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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.