“Who was the greatest?” and “Who was better, fighter #1 or fighter #2?” are the questions that begin two timeless conversations between boxing fans. These arguments that take place in venues varying from barbershops to bars always need fodder. Whether you loved or hated him, Bert Randolph Sugar filled that void with his two editions ranking boxing’s 100 greatest fighters of all time.
Sugar, who passed away in 2012, published two editions of “Boxing’s Greatest Fighters.” The first was released in 1984. The second edition was released 22 years later with Sugar Ray Robinson still holding the top spot and Mike Tyson debuting on the list on its final rung. Additional fighters whose careers began in between the two volumes, including Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker, Roy Jones, Jr., and Bernard Hopkins, made the list as well.
In compiling these lists, Sugar wrote that he, “considered each fighter as a scientist would a specimen, studying their punching power, their defensive skill, and in still others, their perceived greatness at the time.” In addition, he factored in each fighter’s level of competition and the durability of their greatness. Sugar did clarify that failed comebacks were not factored, writing, “because so many greats end their careers not with a bang, but with an “L” as in loss, we would be forced to conclude, erroneously of course, that an Alvin Green was better than an Ezzard Charles, or a Trevor Berbick was better than a Muhammad Ali, or a Chester Slider better than a Henry Armstrong, on and on and on…”
Considering the average length of a great’s career is more than 10 years, releasing a ranking every two decades is probably the optimal interval. There are numerous boxing writers with the knowledge and years covering the sport to take up this mantle so here’s hoping that one of them does so and releases a new edition sometime in the 2020s.
However, it has been almost ten years since the last edition was released. Based on the events during that period, it is safe to assess which fighters have a shot at making the list. Here are a few worth exploring.
• Bernard Hopkins (Ranked #91): When Sugar completed this list, Hopkins had just lost his middleweight title to Jermain Taylor and had said that he would not fight beyond the age of 40. Since then, he has moved up to light heavyweight, defeated Antonio Tarver, avenged his loss to Roy Jones, Jr., and has the opportunity to unify the light heavyweight title before he turns 50. He would definitely move past Jones (Ranked #88) and into the high 80s. The only question that a historian would have to answer is if he should pass Jack Dempsey, The Nonpareil (Ranked #82), the standard by which middleweights were first measured.
• Oscar De La Hoya (Honorable Mention): Entering 2006, De La Hoya’s last fight had been a 2004 knockout loss at the hands of Hopkins. His final four fights were wins over Ricardo Mayorga and Steve Forbes, a split decision loss to Floyd Mayweather and a brutal fight with Manny Pacquiao, where he ended his career on his stool. As great as De La Hoya’s career was, those final four fights would not put him on this list.
• Floyd Mayweather, Jr. (Honorable Mention): When Sugar’s book was published, Mayweather was a mercurial 34-0 fighter who had just moved up to welterweight and was ranked as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Eight years later, he is 46-0, still moody and still the top pound-for-pound fighter. So he hasn’t fought Pacquiao. His long-standing dominance will vault him onto this list. Only time will tell how high.
• Manny Pacquiao (Not Listed): In the last eight years, Pacquiao has been the most exciting fighter in boxing, but his body of work will likely not put him on this list. Losses, spotty performances and not fighting Mayweather hang over his legacy. Pacquiao’s a multi-millionaire and a favorite son of his native Philippines, but if he wants to make this list, he needs to fight Mayweather… and he needs to win.
• Wladimir Klitschko (Not Listed): When this book was published, no one – and I mean no one – would have even expected Klitschko to ever be considered for future rankings. However, following his knockout loss to Lamon Brewster in 2004, Klitschko retooled his game and has gone 20-0 since then. The current IBF and WBO Heavyweight champion now has 16 consecutive title defenses to his name and will defend the belts for a 17th time against Kubrat Pulev in September. Although the current state of the heavyweight division may cause argument against his entry on this list, his length of dominance is only behind Joe Louis and Larry Holmes. If another ranking comes out, he will be on it. How he climbs will be up to him.
Of course, there can be arguments against each one and on additions that should be made, but boxing as we know it is more than 130 years old. Only a handful of fighters from each decade make this list. To do so, a boxer has to be dominant against the best of his era.