When attempting to compare and rank the unbeaten streaks of various fighters it is essential to consider the quality of the opponents that they defeated. If this is not done, Nioklay Valuev’s 47 fight run would rank ahead of George Foreman’s 40 fight undefeated streak. With all due respect to the often underrated “Russian Giant”, this would be ludicrous.
So, determining the quality of each “opponent” is important. The fairest and most objective way to do this – in this writer’s opinion – is to judge each boxer against the standard of the era in which he fought.
The Ring Magazine published professional boxing’s first ever ratings in February 1925. Since then, through to 2011, The Ring rankings consistently provided the public with a reasonably accurate (well, as good, if not better than any other ratings) breakdown of who the best boxers in the world were.
Changes to the Ring Magazine Championship Policy in 2012 mean that the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (TBRB) ratings are now arguably the most reliable and impartial ranking organisation in boxing today. As a consequence, from 1925 – 2011, this article refers to The Ring end-of-year ratings, and thereafter the TBRB end-of-year ratings have been utilised. The use of pre-fight rankings instead of end-of-year rankings would be preferable, but this would be far more difficult to research, and in all likelihood, would make very little difference to the overall results.
Each heavyweight’s unbeaten streak has been assessed using the following criteria:
– Number of victories over opponents who were rated inside the heavyweight top 5 – either during the year before, or the year that a particular fight happened. If any of these opponents are in, or are strong candidates to enter the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF), this has also been noted e.g. most would agree that Evander Holyfield and Wladimir Klitschko are heading for the Hall of Fame when the appropriate time has passed, whereas the likes of Hasim Rahman and Eddie Chambers, are not.
– Extra credit is given if they defeated the reigning lineal champion, or in cases where the title was vacant, they beat their highest rated rival.
– How emphatically they beat their opposition – a knockout earns more credit than a victory via the scorecards.
Unfortunately, the careers of James Jeffries, Jack Johnson, and the majority of Jack Dempsey’s were before 1925. Consequently, their “opponents” cannot be scrutinised using the same criteria, so these three boxers have been omitted from the top 10 list. From the information we do have about them though, as good as their undefeated stretches were, they would not have taken the top spot in this article.
James Jeffries – “The Boilermaker”, a 6 foot tall, 215 pound powerhouse, remained undefeated in 23 bouts during 1895-1904. Came out of retirement in 1910, after six years of inactivity, losing to Jack Johnson. Notable wins included: Jackson, Sharkey x2, Fitzsimmons x2, and Corbett x2.
Jack Johnson – Johnson’s 30 fight unbeaten streak between 1905 and 1915 included five bouts that were declared draws. Notable wins Included: Jeannette x4, Langford, Fitzsimmons, Burns, Ketchel, and Jeffries.
Jack Dempsey – Between 1918 -1926 “The Manassa Mauler” won 12 bouts – ten of which were stoppages. Notable wins included: Levinsky, Willard, Miske x2, Carpentier, and Gibbons.
Excellent fighters such as Floyd Patterson, Ken Norton, George Foreman, Riddick Bowe and Vitali Klitschko, have not been forgotten – they did not make the cut.
(10) EVANDER HOLYFIELD – 10 fights, 1988-1992 – 4 years 3 months
Victories over Top 5 Rated Opponents: 4 (KO4) – Douglas, Rodrigues, Dokes, and Thomas. IBHOF Wins: 0.
(9) LENNOX LEWIS – 14 fights, 1995-2001 – 5 years 11 months
Victories over Top 5 Rated Opponents: 5 (KO3) – Golota, Briggs, Holyfield, Tua, and Grant. Draw with Holyfield (first encounter). IBHOF Wins: 1 – Holyfield (rematch).
(8) JOE FRAZIER – 29 fights, 1965-1973 – 7 years 5 months
Victories over Top 5 Rated Opponents: 5 (KO3) – Ramos, Bonavena, Quarry, Ellis, and Ali. IBHOF Wins: 1 – Ali.
(7) MIKE TYSON – 37 fights, 1985-1990 – 4 years 11 months
Victories over Top 5 Rated Opponents: 5 (KO3) – Smith, Thomas, Tucker, Spinks, and Williams. IBHOF Wins: 1 (KO1) – Spinks.
