1) Sugar Ray Robinson
His final record was a gaudy 175-19-6-2 with 109 KOs. In a career that spanned three decades, Sugar Ray embodied the essence of the Sweet Science. He was a world welterweight champion and held the middleweight title five times. He never lost to a welterweight. When he gave up the 147 pound title to challenge Jake LaMotta for the middleweight championship in 1951, his record was 121-1-2. The lone loss was to LaMotta and both draws were against middleweights. Incredibly, he was so great for so long that he won his first Fighter of the Year award in 1942 and his second award in 1951. Talk about book ends! The fact that I don’t have to say much says it all. In 201 fights over an amazing twenty-five-year career, Robinson failed to finish a fight just once when he was felled by heat prostration against Joey Maxim in a fight he was winning handily.
2) Guglielmo Papaleo, a.k.a. Willie Pep
Had an incredible record of 230-11-1 with 65 KOs. Nicknamed “Will o’ the Wisp” for his elusiveness, Pep is considered, along with Nicolino Locche, one of boxing’s all-time great defensive artists. He held the featherweight title for six years and outboxed all comers. He is best remembered for his physical and dirty series of fights against fellow Hall of Famer Sandy Saddler. He turned pro in 1940 and won his first sixty-three fights. In 1952, he won the featherweight title by decision over Chalky Wright. His first loss came the following year when he dropped a non-title fight to former lightweight champion Sammy Angott.
3. Joe Louis
“The Brown Bomber,” 69–3 with 55 KOs, is rated by many as the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. He successfully defended his title an astounding 25 times. He used a lightening quick jab and was subtly deadly with one punch KO power in either hand. He was very economical, never wasting a punch, nor did he waste much foot movement, moving only as much as needed but always within deadly reach of his opponent. He fought such greats as Ezzard Charles, Jersey Joe Walcott, Max Schmeling, Max Baer, Buddy Baer, Billy Conn and many others. In 1950, he returned to the ring, but after a series of wins, he was knocked out in 1951 by rugged Rocky Marciano, after which he permanently retired. When I was a kid, Joe Louis was everyone’s hero. And even as a young, albeit observant child, I was amazed at how much power he could generate with such a short punch and just how fast he threw that punch. Indeed, because of his short punches and combos, only aficionados and Louis victims really knew how fast his hands were. The thing is, he “invented” the one-two. When he lost to Rocky Marciano, many wept including Rocky He also transcended the sport and was viewed as America’s fighter. Quite simply, Joe Louis was the most beloved champion in boxing history.
4. Eder Jofre
His record was 72-2-4 with 50 KOs. Let’s just call him the greatest fighter who fought under the radar. He represented his country, Brazil, in the 1956 Olympics and then turned professional in 1957 at twenty-one. His nickname was “the Golden Bantam,” and he was one of the few champions to have never suffered a knockout. Jofre (born March 26, 1936) is considered to be the best Brazilian boxer of all time and arguably the greatest bantamweight of all time. With one-punch knockout power in either hand, he also was a slickster with great technical skills and reflexes in the style of Sugar Ray Robinson. He had the hook and the straight right; hell, he had it all, including an iron chin. He was a classic body puncher who would wear his opponents down before moving upstairs for the kill. He did his work in a bobbing and weaving manner. Perhaps his most amazing quality was his ability to adapt. Jofre was a very intelligent fighter who could change his style to adjust to any kind of opponent. If necessary, this fistic artisan could engage in a brawl, but he could be a cutie as well, whatever the situation required. In 1965, he would lose his world bantamweight titles to Fighting Harada in a highly controversial SD in Nagoya, Japan. Harada would beat him again by a razor-thin margin in Tokyo in 1966. Both fights with the Japanese warrior were savage ones.
He retired but made a successful comeback three years later. As for Harada, he was the only boxer to beat Jofre, who many considered to be invincible. He too was inducted into the Hall (in 1995) and is arguably Japan’s greatest fighter ever. By going undefeated in his first fifty fights, Jofre managed to bookend his career in a uniquely positive way … fifty in front and twenty-five at the end. Even the great Sugar Ray Robinson, to whom Jofre is often compared when pound-for pound discussions take place, did not have such an auspicious start or superb ending.
5. Muhammad Ali
56-5 with 37 KOs. He was the dominant fighter of the 1960s and 1970s. A fighter of exceptional speed and flair, he won the world heavyweight title on three separate occasions over a period of 15 years, but his trilogy with Kenny Norton, two mediocre fights against Leon Spinks and controversial wins against Henry Cooper and Jimmy Young tarnished, at least to some degree, his nickname of “The Greatest.” On the other hand, his two hard fought wins against Joe Frazier, his wins over Sonny Liston, and his upset of George Foreman truly cemented his reputation. His wins against Shavers, Lyle, Williams and Quarry were memorable as well. His fight against an old Zora Folley at Madison Square Garden in 1967 perhaps showcased him at his brilliant best.