Top 12 All-Time Greatest Heavyweight Punchers

When it comes to popular water-cooler topics in boxing, few, if any, top this one: who is the most powerful puncher to ever step through the ropes? Now a pound-for-pound discussion gets a bit convoluted, the list necessarily quite long and including at the very top flyweights and featherweights such as Jimmy Wilde and Sandy Saddler. But basic physics tells us that the most powerful punches ever thrown in a ring had to have come from the division where said punches naturally carry the most weight and impact. In other words, the big men. The guys at the top of the beanstalk. The heavyweights.

The great Joe Louis.

But that said, size and weight are far from the only facets determining the explosiveness of the best punchers. At least three of the men ranked here were not particularly large, but their ability to deliver blows with shattering power and to render helpless men much heavier, speaks for itself. Timing, accuracy, balance, not to mention ferocity, also factor in, and help explain why some of the physically biggest boxers cannot match some smaller heavyweights for hitting power.

So here they are, the hardest heavyweight punchers of all-time. Most of the names will no doubt be familiar to fight fans, but what they all have in common is a long list of opponents reduced to helplessness on the dusty canvas courtesy of the dynamite in their fists.

12. Cleveland Williams: The fighter they called “The Big Cat” stretched no fewer than fifty-eight men. Sonny Liston, who knew a thing or two about power, dubbed him the hardest puncher he’d ever faced.

Cleveland Williams
Cleveland Williams

11. Max Baer: This heavyweight champion boasts a 78 percent knockout ratio, fifty-two knockouts in sixty-seven victories, most of them courtesy of his pulverizing right hand.

Baer standing over another KO victim.
Baer standing over another KO victim.

10. Elmer Ray: Also known as “Kid Violent,” and for good reason. One of the most feared contenders in heavyweight history. In ninety-nine pro wins, Ray scored an impressive 69 knockouts.

Ray
Ray catches Ezzard Charles with a left.

9. Bob Fitzsimmons: Appearances can be deceiving, but who can argue with fifty-nine knockouts in sixty-six bouts? Perhaps the greatest body puncher of all-time, “The Freckled Wonder,” while lacking an impressive physique, made a science of delivering truly devastating power shots, as demonstrated by his amazing one-shot KO of James J. Corbett to win the heavyweight crown. And before you dismiss “Ruby” as not being a genuine big man, consider that in 1893 he knocked out seven men in one night, needing only nineteen rounds to do so, and all of the opponents weighed over 200 pounds.

Bob Fitzsimmons. Ink drawing by Damien Burton.
Bob Fitzsimmons. Ink drawing by Damien Burton.

8. Jack Dempsey: Boasting fifty knockouts in sixty-one wins, “The Manassa Mauler” was renowned for his brutal power, especially his lethal left hook. Stoppage victories over Jess Willard, Ed “Gunboat” Smith, Billy Miske, Georges Carpentier, Tommy Gibbons, Luis Firpo and Jack Sharkey.

Georges Carpentier is driven out of the ring by Dempsey’s power.

7. Rocky Marciano: Marciano punched way above his weight with an 88% knockout ratio, pounding much bigger men into submission with his vicious shots and scoring one of the most devastating one-punch knockouts in boxing history over Jersey Joe Walcott. Some now dismiss “The Rock From Brockton” as too small, but no one was saying that when he was flattening guys like Joe Louis, Ezzard Charles and Archie Moore.

The Rock: Ink drawing by Damien Burton

6. Mike Tyson: Tyson’s prime was short, but while it lasted, no one hit harder. His most spectacular knockouts will always be highlight favorites for legions of fight fans.

Tyson's thunderous power made him the youngest heavyweight champ in history.
Tyson’s power made him the youngest heavyweight champ in history.

5. George Foreman: “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!” And Norton. And Lyle. And Moorer …

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A prime Foreman demolishing Joe Frazier in 1973.

4. Sonny Liston: Liston’s power was too much for the best heavyweights of his time and enabled him to twice demolish Floyd Patterson in the first round. One of the most feared champions in heavyweight history.

Liston knocks out Patterson.
Liston knocks out Patterson.

3. Sam Langford: While rarely weighing much over 170 pounds, the man they called The Boston Tar Baby was a deadly puncher with either hand and a ruthless finisher. Sam’s knockout victims include all-time greats Harry Wills, Gunboat Smith, Joe Jeannette and Sam McVea. When asked, all pointed to Langford as the hardest puncher they had ever faced.

The immortal “Boston Bonecrusher.” Drawing by Damien Burton.

