Published on February 9th 2010 by Leon Shepherd

The heavyweight division has always been the glory division in boxing. And if you’re like me, you miss the great heavyweight fights of the past. Well, since it’s been a while since we have had a heavyweight boxer to bring the excitement and  talent of the great boxing champions of yesteryear, I’ve decided to reminisce and list the top ten greatest heavyweight boxers to lace on a pair of gloves. The boxers on this list were chosen by their boxing records, the competition they faced, and their ability, skills and talent. 



10. Jack Johnson 1878-1946


John Arthur Johnson better known as Jack Johnson and nicknamed the “Galveston Giant”, was the best heavyweight of his generation and the first black world heavyweight boxing champion (1908–1915). In a documentary about his life, Ken Burns notes, “For more than thirteen years, Jack Johnson was the most famous and the most notorious African-American on Earth. Johnson’s boxing style was very distinctive. He developed a more patient approach than was customary in that day: playing defensively, waiting for a mistake, and then capitalizing on it. Johnson always began a bout cautiously, slowly building up over the rounds into a more aggressive fighter. He often fought to punish his opponents rather than knock them out, endlessly avoiding their blows and striking with swift counters. He always gave the impression of having much more to offer and, if pushed, he could punch powerfully. Johnson’s record: 73 wins (40 by knockouts) 13 losses.


9, Sonny Liston 1932-1970

Charles L. “Sonny” Liston was a professional boxer who became world heavyweight champion in 1962 by knocking out Floyd Patterson in the first round. Liston was one of the most powerful punchers and jabbers in the history of boxing. He was number 15 on Ring Magazine‘s list of 100 greatest punchers of all time. In 1964 Liston lost his title to Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, when he shockingly quit in his corner before the start of the seventh round, claiming he had hurt his shoulder. However, by that point in the fight it had become clear that Liston had no answer for the young challenger’s speed and quickness. In 1965, Liston would encounter Clay again, now known as Muhammad Ali, and would be tko’d within the first two minutes of the fight. Liston’s record: 50 wins (39 by knockouts), 4 losses.


8. Mike Tyson 1966-

Michael Gerard “Mike” Tysonwas the undisputed heavyweight champion and remains the youngest man ever to win the WBC, WBA and IBF world heavyweight titles. He won the WBC title at just 20 years, 4 months and 22 days old, after defeating Trevor Berbick by a TKO in the second round. Throughout his career, Tyson became well-known for his ferocious and intimidating boxing style as well as his controversial behavior both inside and outside the ring. He was the first ever heavyweight champion to hold the WBA, WBC and IBF titles simultaneously. Nicknamed” Iron Mike”, Tyson won his first 19 professional bouts by knockout, 12 in the first round. He unified the belts in the splintered heavyweight division in the late 1980s to become undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. Tyson lost his title when he lost to 42-to-1 underdog James “Buster” Douglas on February 11, 1990, in Tokyo, by a KO in round 10. In 1997, in a rematch with Evander Holyfield, Tyson was disqualified for biting off a part of Holyfield’s ear. Tyson declared bankruptcy in 2003, despite receiving over $30 million for several of his fights and $300 million during his boxing career. Tyson’s record: 50 wins, (44 by knockouts), 6 losses.


7. Lennox Lewis 1965-

Lennox Claudius Lewis, is a retired boxer and former undisputed World heavyweight champion. He won gold for Canada at the 1988 Olympic Games as an amateur. Along with Muhammad Ali, Evander Holyfield, Vitali Klitschko, Michael Moorer, Lewis is one of only five boxers in history to have won the heavyweight championship three times. Lewis is 6 ft 5 in (196 cm) in height and has an 84-inch (213 cm) reach, much longer than average for his height. During his boxing prime, he weighed about 250 pounds. Lewis often referred to himself as “the pugilist specialist”. Throughout his professional career, Lewis suffered only two losses, both of which he avenged in rematches. Upon retirement in 2003, he had defeated every opponent he had faced. Lewis’s record: 41 wins (32 by knockouts) 2 losses.


