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The Fifty Greatest Light-Heavyweights of All Time Part Five – Nos. 10-1

Matt McGrain

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If I have given the impression that I have been a little disappointed in the depth of talent at light-heavyweight, those thoughts can now be banished. Here is a top ten that very nearly put itself together. Harold Johnson drew the short straw and washed up at #11 but him aside there were really no suitors for the top ten that are not ranked within it. Here be dragons.

So listen.

This, is how I have it:

#10 – MATTHEW SAAD MUHAMMAD (49-16-3)

It is both strange and surprising that Matthew Saad Muhammad, born Matt Franklin, has so few in the way of acolytes in this modern era. Muhammad, sometimes, seems to garner less admiration than that which he deserves, despite the fact that he has all the attributes necessary for a fighter to gather fans in excess of his standing.

He’s unquestionably world-class, and proved it against a huge array of talents and styles; he has one of the most compelling backstories in the entire history of boxing (Google if you aren’t familiar with it); and most importantly of all, he was one of the most exciting fighters of his, or any other era. He was like a huge Arturo Gatti with the crucial difference that he tended to hammer his top-ranked foes rather than be hammered by them.

His apprenticeship ended in March of 1977 with a loss to Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, after which he went on a tear through perhaps the most densely packed light-heavyweight division in history.

Matthew Saad Muhammad was matched tough early, and this, combined with either a learned strength drawn from the adversity he experienced in his tragic childhood or an innate toughness born of genetics, meant Muhammad was ready to engage in and emerge victorious from perhaps the most astonishing shootout ever captured on film. Marvin Johnson, a top fifty light-heavyweight in his own right, dug deep to close the class gap he suffered against Muhammad and turn their astonishing 1977 encounter into the most savage brawl ever seen at the weight. Muhammad triumphed after some of the most terrible exchanges in the history of filmed boxing, in the twelfth, leaving the all-but invincible Johnson staggering around the ring like a zombie. The two split just $5,000.

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Their rematch early in 1979 was another good fight even if it did not quite reach the heights of their first. Muhammad stopped Johnson in eight to lift a light-heavyweight strap. A strap is all he would ever hold. Muhammad never lifted the lineal title, which lay dormant between the departure of Bob Foster and the arrival of Michael Spinks. But Muhammad was the most significant claimant of this time. In addition to Johnson he defeated the excellent Richie Kates in six and twice dispatched the superb Yaqui Lopez in two great fights in eleven and fourteen rounds. John Conteh managed to make the distance in one contest but was slaughtered in four in the rematch; four, too, was the limit for the fearsome Lottie Mwale. Between his 1977 defeat of Johnson and 1981 when the wars caught up with him and Dwight Muhammad Qawi stopped him in ten, he was almost as splendid a light-heavyweight as can be seen.

Almost.

Other top fifty light-heavyweights defeated: John Conteh (#29), Marvin Johnson (#27).

#09 – JIMMY BIVINS (86-25-1)

I’m sorry to play the same old tune but…the heavyweights got him.

In the summer of 1943, weighing 174.75lbs, Bivins was matched over fifteen rounds with the lethal Lloyd Marshall, 164.5lbs, for the duration light-heavyweight title, so named because titlists were able to hold their championship only for the duration of time that the champion – in this case, Gus Lesnevich – was in the armed forces. Marshall, as dangerous a fighter of his poundage as there ever was, and perhaps the best super-middleweight to emerge before that weight division, was coming off twin defeats of Anton Chistoforidis and Ezzard Charles and in the form of his life. Bivins was favoured but much credence was given to the rumours that the two had met in sparring some years earlier, a spar that ended when Bivins had to be rescued from Marshall’s tender attentions. It seemed history would repeat itself, as Marshall came out fast in pocketing the first three rounds, provoking a stern reaction from Bivins who dominated the next three; when Marshall dropped Bivins to take the seventh it seemed another corner had been turned, but Bivins picked himself up, shook himself down and won every remaining round up until the eleventh, which seemed a share. A tired Marshall succumbed to a series of lefts topped off with a vicious right to the cheekbone in the thirteenth.

Then Bivins headed north to the heavyweights, where I rank him at #40. His loss to the history of the light-heayweight division cannot be overstated. Bivins was one of the greatest, and head-to-head one of the most dangerous, light-heavyweights in history.

He was never beaten at the weight. A clutch of heavyweights defeated him while he was weighing in under 175lbs, but that does not concern us here. Anton Christoforidis bested him at middleweight – but in his prime years of 1941, 1942 and 1943, spent almost exclusively at and around the light-heavyweight limit, Bivins ran 14-0 against other light-heavyweights. The level of competition he bested was extraordinary.

In 1941, he defeated, among others, the great Teddy Yarosz, the deadly Curtis Sheppard and Nate Bolden. In 1942 he defeated former middleweight strapholder Billy Soose, reigning light-heavyweight champion Gus Lesnevich (in a non-title fight) and future champion Joey Maxim. In 1943, he dropped the legendary Ezzard Charles seven times on his way to a ten round decision victory; former champion Anton Christoforidis over fifteen rounds; and the deadly Marshall.

For those keeping score, that is a little better than a champion a year, more if you allow middleweight title claims. Bivins was a wrecking machine at 175lbs. He was monstrous.

He did great work at heavyweight too, but that work concentrated at the lighter poundage would have made one of the very greatest 175lb careers.

Of course the #9 slot is nothing to be sniffed at – but one of the many areas where light-heavyweight is marked different from heavyweight is the distinctive differences between the #3 slot and the #9 slot. Probably the former was not out with Jimmy’s grasp. The latter, he very much earned.