2. Earnie Shavers: 69 knockouts in 75 wins. Virtually all who faced him, including Larry Holmes, Ron Lyle, Jimmy Young, Ken Norton and Muhammad Ali stated he was the hardest puncher they had ever encountered. As Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb put it: “Nobody hits like Shavers. If anybody hit harder than Shavers, I’d shoot him.”

Shavers deadly right hand shook Ali.
Shavers deadly right hand shook Ali.

1. Joe Louis: Deadly power with either hand, incredibly accurate, excellent finisher, author of some of the most destructive knockouts in boxing history, ruled the heavyweights for a full decade. ‘Nuff said.

The power of Joltin’ Joe devastates Max Schmeling.

Honorable Mentions: Joe Frazier, James J. Jeffries, Harry Wills, Joe Choynski, Ingemar Johansson, Luis Firpo, Max Schmeling, John L. Sullivan, Riddick Bowe, Deontay Wilder, Peter Maher, Lennox Lewis, Tom Sharkey, Sam McVea, David Tua, Jersey Joe Walcott, Ron Lyle, Tommy Morrison, Buddy Baer, Donovan Ruddock, Frank Bruno, Wladimir Klitschko, Gerry Cooney.

48 thoughts on “Top 12 All-Time Greatest Heavyweight Punchers

  • October 17, 2014 at 11:37 pm
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    I would drop Williams and Langford and put Wlad, Lennox and Archie Moore in the top five. Drop Liston down as he mainly fought LHW’s, and hard to tell if it was how hard he punched, or the mob and fear effect, otherwise it looks good.

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    • March 28, 2016 at 9:49 pm
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      Moore got most of his work done at LH not at heavyweight.

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      • August 20, 2021 at 12:51 pm
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        Y’all crazy lol. Watch the interviews from different boxers they’re actually in the ring with these people.
        1) Earnie Shavers
        2) Foreman
        3) Ron Lyle
        4) Cleveland Williams
        5) Sonny Liston
        6) Joe Louis
        7) Joe Frazier/ Lennox Lewis
        8) Rocky Marciano
        9) Mike Tyson
        10) Deontay Wilder
        Big facts

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    • July 27, 2019 at 6:44 pm
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      You guys forgot about “The Bone Crusher,” James Smith, I used to look forward to his fights but Mike Tyson made him look like a beginner…

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    • December 1, 2019 at 9:26 pm
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      Archie Moore was a LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT!

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      • December 8, 2021 at 4:02 am
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        What a joke of a list. You have a 170lb man as punching harder than George Foreman. Nuff said.

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  • June 6, 2016 at 2:56 pm
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    I would drop Shavers much lower. It seems in most of Ernie’s big fights HE was the one usually being counted over at the end.

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    • April 19, 2020 at 5:25 pm
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      JACK JOHNSON? Did you forget the return of The Great White Hope and the Norman Mann Act? When you write and publish your opinions, practice getting all the facts. Jack was idolized by Ali and he even knocked out a horse. They refused to show tapes of the white men he used to taunt in the ring. Go back and research the facts for yourself. You forgot JACK JOHNSON.

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  • July 17, 2016 at 4:54 am
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    Marciano did serious damage to all who tried to tried to block his punches. Devastating power. Louis, Walcott, Charles — they all had to retire after they fought him. That’s as close as you can come to killing with a pair of gloves.

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    • March 1, 2020 at 3:51 pm
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      Apparently Dempsey broke Willard’s eye socket, jaw and ribs in three rounds. THAT’S as close as you could come to killing someone in the ring

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    • September 3, 2021 at 10:16 am
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      He was a great puncher, but all those guys you mentioned were waay past their prime and should have been retired. Not taking anything from Rocky, but he never fought the great ones in their prime. It’s like Holmes vs Ali or Tyson vs Holmes.

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  • December 5, 2016 at 3:19 pm
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    My order would be Shavers, Foreman, Liston, Williams, Marciano, and then Louis.

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  • August 10, 2017 at 5:48 am
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    Mike was undoubtedly the hardest hitter

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    • May 15, 2019 at 9:41 am
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      No he wasn’t, he was hard and fast but not the hardest. Foreman, Liston and Shavers punched much harder.

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    • August 20, 2019 at 10:11 pm
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      Not really. Tyson is very close yes, but many times he had to hit guys more than once to take out fighters others KO’d with one punch, so I think his speed and the size of his upper body confuse a lot of people into believing him more powerful than he really was. Douglas and Evander took his shots very well, so I don’t think he hit as hard as some think.

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      • April 5, 2020 at 10:58 am
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        Holyfield was juicing, so how could he feel them.

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    • April 14, 2020 at 11:00 am
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      Tyson was defeated by every good fighter he faced: Douglas, Holyfield, and Lewis, plus his last fight. On top of that, all the really good fighters he fought were all past their prime. Tyson would been knocked out by Louis, Marciano, Ali, Foreman or Frazier. He was not a great fighter.

