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The Fifty Greatest Light-Heavyweights of All Time, Part 4 (No. 20-11)

Matt McGrain



Welcome to the jungle.

Although light-heavyweight surprised with its lack of depth in comparison to say, middleweight, the top twenty is monstrous. The fighters listed between twenty and eleven, in contrast with say, heavyweight, are a monumental threat to the fighters that make up the top ten. What separates the penultimate instalment from the ultimate isn’t necessarily quality of the light-heavyweight but the quality of the light-heavyweight that the fighter defeated, the length of time they spent in the division, or their level of dominance.

At #20 is a fighter who gave Harry Greb some of his toughest fights. At #18 is a stylistic foil so tricky that greater fighters may have succumbed to his deadly counterpunching stylistics; #17 and #16 between them, possibly, could defeat every fighter who will make up the top ten, the first slashing the rhythm of the very best boxers, the second surviving to out-point the deadly punchers. At #13 is a fighter that some people identify as something called the all-time head-to-head pound-for-pound greatest-of-all-time.

You get the point. These are some good fighters.

I hope you enjoy what I have written about them.

#20 – KID NORFOLK (83-23-6; Newspaper Decisions 28-4)

Kid Norfolk (born William Ward) made some decent money in fights in New York in 1921 and just handed it off to a charity that seems to have supported Irish children who didn’t have enough to eat. Four months later he found himself in Pittsburgh ring with the legendary and deadly Harry Greb landing, in the third, a booming right hand that left Greb neatly (if momentarily) deposited on the canvas. Norfolk got the better of the first five rounds of their ten rounder before Greb, being Greb, found his way back, generally being seen as having beaten Kid.

Norfolk and Greb were the same type of man. It was inevitable that they would meet again and when they did in 1924, Norfolk displayed a different side of his character. William Ward gave money to hungry children. Kid Norfolk was one of the most violent and brutal fighters in ring history. He hit Greb low. In the third he butted, or charged him. It was, according to the Pittsburgh Post, “the toughest, roughest, ugliest fight” ever seen. In the fourth the two men butted, hit each other low, elbowed, held and hit their way to the bell for the sixth…and then continued to fight. The referee disqualified Greb, absurdly, awarding the victory to Norfolk although it is not one that is held in any real regard for the purposes of this list.

Fortunately, Norfolk put in work in the light-heavyweight division of the 1920s for all that many of his best wins were earned in the heavyweight division and there is plenty more to recommend him. As well as perhaps the toughest pressure style of a tough era, he smashed Tiger Flowers, who defeated Greb, dominated a series with an ageing Jeff Clarke, gave Battling Siki the beating of his life, thrashed Gunboat Smith in a similar fashion, remorselessly battered Billy Miske and dominated the Jamaica Kid. Norfolk was Dwight Muhammad Qawi in an era better suited to his inherent ferociousness; it is fitting that he slips in here just in front of his descendent.

#19 – JACK DILLON (94-8-15; Newspaper Decisions 93-19-7)

Jack Dillon was the original giant-killer. Short, squat, with a pug’s face vanishing into a thick skull he was built for this kind of work, as a natural a freak as ever boxed. A title claimant at middleweight he was chased from the division by Frank Klaus in 1912, happily visiting it for money fights against name fighters but from the following year he was more likely to be seen tearing his way through the massed ranks of one of the deepest light-heavyweight divisions ever assembled.

Tearing is the right word – Dillon was a vicious and aggressive fighter, astonishing given his habit of giving away poundage to naturally larger men. Dillon, however, was not just a beast but a thinking beast, slippery, clever, difficult to hit clean despite his aggressive, rushing style. It was a terrifying combination and it made him one of the greatest of his era.

Terrifying, too, was his thirst for the ring. He was out thirty times in 1912 and included among his victories was a ten round newspaper decision over Jack “Twin” Sullivan, a light-heavyweight from the last generation who had made heavies sit up and take notice, a symbolic passing of the torch between two light-heavyweights feared by giants.

In 1913 he began his epic series with Battling Levinsky, a defensive genius with a superb left that would trace Dillon’s decline. In six consecutive battles from 1914 through to 1916, Dillon seems to have got the better of his nemesis, winning a mixture of newspaper decisions (in states where official renderings were not permitted) and referee’s decisions, with one draw. In the course of this series, Dillon began claiming the light-heavyweight championship of the world, a claim that today is generally recognised as true; but by the end of 1916, Levinsky had caught up to him and the title both, thrashing Dillon in a one-sided bought in October of that year in what would be their last contest. Dillon is recognised as the victor in their drawn-out series, going 5-2-2

Levinsky had overtaken Dillon only because he had slowed; Billy Miske and Harry Greb were among those to benefit, but still Dillon remained aggressive enough and good enough to dominate the likes of Gunboat Smith and Al McCoy. In his prime, he was a lethal combination of boxing and punching that rarely came unstuck even against the very best.

#18 – VICTOR GALINDEZ (55-9-4)

Victor Galindez fought at the very top of the light-heavyweight division for five long and tough years and lost only twice, to Mike Rossman in September of 1978, avenged, and to the rampant Marvin Johnson in November of 1979. Against this must be weighed the end of his prime and twenty-two victories, over consistently excellent opposition.

One criticism of his performances versus that excellent opposition is that he sometimes scraped home, winning only by the narrowest of margins, and to an extent this is true. When he met the superb Eddie Mustafa Muhammad over fifteen in 1977 he won only by virtue of the brilliant knockdown he scored in the fifth round, slipping and countering an unruffled Muhammad for a count. Galindez didn’t push though and soon the two were swapping rounds again sometimes just a punch between them. Galindez wasn’t bad, but he didn’t dominate, although it was rare to see a fighter do so against Eddie Mustafa Muhammad.

But Galindez was that type of fighter. He had brilliant economy and brilliant judgement. In his fight with Yaqui Lopez that same year, he was left needing to win the final round for the win once again – but he did that. When Lopez got the rematch he felt he deserved the following year, Galindez beat him again and again it was narrow. Watching Galindez though, one feels that he is generally in control of his own fate in these seemingly desperate encounters. Partly this sense is spurred by a sense that such domination would be necessary for his great success; you see Galindez is not really a light-heavyweight.

In terms of poundage, he spent almost his entire career within the range and there is a squatness to his frame that suggests a light-heayvweight’s power and strength packed into a much smaller fighter. At between 5’9 and 5’10 with a reach of just 73” inches he was considerably shorter in both height and length than compatriot and legendary middleweight Carlos Monzon. Everybody he fought was taller than him; everyone he fought outreached him.

He solved these problems with such wonderful elegance that it is easy to forget his stature when watching him box. For example, he rarely led with his jab, the reason being that this punch is almost as dangerous for him to throw as all the others; so he threw the others, showing even experienced opponents something new with a slippery, sliding counter-attack filled with feints and strikes that obeyed different rules to the ones built in the gym.

