The Greatest Heavyweight Champs Since Muhammad Ali Last Held The Title

Greatest Heavyweight Champs Since Muhammad Ali – On June 27th 1979 Muhammad Ali announced his retirement from boxing. At that time he hadn’t fought in nine months. In his most recent bout he defeated Leon Spinks in their rematch to capture the heavyweight title, WBA version, for the third time.

Many thought boxing was going to die a slow death without Ali around, who at the time was the most recognized person on the planet. However, boxing was in a little better shape than most perceived it to be. When Ali announced his retirement Larry Holmes a year into his reign as WBC heavyweight champ, Sugar Ray Leonard would win the WBC welterweight title two months later in November of 1979, and Marvin Hagler was emerging in the middleweight division and by September 1980 he would be the undisputed champ at 160.

With Ali’s departure Larry Holmes was dogged by the boxing media for years to come because he lacked Ali’s flash and natural charisma. In October of 1980 Holmes turned back Ali in his comeback bid in trying to win the title for a fourth time. As fate would have it, by late 1980 Holmes did everything as a fighter better than Ali. And Larry reluctantly gave Ali a one-sided beating with Ali’s trainer Angelo Dundee mercifully stopping the bout after the 10th round. For the next five years Holmes was still fighting Ali’s ghost in and out of the ring, but years later in retirement Holmes finally got his just due. Most sophisticated boxing historians, at least those who are worthy of carrying the title historian, grasp that Larry Holmes was/is an all-time top-5 heavyweight champ.

Since Muhammad Ali retired there have been five outstanding/great fighters who held the title or had an impressive run as champ. In chronological order with the year they won the title they are: 1978-Larry Holmes, 1986-Mike Tyson, 1990-Evander Holyfield, 1993-Lennox Lewis and 2000-Wladimir Klitschko. Instead of evaluating how all five would’ve matched up versus Ali prime for prime (incidentally all five would’ve been an underdog) I thought I’d rate them from 1-5 as to who was the greatest and most complete fighter. And in most cases the higher ranked fighter, at least in my opinion, would’ve defeated the fighter/s underneath them.

Below is my ranking of the five greatest heavyweight title holders since Ali last held it. My ranking is based on how I think they’d fare in head-to-head confrontations against each other, but more so on who was the greatest and most complete fighter and champion. My choice of Wladimir Klitschko over Vitali Klitschko is centered on the fact that he was the better technician and fought more title bouts against top contenders for a decade without interruption. However, if you insert Vitali in place of Wladimir, my ranking doesn’t change and the five spot would still be held by a Klitschko.

The synopsis on the fighters below is brief as I believe the reader is very familiar with all five fighters’ careers, including their highs and lows. It would be long and boring for me to go into specific details since each is so well known. Of course there are things not mentioned, but it’s an overview to stimulate thought and debate since Muhammad Ali’s passing June 3rd of this year. I have given it much thought, and would be hard pressed to modify the ranking I have below.

5). Wladimir Klitschko, years active 1996-2015.

Wladimir was the supposed new breed heavyweight fighter. At 6-6, 245 pounds, he had size and strength. He fought behind a hard jab, which at times he was a little tentative delivering. During his prime his right hand was perhaps the biggest single shot in boxing once Lennox Lewis retired. Physically, Wladimir had it all. His biggest liability was his gumption and constitution. When he faced fighters who weren’t intimidated by him and actually threw their punches with serious intent, he let them alone and fought too cautious. He also wasn’t consistent in fighting like a big man and often used his size more defensively than offensively. And let’s be honest, of the five top heavyweights who have held the title since Ali, Wladimir no doubt confronted the weakest opposition and was stopped in three of his four career defeats. However, he dominated for 10 years and he did beat some decent fighters during his title tenure.

4). Mike Tyson, years active 1985-2005.

Tyson is no doubt a top-5 great physical talent, who uniquely blended speed and power in his swarmer like aggression. He was the youngest heavyweight champ, and ex-champ in history. He was also the fastest starter and most dangerous heavyweight champ in history, for two rounds. However, Mike was managed perfectly and was kept away from some of the fighters who were a threat to him, like Ray Mercer, Tim Witherspoon, Oliver McCall and even an old George Foreman. When Tyson was confident that he could beat the other fighter, he was tough to beat. He was aggressive and had legitimate knockout power in both hands, but when things didn’t go his way he sometimes came unglued. And it goes against Tyson that he never got up off the canvas to win a fight, and either quit or was stopped in all six of his career defeats. Mike Tyson is the fourth greatest champ since Ali.