6. Evander Holyfield 1962-

 Evander Holyfield(born October 19, 1962) is a multiple world champion in both the cruiserweight and heavyweight divisions, earning him the nickname “The Real Deal”. Holyfield won the bronze medal in the Light Heavyweight division at the 1984 Summer Olympics after a controversial disqualification in the semifinal. He is the only boxer to win the heavyweight title four times. Holyfield’s popularity has led to numerous television appearances for the boxer. His first television show appearance was the Christmas special of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Airin 1990, playing himself. In 2005, Holyfield came in fifth place on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.  Holyfield also had minor roles in three movies during the 1990s, Summer of Sam, Necessary Roughness, and Blood Salvage (which he also produced). He made a guest appearance on Nickelodeon’s Figure It Outduring its third season in 1994. He appeared once in an episode of At the age of 48, Holyfield continues to box professionally. Holyfield’s record:  42 wins  (27 by knockouts), 10 losses.


5. George Foreman 1949 –

George Edward Foremanis a two-time former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, Olympic gold medalist, and successful entrepreneur. He became the oldest man ever to become heavyweight boxing champion of the world when, at age 45, he knocked out Michael Moorer, age 26, to reclaim the title he held 20 years earlier. He has been named one of the 25 greatest fighters of all time by Ring magazine.[2] Nicknamed “Big George”[3] he is now a successful businessman and an ordained Christian minister who has his own church. Foreman has 10 children, and each of his five sons are named George: George Jr., George III, George IV, George V and George VI. His three older sons are distinguished from one another by the nicknames “Monk”, “Big Wheel”, “Red” and “Little George.” Foreman is ranked #9 on Ring magazine’s list of “100 greatest punchers of all time”. He is also well-known for the highly successful George Foreman Grill. Foreman’s record: 76 wins (68 by knockouts), 5 losses.


 4. Joe Frazier 1964 –


Joseph “Billy” Frazier, known as Smokin’ Joe is an Olympic (1964) and World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, active from the mid 1960s to the early 1980s. Frazier was a popular champion, reprising himself in cameo roles in several Hollywood films, and professionally is perhaps most famous for his trilogy of Heavyweight Championship fights with Muhammad Ali. Frazier had a bullying fighting style, depending on bobbing, weaving and power punching. He is perhaps most famous for his vicious left hooks. Compared to Ali’s style, he was close enough to the ideal bruiser that some in the press and media characterized the bouts as the answer to the classic question: “What happens when a boxer meets with a brawler.”According to Joe in the HBO special documenting “The Thrilla in Manila” fight, he was partially blind in his left eye due to a training accident in 1965. This would indicate that throughout his entire professional career, he fought with only partial sight on his left side. Frazier’s record: 32 wins (27 by knockouts), 4 losses.


 3. Larry Holmes 1949 –

Larry Holmes(born November 3, 1949, in Cuthbert, Georgia) is a former world WBC and IBF heavyweight boxing champion. Holmes has spent the majority of his adult life in Easton, Pennsylvania, in the state’s Lehigh Valley region, giving rise to his boxing nickname, The Easton Assassin. As a professional heavyweight, Holmes won his first 48 bouts, beating, among others, Ken Norton, Tim Witherspoon, Gerry Cooney, James “Bonecrusher” Smith and Trevor Berbick. As champion, Holmes successfully defended his title 20 times, second only to Joe Louis who had 25 defenses. He fell just one short of matching the record of Rocky Marciano, who retired undefeated after 49 wins in 49 bouts, when he lost to light-heavyweight champion Michael Spinks by a unanimous and controversial decision in 1985. After losing the rematch with Spinks on a disputed split decision, Holmes promptly retired from the sport at age 36. Holmes record: 69 wins (44 by knockouts) and  6 losses.


 2. Joe Louis 1914-1981

 Joseph Louis Barrow, better known as Joe Louis, was the world heavyweight boxing champion from 1937 to 1949. Nicknamed the Brown Bomber, Louis helped elevate boxing in popularity in the post-Jack Dempsey era by establishing a reputation as an honest, hardworking fighter at a time when the sport was dominated by gambling interests. Louis’s championship reign lasted 140 consecutive months, during which he participated in 27 championship fights, including 25 successful title defenses – all records for the heavyweight division. In 2005, Louis was named the greatest heavyweight of all time by the International Boxing Research Organization, and was ranked number one on Ring Magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Punchers of All Time. Louis’s cultural impact was felt well outside the ring. He is widely regarded as the first African American to achieve the status of a nationwide hero within the United States, and was also a focal point of anti-Nazi sentiment leading up to and during World War II. He also was instrumental in integrating the game of golf, breaking the sport’s color barrier in America by appearing under a sponsor’s exemption in a PGA event in 1952. Louis’s record: 65 wins (51 by knockouts) and 3 losses.


