1. MUHAMMAD ALI: The three-time world heavyweight champion transcended his sport to become one of the most famous men on the planet. His “Rumble in the Jungle” and “Thrilla in Manila” remain perhaps the two most famous fights in boxing history. But one only needs to view the dazzling armoury he displayed in his 1966 fight against Cleveland Williams to realize just why he was “The Greatest.”
2. SUGAR RAY ROBINSON: The only man whose ring craft held a candle to that of Ali. Many boxing sages reckon his lightning speed, timing and movement were even better. The first world welterweight champion and five-time world middleweight champion, Robinson reigned in an era of stars. His six-fight rivalry with Jake La Motta is one of the sport’s best.
3. JIMMY WILDE: Probably the best flyweight of all time and certainly the best fighter Britain has ever produced. Nicknamed “The Ghost with a Hammer in his Hands,” the Welshman’s pale features and skinny physique belied the power of his punches. He was world champion from 1916-23 and won an incredible 130 of 134 decision bouts. Heavyweight champion Gene Tunney called Wilde “the greatest fighter I ever saw.”
4. JOE LOUIS: “The Brown Bomber” ruled the heavyweight roost with dignity and dynamism for almost two decades. He reigned as champion from 1937-49, making 25 defenses of his title. He was the first black heavyweight champion since Jack Johnson but was a hero for all Americans. Only one other heavyweight has since matched his grace and athleticism in the ring.
5. WILLIE PEP: Pep fought 242 times and won 230 of those bouts. He had a ring artistry that bordered on the balletic and once famously won a round without throwing a punch. He was world featherweight champion from 1942-50 and regained the title from great rival Sandy Saddler in 1949. Nicknamed “Will o’ the Wisp,” Pep was one of the finest purveyors of his craft.
6. HENRY ARMSTRONG: “Homicide Hank” was a kamikaze whirl of flying limbs, a brutal puncher with a granite chin to match. At one point in 1939, Armstrong simultaneously held world titles at featherweight, lightweight and welterweight. He fought 151 times - many bouts just days apart - and stopped 101 victims.
7. SUGAR RAY LEONARD: The golden boy of the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Leonard starred in boxing’s greatest modern era. His bouts with Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns were the stuff of legend. Leonard’s dazzling skills and glamorous persona were such that even such a hefty mantle as “Sugar Ray” could be fitted snugly on his shoulders. Leonard won world titles at five different weights.
8. ARCHIE MOORE: Moore’s career lasted 27 years. He was 39 when he first won the world light heavyweight title and reigned for 10 years. Moore had two unsuccessful cracks at the world heavyweight title vs. Rocky Marciano and Floyd Patterson before losing to a young Cassius Clay in 1962, when his age hovered around 50.
9. BENNY LEONARD: Arguably the best lightweight ever, Leonard reigned from 1917-23. He fought 212 times and suffered only four knockout defeats. Leonard went on to challenge Jack Britton for the world welterweight title in 1922 and was on his way to victory before striking Britton after the bell and earning a disqualification.
10. JACK JOHNSON: Boxing’s first black heavyweight champion, his seven-year reign from 1908-15 was characterized by a vivid lifestyle and a hearty disdain for those who preached white supremacy. His wins sparked race riots across America and his legacy effectively shut out the hopes of other potential black heavyweight challengers for the next 20 years. His controversy clouds his immense punching power and ring craft.
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Video: Ali shook up the world
'Time and Again' on Ali
Jan. 15: Jane Pauly of NBC's 'Time and Again' looks at the incredible life of Muhammad Ali.
Click to take a look inside the life of an all-time boxing great.
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