3). Evander Holyfield, years active 1984-2011.

Many consider Evander, the former undisputed cruiserweight champ, an undersized heavyweight who lacked the big punch. However, aside from Ali, Holyfield may be the toughest heavyweight who has ever held the title. Holyfield was a counter-puncher who loved to mix it up and trade, even when it wasn’t to his advantage. He also fought practically every name fighter of his era, and aside from his contemporary Lennox Lewis, and Muhammad Ali, Holyfield may have faced the greatest level of opposition in the history of the division. He also had more lives than a cat, and every time you thought he was at the end of the road, he’d come back and beat a fighter he wasn’t supposed to. Like Tyson he fought way past his prime, but unlike Tyson, Holyfield was only stopped twice in his career and that encompasses fighting Dwight Muhammad Qawi twice, Riddick Bowe three times, Mike Tyson twice, Lennox Lewis twice and George Foreman. Had Holyfield been slightly more consistent, he’d occupy the second slot on this list over Lennox Lewis.

2). Lennox Lewis, years active 1989-2003.

Like Wladimir Klitschko, Lewis at 6-5, 227/245, had size and power. Lennox was a boxer-puncher, only much more versatile than Riddick Bowe and both Klitschko brothers. Lewis could fight as the aggressor or he could step off and counter. His right hand was probably the biggest single shot in the division during his era, with the possible exception of David Tua’s left hook, a fighter Lennox dismantled during one of his title defenses. Also, like Holyfield, Lewis fought the best of the best during his era, which is the second best era in heavyweight history. Lennox was stopped twice during his prime when he was out of shape, but he exacted revenge on the two fighters who beat him. So it can be said Lewis never met a fighter he couldn’t beat. He retired from boxing as the universally recognized champ, and got out at the perfect time with his health, wealth and respect. Prime for prime I’m not sure Lewis beats Holyfield. When they fought Lennox was at his peak and Holyfield was well past his, and the rematch was very close. The biggest reason Lewis ranks above Holyfield to me is that he was more consistent and probably matches up with the other four slightly better because of his size, but that’s it.

1) Larry Holmes, years active 1973-2002.

“I don’t get no respect” was Holmes’ favorite saying. For a long time Larry was right. Because he followed Muhammad Ali and was succeeded by Mike Tyson, two of the three biggest heavyweight superstars in history, along with Jack Dempsey, he didn’t get enough respect. But looking back, Holmes is no doubt the best and most complete heavyweight champ since Ali. Larry had perhaps the best left jab in history. He was a great boxer who could fight on the inside and also had great stamina. And like Ali did versus Joe Frazier in round 15 in The Fight of the Century, Holmes got up from the grave when Earnie Shavers dropped him in the seventh round with a right hand that may have broken the sound barrier during their WBC championship bout. Holmes also had a huge heart and the harder he got hit, the harder he fought. For seven years Larry held the title and was clearly the class of the division. In 75 career bouts he was only stopped once, and that was against Mike Tyson when Mike was in his prime. And when they fought, Holmes was 38 years old and had been retired for the two previous years. Like Tyson and Klitschko, Holmes didn’t fight the greatest opposition during his title reign. But that’s not his fault, and looking back, his opposition looks a little better than it did at the time.

Yes, Larry Holmes is the greatest heavyweight champion since Muhammad Ali last held the title 37 years ago. He was equally as tough, and more complete, than the other four fighters above. And in a prime-for-prime head-to-head confrontation, I believe Holmes would’ve defeated Lewis, Holyfield, Tyson and Klitschko — and may have won by stoppage against all four with the exception of Holyfield.

Greatest Heavyweight Champs Since Muhammad Ali

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

COMMENTS

-stormcentre :