(6) SONNY LISTON – 28 fights, 1955-1964 – 8 years, 11 months
Victories over Top 5 Rated Opponents: 5 (KO4) – Valdes, Folley, Machen, and Patterson x2. IBHOF Wins: 2 (KO2) – Patterson x2.
(5) WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO – 22 fights, 2004-present – 11 years 1 month (still active)
Top 5 Rated Opponents: 6 (KO4) – Byrd, Chagaev, Chambers, Haye, Povetkin, and Pulev
Hall of Fame Victories: 0
After shocking stoppage losses in 2003 and 2004, Volodymyr Volodymyrovych Klychko – the man more famously known as Wladimir Klitschko – resurrected his career under the guidance of the late Emanuel Steward, creating the now familiar, disciplined, defensive approach, from which he fires his vaunted right hand power punches. Aside from the top 5 rated opponents noted above, Dr Steelhammer also inflicted Sam Peter’s first loss, and then, in 2008, outpointed the No.6 rated Sultan Ibragimov over 12 rounds in Madison Square Garden.
Throughout his career, the 6 foot 6 inch, 245 pound Ukranian, has understandably and admirably refused to be persuaded into a colossal, money-spinning showdown with his elder brother – Future Hall of Famer, Vitali Klitschko. As a consequence though, the younger Klitschko is the only heavyweight in this top 10 who spent half a decade atop the heavyweight rankings, without fighting his number one rival.
Vitali’s final fight, before retiring, was in September, 2012. Wladmir seized this opportunity, finally squaring off against his closest competitor, defeating Alexander Povetkin via a lop-sided unanimous decision in Moscow, on 5th October, 2013.
Victory over the highly rated Tyson Fury will add to Wladimir’s resume, but Klitschko will still need one more win against a top 5 opponent to climb this list.
(4) LARRY HOLMES – 48 fights, 1973-1985 – 12 years 6 months
Top 5 Rated Opponents: 7 (KO5) – Norton, Weaver, Shavers (1979), L. Spinks, Cooney, Witherspoon, and Bey
Hall of Fame Victories: 1 – Norton
Larry Holmes outpointed Ken Norton via split decision at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, in June 1978 – the 15th round, which Holmes won, was a breathtakingly violent end to what was a terrific fight between two Hall of Fame pugilists.
Holmes mastered the fundamentals: he threw piston-like, accurate jabs, frequently trailed by potent right crosses. And if an opponent managed to evade this weaponry to launch their own assault? Larry could take a shot. Earnie Shavers – who possessed one of the hardest right hands any human ever wielded – must have felt like he was in against a supernatural monster when watching Holmes rise from his right cross bazooka, during the 7th round of their rematch. “The Easton Assassin” not only recuperated – he proceeded to batter his exhausted, demoralised opponent, into defeat by the 11th round.
In addition to beating seven top 5 rated opponents, Holmes also outpointed Shavers in their first (1978) duel, destroyed the remnants of Muhammad Ali in 1980, outpointed Trevor Berbick in 1981, and stopped James “Bonecrusher” Smith in 1984.
Michael “Jinx” Spinks ended Larry’s 48 fight run via a tight 15 round decision on 21st September, 1985.
(3) ROCKY MARCIANO – 49 fights, 1947-1955 – 8 years 6 months
Top 5 Rated Opponents: 8 (KO7) – Louis, Walcott x2, LaStarza, Charles x2, Cockell, and Moore
Hall of Fame Victories: 6 (KO5) – Louis, Walcott x2, Charles x2, and Moore
Rocky Marciano has always polarised opinion. Standing just 5 feet 10 inches, and with an arm-span barely longer than Miguel Cotto, it is easy to be dismissive of “The Brockton Blockbuster” when discussing heavyweight all-time greats. Rocky’s most memorable victories came against men at the tail end of their careers, or in the case of Joe Louis – who was bludgeoned through the ropes in the 8th round – it was his final fight.
There is good reason, however, that Marciano’s 49-0 unbeaten record is legendary.
Heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott, was ahead on all three scorecards when Marciano landed his unforgettable, jaw-crunching right hand knockout blow early in the 13th round. Rocky’s six defences of the crown that followed, were all against men ranked inside the top 5.
Critics are quick to highlight that Rocky’s last fight was against Archie Moore – a man whose greatest achievements were built at the 175 pounds weight limit, and not at heavyweight. It should be remembered though, that Moore – by beating full blown heavyweights, Bob Baker, and the talented 6 foot 3 inch Cuban heavyweight, Nino Valdes – had deservedly earnt the position of being the No.1 contender. Rocky stopped Moore in the 9th. Put simply: Rocky fought the best available opposition he could have, and he beat them all.
(2) MUHAMMAD ALI – 31 fights, 1960-1971 – 10 years 4 months
Top 5 Rated Opponents: 11 (KO8) – Lavorante, Jones, Liston x2, Patterson, Chuvalo, Mildenberger, Terrell, Folley, Quarry, and Bonavena
Hall of Fame Victories: 3 (KO3) – Liston x2, and Patterson
“The Greatest” defeated his first top 5 opponent – Alejandro Lavorante, via 5th round stoppage in July 1962, before going on to stun the boxing world by ripping the heavyweight crown from Sonny Liston.
One gauge of a champion’s dominance in boxing, is whether they are able to win emphatically against good quality opposition, even when fighting on foreign soil. Ali demonstrated his complete stranglehold over the division by not only outclassing Henry Cooper, Karl Mildenberger and George Chuvalo, but doing so in their home countries of England, Germany and Canada respectively.
Over three years after taunting Ernie Terrell and knocking Zora Folley out (a period of inactivity caused by the United States government banning Muhammad from boxing), Ali returned to the ring to face Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena. The Ali that stopped these two top 5 rated boxers was still a formidable fighter, but make no mistake; this was not the fleet-footed, precision shooter of the 1960’s who oozed infinite energy. No – father time had diminished his reflexes, inactivity had blunted his sharpness. Ali could no longer dance and float like a butterfly for the entirety of a fight. The seemingly unstoppable Joe Frazier clipped Ali’s wings on 8th March, 1971, ending Muhammad’s decade-long unbeaten streak.
(1) JOE LOUIS – 34 fights, 1936-1950 – 14 years 1 month
Top 5 Rated Opponents: 15 (KO12) – Braddock, Farr, Mann, Schmeling, Lewis, Galento, Pastor, Godoy x2, Burman, Conn x2, Mauriello, Walcott x2
Hall of Fame Victories: 6 (KO5) – Braddock, Schmeling, Conn x2, and Walcott x2
Joe Louis began his undefeated blitz through the heavyweights with a knockout of former champion, Jack Sharkey, in August, 1936. The following year he KO’d Jim Braddock for the title, and then in 1938 he gained revenge over the only man to have beaten him – annihilating Max Schmeling in the 1st round, in front of 72,000 spectators at New York’s Yankee Stadium.
“The bum of the month club” is a term often used incorrectly when referring to Louis’s long list of title defences. The term was coined by the era’s journalists, not because Joe’s opponents were inept, but because of the ease and the frequency with which he dispatched of them. The fact is this: Joe Louis knocked out more top contenders than any other heavyweight in the history of the sport.
Total domination to this degree does not occur by chance.
“The Brown Bomber” stalked his opponents using impeccable technique and expert ring generalship. His predatory instincts and one-punch knockout power could finish foes swiftly, but if needed, he was unafraid to blast combinations of equally heavy artillery from his deep repertoire of punches. He could absorb punishment and climb up from a knockdown to win if necessary. Rarely, if ever, has the heavyweight division had such an all-round, complete fighter such as Joe Louis. The two-fight brutalisation of the 6 foot 6 inch, 250 pound Buddy Baer – a man rated in 2003 by The Ring as the 69th greatest puncher of all-time – may not be as famous as his wins over Billy Conn and Jersey Joe Walcott, but nevertheless, it is still an excellent example of the unique skill-set and bravery that Louis brought with him each time he stepped into the ring.
After fourteen years, Louis eventually lost on points to Ezzard Charles in 1950. Similarly to Ali, had several years of his prime not been tarnished (in Louis’ case, by the effects of World War 2), Louis would almost certainly have added many more victims to his phenomenal career.
FB – Triple Jab