After all, the British invented modern-day boxing, as we know it, in 1867 when John Graham Chambers and his friend, Sir John Sholto Douglas, the eighth Marquis of Queensbury, introduced rules to the game that changed it dramatically. They outlawed wrestling, required fighters to wear gloves, provided for a one-minute rest between rounds and gave a fighter 10 seconds to rise after getting floored.
In the ensuing 140 years, dozens of great fighters have emerged from the birthplace of the fight game, and what follows is one man’s listing of the 10 best. It’s never easy deciding who gets left off of a list like this, but not everybody can make the cut. If they could there would be nothing to fight about. These are the best of the best.
131-3-2 (99), 13 no-decisions
World Flyweight Champion 1916-’23
It’s hard for fans of any era to properly appreciate a man who fought several generations before their own, but Wilde’s greatness shouldn’t be overlooked just because it occurred 90 years ago. A fighter’s historical value is measured by how well he did against the best ighters of his era and in this regard Wilde has few peers in all of boxing, never mind British boxing.
Look at the record again: three losses in 149 fights, with 99 knockouts. Though Wilde rarely weighed more than 100 pounds he was among the best punchers ever. The Ring magazine placed him third among history’s great punchers, behind only Joe Louis and Sam Langford, two icons of the sport. And his mammoth winning streaks are rivaled only by those compiled by Sugar Ray Robinson and Willie Pep. This is where he belongs and it’s not close.
73-5-7 (32), 82 decisions
World Lightweight Champion 1914-’17
It’s unfortunate that when Welsh is remembered at all, it’s as the man from whom the great Benny Leonard won the lightweight title in 1917. And it’s true, there are worse ways to be remembered. But Welsh was a hell of a lightweight in his own right and his record against the best 135-pounders of the era proves it.
As his record suggests, Welsh was not the puncher Wilde was – few were. And stylistically he was at the other end of the spectrum, a quick-footed, fleet-fisted fighter who relied on his defense the way Wilde relied on his right hand. But because he wasn’t a puncher doesn’t mean Welsh wasn’t great. He was a superb boxer in an age when the ranks were full of tough, angry little guys who could fight. Welsh was among the best.
52-3-6 (35), 8 no-decisions
British Featherweight Champion 1907-’13
Like Welsh, Driscoll was more defensive than offensive and kept his opponents off-balance with superior footwork, speed, and science. He was a better puncher than was Welsh and to be frank you could swap their places in this ranking without too much argument. The primary difference is Driscoll lost to Welsh via disqualification in Cardiff in 1910, and never won a world title – officially.
Driscoll did everything to champion Abe Attell in their title fight in 1909 in New York that one fighter could do to another without knocking him out, and the so-called “newspaper decision” went his way unanimously. But this was the no-decision era, in which any fight that didn’t end in knockout was a no-decision. Attell never gave him a rematch, and you couldn’t blame him.
Heavyweight Champion 1993-’94, 1997-‘2001, 2001-’03
There are those who would put Lewis at the top of this list, but only as a result of a favorable bias toward heavyweights or modern fighters or both. Each of the fighters who rate higher than Lewis has more wins than he has total fights and the breadth of one’s body of work, not just its visibility, must weigh heavily in these discussions.
That said, Lewis was a wonderful, mostly dominant heavyweight champion whose greatest strength was his versatility. When facing a big puncher, such as David Tua, he could move and box superbly. When confronted with a weaker man, say Andrew Golota or Frans Botha, he was no less destructive than was George Foreman or Joe Louis. And if this were a ranking of the greatest British heavyweights, there is little doubt he’d be at the top. As it is, there’s no shame in coming in fourth.
40-11 (32) 11 no-decisions, 1 no-contest
World Middleweight Champion 1891-’97
World Heavyweight Champion 1897-’99
World Light Heavyweight Champion 1903-’05
You could argue Fitzsimmons’ inclusion here, as he fought entirely in Australia and the United States and never in Great Britain. Nevertheless, “Ruby Robert” was born in Helston, Cornwall, England, and that qualifies him in this book. You could argue too that his position as boxing’s first triple-crown champion is overrated; the light heavyweight crown, which he won in 1903 by beating George Gardner, was mostly a publicity stunt by Gardner’s manager.
Still, Fitzsimmons was outweighed by 30 pounds when he knocked out Jim Corbett to win the heavyweight title, and was 40 years old when he stopped Gardner. His win over Jack Dempsey (The Nonpareil) to win the middleweight crown in 1891 was huge, and, along with James J. Jeffries, who relieved him of the heavyweight belt, Fitzsimmons was one of the dominant fighters of his time.