Other top fifty light-heavyweights defeated: Anton Christoforidis (48), Gus Lesnevich (39), Joey Maxim (33), Lloyd Marshall (18), Ezzard Charles, (Top Ten).

#8 BOB FOSTER (56-8-1)

A heavyweight a year beat the tar out of Bob Foster up until his 1965 dull but one-sided loss to Zora Folley. Earlier, thrashings at the hands of Ernie Terrell and Doug Jones convinced him, I think, that light-heavyweight was the division for him. The result was one of the greatest title-runs in light-heavyweight history.

This was despite the fact that champion Jose Torres was less than keen on meeting him in the ring. When middleweight legend Dick Tiger stepped up to light-heavyweight, Foster smelled his chance. Tiger had, as he saw it, been frozen out of the middleweight title picture before moving north and had the will and heart to step in with any man. When Tiger retained in a rematch with Torres and Foster blasted out the superb Eddie Cotton in just two rounds, the fight was imminent.

Foster summarised his stylings beautifully after his destruction of Cotton as “jab, jab, jab, then wham!” This sounds too basic to be true of a legitimate all-time great, but it is the essence of Foster’s strategy. Technically proficient without being a true technician, he was gifted with height and reach but took true advantage of neither, fighting in a strange crouched posture that undervalued his 6’3 frame. The point was, Foster wanted to make his opponents hittable. Whether that was through controlling them with his world-class jab to create openings or through initiating exchanges out of which he always – always – emerged victorious, making punching opportunities was the key to his style. This is because Foster is, perhaps, the hardest p4p puncher in the history of boxing.

That point is arguable, but it is also true that those arguments mean little. The truly great punchers are not survivable. Debating who was the more deadly puncher pound-for-pound between Bob Foster and Sam Langford is a little like arguing about what kind nuclear warhead will leave you more deceased. The handful of punchers that lie at the absolute top of the power tree hit people and those people fall asleep.

Tiger fell asleep when he put the title on the line against Foster. Tiger hadn’t been knocked out in ten years of title fights; Foster knocked him out completely. Unaware that he had visited the canvas Tiger spoke only of darkness and silence. The reign of terror had begun.

Foster’s level of competition is sometimes criticised and in this type of company you can understand why. It is true that his was not an era that provided great opposition, but interestingly there were granite chins in abundance. Chris Finnegan had been stopped before, on cuts – but the devastating one-two Foster laid him low with saw him counted out, lurching in the ropes, his brave attempt at Foster ending in a disaster for his brainstem. Frank DePaula was stopped just twice in his career, but Foster turned the trick in a single round with a crackling right uppercut. No softening his man up; no wearing his man down – when he lands, it’s over. Henry Hank lost thirty-one fights in his career but Foster was the only fighter able to stop him. Mark Tessman was stopped only once by concussion and that concussion was inflicted by Foster’s punches. “Punch resistance” was a meaningless phrase for any light-heavyweight that shared the ring with Foster. The only way to survive was to avoid being hit.

Foster lost to a 180lb Mauro Mina when he was 11-1. No other light-heavyweight defeated him. He was 15-0 in title fights. His reign lasted seven years. While Bivins and Muhammad defeated far and away the better opposition, Foster’s total dominance of the division and my sneaking suspicion that Foster would have poleaxed even those great men, sees him sneak in here ahead of both.

Other top fifty light-heavyweights defeated: None

#07 – JOHN HENRY LEWIS (97-10-4)

John Henry Lewis met Maxie Rosenbloom on four separate occasions and the end result was 2-2. But in the two matches that Lewis lost, the men weighed in as heavyweights; Lewis tipped the scale at 182 and 186lbs respectively. When these two elite light-heavies met nearer the light-heavyweight limit, there was only one winner and that was Lewis. What surprises here is that Maxie Rosenbloom was the light-heavyweight champion of the world for these two ten-round non-title meetings, and that John Henry Lewis was a teenager. In fact, he was still at high-school. It didn’t stop him dropping Rosenbloom with a right to the jaw in the first and a left to the kidney in the second in their second meeting in the summer of 1937. Dominating the incumbent champion and then dealing with school the very next day marked Lewis out as something special as he had always been marked out as something special. He first pulled on the gloves as a toddler. He turned professional as a middleweight aged just seventeen. And although he had to wait two years after first defeating Rosenbloom to get his hands on a world champion in a title fight, when he did so he didn’t miss that chance, out-pointing Bob Olin (who had taken the title from Rosenbloom a year earlier) over fifteen in October of 1935. Lewis had already beaten Olin; and Tony Shucco and Young Firpo and Lou Scozza and Rosenbloom. His resume, before he even came to the title, was excellent. Over the coming years he would turn it into something truly extraordinary.

His first defence was staged against #2 contender Jock McAvoy. Lewis, still just twenty-one years old, turned in a performance great maturity and ring-craft, jabbing and counter-punching his way to a decision booed by the crowd for its efficiency rather than any sense that McAvoy had been cheated. Len Harvey, the British and Commonwealth champion was next for a tilt at the title, but before travelling to London to master him, Lewis found the time to dust off Tony Shucco, Al Gainer and former strapholder Bob Godwin, his level of competition remaining outrageously high.

