21.08.06 – By James Slater: Quite often, a boxer’s chin is his final saviour. If his defensive abilities or attempts at blocking a well aimed punch to the head have failed, his chin is the only thing left that can save him. If his jaw is solid he will take the shot and possibly go on to victory. But if his jaw is weak – it’s lights out. In this article, I list my ten choices for greatest ever chins amongst heavyweights. The following men all had amazing ability at taking blows to the jaw. I say had, but some fighters from my list are still active. And even if these members of the list go on to be KO’d a number of times in the coming months, or years, their reputations – for being able to hold a hard head shot – will never be diminished due to what they proved in their primes. Quite simply, their legendary status – as fighters with chins able to withstand all manner of mighty punches – is set in solid stone. A substance that, on more than a few occasions, their jaws seemed to have been fashioned from.
And one final point before the rundown. Simply because a boxer has a great chin does not make him a great fighter. In fact, sometimes it’s just the opposite.
A fighter with poor skills and no punch power may still have a fine chin. Therefore, if you see a fighter, who was either never a champion or perhaps even nothing more than a journeyman at best, ranked above an all-time great heavyweight ruler – do not be offended. This is in no way claiming he was a superior fighter – only that his chin was better.
In reverse order, here is my top ten.
10. Oscar Bonavena.
The late Argentine was as tough as they come. In almost seventy fights, he was only KO’d once. Actually, he was TKO’d on the one occasion. Muhammad Ali stopped him in the fifteenth and final round of their fight in 1970. “Ringo” was able to take the punches of the fearsome Joe Frazier, though. In two encounters, Oscar was able to go the distance with “Smokin’ Joe.” He also stood up to everything that Floyd Patterson, Ron Lyle and Leotis Martin could throw at him. Bonavena would be even higher on this list, but for the knockdowns he suffered at the hands of Zora Folley – and Jimmy Ellis, a fighter known more for his boxing skills than his punching power.
9. Marion Wilson.
No doubt Wilson’s name will be unfamiliar to some readers. He never won, or even fought for, a title – yet his chin was astonishing. Marion tangled with some very big punchers from the division – men who’s names will be known to all. And though he was never able to defeat any of these fighters and progress beyond the stage of trial horse, Wilson took everything they could unload on him. Only one man ever stopped him inside the distance – Derek Isaman – but this was due to cuts. Indeed, despite a veritable who’s who of name heavyweights being in the opposing corner from him, no-one ever knocked Marion unconscious. Some of the men who tried include; Shannon Briggs, Ray Mercer( who Wilson actually drew with) Andrew Golota, Obed Sullivan, Ike Ibeabuchi, Greg Page, David Izon, Oleg Maskaev, Hasim Rahman, Samuel Peter and Oliver McCall. Now that’s impressive!
8. Ray Mercer.
“Merciless” Ray Mercer was one hard man in his prime years. No-one ever looked like KO’ing him during this time. And although he was a world class fighter with more ability than simply taking punches, he will be known to most fans due to his teak-toughness. Tommy Morrison was unloading every shot in the book on him in their 1991 fight, only for Mercer to come back and win by brutal KO. Lennox Lewis also found out firsthand how much steel there was in Ray’s chin – having to make do with a squeaker of a split decision victory instead of a stoppage win. Only when he was an old man was Ray KO’d – by Wladimir Klitschko and then Shannon Briggs. During his peak, however, Mercer was able to take anything. As Evander Holyfield, Bert Cooper and a rejuvenated Tim Witherspoon experienced.
7. Rocky Marciano.
A legendary and beloved heavyweight champion, “The Rock” was a man the old timers claim was “ unable to be hurt, a fighter who didn’t have the word pain in his vocabulary.” Who can argue with such assertions? Despite being somewhat short and therefore outreached by opponents who found him easy to hit, Marciano never lost a single fight. His granite chin has to be the overwhelming factor for his success. Rocky may have been knocked down twice – by Jersey Joe Walcott and Archie Moore, both times early on in a fight, when caught by surprise – but both times he got up. He was then able to take both men’s all-out attacks as they went for the finish – Rocky was clearly a fighter who warmed to a fight the longer it went. His chin never failed him in forty-nine outings.
