By David Martinez / Boxing Historian
Here is my list of the 15 best punchers in the heavyweight division from the start of the Marquis of Queensberry era, (i.e.) 1892 to the present. A formula that I am using to help illustrate this for each boxer is to show their percentage of knockouts which is calculated by the number of wins they had with the number of knockouts in those wins. This formula isn’t intended to determine the order in which I have placed them; the order also includes my opinion of them as punchers.
I am not concerned about “who beat who”, how many times they were knocked out themselves or the results if they would have fought each other. Their physical size or if they were a world champion has no bearing – this is strictly based on strength of punching power with the opponents they fought. Why isn’t Muhammad Ali on this list? Personally, I would take Ali to beat any of these punchers on my list – but mostly by decision wins and not by knockouts. When I write rankings of boxers in any capacity I always get disagreements and feedback, so please know that I respect your opinions, and hope you will respect mine.
#1) Joe Louis (66 wins / 52 by KO = 78.7 %) Heavyweight champion 1940-1949. Defended title a record 25 times. He was a smooth, deadly puncher with tremendous power in either hand. His combinations had perfect accuracy with overwhelming power.
#2) George Foreman (76 wins / 69 by KO = 90.7 %) Two time heavyweight champion 1973-1974 and 1994-1997. He is recognized as one of the hardest hitters ever in boxing in any weight division. He is forth on my list in the percentage category of knockouts.
#3) Sonny Liston (50 wins / 39 by KO – 78.0 %) Heavyweight champion 1962-1964. The most intimidating heavyweight ever, his left jab alone was so powerful that it knocked opponents out – the jab – and his left hook was nothing less than devastating.
#4) Rocky Marciano (49 wins / 43 by KO = 87.7 %) Heavyweight champion 1952-1956. He retired undefeated. Had limited skills and had a weight disadvantage, but his tremendous will to win overshadowed that with bigger opponents; his fights averaged a remarkable fewer than 5 rounds per bout. Was responsible for the greatest knockout in heavyweight history in his 1952 title win over Jersey Joe Walcott in round 13 despite being behind on all scorecards.
#5) Jack Dempsey (61 wins / 50 by KO = 81.9 %) Heavyweight champion 1919-1926. Had amazing speed and lethal left hook, with a mentality of making every bout a war with no survivors.
#6) Earnie Shavers (75 wins / 69 by KO = 92.0 %) He is the first entry that was not a heavyweight champion. Has the second highest knockout percentage of anybody on my list, an average of knocking out nine of every ten opponents he faced.
#7) Mike Tyson (50 wins / 44 by KO = 88.0 %) Heavyweight champion (WBC) 1986-1990, (WBA) 1987-1990, (IBF) 1987-1990, (WBC/WBA) 1996. A chilling, ferocious storm puncher as there ever was in heavyweight division. Youngest to win heavyweight title at age of 21 years old.
#8) Bob Fitzsimmons (66 wins / 59 by KO = 89.3 %) Heavyweight champion 1897-1899. Famous for solar plexus punch, which was his perfect hook to the body. One of the greatest boxing historians that I ever met, Al Nelson, once told me that Fitzsimmons was the most underrated puncher he had ever seen – I never forgot his quote from 40 years ago; that is why he is on my list.
#9) Mac Foster (30 wins / 30 by KO = 100 %) Second entry that was not heavyweight champion. He has the highest knockout percentage of anybody on my list; he knocked out every one he faced in his 30 wins.
#10) Joe Frazier (32 wins / 27 by KO = 84.3%) Heavyweight champion 1968-1973. A deadly powerful left hook was his signature punch. His 15th round knockdown of Ali on March 8, 1971 in the Fight of the Century will forever live with boxing fans as his greatest punch.
#11) Vitali Klitschko (44 wins / 40 by KO = 90.9 %) Two time heavyweight champion (WBO) 1999-2000 and (WBC) 2004-current. Hard hitting technical master with outstanding power with jab. Highest knockout percentage of any heavyweight champion.
#12) Sam Langford (179 wins / 129 by KO = 72.0 %) Unable to win championship due to racism. He is compared to Mike Tyson because he was short, with big power and upper body strength to match bigger men he fought. Jack Johnson said his fight with Langford was his toughest ever.
#13) Max Baer (68 wins / 52 by KO = 76.4 %) Heavyweight champion 1934-1935. A dynamite right hand with pure power which accounted for, in a 15 month span of 27 bouts at the beginning of his career, 100 knockdowns in less than 100 rounds. In his 1934 title fight victory over Primo Carnera, Baer floored his opponent eleven times.
#14) Bob Satterfield (50 wins / 35 by KO = 70.0%) Hard hitting punching power with aggressive style, but his poor stamina and weak chin often cost him fights. Two thirds of his wins were by knockout within five rounds or less. Boxing historian J.J. Johnston wrote in his book Chicago Boxing “Bob was the greatest action fighter in television history”.
#15) James J. Jeffries (19 wins / 16 by KO = 84.2 %) Heavyweight champion 1899-1905. All but three of his total bouts ended by knockout. A magnificent athlete at the turn of the 20th century with punching power from a crouching position perfectly executed.
Honorable mention: Wladimir Klitschko (57 wins / 50 by KO = 87.7 %), Lennox Lewis (41 wins / 32 by KO = 78.0 %), Jose Manuel Urtain (50 wins / 42 by KO = 80.7 %).
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