In the next instalment of my Top 5 series, I am selecting the ‘greatest five’ from arguably the most exciting weight division of them all.
The 160lbs weight category has been blessed with some of boxing’s most talented and toughest pugilists. Some honourable mentions include Jake LaMotta, Charley Burley, Marcel Cerdan and Stanley Ketchel – but who makes my all-star list?
5 – Bernard Hopkins
Taking the fifth spot is the oldest man to win a world title, Bernard Hopkins.
After climbing the weights and continuing his career into his late 40’s, it is often forgotten that he dominated the middleweight division from 1995 to 2005.
After an unsuccessful attempt to win the vacant IBF title against Roy Jones Jnr in 1993, B-Hop eventually won the title in a rematch with Segundo Mercardo in 1995. He went on to make a record 20 defences of his various world titles, beating Hall-of-Famers and pound-for-pound contenders, including Glen Johnson, Oscar De La Hoya and William Joppy.
He added the WBC strap to his IBF belt by beating Keith Holmes in 2001, which set up the highly anticipated undisputed matchup with Felix Trinidad. Despite being a considerable underdog heading into the fight, he outclassed the Puerto Rican over twelve rounds and took his rightful place as the king of the division. To this day, Hopkins is the last man to have unified all four middleweight world belts.
His middleweight pomp would eventually come to an end in 2005, losing back-to-back decisions to the undefeated American, Jermain Taylor.
Although he often failed to excite fans and live up to his Executioner persona, his style proved extremely effective and he invariably found a way to get the job done. His record streak of title defences and ten-year title reign earns him a deserved spot in my top five.
4 – Marvin Hagler
Some fighters have particular strengths that they consistently rely on to compensate for flaws in their armoury. However, ‘Marvelous’ Marvin wasn’t one of those; he was gifted in every department. As one of the ‘Four Kings’, along with Leonard, Hearns and Duran, he was fortunate to fight in the golden age of middleweight boxing.
With power in both hands, supreme conditioning and a ‘cast-iron’ chin, ‘Marvelous’ Marvin was the complete fighting machine.
After losing a controversial split decision to Vito Antuofermo, he finally became champion in 1980 by travelling to the UK and wiping out Britain’s own Alan Minter inside three rounds. This would herald the beginning of a championship reign that would include twelve successful defences.
After narrowly defeating the great Roberto Duran over fifteen rounds, he destroyed Thomas Hearns in a three-round shootout that is regarded by many as the most exciting fight of all-time. Despite the Hitman posing plenty of problems for Hagler stylistically, he weathered the early onslaught and took his man out in thrilling fashion.
In his next fight, he would endure a gruelling battle with John “The Beast” Mugabi. Although Hagler disposed of the Ugandan in the eleventh round, he showed glimpses of deterioration, which probably encouraged Sugar Ray Leonard to return to the ring in 1987 and take on the champion.
Leonard would claim a controversial split decision victory over fifteen rounds. This would be Hagler’s final outing, bowing out of the sport with just three losses from his 67 fights and leaving at the highest level.
3 – Harry Greb
Securing the third spot on my list is “The Pittsburgh Windmill.”
He crammed over 300 fights into a thirteen-year career, fighting three or four times a week on occasion and holding victories over Micky Walker, Tiger Flowers and Mike Gibbons. He enjoyed winning streaks of 79-0-2, 54-0-3 and 45-0 in 1919 alone, which is quite simply outrageous.
Greb was as tough as old boots, with a perpetual style that overwhelmed his opponents. Those who remember watching him recount how Greb would employ dirty tactics in his fights, whether it be following through with an elbow, using his thumb to disrupt the vision of his opponent or throwing the occasional shot below the belt.
His greatest victory would come against Gene Tunney; the man who later became world heavyweight champion by beating the legendary Jack Dempsey. There was an obvious size disparity, with Greb conceding a 12lb weight disadvantage. Incredibly, Greb became the only stain on Tunney’s otherwise perfect record.