His next defence was a little softer, granting faded ex-champion Bob Olin the rematch he craved and putting him away in eight rounds. “He is the perfect boxer…the best boxer in the world,” Olin later said of his old foe. “He’s fast on his feet with full knowledge of all the scientific departments of the game.” Presumably Emilio Martinez would have agreed with him, succumbing in four rounds, before the perennially ranked Al Gainer pushed him harder over fifteen late in 1938. A late rally protected his title and ensured that he would retire the undefeated light-heavyweight champion of the world. Lewis didn’t just go unbeaten as champion though; he went undefeated at 175lbs. He was never beaten in a match made within 5lbs of the light-heavyweight limit. He was invincible there, dominating a tough era with speedy boxing, a superb left hand and an innate toughness that was only ever beaten from him by heavyweight champion Joe Louis, who stopped him for the first and only time in his career in 1939. Lewis retired shortly thereafter, his eyesight failing him.

One imagines the division let out a collective sigh of relief. Lewis had terrorised it.

Other top fifty light-heavyweights defeated: Al Gainer (#38), Tiger Jack Fox (#25), Maxie Rosenbloom (#15)

#06 – TOMMY LOUGHRAN (90-25-10; Newspaper Decisions 32-7-3)

A thread has run through this series on the greatest 175lb fighters of all time and that thread is my regular disagreement with history. Whether it’s Sam Langford, the great men of the pre 175lb era generally counted lightheavies by traditionalists or the thorny issues of Billy Conn and Battling Levinsky, I’ve found myself on the rough side of apparent historical truth on numerous occasions. Here, at the sharpest of sharp ends, my trickle of truth finds its way to history’s raging torrent. I add my modest voice to a chorus of more famous names in saying:

Tommy Loughran was one of the greatest pugilists of all time.

Nat Fleischer ranks him at #4, all time, as did legendary boxing man Charley Rose; the IBRO ranks him #6. He appeared at #6, too, on Boxing Scene’s top twenty-five and that is where he is ranked here. This kind of greatness lies on a distant shore and Loughran inarguably belongs there. Simply put, it is impossible to have a list of ten light-heavyweights without placing Loughran somewhere upon it. He was that special, and he proved it.

He proved it first with his record of note standing at just nineteen years old when he was slung in against the immortal Harry Greb. Loughran lost, inevitably, over eight rounds but he won admirers in doing so and impressed with his performance in the opening two rounds and in a sudden desperate rally in the last. He even managed to cut Greb, who spoke in glowing terms of the prospect.

So Loughran matched Gene Tunney.

Again, he did so over eight rounds in a fight generally held to be a draw in 2015. “Not many boxers could outbox Tunney at this stage of his career,” wrote Tunney biographer Jack Cavanaugh. “But Loughran was one of them.”

This statement is far from inarguable but it bears examination. Tunney was one of the very best boxers of his era and is regarded to this day as one of the finest boxers of all time; Loughran, on the other hand, was a teenager. But he was a teenager with perhaps the most cultured, brilliant left hand in history. I’ll say that again: it is possible that the fighter blessed with a better left than Tommy Loughran is yet to be born.

Whatever the details it is a fact that once Loughran made it out of his teens and into his prime, Gene Tunney took nothing more to do with Tommy Loughran. One man who never shirked a challenge, however, was Harry Greb. Loughran fought Greb on a further four occasions, going 1-1-2, defeating him over ten rounds in October of 1923 in a rough contest from which Loughran emerged with the decision via a stern and consistent body-attack.

Most of the other luminaries of the era fell to him too, including Mike McTigue (from whom he took the light-heavyweight title), Jimmy Delaney, Georges Carpantier, Jimmy Slattery, Young Stribling, Leo Lomski, Pete Latzo, Jim Braddock, at which point, as the reader will be unsurprised to hear, the heavyweights got him.

But not before Loughran had staged the fifth of his six victorious world-title fights against Mickey Walker. This was not just a special fight because Walker was so outstanding but also because readily available film survives. Walker, a nightmare for boxers even up at heavyweight, was handled by Loughran. Mickey’s strategy against his timeless jab was to dip and bulldoze but Loughran just tucks his right hand in behind the former middleweight champion’s elbow, adding a superb body attack to his effortless outside game. So successful is this strategy that Loughran begins to feint with the jab to open up the body, and soon Mickey is moving back; Loughran adjusts, re-arranges his jab, throws it, and opens up Mickey’s body again.

Loughran has no qualms about holding Walker while he hits him, he was no saint, but when Walker dips and lifts driving his head into Loughran’s, chin he makes no complaints. He was a shotgun stylist, a renaissance painter who made art with a surgeon’s blade.

Let’s meet the men who keep him from the top five.

Other top fifty light-heavyweights defeated: Mickey Walker (#36), Jimmy Slattery (#34), Young Stribling (#23), Jimmy Delaney (#14), Harry Greb (Top 10).

#05 – MICHAEL SPINKS (31-1)

As I wrote in Part Four, when contenders passed Dwight Muhammad Qawi they did so on tiptoe, and holding their breath. He was a monster. Two months before Spinks was to take to the ring with this monster, his common-law wife and the mother of his young daughter was killed in a car accident. Just days before the fight he wept openly in front of members of the press – and on the night of the fight?

Nothing.

No glimmer of emotion. Here was a man in absolute control of himself, a professional.

“I live the life of a fighter. I program myself as a fighter.”

Spinks assumed absolute control in the ring, and when his control was challenged he had the tools to equalise the situation with extreme prejudice. Marvin Johnson challenged him, as Marvin Johnson was wont to do, in March of 1981, directly attacking Spinks, and arguably winning all three of the opening rounds in doing so. Spinks backed up, appraised his man, and then delivered an uppercut so brutal that Johnson was unable to continue in its wake. This is the same Marvin Johnson, it should be remembered, that Matthew Saad Muhammad was unable to lay low with three dozen flush power-punches.

