Any time you put together a list of “5 Best” anything, you’re bound to generate controversy. But that’s half the fun of it: learning other people’s take on the same thing. It’s no different with boxing. Every boxing fan has a Top 5 list and stoutly defends it. There are a few boxing champions that everyone agrees should be in the Top 5, but where they fall within that list is the subject of debate. So, based on various sources, here are the Five Greatest Boxing Champions of All Time.
5. Willie Pep, Featherweight, 1940-1966.
Willie Pep’s real name was Guglielmo Papaleo, and he lived from 1922 to 2006. His final record was 230-11-1, with 65 KOs. Pep was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. Other names mentioned in this spot include George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Archie Moore.
4. Joe Louis, Heavyweight, 1934-1951.
Louis’s real name was Joseph Louis Barrow, and he lived from 1914 to 1981. Louis’ nickname was the Brown Bomber, and he had a reputation as an honest fighter when the sport was controlled by gambling interests. The International Boxing Research Organization named Louis as the greatest heavyweight ever, and he was also ranked #1 by The Ring Magazine in its list of 100 Greatest Punchers of All Time. Others listed in the number 4 spot include Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, and Rocky Marciano.
3. Henry Armstrong, Lightweight, Welterweight, 1932-1945.
Born Henry Melody Jackson, Jr. to a sharecropper and an Iriquois Native American, Armstrong won boxing championships in the Lightweight, Welterweight, and Featherweight divisions. Armstrong’s real record isn’t quite clear, because he also fought under the nickname Melody Jackson, but as Henry Armstrong, he was the only boxer to hold three world championships at the same time. Other nominees for Number 3 include Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali.
2. Muhammad Ali, Heavyweight, 1960-1981.
What more can be said about Muhammad Ali? He was a 1960 Olympic gold medalist and the subject of numerous books and films. Despite being stripped of his Heavyweight title for his opposition to the Vietnam War (he was a draftee), he remains one of the most beloved American public figures ever. Ali’s conviction on draft evasion was unanimously overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971. Named Sportsman of the Century by Sports Illustrated in 1999, and Sports Personality of the Century by the BBC, Ali still makes occasional public appearances despite being disabled by Parkinson’s syndrome. Many polls and lists put Joe Louis in this spot in the countdown.
1. Sugar Ray Robinson, Middleweight, 1940-1965.
This was near universal, although a couple of people put Ali here for more sentimental reasons. Ali himself, however, who was known for calling himself “The Greatest,” has said that Robinson (born Walker Smith, Jr.) was in fact the greatest boxer of all time. Concurring are boxing champions Sugar Ray Leonard and Joe Louis, the Associated Press, ESPN, and The Ring magazine. Robinson lived from 1921 to 1989. After retiring from boxing, he was diagnosed with diabetes and eventually with Alzheimer’s disease and died in 1989. The U.S. Postal Service featured Robinson in a commemorative stamp in 2006.
Let the debate begin.
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