He missed out on John Conteh, and that hurts him as his status as the best light-heavyweight of the mid-seventies must remain in question, but most of the top men tumbled. I have a sense that had he met Conteh and perhaps Miguel Angel Cuello, a place in the top ten would have been a possibility; as it is he scrapes, barely, into the top twenty.

#17 – LLOYD MARSHALL (70-25-4)

Lloyd Marshall is one of the most fascinating fighters in history. A unique and bizarre style comprised of feints, leaps, sudden unexpected attacks but married to some genuinely technically astute boxing, all of it done with swift surety made him one of the most deadly boxers of the shadowed “Murderer’s Row” which has received so much publicity in the last ten to twelve years. In terms of legacy, Marshall has not profited. Charley Burley has been the poster-boy for that group of marginalised black fighters and I understand why, but Marshall was almost certainly just as good, a fact underlined by his defeat of the lauded Burley.

The injustices inflicted upon both of these men were many, but it is arguably Marshall who suffered more. A crack amateur, financial circumstance demanded he turn professional before the Olympic trials; sleeping under the bleachers at a baseball stadium he fell ill and couldn’t find work. When, finally, his career took off, Marshall found himself cornered by harsh reality and perhaps a certain moral weakness is rumoured to have become what was politely known in the lexicon of the time as a “business” fighter – a fighter paid to take an opponent the distance, or even to lose. While I may have personal suspicions regarding which fights specifically are tainted in this way there is no direct proof and as such these losses are treated as what they are – legitimate losses or possible quit jobs. Either way, Marshall’s “inconsistencies” count against him. Post-war, Marshall slipped badly. 1945 wasn’t an unreasonable year for him with his only two losses coming in hard-fought contests against the great Archie Moore, but by the end of the decade he was wavering dangerously close to becoming just an opponent, a tragedy.

Even more tragic was that Marshall never won the light-heavyweight title, despite the fact that he thrashed two champions in one sided contests. Anton Christoforidis was less than two years removed from his short title reign and had lost, in that intervening time, to only two fighters, Ezzard Charles and Jimmy Bivins. Bivins beat Christoforidis narrowly but Marshall hammered him, letting only two rounds of the ten round fight slip. The other championship victim that Marshall buried was Freddie Mills. Marshall crushed Mills, who was a year removed from the title, stopping him in just five, half the time it took the brutal Gus Lesnevich.

Precious, wonderful minutes of Marshall’s battle with Mills survive. He is a gunslinger of the highest order. Past-prime, hovering on the cusp of irrelevance, he is lethal. His short left-hook, especially to the body, is one of the very best punches of its kind, not just in the light-heavyweight division but in any division. Mills was so befuddled that at least once he appeared to square up to the referee.

Neither one of these wins are Marshall’s best. Marshall’s best win is over Ezzard Charles. Marshall is the only light-heavyweight ever to stop Charles. He dropped him between seven and nine times, stopping him in eight rounds. The fight was not competitive. The fight was another one-sided thrashing.

When Marshall was on he was almost unstoppable. There are too many losses for him to rank among the fifteen best at the weight, but he was probably good enough to test any of them and beat many of them and he beat as many ranked men as any but the quill and the long-standing belt-holders. He beat as many really good ones as almost any of them. Spotted throughout this series of articles are references to the all-time rankings of historians down the years, men who know the sport: not one of them, not a single one of them rates Lloyd Marshall top twenty. Witness:

Ezzard Charles, Nate Bolden, Joe Kahut, Curtis Sheppard, Anton Christoforidis, Shorty Hogue, Teddy Yarosz, Freddie Mills, Holman Williams, Bob Garner (stopped in one), Bob Karner (stopped in one).

There are guys who are routinely ranked above Marshall who never, ever get anywhere near besting this level of competition but appear on both the Boxing Scene list and the IBRO list. Why? Georges Carpentier is on the IBRO list! To be brutally frank, the record of light-heavyweight Lloyd Marshall embarrasses Carpentier’s record at light-heavyweight.

And you can quote me on that.

#16 BILLY CONN (64-11-1)

Seeing Sam Langford ranked in the low twenties was, I’m sure, something of a shock for the traditionalists among The Sweet Science’s readership – my guess is seeing Billy Conn outside the top ten will be an even bigger shock.

As a longtime boxing fan I’m familiar with lists and I’ve come to understand, like you, that criteria are everything. What the listmaker espies as crucial is what defines the standing of a given fighter on any list. Billy Conn appears at #10 on Boxing Scene’s top twenty-five at the weight, the same spot at which he was placed by Herb Goldman; he is in at #9 on the IBRO list. Here, he is lower by several spots and this needs to be explained. The primary difference here is criteria.

My criteria, as stated in the introduction to Part One, are concerned with fights contested at the 175lb limit. As I wrote then, fights “that were fought above the light-heavyweight limit will be considered…a heavyweight contest and will not be credited here.” Furthermore, “the weight class in question is always defined by the heavier fighter. If a 173lb man is fighting a 203lb man he is engaging in a heavyweight contest.” Provision is made for an old-fashioned “over-the-weight” meeting, of course, meaning that a fight between 177lb fighter and a 178lb fighter can still be a light-heavyweight contest – but this rule of thumb extends itself to divisions below, too. Conn, to put it bluntly, is caught in a perfect storm of criteria that inhibits his ranking at this weight.

Conn had no amateur experience and was blasted face first into professional competition in the mid-thirties, as a teenager, breaking into the world-class only a few years later; but he fought then as a middleweight, not a light-heavyweight. It was 1938 before he stepped into the bigger division in earnest and he preferred to do so against old middleweight rival Honey Boy Jones, a clean win in twelve; a decisive victory over journeyman Domenico Ceccarelli followed before a narrow squeeze past Eric Seeling and a raucous, foul-filled loss to old-foe, the 162lb Teddy Yarosz (Conn weighed 168lbs). “Too much Irish” was the call from boxing scribe Regis Welsh in the aftermath, a sentiment typical of the generally indulgent nature of the press when it came to Conn. This loss to Yarosz, however, was the only one Conn ever posted at light-heavyweight; in fact, he went unbeaten over nineteen contests before Joe Louis famously wiped him out in thirteen rounds of their 1941 heavyweight title fight. “What’s the point in being Irish if you can’t be stupid?” was how Conn explained his decision to duke it out with Louis with only minutes to go until he hoisted the title. That was his eighth consecutive battle at heavyweight. His decision to hunt Louis called for him to abandon the light-heavyweight title he had won against Melio Bettina in 1939. He defended against Bettina once more, later that same year, then twice beat Gus Lesnevich, and then he bid light-heavyweight adieu. He revisited it once more, for a fight with reigning middleweight champion Tony Zale (Conn weighed 175lbs), making Zale another in a long line of middleweights that Conn defeated at the weight; Zale joined a 160lb Fred Apostolini and a 166lb Solly Kreiger who had met a light-heavyweight Conn before he came to the title.