So Spinks could be as destructive as he was brilliant, and he was certainly brilliant. When he got to the ring containing Qawi in March of 1983, at stake, the lineal light-heavyweight championship of the world, not only did he show no fear but he showed that brilliance. He dominated Qawi with his jab, and if that brutal sawn-off shotgun of a fighter had his successes against Spinks, there was only one winner. From distance he crackled jabs around Qawi’s head, and when Qawi drew close he found clubbing right hands from an elevated position and a guard-splitting uppercut that snapped the smaller man’s head back repeatedly.

But most of all he controlled Qawi, he forced Qawi to fight his fight, he forced Qawi to jab with him by making himself unavailable for other punches, with cunning, beautifully judged distancing. Malleable in the extreme, his style appeared to be that of a technician, but he had a disjointed approach to building momentum that left rhythm-breakers useless and made learned skills of no practical value to a certain kind of fighter. There are few clues as to what Spinks will throw next.

This occasionally made opponents cautious and led to boring matches where Spinks neglected to take unnecessary chances and his opponents neglect to take any. But he was as capable of the explosive and unexpected as he was of the prosaic.

He staged four defences of the lineal title he finessed and clubbed from Qawi before abandoning it for the heavyweight division, undefeated at 175lbs. There is no company in which Spinks need bow his head – there are other light-heavyweights in his class, but none in excess of it. In some imaginary light-heavyweight maelstrom of greatness, a division made up of the top ten described here, he would excel – if I were betting a single coin on who would emerge as the champion, I might just put it on Spinks.

Other top fifty light-heavyweights defeated: Dwight Muhammad Qawi (#21), Marvin Johnson (#27), Eddie Mustafa Muhammad (#32).

#04 – GENE TUNNEY (65-1-1; Newspaper Decisions 14-0-3)

I’m not convinced, entirely, that Gene Tunney belongs above the likes of Michael Spinks and Tommy Loughran. What tipped the balance in the end is their respective paper records. Loughran slipped up a few times. Tunney was defeated just once.

And that defeat could hardly be deemed “a slip up.” Tunney lost to Harry Greb, past his absolute prime but still phenomenally dangerous and on the night of the first of five meetings between the two, Greb thrashed Tunney as brutally as he ever thrashed any man; both boxers and the referee finished the contest covered in Tunney’s blood.

The blood was not blue. Tunney’s beginnings were typically working class. But he would raise himself, partly through boxing, all the way to the summit of what passed for American aristocracy, the walking embodiment of the American Dream. Tunney knew that what the US loved most was a winner – this meant that Tunney had to find a way to do the seemingly impossible: he had to find a way to defeat Harry Greb.

He got his first chance to do so nine months later in Madison Square Garden, the site of his ritual slaughter in the first fight, and the officials thought he did enough – Tunney was awarded a split decision victory over fifteen rounds. The result remains one of the most controversial in boxing history. One time trainer of the legendary John Sullivan and the first chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission William Muldoon named the decision “unjustifiable.” Of twenty-three newspapermen polled at ringside, only four found for Tunney; the New York herald went further than many naming the decision “the most outrageous ever awarded in New York.” It is arguable that Tunney did not, then, achieve an unfettered victory in the first rematch, but in the second rematch, their third fight, at the end of 1923, Tunney achieved victory. In September of 1924 the two boxed a draw in their fourth and final fight at the light-heavyweight limit.

Tunney was a Rolls-Royce of a fighter, beautifully balanced with an exquisite left, a digging right (he scored a sizeable number of knockouts with that punch at the weight), he was a solid body-puncher and a world-class counter-puncher. It was a combination that saw him defeat every light-heavyweight he ever met, bar none, Leo Houck, Battling Levinsky, Fay Kesier, Jimmy Delaney and Georges Carpantier among them.

Other top fifty light-heavyweights defeated: Battling Levinsky (#27), Jimmy Delaney (#14), Harry Greb (Top 10).

#03 – HARRY GREB (107-8-3; Newspaper Decisions 155-9-15)

I suspect that Harry Greb’s high placement above, even, Gene Tunney, may cause some consternation among readers. The internet is awash with accounts of his thousand-glove attack and his supernatural speed, so allow me, instead, to take a purely statistical approach in defence of Greb’s placement.

There are forty-nine other men listed on this top fifty at 175lbs. Greb beat ten of them. In other words, he defeated 20% of the men on this list – nobody, nobody listed above and nobody listed below come anywhere near this statistically. Nor is it the case that Greb cornered past or pre-prime versions of these men. On the contrary, he fought, for the most part, series with each of them over the course of their careers. He gave Jack Dillon two chances at him, beating him firmly the first time and thrashing him the second; Jack Delaney got a second chance but ran 2-0; Tommy Loughran, who shared Greb’s prime, was rewarded with five shots at the great man and for the most part he was beaten firmly. Battling Levinsky received no fewer than six shots at Greb, mostly in no decision contests and in every one of them the newspapermen in attendance favoured the Pittsburgh man. Harry Greb may have been the most dominant fighter in history, and he did a huge swathe of his best work at light-heavyweight.

As for his losses at 175lbs, despite meeting the highest level of competition of any light-heavyweight in history, they were few and far between and often inflicted in what may politely be referred to as “circumstances.” He met the deadly Kid Norfolk on two occasions, getting the best of him first time around only to find himself disqualified in a second contest marred by brutal fouling by both men – eye-witness accounts almost universally decry the disqualifying of Greb but not Norfolk as ridiculous. As we have seen, Gene Tunney holds a legitimate victory over him, winning their December 1923 contest by most sources, but his victory from February of that year is disputed.