6. Jack Dempsey.
“The Manassa Mauler” came up the hard way. Living the life of a freight train hitching hobo who was open to all manner of physical attack, Jack had no choice but to learn how to defend himself. He became one of the greatest heavyweight champions in history. His granite jaw was able to take serious punishment. In fact, he was only ever KO’d once – in a single round by Fireman Jim Flynn. But this fight was fought at a time when Dempsey hadn’t eaten for days – such was his poverty. It’s no wonder, then, that he couldn’t fight. He avenged the loss, a year later, when his energy level was what it should have been – by a first round KO. Jack’s chin also saw to it that he could swap hellacious punches with the huge Luis “Angel” Firpo – in one of the most unforgettable boxing matches of all-time.
5. Randy “Tex” Cobb.
Cobb’s 1982 fight with world champ Larry Holmes tells us everything we need to know about the strength of his chin. For one-sided round after one-sided round, Randy soaked it all up. Not once was he down in the bout, despite the number of clean head shots Larry – a more than capable puncher – landed on him. Cobb just kept coming. He fought the murderous punching Earnie Shavers with the same mindset – this time winning, by KO in round eight. Other notable punchers that failed to put a dent in Cobb include, Bernardo Mercardo, Ken Norton and Michael Dokes. It wasn’t until 1985 – eight years into his career – that Randy was KO’d. Dee Collier stopped him in a single round, but many people seem to think the fact that he’d failed to train for the fight assisted Collier. There is no doubt, Cobb’s chin contained more than its fair share of rock – his incredible slugfest with “The puncher of the century”, Earnie Shavers, proves it.
4. George Chuvalo.
Canadian legend, Chuvalo was never knocked off his feet inside a boxing ring. Not once. There are not too many heavyweight boxers who can say the same. To not go down a single time really is quite a feat. Especially when you consider the length of George’s career. And the high quality of fighters he met during it. Chuvalo fought in three different decades, and against some great fighters. Neither Cleveland Williams, Jerry Quarry, Floyd Patterson or Oscar Bonavena could put a dent in him – not to mention The Greatest, Muhammad Ali, who, though not a devastating puncher, was able to stop some very good men. George Chuvalo, on two occasions, was not one of them. Even the two men who did beat George inside the distance – Joe Frazier and George Foreman – couldn’t put him down. The reason? Chuvalo’s chin was one of the best ever.
3. George Foreman.
Big George really gains points for his chin due to the amazing second career he had. It could be argued that Foreman was not in possession of a good chin as a young man. This accusation cannot be levelled at the “old” George, however. In a comeback that started in 1987 and finished in 1997, George was never off his feet. Early on in his return he was fighting his share of stiffs, yes. But he soon upped the level of his competition. World champion Evander Holyfield threw everything at George in their title fight in 1991, but the older man continued to trundle forward. The brutal beatings he was taking from power hitters Alex Stewart and Michael Moorer would surely have finished a fighter not blessed with such a hard head. Yet George took all they had and went on to win. Throw in Foreman’s fights with punchers like Gerry Cooney and Shannon Briggs – both of whom failed to hurt him – and it’s clear to see how solid Big George’s jaw was.
2. Evander Holyfield.
Never has a fighter’s nickname been so apt. With the word “Warrior” emblazoned on his ring apparel, Evander has never failed to live up to it. Though outgunned by opponents on more than one occasion because of his relative smallness, Holyfield has only been stopped with head shots once. And that was by the juggernaut that was Riddick Bowe – in their third encounter. In the first two fights, however, Evander withstood some huge punches upstairs. He did the same again in two bouts with the massive Lennox Lewis – and these two fights were contested at a time when “The Real Deal” was considered to be way past his best. The fact that he also took the best Mike Tyson, George Foreman and Ray mercer had to offer, lets you know just how good his chin was. And to think, he’s still fighting today!
1. Muhammad Ali.
Ali’s name sits atop yet another list! It certainly deserves to though – The Greatest could definitely take a punch. Oh, how he could do that! Never has there been a braver boxer. Muhammad was simply fearless in the ring – this fact is proven by the number of monstrous punchers he was willing to face. George Foreman, for example, was considered invincible due to his quite freakish punching power. Yet Ali met, and defeated him. Joe Frazier, too, was one fierce banger. And though he put Ali down, the great man bounced straight back up again. At both the start and near the end of his championship reign, Ali met two lethal punchers – Sonny Liston in the early days, and Earnie Shavers towards the finish of his career – neither guy could stop him (admittedly, it was his defensive prowess that prompted the win over Liston).
His chin did improve with maturity. In fact, in his return after the enforced exile, Ali relied on his chin far more than anything else. He is paying the price for this today and we all wish he would have quit taking punches much sooner than he did – but because he never did so his name will forever be amongst the greatest, bravest and toughest boxers ever.
In the history of the heavyweight division, Muhammad Ali’s chin stands alone.