Top 12 All-Time Greatest Heavyweight Punchers
When it comes to lively debates among fight freaks, few top this one: just who are the most powerful punchers to ever step through the ropes? Now a pound-for-pound discussion gets a bit convoluted, the list necessarily quite long and including near the very top flyweights and featherweights such as Jimmy Wilde and Sandy Saddler. But you don’t need a degree in advanced physics to know that the most powerful and explosive punches ever thrown in a boxing 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.
But that said, size and weight are far from the only facets determining the potency of the best punchers. At least three of the men ranked here were not particularly large, but their ability to deliver violent blows which devastated men bigger and heavier, speaks for itself. Timing, accuracy, balance, leverage, 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 most dangerous heavyweight punchers of all-time. Most of the names will no doubt be familiar to fight fans, though some included here may surprise you, but what they all have in common is a long line of vanquished opponents reduced to helplessness on the dusty canvas, courtesy of the dynamite in their deadly 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.
11. Elmer Ray: Also known as “Kid Violent,” and for good reason. One of the most feared contenders in heavyweight history. Sixty-nine KOs in ninety-nine pro wins.
10. Sam McVea: Sixty knockouts in seventy-eight wins, but forget the stats and let’s hear no less an authority than the great Jack Johnson explain why McVea is one of the all-time great punchers: “He carried a heavy one-two punch with his left that you had to watch out for always… That left wanted all the eyes you could spare! He wasn’t a man you could take chances with [and] that left is something you can’t estimate.”
9. Jack Dempsey: Boasting fifty knockouts in sixty-one wins, “The Manassa Mauler” was renowned for his brutal power, especially his lethal left hook. Knockouts over Battling Levinsky, Jess Willard, Ed “Gunboat” Smith, Georges Carpentier, Luis Firpo and Jack Sharkey tell the tale.
8. Bob Fitzsimmons: Fifty-seven knockouts in sixty-nine wins. Perhaps the greatest body puncher of all-time, “The Fighting Blacksmith” made a science of delivering truly devastating power shots. 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 two hundred pounds.
7. Rocky Marciano: Marciano punched way above his weight with an almost ninety percent KO ratio, pounding much bigger men into submission with his vicious shots, not to mention scoring one of the most devastating one-punch knockouts in boxing history over Jersey Joe Walcott.
6. Mike Tyson: Tyson’s prime was short, but while it lasted, no one hit harder. His most spectacular knockouts include brutal stoppages of Marvis Frazier, Trevor Berbick, Pinklon Thomas, Larry Holmes, Tony Tubbs and Michael Spinks.
5. George Foreman: “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!” And Norton. And Lyle. And Cooney. And Moorer … Sixty-eight KOs in seventy-six wins.
4. Sonny Liston: Liston’s pulverizing power enabled him to steamroll the heavyweights of the 1950’s and early 60’s and knock out such tough customers as Cleveland Williams, Nino Valdes, Zora Folley and George “Scrap Iron” Johnson. He twice demolished world champion Floyd Patterson in the first round. One of the most feared champions in heavyweight history.
3. Sam Langford: The man some 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 his former opponents were asked, to a man they all pointed to Langford as the hardest puncher they had ever faced.
2. Earnie Shavers: Virtually all who faced him, including Larry Holmes, Ron Lyle, Jimmy Young, Ken Norton and Muhammad Ali, stated without hesitation that Shavers 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.” Sixty-nine KOs in seventy-five wins.
1. Joe Louis: Fifty-two KOs in sixty-six wins. Deadly power with either fist, incredibly accurate, excellent finisher, ruled the heavyweights for a full decade. “Nobody hits like Louis,” declared James J. Braddock. “Take the first jab he nails you. You know what it’s like? It’s like someone jammed a electric bulb in your face and busted it… [And his right hand is] like someone nailed you with a crowbar. I thought half my head was blowed off. I figured he caved it in.” Trainer Eddie Futch, who sparred with Louis, said that Joe hit so hard, even “if he didn’t hit you much, just blocking those shots was like being in an automobile accident.” And when famed cornerman Ray Arcel was asked about Louis’ power he recalled that Joe “drove Paulino Uzcudin’s teeth right through his mouthpiece! That’s how hard Joe Louis could hit!” Case closed.
Honorable Mentions: Joe Frazier, James J. Jeffries, Harry Wills, Max Baer, Joe Choynski, Ingemar Johansson, Luis Firpo, Max Schmeling, John L. Sullivan, Riddick Bowe, Deontay Wilder, Peter Maher, Lennox Lewis, Tom Sharkey, Jack Johnson, Gerry Cooney, David Tua, Jersey Joe Walcott, Ron Lyle, Tommy Morrison, Buddy Baer, Donovan Ruddock, Frank Bruno, Wladimir Klitschko.
57 thoughts on “Top 12 All-Time Greatest Heavyweight Punchers”
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.
Moore got most of his work done at LH not at heavyweight.
Y’all crazy lol. Watch the interviews from different boxers they’re actually in the ring with these people.
1) Earnie Shavers
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
Ernie Shavers? Major stamina issues…never had a KO past the 7th round…didn’t carry his power into the later rounds…didn’t have the ability to come up with the BIG PUNCH when he needed it…had Ali hurt…had Larry Holmes hurt…couldn’t put them away!!!