Greb twice defeated Tommy Gibbons within the 175lbs limit, but did also drop a decision to him; Loughran managed to win one out of six against “The Pittsburgh Windmill.” He has three legitimate losses at the weight all against all-time greats listed in the top twelve here, men who he also defeated. In total, he holds wins against seven men from the top twenty.

What is disturbing about Greb’s body of work at 175lbs is that even if you removed for some obscure reason his five most significant wins, he would still be bound to the top twenty by his resume, which would very probably remain superior to that of Matthew Saad Muhammad or Roy Jones. Small for a light-heavyweight and famously a fighter of whom no film appears to have survived, his head-to-head ability is inferred by his overwhelmingly positive results against all-time greats, including those of a very modern appearance, like Tommy Loughran and Tommy Gibbons.

Rather than questioning whether or not Greb belongs in the top three, I submit that his absence from the top two is a better cause for curiosity.

Other top fifty light-heavyweights defeated: Billy Miske (#44), Jimmy Slattery (#34), Battling Levinsky (#27), Kid Norfolk (#20), Jack Dillon (#19), Maxie Rosenbloom (#15), Jimmy Delaney (#14), Tommy Gibbons (#12), Tommy Loughran (Top Ten), Gene Tunney (Top Ten).

#02 – ARCHIE MOORE (185-23-10)

There’s a two-pronged response to the question as to Greb’s placement outside the top two, and the first part of that answer is “Ancient” Archie Moore, the Mongoose. Of course, he wasn’t always ancient but Moore served his lengthy and extreme apprenticeship in the middleweight division before dual losses to the legendary Charley Burley and the mercurial Eddie Booker sent him scampering north to the light-heavyweight division aged twenty-eight. Holman Williams, one of the true monsters of the Murderer’s Row that haunted Moore, elected to follow him and took from him the narrowest of decisions; Moore showed the determination that would carry him to the absolute outer reaches of what is possible for a fighting man in re-matching Williams and becoming only the second man to score a stoppage over one of the best pure-boxers of that or any other era. Moore, as we recognise him today, had arrived.

He became the second man, too, to score a knockout over Jack Chase, another shadowy destroyer from the absurd depths of the middleweight division that now lay below him, defeated Billy Smith, the monster who dispatched Harold Johnson with a single punch – Moore’s own domination of the great Johnson began shortly thereafter. There were disasters, too – the one round knockout loss to Leonard Morrow, although avenged, is hurtful and there were DQ losses that leads one to question what would become one of the great ring temperaments, but it is a fact that Moore had yet to summit at 175lbs. Arguments about whether or not he would actually improve as a fighter are for another day, but what is inarguable fact is that Moore did not come to the light-heavyweight title until late 1952. He was thirty-six years old.

The key, I think, to Moore’s emergence from a pack of fighters to whom he did not prove his inherent superiority (Charley Burley, Holman Williams, Jack Chase, et al) was his ability, perhaps unparalleled, to mount campaigns at heavyweight and light-heavyweight simultaneously. From almost the moment he stepped up to light-heavy he was making matches, too, north of that weight. Moore was using the heavyweights as a tool, I suspect, to enhance his standing as a light-heavyweight, as well as one by which to procure cash.

Whatever the details, his strategy worked and once Moore finally succeeded in getting his opponent into the ring he did not let him off the hook. Maxim fought with astonishing heart, but it is likely that the only round he won was the fourth, awarded to him by the referee after Moore landed a low-blow. That low blow aside, it was a perfect performance and one of the best title-winning efforts on film. Down the years Moore has somehow become perceived by many as a counter-puncher, a fighter who fought in a shell rather like James Toney, waiting for and then pouncing upon chances created by his opponent’s mistakes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Moore was aggressive, marauding but never cavalier. Maxim, easy to hit but hard to hit clean, was just target practice for the Mongoose. He found the gaps that represented half-chances for other fights and made fulsome opportunities of them. His left hook, as short a punch of its kind as can be seen, became a cover for his step in, an industrial elevator of a punch starting at the hip and terminating – well, anywhere, in a singular swift motion. His sneak right which in the first round was a clipping, careful punch, was, by the end of the fight, a steaming dynamo of a punch and one that left the granite-chinned Maxim reeling. Inside, Moore dominated with sniping uppercuts and a savage two-handed body-attack.

By the end, Maxim was desperate. Chewed upon the inside, stiffened by winging punches on the outside, it is great testimony to his heart that he survived the championship rounds. The reign of the greatest ever light-heavyweight champion had begun.

His reign lasted nine years and spanned ten title fights in which Moore went 10-0. These included his astonishing defeat of Yvon Durelle in which he was battered to the canvas three times in the first round and once more in the fifth; of course he survived, of course he stopped Durelle in the eleventh – he had the heart of a lion and the soul of an antique lighthouse. He was in his forty-fourth year. At the time of his final defence against Giulio Rinaldi, he was in his forty-sixth. Moore did not carry out this miracle, like the astonishing Bernard Hopkins, in an era of universal healthcare for fighters who went out twice a year. He did it in an era during which African-American pugilists spent the night before their latest fight in the barn-loft of a local promoter and went out nine times in a year, as Moore did in 1945.

His astounding longevity in tandem with the greatest reign in light-heavyweight history has him near the very pinnacle of this list. All that keeps him from the #1 spot is his very own demon.

Other top fifty light-heavyweights defeated: Joey Maxim (#33), Lloyd Marshall (#17), Harold Johnson (#11), Jimmy Bivins (Top Ten).