Conn enjoyed a size advantage over these men, but they were exceptional middleweights and Conn’s defeat of them at the heavier poundage does speak for him. That said, his adventures in heavyweight in combination with his determination to entertain old-time foes from the middleweight class rather than the ranked light-heavyweights of the era is what hurts him. By my count he defeated only a handful of legitimate 175 pounders.

This, then, is how Conn finds himself lower than is traditionally the case. Still, it is inaccurate to say that this system is hard on Billy – he finds himself ranked at #62 on my heavyweight list, and when the middleweight top fifty rolls around, he will be under consideration for that list, too, despite the enhanced competition.

For what Conn actually did at the weight though, he can’t find himself much higher than he is here.

#15 – MAXIE ROSENBLOOM (207-39-26; Newspaper Decisions 16-4-4)

Everyone beat Maxie Rosenbloom.

Considering only the men who made this top fifty, Joe Knight, John Henry Lewis, Mickey Walker, Tiger Jack Fox, Yong Stribling, Jack Delaney and Jimmy Slattery all owe a debt of gratitude. Many others were placed under consideration specifically because they, at one time or another, bested Rosenbloom: Tiger Flowers, Leo Lomski, Bob Olin, Bob Godwin, Lou Scozza, Tony Schucco, George Manley and Pete Latzo, for example, all hold victories over him. And yet here he is – firmly entrenched within the top twenty. Why?

In part, it is because of this attitude to big business. With the world-title on the line, he was a different beast and one that more often than not emerged triumphant from a skittish, rough, difficult fight. So Joe Knight was able to beat him, comprehensively according to some, in 1932 but come 1934 with the title on the line and Rosenbloom was able to scrape home to a draw and retain his championship. That same year, 1934, Rosenbloom dropped a decision to Mickey Walker over ten in a non-title fight, but the previous year in a confrontation for the championship of the world, Walker had managed to win perhaps as many as three out of fifteen rounds. Bob Godwin managed two draws over ten narrow rounds in his run up to his title-shot at Rosenbloom, but come that night he found himself in the ring with a different fighter, an aggressive, direct one who dropped Godwin twice in the first round and re-opened cuts the challenger had suffered in training to stop him in four.

Hardly a pushover in non-title affairs, he did manage to beat fighters as good as Lou Scozza and Leo Lomski without any gold on the line but it is a fact that he was better with a glittering motivation ringside. Nevertheless his title record is a less than overwhelming 7-1-2, the losses coming against Bob Olin, who dethroned him, and Jimmy Slattery, who repulsed him in his first shot at a title. Thrown in with his inconsistencies of form and occasional dis-interest in combat I can’t rank him at #11 as the IBRO did, or #9, his placement on the Boxing Scene list, but rather bang in the middle of the top twenty, the highest ranked of the division’s flawed geniuses.

#14 – JACK DELANEY (73-11-2; Newsapaper Decisions 2-0-0)

Occasionally, a king-killer comes along and just wipes out that decade’s royalty. A destroyer of champions, he often appears at an era crossroads to vanquish the faded kingpins of the last era and the coming giants of the next; which is to say that luck, usually, plays a part where the king-killer is concerned.

Despite this they tend to be the greatest of fighters; Henry Armstrong is a king-killer; Sugar Ray Robinson, too. Jack Delaney is such a fighter.

His luck came in the form of the timing of his victorious meeting with the great Tommy Loughran who he defeated over ten rounds in 1924 with an inexperienced Tommy listed at just 16-3-1 by Boxrec. But Delaney rematched Loughran the following year, a desperately narrow draw the ruling after some confusion with the scorecards. This makes Jack Delaney, with a record of 1-0-1, the only light-heavyweight in history to have a winning record against Loughran.

Paul Berlenbach, as documented in Part Three, was the major victim of Delaney’s brilliance, but former champion Mike McTigue, having lost his title only ten months earlier to Berlenbach, was another former champion to suffer domination at the hands of Delaney, beaten in just four rounds at a time when his safety first style was infamous. Maxie Rosenbloom, a champion of the future, followed shortly thereafter, dropping a ten round decision to a fighter who was picking of champions of the future and the past with equal appetite.

For these and the lesser tasks he performed in his superb career, Delaney utilised an excellent left hand, surprising, snappy, varied and hard, a crackling right-hand often thrown behind that covering left, fabulous strength often underappreciated but very apparent in the scant footage that survives of his second career up at heavyweight, and most of all an unassailable generalship that drew even brilliant opponents into his fight. More than that, his losses at 175lbs came against Berlenbach (who needed four tries, losing three of them), Jimmy Slattery, king of the six-rounder who twice beat him over that distance, and Young Fischer, who forced a corner stoppage after bouncing an inexperienced Delaney repeatedly off the canvas.

This aside, he often seemed invincible at the weight which made his departure for heavyweight such a great shame; there he was a failure, achieving some decent wins with organisation of his impressive boxing but generally out-gunned by the bigger men he was faced with.

One down, Delaney saw off more kings than almost every fighter to box at light-heavyweight.

#13 – ROY JONES JNR. (61-8)

Thankfully, Roy Jones is lacerating his wonderful legacy as a fighter up at cruiserweight with his determination to continue boxing despite a string of hideous knockout losses; at light-heavyweight we have only to consider his wonderful career between 1996 and 2009, which encapsulates both the searing brilliance of the invincible genius and the crash and burn of boxing’s most mercurial Icarus.

He stepped up from 168lbs where he may, literally, have been invincible, to a light-heavyweight division which probably was a little too big for him. Under 5’11 and with a reach of just 74” Jones was sized for the fifties, not the nineties, the day-before weigh-in allowing larger frames to squeeze into the 175lb weight limit. Of course, it didn’t matter. Jones was so brilliant at his peak that he operated almost independently of his opponent anyway.

Those opponents are the subject of some scrutiny, however, with many claiming that part of Roy’s unearthly appearance was due to the limited competition with which he shared the ring. To get the negatives out of the way, yes, Jones needed Dariusz Michalczewski in order to claim true domination over what was an era lacking true depth. That said, Jones thrashed, mostly in non-competitive bouts, so many contenders ranked by Ring Magazine as to reach double-figures. Of course, The Ring’s rankings are not infallible but the following two statements are fact: only a tiny handful of light-heavyweights of any era defeated ten or more men to have appeared in these rankings, and Roy tended to be in non-competitive bouts with his prey. The main point for me is that for every Glen Kelly there was a Clinton Woods and for every Clinton Woods there was a Virgil Hill.