This wouldn’t be the only occasion that Greb defied physics and toppled a bigger opponent. He weighed just 161-pounds when he defeated the famous Kid Norfolk, who entered the ring a hefty 178- pounds. Norfolk would leave a permanent mark on Greb, though, as a thumb to the right eye caused a retinal tear, leaving him to compete partially blind for the majority of his championship career. This would eventually lead to permanent blindness, which he amazingly managed to keep a secret from everyone barring his wife and those closest.
In 1926, Greb would tragically lose his life on the operating table during a routine procedure to correct his flattened nose, aged just 32.
2 – Sugar Ray Robinson
The greatest fighter of all-time, bar-none. No fighter in history has been completely perfect, but Sugar Ray was as close as it gets. Majestic footwork, blistering hand-speed and thunderous power – he had it all.
During his professional career that spanned 25 years from 1940 to 1965, he fought 200 times – winning 173 and beating some of the best middleweights the world has seen. His list of victims includes Bobo Olson, Kid Gavilan, Gene Fullmer, Rocky Graziano and Carmen Basilio.
Historic rivalries tend to solidify fighters’ legacies, and Robinson’s rivalry with Jake LaMotta certainly enhanced his level of greatness. They were the perfect dance partners, enjoying six wonderful fights together. LaMotta would only win one of those bouts, becoming the first blemish on Robinson’s spectacular record.
The victory at middleweight that summarised just how special of a fighter Robinson was, came against Randy Turpin in their second fight. The Brit scored a shock upset in the first fight, outboxing and outsmarting the heavily favoured champion.
Their rematch was heading the same way, with the referee warning Sugar Ray that he was planning to stop the fight at the end of the tenth round because of the grotesque cut above his eye. With the taste of his own blood and defeat on the tip of his tongue, Robinson met Turpin in the centre of the ring and forced him to retreat by unloading all of his ammunition. The challenger sucked the air from the champion’s lungs, by pounding away to the body which created openings for Robinson to fire bombs upstairs as well.
Turpin was relying on the ropes to keep him upright, which prompted the referee to jump in and save him from sustaining further punishment. Robinson was immensely talented, but this fight demonstrated that it takes more than skill to be recognised as a truly great boxer. You have to possess plenty of heart and courage for when it gets tough, and he had it in abundance.
He could easily be number one on my list. If this were a welterweight list, he would be top without a shadow of a doubt.
Although he was clearly the best middleweight of his era, he was a little less imperious than his former welterweight-self. This is ultimately why he falls short of being named the top dog on my list. And perhaps to give someone else a chance to be recognised for their greatness. Let’s see who ranks as the greatest 160-pounder of them all…
1 – Carlos Monzón
A monster inside and outside of the ring. His legacy and reputation were tarnished by destructive behaviour in his personal life, but many boxing fans still recognise Carlos Monzón as the greatest South American fighter of all-time.
Born into poverty, he fought his way out of the slums where he grew up but ultimately carried his violent lifestyle with him through all the fame and fortune.
After building his reputation in Argentina, he announced himself on the world scene by travelling to Italy in 1970 and beating native champion Nino Benvenuti in twelve rounds, before destroying him inside three rounds in their rematch just three months later.
King Carlos would proceed to defend his middleweight crowns 14 times, beating all-time greats such as Bennie Briscoe, Jean-Claude Bouttier and Rodrigo Valdez. He also proved the only man capable of knocking out the great Emile Griffith.
“Escopeta” possessed a basic skill-set but his lanky physique, granite chin, and destructive punch power made any flaw extremely difficult to expose. Opponents were often overwhelmed by his strength and frustrated by a relentless front-foot approach.
Monzón isn’t by any means the most talented fighter on this list. If it was based purely on skill and natural ability, he might not have even made the cut. But his reign as middleweight champion was simply greater than any other.
When you dissect his fourteen-year career, he fought and successfully defeated 3 middleweight champions, 3 Hall-of-Famers, 11 fighters ranked in the top ten and went 15-0 in title fights.
He retired at the top of his game in 1987, with a spectacular record of 87 wins, 3 defeats, 9 draws and 1 no-contest. He died in 1995 on weekend release from his 11-year sentence that he was serving for murdering his wife.
Madness aside, he was one hell of a fighter and the greatest middleweight of them all.
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Alternatively, check out Jamie’s list of Top 5: Mexican Greats.