Top 12 All-Time Greatest Catchers

On this day way back in 1922, the man they would come to call “The Bronx Bull” was born. Jake LaMotta would go on to not only become a world champion and the greatest rival of fellow legend Sugar Ray Robinson, but also a celebrity and the subject of the famous Hollywood masterpiece, Raging Bull.

LaMotta was a hugely popular warrior.

In tribute to the occasion and the reckless ring style of the incredibly tough and game LaMotta, we offer here our ranking of the all-time best “catchers” in boxing history. A “catcher” is a boxer always willing to test his opponent’s power and absorb several punches in order to land just one of his own hard shots. Such warriors win the admiration of fans for their courage, though this masochistic style is not for the faint of heart. Our ranking favours the boxers who, like LaMotta, achieved great success with this fighting style, but the top spot is reserved for the man who is, without question, the greatest ‘catcher’ of them all. Check it out:

12. John L. Sullivan: As tough as they come, Sullivan’s style was to a significant degree predicated on taking his adversary’s best punches and wearing him down before landing his own knockout shots, in fights to the finish or matches scheduled for as many as 80 rounds.

John L. Sullivan. Drawing by Damien Burton.

11. Bobby Chacon: With a heart as big as California State University where he briefly studied before becoming a professional prizefighter, “The Schoolboy” appeared eager at times to sample his opponent’s power before landing his own, this willingness to battle in the trenches giving fight fans some of the most thrilling action in recent boxing history.

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Chacon (left) battles with Bazooka Limon.

10. Rocky Graziano: “The Rock” knew only one way to fight: coming straight ahead and trading shots with heavy-hitters like Tony Janiro, Charley Fusari, Tony Zale and Ray Robinson, happily taking four or five blows in exchange for just one of his pulverizing right hands.

Rocky Graziano

9. Arturo Gatti: While “Thunder” actually possessed sound boxing skills, this born warrior always found a good toe-to-toe slugfest impossible to resist. Even when he won, Gatti often absorbed a frightful number of flush shots, in the process giving boxing a series of incredibly exciting slugfests including his memorable trilogy with Micky Ward.

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Gatti (right) catching some Golden Boy leather.

8. Gene Fullmer: “The Utah Cyclone’s” principal weapons were his physical strength and extraordinary toughness as he bulled and bullied his opponents around the ring while taking punch after punch in grueling battles with champions such as Sugar Ray Robinson, Joey Giardello, Carmen Basilio and Dick Tiger.

Gene Fullmer. Drawing by Damien Burton.

7. Matthew Saad Muhammad: “Miracle Matthew” gained fame for a series of high-stakes wars in which for several rounds he would take a terrible pounding before dramatically reversing his fortunes to score thrilling come-from-behind wins over such battlers as Marvin Johnson, John Conteh, and Yaqui Lopez.

Saad Muhammad smiles as he catches a ton of shots from Yaqui Lopez.

6. Rocky Marciano: The only undefeated heavyweight champion achieved astonishing success with a simple ring technique: march forward, absorb punishment, and overwhelm the other man with a non-stop attack. “The Brockton Blockbuster” took the best from Joe Louis, Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles and Archie Moore and always came roaring back to win.

Rocky Marciano. Painting by Damien Burton.

5. Beau Jack: Fight fans knew that with Sidney Walker’s brawling, swarming style, drama and excitement were guaranteed and so the tough-as-nails “Beau Jack,” a survivor of the repugnant “Battle Royales,” brought huge crowds out to his clashes with Bob Montgomery, Fritzie Zivic, Ike Williams, and Kid Gavilan.

The great Beau Jack.

4. Carmen Basilio: A straight-ahead pressure fighter with a heart as big as the onion farm he came from, Basilio never minded taking heavy punches from the likes of Tony DeMarco, Gene Fullmer and the great Sugar Ray Robinson.

Basilio and Fullmer: two excellent catchers.

3. Battling Nelson: Danish brawler and world lightweight champ Oscar Mathæus Nielsen had the durability to stay in the pocket with great boxers such as Abe Attell, Joe Gans and Ad Wolgast in wars that lasted thirty or forty rounds, taking shot after shot in an effort to wear down his opponent.

Nelson catches a big shot from Ad Wolgast in their 40 round war.

2. Jake LaMotta: “The Bronx Bull” fought with a legendary disregard for his own safety, the middleweight champion soaking up punishment like a dry sponge before bringing his own lethal power to bear in battles with such great fighters as Marcel Cerdan, Holman Williams, Fritzie Zivic, Tommy Bell and of course, Sugar Ray Robinson.

The Bronx Bull. Ink drawing by Damien Burton.

1. Joe Grim: Not for nothing was Grim’s nickname “The Human Punching Bag.” This pugilist’s entire strategy was to catch and keep catching, hoping that eventually his opponent would keel over from exhaustion. While he holds the record for most knockdowns in a single fight — hitting the floor 20 times against the great Bob Fitzsimmons — he also was rarely stopped, suffering only six KO defeats in a career of some 150 fights in which he absorbed thousands of punches. Now that’s a “catcher.”

The one-and-only, Joe Grim.
The one-and-only Joe Grim.

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