Hill boxed well in the first round against Jones and he may even have won it. He looked huge in the ring in comparison with Roy and he used his size and that pinging jab to menace him while showing uncharacteristic aggression becoming of a bigger man. Roy studied it, read it, and in round two he timed it. But his timing wasn’t like the timing of Victor Galindez or Lloyd Marshall. In the main, this is because of the handspeed. No opponent could adjust to Roy’s incoming, they just had to absorb those punches; this allowed Jones to hit of such a narrow distance as to make him unfathomable. There was no “solving” him. Beating a prime Jones had nothing to do with defence and everything to do with durability and punching power. In the second, having moved Hill onto him with that double-step shuffle, he dipped to his own left, threw a single jab up the middle to the belly. Hill shaped himself to hit down, Jones extracted himself, moved his upper body around Hill’s outstretched left (the defence) and landed a full-bodied right hand over the top, all before Hill – who was quick – had the time to react to the first punch.

There are perhaps no other light-heavyweights who could have made this small move against Hill. Perhaps a feint to the belly followed by the right but to be honest, the risk probably doesn’t justify the reward. Jones did these things as a matter of course. The flashy combinations are the ones to attract the attention, of course, but it is these less stunning sequences that make him so unboxable. Note that “unboxable” isn’t really a word, but Jones stretches the lexicon (and Hill, who he stopped in the fourth with a titanic bodyshot. It was Hill’s only stoppage loss at the weight).

So why no top ten berth for Roy? Why does he languish below, say, Tommy Gibbons? In part it’s because, like Muhammad, Roy never attained lineage; he needed Michalczewski for that and he decided he had better things to do. That’s fair enough, but it means he can’t be credited as “the man” in this division in the way his fans might wish. Yes, we can suppose he is the best of his era, but it was never proven beyond hope of contradiction. That hurts him.

Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson hurt him also. Both inflicted dangerous knockouts upon him calling his chin into question for all time. It may be that Jones was hurt by coming down in weight from the light-heavyweight’s bane, a trip up to heavyweight, or it may be that he carried with him a certain vulnerability that lay veiled due to his brilliance.

I seem to have given him the benefit of the doubt here because I’d happily see him below Delaney in terms of what he achieved and opposition bested; my suspicion that Jones would tend to have defeated him and tended to have done better against the field seems to have seen him slip in here at unlucky thirteen.

#12 – TOMMY GIBBONS (57-4-1; Newspaper Decisions 39-1-3)

A look down the list of the opposition belonging to Kid Norfolk will reveal a stunning list of fighters as good as just about anyone to have stepped into the ring. But it was Tommy Gibbons that Kid Norfolk picked out as the single best opponent of his glorious career, a man who “hit me with everything.” Not Harry Wills the monstrous heavyweight that beat him out in two in 1922; not Harry Greb, the intangible legend who, indeed, Gibbons went 2-2 with; not the terrifying Sam Langford who yo-yoed Norfolk off the canvas before stopping him in 1917; Gibbons, who busted him in six rounds in 1924.

Norfolk rated him for his offence but champion Battling Levinsky, one of the busiest fighters in history, ranked Gibbons the best defence specialist he faced – ever. Having been in with Gene Tunney, Young Stribling, Harry Greb and Jack Sullivan among literally hundreds of others, he ranked Gibbons the hardest to hit clean, the cleverest of them all.

If this combination of technically proficient snapping offence and incalculable defence may be thought by the reader to be a hamper to a young fighter’s ambition in getting matches, the reader would be right.

“Every fighter in the country wants to fight Dempsey, but none of them will fight Gibbons,” complained legendary promoter Tex Rickard when Gibbobs began in earnest to stalk the heavyweights. The Pittsburgh Press reported in November of 1924 that Gene Tunney, Harry Wills and Jack Renault, all contenders to Dempsey’s heavyweight crown, all found better things to do when the New York Commission came looking for a name opponent to put in the ring with Gibbons in December of that year. He was feared and he was fearless.

It should be noted that Norfolk was ageing when Gibbons thrashed him, but it should also be taken into account that Gibbons was past his own sweltering prime and just six months from retirement. Norfolk aside, he handed Georges Carpantier a ten-round thrashing, credited by some newspapermen with winning ten out of ten rounds against the plucky Frenchman, but his finest moment came some four years earlier against the great Greb. Although Greb was always small for a light-heavyweight, Gibbons had only weighed in a single pound heavier at 166lbs. Gibbons out-fought and even appeared to out-speed Greb as he completed the route by actually driving the perpetual aggressor back and away. By the end, Greb’s left eye was closed and he carried evidence of Tommy’s terrible body attack from hip to chest.

Greb avenged himself upon Gibbons on two occasions. He would remain the only man to defeat Gibbons at the poundage and the latest in a long line to name Gibbons one of the best he had ever faced.

Grotesquely underrated in the modern era, Gibbons has neither the top-to-toe resume or a the prolonged championship run to allow him to pierce the top ten, but he is as close to doing so and as deserving of inclusion and as special as anyone who lies outside it.

#11 HAROLD JOHNSON (76-11)

Perhaps the most underrated heavyweight in history, Harold Johnson boxed with a care that suited his near-perfect technique; small moves, calculated strikes fluid combination punching born of correct balance, something that was not easy for Johnson to maintain with a relatively short reach. At light-heavyweight, however, I think a certain over-confidence crept into his work. It is a fact that the huge-punching “Oakland” Billy Smith is not the mindless brawler some try to paint him in the light of his embarrassment on film by the immortal Charley Burley, and it is true that the feint Smith buys his devastating one-punch knockout of Johnson with was a thing of real beauty, but there is still something surprising about his being knocked out by Smith despite his defensive prowess, clear on film at heavyweight. His knockdown at the hands of another huge puncher, Bob Satterfield may have cost him in that split-decision loss.

Nevertheless, at his best, Johnson was the definitive technician at both light-heavyweight and heavyweight. If Lloyd Marshall is the clown-prince of jazz at 175lbs, Harold Johnson is a master pianist, whose genius is born of his perennial correctness. It is the type of style that can lead to the utter domination of world class opposition. In 1963, a light-heavyweight world-title challenger named Doug Jones stepped up to heavyweight to take on a prospect named Muhammad Ali and pushed him as hard as he would ever be pushed until Joe Frazier grabbed hold of him. Around ten months before that, Jones met Harold Johnson with the 175lb title on the line and Harold won as many as thirteen of the fifteen rounds contested between the two in defence of the title he was born to wear. He had been a professional boxer for sixteen consummate years.

Clearly slowing down, Johnson drew his opponent’s quicker jab into space he had once inhabited rather than the space he would inhabit with simple, stark footwork that wasted not a single step and left Jones hanging. Whenever he got hit, he knew exactly where to place his counterpunches to discourage aggression; he threw with volume but never without control; he walked Jones onto his own left over and over again; when Jones shows bravery in coming squarer to try to make his right a factor, he just made himself more available for Johnson’s jab, which he first doubled, then trebled.

It’s perfection and like much that is perfect, it is simple, but if the reader could teach it he would have seven world-class prospects on his hands. There are two different senses in which a man can be a natural fighter, and Johnson epitomises the version which stresses not aggression but timing. He was once asked why, when he so often had fights sewn up early, he didn’t press for the stoppage and he answered that he would feel a fool if he were to be dropped by a dominated opponent in the final rounds. One wonders how much money his perfectionism cost him.

He was robbed of the title he strived so long and so hard to lift against Willie Pastrano in 1963. As blatant a robbery as can be seen in a filmed title fight, this injustice put the lights out in Johnson and he rambled home to retirement in 1968 and then again after an aborted comeback in 1971. Looking over his shoulder, he probably considered his single ten round victory over nemesis Archie Moore to be the jewel in his crown rather than five victories he achieved in title fights, but it should be stressed that Moore defeated him on four other occasions. I said it in writing about Johnson on the occasion of his death earlier this year and I’ll say it again here: the terrible luck Johnson suffered in sharing an era with his stylistic nightmare who also happened to be one of the greatest fighters of all time is stark. Had Moore never been born, Johnson would be locked firmly within the top three in my opinion.

As it is, the perfectionist lies just outside the top ten.

Above, giants.

Click here for part One

Click here for part Two

Click here for part Three

Click here for part Five



Featured Articles

Javon ‘Sugar’ Hill Keeps the Kronk Flame Burning in Banged-up Detroit

Arne K. Lang




Anthony Dirrell, who risks his WBC 168-pound world title against former title-holder David Benavidez this Saturday, Sept. 28, is one of the last of a dying breed, one of the last active fighters who earned his spurs at the fabled Kronk Gym, by which we mean the original Kronk Gym at 5555 McGraw Street on Detroit’s west side, the place that the late great trainer Emanuel Steward put on the map.

Steward, an electrician by trade and former National Golden Gloves champion, built an amateur boxing powerhouse in the basement of the Kronk Rec Center before attracting national notice for his work with Kronk alumni who turned pro, most notably Tommy Hearns. Anthony Dirrell and his older brother Andre Dirrell represented Kronk as amateurs. They learned their craft in the original gym, often with Emanuel Steward present, watching over them like a mother hen and giving pointers.

Steward always had assistants (in the beginning unpaid volunteers) and their roles became larger as Steward became the sport’s most prominent hired gun, taking him away from Detroit for long stretches to coach such notables as Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko, plus serving as a member of HBO’s boxing broadcasting team. The most prominent of the assistants were Johnathan Banks, who currently trains Gennady Golovkin, and Javon “Sugar” Hill who will be in Anthony Dirrell’s corner on Sept. 28, having trained both Dirrell brothers off and on since their amateur days.

Emanuel Steward died in 2012 after a short illness at age 68. By then the Kronk Rec Center, built in 1921 when the area around it was heavily Polish, was no more. As the economy of Detroit worsened – the city filed for bankruptcy in 2013 – instances of vandalism increased as desperate people took to stealing anything that could be sold on the black market. In September of 2006, thieves entered the rec center in the still of the night and disemboweled it, removing all the copper fixtures. With its budget strapped, the city couldn’t afford the cost of repairs. Six years later, most of the building was destroyed by a fire of suspicious origin. Last year, what was left of the structure was finally demolished.

But the Kronk Gym, a hallowed name in boxing, never perished; just the place where Emanuel Steward worked his magic. The gym is currently housed in a former church, school and convent that has passed through several hands since being closed by the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit. There you will find Javon “Sugar” Hill when he’s not out of town at an amateur boxing tournament or on the road with a professional fighter. The 48-year-old Hill, above all others, is the man keeping the Kronk flame burning.

It was inevitable that Javon Hill would take on this responsibility; he is Emanuel Steward’s nephew. “Emanuel was his parents only boy,” notes Javon, “and I am my parents only boy.” That common circumstance strengthened their tie. For much of his youth and into his adult years, Hill resided in Steward’s home.

Hill spent 12 years on the Detroit police force. In 2007 he took an early retirement so that he could focus more fully on the gym. “When I was growing up,” he says, “I never thought about becoming a policeman. For me, it was an opportunity to get off the street and keep myself out of trouble.” (With his uncle Emanuel looking after his welfare, it’s doubtful that Hill would have strayed too far from the straight and narrow, but we will take him at his word.)

When Emanuel Steward died, Wladimir Klitschko went with the aforementioned Banks as his new trainer. Hill wasn’t resentful – he and Banks are best buddies – although he had more longevity with Kronk.

“Jonathan had been with Emanuel at Klitschko’s training camps and he and Wladimir had developed a special relationship. I was less involved because of Adonis Stevenson. Adonis wasn’t yet a champion when Emanuel died and I had the satisfaction of helping him grow into a world champion.”

Stevenson suffered a traumatic brain injury in the 10th defense of his world title on Dec. 1 of last year when he was stopped in the 11th round by Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

How is he doing? “We talk quite a bit,” says Hill, “and he is making steady progress.”

Hill draws a comparison between Stevenson’s current situation and one of those old dial-up computers that took forever to download a song. But little by little, things are slowly getting back to speed for him. “He can’t drive yet, but he can communicate in French, English, or Creole,” Hills says of the ex-champion who was born in Haiti and grew up in Montreal.

In the heyday of Kronk, the program had a big booster in Coleman Young, the city’s five-term mayor whose 20-year reign began in 1974. Subsequent mayors have been far less supportive (understandable considering the budget constraints), making it that much harder to recapture the glory days anytime soon.

In his quest to make boxing relevant again in Detroit, Hill found an unlikely ally in Ukrainian-born Dmitriy Salita. A former world title challenger who retired with a record of 35-2-1, Salita launched Salita Promotions in his hometown of Brooklyn as his career was winding down. When the New York Athletic Commission effectively put him out of business by adopting more stringent insurance requirements, prohibitively expensive for a grass-roots promoter, Salita shifted his base to Detroit where he had trained for his last few pro fights.

Salita, 37, has made great strides as a promoter. His clients include Claressa Shields, Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller and Norway’s newest sporting hero, Otto Wallin. Salita has also roped in a number of promising prospects from Russia and her former satellites, the most arresting of whom is Uzbekistani knockout artist Shohjahon Ergashev (17-0, 15 KOs), currently ranked #6 at junior welterweight by the IBF. Ergashev trains at Kronk as do three fighters who appeared on the same card last week in Grozny, Russia: heavyweight Apti Davtaev, light heavyweight Umar Salamov, and super middleweight Aslambek Idigov.

The Eastern European contingent has introduced a new strain into Kronk’s inner city vibe. It’s also made life somewhat more challenging for Javon Hill, especially on those occasions when he is working a corner and has only 60 seconds before the start of the next round to convey the message he wants to convey. But, Hill insists, it hasn’t been as challenging as one might think.

“Boxing is a universal language,” he says. “All of our foreign fighters take classes in English.” Alexey Zubov, a 32-year-old Russian cruiserweight with a 17-2 record, speaks almost flawless English and is often there when a translator is needed.