#01 – EZZARD CHARLES (95-25-1)

Moore didn’t like to talk about Ezzard Charles.  He loved to talk about Charley Burley.  He often expressed his admiration for Rocky Marciano and Eddie Booker and his dislike of Jimmy Bivins.  But he did not talk much about Ezzard Charles.

Telling ghost stories is no fun if you live in a haunted house.

The two met first in the spring of 1946 in a fight which was not particularly competitive.  Charles was so much better than Moore that referee Ernie Sesto scored the fight ten rounds to zero in Ezzard’s favour; each of the judges found a single round for the Mongoose.  It was skill that did it that night and a jab that Moore must have found himself trying to slip in his sleep.

Almost a year to the day after their first meeting they clashed again.  Between their first and second meeting they had defeated, between them, Billy Smith, Jack Chase, Jimmy Bivins, Lloyd Marshall and a clutch of other decent fighters.  They were untouchable, but to one another.  The rematch was closer, so close that Moore could almost touch the win but the result was a majority decision loss, one judge favouring the draw.  The deciding factor was likely a single punch, a left hook to the body which dropped Moore in the seventh and caused him to stall thereafter.

Moore was a giant of a fighter but nothing beat larger or stronger within him than his heart.  Inevitably he would seek out a third shot at Charles and inevitably Charles would accommodate him.  Here was Moore’s moment and he was determined not to let it slip.  He began cautiously, boxing defensively, leading at the beginning of the eighth in the main because Charles had two rounds taken from him due to borderline low-blows, but in that fatal three minutes, he opened up in earnest.  He jabbed to Ezzard’s mouth and Charles began to bleed.  He whipped over that sneaky left hook to Ezzard’s ear and Charles was staggered.  That crackling right-hand whipped through and Ezzard was staggered again.

On the cusp of defeat, Charles rescued himself and sealed his greatness forever.  Some will even tell you that what followed was nothing less than the springing of a trap that called for him first to be hit and hurt.  The two piece that he landed in desperate retort began with a left hook to the temple but the right-hand that followed was described by Pittsburgh journalist Harry Keck as “seeming to travel a complete circle” before it cracked home on Archie’s chin.  It was a punch that Moore later claimed he had not seen, and knew nothing of, except darkness.

So there he stands, Ezzard Charles, close to darkness himself, wide-eyed over the quivering form of a detonated nervous system that will in a matter of moments belong again to Archie Moore, unassailable in his greatness.  Three times Moore stepped to him and three times Charles defeated him.  In the second and third confrontations this difference was arguably a single punch, the fine line between #1 and #2, no more and no less than that.

For despite Moore’s incredible age-defying title reign, he cannot be placed here above Charles.  Imagine for a second what it would mean for Joe Louis had he three times defeated Muhammad Ali.  There would be no more arguments about which of these two belongs at the top of the heavyweight tree.  It is true that Charles did not achieve all that Moore did in the light-heavyweight division.  In the aftermath of his knockout of Moore he was labelled a certainty to receive a title shot but Lesnevich, naturally, ducked.  In a sense he can hardly be blamed.  The single fight film to have emerged of the light-heavyweight Charles is terrifying.  Fast, poised, deadly, with a body attack even more savage than Moore he appears unboxable.  A fighter as special as Lloyd Marshall seems a boy to a man.

So inevitably, the heavyweights beckoned for the denied light-heavyweight contender and he excelled there too becoming the heavyweight champion of the world, but not before he had defeated, mostly in a dominant fashion, the great names amassed in the greatest light-heavyweight division, including Teddy Yarosz, former middleweight titlist Ken Overlin, light-heavyweight champion Joey Maxim, light-heavyweight champion Anton Christoforidis, the legendary Lloyd Marshall, Jimmy Bivins, Oakland Billy Smith and a swathe of other contenders.

He did not show the spooky longevity of  Moore and nor was he permitted to lay a claim to the light-heavyweight title so many great men would throw aloft before and after him, but he did prove beyond all hope of contradiction his inarguable superiority to Archie Moore.  This, in tandem with the other fighters he laid low at the weight, is enough to make him the greatest exponent of the fistic art ever to weigh in at 175lbs.

For those of you who have taken the time to read this series of articles from the first word to the last: I thank you.

Other top fifty light-heavyweights defeated: Anton Christoforidis (#48), Joey Maxin (#33), Llloyd Marshall (#17), Jimmy Bivins (Top  Ten), Archie Moore (Top Ten).

Click here for part One

Click here for part Two

Click here for part Three

Click here for part Four

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Jermell Charlo Unifies Super Welterweights Via Solar Plexus Punch

David A. Avila

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WBC super welterweight titlist Jermell Charlo knocked out IBF and WBA titlist Jeison Rosario with a knockout punch delivered to the solar plexus on Saturday to add two more belts to his collection.

“I’m definitely bringing home the straps,” said Charlo.

Shades of Bob Fitzsimmons.

Back in 1897, Fitzsimmons used the same solar plexus punch to dethrone Gentleman James Corbett for the heavyweight title in Carson City, Nevada.

In another casino city Charlo (34-1, 18 KOs) floored Dominican Republic’s Rosario (20-2-1, 14 KOs) three times at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. He and his brother co-headlined a heavy duty pay-per-view card with no fans in attendance on the Premier Boxing Champions card.

Charlo jumped on Rosario quickly in the first round when he charged and clipped him with a left hook to the temple. Down went the two-belt champion for the count. But he got up seemingly unfazed.

