Top 12 All-Time Greatest Welterweights

Our ratings of the all-time greatest fighters in each of the traditional eight weight classes continues with a look at the storied ranks of the welterweight division. As noted in our previous Top 12 divisional lists, for simplicity’s sake, we are ranking boxers in one weight class only. Thus, you will not find Henry Armstrong here (which, admittedly, is kind of nuts) as he is included in our list of the all-time greatest featherweights, while Charley Burley has been ranked at middleweight.

12. Ted “Kid” Lewis: Without question, one of the finest pugilists to ever emerge from the British Isles, Lewis had some three hundred bouts before all was said and done, fighting from bantamweight to light heavyweight. His greatest triumphs were at 147 where he won the world title, battling for it repeatedly against hated rival Jack Britton.

Ted “Kid” Lewis

11. Jack Britton: They called Britton “The Boxing Marvel” and for good reason. A true ring master, this prolific champion with 37 title bouts to his credit, made up for his lack of serious punching power with technical ability and ring smarts. He bested such top talents as Mike O’Dowd, Charley White, Mickey Walker and his great rival, Ted “Kid” Lewis.

Jack Britton

10. Thomas Hearns: The gifted fighter they called “The Motor City Cobra” rendered helpless such top welterweight talents as Angel Espada, Pipino Cuevas and Randy Shields before giving Sugar Ray Leonard one of his toughest fights, defeating Wilfred Benitez, and knocking out Roberto Duran. He would later become the first fighter in boxing history to win world titles in four different weight classes.

The Motor City Cobra. Painting by Damien Burton

9. Jose Napoles: Slick, smooth and potent, “Mantequilla” was a complete fighter and a dominant champion. Top-shelf battlers Curtis Cokes, Hedgemon Lewis, Ernie Lopez, Emile Griffith, Clyde Gray, Billy Backus and Armando Muniz are among those who fell to Napoles’ unique combination of skill and power.

Napoles and Griffith in 1969.

8. Jimmy McLarnin: Call him “The Murderous Mick,” “The Belfast Spider,” “The Baby-Faced Assassin,” or “The Hebrew Scourge,” but whatever you call him, know that you’re talking about one of the true greats of the prize ring. A two-time welterweight champ, McLarnin boasts wins over such fellow luminaries as Lou Ambers, Barney Ross, Tony Canzoneri, Billy Petrolle, Fidel LaBarba, Charles “Bud” Taylor and Young Corbett III.

“The Belfast Spider” puts in the work.

7. Kid Gavilan: “The Cuban Hawk,” owner of both the famous “Bolo Punch” and one of pugilism’s hardest chins, was a prolific and popular battler during the 1940’s and 50’s, notching wins over a Who’s Who of great fighters including Beau Jack, Billy Graham, Carmen Basilio, Tony Janiro, Johnny Bratton, Ralph “Tiger” Jones and Ike Williams. He also gave Sugar Ray Robinson two of his toughest fights and held the world title from ’51 to ’54, before losing it to Johnny Saxton under most dubious circumstances.

Kid Gavilan

6. Barney Ross: A truly heroic figure in boxing history, Ross was smart, cagey and incredibly tough. One of boxing’s first triple-crown champions, Ross defeated a long list of great battlers including Jimmy McLarnin, Tony Canzoneri, Ceferino Garcia, Battling Battalino, Billy Petrolle and Frankie Klick.

Ross battling Ceferino Garcia.

5. Emile Griffith: Arguably the greatest boxer of the 1960’s pound-for-pound, Griffith was an outstanding talent, competing at the elite level for more than fifteen years and amassing victories over such excellent fighters as Luis Rodriguez, Benny Paret, Ralph Dupas, Don Fullmer, Dick Tiger, Joey Archer and Nino Benvenuti.

Griffith (right) battles fellow welterweight champ Luis Rodriguez.

4. Sugar Ray Leonard: Presiding over one of the strongest of welterweight fields, Leonard’s run from 1977 to 1982 is unquestionably one of the most impressive in division history. Astonishingly fast and powerful, Ray defeated Hall of Fame champions Wilfred Benitez, Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns, before later moving up to conquer Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

3. Barbados Joe Walcott: The hard-hitting “Barbados Demon” stood just over five feet tall, but he not only bested middleweights and even heavyweights, but was also a welterweight world champ with wins over Mysterious Billy Smith and “Young” Peter Jackson before he lost his title to Dixie Kid under the most suspicious of circumstances. Outside the division, he more than held his own against the likes of George Gardner, Sam Langford, Joe Gans, Philadelphia Jack O’Brien and Joe Choynski. Those questioning his high ranking here might take note of the fact that both Jack Johnson and Sam Langford rated Walcott as the most powerful puncher of their time.

