Top fighters of the century
With all the athletes-of-the-century rankings springing up these days, It seems appropriate for me to list my top picks in boxing for the century – which I will call the “Rogers Rankings,” although mine will be a little different than the others.
The reason for that is because I will attempt to level the playing field before making my top picks.
First, I take into account the whole career of the fighter inside the ropes. By that I mean many top-class fighters fought well beyond their prime and lost some fights late in their career that some don’t take into account. As for me, it seems every fight fought should count. Just like other sports, if you play the game, it should count and the same goes for fights. You can’t say a baseball pitcher who wins 20 games for a few years and then, late in his career falters and posts a 2-15 type of record, it shouldn’t count because he was “over-the-hill” and past his prime that year. It. It counts, folks.
Also, fights back in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s were with only one champion instead of the watered down versions of champions we have today. A top 10 ranking meant something then and means little now with all the alphabet organizations now having “champions” and top contenders.
Take into account two other things. Fighters back then fought more often, fought tougher foes and all title fights then were 15 rounds instead of the 12 rounds they are today. I personally saw many titles change hands in rounds 13, 14 and 15 and that can’t happen anymore.
One last note before I make my selections as top fighters of the century. You have to take into account the fact that some fighters missed part of their career for various reasons. Muhammad Ali lost 3-1/2 years in his prime and you can’t ignore that but can’t use any “what-ifs” because that’s speculation. I have to go with what they did during their full career. That’s what counts.
– I will rank my top three picks in the original eight weight classes. I do this because in the old days, there weren’t so many junior weight classes like we have today and it’s not fair to penalize fighters who fought when those junior titles weren’t available. Do you have any doubt that Sugar Ray Robinson, Jake LaMotta or Carmen Basillio among others could have won the junior middleweight title if it had been available then. Or any of a couple of dozen other top fighters who moved up in weight and won titles. If there had been all those junior titles back then, they all would have nailed them on the way up, too.
Also, note that moving up in weight back then was a tough move. For example, moving from welterweight to middleweight was a 13-pound advance in weight (147-160) and now with a junior middleweight title at 154-pounds, it’s an easier move up and that goes for all those junior titles. They made it easier for fighters to move up in weight today so I take all that into account in my selections. Here they are:
HEAVYWEIGHT – 1. Rocky Marciano: He fought anyone and everyone and won them all. He retired – and stayed retired – with a 49-0 record and nobody did any better in the division. 2. Joe Louis: He made the most successful title defenses with 25, but he lost 3 fights including one to Marciano. 3. Muhammad Ali: He was the best when he was at his best but he had better training methods, more nutritional information available and he also lost five fights, including to Trevor Berbick, Ken Norton (whom many feel beat Ali twice) and Larry Holmes among others, so he just gets the third spot in my rankings.
Honorable Mention – Big George Foreman: Not only did George have two careers that were successful, he won an Olympic Gold Medal for our country as a heavyweight in the 1968 Olympics and had a very good first career. Then, 10 years after he retired, had a very good second career, becoming the oldest man (46) ever to win the heavyweight title when he knocked out then-champ Michael Moorer.
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT – 1. Archie Moore. The best for a long time, he didn’t even get a title shot until his 152nd fight. Moore fought 28 years, starting in 1936 and he fought anyone who would get in the ring with him and when he finally won the title, he kept it for 11 years (1952-61) before retiring in 1964 with a career 194-16-6 record and a record 141 knockouts.
2. Billy Conn: Not only was he a top light heavyweight champion, he fought Joe Louis for the heavyweight title and was well ahead when Louis stopped Conn in round 13 in 1941.
3. Bob Foster: He was tough, took on all contenders and gave his all every time out.
Honorable Mention – Roy Jones Jr.: Roy is still fighting so it’s hard to say how things will end for him but, as of now, he is the best light heavyweight around and dominates the division.
MIDDLEWEIGHT – Sugar Ray Robinson: A no-brainer. He won the welterweight title first, then moved up and won the middleweight title and wound up winning that title five times. He fought the best, the toughest and both outboxed and outslugged them all for a long time between 1940 and ’65. Robinson was the best I ever saw, I might add.
2. Marvelous Marvin Hagler: If you saw him fight, you know he deserves to be on the list and his fight against Tommy Hearns was the best three-round action fight I ever saw.
3. Harry Greb: I only saw films of his fights but he was a great champion in the ’20s and fought 315 fights in a short career. He died at age 32 in 1926.
Honorable Mention – Jake LaMotta: A tough cookie who went to war every time he entered the ring. He and Sugar Ray Robinson fought some classic brawls. He also beat many of the top middleweights of his time and was a good champion. The movie “Raging Bull” was his life story.
– Next week we’ll finish off our list with the other five weight divisions plus I’ll give my pick as “Fighter of the Century” as well as the “Fight of the Century” in my opinion.
ALAN ROGERS is the Nevada Appeal boxing writer.