For the next several rounds Rosario was the aggressor and put the pressure on Charlo who was content to allow the Dominican to fire away. Occasionally the Houston fighter jabbed but allowed Rosario to pound up and down with both fists.

After allowing Rosario to get comfortable with his attack, suddenly Charlo stopped moving and connected with a short crisp counter left hook and right cross in the sixth round. Down went Rosario again and he got up before the count of 10.

Charlo said it was part of the game plan.

“I’m growing and I realize that the knockout will just come,” he said.

Charlo was in control with a patient style and allowed Rosario to come forward. But the Dominican was more cautious in the seventh.

In the eighth round Charlo jabbed to the head and then jabbed hard to Rosario’s stomach. The Dominican fighter dropped down on his seat as if felled by a gun shot. He could not get up and convulsed while on the floor. The referee Harvey Dock counted him out at 21 seconds of round eight.

“That jab that got to him must have landed in a vital point,” said Charlo after the fight. “I hope he recovers and bounces back.”

Charlo now has three of the four major super welterweight world titles.

WBC Super Bantamweight Title

Luis Nery (31-0, 24 KOs) captured the WBC super bantamweight title by unanimous decision over fellow Mexican Aaron Alameda (25-1, 13 KOs) in a battle between southpaws. The war between border town fighters was intense.

Nery, a former bantamweight world titlist, moved up a weight division and found Alameda to be a slick southpaw with an outstanding jab. At first the Tijuana fighter was a little puzzled how to attack but found his groove in the fourth round.

But Alameda, who fights out of Nogales, Mexico, began using combinations and finding success.  A crafty counter left uppercut caught Nery charging in a few times, but he managed to walk through them.

In the final two rounds Nery picked up the action and increased the pressure against the slick fighting Alameda, He forced the Nogales fighter to fight defensively and that proved enough to give the last two rounds for Nery and the victory by unanimous decision. The scores were 115-113, 116-112 and 118-110 for Nery who now holds the WBC super bantamweight world title. He formerly held the WBC bantamweight title.

Roman Wins

Danny “Baby-Faced Assassin” Roman (28-3-1, 10 KOs) managed to rally from behind and defeat Juan Carlos Payano (21-4, 9 KOs) in a battle between former world champions in a nontitle super bantamweight clash. It wasn’t easy.

Once again Roman fought a talented southpaw and in this fight Payano, a former bantamweight titlist, moved up in weight and kept Roman off balance for the first half of the fight. The jab and movement by the Dominican fighter seemed to keep Roman out of sync.

Roman, who fights out of Los Angeles, used a constant body attack to wear down the 35-year-old Payano and it paid off in the second half. Then the former unified world champion Roman began to pinpoint more blows to the body and head. With seconds left in the 12th and final round, a left hook delivered Payano down and through the ropes. Sadly, the referee missed the knockdown. It didn’t matter as all three judges scored it identical at 116-112 for Roman after 12 rounds.

“I made some adjustments and picked up the pace and got the win,” said Roman who formerly held the WBA and IBF super bantamweight world titles.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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Jermall Charlo UD 12 Derevyanchenko; Figueroa and Casimero Also Triumphant

Arne K. Lang

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Jermall Charlo UD 12 Derevyanchenko; Figueroa and Casimero Also Triumphant

The Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, was the site of the first pay-per-view boxing event in the United States since the Fury-Wilder rematch on Feb. 22. There were six fights in all, five of which were title fights and the other a title-eliminator. They were divided into two tiers but bundled into a package that cost approximately a dollar a round with a facile intermission tossed in at no extra charge.

The headline attraction of the first “three-pack” – and the most anticipated fight of the evening – found WBC world middleweight champion Jermall Charlo defending his title against Sergiy Derevyanchenko. The Ukrainian gave Gennady Golovkin a hard tussle when they fought in November of last year at Madison Square Garden – GGG won a unanimous decision but the scores were tight and many thought Derevyanchenko deserved the decision – and the expectation was that tonight’s match would also be very competitive.  But it really wasn’t although the rugged Derevyanchenko rarely took a backward step.

The fight went the distance and there were no knockdowns, but Charlo buckled his knees at the end of round three and Derevyanchenko ended the fight with cuts above both eyes. The judges had it 118-110, 117-111, and 116-112.

With Canelo Alvarez apparently headed to 168 and GGG showing his age at 38, one can make a strong case that the undefeated 30-year-old Jermall Charlo (31-0, 22 KOs) is now the top middleweight in the world. Derevyanchenko, who was 23-1 in the semi-pro World Series of Boxing before turning pro, saw his pro record decline to 13-3 with all three losses in middleweight title fights.

The middle fight of the first tier was a lusty encounter between Mexican-American super bantamweights Brandon Figueroa and Damien Vazquez. Figueroa, one of two fighting brothers from the Mexican border town of Weslaco, Texas, was a huge favorite over Vazquez, a Colorado native who moved to Las Vegas as a freshman in high school and had fought extensively in Mexico where he made his pro debut at age 16. But Vazquez, the nephew of former three-time world super bantamweight title-holder Israel Vazquez, came to fight and gave a good effort until the fight turned lopsidedly against him.

In the middle rounds, Figueroa’s high-pressure attack began to wear Vazquez down. Vazquez had a few good moments in rounds six and eight, but when his right eye began swelling from the cut above it, he was fighting an uphill battle. He took a lot of punishment before referee Gary Rosato halted it at the 1:18 mark of round 10.

Figueroa, 23, successfully defended his WBA 122-pound title while improving his record to 21-0-1 with his 16th KO. Vazquez declined to 15-2-1.

