Top 12 All-Time Greatest Catchers

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of one of the all-time great victories in the long history of prizefighting, that being Jake LaMotta’s decision win over one Walker Smith Jr. in 1943. Between 1940, when Smith, aka Sugar Ray Robinson, began his pro career, and 1951, when he lost to Randolph Turpin, the legendary Robinson would post an incredible record of 129 pro wins against two draws and just one loss. That lone setback was to LaMotta, and the case can be made that no other boxer ever defeated a peak version of the great Sugar Ray. And, conceivably, only a fighter as aggressive and relentless as the aptly nicknamed “Bronx Bull” could have earned that singular win.

LaMotta was a hugely popular warrior.

In tribute to the occasion and LaMotta’s reckless ring style we offer here our ranking of the all-time best “catchers” in boxing history. A “catcher” is a pugilist always willing to test his opponent’s power and to absorb several punches in order to land just one of his own hard shots. Such warriors win the admiration of fans for their courage and willingness to trade, though this masochistic style is not for the faint of heart. And while our ranking favours the boxers who, like LaMotta, achieved great success with this fighting style, the top spot is reserved for the man who, without a doubt, will forever be 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 eighty 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, his willingness to battle in the trenches giving fight fans some of the most thrilling action in recent boxing history.

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.

Gatti 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.

Fullmer catches a right hand from Joey Giardello.

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 shots from Yaqui Lopez.

6. Rocky Marciano: The only undefeated heavyweight champion achieved astonishing success with a simple ring technique: march forward, take the other man’s best shots, and then overwhelm him with non-stop pressure and punishment. “The Brockton Blockbuster” withstood heavy blows from such greats as Joe Louis, Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles and Archie Moore and always came roaring back to win.

greatest catchers
Marciano samples a right hand from Ezzard Charles in 1954.

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 such all-time greats as Abe Attell, Joe Gans and Ad Wolgast in grueling wars of attrition that lasted thirty rounds or more.

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 eating punch after punch like he was starving for leather before eventually bringing his own lethal power to bear in battles with such greats 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 twenty 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.
Become a patron at Patreon!

2 thoughts on “Top 12 All-Time Greatest Catchers

  • July 17, 2022 at 12:36 pm

    With all due respect, you don’t list JOE FRAZIER even as an honorable mention?

  • February 4, 2024 at 3:09 pm

    Was Joe Grim the inspiration for Homer Simpsons boxing career?


Leave a Reply

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