Written by Frank Lotierzo Thursday, 30 June 2016 17:04 By Frank Lotierzo On June 27th 1979 Muhammad Ali announced his retirement from boxing. At that time he hadn't fought in nine months. In his most recent bout he defeated Leon Spinks in their rematch to capture the heavyweight title, WBA version, for the third time. Many thought boxing was going to die a slow death without Ali around, who at the time was the most recognized person on the planet. However, boxing was in a little better shape than most perceived it to be. When Ali announced his retirement Larry Holmes was three months into his reign as WBC heavyweight champ, Sugar Ray Leonard would win the WBC welterweight title two months later in November of 1979, and Marvin Hagler was emerging in the middleweight division and by September 1980 he would be the undisputed champ at 160. With Ali's departure Larry Holmes was dogged by the boxing media for years to come because he lacked Ali?s flash and natural charisma. In October of 1980 Holmes turned back Ali in his comeback bid in trying to win the title for a fourth time. As fate would have it, by late 1980 Holmes did everything as a fighter better than Ali. And Larry reluctantly gave Ali a one-sided beating with Ali's trainer Angelo Dundee mercifully stopping the bout after the 10th round. For the next five years Holmes was still fighting Ali's ghost in and out of the ring, but years later in retirement Holmes finally got his just due. Most sophisticated boxing historians, at least those who are worthy of carrying the title historian, grasp that Larry Holmes was/is an all-time top-5 heavyweight champ. Since Muhammad Ali retired there have been five outstanding/great fighters who held the title or had an impressive run as champ. In chronological order with the year they won the title they are: 1978-Larry Holmes, 1986-Mike Tyson, 1990-Evander Holyfield, 1993-Lennox Lewis and 2000-Wladimir Klitschko. Instead of evaluating how all five would've matched up versus Ali prime for prime (incidentally all five would've been an underdog) I thought I'd rate them from 1-5 as to who was the greatest and most complete fighter. And in most cases the higher ranked fighter, at least in my opinion, would've defeated the fighter/s underneath them. Below is my ranking of the five greatest heavyweight title holders since Ali last held it. My ranking is based on how I think they'd fare in head-to-head confrontations against each other, but more so on who was the greatest and most complete fighter and champion. My choice of Wladimir Klitschko over Vitali Klitschko is centered on the fact that he was the better technician and fought more title bouts against top contenders for a decade without interruption. However, if you insert Vitali in place of Wladimir, my ranking doesn't change and the five spot would still be held by a Klitschko. The synopsis on the fighters below is brief as I believe the reader is very familiar with all five fighters? careers, including their highs and lows. It would be long and boring for me to go into specific details since each is so well known. Of course there are things not mentioned, but it's an overview to stimulate thought and debate since Muhammad Ali's passing June 3rd of this year. I have given it much thought, and would be hard pressed to modify the ranking I have below. 5). Wladimir Klitschko, years active 1996-2015. Wladimir was the supposed new breed heavyweight fighter. At 6-6, 245 pounds, he had size and strength. He fought behind a hard jab, which at times he was a little tentative delivering. During his prime his right hand was perhaps the biggest single shot in boxing once Lennox Lewis retired. Physically, Wladimir had it all. His biggest liability was his gumption and constitution. When he faced fighters who weren't intimidated by him and actually threw their punches with serious intent, he let them alone and fought too cautious. He also wasn't consistent in fighting like a big man and often used his size more defensively than offensively. And let's be honest, of the five top heavyweights who have held the title since Ali, Wladimir no doubt confronted the weakest opposition and was stopped in three of his four career defeats. However, he dominated for 10 years and he did beat some decent fighters during his title tenure. 4). Mike Tyson, years active 1985-2005. Tyson is no doubt a top-5 great physical talent, who uniquely blended speed and power in his swarmer like aggression. He was the youngest heavyweight champ, and ex-champ in history. He was also the fastest starter and most dangerous heavyweight champ in history, for two rounds. However, Mike was managed perfectly and was kept away from some of the fighters who were a threat to him, like Ray Mercer, Tim Witherspoon, Oliver McCall and even an old George Foreman. When Tyson was confident that he could beat the other fighter, he was tough to beat. He was aggressive and had legitimate knockout power in both hands, but when things didn't go his way he sometimes came unglued. And it goes against Tyson that he never got up off the canvas to win a fight, and either quit or was stopped in all six of his career defeats. Mike Tyson is the fourth greatest champ since Ali. 3). Evander Holyfield, years active 1984-2011. Many consider Evander, the former undisputed cruiserweight champ, an undersized heavyweight who lacked the big punch. However, aside from Ali, Holyfield may be the toughest heavyweight who has ever held the title. Holyfield was a counter-puncher who loved to mix it up and trade, even when it wasn't to his advantage. He also fought practically every name fighter of his era, and aside from his contemporary Lennox Lewis, and Muhammad Ali, Holyfield may have faced the greatest level of opposition in the history of the division. He also had more lives than a cat, and every time you thought he was at the end of the road, he'd come back and beat a fighter he wasn't supposed to. Like Tyson he fought way past his prime, but unlike Tyson, Holyfield was only stopped twice in his career and that encompasses fighting Dwight Muhammad Qawi twice, Riddick Bowe three times, Mike Tyson twice, Lennox Lewis twice and George Foreman. Had Holyfield been slightly more consistent, he'd occupy the second slot on this list over Lennox Lewis. 2). Lennox Lewis, years active 1989-2003. Like Wladimir Klitschko, Lewis at 6-5, 227/245, had size and power. Lennox was a boxer-puncher, only much more versatile than Riddick Bowe and both Klitschko brothers. Lewis could fight as the aggressor or he could step off and counter. His right hand was probably the biggest single shot in the division during his era, with the possible exception of David Tua's left hook, a fighter Lennox dismantled during one of his title defenses. Also, like Holyfield, Lewis fought the best of the best during his era, which is the second best era in heavyweight history. Lennox was stopped twice during his prime when he was out of shape, but he exacted revenge on the two fighters who beat him. So it can be said Lewis never met a fighter he couldn't beat. He retired from boxing as the universally recognized champ, and got out at the perfect time with his health, wealth and respect. Prime for prime I'm not sure Lewis beats Holyfield. When they fought Lennox was at his peak and Holyfield was well past his, and the rematch was very close. The biggest reason Lewis ranks above Holyfield to me is that he was more consistent and probably matches up with the other four slightly better because of his size, but that's it. 1) Larry Holmes, years active 1973-2002. "I don't get no respect" was Holmes' favorite saying. For a long time Larry was right. Because he followed Muhammad Ali and was succeeded by Mike Tyson, two of the three biggest heavyweight superstars in history, along with Jack Dempsey, he didn't get enough respect. But looking back, Holmes is no doubt the best and most complete heavyweight champ since Ali. Larry had perhaps the best left jab in history. He was a great boxer who could fight on the inside and also had great stamina. And like Ali did versus Joe Frazier in round 15 in The Fight of the Century, Holmes got up from the grave when Earnie Shavers dropped him in the seventh round with a right hand that may have broken the sound barrier during their WBC championship bout. Holmes also had a huge heart and the harder he got hit, the harder he fought. For seven years Larry held the title and was clearly the class of the division. In 75 career bouts he was only stopped once, and that was against Mike Tyson when Mike was in his prime. And when they fought, Holmes was 38 years old and had been retired for the two previous years. Like Tyson and Klitschko, Holmes didn't fight the greatest opposition during his title reign. But that's not his fault, and looking back, his opposition looks a little better than it did at the time. Yes, Larry Holmes is the greatest heavyweight champion since Muhammad Ali last held the title 37 years ago. He was equally as tough, and more complete, than the other four fighters above. And in a prime-for-prime head-to-head confrontation, I believe Holmes would've defeated Lewis, Holyfield, Tyson and Klitschko -- and may have won by stoppage against all four with the exception of Holyfield. Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at [email]GlovedFist@Gmail.com[/email]
Nice stuff Frank. OK, with the niceties all out of the way . . . now;


