In the sport of boxing, nothing gets the casual fan as invigorated as a real knockout artist. While there’s no shortage of purists out there who find Floyd Mayweather and Andre Ward’s sublime skill sets most pleasurable (and I find them to be exhilarating, too), you can’t argue with the KO. And frankly, it’s casual fans that pay the bills. When they tune in, or buy the PPV, that’s when the networks and fighters make money.
The knockout is what separates combat sports from all other sports. You simply cannot hit a 5-Run Home Run to tie a game. You can’t hit a 5-point shot in basketball. No goals count for double in soccer or hockey. And while the rules allow for 2-point conversions in football, you simply can’t win with one play left when you’re down 9.
Conversely, boxing offers that element of theatrics where one blow can change the outcome of an entire fight. It’s why the 12th round always means something, and it’s why Meldrick Taylor-Julio Cesar Chavez lives on as a legendary night of boxing.
Boxing is currently blessed with several serious power punchers coming up the ranks. And while every division always has some knockout artists, it’s very rare that those same explosive punchers are in the elite class of their respective divisions. It’s why Mike Tyson was such an eye-catching fighter. He wasn’t knocking around club fighters; he was nearly decapitating championship-caliber fighters.
What’s interesting about punching power is how different it can be amongst different fighters, and how it’s uniquely blended with style and defense to either make a highlight-reel fighter, or a real nightmare for titleholders. Below are some of the sport’s biggest hitters (only including potential world titleholders in my opinion, so apologies to Marcos Maidana, Alfredo Angulo, etc.) and what defines their power.
Lucas Matthysse (140 lbs) – The Argentinean export has slowly catapulted up the ranks by flashing once-in-a-generation power for a junior welterweight. His only two “losses” came on questionable hometown decisions going against Americans Zab Judah and Devon Alexander. It’s worth mentioning that he put both men down during the fight. His power is a cracking power. It’s the type of power you think about if someone were to hit raw meat with a baseball mat. He is constantly a threat for a 1-punch knockout, effectively works the body, and was born with enough power to snap anyone’s head back with either hand. He’s one of the few fighters in boxing that can hurt his opponent with a glancing blow, or one that is partially blocked. That is a clear indicator of elite power. One of his best assets is his chin, as he’s traded bombs on multiple occasions and never been on the wrong end of a savage exchange. While an underrated tactician, he wins fights by making his opposition think twice about engaging with him in the pocket.
Gennady “GGG” Golovkin (160 lbs) – Perhaps the best “boxer” on this list due to his extensive amateur resume, Golovkin (pictured above) is simply a damaging puncher. While his shots don’t always look as high-impact as Matthysse, the effects are even more noticeable. Similar to Miguel Cotto in his prime, GGG only needs to land a few punches to disfigure his opponent. Every punch he lands seems to both physically hurt his unfortunate foes (you don’t see many pro fighters wince upon contact like his opposition frequently does), and make them less willing to engage.
Partially due to his strong base with a wide stance, he is able to generate tremendous torque on all punches with both hands. His body punching is second to none in the sport right now, and his accuracy really stands out. Contrary to most extreme power-punchers, GGG picks his shots very intelligently and wastes little energy while unleashing the types of punches that end fights instantly. It’s really like he’s wearing brass knuckles and the other guy has pillows on his fists. He’s one of a handful of fighters that backs people up with jabs and would happily punish you over several rounds rather than knock you out in dramatic fashion. He is also defensively sound and takes very little punishment due to his well-schooled defensive prowess combined with the fear he imposes after landing a few shots. He has two legitimate knockout of the year candidates already in 2013, and when he faces Curtis Stevens in November, he’s got a good shot at a third. His willingness to bang with anyone from 154-168 lbs has pundits and fans alike salivating over potential matchups. We’ll see which ones come to fruition, but since HBO has taken a liking to this fan-friendly KO artist, he’ll be easy to watch as he continues his assault on his weight class(es).
Sergey Kovalev (175 lbs)- Kovalev’s power can only be described as thudding. He has literally hammered his way onto this list by making short work of some very good fighters. What’s impressive about his punching power is that his shots don’t have to look like big punches to severely hurt high-caliber opposition. While Golovkin is a calmer, more cerebral KO artist, Kovalev is a stalker. He can certainly box well, and is trained by noted defensive master John David Jackson, but he simply throws bombs until his guy goes down. You really need to get his respect or you’re dead in the water. When he dispatched Nathan Cleverly this past weekend, it was incredibly impressive. When he combines high-volume with his confidence, power, and accuracy, your night ends early. Simple as that. He doesn’t need to hit you perfectly, he can clip you, and down you go. That’s the sign of a serious power puncher. Perhaps most importantly, he’s a finisher. When he hurts a guy, he goes after them with no concern for later rounds. That could hurt him against a seasoned veteran like Bernard Hopkins (who he may well fight next), but someone has to survive his onslaught to take him to the later rounds, which is one tough task.
Adonis Stevenson (168-175 lbs)- Now this dude just throws sledgehammers with the sole intent of putting people to sleep. Stevenson doesn’t hurt people so much as end their nights with his absolutely devastating left hand. He honed his craft with the late, great Emmanuel Steward, so while he seems like a one-trick pony, he’s learned some really crafty ways of landing his one trick. He also covers a ton of ground with his straight left. I mean, this is really a heat-seeking missile, so any one shot could end a career. He tends to overwhelm lesser opponents with his brute strength, but any one shot could be the end of the night at any time. His biggest win was his last fight vs. a top caliber Chad Dawson, who is a good enough technical boxer to take one thing away from any fighter. However, he missed the memo that round one wasn’t just a feeling out process, got lazy, and then lost his title after one left hand thrown by Stevenson. He’s got that Tyson-esque power, something nobody else on this list has. Check out the 0:40 mark below. Have a pillow to hug nearby.
As mentioned, it’s outstanding to see all of these murderous punchers either holding title belts or due for a major title fight. One of the easiest ways to get the casual fan back engaged with upcoming fights is to promise fireworks. While promoter’s tend to speak in superlatives (not unlike this writer), these guys always promise explosive outputs. And if you’re a purist looking for technical brilliance, watching some of these bombers create angles and expertly manage timing and distance to land with such unworldly power will certainly wet your palate.
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