The Ten Greatest Fighters from Texas

The Ten Greatest Fighters from Texas – The biggest stateside boxing event of the month transpires in Texas on Sept. 17 when Canelo Alvarez meets WBO 154-pound champion Liam Smith at the home of the Dallas Cowboys. It will be Canelo’s third appearance in Texas. He previously fought at the Alamodome in San Antonio and at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

There are no Texas-bred fighters of note on the Canelo-Smith undercard, but fighters from the Lone Star State are making their presence felt. The Charlo twins from Houston, Jermell and Jermall, own pieces of the junior middleweight title and welterweight Errol Spence Jr. has a big upside.

Based on early returns, Spence, from DeSoto, a suburb of Dallas, has a chance to go down as one of the best prizefighters ever from the state of Texas. It’s a short list and some would find that odd considering that Texas has always been one of America’s most heavily populated states.

The relative dearth of prominent boxers has been explained as a cultural thing. High school football is huge in the Lone Star State, tantamount to a religion. Across wide swaths of Texas, the rodeo also holds sway. A boy tests his mettle on a bucking bronco, not by swapping punches in a boxing gym.

But there’s a historical factor that is no less salient. Boxing won’t flourish where the avenues of upward mobility are closed. Prizefighting was outlawed in Texas from 1895 to 1933. It was legalized with a stipulation that forbid interracial matches. That ban wasn’t lifted until 1954.

Here’s one man’s opinion of the top 10 fighters from the state of Texas:

1 – Jack Johnson — Galveston

Scattered evidence suggests that Johnson may have been born in North Carolina. Regardless, he spent his formative years in Texas. (For the record, Errol Spence Jr. was actually born in Commack, Long Island, but he qualifies as a Texan because, akin to Jack Johnson, that is where he was raised and is the state with which he identifies.)

Among former heavyweight champions, only Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis have had more written about them, but in the eyes of this reporter the “Galveston Giant” is still underrated. Johnson’s signature wins came against Tommy Burns and James J. Jeffries. Historians have focused on the shortcomings of those men, rather than on Johnson’s mastery of them. Yes, Tommy Burns was too small to leave a large footprint as a heavyweight, but he was a murderous puncher, a miniature Marciano. Yes, Jim Jeffries had five-plus years of ring rust, but he was such a towering presence in his prime that there was room for depreciation without him losing all of his formidability.

1A.  George Foreman — Marshall

What more can be said about Big George? Twenty-one-plus years after he demolished Joe Frazier, he began a second run as the lineal heavyweight champion with a one-punch knockout over Michael Moorer. The second coming of George Foreman was simply the most astonishing comeback in the history of human endurance sports.

3.  Tony Ayala Jr. – San Antonio

A thug inside and outside the ring, Ayala was a National Golden Gloves champion at the age of 16. He was 21-0 (19) as a pro and in training for a match with junior middleweight champion Davey Moore when it all fell apart. He died of heroin toxicity at age 52 by which time he had spent more than half his life in prison.

How good was Tony Ayala? Promoter Lester Bedford, a longtime force on the boxing scene in the southwest region, says that Ayala was “a once-in-a-generation fighter, maybe a once-in-a-lifetime fighter.”

4. Orlando Canizales – Laredo

He never made much money, but he left a large footprint in the record books. During his lengthy reign as the IBF bantamweight champion he made 15 successful title defenses. He retired with a record of 50-5-1 with 37 KOs.

5.  Terry Norris – Lubbock

Norris was 19-5 with 14 stoppages in matches sanctioned for the 154-pound title. Two of those losses were by disqualification to Luis Santana. Norris avenged those defeats in their third meeting, blasting out Santana in the second round.

6. Donald Curry – Fort Worth

Fort Worth masonry contractor Dave Gorman had one of the top stables in the country in the 1980s. Gene Hatcher, Stevie Cruz, and Robin Blake bubbled out of his gym, but none went as far as Curry. The Lone Star Cobra won world titles at 147 and 154 pounds.

7. Curtis Cokes – Dallas

Cokes, who began his pro career in 1958 at a high school gym in Midland, Texas, stopped the great Cuban fighter Luis Rodriguez in their rubber match, the springboard to a 25-month reign as the WBA/WBC world welterweight champion.

8.  Paulie Ayala – Fort Worth

At one point in his career, Johnny Tapia’s record was 52-2-2. Both losses were inflicted by Paulie Ayala. Their first encounter, with Tapia’s WBA bantamweight title at stake, was named The Ring magazine Fight of the Year. Ayala retired with a record of 35-3.