Kronk Gym became something of a foster child when the rec center shut down. For a time, Kronk fighters trained in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn. The gym’s current home, at 9520 Mettetal, six miles away from where it all started, suits Javon Hill to a tee because the surroundings so closely mirror the original.

“We’re back in the basement again, just like the old days,” says Hill, “and in a place very much like a rec center. Upstairs there are programs for adults that teach certain skills. And I like the fact it’s a small gym, just like our old gym.”

In a big gym, notes Hill, it’s harder to know when someone is slacking off. When a boxer hits a heavy bag and does it correctly, it emits a certain sound. A good trainer in a gym where there’s a lot going on, knows how to keep tabs on things with his ears as well as his eyes. “Here,” he says, “I can hear everything going on.”

The boxers who work out at Kronk are as young as eight years old. When school is out, says Hill, there may be as many as 25 or 30 amateurs on the premises. Emanuel Steward, were he alive, wouldn’t have it any other way. Steward believed that if a gym had a strong amateur program, the professional side would evolve organically.

If boxing in Detroit never gets back to where it once was, it won’t be for lack of trying. And the man doing the heavy lifting is Javon “Sugar” Hill, Emanuel Steward’s nephew and surrogate son.

Anthony Dirrell

Anthony Dirrell (pictured below) turns 35 next month. His fight this coming Saturday with undefeated and heavily favored David Benavidez, 12 years his junior, may be his last rodeo. He has hinted at retirement.


It’s hard not to root for him as few fighters have overcome as much adversity. Born and raised in hardscrabble Flint, Michigan, Dirrell was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in December of 2006. He was out of action for 22 months while undergoing chemotherapy. In May of 2012, he broke his leg and fractured his arm in a motorcycle accident. That dictated another long layoff. But he persevered and on Aug 16, 2014, he won the WBC world 168-pound title with a unanimous decision over Sakio Bika in a rematch after their first encounter ended in a draw.

Dirrell lost the belt in his first defense on a close decision to Badou Jack, but regained it earlier this year at the expense of Turkey’s Avni Yildirin after the title became vacant when Benavidez was stripped of it for testing positive for cocaine. His fight with Yildirin was stopped by the ringside physician after 10 rounds because of a worsening cut caused when the fighters clashed heads three rounds earlier, sending the fight to the scorecards. It was a tougher-than-expected fight for Dirrell who prevailed on a split decision.

The bout between Dirrell (33-1-1, 24 KOs) and Benavidez (21-0, 18 KOs) is the chief undercard bout underneath the welterweight title unification fight between Errol Spence Jr. and Shawn Porter. It will air on FOX pay-per-view.

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PBC in Bakersfield: Angulo Upsets Quillin: Colbert and Ramos Sizzle

Arne K. Lang




Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions was in Bakersfield, California tonight with a 14-bout card featuring veterans Peter Quillin and Alfredo Angulo in the main go. The 36-year-old Quillin, a former WBO world middleweight title-holder now competing as a super middleweight, was a solid favorite over Angulo who had lost five of his last eight coming in and was presumed to be shopworn. But Angulo, with the help of his new trainer Abel Sanchez, turned back the clock and won a well-deserved split decision. Two of the judges favored him (97-93 and 96-94) with the dissenter giving the nod to Quillin by a 96-94 tally.

A 2004 Olympian for Mexico, Angulo, 37, kept up the pressure and had Quillin fighting off his back foot all 10 rounds. There were no knockdowns, but the methodical Angulo hurt Quillin on several occasions.

Angulo improved to 26-7.  The Brooklyn-based Quillin, a former WBO middleweight champion, lost for only the second time in 37 starts.

In the co-feature, rising lightweight contender Chris Colbert, a stablemate of Peter Quillin, scored his most impressive win to date with a one-punch knockout of Mexico’s Miguel Beltran Jr. A 22-year-old southpaw making his fifth start of 2019, Colbert (13-0, 5 KOs) followed a probing left jab with an overhand right that knocked Beltran out cold, landing him face first on the canvas. Beltran, who fell to 33-8, needs to retire. Forty months have elapsed since he last defeated an opponent with a winning record.

Other Bouts of Note

In a 10-round welterweight fight, Puerto Rico’s Thomas Dulorme (25-3-1) won a unanimous decision over LA’s previously undefeated Terrel Williams (18-1).  Dulorme, coming off a 12-round draw with Jessie Vargas in his last fight, applied consistent pressure and had the heavier hands, but Williams had his moments in what was a very entertaining fight.

Dulorme, who suffered a bad cut over his left eye from an accidental clash of heads in round eight, finished strong, scoring the bout’s lone knockdown with a left hook with a minute remaining in the final round. Williams was hurt, but made it to the finish. The scores were 96-93 and 98-91 twice.

Hot prospect Jesus Ramos, a lanky 18-year-old welterweight from Casa Grande, Arizona, scored a smashing one-punch, third-round knockout of Rickey Edwards. A southpaw, Ramos (11-0, 10 KOs) has his first eight fights in Mexico. Edwards, from Paterson, New Jersey, falls to 12-4.

2016 Olympian Gary Antuanne Russell, 23-year-old southpaw from Capitol Heights, MD, needed just 32 seconds to score his 11th knockout in as many opportunities. His hapless opponent, 20-year old  Luis Ronaldo Castillo of Mexico,  has now been knocked out in the opening round of consecutive fights spaced four weeks apart.

Gary Antuanne Russell’s older brother Gary Antonio Russell, an undefeated bantamweight, was slated to appear but his opponent fell out.

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The Fifty Greatest Flyweights of All Time: Part One 50-41

Matt McGrain




The Fifty Greatest Flyweights of All Time: Part One 50-41

Research on the greatest heavyweights of all time was easy. Fire up YouTube or Dailymotion, watch the career-defining fights of a given contender, compare and contrast, order and write-up, delivered.

By lightweight, things were considerably more difficult.

This is to do with a diminishing interest in boxers by size. It is literally the case that available information is reduced coextensively with the poundage of the fighters in question. By the time I was involved with the bantamweights, things had become extremely difficult, unwholesomely greedy of my time and actually rather expensive.

Needless to say, the flyweights have been even more demanding.

The temptation to cut corners was, at times, enormous, but I allowed myself only one of meaning: this list is cognitive only of flyweights who fought from the Jimmy Wilde title reign to the present day. While every one of these projects has had a cut-off, flyweight’s is the most recent, the World War I era.  Partly, this is due to the absurd difficulty in researching 1900 contenders of this size but it is in the main due to uncertainty surrounding the poundage. Flyweight was paperweight for a long time and paperweight was never better than partially established globally. Tough on Johnny Coulon, but there it is.

Otherwise, the flyweight list has been put together under the same rules as governed the others. First and foremost, it should be stated the list considers only fights that took place at flyweight or just above.  So a 108lb fighter boxing in 2017 is a light-fly but a 108lb fighter boxing in 1925 was a flyweight, because light-fly did not then exist. This is an appraisal of flyweight in the truest sense, as it existed in boxing history.

