Charles finally got his title shot in 1949 and he made the most of it by beating Jersey Joe Walcott. Charles defended his title 8x which goes incredibly underrated before finally losing to Walcott in their 3rd fight. Along the way defending against an older but capable Joe Louis and Walcott.
I really believe with better matchmaking Charles is higher historically. Walcott finally clipped him in their 3rd fight but Charles was 2-0 against him. Why the 3rd fight? After the Walcott loss, Charles slipped. He was 71-5 going into the bout and went 24-20 for the rest of his career. This bad drop off really haunts Charles.
For some reason Moore gets recognized more highly but Charles was better. Robinson, Pep, Marciano and Louis all had prettier records than Charles. Those were his rivals as the best fighters of the day.
But Charles’s last stands vs Marciano let you know everything you need to know about him. He was a GUN. He took Marciano to the brink in their first fight. He was right with him every step of the way. But it seems he shot his load in his last stand and was kod in the rematch which basically ended his career as a contender. What a great fighter!
7. Roberto Duran- Duran seems to be the favorite fighter of your favorite fighter. Duran is unique because his compliments underrate his gifts. He’s known as a great pressure fighter and mauler. But Duran is a master boxer, counter puncher and elite out-fighter. He literally had everything except out of the ring discipline.
Duran’s physical strength was remarkable. As a kid in Panama legend has it that Duran used to walk on his hands for money in the streets. Legend also has it that he used to swim to his manager’s mansion. Thus building unique stamina and physical strength.
Duran also participated in bare knuckle street fights. Which enhances the tactile reflexes because bare knuckles cut you. They aren’t as heavy as a gloves fist but no one wants to be cut up. So Duran has subtle parries and rubber neck moves that most can’t comprehend.
Duran had a lightweight reign of terror. He dethroned a HOF in Ken Buchanon and went on a tear of 6 years while unifying. His only blemish was to Esteban Dejesus in which he avenged twice by ko. He moved up to welterweight and took his time through 8 progressively tough fights, one of which he dominated another HOF in Carlos Palomino.
Duran proved to be the best fighter of the 70s which included Ali, Carlos Monzon and Jose Napoles.
In 1980 Duran pulled off possibly the best win in boxing history. He beat a peak Sugar Ray Leonard at welterweight in a tight competitive decision in a great fight. Duran outboxed, outfoxed and out fought Leonard in the necessary spots to pull off the upset and held him off when Leonard made his late round push.
In the rematch Duran famously quit and pulled a No Mas. I don’t condone quitting. But I personally don’t hold this against Duran as much as some because I don’t think it was because of lack of heart and he had already beat Leonard. It wasn’t fear, it was frustration and ignorance not understanding the ramifications of his actions. This is not me making up an excuse, this is just my reasoning.
I actually do hold it against him slightly because he’s not rated higher but I don’t crap on his career like I’ve seen some do.
1980s hurt and help Duran’s legacy. He was inconsistent after the first Leonard fight. He was drilled badly by Thomas Hearns. He lost unexplainably to Kirkland Lainge. But he has 3 of the top 10 performances of the decade. His wins over Leonard, Davey Moore and Iran Barkley were literally incredible. He was the underdog in each fight and put on ATG performances in all of them. Then if you add his strong but losing stand vs ATG Marvin Hagler at middleweight we knew Duran was something different. I can’t think of another lightweight in history who could go 15 rounds with Hagler. I don’t know if another lightweight even takes the fight. Duran is the fighter I watch most often on video study.
8. Joe Louis- For some reason I hear new school millennials call Louis BASIC as if it’s an insult. Louis is still the best puncher ever and he would be 106 years old if he were ALIVE.
Joe Louis had a special record. He retired for good 66-3. But if he stays retired after his first walk away he’s 58-1 and 47kos. He would have had the prettiest record in history besides Rocky Marciano’s.
Louis was about 6’2 and circa 200lbs on his best day. He had a 76inch reach but I suspect arm length of 30 inches or more. Louis was perfectly proportioned. He had every range as a puncher, and every punch. His right hand is his most known punch but his jab, left hook and uppercuts were are equally good. Louis’s feet were always up under him and he always got perfect torque on each shot.
It’s assumed his feet were slow. But I think they were efficient. I think he shuffled in small steps to stay in position for his kill shots. When he decided to attack faster he did under control. See the Max Schmeling fight.
The most Disrespectful Moniker in the history of sports is “The Bum of the Month Club.” In comparison Joe Louis fought more HOF than Mike Tyson, Wladimir Klitshcko, Larry Holmes and Lennox Lewis. Joe Louis fought the following HOF Max Baer, James Braddock, Jack Sharkey, Max Schmeling, Billy Conn, Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles, Jimmy Bivins and Rocky Marciano. That’s 9 HOF! So the writers that nicknamed his opposition the BUM of the Month Club, also voted 9 of his opponents to the HOF.
In the most recent preceding long reign near his era was Jack Dempsey’s. Dempsey defended his title 5 times in 7 years and missed many of the best fighters in the division. Louis defended his 25 times in 11 years and had a 4 year freeze because of WWII. It’s absolutely malice that the press called the most consistent title reign ever, The Bum of the Month Club.
As a champion all you can do is fight the best available contender consistently. Louis did this 25x. He has no historical misses. He also defended against Ring top 10 rated fighter after fighter. If you throw in the HOF he fought, his resume is among the top 10 in heavyweight history. Louis’s era was not as good as the 70s or 90s but that’s no fault of his as to when he was born. He fought the fights that were there.
There are two things that stand out to me about Louis. One is his record in rematches. To be as good as Louis was in rematches takes an innate adjustment. Never fight Joe Louis twice is what my grandfather used to tell me. Louis fought 8 career rematches. He scored 8kos in each rematch ending the fight earlier than he did the first. I’m not a stat guy but great fighters create stats when you examine their records. Louis is the best rematch fighter in the history of boxing.
The next stick on Louis is because he didn’t have the mobile feet that Holyfield and Ali had that his style wouldn’t translate to later eras because of his size. But Louis fought Primo Carnera who was 6’5 260lbs, Abe Simon was 6’4” 255lbs and Buddy Baer was 6’6 250lbs and he decapitated them all. There is a reason for that.
Often times the larger you are, your size can compromise you. There is a reason why tall centers play down low and shorter guards dribble the ball. The further your brain is away from the rest of your body the longer it takes to get the signals out. That’s why smaller people are generally more coordinated. Most times big fighters don’t have the reaction time to deal with faster reacting fighters.
I can give examples. Roy Jones had a tougher time vs Montell Griffin than he did vs John Ruiz. Evander Holyfield had harder fights vs Dwight Qawi than he did vs Buster Douglas. Ali had a tougher fight vs Doug Jones than he did vs Sonny Liston.
Joe Louis would be a 215lbs killer in this era. I’m not saying he would run the whole yard but he would run most of it.
9. Willie Pep- At the height of his career, Pep had the best record in the history of boxing. Pep went into his fist fight with Sandy Saddler with a record of 134-1-1. That’s even better than Robinson’s 128-1-2. Every fighter of the day had a slide if they fought into their mid 30s and had over 100 fights. But Pep’s run was almost immaculate.
Some will say well why isn’t he rated higher. The reason I don’t put Pep in front of Charles, Louis or Robinson is simply because while his opposition was great. It was not killer filled like theirs was. Pep fought killers but he doesn’t have the amount of killers that they fought.
It also slightly hurts Pep that he “threw” a fight. If we are picking straws selecting the best of the best. We have to be detailed down to the minutia.
That being said Pep is probably the best pure “out fighter” in history. His left hand is as educated as their ever was. He’s loose. He’s relaxed. His stamina is A+. His footwork and reflexes are as good as any I’ve studied on tape. He was also a showman, he could make a fighter look foolish while “boxing” him. Which is eye catching to the judges. There is a REZNICK video on Pep. Oh my. It’s a must watch.
Pep was a little more fortunate than Robinson and Charles the other best fighters of the 40s. They all turned pro in 1940 but Pep fighting at a smaller weight class was able to secure his title shot in 1942. Where Robinson had to wait until 1946 and Charles 1949. So Pep’s reign basically dominated the decade.
Pep was 53-0 when he won the title vs HOF Chalky Wright. He was undefeated near the featherweight limit. His only blemish in 135 fights was a non title lost to a great lightweight in Sammy Angott and that was razor close. Pep was basically untouchable at featherweight until he had a terrible plane accident and subsequently ran into another ATG in Sandy Saddler.
Pep was stopped by Saddler in 1948 and it was thought to be over for him. Let’s imagine Errol Spence’s auto accident but much worse and in a plane. Pep broke his back and was knocked unconscious!
Pep regrouped and pulled off one of the top 5 wins in boxing history in my opinion. And most likely the greatest performance in featherweight history. He beat Saddler in their 2nd fight with one of the best displays of boxing, resilience and guts in history.
Pep would go on to lose 2 more fights to Saddler. But interestingly enough at the time of both stoppages Pep was winning on points. In the 3rd fight he had a separated shoulder and couldn’t continue after 7 scored rounds. In the 4th fight he surrendered in the corner after 8 rounds.
