Top 12 Greatest Boxers Not In The Hall Of Fame

Yes, it’s that time of year again, as the festivities for the annual Induction Weekend at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota begin today. Fans, pundits, celebrities, and fighters, both young and old, are gathering today to pay tribute to the new inductees. However, while no one wants to rain on anyone’s parade, the fact is that along with the plaudits and speeches and standing ovations, in the background there are the grumblings of those keen-eyed critics who cannot forget the worthy warriors whom the Hall has failed to recognize. Admittedly, almost every fight fan has their own personal list of neglected past champions, some no doubt more, or less, deserving of the fight game’s highest honor than others. But then there are in fact the legit greats, the real ring legends and prolific champions, whose omissions from the Hall are truly inexplicable. Herewith the Top 12 most egregious exclusions from the rooms of honor in Canastota, plus a list of Honorable Mentions who also merit very serious consideration. Check ’em out:

12. Jimmy Britt: Though his career was brief, California’s Jimmy Britt was part of a highly talented generation of fighters inhabiting the lightweight division in the early 20th century. In a span of just 21 pro bouts, Britt faced the likes of Joe Gans, Terry McGovern, Battling Nelson, Packey McFarland, Young Corbett II, Frank Erne, and Kid Lavigne, all of whom are in the Hall of Fame. In the case of the feared and rugged Nelson, Britt fought him three times and emerged the victor twice. Their third encounter was a no-decision match, but the newspapers declared it a draw. Britt twice challenged all-time great Gans for the world title, though he lost both encounters, and was inducted into the now-defunct Ring Hall of Fame but not the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

11. Betulio Gonzalez: In a career spanning over twenty years, this three-time flyweight titlist won his first major belt in 1971 and did not lose his third until 1979. Though he never won the lineal world championship, the flyweight division was on fire in the 1970s. In that period, Gonzalez defeated the likes of Hall of Famer and all-time great Miguel Canto, as well as once or future world titleholders Soji Oguma (twice), Masao Ohba, Guty Espadas, and Peter Mathebula before he retired at age 39. In the process, he racked up 76 pro victories and became a revered sports figure throughout South America. To this day he remains a cultural icon in his native Venezuela where fight fans wonder why his name isn’t on a plaque in Canastota.

10. Jack Chase: Some in the sports press dubbed them the “Black Murderer’s Row,” a group of dangerous Black American middleweights in the 1940s that no champion wanted any part of. Unofficially barred from title fights and big purses, these feared fighters battled one another repeatedly. Some of their names — Eddie Booker, Charley Burley, Cocoa Kid, Lloyd Marshall, Holman Williams — have finally and deservedly graced plaques in the Hall. But Jack Chase’s name has not, even though he defeated Booker and Marshall twice each. Chase went undefeated in his first 23 pro bouts and held the California state middleweight and light heavyweight titles during his twelve year career. On August 2, 1943, he scored his most significant win, a unanimous decision victory over the legendary Archie Moore. His record also boasts a victory over fellow Murderer’s Row member Aaron Wade.

9. Yankee Sullivan: Though he is largely forgotten today, there was a time when Irish-born bare-knuckle scrapper Yankee Sullivan was the most famous prizefighter in America. Clever and quick, he made a name for himself by fighting larger men and won the English middleweight championship in 1841 with a 19 round victory over Hammer Lane before relocating to the U.S. where he became America’s first resident boxing star. Sullivan was in his mid-30s and still undefeated when he took on future Hall of Famer Tom Hyer on February 7, 1849 in the first match universally recognized as the American heavyweight championship. “The Great $10,000 Prize Fight” was a cultural touchstone for generations of Americans, but Sullivan was soundly beaten. Four years later, outweighed by 21 pounds, an aging Sullivan was boxing rings around 22-year-old Hall of Famer John Morrissey before he was disqualified in the 37th round of a fight that lasted nearly an hour, and Morrissey was declared heavyweight champion. Sullivan never fought again. Despite his name being synonymous with boxing in his time, he is somehow not in the Hall of Fame.

8. Bert Lytell: A Black southpaw who threw punches from every angle and never let up until the final bell? You can bet boxing’s world champions of the 1940s had no incentive to put their belts on the line against Calvin Lytle, better known as Bert Lytell – or, more appropriately, the Beast of Stillman’s Gym. From the moment he walked into a gym for the very first time, put on the gloves for a lark, and embarrassed ex-middleweight titleholder Billy Soose, the biggest names in the sport ran the other way whenever they saw Lytell’s manager Tiny Patterson – the only Black female fight manager of her day. So he was forced to fight often – as frequently as once a week – for meager paydays against the others who found themselves locked out of title contention, the feared Black Murderer’s Row, with Lytell defeating Cocoa Kid, Holman Williams, and Charley Burley at least once each. There were also victories over Roy Miller, Sam Baroudi, and Oakland Billy Smith and he went the distance in two competitive bouts with the legendary Archie Moore. He shared the ring with Hall of Famers Jake LaMotta and Harold Johnson, packing 102 fights in just seven years of professional fighting. Through it all, this iron-jawed warrior was only stopped once, and that was on cuts. Most observers felt he dominated future middleweight champ LaMotta in their 1945 encounter, but in keeping with Lytell’s hard luck career, the split decision went the other way. He retired in 1951, not because he wanted to, but because literally nobody would get in the ring with him. Let’s hope the Hall of Fame’s voters someday do a better job than the judges in the LaMotta fight and do Lytell justice by inducting him.

7. Gus Lesnevich: New Jersey’s rugged Gus Lesnevich reigned as light heavyweight champ during World War II and was a leading contender in the division for years before that. Starting as a middleweight at 19, he moved up in weight and twice challenged Hall of Famer Billy Conn for the 175 crown, going the distance but losing on points in both tries. After Conn vacated, Gus won the WBA belt with a unanimous decision over Anton Christoforidis in 1941 and he became undisputed champ three months later. After service in the U.S. Coast Guard during the war, Lesnevich returned to ring action with a hard-fought victory over Englishman Freddie Mills in London, winning by 10th round TKO. Lesnevich successfully defended his title four times between 1941 and 1948, when he lost the championship in a rematch with Mills. In his final bout, he unsuccessfully challenged the great Ezzard Charles for the heavyweight title. Among the other stars Lesnevich faced in his 15 year career were Freddie Steele, Young Corbett III, Lou Brouillard, Bob Olin, Bob Pastor, Jimmy Bivins, Bruce Woodcock, and Joey Maxim.

6. Pongsaklek Wonjongkam: With the state of modern boxing politics, a consensus lineal world champion is a rarity. A two-time lineal champ who makes 21 successful defenses is unheard of. That is, except for Thailand’s Pongsaklek Wonjongkam. Standing just 5’4″ tall, he is indeed a little giant of boxing. Between October 1996 and July 2007, this tiny dynamo went undefeated in 55 professional bouts. Among the victories was a first round stoppage of undefeated world champ Malcolm Tunacao to claim the flyweight title in his native Thailand in 2001. An incredible 17 consecutive title defenses followed in the next six years, a division record. After losing the title in 2007, he became a two-time champ in 2010 by outfighting Koko Kameda, who was nine years his junior. He made four more successful defenses before losing to Sonny Boy Jaro in 2012. He retired in 2018 with 98 fights on his record. Unfortunately, in the U.S., where the Hall of Fame is based, flyweight boxers get about as much respect as the insect from which the division gets its name. He has been eligible for Hall of Fame induction since 2021 but has yet to enter the Hall.

5. Chris Eubank: British boxing was on fire in the middleweight and super middleweight divisions during the 1990s, and the most accomplished Englishman of the lot was Brighton’s Chris Eubank, who won titles in both weight divisions and fought exciting rivalries with fellow stars Nigel Benn and Michael Watson. In the process, his accomplishments and unpredictable personality made him a massive celebrity in the U.K. He won the WBO middleweight belt from Benn in a scintillating 1990 war, scoring a massive upset via ninth-round stoppage. In his third defense, he took on Watson in another hard-fought scrap that Eubank won by majority decision. The rematch was for the vacant WBO super middleweight belt. It was yet another thriller that ended with Eubank the victor but resulted in tragedy when Watson was left partially paralyzed. A second fight with Benn in 1993 drew 47,000 fans to the Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester and ended in a draw. Eubank made an impressive fourteen defenses of his super middleweight belt before losing to Steve Collins in 1995. Late in his career, he gave a young, undefeated Joe Calzaghe one of the most challenging battles of his career. Eubank retired in 1998 after suffering a stoppage loss to light heavyweight titlist Carl Thompson, the only time in 52 pro fights that Eubank was defeated inside the distance.

4. Esteban De Jesus: Roberto Duran is arguably the greatest living boxer and during Duran’s decade-long reign of terror over the lightweight division in the 1970s, his greatest rival was Puerto Rico’s De Jesus. Even if being the first to defeat Duran was all he did in his boxing career, De Jesus would be in the conversation for Hall of Fame induction. But his legacy is deeper still. De Jesus went 41–1 in his first three-and-a-half years as a pro, in the process winning the Puerto Rican lightweight title. In 1972, he put Duran down for the first time in his career with a left uppercut in their initial meeting, a non-title match in Madison Square Garden. He went on to win the bout by a clear, unanimous decision, scoring one of the most notable boxing upsets of the 1970s. De Jesus also dropped “Manos de Piedra” in the opening round of their 1974 rematch, though he lost by eleventh-round knockout. On May 8, 1976, De Jesus won the WBC lightweight belt from Guts Ishimatsu via unanimous decision before a sold-out crowd in Puerto Rico. Following three successful title defenses, all KO wins, De Jesus lost his third and final fight with Duran. Among the other big names he faced in his eleven-year career across two weight divisions were Peppermint Frazer, Saoul Mamby, Ray Lampkin, Edwin Viruet, Antonio Gomez, and Hall of Famer Antonio Cervantes.