1.  Muhammad Ali 1942 –

 Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.; January 17, 1942) is a retired boxer and three-time World Heavyweight Champion, who is widely considered the greatest heavyweight championship boxer of all time. As an amateur, he won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. After turning professional, he went on to become the first boxer to win the  heavyweight championship three times. Originally known as Cassius Clay, Ali changed his name after joining the Nation of Islam in 1964, subsequently converting to Sunni Islam in 1975. In 1967, Ali refused to be inducted into the U.S. military based on his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War. He was arrested and found guilty on draft evasion charges, stripped of his boxing title, and his boxing license was suspended. He was not imprisoned, but did not fight again for nearly four years while his appeal worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was successful. Nicknamed ‘The Greatest’, Ali was involved in several historic boxing matches. Notable among these are three with rival Joe Frazier and one with George Foreman, whom he beat by knockout to win the world heavyweight title for the second time. Ali was well known for his unorthodox fighting style, which he described as “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”, and employing techniques such as the rope-a-dope. He was also known for his pre-match hype, where he would ‘trash talk’ opponents on television and in person some time before the match, often with rhymes. These personality quips, idioms along with an unorthodox fighting technique made him a cultural icon. In later life, Ali developed Parkinson’s disease due to the injuries he sustained throughout his career. In 1999, Ali was crowned “Sportsman of the Century” by Sports Illustrated. Ali’s record: 56 wins ( 37 by knockouts), and 5 losses.

Sports | Comments (11)

11 Responses to “Top 10 Heavyweight Boxers”

  1. Shack Says:

    J. Johnson MUCH TOO low (1st Black Hywt. Champ)
    Frazier too high
    Holyfield too low
    Agree w the top three

    Hon. mentions = Ezzrad Charles, Jersey Joe Walcott and Floyd Patterson (1st to regain hywt title)

  2. Leon Says:

    You might be right about Jack Johnson. But I’m surprised you thought Frazier was too high. I kinda felt that he was underrated, especially because of the 3 fights he had with Ali.

  3. Shack Says:

    Try this logic…
    Frazier was DESTROYED by Foreman(twice)He was only competitive against Ali. Foreman was soundly defeated by Holyfield (although GF was an old man) and Ali knocked Foreman out. Frazier was beaten four times time Ali and GF. Therefore GF and Holyfield both outrank Frazier! They say styles make fights so probably one of the greatest fights of all time would have been Ali vs. Holyfiled in their prime.

  4. Leon Says:

    Very good logic. Maybe I put too much stock in the Ali / Frazier fights.
    That’s a good case for GF outranking JF. Still not sure if Holyfield should be ranked higher.

  5. Karen Says:

    The only one I hadn’t heard of was Jack Johnson, a little before my time lol…

  6. Zeke Crandall Says:

    I followed most all of the boxers careers listed in your top ten other than Jack Johnson and Joe Lewis. I would agree with all of the above as the top ten African American boxers of all time. I agree that Ali or Claywas the greatest boxer in history

  7. kev Says:

    My Expert Opinion:
    (1) Muhammad Ali – The Greatest “of all time”
    (2) Big George Foreman
    (3) Smokin Joe Frazier
    (4) Larry Holmes – Easton Assassin
    (5) Mike Tyson – Iron Mike
    (6) Joe Louis – The Brown Bomber
    (7) Jack Johnson
    (8) Sonny Liston
    (9) Lenox Lewis
    (10)Evander Hokyfield – The Real Deal
    Lenox Lewis ali.fromen.frezier.holmes.tyson.joe loius.liston.lenox.

  8. Leon Says:

    Thanks for sharing, Kev.

  9. andy Says:

    always tough to make a definitive list. i would say that Frazier should be lower than GF. winning back the title at his age against moorer was astonishing. Joe Louis no.1 or no.2 in my opinion. he beat some classy operators with routine ease. for the same reason I would say Holmes continues to be one of the most underrated fighters in boxing history, so i thinks his place at three is well deserved.

  10. jake Says:

    Lenox lewis has got to be higher

  11. Shakoor Says:

    In his prime Mike Tyson was the greatest of all time