By Richard Lewis – When I was asked recently by Paul Daley if I’d be interested in contributing to this excellent article I jumped at the chance, thinking it would be relatively easy to pick out certain Boxers who I think best fit the criteria asked. How wrong I was when after some time I was still trying to whittle down each category from four or five to one.
After some thought, and changing my mind several times I came to the conclusion that seeing as I didn’t get into Boxing until the early to mid-90s it’d only be right that I picked Boxers from this time up to the present day. I know this will cause some controversy and there are many others who are probably better and maybe far deserving than those I’ve gone for, and it was hard not to include some too, but here goes:
HEAD MOVEMENT – PRINCE NASEEM HAMED
The ‘Prince’ was the master of this skill, or at least the best I’ve seen perfect it. He would stick his head out as if almost a static target, only to arch his body from left to right, bobbing and weaving just as his opponents thought they were about to connect and come back with several big shots of his own. Flicking out backhanded jabs, hooks and uppercuts at ease and frustrating his opposition in the process. See the Steve Robinson fight for evidence of this with Naz in full flow and at the top of his game. He divided opinion but will go down as all-time great and for me deserves his place in the IBHOF, was a showman and a real joy to watch and never in a dull fight.
JAB – LENNOX LEWIS
It would be hard for me to leave out the man who I rate as one of the best ever and who is my all time favourite Boxer, and there is a case for him in several of these categories but it’s the left jab of Lennox that edged it for me over the likes of Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko, Riddick Bowe and several others who mastered this art. That left jab often acted as a ramrod in wins against Hasim Rahman in their rematch and as well as against the likes of Tommy Morrison, David Tua and Mike Tyson no less. Using it to great effect to then set up his big right hand, under the watchful eye of Emmanuel Steward, was a joy to see and helped to establish him as an all-time great as well as unifying the Heavyweight division too during his reign.
HAND SPEED – ROY JONES JR
It wouldn’t be right to construct this without the inclusion of Roy Jones Jr. Like Lennox Lewis above, RJJ could quite easily of slotted into a few of the categories but it’s down to his superb hand speed that I see his best fit. Often showboating with his hands behind his back or by his side it wasn’t uncommon to see him launch a vicious assault as his opponents got near with his reflexes and sharpness never wavering from Middleweight all the way up to Heavyweight. He beat some of the best too with names like James Toney, Bernard Hopkins, John Ruiz and Antonio Tarver on his record he will always be one of the best despite carrying on with his career way past his twilight years.
POWER – GENNADY GOLOVKIN
This category I found the hardest to finalise who I’d pick with the like of Sergey Kovalev, Lennox Lewis and Nigel Benn not far away, but I opted for the man from Kazakhstan ‘GGG’ Gennady Golovkin. He has amassed an impressive 38 wins and 1 draw record, with 34 of them 38 coming inside the distance. The one blight on his perfect record as we know is that contentious draw with Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez that he will be looking to put right later this year in a hotly anticipated rematch.
He has all but unified the Middleweight division in the last almost decade and his record reads like a who’s who of Middleweight champions and contenders from this time too with just the WBO version of the alphabet titles, currently held by Billy-Joe Saunders, being the only one that he has not yet been able to grasp. Carl Froch when asked once described GGG as “punching like a mule” and it’s them mule like punches we’ve seen time and again as he’s ripped through the likes of Willie Monroe Jr and David Lemieux, as well as finishing Matthew Macklin and Daniel Geale early, giving Martin Murray a one-sided 11 round pasting dropping him twice along the way, and also causing the corners of Gabriel Rosado and Kell Brook to throw in the towel due to the punishment they had received at his hands.
At 36 he’s no signs of letting up as we saw in a recent defence against late stand-in Vanes Martirosyan, stopping him in two, and I hope it’s this same vicious cruel punching power that we see him take into the Canelo rematch and lead him on once again to victory and hopefully set up the fight with Billy-Joe Saunders that we’ve all been craving.
FOOTWORK – VASYL LOMACHENKO
The former two time Olympic Gold medalist Ukrainian is something of a special and unique talent and one who continues to amaze and impress every time he fights. He has an ability to shift his weight from one foot to another and almost lean back horizontally and still hit his opponent. Darting in and out of range and using his fantastic speed and agility he’s often been described as being something akin to Keanu Reeves character Neo in The Matrix films such is the speed and agility of those attacks.
He also has the ability to get up off the canvas and win too as we saw in his last fight against longtime defending Champion Jorge Linares where he rose in round 6 to go on and stop the ‘Golden Boy’ in the 10th and create history by becoming a three weight world champion in the fewest fights, in winning Linares’ WBA ‘Super’ Lightweight title. At 30 years of age questions will be asked how long he will be able to keep up this unique ability and if in time he’ll have to change the way he fights but for now we should all enjoy what he’s doing and the marvellous and often jaw-dropping footwork and ability he displays time and again.
DEFENCE – FLOYD MAYWEATHER JR
Despite not being the biggest of his fans I found it very hard to pick anyone but Floyd in this category. He was more known for being more aggressive earlier in his career but he adopted a style that suited him and one he was able to perfect that led him to an unbeaten 49-0 record before that debacle against MMA star Conor McGregor. It involved Floyd standing side on in a wide stance, keeping his left arm low and tucking his chin in behind his shoulder which left a small target for his opponents to aim for and one which allowed him to turn away from such attacks without shipping many if at all any blows.
