If the words breadbasket, catcher, chin and combination have multiple meanings to you, then you may find many familiar names on this list. For the casual boxing observer, this list will have a host of fighters with storied histories of fighting yet unbeknownst to them. One thing is true of all these men; they are grinders, fighting veterans who’ve had their hands raised far more times than they’ve felt the floor.
Boxing, however, is a very interpreted sport. These fighters may have won a staggering number of fights, but they aren’t all necessarily regarded as the best boxers of all time (our number #3 on this list often is, though). Household names like Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Muhammad Ali are spoken of commonly as some of the best ever (Mayweather’s story is not yet fully written, though). The list below is more of the iron men of sport, having endured and won hundreds of fights. . . And getting punched in the face thousands and thousands of times. I mean, is someone counting? The amount of times you’ve been punched in the face would be a heck of a way to reflect on one’s career.
10. Marcel Cerdan: 106-4
This North African Frenchman born in Algeria is an iconic athlete in French sports history. Of his four defeats, he was disqualified twice, lost once by a dubious split decision, and his only other loss came when he suffered a shoulder injury mid-fight against Jake LaMotta (the boxer Raging Bull was based on) while defending his World Middleweight title. He is regarded as the best boxer in French history, starting his career with 48 wins before suffering his first loss. During World War II he won the inter-allied boxing championship in 1944 (that must not have gone over well with the Brits and the Yanks). He is rated for fighting at Middleweight and spend most of his career as such. Cerdan has had 66 of his victories by knockout, and he has been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is famous for his tragic death at age 33, when an Air France flight to New York crashed in the Azores–Cerdan was one of 48 people aboard who died.
9. Julio Cesar Chavez: 108-6-2
Another famous boxer who is hailed as the premiere fighter of his country, Chavez is often regarded as the best boxer ever to have come from Mexico. Over his 25-year career Chavez amassed 5 championships in three different divisions: Super Featherweight, Lightweight and Light Welterweight. Son of a railroad worker, Chavez attributed his rise in boxing to a drive to make money, after growing up in poverty and watching his parents work tirelessly. He began at the age of 16, with his pro debut when he was 17–he knocked out his first opponent, Miguel Ruiz, in the first round. Over his career Chavez has records for most successful defenses of world titles with 27 (21 of those being knockouts); most title fights with 37; and most title fight victories with 31. He also holds the longest undefeated streak in boxing history– 13 years, 89-0-1 before he suffered his first defeat. Clearly, he earned his way into the International Boxing Hall of Fame; but despite his success he struggled heavily with alcohol and drug abuse. His son Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. followed his footsteps into boxing, and is a former Middleweight champion. Some life it must be to be a champion and forever pale in comparison to your father, eh?
8. Tony Canzoneri: 137-24-10
An unknown, hard-nosed young man’s life is upended as his family uproots from Slidell Louisiana to move to Staten Island, New York. That particular Italian American boy had found himself in the promised land of boxing, for which he would discover he had a undeniable penchant. Tony Canzoneri was his name. standing at 5’4″ he would go on to win five world titles over the course of his career. At the time he defeated Jackie ‘Kid’ Berg for the world junior Welterweight Championship in 1931, he was only the second boxer ever to win world titles in three different weight divisions, holding the title for Lightweight during that time and formerly winning the Featherweight championship. In 1934 The Ring Magazine proclaimed Canzoneri the fighter of the year. He’s regarded as one of the best boxers in history, and resides in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
7. Sandy Saddler: 144-16-2
One of the more famous knockout artists ever, Joseph “Sandy” Saddler had one of the best punches in history. Of his 144 wins, an incredible 103 of them were by knockout. A lanky, rangy guy, Saddler fought mostly in Featherweight– he was a two-time champion in that division, along with once winning the Junior Lightweight crown. He was known for being a bit of a ruffian in the ring with a reputation as a dirty fighter, but he actually had great boxing fundamentals. Saddler is most famous for being one of the only boxers ever to have a winning record against Willie Pep, whom he fought four times and won three. He was forced to relinquish his title in 1957 after an auto accident resulted in him having a detached retina. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990, and was later named the 2nd greatest featherweight of the 20th century. Not too shabby for a guy whose nickname sounds like a snake might hiss it at you.
6. Henry Armstrong: 151-21-9
Henry Melody Jackson Jr. is often in the conversation for greatest boxer ever to grace the planet. This African American/Irish/Native American young man from Mississippi first fought professionally for $35 in St. Louis under the name Melody Jackson. He was knocked out in three rounds. He later would move to L.A. with his mentor, Harry Armstrong, fighting under the guise of being Harry’s little brother Henry Armstrong. In 1937, six years after his first fight as Melody Jackson, he had knocked out Petey Sarron to win the World Featherweight championship. He was named fighter of the year that year and would never look back. He’s the only boxer to ever hold three different championship titles in three different weight classes simultaneously– Featherweight, Lightweight and Welterweight. His fighting style is most known for being an unrelenting, unending rain of blows, for which he got the nickname “Hurricane Hank.” The man was a veritable ball of lighting in the ring. He fought 17 world champions, winning 15 over his career. In a display of just how much political correctitude has changed over the years, his most popular nickname was actually “Homicide Hank.” Very subtle, America. In reality, he became an ordained Minister and devoted his life to underprivileged children after his retirement. Well done, Henry.