Some may say why is he generally regarded as the greater fighter over Saddler. It’s close but I have my reasons for favoring Pep. One is their fights took place AFTER his horrible accident. Two the second fight was possibly the greatest performance ever. Three, while Saddler is an ATG and special. He was no where near as consistent as Pep.
Paddy Demarco beat Saddler twice sandwiching one of his wins over Pep. Pep handled Demarco. Humberto Sierra decisioned Saddler yet Pep stopped him. Phil Terranova won a UD over Saddler, yet Pep won a UD over him. Jock Leslie is the only fighter to ever stop the iron chinned Saddler , yet Pep knocked him cold. To be fair to Saddler he was a noive when he fought Leslie.
Nevertheless there was a pattern in Saddler’s career of losing fights to fighters that Pep handled with relative ease. Consistency is a huge determining factor in greatness and Pep was much more consistent. So therefore Pep will universally ranked slightly higher as a fighter.
10. Ray Leonard- The Sugar Man is my guy. He only has 40 career fights and it’s very hard to rate fighters with 40 fights vs fighters with 200 fights. But anyone who saw Ray Leonard in his prime knows he was on the level. They knew he was as good as Gavilan. Ross, Armstrong, Napoles and all of the other greats at 147.
Leonard does not have the QUANTITY but he has the QUALITY. His 4 highest scalp title wins have a case for being the best in history. Wilfred Benitez was 38-0 and one of the more celebrated champions in boxing. Benitez was a 2 division champion who beat 2 HOF for his titles. Leonard stopped him in the 15th round.
Duran was the #1 P4P fighter in the world when Leonard beat him. He was 72-1 when Leonard defeated him. He was the reigning best fighter of the previous decade and had turned himself into a great welterweight. Leonard literally took Duran’s prime and then beat him in their tie breaker fight after Duran had beat Iran Barkley.
Leonard’s super fight vs Tommy Hearns is probably the most skilled great fight I’ve seen. Leonard had to overcome brutal one punch power, 4 inch reach and 4 inches of height. Leonard had to figure out a way to exchange with Hearns in the midrange.
As you watch the fight you can see that Leonard was calculating on how to break Hearn’s length and ATG jab. Hearns’s the #1 P4P fighter in the world and 32-0 with 30kos.
Leonard threw in a tune up fight before Hearns with a 36-0, southpaw junior middleweight in Ayub Kalule. That’s just how he was.
And to top off his 4th scalp. He beat Marvin Hagler. The controversy surrounding this fight is really Hagler fans being upset that the fight didn’t go the way they wanted it to. They come up with the 12 round advantage but Hagler had stopped fighting 15 round fights for 3 years before he ever fought Leonard. The glove advantage is also unfounded. They fought with gloves with thumbs attached to the base. The same gloves fighters fight with today. The only advantage Leonard had was a big ring. Hagler’s fans never bring up that he miscalculated his approach and started too late.
Hagler was 62-2-2 when Leonard beat him. He was the reigning #1 P4P fighter. He hadn’t lost a fight in over 11 years. I know Hagler had slipped some by 1987 but so had Leonard who was moving up 2 weight classes with no tune up fights after a 3 year lay off.
Along with Ali, Robinson and Roy Jones I think Leonard is the most athletically gifted fighter ever. He had the unique ability to out jab the pure boxer in Benitez. Frustrate and out move the pressure fighter in Duran. Walk down and overcome the jab and power of Hearns. And outbox the hard nosed technician in the southpaw Hagler. Leonard is one of the safest big fight bets in history no matter the style.
Leonard is the only fighter in history to defeat the #1 P4P 3x. If you throw in that he's the best amateur the US ever had at 139lbs, Leonard deserves this spot.
When I made this list I had no preconceived notions. I didn’t know who would be in each place. I had an idea but not exact placement. So what I did was researched record and film carefully and I used my own instincts as to who I would bet on to win if everyone were the same size. I want to do an Honorable Mention list to a few fighters who almost made the top 10 because fighters deserve attribution.
Honorable Mention: Roy Jones- off the top of my head I usually put Jones as a top 20ish type of fighter. But he literally almost made this lis when I examined his record and eye ball test. I had him listed at 10 but I forgot about Duran on my copy paste.
Joe Gans- rates very high for me also. His record was a great record for the time and I honestly just ran out of room for him.
Tony Canzoneri- was a mercurial fighter and had a special career and I gave him strong consideration but I decided to go with a more familiar fighter in Ray Leonard.
Send Questions to [email protected]