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.
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.