Ted “Kid” Lewis
173-30-14 (71), 65 no-decisions
World Welterweight Champion 1915-’16, 1917-’19
Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali will be forever linked. That’s how it is with Lewis and Jack Britton, who fought one another no less than 20 times between 1915 and 1921, many times with the world welterweight title on the line. They passed it back and forth like it was the plague but Britton wasn’t the only great fighter with whom Lewis tangled. He fought all the best fighters at or around his weight including Benny Leonard (Lewis won the “newspaper” decision), and Maxie Rosenbloom (Lewis lost on a foul).
Lewis didn’t stop there. He fought solid middleweights and light heavies too, most notably the brilliant Frenchman Georges Carpentier, who stopped Lewis in the first round. For Lewis, even heavyweights, such as South Africa’s Alec Storbeck, whom Lewis stopped in a round, were on the menu. And in addition to holding the welterweight world title, Lewis was, at varying times, the British welterweight champion, the British and European welterweight champion, and the British middleweight champion.
Ken Buchanan 61-8 (27) Lightweight Champion 1970-’72
Like Freddie Welsh before him, Buchanan had the great misfortune of competing in the same era with a physical phenomenon to whom he would lose the title. Welsh had Benny Leonard, Buchanan had Roberto Duran, who stopped Buchanan under dubious circumstances in their title match in New York in 1972. Much has been made in the ensuing years about how Duran never gave Buchanan a rematch, but no less a source than Hall of ame manager and trainer Gil Clancy, who worked for Buchanan, owed it to lack of fan interest rather than any reluctance on Duran’s part.
Either way, Buchanan was a fine boxer-puncher who might have enjoyed a long reign indeed had it not been for Duran’s wild tenacity and charisma. As it was, he beat a fine fighter in Ismael Laguna for the title, and defended against Ruben Navarro and then Laguna again before running into Duran. He also beat the great Carlos Ortiz (albeit in the 36-year-old Ortiz’ final fight), and future champion Jim Watt.
Randy Turpin 66-8-1 (45) World Middleweight Champion 1951
Turpin is best remembered for his shocking win over middleweight champion Sugar Ray Robinson in London in 1951and it’s true that a good deal of it was owed to Robinson’s partying and philandering in the days leading up to what he thought would be an easy defense. But there was no such alibi for the rematch, which took place two months later in New York, and it was no easy right for Robinson then, either. Turpin, with his awkward strength and heavy jab, troubled Robinson the way Ken Norton troubled Muhammad Ali and Robinson had to work mightily to regain the title from Turpin on a 10-round knockout.
Either way, Turpin was more than the sum of his bouts with Robinson. He’d won the British and European middleweight titles before facing Robinson, and afterward won the British Empire middleweight title, too. Losses to Carl “Bobo” Olson and Tiberio Mitri appeared to finish him as a top fighter by the end of 1954, but the next year he claimed the British light heavyweight title with a knockout of Alex Buton.
Chris Eubank 45-5-2 (23) Middleweight/Super Middleweight
Eubank was the most frustrating of fighters to watch, in that you knew he could ‘take out’ the likes of Ray Close at any time if he put his punches together. But on the rare occasions he was predicted to lose – against Graciano Rocchigiani in Germany and against top British pressure fighters Nigel Benn (first fight) and Henry Wharton – he completely dominated.
Eubank won two fights over talented Michael Watson back to back, who had only lost to the superb Mike McCallum in the previous five years. He also drew with one World Title holder in Benn (second fight) and beat another former World Title holder in Rocchigiani, who was unbeaten, back to back. It took 44 fights through much fame and acclaim in Britain before high-earning Eubank was finally toppled, by “Irish” Steve Collins (in Ireland, incidently). He came back to give future Champion Joe Calzaghe the hardest fight Calzaghe has ever had to this day in his unbeaten history.
Owen Moran 67-16-5 (33), 19 no-decisions
Moran never officially won a world title, but it’s hard to think of another guy who came so close so many times against top-tier fighters. Moran twice fought Jim Driscoll, once to a draw (in Driscoll’s last fight) and another to a no-decision. He fought the great old champion Able Attell five times and Battling Nelson too, and Ad Wolgast and Packey McFarland, all the biggest names among the lighter guys in the early 1900s.
Moran had a hard time winning against the very top guys and that’s reflected in his record and in his position during the time as perennial contender. But no one had an easy time of it against him. He was as relentless and scrappy as any fighter you could name that came before or after him and belongs among the great prizefighters of England.