The Barbados Demon.

2. Mickey Walker: Few do not rank “The Toy Bulldog” among the greatest fighters of all-time, pound-for-pound, and it was as a welterweight that Walker did his best work, with wins over Jack Britton, Pete Latzo, Lew Tendler, Sailor Friedman, Mike McTigue and Dave Shade, before he moved up to battle Harry Greb, Tiger Flowers, Tommy Loughran, Maxie Rosenbloom and Jack Sharkey.

The legendary Toy Bulldog. Drawing by Damien Burton.

1. Sugar Ray Robinson: One of the remarkable things about the great Robinson is that the welterweight division boasts such an outstanding roster of excellent fighters, and yet no one dreams of doubting the original Sugar Ray is the king of all he surveys at 147. The immortal Sugarman showed his greatness in wins over Kid Gavilan, Tommy Bell, Jake LaMotta, Fritzie Zivic, Sammy Angott, Georgie Abrams and Charlie Fusari before moving up to rule the middleweight division and giving us so many great battles against the likes of Carmen Basilio, Gene Fullmer, Randy Turpin and Carl “Bobo” Olson.

A pair of welterweight greats: Sugar Ray defeats Gavilan

Honorable Mentions: Luis Rodriguez, Carmen Basilio, Dixie Kid, Wilfred Benitez, Billy Graham, Young Peter Jackson, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Curtis Cokes, Tommy Bell, Felix Trinidad, Jackie Fields, Donald Curry, Ceferino Garcia, Fritzie Zivic, Young Corbett III, Oscar De La Hoya, Mysterious Billy Smith, Carlos Palomino, Marlon Starling, Shane Mosley, Pipino Cuevas, Honey Melody, Cocoa Kid.

25 thoughts on “Top 12 All-Time Greatest Welterweights

    • October 10, 2017 at 10:59 pm
      Permalink

      He’s in the Honorable Mentions alongside such awesome talents as Luis Rodriguez, Carmen Basilio and Wilfred Benitez.

      Reply
    • October 11, 2017 at 12:54 pm
      Permalink

      Realistically, Mayweather isn’t even in the discussion

      Reply
      • December 3, 2018 at 12:37 pm
        Permalink

        Realistically, put a prime Floyd in with a prime Jose Napoles, Mickey Walker, Emile Griffith, Barney Ross or Jack Britton and none of them are catching him cleanly and NONE of them are out landing him, most of these guys are more exciting but all that excitement would be nothing but them swinging at air, and getting plastered with counters all. night. long…Only a person with a certain hatred or dislike of Mayweather leaves him out of this list, to have to dig back to a “pretty good” welterweight born in 1901 just to fill in spots and to even put some probably good fighters at 11 and 12.Floyd was a defensive technician at a supreme level despite what all the fight fans whose feelings he hurt over the years say, especially my own people (Mexicanos), Mexican fight fans LOVE to discredit, belittle and downplay how great Floyd was, he beat Juan Manuel Marquez EASILY, and he schooled Canelo in the art of Boxing EASILY sorry but he was just one of the greatest defensive fighters in boxing history let alone at the weight classes he fought at.

        Reply
        • March 24, 2019 at 4:02 pm
          Permalink

          There are a variety of reasons that Floyd shouldn’t be high on the list. He was known to duck the best opponents throughout his career. His defensive prowess is overrated and a bit of a mirage. He was allowed to hold and use his forearms at will and without that Floyd would have lost plenty of fights. One guy commented after his 1st fight against Maidana, that he counted Floyd holding Marcos over 100 times during the fight. Without holding and the referee intervening to save him, Maidana would have laid him out I believe. Marcos beat him up as it was, but they stole the decision just as they did with Castillo.

          Reply
        • June 10, 2019 at 6:32 am
          Permalink

          Floyd beat a featherweight Juan Manuel Marquez who moved up to lightweight. You obviously have never seen Jose Napoles fight. At his peak he was considered the next Sugar Ray Robinson.

          Reply
        • January 27, 2021 at 2:35 pm
          Permalink

          I don’t think you understand what the article is about. Floyd’s best weight class was lightweight. Sugar Ray Leonard was a great fighter but he isn’t in the list of great middleweights. Floyd easily defeated Juan Manuel Marquez at a catch weight of 144 but Marquez isn’t in the top 20 best welterweights.

          Reply
          • October 2, 2021 at 5:14 am
            Permalink

            That’s my point, Floyd was beating up on smaller guys!

  • October 13, 2017 at 6:59 pm
    Permalink

    It’s like saying the IBM 5150 is the greatest personal computer due to it’s historical relevancy while ignoring its computing power. Legitimacy to documents and institutions and halls of fame are derived from the understanding that they will be re-valued and evolve era to era and epoch to epoch.

