Choosing the best athletes in any sport is not an easy task. It doesn’t get any easier for an individual sport like boxing. But that’s the beauty of boxing itself. No two experts will have the exact names in the same order in their respective lists. Everyone will always debate about the greatest boxers ever, but no one will question that these three boxing legends are unforgettable:
“Iron” Mike Tyson
The original “Baddest Man on the Planet” is perhaps the most iconic and controversial heavyweight champion of our time. Iron Mike marched his way to the heavyweight title, knocking out 25 out of his first 27 opponents before blitzing past WBC heavyweight champion Trevor Berbick in two quick rounds to become the youngest heavyweight champion in history. Tyson would win the WBA and IBF belts in his next two bouts, becoming the first boxer in history to win the three alphabet belts in three successive fights. In doing so, he also became the first fighter to unify the WBC,WBA and IBF belts and the youngest person to do so. However, Tyson’s invincibility came to an end when he was upset by James “Buster” Douglas in 1990. His life hit rock bottom when he was accused of raping a beauty pageant contestant in 1992 for which he served a three year prison sentence. In 1996, Tyson would become the fifth man to recapture the heavyweight title as he annexed the WBC and WBA belts.
Perhaps what will forever make Tyson unforgettable aside from his path of destruction and boxing records is the fact that he was the main protagonist in the infamous “Bite Fight” where he literally took a bite off Evander Holyfield’s ear during their 1997 rematch. Tyson also declared for bankruptcy in 2003 despite earning at least $300M in his career.
That image of the famous taunt on top of a fallen Sonny Liston says it all. That’s the Louisville lip at his best. Muhammad Ali wasn’t really the most gifted boxer of his generation, but his gift of glib was ansd still is unparalleled up to this day. Ali was the pioneer of trash talking and he used it as a perfect weapon against his opponents. But Muhammad Ali wasn’t just all lip service.
His boxing style was unorthodox for a heavyweight. He was fast with his hands and he moved around the ring with the grace of a ballerina. He pioneered immortal boxing moves like the “Ali Shuffle” and “Rope a Dope”. But perhaps the best way to describe him came from his own words: “Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” As a boxer, he defeated the best of the best and never backed down from any challenge, that is why he is known as the “Great One” in the sport.
But more than his boxing and trash talking, his personality out of the ring made him an ever bigger icon-perhaps much bigger than the sport itself. In 1967, Ali refused to be drafted to the US Military during the Vietnam War, saying that he had no fight against the Vietnamese. Ali was vilified for his wisdom and honesty but in the end, it defined him as a legend in the sport. Who could ever forget Ali, the man who transcended the sport the way Jordan did basketball decades later. He may have been defeated in the ring one time too many, but it was how he played the game and lived his life that made him once in a lifetime and a truly unforgettable legend.
Sugar Ray Robinson
The fact that Muhammad Ali called Robinson “the king, the master and my idol” should be enough reason to say that he is a great among the greatest. Add the fact that Robinson won 173 out of 200 professional fights and you’ll have to agree with Ali. Ray Robinson is the Greatest Boxer of All-Time in many experts’ lists and they have a good case.
Robinson was a very powerful boxer, packing dynamite in both fists. He moved swiftly with ease and was christened by his manager, George Gainford as “Sugar Ray” because he boxed as sweet as sugar. People in our generation only remember Ray Leonard as Shane Mosley as the boxers nicknamed sugar, but before both and greater than them was Ray Robinson. Robinson would fight until 1965, but he didn’t win any titles after 1960. But by then he was already an unforgettable legend.
After an incredible 85-0 amateur career, Robinson went on a 91 fight winning streak from 1943-1951 as a professional. Robinson held the welterweight title from 1946-1951 and the middleweight title in 1951 during the “Valentine’s Day Massacre” against the legendary Jake LaMotta. Robinson retired in 1952 but returned to recapture the middleweight belt in 1955. During his second tour of duty, Robinson became the first boxer to ever recapture a divisional title five times.
Robinson’s ability to switch from welterweight to middleweight was the primary reason why we now have the “Pound for Pound” rankings, which is supposed to give credit to those otherworldly talents who could and did fight in multiple weight classes. So the next time you hear the words “Pound for Pound”, remember that it was Sugar Ray Robinson who made those words possible.