3. Willie Joyce: Give me a good reason why a guy who beat Henry Armstrong twice, Lew Jenkins twice, and Ike Williams three times is not in the Hall of Fame. Needless to say, you can’t. An all-action slugger with a relentless left jab, Joyce was a perennial lightweight contender of the 1940s. On March 2, 1943, he fought the first of four matches with Armstrong, and despite suffering a broken jaw, he scored a tremendous upset in winning a clear ten-round decision. In all, he went 2-2 against Homicide Hank. Admittedly, Armstrong was well past his best by the time Joyce got in the ring with him, but against Ike Williams, Joyce was facing an all-time great in his prime. In three of their four encounters between 1944 and 1945, Joyce emerged as the victor. Yet Williams — managed as he was by underworld figure Blinky Palermo — got a shot at the lightweight championship a month after their final meeting. He won it and proceeded to avoid Joyce. Among the other noteworthy names the always-willing Joyce tangled with in his 103-bout career were Willie Pep, Beau Jack, Chalky Wright, Tippy Larkin, Slugger White, Jackie Wilson, Johnny Bratton, Leo Rodak, and Aldo Spoldi. A formidable warrior, over the course of ten years and 103 bouts he was not once ever stopped or knocked out.

2. Ceferino Garcia: The number of big names on Ceferino Garcia’s ledger is truly astounding. Henry Armstrong, Barney Ross, Young Corbett III, Freddie Steele, Fred Apostoli, Ken Overlin, Lloyd Marshall, Billy Soose, Aaron Wade, Anton Christoforidis, Kid Azteca, Steve Belloise, California Jackie Wilson, Young Peter Jackson, and Baby Joe Gans were the cream of the crop between welterweight and middleweight during the 1930s and 1940s. Garcia faced them all, several of them multiple times, and most are in the Hall of Fame, and yet he is not. Garcia won more recorded fights (121) than any other Filipino champion. As hard as it is to believe, when heavyweight legend Joe Louis was at his bone-crushing peak, some considered Garcia “the most murderous hitter in the game.” Henry Armstrong said the Filipino phenom was the hardest puncher he ever faced. “I saw whole curtains of live flame and my head seemed to float into the air and bob up and down like a fishing cork,” Armstrong said of enduring a Garcia uppercut. Garcia lost to Armstrong in their first match in 1938 and held him to a draw in their 1940 rematch. He fought Barney Ross on three occasions, giving him hell in their 1937 welterweight title fight. On October 2, 1939, fourteen years into his career, Garcia scored a seventh round knockout over Hall of Famer Fred Apostoli to become the only Asian born middleweight champion of the world in history. Though he was inducted into The Ring Hall of Fame, and the World Boxing Hall of Fame, both are now defunct, and he has yet to be enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame though, clearly, he more than deserves the honor.

1. Jack Blackburn: Yes, Blackburn is in the Hall of Fame, but as a “Non-Combatant,” for his accomplishments as a trainer. The fact that he is excluded as a boxer is a serious injustice. A supremely skilled lightweight in his prime, he was avoided by the division champs for years on end because he was too good and too Black. But that didn’t keep him from fighting the best in non-title fights. Among the men Blackburn faced were pound-for-pound legends Joe Gans, Sam Langford, Harry Greb and Philadelphia Jack O’Brien. When he first faced Gans in 1903, “The Old Master” was the reigning lightweight champ, but the title was not on the line. Blackburn won the six-round no-decision fight by every account. Though Langford would eventually become a feared heavyweight contender, a lightweight Blackburn dominated him in their first encounter, also in 1903. “Blackburn proved himself, although conceding many pounds of weight, to be even more clever and shiftier than Langford,” wrote the man for The Boston Globe, who believed Blackburn won eight of the twelve rounds. The official decision was a draw. They would fight four more times, all of them competitive battles.

“I never cared what they weighed,” Blackburn would later comment, “as long as they had two hands.” He worked as a sparring partner for the supremely skilled heavyweight champion Jack Johnson and was said to have so embarrassed Johnson in these sessions that bad blood existed between them for decades. It was disgraceful enough that the champions of his day blocked him from a world title shot. Now, after more than three decades of induction ballots, the voters at the International Boxing Hall of Fame seem to have locked him out of another well-deserved honor.

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order): Nigel Benn; George Chip; Eddie Cool; Donald Curry; Abe Goldstein; Rafael Herrera; Harry Jeffra; Kid Azteca; Pone Kingpetch; Juan LaPorte; Tippy Larkin; Ernesto Marcel; Elbows McFadden; Dariusz Michaelczewski; Michael Nunn; Soji Oguma; Vinny Pazienza; Elmer Ray; Lou Salica; Yoshio Shirai; Marlon Starling; Adonis Stevenson; Antonio Tarver; Meldrick Taylor; Israel Vasquez; Aaron Wade; Matt Wells.                –Kenneth Bridgham 

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