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      • May 12, 2021 at 2:57 am
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        No. I’m a retired heavyweight with 52 fights under my belt (I promise you that I’m not bragging as I hate that shit) which is to say I know an immense amount about the sport. I can absolutely tell you that a prime Tyson would have destroyed Louis and Marciano, and he would have had a 65% chance of defeating Frazier. I’m not sure who would have won if Tyson fought Liston. Foreman would have annihilated Mike. I mean stone cold annihilate.

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        • August 28, 2021 at 12:39 am
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          I was disappointed that Foreman never fought Tyson, it was a fight everybody talked about it happening but it never did, i really wanted to see that. I agree with you that Foreman would have stone cold annihilated Mike Tyson. Another fight i wished i saw was Foreman vs. Larry Holmes. I couldn’t believe the promoters didn’t come up with all the money for that fight, and i know they were both well past their primes, but they had just enough left in the tank to where it would’ve been interesting to see what would’ve happened. It would’ve been a classic, even though Foreman was 50, and Holmes was 49.

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  • April 4, 2018 at 1:11 pm
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    I know purists are gonna roll their eyes, but Deontay Wilders right hand is pure dynamite and I would rank it among the hardest hitting punches ever thrown in the square ring.

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    • February 18, 2019 at 4:59 am
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      It’s true that Deontay hits very hard, however there are other scoring criterias beyond just power required to make the list. You can argue that Wilder can be put above Williams and some others on the list because of his raw power and athleticism, but he doesn’t come close to the likes of Tyson or Louis when it comes to accuracy, timing and technique in delivering his KO punches

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      • May 19, 2019 at 6:47 am
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        And last night he proved that wrong.

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  • April 4, 2018 at 2:32 pm
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    Never understood what people saw in Shavers. He was a good puncher, but people usually got up from them.

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    • March 27, 2019 at 7:52 pm
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      They did?!? Who? Like Ali and Holmes, two of the greatest heavyweights of all time who were known for their toughness, heart and tremendous chins?

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  • April 5, 2018 at 4:21 am
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    Also, why isn’t Foreman top of the list?
    He retained his power up until his retirement, right into his mid-forties, something Liston, Tyson, Louis cannot claim.

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  • November 10, 2018 at 11:25 am
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    Great list but I believe Foreman is the hardest hitting heavyweight ever. I look at who he knocked out when he was champion. He knocked out two great fighters, Frazier and Norton, in addition to all the others. Then he came back at 45 and used his his power to win the tittle by knockout. He hit so hard until he didn’t need a lot of room to get you out of there. Number 2 is the great Joe Louis, may he rest in peace. Number 3 is Shavers. Man, all he needed was one punch. No combinations needed, just one punch and it was over.

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    • May 15, 2019 at 9:42 am
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      Shavers number one, Foreman number two.

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      • December 23, 2019 at 8:30 pm
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        No way Joe Louis is a harder puncher than Earnie Shavers, no way!

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    • August 28, 2021 at 12:17 am
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      People are always saying Mike Tyson would have killed George Foreman, i say, “NO WAY!”, Tyson was made to order for George Foreman, if Tyson would’ve come at George the way he did most other fighters, Foreman would’ve hit mike,”BAM!!”, and Tyson would hit the canvas and be knocked out in the first or second round, and he wouldn’t get up right away either.

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    • October 25, 2021 at 4:28 pm
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      James, Bravo. I Totally Agree About Big George Foreman!

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  • January 31, 2019 at 1:41 pm
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    No Frank Bruno in the honourable mentions? Hell of a ko ratio, around 84%?

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  • March 27, 2019 at 7:54 pm
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    I would add Ron Lyle and Tommy Morrison in the honorable mentions. Good list!

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  • May 28, 2019 at 11:09 pm
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    The fact that Ray Mercer isn’t on this list makes me question you guys.

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    • April 30, 2020 at 5:25 am
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      Mercer? He was strong and tough, but not the devastating puncher these other guys were. In his era, I would put Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Razor Ruddock, Tommy Morrison, Riddick Bowe and David Tua all ahead of him. And just before he came on the scene, there was Gerry Cooney, Tim Witherspoon, Mike Weaver, Frank Bruno and Bonecrusher Smith.

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  • June 13, 2019 at 4:06 am
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    Only Shavers actually destroyed a pair of gloves hitting his opponent. Watching tape I would say Shavers, Lewis, Langford, Marciano and Tyson.

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  • August 8, 2019 at 3:56 pm
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    Foreman, Tyson, Frazier, Shavers, Morrison, Tua, Liston. I love them all. They made boxing exciting. Lennox Lewis was a pretty good puncher too.

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  • August 14, 2019 at 8:07 am
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    Foreman belongs much lower. I don’t even put him in my top 12, because it took him many punches to do away with fighters. Sure, you have the evidence of the heavy bag, but we’re talking about human effect. He was an accumulation TKO guy; That’s it; point blank! As far as a puncher, Frazier belongs higher than George. Both were accumulation punchers, but Joe had more one punch power. I also think that George gets more punching acclaim due to being a faster starter than Joe. Thinking along those lines, It’s the tortoise and the hare rather than fair punching competition.

    Earnie Shavers belongs at 1, because of what he did to Ali with right hands, in addition to his record! Nobody ever came close to seriously hurting Ali with a single right, even in his early days. And Earnie did it at a time when Ali wasn’t going down anymore from lefts!

    I could see putting Louis number 2, since he was a combination power puncher but usually finished fighters within a minute and 30 seconds of the same round that he hurt them in. And, you might say, he deserves the top spot based on that. But, Shavers had to deal Ali and Holmes(one shotted him), who, if you hurt them or knocked them down, their defensive nature kicked in and they moved away like Tunney would. Louis never faired that well with boxers and, if a fighter got up and moved away, he would likely be in the same boat as Shavers(not able to finish Ali, Holmes, or Tunney). So, I put Louis at number 2.

    Tua was a brute savage and I think belongs in the top 12. Just watch him in the fights where he could hit his opponent.

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  • August 20, 2019 at 10:03 pm
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    What a joke putting Langford so high when we know so little about his power. He could not even dominate the black fighters of his day, so how does he do it against the greats of all time?

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  • August 25, 2019 at 10:17 pm
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    How About Mac Foster? His first 28 fights, all knockouts. Stopped Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams twice, plus Zora Folley. Hit so hard he had never been past round seven until he fought Muhammad Ali, went 15 rounds with “The Greatest” in a non-title match in Japan. He was stopped by Jerry Quarry in Madison Square Garden, but no one remembers that just two weeks prior to that fight Foster had surgery on his left elbow. Another little known fact: Foster was a sparring partner for both Ali and George Foreman. George once said that if it wasn’t for working with Foster in sparring he wouldn’t have been so sharp in his knockout win over Ken Norton.

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  • October 22, 2019 at 2:14 pm
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    Shavers, Foreman, Liston, Marciano, Louis, Tyson, Frazier, Morrison, Sullivan, and Baer. In that order.

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  • November 25, 2019 at 12:53 pm
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    What about Julian Jackson???

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  • November 29, 2019 at 10:22 am
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    What I like about this list is that most of the people on it are relatively normal-sized human beings. It seems like the modern heavyweight division is ruled by basketball players.

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  • February 16, 2020 at 8:20 pm
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    Shannon Briggs belongs in the honourable mentions. I know he’s not in the caliber of the really top guys here but he has to be put in for most 1st round knockouts in heavyweight history, albeit against poor opposition. But Tommy Morrison is here and Briggs should be slightly above him I think. Briggs suffered knockout defeats but had guts and determination and wasn’t crumpled in 90 seconds against Michael Bentt, so definitely goes in above Morrison. Just saying! 👍

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    • September 12, 2020 at 12:57 am
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      I don’t even know where to start. You have Joe Louis above Foreman, Shavers, Liston, Williams, and hell, even Marciano? How in the name of hell can you justify that in any way shape or form? Louis hit very hard but nothing like those men. George Foreman hit probably LITERALLY twice as hard as Joe. He was and is to this day likely the naturally strongest HW of all-time. Louis simply didn’t have the god given strength of someone like Foreman, Liston, or even Lennox Lewis (who also hit much harder than Joe) to hit on their level. And I’m a HUGE Brown Bomber fan, man. I welcome to discuss this with anyone civilly. And Langford? What? He’s not even in the top 50. Cheers

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  • May 15, 2020 at 8:41 am
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    The late Muhammad Ali was the greatest, whether you like it or not.

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  • October 20, 2020 at 10:30 pm
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    Greatest right hand of all time: Earnie Shavers and Deontay Wilder. Best left hook: Joe Frazier and David Tua. Best overhand right: Lennox Lewis and Tim Witherspoon. Best uppercut: Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, and Razor Ruddock. Hardest jab of all time: Sonny Liston and George Foreman.

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  • October 25, 2021 at 9:54 pm
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    Tony 2 ton Galento had one of the best left hooks in heavyweight history. Looked like a joke, but was hell to fight in the ring.
    A vicious, dirty but exciting fighter.

    Reply

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