The lid-lifter was a WBO bantamweight title defense by John Riel Casimero with Duke Micah in the opposite corner. Micah, from Accra, Ghana, came in undefeated at 24-0, but Casimero had faced a far stronger schedule and was a substantial favorite.

A Filipino who was been training in Las Vegas under Bones Adams, Casimero took Micah out in the third round. The Brooklyn-based Micah was somewhat busier in the opening frame, but the tide turned quickly in favor of the Filipino. Casimero hurt Micah with a left hook in round two and went for the kill. He wasn’t able to finish him, but Micah was on a short leash and referee Steve Willis was quick to step in when Casimero resumed his attack after the break. The official time was 0:54.

Casimero (30-4, 21 KOs) was defending the title he won last November with a third-round knockout of favored Zolani Tete in Birmingham, England. He was slated to fight this past April in Las Vegas against Naoya Inoue, but that fight evaporated as a result of the coronavirus. After the bout, Casimero called out Inoue (and others): “I’m the real monster,” he said. “Naoya Inoue is scared of me. You’re next. I would have knocked out anyone today. If Inoue doesn’t fight me, then I’ll fight Guillermo Rigondeaux, Luis Nery, or any of the top fighters.”

Check back shortly for David Avila’s summaries of the remaining fights.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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Mairis Briedis and Josh Taylor Impress on a Busy Fight Day in Europe

Arne K. Lang

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In the busiest weekend of boxing thus far in 2020, there were fights of note all over the map in Europe. The most compelling was held at the Plazamedia Broadcasting Center in Munich where the long-delayed WBSS cruiserweight final pit IBF world cruiserweight title-holder Yuniel Dorticos against Mairis Briedis. Both had only one loss on their ledger, that coming in a semifinal of Season One of the WBSS tourney.

Heading in, Briedis was recognized as the more well-rounder boxer. Dorticos had a style somewhat similar to Deontay Wilder, meaning that he was over-dependent on his big right hand. It figured that Briedis would fight with extreme caution, using his faster hands and superior footwork to keep out of harm’s way, but to the contrary he wasn’t afraid to trade with Dorticos and actually landed the harder punches. At the end, he captured the IBF belt and the more coveted Muhammad Ali Trophy with a majority decision. The judges had it 117-111, 117-111, and a confounding 114-114.

The first fighter from Latvia to win a world title, Briedis (27-1, 19 KOs) is now a two-time world cruiserweight champion. He previously held the WBO cruiserweight belt, but vacated it rather than adhere to the organization’s mandate that he give Krzysztof Glowacki a rematch. (Their first fight, a TKO 3 for Briedis, was very messy and he was fortunate that he wasn’t disqualified.) Dorticos, the Cuban defector, returns to his adopted home in Miami with a 24-2 record.

Briedis, 35, may own only one piece of the world cruiserweight title, but at the moment he is clearly the topmost fighter in the division.

York Hall, London

Apinun Khongsong’s first engagement outside the Orient didn’t go well for him. The 24-year-old Thai boxer with an Muay Thai background was out of his element against WBA/IBF champion Josh Taylor who dismissed him in a hurry with a “solar plexus punch” that would have made Bob Fitzsimmons proud. The punch from the left-handed Scotsman sent Khongsong to the canvas writhing in pain and he was down for several minutes before he was able to stand upright. The official time was 2:41 of the opening round.

Taylor, the Tartan Tornado, was making his first start since October of last year when he won a 12-round majority decision over Regis Prograis in a Fight of the Year candidate. His next fight may be a full unification of the 140-pound belt with Jose Carlos Ramirez in the opposite corner. Both he and Khangsong entered today’s fight with 16-0 records, but Taylor, who scored his 13th knockout, was in a different league.

Undercard Bouts of Note

In a 10-round bantamweight contest, Charlie Edwards (16-1, 1 NC, 6 KOs) out-classed British countryman Kyle Williams (11-3). The referee awarded Edwards nine of the 10 rounds. Edwards, 27, previously held the WBC 112-pound title but was forced to relinquish it because he had trouble making the weight.

York Hall has been a jinx for David Oliver Joyce, the 33-year-old super bantamweight from Mullinger, Ireland, who is 0-2 in this building and 12-0 elsewhere. Joyce failed to last three rounds today in his match with Ionut Baluta. A Romanian who fights out of Bilbao, Spain, Baluta knocked Joyce down with a big left hook and then swarmed all over him when he arose, forcing the referee to intervene. The official time was 1:49 of round three.

It was the sixth straight win for Baluta (14-2, 3 KOs) and his third straight over a once-beaten opponent.

Riga, Latvia

Riga native Richard Bilotniks successfully defended his version of the European 175-pound title and advanced to the finals of the Golden Contract Light Heavyweight Tournament with a one-sided 10-round decision over Hosea Burton. A late bloomer who won only four of his first eight pro fights, Bilotnicks 30, won every round on one of the scorecards and eight rounds on the others to advance record to 17-5-1. Burton, who lost for the second time in 27 starts, let down his cousin Tyson Fury who flew to Latvia to cheer him on.

Struer, Denmark

At an arena in the city of Struer, hometown lass Dina Thorslund had a harder time than expected with Nina Radovanovic, but the Serb got no respect from the judges who didn’t see fit to award her a single round. Thorslund (15-0, 6 KOs) successfully defended her WBO world 122-pound title.

In the chief undercard bout, heavyweight Filip Hrgovic (11-0, 9 KOs) moved a step closer to a world title opportunity with a second-round blast-out of late sub Alexandre Kartozia. There was no need to count when Hrgovic leveled Kartozia with a big right hand.

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