Top 12 All-Time Greatest Light Heavyweights

Continuing our infrequent rankings of the all-time greatest boxers in each of the original eight weight classes, we offer our third installment in the series. We started with the middleweights, then the bantamweights, and now it’s time for the light heavyweights, a division with definitely more than one strong candidate for the top position. Please note, for simplicity’s sake we rank boxers in one division only, otherwise both Bob Fitzsimmons and Harry Greb, who figure prominently on our roster of the all-time greatest at 160, would surely have an impact on this list as well.

Charles downs Moore.
Charles downs Moore.

For many years the light heavyweights were viewed as the cruiserweights are by some today, a troupe of pugilists destined to eventually add some extra poundage so they might mix it up with the truly big men. Certainly the 175 pound class was never thought to be one of the so-called “glamour” divisions, this view reinforced by the failure of so many light heavyweight champions to scale the lofty peak of the heavyweights and claim it as their own. But over the decades it has boasted its share of legendary battlers, even if most of the very best at 175 never actually owned the division’s world title. Without further ado, our list of the greatest light heavyweights in boxing history:

12. John Henry Lewis: World champion with a career mark of 99-11-5, Lewis boasts wins over Bob Olin, Tiger Jack Fox, James Braddock and Maxie Rosenbloom.

John Henry Lewis

11. Harold Johnson: An excellent technician with a solid punch, Johnson scored victories over Archie Moore, Jimmy Bivins, Doug Jones, Eddie Machen and Ezzard Charles.

Johnson battles Eddie Cotton.
Johnson battles Eddie Cotton.

10. Jimmy Bivins: Scored wins over a long list of great 175 pounders including Ezzard Charles, Archie Moore, Joey Maxim and Lloyd Marshall, as well as some elite heavyweights.

Jimmy Bivins

9. Tommy Gibbons: A clever boxer who knew all the tricks, Gibbons bested a wealth of great talent including Harry Greb, Kid Norfolk, Billy Miske, Georges Carpentier, and Battling Levinsky. Battled Jack Dempsey in 1923 in the famous fight that bankrupted the town of Shelby, Montana.

Tommy Gibbons

8. Bob Foster: One of the most powerful of light heavyweights with knockouts over Dick Tiger, Mike Quarry, Chris Finnegan and Vicente Rondon. Recorded 14 world title defenses.

Foster stands over an unconscious Dick Tiger.
Foster stands over an unconscious Dick Tiger.

7. Billy Conn: When he was at the top of his game, few could match Conn for ring smarts. Defeated Young Corbett III, Fred Apostoli, Gus Lesnevich, Fritzie Zivic, Bob Pastor and Lee Savold. In one of the greatest of all heavyweight fights, came very close to dethroning a prime Joe Louis.

Conn strikes
Conn (right) battles Louis.

6. Michael Spinks: Not only did Spinks become the first light heavyweight champion to win the heavyweight crown when he defeated Larry Holmes in 1985, he also excelled in a particularly strong 175 pound division, beating the likes of Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Yaqui Lopez, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Marvin Johnson and Eddie Davis.

Michael Spinks: drawing by Damien Burton.

5. Tommy Loughran: Unquestionably one of the most cerebral of ring technicians, “The Philly Phantom” defeated a long list of excellent fighters including Harry Greb, Mickey Walker, Young Stribling, Jeff Smith, Arturo Godoy, King Levinsky and Georges Carpentier.

Tommy Loughran
Tommy Loughran

4. Gene Tunney: “The Fighting Marine” never won the world crown, but that didn’t stop him from establishing himself as the best light heavyweight in the world while scoring wins over fellow greats Tommy Gibbons, Harry Greb, Jeff Smith and Georges Carpentier, before moving up to heavyweight to defeat the legendary Jack Dempsey.

Gene Tunney: left the game at only 31 and never came back.
Gene Tunney

3. Archie Moore: No one questions the greatness of “The Old Mongoose,” only where his name should be slotted on a list like this. With the most knockouts in boxing history and wins over Holman Williams, Jimmy Bivins, Lloyd Marshall, Bobo Olson, Eddie Cotton, Joey Maxim and Harold Johnson, Moore is forever an all-time great.

A young Archie Moore.
A young Archie Moore.

2. Sam Langford: “The Boston Terror” may have fewer all-time great light heavyweights on his record, but for much of his legendary career he fought as a light heavy, his weight in the vicinity of 175 pounds. The roster of great fighters Langford bested is amazingly long, despite the fact so many avoided him. The astonishing list of names includes Sam McVea, Philadelphia Jack O’Brien, Harry Wills, Joe Gans, Kid Norfolk, Jack Blackburn, Gunboat Smith, Big Bill Tate, Stanley Ketchel, and Joe Jeannette.