Boxing is all about making people miss, hitting but not getting hit yourself and Floyd done this in abundance. For that, he will always be remembered for his defensive prowess which was able to take him through his career undefeated as well as leading him to a plethora of world titles along the way.
TECHNICALITY – WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO
Often being described as dull or boring due to his fighting style, I personally enjoyed watching Wladimir and his brother Vitali dominate the Heavyweight division for over a decade.
Wladimir in particular utilised his height and reach advantage of his 6ft 6 inch frame to the best of his ability, taught by the great Emmanuel Steward who masterminded a game plan that involved ‘Dr Steelhammer’ using his effective probing jab to help him find his range, holding on or clinching his opponent the minute any sign of dangerous punches were coming back and leaning on them to sap their energy before starting again with the jab and looking for openings for the big right hands to follow. It took eleven years and twenty-two opponents before Tyson Fury could break the dominance of the ‘Klitschko era’ but during this time he perfected this technique and for me it made him stand out above the rest.
Everyone loves a KO and Wlad had that in his locker too but his self-discipline ensured the same effective technique was used time and again and helped to establish him as the no.1 Heavyweight in the world and someone whom I have long been a fan of.
INTELLIGENCE – BERNARD HOPKINS
B-Hop was an amazing man both physically and mentally. He will forever be remembered for having a superb record in the Middleweight division when he reigned supreme stopping the likes of Félix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya no less before moving up to Light-Heavyweight. It was here he would meet and lose to Joe Calzaghe in 2008 in a fight that many said Hopkins was over the hill and past his best. But he proved the doubters wrong and fought on until he was 51 and won multiple world titles at 175 lbs becoming the oldest man to do so when at the age of 46 he toppled the tough Jean Pascal, a man eighteen years his junior.
He later adopted the nickname ‘the Alien’ as it was very alien like and often suggested it was not from this world how a man of his age could still compete at the highest level and win world titles too against some of the divisions best.
He wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing but what he did do was wear his opponents down by clinching, body punching and frustrating them which was all part of the plan and proved his in-ring intelligence was as good as any. Because of this is why Hopkins deserves his place in my opinion, and I think it’ll be a long time if ever at all we see someone replicate what he has done.
STAMINA – JOE CALZAGHE
It is well reported that Joe Calzaghe suffered near career-ending injuries to both his hands during his career that its remarkable how he came through it and was able to retire with a perfect 46-0 record, as well as having a host of big names on his record such as the much fancied Jeff Lacy and the tough Dane Mikkel Kessler, to all-time greats Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr.
How he achieved this was by training hard under the watchful eye of his Dad Enzo who ensured that Joe was at the physical peak of fitness and his ability which meant that despite losing some power in those brittle hands he was able to execute several fast punches that would keep him in fights and his opponents at bay and mean that the judges scored favourably in his favour.
His stamina was never questioned nor should it of been as he proved time and again that he had to adapt to win and stay undefeated, and also get up from heavy knockdowns too, especially against Hopkins and Jones Jr that both occurred during the opening rounds of their fights. He’s maybe not the most endearing of Boxers ever but I was always proud of watching him as a fellow Welshman and what he was able to achieve with such obvious handicaps, but his stamina always impressed me and he rarely looked like he’d been in a fight despite almost always having to endure 12 tough and painful rounds for the majority of his career.
BODY PUNCHING – MICKY WARD
Who else is more deserving of this than ‘Irish’ Micky Ward? His trilogy with Arturo Gatti is famous for twice producing Ring Magazine fight of the year awards, but it’s the first fight and the 9th round I firstly want to bring to your attention. I’m sure we’ve all seen this a million times now, I know that I have, and never tire of watching it either, such the back and forth battle and sheer beating that both men gave one another.
With Ward the victor in the first contest dropping Gatti with a heavy left hook to the body that would leave any normal man crippled in agony for several days after. How Arturo Gatti got up and carried on I don’t know but it inevitably meant that Ward won the fight and that knockdown literally took the wind out of the sails of Gatti such was the ferociousness of the body punch.
This wasn’t something new and unexpected though as Ward had made good use of this previously in his career when having been dropped in the 5th round and behind on all judges scorecards at the end of the 6th he produced another vicious left hook to the body that fell Alfonso Sanchez and left him crawling around on all fours on the canvas in obvious pain and counted out by the referee. He also used the left to the body followed by a right uppercut combination to down Shea Neary twice in quick succession and take his WBU Light-Welterweight title in the process.
He may not have been the best Boxer ever or be remembered as an all-time great were it not for the Gatti trilogy but what he was is a tough guy who had a vicious left hook to the body that he put to good use and helped make him the fighter he was that they even made a film called ‘The Fighter’ about him some years later. Micky Ward, I salute you!
CHIN – GENNADY GOLOVKIN
I finish up by including the only man who’s featured twice in my list and that’s GGG. Why I’ve included him here for his granite-like chin is that I’ve seen the likes of renowned big punchers in David Lemieux, Danny Jacobs and in particular Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez all hit him clean and he’s barely flinched and kept coming forward almost Terminator-like.
That must surely break even the best of fighters knowing that whatever you do you can’t seem to hurt or stop Golovkin in his tracks. The punch that Canelo hit him with, in particular, that overhand right has seen off several of his opponents in the past but not GGG who just kept coming forward as if nothing had happened. I don’t know what they feed these Eastern Europeans but there tough people who take a lot of breaking and Golovkin is certainly no different and about as good as they get.