Most important in conducting these appraisals: who a fighter beat and how he beat them. Secondarily, what was a fighter’s status in his own era? Was he a lineal champion? A belt-holder? Or just a brilliant contender who amassed a wonderful body of work in his forlorn hunt for the title?

Lastly, skillset as it appears on film and head-to-head considerations, the most speculative of criteria, are taken into account.

With that out of the way, here we go, for the last time a divisional top fifty, this one more obscure, unexpected and mysterious than any that has gone before.

The flyweights; this is how I have them:

#50 – Corporal Izzy Schwartz (1921-1932)

Izzy Schwartz lost thirty-two fights.  The good news: many of these were above flyweight.  The bad news: many of them were not and he was as likely to drop a decision to an unheard-of novice as he was an all-time great monster.

What gets Schwartz over the line despite this litany of losses is two things.  First, he took some really, really impressive names in his career; secondly, flyweight rather bizarrely drops off a cliff after #49 leaving me with about twenty good candidates for #50 and no outstanding ones.

But if you’re going to compromise on your gatekeeper to greatness, it might as well be for a fighter who defeated old-time legends like Black Bill and Willie Davies, men you have either heard of or will in the course of this series. Supplementary wins over future bantamweight beast Newsboy Brown and ranked men John McCoy and Ernie Jarvis do him absolutely no harm either.

It’s worth noting, of course, that Bill and Davies both avenged themselves on the Corporal four times over but also that he was a man who never shirked a challenge.

An air of respectability rather than true wonder purveys a career that was carried out between the two world wars and saw him share the ring with a generation of great flyweights. Noteworthy for his speed, he is also a fighter who completely lacked power, scoring a mere handful of knockouts.  A powerful Schwartz would have been a wonderful thing.

49 – Little Pancho (1927-1942)

 The younger half-brother of the immortal Pancho Villa, Eulogio Villaruel Tingson was bequeathed the catchier moniker “Little Pancho” in a nod to his much more powerful, much more brilliant relation.

But Pancho, for all that he is not the best fighter in his family, was one of the best flyweights of his era.  He lost twice to the great Midget Wolgast in 1932 and a decade later was beaten by the deadly bantamweight Manuel Ortiz. In between he drifted to and from flyweight and the poundage that would become superfly, which left a rather confounded shade to his legacy – but Pancho did good work while he flitted to and from.

He also managed to meet and defeat a boxer once in the class of Wolgast, the shadow of the fighter once known as Frankie Genaro. Pressuring, harassing, and finally cutting the old man he forced him to quit after the eighth.

Genaro makes the bedrock of a fine resume, but he was unranked and basically washed up at the time of his defeat. Pancho though, picked off several other good fighters in the course of his prolonged career, including Joe Mendiola (who he bested no fewer than three times), Jackie Jurich (who holds a precious victory over Manuel Ortiz) and the colorfully named Small Montana, also a ranked fighter.

A failed single tilt at a strap underlined his limitations, a ten-round draw with Little Dado in 1940 the closest he came to that glory.

#48 – Brian Viloria (2001-Active)

Brian Viloria, now a shell of his former self, still trades on the name that once bought a sigh of contentment from your hardcore purist.

Never the lineal flyweight champion, he was nevertheless arguably the best flyweight in the world for a brief period in 2012, before Juan Francisco Estrada sent him back on his heels and Roman Gonzalez finished the job by way of ninth round stoppage.

So never better than the third most impressive flyweight of his era, Viloria nevertheless did enough to creep in to the fifty, preferred to old timers like Sid Smith and Jackie Brown and near-peers like Donnie Nietes and Akira Yaegashi. Based upon his high level of operations in 2011-2012, this is justified.

Julio Cesar Miranda, a storm of pressure and gloves, represented the beginning of Viloria’s summit as he out-manned and out-fought his highly ranked Mexican opponent in a glorious slugfest. 108lb champion and pound-for-pounder Giovani Segura was dispatched that December by fast handed bunches of punches that cut and broke him before he was stopped in eight.

The jewel in the crown of his resume, however, is his 2012 destruction of Hernan Marquez. Marquez, himself a brief contender for this Top Fifty, was the world’s #1 contender when Viloria, one of America’s most underrated pugilists, ushered him from that spot via tenth round technical knockout.

Viloria is easy to hit for an elite flyweight and this cost him against the best but a combination of fast hands, great punch selection and unerring accuracy certainly forms an impressive first line of defence; quick feet spares his often poor spatial awareness; he could hit and he could certainly box.

Unlucky to run into two monsters in Estrada and Gonzalez, another era may have been kinder to him, and seen him earn a higher berth here.

#47 – Juan Francisco Estrada (2008-Active)

Juan Francisco Estrada nips in ahead of Brian Viloria by virtue of the most old-fashioned and perhaps best of reasons: he beat him.

The two met in April of 2013 in what was, for eight rounds, one of the great flyweight contests of this decade. Estrada, beautifully compact, the less expansive of the two despite his being the rangier, was a little spooked by Viloria’s layers early. The more experienced Hawaiian gave ground and countered to dangerous effect, rounding the relatively inexperienced Estrada up with virtual threats and feints.  Estrada screwed the nut and by the ninth, having split, on my card, the first eight with his opponent, began to dominate. It was a glorious combination of will and skill, burnished by one of the beautiful left hands of our time; a great jab and a honeyed uppercut that makes me blink every time I see it landed.

Estrada (pictured on the right) drove Viloria to the very edge and only heart and experience got him to the final bell in a borderline great fight.

Giovani Segura and Milan Milendo were the other major scalps of a truncated flyweight career. Estrada has spent time at both 108 and 115lbs making his flyweight career too short to rank him any higher here but it should be noted that he emerged from his three year stay at flyweight undefeated.

#46 – Gabriel Bernal (1974-1992)

Gabriel Bernal, a southpaw out of Guerrero, is one of the least heralded Mexican champions and in many ways it is not difficult to see why. Bernal was something of a soft-touch as a championship opponent, having lost eight fights before getting his shot at Koji Kobayashi in 1984. He made only a single successful defense before running into the punching machine Sot Chitalada. His final paper record of 43-14-3 perhaps does not lend itself to the hero worship reserved for Mexico’s more admired kings.

Bernal did do two things so worthy of note, however, that his inclusion here cannot be seen as controversial. First, in 1981, he scraped past the immortal Miguel Canto over ten rounds to go 1-1 in a two fight series with the living legend. The truth is, I can’t tell you whether or not Canto inhabits the number one spot at this time, because I don’t know, but if he isn’t #1 he will be close. True, Canto had faded from the shining brilliance of his prime, but he was still a ranked fighter in the early 1980s and one that had only been defeated by two men, both champions, since 1970.