    There are over a thousand years separating Ceasar and Napoleon and nearly 2000 separating Crassus and Bill Gates. To talk about the best or wealthiest without mentioning the latest information is unfortunately, senile.

    Reply
  • October 14, 2017 at 3:26 am
    Permalink

    East Vancouver claims Jimmy McLarnin!

    Reply
  • October 17, 2017 at 11:17 am
    Permalink

    Great to learn about the likes of Barbado Joe Walcott. I hadn’t heard of him. He beat heavyweights too!

    Reply
    • July 6, 2018 at 10:15 pm
      Permalink

      Billy Graham beat Kid Gavilan in 51, but didn’t get the decision.

      Reply
  • May 10, 2019 at 6:30 am
    Permalink

    I’m sorry but Floyd Belongs on this list. And I think Tito should also be seriously considered; some of these obscure turn-of-the-century fighters need to be supplanted. Was De La Hoya given consideration or are you considering him in a different weight class? The only plausible explanation for leaving Floyd off this list would be if you felt he should be considered at his best at a lower weight class and wish to rank him among the best super feathers…

    Reply
  • September 30, 2019 at 12:23 am
    Permalink

    Some of the commentators need to read “The Arc of Boxing.” While in other sports, the general size advantage elevates modern athletes above their counterparts (some early defensive linemen would be undersized at linebacker on a good high school team nowadays), the existence of weight classes in boxing mitigates that disparity. The tremendous disparity in experience between a Mayweather or a Trinidad, on the one hand, and a Gavilan, Napoles, or (Luis Manuel) Rodriguez…would be very telling.

    Reply
  • November 13, 2019 at 2:45 pm
    Permalink

    Great list. I agree with Robinson. Pound-for-pound greatest of all time. Maybe Pacquiao should have been included being an eight weight champion and all.

    Reply
    • November 13, 2019 at 4:55 pm
      Permalink

      Thanks for reading, Dan. For our all-time lists we don’t rank boxers who are still active. But the name which is even more conspicuous by its absence is that of Henry Armstrong. However we decided (in the interests of spreading the glory out more equitably) to rank fighters in one weight division only, so you’ll find “Homicide Hank” in our Top 12 featherweight list.

      Reply
  • April 11, 2020 at 8:10 am
    Permalink

    Floyd is number 1 and you know it. For you to completely omit him from this list is just laughable. You’re not serious. SMH.

    Reply
  • June 27, 2020 at 12:49 am
    Permalink

    You’re high if you think Floyd ain’t the best of all-time, pound-for-pound, behind only Sugar Ray Robinson.

    Reply
  • December 28, 2020 at 10:07 am
    Permalink

    Regarding Floyd, he should be ranked on the all time featherweight or lightweight categories. He started at 130 and at 130 or 135 I would give Floyd a very good chance to beat everyone ranked on the fight ciiy all time lightweight or featherweight category.. Could legitimately rank him number 1 all time on either list.

    Reply
  • November 26, 2021 at 3:09 pm
    Permalink

    Pernell Whitaker doesn’t even make honorable mention?

    Reply
  • November 29, 2021 at 12:50 am
    Permalink

    So no Donald Curry…He held all the belts at the time…1985 Fighter of the year.

    Reply
  • March 6, 2022 at 1:28 pm
    Permalink

    The Sugar Ray Robinson vs Kid Gavilan photo says it all. Gavilan, the #7 all-time best welterweight, looks like he’s been fighting a guy twenty pounds heavier with cement in his gloves, while Sugar Ray looks absolutely untouched, as if he just entered the ring! Anyone questioning if Robinson is the pound-for-pound king is either biased or a moron.

    Reply
  • June 12, 2022 at 1:02 pm
    Permalink

    Ray did not conquer Hagler. Hagler controlled the pace, power and damage. Ray never hurt Marvin. Did Ray look flashy at times? yep. Fight his as off at times? Yep.Fade at mandatory 12th round….yep. use all of the 20 got mandatory ring… Yep. Feel the power of Hagler through the mandatory bigger gloves? yep. But conquer, Hell no! Here’s what Ray won, the crowd and the judges influenced by the crowd. Was it the best showing of strategy by Hagler, no. But, he was never hurt, pushed the pace and controlled the fight. Did Ray flash? Sure, but that isn’t a reason to take a man’s belt. By the end of this fight Ray was beat up. In all honesty, Hagler wanted to prove he could outbox Ray and that was a mistake. But over the coarse of the fight, ring presence, control of the ring, and damaging blows: that was All Hagler.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *