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? The question became even more topical after Deontay Wilder’s eyebrow raising, one-shot knockout of Luis Ortiz this past weekend. Yes, Wilder stretched an opponent he had already battered into helplessness once before, but it was the shocking manner in which “The Bronze Bomber” lowered the boom with a single right-hand jolt that got hardcore boxing enthusiasts and mainstream sports fans alike asking if Wilder belongs aside the most fearsome punchers, pound-for-pound, in ring history.
Well you won’t find Wilder’s name here as active fighters with years to go before their careers end are not under consideration. And we’re not even going to attempt a ranking of the most potent punchers at any weight, including as it must middleweights and welterweights such Stanley Ketchel and Barbados Joe Walcott, or even more diminutive bruisers such as Sandy Saddler and Jimmy Wilde. Besides, basic physics tells us that the most powerful punches ever thrown in the squared circle had to come from the division where they naturally carry the most sheer 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 explosiveness of the best punchers. At least three of the men on our list were not particularly large, but their ability to deliver blows with shattering power and 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 greatest heavyweight punchers of all-time. Most of the names will no doubt be familiar to fight fans, others perhaps less so, but what they all have in common is a long list of opponents left supine 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.
11. Max Baer: This heavyweight champion had fifty-two KOs in 67 victories, most of them courtesy of his pulverizing right hand. In the 1930s, and before the rise of Joe Louis, he was regarded as arguably the hardest puncher ever.
10. Elmer Ray: Also known as “Kid Violent,” and for good reason. One of the most feared punchers in heavyweight history. In eighty pro wins, Ray scored an incredible 76 knockouts.
9. Jack Dempsey: The Manassa Mauler, boasting fifty knockouts in 61 wins, was renowned for his brutal power, especially his lethal left hook.
8. Bob Fitzsimmons: Appearances can be deceiving, but there’s no arguing with 59 knockouts in 66 bouts. Arguably the greatest body puncher of all-time, “The Freckled Wonder,” while lacking an impressive physique, made a science of delivering truly devastating power shots.
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.
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.
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.
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. Harry Wills, Gunboat Smith, Joe Jeannette and Sam McVea all fell victim to Langford and when asked, all pointed to Langford as the hardest puncher they had ever faced.
2. Earnie Shavers: In 75 ring victories, Shavers scored 69 KOs. 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.”
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.
Honorable Mentions: Joe Frazier, James J. Jeffries, Harry Wills, Joe Choynski, Ingemar Johansson, Luis Firpo, Max Schmeling, John L. Sullivan, Riddick Bowe, Peter Maher, Lennox Lewis, Tom Sharkey, Sam McVea, Corrie Sanders, David Tua, Jersey Joe Walcott, Ron Lyle, Tommy Morrison, Buddy Baer, Bob Satterfield, Donovan Ruddock, Frank Bruno, Wladimir Klitschko, Gerry Cooney.