9.  Raul Marquez – Houston

Born in Mexico, Marquez came to the United States at the age of four and represented the U.S. in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. The bi-lingual boxing broadcaster had a brief run as the IBF super welterweight champion and concluded his career with a record of 45-4-1.

10. Jesse James Leija – San Antonio

Leija finished his career with a record of 47-7-2 with six of those losses coming in world title fights.

Honorable mention: Jesse Benavides (Corpus Christi), Jesus Chavez (Austin), Gaby Canizales (Laredo), Mike Ayala (San Antonio), Reggie Johnson (Houston), Orlin Norris (Lubbock), Lew Jenkins (Milburn). Did I miss anyone?

The Ten Greatest Fighters from Texas / Check out more boxing news and videos at The Boxing Channel.


-KO Digest :

Born in El Paso, TX and thinking that rapist Ayala is rated far too high.

-Kid Blast :

Lew Jenkins (Milburn, Texas Eddie Booker

-Kid Blast :

Ann Wolfe Mike Weaver but not: Bruce Curry Gene Hatcher

-Kid Blast :

I love stuff like this.

-Kid Blast :

Bert Lytell

-ArneK. :

Thanks for the feedback guys. Lytell would have made my list if the only requirement was that a fighter had to be born in Texas. Two other outstanding black fighters of his era -- the Murderers Row guys who were largely reduced to fighting each other -- were also born in Texas, namely Eddie Booker and Jack Chase. But they left the state when they were very young and during their boxing careers were never identified as Texans. They same goes for Mike Weaver who was born in Texas, but grew up in the LA suburb of Pomona. Lew Jenkins is an interesting guy. He knocked out the great Lou Ambers twice, but degenerated quickly into an opponent. I probably should have put Gene Hatcher on the "honorable mention" list with Jenkins. It's a pretty short list considering that Texas never ranked lower than #5 in population among the states during the 20th century.

-brownsugar :

I liked Tony Ayala a lot until it all went south.... I was hopeful after his release Tony could return to his former status, but unfortunately boxing doesnt work that way and youth wasted cannot be regained......what Ayala had before his incarceration was gone forever.

-Radam G :

Wow! Good stuff. Texas is deep with champions. But none of these dudes want to be from Texas or even have been born there. WTF! Deep down in the heart of Texas, there is some hate syet going on about being a Texan for the blacks and browns. I won't go into it too deeply, but I can name about 15 world champions off the top of my head that were born in, or grew up in Texas. But I will just name three, though. The late, great Bob Foster, Elmer "James" Kenty and Brandon "Bam Bam" Rios. These boksing cats had/have no love for the Lone Star Star and would/will be "Ready Freddie" -- whoever he was -- to get in your arse for revealing that they were Texans. One would be surprised to find out that a large dose of the pugs -- present and past -- claiming California, Colorado, Kansas, Illinois, Michican, Ohio and New York as their birth/home state are truthfully from deep down in the heart of Texas. Holla!

-Paul Kevin :

Texas always produced hardcore people

-Radam G :

Texas always produced hardcore people
Obviously, most of them are/were smooth operators that hate/hated their Texas-ness. They are everywhere -- in all type of sports, the movie industry, business, science, education, Technology, good and bad medicine, music and various other entertainments. But most of these suckas hate to acknowledge ties to Texas. Unless they are Filipino, of course. Dang cowboy-talking cousins of mine! We lovingly call them Texnoys and Tex-a-pino. The rest of the mainland USA lump us with Mexican AmerKanos. Holla!

-KO Digest :

I'm very proud of being born in the Great State of Texas. Incidentally, I think Ann Wolfe (born in Austin) could kick all their butts on the list lol

-Kid Blast :

I'm very proud of being born in the Great State of Texas. Incidentally, I think Ann Wolfe (born in Austin) could kick all their butts on the list lol
That's why I named her. She belongs.

-Radam G :

I'm very proud of being born in the Great State of Texas. Incidentally, I think Ann Wolfe (born in Austin) could kick all their butts on the list lol
Ditto dat! You have never heard the story of how she scared me out of a Cali gym. She has a late, great Sonny Liston's aura of scaring the syet outta pugs with that darn evil-eyes look. Holla!

-KO Digest :

She could definitely kick Canelo's ***.

-the Roast :

What, no Bubba Busceme?

-Radam G :

What, no Bubba Busceme?
Hehehe! The Roast is in the house! What about the late, great Jack Chase? He was one of those "Murder Row" middleweights that the late, great Sugar Ray Robinson ducked. Holla!