5. Sam Langford: 167-38-37-3
It may seem unconscionable to put fighters like Langford, as great as they may be, past Henry Armstrong; but this list is looking for great fighters with the highest win counts. As for Langford, he’s hands down the greatest fighter never to fight for a title. Perhaps that seems like a strange way to measure a fighter, given how championships are so coveted. But Langford’s problem was more personal, as the World Champion at the time was Jack Johnson, who was the first Black World Heavyweight Champion wouldn’t fight him. . . because they were both black? Johnson’s argument was that people wanted to see white fighters, so a black Championship wouldn’t draw fans (keep in mind this was in the early 1900s). So Langford kept on fighting, decimating opponents despite the incredible fact that over his career he was completely blind in one eye, and partially blind in the other. He challenged World Heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey in 1920. Dempsey’s manager, told him “Sam, we were looking for someone easier.” Goes to show you how fearsome Langford was. In Dempsey’s autobiography, he admitted “I wouldn’t fight [him] because I knew he would flatten me. I was afraid of Sam Langford.” Langford kept fighting despite being nearly blind, staying close to his opponents so he could feel as much as see. However history wants to judge Sam Langford, his story is one of incredible determination and triumph over adversity.
4. Ted “Kid” Lewis: 173-30-14
A strong young Jewish boy by the name of Gershon Mendeloff grew up in gaslit tenements on the East End of London. That boy would join the London Judean Athletic Club, assume the name Kid Lewis, and fight for sixpence and a cup of tea when he was 14 years old. With an elusive style and a long left hook, Lewis became a professional boxer only a year later. Four years after that, in 1913, he won the British Featherweight title, and a year later he’d win the European Featherweight Championship. He started traveling to fight, and eventually won the world Welterweight Championship against Jack Britton in Madison Square Garden, N.Y. Lewis and Britton would go on to have a heated rivalry– they’d fight each other 20 times over their careers. Along with his lengthy fighting record he also recorded 65 no-decisions, in a time where there was an incredible amount of gray area in judging boxing. In 1992 Lewis was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
3. Sugar Ray Robinson: 175-19-6-2
Widely regarded as the greatest pound for pound fighter in boxing history, Walker Smith Jr., or Sugar Ray Robinson has he was called in the ring, amassed an 85-0 amateur boxing record with 40 first round knockouts before he even started his professional career. Makes you feel for all those amateur boxers who didn’t know they’d be fighting the greatest fighter who ever lived. Youngest of three kids, Robinson originally wanted to be a doctor when his mother moved him to Harlem at the age of 12. It certainly makes you think about what’s worse; the best fighter ever never stepping into a ring, or an aspiring physician instead punching people in the face for a living. As for that career, he won his first 40 fights before losing to Jake LaMotta (Raging Bull) in february of 1942; and after that fight he would go on another win streak of 91 straight fights. Wow. He’d fight LaMotta five more times and win them all. In 1952 Robinson would retire with a record of 131-3-2 but would come back to fight three years after retiring, adding 44 wins and 16 losses.
2. Archie Moore: 183-24-10-1
Arichie Moore earned his way to the #2 spot on this list. Known as “The Old Mongoose” Moore’s career was incredibly long, as he fought well into his forties. Born as Archibald Lee Wright on December 13th, 1913, Moore lied about his age, claiming to have been born in 1916 for many years. When it eventually was revealed he was older, he famously said “I have given this a lot of thought and have decided that I must have been three when I was born.” As for his career, he has the boxing record for most knockouts in history, with 131. He didn’t fight for a title until he was 39 years old, when he defeated Joey Maxim. When he was 45 Moore fought 20-year-old Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay) in 1962, and was knocked out in four rounds. It would be his second to last fight. He’s the only fighter ever to have fought both Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali. Moore was also the first fighter ever to knock Rocky Marciano to the mat in a fight. He obviously is in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and was the inspiration for the 2006 movie Rocky Balboa.
1. Willie Pep: 229-11-1
Guglielmo Papaleo, Willie Pep, Will o’ the Wisp. This 5’5″ Italian American from Middletown, Connecticut has amassed an 241 boxing matches over his career, for a total of 1,956 rounds. He is often regarded as the best Featherweight boxer in history, and is renowned for his speed and defensive prowess in the ring. He once fought Sugar Ray Robinson in an amateur fight in the attic of a feed store in Norwich CT., losing by decision. He had no idea who Robinson was, as Robinson was fighting under a pseudonym. Another incredible fact about Willie Pep, he survived a plane crash in 1947 in which the copilot and two passengers died. He recovered from serious injuries in the crash and incredibly, he continued to fight successfully afterwards. He had amassed a record of 134-1-1 before he lost his Featherweight title to Sandy Saddler (#7 on this list) in 1948. He retired for good at the age of 43, with an illustriously long, victorious career behind him. It was not without some scandal, as he was often accused of throwing the fight against Lulu Perez in 1954 where he was knocked out in two rounds. A man with a good sense of humor, Pep once said: “All my wives were great housekeepers, after every divorce, they kept the house.” He was married six times, but had a career record of 0-6 outside the ring. Who says love isn’t a battlefield?
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