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The definitive top 25 heavyweight boxers of all-time: How high does Tyson Fury rank, who was tougher than Mike Tyson and is Muhammad Ali really the greatest? JEFF POWELL gives his ultimate verdict

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The question is: who are the top 25 heavyweight boxers of all time? 

The hardest part of the answer is choosing between legends with the most powerful claims to be No 1.

Muhammad Ali was known as ‘The Greatest’, but where does he stack up compared to other iconic fighters like Joe Frazier, George Forman and Lennox Lewis? And is Tyson Fury worthy of being included?

Below are my picks in descending order.  

25. Earnie Shavers 

The biggest puncher never to win a world title. His two championship challenges were against Ali, who he hurt badly in the second round, and Holmes, who he knocked down in the seventh. Both recovered to win hard-fought decisions but that these two took on a man who scored 70 KOs in his 76 victories is a reminder of how the greats were willing to fight each other during the Golden Age of heavyweight boxing.

So there you have them. My top 25 heavyweight in ring history. Let the bar-room debates commence.

Ernie Shavers celebrates after his fight with Ali, despite the fact that Ali won by decision

Ernie Shavers celebrates after his fight with Ali, despite the fact that Ali won by decision

24. Riddick Bowe 

The former undisputed world champion disputed an epic trilogy with Holyfield in which he won the first and third fights and lost the one in between on the wild night when a para-glider crash-landed into the open ring constructed in the car park at Caesars Palace on the Vegas Strip. That was Big Daddy’s only defeat but the record disguises how he ducked Lewis by chucking his belt into a London dustbin and threw away what might have been a great career by putting huge eating above heavy training.

Riddick Bowe had enormous power and could have achieved more with better dedication

Riddick Bowe had enormous power and could have achieved more with better dedication

23. Ken Norton 

Was elevated to world champion after he beat Jimmy Young in a final eliminator and then Leon Spinks preferred to relinquish the belt rather than fight the man who put up three immense performances against Ali. Winning their first fight, losing the second on a controversial decision and being beaten by The Greatest on a split decision in the third.

Ken Norton had a brilliant series of three fights against Ali, dropping the second and third

Ken Norton had a brilliant series of three fights against Ali, dropping the second and third

22. Ezzard Charles

Described by Muhammad Ali as ‘the only boxer with the skills to have given me trouble in my prime,’ Charles is widely remembered as one of the most technically gifted prize-fighters in ring history and came probably the closest to beating Marciano in the second of their two huge fights in New York’s Yankee Stadium. Won his world heavyweight title against the formidable Jersey Joe Walcott and lost it to Joe Louis as he fought every other top-rated boxer across three divisions.

Ezzard Charles clashes with Rocky Marciano in the fifth round of their 1954 encounter

Ezzard Charles clashes with Rocky Marciano in the fifth round of their 1954 encounter

21. James J Braddock 

Another three-division world champion who came out of retirement and from virtually nowhere as a heavyweight to take that title from the highly regarded Max Baer. For that upset he was dubbed by fabled writer Damon Runyan as the Cinderella Man, which was the title of a major movie about his feat. It took Joe Louis to relieve him of the title two years later.

James Braddock is seen exercising his stomach at Stillman's Gym in 1941 in New York

James Braddock is seen exercising his stomach at Stillman’s Gym in 1941 in New York

20. Wladimir Klitschko

As brother Vitali waited in vain for Lennox to come out of retirement for a rematch Wladimir went on to establish the record for the most cumulative days as world champion – 4,382 – over his two lengthy reigns. Between them the siblings whose mother forbade them to fight each other presided over the Klitschko era of heavyweight boxing.

Wladimir Klitschko, here in his defeat by Anthony Joshua reigned supreme in his era

Wladimir Klitschko, here in his defeat by Anthony Joshua reigned supreme in his era

19. Vitali Klitschko 

Tougher, harder-punching and better elder brother of Wladimir who looked to be on his way to beating Lewis in Los Angeles when his eye was cut to the bone and doctors refused to let him bleed to death. Now engaged in the biggest fight of his life as Mayor of Kyiv.

Vitali Klitschko is Mayor of Kyiv and at the heart of the fight against the Russian invasion

Vitali Klitschko is Mayor of Kyiv and at the heart of the fight against the Russian invasion

18. Bob Fitzsimmons 

Cornish-born Bob became an Australian and then American hero as the first boxer ever to win world titles at three weights. A huge achievement in the early 1900s when there were fewer extra categories between the classic weight divisions and as he was the lightest of all heavyweight champions at 167 pounds. Renowned for knocking out Corbett and the only man to defeat Sullivan.

17. Gene Tunney 

This thinking man’s boxer brought a clever defensive method to his winning of the light-heavy and then heavyweight titles. He gained his fame by defeating the great Jack Dempsey not once but twice, the second time with the help of one of the most infamous Long Counts in ring history.

16. James J Jeffries 

An all round athlete who came within a fraction of running the 100 yards in ten seconds and high jumped over six feet, Jeffries invented the style of fighting behind a sold left jab and counter-punching with immense power. A dominant champion, he was nicknamed The Great White Hope when he came out of six-year retirement in an attempt to answer the clamour from America’s so-called ‘moral majority’ for one of their own to dethrone African America’s first African-American heavyweight champion. Jack Johnson knocked him out in the 15th of a scheduled 45 rounds. 

Gene Tunny poses while training for his title defense against Tom Heeney, 1928

Gene Tunny poses while training for his title defense against Tom Heeney, 1928

James J Jeffries is pictured before his title fight against Jack Johnson in Nevada

James J Jeffries is pictured before his title fight against Jack Johnson in Nevada

15. Tyson Fury 

Clinched this place by following up his dramatic conquest of the long-reigning, if aging, Wladimir Klitschko with his off-the-canvas trilogy against massive puncher Deontay Wilder which made him a two-time world champion. He will climb sharply higher in the ranking if he defeats Usyk to become the undisputed Gypsy King of the ring, although Usyk would storm into the top 25 should he win. As would Anthony Joshua if he were to beat the winner of those two later this year to become a three-time world champion. 

Tyson Fury (right) could still elevate himself higher in this list  before he retires

Tyson Fury (right) could still elevate himself higher in this list  before he retires 

14. Evander Holyfield 

The undisputed world cruiserweight champion who then became the only four-time world heavyweight champion. Had an ear bitten off while demolishing a fading Tyson, twice. Proved himself to be very much The Real Deal, as he was dubbed, by maximising his complete boxer-fighter talents in his epic trilogy with Riddick Bowe.

Evander Holyfield (left) had his ear bitten by Mike Tyson (right) in an infamous incident

Evander Holyfield (left) had his ear bitten by Mike Tyson (right) in an infamous incident

13. Sonny Liston 

A monstrous force who intimidated all opponents – including the much-loved Floyd Patterson twice in winning and retaining the world title – until the impudent Ali bewildered and destroyed him. First mentally, then physically.

Sonny Liston was one of the most intimidating heavyweights in history, seen here against Ali

Sonny Liston was one of the most intimidating heavyweights in history, seen here against Ali

12. James J Corbett 

Renowned as the only man to beat John L Sullivan. Albeit when the Boston Strong Boy came out of long retirement to face the new champion on the block. Enjoyed a professional career of just 36 fights but nearly all against the rest of the best in big-money fights before becoming a film star.

James J Corbett started out as a boxer before going on to star in Hollywood movies

James J Corbett started out as a boxer before going on to star in Hollywood movies

11. Lennox Lewis 

Our very own three-time world title holder and as such most definitely a distinguished citizen of Britain, to which he pledged his allegiance after winning Olympic gold under the Canadian flag. And STILL the last undisputed world heavyweight champion. Has been for two decades. Will remain so until Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk resolve which of them is the first undisputed champ of the four-belt era – hopefully in May.   

Lennox Lewis (right) defeated Mike Tyson and is the last undisputed champion

Lennox Lewis (right) defeated Mike Tyson and is the last undisputed champion 

10. Mike Tyson

The biggest punch ever made Iron Mike the youngest world heavyweight champion and intimidated all-comers during his prime. But it has tended to distract from his exceptional speed of hand and foot and his high ring intelligence. As did the escapades which put one of the sport’s most controversial characters behind bars.

Mike Tyson (left), pictured against Frank Bruno, struck fear into many of his foes

Mike Tyson (left), pictured against Frank Bruno, struck fear into many of his foes

The legendary American boxer, with promoter Don King (left) celebrates in 1987

The legendary American boxer, with promoter Don King (left) celebrates in 1987

9. Jack Dempsey 

The Manassa Mauler was a matinee idol. While his punching power allied to progressive new technical skills brought world title fame in the ring his mass popularity broke box office records, including the first million dollar gate. 

Jack Dempsey takes on Gene Tunney in a heavyweight encounter in Philadelphia

Jack Dempsey takes on Gene Tunney in a heavyweight encounter in Philadelphia

8. George Foreman 

Destroyed all-comers except Ali but including Frazier. While making his final comeback Big George became the oldest ever world heavyweight champion at 46 years and 169 days. 