A) With this thread finally created for both you (Frank) and your fine article.
B) And; with all that (you have written) all said/done.

And . . . . .

Despite how the current bereavement climate may deem it unsavoury (and everyone here knows and can see how much I love Muhammad Ali) . . .

I think - skills and technique-wise - one could make a reasonable case for Holmes simply being a better heavyweight than Muhammad Ali. If not . . . . Then please rush through your posts with sensible logic and also supporting video explaining and showing me (without gushing emotional rants, what) the displayed skills Ali demonstrated (were) that were far in excess of Holmes; to support any opposing friendly argument.
Storm. :) :) :)


-Kid Blast :

Spot on, Frank


-Kid Blast :

Storm, Spinks beat Holmes twice. Ali would have beaten Spinks --prime to prime--like a rug. Too many dimensions for both Spinks ----and Holmes.


-stormcentre :

Yes, Spinks was an oddball of sorts wasn't he, KB? Aside from the fact that you could arguably say that Spinks was (really only) a light heavyweight, and not a legitimate heavyweight; the fact remains that both, his (relative) inexperience "and also" his success over Ali . . In some ways remains as a blemish on Ali's record. I think - amongst a few factors - it was probably Spink's speed that threw Holmes. As (up to that point) Larry and his fast jab were pretty much - particularly in the speed stakes - miles ahead of the heavyweight competition. Beautiful stuff. And, beautiful life. Cheers,
Storm. :) :)


-Kid Blast :

Spot on , Frank


-brownsugar :

