Many outstanding heavyweights have shaped boxing as we know it today. Legendary matches in which Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, and Joe Louis fought have thrilled audiences and inspired new generations of fans. In this article, we’ll look at the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time and try to figure out what it is that makes them so remarkable.
1. Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., is among the most recognizable names in the world of heavyweight boxers. Many fans consider him the greatest heavyweight boxer in the era known as the Golden Age of Heavyweights, which lasted during the 1960s and 1970s. But besides the legendary matches, there’s controversy surrounding Ali.
Ali started boxing at the age of 12. Someone stole his bike, and he was so upset that he wanted to beat the thief up. A police officer he spoke to advised him: “Well, you better learn how to fight before you start challenging people.”
It looks like Ali took his advice quite seriously. Before becoming a three-time world heavyweight champion and one of the best heavyweight boxers ever, he won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.
To become “The Greatest” and “The Champ,” Ali had to defeat Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Floyd Patterson, and Ken Norton, among others.
Ali’s professional win-to-loss ratio is 56:5, achieving 37 of his wins by knockout.
If he weren’t banned from the ring for three and a half years due to draft evasion during the Vietnam War, the best heavyweight boxer of his time would likely have a more impressive record. Once the ban was lifted in 1971, he took part in the “Fight of the Century,” in which he lost to Joe Frazier, taking the heavyweight champion title back against George Foreman in 1974.
2. Joe Frazier
Joe Frazier, also known as Smokin’ Joe, was another heavyweight boxing champion in the golden era of heavyweights. He faced all the best fighters at the time, defeating everyone at least once save George Foreman, which makes Joe one of the top heavyweight boxers of all time.
Frazier’s professional career lasted from 1965 to 1981. He started as an amateur, winning Tokyo’s 1964 Olympic gold medal. Frazier turned pro the following year and scored 32-4-1, knocking out his opponents 27 times. In 1971, Frazier defeated Muhammad Ali in the “Fight of the Century,” in the 15th round.
In 1973, Frazier’s most defining moment came when he faced George Foreman and lost. In Thrilla in Manila, regarded as the greatest title fight in heavyweight history, Smokin’ Joe lost again, this time to Muhammad Ali.
3. Rocky Marciano
Rocky “The Rock” Marciano was one of the most dominant fighters in boxing history. Judging by his appearance, you wouldn’t rank him among the best heavyweight boxers of all time or the top athletes of his or any other time. But he had a mighty blow that rendered his opponents unable to hold their hands up afterward. For this reason, his winning streak was 49:0, with 43 of those wins coming by knockout.
Marciano started his professional boxing career in 1947 and ended it in 1956 as heavyweight champion. A truly spectacular moment for one of the best heavyweight boxers ever was knocking out Jersey Joe Walcott in 1952.
Since he never lost, Marciano is the only undefeated heavyweight champion in boxing history. Moreover, he holds the record for the longest unbeaten heavyweight streak.
4. Joe Louis
Joe Louis (the Brown Bomber) held the heavyweight throne for nearly 12 years, ending his career as a champion in 1949. The legendary Louis picked up where Jack Dempsey left off, keeping boxing mainstream at a time when WWII raged throughout the world.
Some of the opponents Joe Louis won while creating an impressive streak of 25 consecutive heavyweight title wins were Jersey Joe Walcott, James J. Braddock, Max Baer, and Max Schmeling.
Before a fight against Schmeling, one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time visited the White House, where Franklin D. Roosevelt told him: “Joe, we need muscle like yours to beat Germany.”
In 2005, the International Boxing Research Organization named Joe Louis the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time.
5. Mike Tyson
Mike Tyson, or Iron Mike, is one of the most controversial boxers in the history of this sport. His career spanned from 1985 to 2005. In November 1986, when he became the youngest heavyweight champion at the age of 20, he ended the match by knocking out Trevor Berbick in the second round.
Tyson’s career record is 50 wins, two no-contests, and six losses. Of those 50 wins, he won 44 by knocking down his opponent thanks to his overwhelming punching power and unparalleled ability to overpower his rival. Undoubtedly, the streak would have been more impressive and he could have been one of the top five heavyweights of all time if he hadn’t spent three years in prison because of rape.
In 1990, Tyson’s 37-0 streak ended in Japan when Buster Douglas defeated him and took over the heavyweight title. Evander Holyfield was also among his top nemeses. In the Tyson–Holyfield fight for the title in 1997, Tyson bit off part of Holyfield’s ear, which is why the ill-famed match went down in history as the Bite Fight.
6. Lennox Lewis
Lennox Lewis was the world’s three-time heavyweight champion and one of the best boxers in history. His professional boxing score of 41 wins, two losses, and one draw speaks for itself, especially considering that Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, and Vitali Klitschko were some of his biggest rivals.
Having defeated every prominent opponent he fought, Lewis became one of the top ten heavyweight boxers of all time. His only defeats came by knockouts from Oliver McCall in 1994 and Hasim Rahman (Thunder in Africa) in 2001, both of which he avenged later. Lewis fought future heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko in 2003 and won. After that, he retired as a champion.
Riddick Bowe was the only rival Lennox Lewis didn’t face in the heavyweight competition. Still, they fought each other in the finals of the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988, when Lennox won.
7. Tyson Fury
Tyson Fury is a WBC and undisputed (i.e., lineal) world heavyweight champion. His current record (October 2022) is 32 wins, zero losses, and one draw. Fury’s greatest rivals included Deontay Wilder and Wladimir Klitschko.
What’s more, Fury won one of his most significant victories by fighting Wladimir Klitschko in 2015. He defeated his opponent in the 12th round, becoming the WBA, IBO, WBO, IBF, and The Ring Heavyweight Champion.
8. Larry Holmes
If you’re wondering, “Who is the best heavyweight boxer of all time?” Larry Holmes should come to mind. He was the heavyweight champion for seven years in a row (1978-85) and defended his title 20 consecutive times. Holmes won his first title by defeating the then reigning champion Ken Norton in the 15th round in 1978.
Holmes’s record is 69:6, and he knocked out his opponents 44 times. He accumulated 48 triumphs before ultimately losing to Michael Spinks.
9. George Foreman
George Foreman, alias Big George, won an Olympic gold medal in Mexico City in 1968 when he was only 19. Having played for less than a decade, he retired at the age of 27. However, he returned and reclaimed the title 20 years after losing it to Muhammad Ali in the “Rumble in the Jungle” fight.
He is one of the best heavyweights of all time for many reasons, including winning the heavyweight title at age 45 by knocking out the then-undefeated Michael Moorer. All in all, Foreman won 76 matches, 68 of which were knockouts. He lost just five fights.
The Final Punch
Many outstanding fighters fought and thrilled spectators throughout heavyweight boxing history. Thus, figuring out the best heavyweight fighter of all time can be tricky. It depends on who you ask and what you deem most important, including physical domination, reign duration, the most knockouts, and fast knockouts.
The list we presented in our article features remarkable boxers, each with their own boxing style and approach. Irrespective of their track record, each heavyweight champion will be remembered for generations to come.
Who is the #1 heavyweight boxer?
The answer to this question is subjective and depends on who you ask, so it could be Muhammad Ali, Lennox Lewis, Rocky Marciano, or someone else. It also comes down to what you think is most important in a heavyweight boxer.
Is Tyson Fury the greatest boxer of all time?
While Tyson Fury is an outstanding fighter, many disagree that he is the greatest boxer of all time. This is because a number of other fighters have accomplished more in their careers.
Who is the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time?
Singling out one among dozens of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time is a difficult task. However, some fighters stand out more than others. These include Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Lennox Lewis, and George Foreman.