Foreman was incredibly powerful and his fight in Zaire with Ali went down in history

Foreman was incredibly powerful and his fight in Zaire with Ali went down in history

7. Jack Johnson 

White America’s nightmare changed the face of boxing and sparked race riots across the length and breadth of the US when he became the first black world heavyweight champion by defeating James J Jeffries in the Fight of the 20th Century. He compounded that perceived affront to the prejudiced majority by marrying a white woman and keeping his title for eight years despite trumped up criminal convictions against him.

Jack Johnson was an incredibly important figure in the history of boxing

Jack Johnson was an incredibly important figure in the history of boxing 

6. Joe Frazier 

The warrior’s warrior inflicted Ali’s first defeat when knocking him down late in that Fight of the Century at a Madison Square Garden packed with Hollywood and political celebrities. Only George Foreman at his zenith was too much for Smokin’ Joe to handle. 

Joe Frazier is seen moments after flooring Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden

Joe Frazier is seen moments after flooring Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden

5. Rocky Marciano 

The only world heavyweight champion to retire unbeaten stood but 5ft 10in tall and weighed a mere 188lbs but possessed extraordinary punching power – not least when rupturing the arms of bigger opponents to bring down their guard so he could them knock-out. A method adopted now by Mexican legend Canelo Alvarez. 

Rocky Marciano packed a punch despite being under six foot tall at heavyweight

Rocky Marciano packed a punch despite being under six foot tall at heavyweight

4. John L Sullivan 

The last bare-knuckle and the first gloved world champion, the Boston Strong Boy won more than 400 fights (almost all by knock-out) across the two regimes. This huge cult figure and sport’s first millionaire would have hung up the gloves undefeated had he not come out of three-year retirement to satisfy public demand for him to fight rising younger star James J Corbett.

John L Sullivan was a legendary figure and could have retired undefeated but came back

John L Sullivan was a legendary figure and could have retired undefeated but came back

3. Larry Holmes 

Too often dismissed as just Ali’s chief sparring partner, the Easton Assassin possessed probably the best-ever jab and was such a comprehensive boxer that he held the world title from 1978 to 1985 and (reluctantly) inflicted the only KO of The Greatest’s career. 

Larry Holmes had a brilliant jab and is deserving of his place at No 3 on the list

Larry Holmes had a brilliant jab and is deserving of his place at No 3 on the list

2. Joe Louis. 

The easy get-out is to plump for Muhammad Ali in top spot, commonly known as The Greatest and not without with good reason. Yet to reach that determination without examining the case for Joe Louis would be a dereliction of duty.

The Brown Bomber was a cult figure in his own right. One who narrowed the racial divisions in American society. With his comprehensive amalgam of ring intelligence and knock-out power he racked up an unequalled 25 consecutive defences of the world heavyweight title and reigned as undisputed world heavyweight champion for 11-and-a-half years.

Joe Louis racked up an unequalled 25 consecutive defences at heavyweight

Joe Louis racked up an unequalled 25 consecutive defences at heavyweight

Louis looms over Jack Sharkey having floored in in their 1936 bout that summer

Louis looms over Jack Sharkey having floored in in their 1936 bout that summer

1. Muhammad Ali 

Ali, nee Cassius Clay, was a three-time champion and involved in several of the most fabled fights in the history of prize-fighting.

More than one distinguished ring historian hedges the bet and declares him and Louis tied in first place. That is a cop out.

Pushed to shove, that neglects Ali’s impact on so much of American culture and upon world opinion about everything from the Vietnam war to the emergence of the Black Muslims. Also ignores recognition of him not only as a supreme boxer but as the outstanding athlete in the annals of world sport. More instantly recognisable than Pele.

The even bigger picture – beyond the slaying of the Liston monster, the Fight of the Century and the Thrilla in Manilla both against Joe Fraizer and the astounding Rumble in the Jungle with George Foreman – portrays a phenomenal personality and a champion not only in gloves but of civil rights.

Muhammad Ali, pictured between rounds during his fight against Sonny Liston, was involved in extraordinary battles and he was a global superstar

Muhammad Ali, pictured between rounds during his fight against Sonny Liston, was involved in extraordinary battles and he was a global superstar

Ali is pictured here against George Foreman in their famous Rumble in the Jungle

Ali is pictured here against George Foreman in their famous Rumble in the Jungle

So there you have them. My top 25 heavyweight in ring history. Let the bar-room debates commence.