Holmes has always been my favorite heavyweight after Ali, he had a never say quit attitude and would become diabolically dangerous when he got hurt.... sometimes playing possum until he could rally back with a sneaky uppercut or right hand. When Holmes got hurt you automatically knew that Holmes would get busy. He almost got Tyson with his final uppercut attempt when Mike had the aged Holmes hurt along the ringpost. But when Holmes launched his uppercut his arm suddenly got tangled up in the ropes as it was making its scorching trajectory towards Tyson's beckoning chin. .... Holmes showed no fear against Tyson and the old man had a semi-successful strategy in the first couple of rounds that a younger Holmes would have used to easily shred Tyson to pieces with. In my opinion. Holmes just had a much better grasp on every aspect of the sweet science than Tyson would ever have. Holmes missed (as his arm was restrained by the middle rope)and Tyson immediately took him out with a savage beating but if that Hail Mary punch would have landed it would have rewritten history. I believe that a lot of people will disagree about Holmes supurb abilities...but having watched Holmes fight live every few months on prime time network television was like watching the regular occurrence of "Old Faithful". Holmes fights were as regular as a weekly sitcom. You could expect his crisp lacerating jab to swell his opponents eyes and slice up their skin by the eight round. Watching a Holmes fight was like watching your highschool biology teacher dissecting a frog for the first time. A Holmes fight was like watching a study in how much punishment the human head could withstand, one small slice at a time. A former chief sparring partner of Ali, Holmes possessed nearly the same foot speed and hand speed, but more than that, Holmes was savvy, he understood, pace, timing, and how to allocate resources in a brutal 15 round fight....in fact Holmes was a pure 15 round fighter who frequently depended on and looked forward to taking his opponent into deep waters. Check out Holmes vs Norton, one of the most brutal, action packed fights you will ever see.


-brownsugar :

Spinks caught Holmes at the end of his run, he didn't even beat Holmes as much as he fought the most fearful looking run and peck fights ever fought in the heavyweight division. Either fight could have been a draw. But neither fight could be considered a "win"... We like underdogs and upsets.... the cantankerous Holmes had over stayed his welcome and had offended too many head honchos. A new generation was being ushered in. Spinks was rewarded (or cursed) with an opportunity to fight Tyson in his next fight. Yippeee was not a word that Spinks used to express his appreciation for the sanctioning bodies choice of opponent. But I believe that version of Holmes would have beaten Tyson because he had all the right tools, he wouldn't have been terrorized and decapitated in two rounds. But give me a prime Ali against a Prime Holmes..... the student is not better than the master in this scenario, ......but almost.


-Kid Blast :

The Tyson that beat Spinks was a killing machine the likes of which I have never seen. His absolute peak. And then............


-stormcentre :

Spinks caught Holmes at the end of his run, he didn't even beat Holmes as much as he fought the most fearful looking run and peck fights ever fought in the heavyweight division. Either fight could have been a draw. But neither fight could be considered a "win"... We like underdogs and upsets.... the cantankerous Holmes had over stayed his welcome and had offended too many head honchos. A new generation was being ushered in. Spinks was rewarded (or cursed) with an opportunity to fight Tyson in his next fight. Yippeee was not a word that Spinks used to express his appreciation for the sanctioning bodies choice of opponent. But I believe that version of Holmes would have beaten Tyson because he had all the right tools, he wouldn't have been terrorized and decapitated in two rounds. But give me a prime Ali against a Prime Holmes..... the student is not better than the master in this scenario, ......but almost.
Yep - agree. Holmes was pretty good, and in some ways (some of the fundamental and/or technical) aspects of his game were actually better than Ali. Aside from all the obvious factors that we know of; what may also set Ali apart (from Holmes) in the popularity and achievement stakes, is the fact that Ali's opponent list combined with his other almost insurmountable constraints that he took along with him, just created the kind of awe that promoters dream of.
Storm. :) :)


-stormcentre :

The Tyson that beat Spinks was a killing machine the likes of which I have never seen. His absolute peak. And then............
Yes, Mike too (like Ali) probably lost some of his best fighting years, due to controversy and the threat/reality of jail. Agree - Mike Tyson was pretty good - if not absolutely awesome - before he went inside. I can't remember the last time I saw a heavyweight throw combinations as fast/powerful as Mike used to. That said . . . And, even aside from what the Tony Tucker fight showed us . . . I doubt Mike was ever going to be an elite 12 round heavyweight that could (as Frazier did) deal with guys like Ali; whom knew how to use distance, length, faints, footwork, and timing to emphasize (for the entire 12 rounds) the predictable style Mike owned; which included limited geographic ownership rights and also a requirement to always get reasonably close in order to be effective. As a result and due to those stylistic limitations; I think a prime Foreman, Frazier, and/or Ali would have beaten any version of Tyson. Furthermore, in my opinion, Ken Norton probably would have stayed with (the best version of) Mike for - if not the entire 12 - then at least past the 8th round, too. Cheers,
Storm. :) :) :)