Secondly, when he did get that shot at Kobayashi and the title, he knocked the champion out in just two rounds. Nobody had done that to the Japanese since the wonderful Jiro Watanabe turned the trick in Kobayashi’s ninth fight. Bernal’s free-swinging, full-hearted attack prostrated him quite literally face-first into the canvas for the first knockdown before depositing him neatly into the prayer position for the stoppage. It was one of the most stunning knockouts of the eighties.

#45 – Dado Marino (1941-1952)

Dado Marino was another wonderful but flawed fighter out of Hawaii; he retired thirty years before Brian Viloria was born. He ruled as the flyweight champion of the world between 1950 and 1952.

An inconsistent and frequent visitor at bantamweight, when he showed the discipline to make the 112lb limit he morphed into a different animal, one that was impossible to stop and difficult even to dent, one who threw a confused and frothy tide of punches inside and out, as direct and aggressive a fighter who has appeared at the weight.

Nevertheless, he requires that juicy three calendar-year title reign in order to make the fifty. His legacy rests heavily upon two wins over Terry Allen, the Brit he wrenched the championship from in 1950 with some vicious right-handed punching in the middle rounds.

Apart from his two impressive defeats of Allen, his resume is underwhelming, a dubious disqualification win over Rinty Monaghan probably his next best. The loss of his title to Yoshio Shirai followed by a failed attempt to reclaim it mirrored his own conquest of Allen and sent Marino into retirement.

There will be more of Yoshio Shirai in coming weeks.

#44 – Sid Smith (1907-1919)

Sid Smith is most famous, if he is famous at all, for being one of Jimmy Wilde’s many victims, but that is a little unfair. Smith was a centurion of pioneer boxing, taking part in more than a hundred contests and winning eighty-five of them.

Wilde crushed him three times between 1914 and 1916, but that aside, Smith’s results against the best of his era was more than respectable. First among them are his 1913 victory over French idol Eugene Criqui, who he defeated by twenty round decision in Paris in April, and his victory, less than forty days later, over Englishman Joe Symonds, who he defeated over fifteen in his hometown of Plymouth. Smith, a Londoner, reached his beautiful peak with these two fights.

“Since the Americans have not yet seen fit to recognise [a flyweight champion],” wrote Boxing of Smith’s fight victory over Criqui, “Smith now has every right to the…championship of the world.”

Wilde would have plenty to say about that, of course, but Smith scored wins over the cream of European competition, and as intimated by Boxing, Europe was then the world as far as flyweights were concerned.

Smith deserves wider recognition than as a footnote to the career of Jimmy Wilde.

#43 – Joe Symonds (1910-1924)

Joe Symonds, as detailed above, was beaten by Sid Smith, but avenged himself eighteen months later; no rubber match was made and so the head-to-head question remains unanswered.

Neither did Symonds have more meaningful success against Jimmy Wilde, the bane of a talented batch of European flyweights, although he did make the fifteen-round distance with Jimmy, something Smith never did manage.

Symonds struggled with the brutal Percy Jones, losing a series to him on the eve of World War I, but Smith never met with Jones, making any comparison impossible.

What sets Symonds apart is his 1915 victory over Tancy Lee.

Lee was the best of Wilde’s flyweight foes, but Symonds got him out of there in the first of their two contests, staged in 1915. 5’1”, Symonds was nevertheless physical enough to find himself boxing at featherweight before his career was over and it was above 120lbs that most of his 29 recorded losses were suffered, so it perhaps shouldn’t be surprising that once he got Lee on the hook he didn’t let him off. Pressure and volume brought him a priceless stoppage win over a man who had scored a stoppage against Jimmy Wilde nine months earlier.

Lee scored his revenge, but not at the flyweight limit.

It is a win that buys Symonds several spots on this list, and more importantly separates him from his old enemy Smith.

#42 – Lorenzo Parra (1999-Active)

One of the saddest sights the ring brought us in 2018 was that of Lorenzo Parra, gut spilling over his trunks, a twenty-year professional campaign behind him, seeking desperately for the spark of timing that made him memorable in the 1990s. He buckled in three rounds for a 0-0 prospect named Arsen Garibian.

Parra’s career above 112lbs has been a bad joke. When he departed the flyweight division in 2005 his record was 28-0.  His record now reads 32-18-2. He hasn’t so much tarnished his legacy as filled it with gunpowder and set it on fire.

Between 1999 and 2005, however, this was a man to be reckoned with.

Venezuelan by birth, Parra stayed home until he was 21-0, fattening his record on soft opposition, but when he landed in Puerto Rico in December of 2003, he made his mark. Eric Morel, then 33-0, himself a contender for this list, was favored to turn back the young pretender despite his burgeoning reputation as a puncher.

Parra did land a knock-down quality punch, in the third round, but through the tenth it was his boxing that marked him. Fleet and fast-handed, he out-skilled, out-moved and in the final two rounds when his engine betrayed him, out-gutted his bigger and more experienced foe.

It was a consummate strap-winning performance that marked him one of the best in the world. It was also his high-water mark. A desperately close call followed with contender Takefumi Sakata; a rematch produced an equally close result. Parra and Sakata aside, a domination of Olympian Brahim Asloum is probably his best result, another unbeaten scalp belonging to a highly ranked fighter.

After that, flyweight lost him and Parra lost the essence of what made him great. A genuinely special fighter for a two-year spell, he is neither the first nor the last to be found out by a higher weight class.

#41 – Luis Ibarra (1975-1990)

 Luis Ibarra was a rather strange and beautiful fighter, styling elements of the Panamanian but very much as a part of his own idiom. At first, his approach seems insensible; tall for a flyweight he adopted a relatively deep stance, narrowed himself over his front leg and presented his jab. He then neglected to throw his jab despite a slick moving style and instead preferred power punches to body and head, leaving himself at risk despite all that innate mobility, to the attentions of his opponent’s hook, especially to the body. His own hook was a strange punch, thrown long and short, all the while using the same fist to stir and feint and paw and prod with what surely should have been a stiff jab.

But whatever the detail, Ibarra came together in the ring as a strange and frightening proposition for some excellent fighters. Lacking power, he nevertheless threw with absolute commitment leading to a split pair with feared puncher and future world champion Prudencio Cardona when both were still serving their respective apprenticeships. Clearly, his eventual victory over Cardona seemed something of a graduation for Ibarra, for later that same year, 1979, he took to the ring with the superb Betulio Gonzalez (more of whom in part three) and over fifteen sizzling rounds he dominated the little Venezuelan and lifted an alphabet strap in the process. It was a masterful performance.

It was inevitable a fighter of his type would be found out but when the limited Tae-Shik Kim obliterated him in just two rounds in his very next defense, it was seen as something of a shock. Ibarra, too, believed there was more, and he proved it when he battled back to edge out a fighter even more special than Gonzalez when he sprang another surprise, this time over the Argentine legend Santos Laciar in Argentina. It made him a strapholder for a second time, and although the true title evaded him, Gonzalez and Laciar are two wins special enough to hang a strong top fifty ranking upon.

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