The great Sam Langford. Painting by Damien Burton

1. Ezzard Charles: Competing at the same time as fellow great Archie Moore, Charles’ wins over Charles Burley, Joey Maxim, Lloyd Marshall, Gus Lesnevich and Jimmy Bivins are just part of why he tops this list. The other part is the fact he holds three wins over “The Old Mongoose” himself, which established “The Cincinnati Cobra” as the finest of his time at 175 before he went on to assault the heavyweights, defeat both Joe Louis and Jersey Joe Walcott, and then give Rocky Marciano the toughest battles of his career.

ezzard charles
The great Ezzard Charles. Drawing by Damien Burton.

Honorable Mentions: Jack Delaney, Gus Lesnevich, Roy Jones Jr., Maxie Rosenbloom, Georges Carpentier, Joey Maxim, Battling Levinsky, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Kid McCoy, Joe Choynski, Virgil Hill, Tiger Jack Fox, Marvin Johnson, Jack Dillon, Kid Norfolk, Matthew Saad Muhammad, Lloyd Marshall, Victor Galindez, Philadelphia Jack O’Brien.

19 thoughts on “Top 12 All-Time Greatest Light Heavyweights

  • July 8, 2019 at 11:11 pm
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    Didn’t both the Tommy’s on here avoid the best Black fighters of their day ? That disqualifies both of them in my opinion .

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    • January 10, 2020 at 1:10 pm
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      Mr. Aguilar, stop being such a racist. Both of them fought black fighters. In fact, Tommy Gibbons defeated Kid Norfolk by TKO. Have you seen footage of Norfolk? He should have been on this list, but he didn’t get a shot at the title. (Probably because he was black.) Even if neither of these two fought black fighters, why would it disqualify them? For the record, old school boxers were far superior to the boxers of today. Modern boxers are under-trained, lack technique, and with regard to toughness, they are not in the same realm as old school boxers.

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      • October 3, 2020 at 11:20 pm
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        Tiger Jack Fox had one of the hardest punches for his weight division. And he also defeated heavyweights who went on to be world champions. He was in way more fights than many boxers, many that were not official. He was tough as nails. One time he got a chance at a championship, but he was stopped in the ninth round. Two months prior to that big chance he had been in a fight over a woman and was stabbed near the heart. Now that is tough!

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  • July 9, 2019 at 2:45 am
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    Mark Tessman was another good light heavyweight.

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  • July 10, 2019 at 5:38 am
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    Torres and Tiger

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  • December 28, 2019 at 2:49 pm
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    Bob Foster and Michael Spinks should be #1 and 2.

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    • January 10, 2020 at 2:00 pm
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      It seems you lack knowledge of old school boxers. You dismiss them too easily. If you understood the boxing world of the past vs. today, you would understand that modern boxers would not have survived in eras of the past. Today, boxing is basically a fringe sport. Historically, it was more popular than baseball in the U.S., and produced far more boxers and it was far more competitive. Personally, I don’t think Spinks should have made the top 12. He defeated good boxers and had great run, but his opponents were not truly great. His era was simply not gritty like eras of the past.

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  • January 10, 2020 at 1:32 pm
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    Harry Greb is often overlooked on may lists, especially outside of middleweight. People forget that Greb was not only the middleweight champion, but also the light heavyweight champion and the uncrowned heavyweight champion. Jack Dempsey refused to fight him in an official match. Greb defeated Dempsey in three public exhibition matches. Greb defeated several people on this list with relative ease. In fact, he handed Gene Tunney the only loss of his career, and he was fighting well past his prime and with one eye. There is little doubt that Greb would have defeated anyone on this list. In his prime, he probably would have defeated them all with relative ease, yet his name is not even in the honorable mention. I also think Rosenbloom and Norfolk should have made the list, and possible Jack O’Brian.

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  • April 5, 2020 at 7:28 pm
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    No one ranks Roy Jones Jr. in top 10 of middleweight. What the hell was Roy supposed to do? He got bored kicking butt at 160, then 168, then 175! He would have a great chance with anyone on this list and you know it! At 160, I believe he could’ve been another Sugar Ray!!!

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  • June 20, 2020 at 8:09 pm
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    Typically don’t leave comments but it’s pretty clear that any list at 160 or 175 with Roy Jones Jr. not on it is automatically an invalid list.
    You guys have anybody on staff old enough to have actually seen him fight when in his prime?

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  • January 24, 2021 at 8:37 pm
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    If you mention Victor Galindez, you have to also mention Mike Rossman who battled Galindez and won by TKO.

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  • May 7, 2021 at 12:32 pm
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    Michael Spinks was both undefeated champion & Olympic gold medalist who moved up and took out Larry Holmes. What more does a guy have to do to be #1?

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  • August 12, 2021 at 1:32 pm
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    I’d put Holyfield in this group …. right at the top.

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    • August 25, 2021 at 1:21 am
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      Holyfield wasn’t a light heavyweight.

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  • October 21, 2021 at 10:22 pm
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    This is a really good list. Mooore, Langford Charles are the right top three (although I would rate Foster higher than you do).

    Reply

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