Most underrated power punchers has to be Muhammad Ali and Evander Holyfield.. Muhammad Ali was not a HUGE and DEVASTATING puncher but as he was a big man, almost as big as Foreman(Around the same height and weight) And as he delivered especially the right hand straight with some sort of weight behind including punching technique. Atleast he scored KO victories over the likes of Liston(Maybe fixed) Foreman(Only a knockdown), Cleveland Williams, Floyd Patterson, Brian London, Chuck Webner and more. And he staggered Lyle with a hard straight right hand about the same as Foreman could do to Lyle with one single punch(A big lefthand) Not that Ali hit hard compared with Foreman, but still, not like he could not punch!
The other one is Evander Holyfield, he staggered old Foreman a couple of times and more than staggered Tyson in their first fight, hit Mike with a couple of big right hands that apart from Mike still standing on his feet was momentarily on queerstreet. Also he had a lot of KO victories ofcause like any heavyweight, and Danish former heavyweight boxer Brian Nielsen also said that he felt Holyfield even at around 40-50 years of age hit him harder than Tyson did back in 2001. Not a valid argument that Holyfield hit harder than Tyson, but we can´t know for sure.
Also guys like Razor Ruddock, Tim Witherspoon, Amir Mansour, Derrick Jefferson, Frank Bruno, Bonecrusher Smith, Butterbean, Max Baer, Ron Lyle, Gerry Cooney, Wlad Klitschko, Mike Tyson and Deontay Wilder. Most of these guys imo. Hit as hard or harder than some in this top 10. We can´t know who hit the HARDEST.. We all know that especially Shavers and Foreman could punch, the way he manhandled Frazier, staggered Chuvalo with a single punch, the way he hit the heavy bag lifting Dick Sadler off the heavy bag almost with 4 blows only or something while denting the bag tells us something about his strenght and punching power!! And Foreman and Shavers KO ratio´s speaks for themselfs.
PFP hardest hitters i´ve seen is probably Rocky Marciano and Julian Jackson! Add Thomas Hearn and Gerald Mcclellan in there aswell among others.
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…
Archie Moore was a LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT!
What a joke of a list. You have a 170lb man as punching harder than George Foreman. Nuff said.
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.
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.
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.
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
Marciano vs Vingo
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.
I would agree. When Muhammad Ali sparred rocky Marciano in an early computer animated fight, I believe it was 1969 shortly before Marciano died – Marciano was probably in his late 40s – hadn’t even boxed in a decade and yet Ali said he couldn’t even keep his arms up because it hurts so bad from blocking his punches.
My order would be Shavers, Foreman, Liston, Williams, Marciano, and then Louis.
Mike was undoubtedly the hardest hitter
No he wasn’t, he was hard and fast but not the hardest. Foreman, Liston and Shavers punched much harder.
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.
Holyfield was juicing, so how could he feel them.
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.
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.
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.
Tyson defeated by every good fighter he fought? Michael Spinks was young, prime, and the undefeated Heavyweight Champion of the World. He lasted 90 seconds. Larry Holmes scared Ali and Foreman away. Ali fought horrible Leon Spinks and Alfredo Evangelista when Holmes was ranked well over them. Foreman retired for ten years rather than face Holmes. But Larry thought he had Tyson’s number and came out with the only KO loss of his career.
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.
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
And last night he proved that wrong.
Damned straight Wilder has timing, technique and accuracy. He’s the only man who ever KO’d Luis Ortiz and he did it twice. He beat Artur Szpilka’s left hook with a crushing right that had microsecond timing. They brought the stretcher in for Szpilka. Deontay had Tyson Fury down four times. Now if he developed his boxing skills to greater mastery, he might even beat Fury.
You got that right… Deontay would flatten everyone on this pathetic list.
Never understood what people saw in Shavers. He was a good puncher, but people usually got up from them.
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?
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.
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.
Shavers number one, Foreman number two.
No way Joe Louis is a harder puncher than Earnie Shavers, no way!
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.
James, Bravo. I Totally Agree About Big George Foreman!
No Frank Bruno in the honourable mentions? Hell of a ko ratio, around 84%?
I would add Ron Lyle and Tommy Morrison in the honorable mentions. Good list!
The fact that Ray Mercer isn’t on this list makes me question you guys.
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.
I agree except for Morrison…Mercer proved he was more powerful than him in their one fight…
Only Shavers actually destroyed a pair of gloves hitting his opponent. Watching tape I would say Shavers, Lewis, Langford, Marciano and Tyson.
Foreman, Tyson, Frazier, Shavers, Morrison, Tua, Liston. I love them all. They made boxing exciting. Lennox Lewis was a pretty good puncher too.
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.
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?
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.
Shavers, Foreman, Liston, Marciano, Louis, Tyson, Frazier, Morrison, Sullivan, and Baer. In that order.
What about Julian Jackson???
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.
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! 👍
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
The late Muhammad Ali was the greatest, whether you like it or not.
Yeah, but he wasn’t the greatest puncher.
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.
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.
Everyone from Joe Louis back has no place on this list. Marciano as well, even though he hit like a beast. Sorry, that’s reality.