Top 10 Greatest Black Boxers of All Time
American boxer Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) training with a speed bag ahead of his fight against Britain's Brian London, in London, England, 3rd August 1966. (Photo by R McPhedran/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Here’s my list of the “Top 10 Black Boxers of All Time.” Let the arguments begin.

#10: Laila Ali – Claressa Shields is the greatest woman boxer of the moment. But the one who brought women’s boxing to national and international attention happens to be the same one who went undefeated in her career at 24-0. Few took Laila seriously until she, like her legendary boxing father, started “knocking out all bums” and created a whole generation of women’s boxing fans. And she did it with as much style and grace as her dad. And oh yeah, she’s talking about coming out of retirement to fight Shields… for the right price!

#9: “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler – With a nickname like “Marvelous” you know this brother had to be great. But the “Marvelous” moniker doesn’t do justice to the terror he evoked in his opponents. Operating with a forever “under-appreciated” complex, he took out his pain on those who dared stand against him in the ring… during one of the greatest eras of boxing, by the way. And if you don’t believe me, one of his fights even has a nickname: “The War.” Also, Hagler was one half of the duo involved in what some boxing experts consider the greatest round of boxing in the history of the sport. Will his opponent in that “greatest round” (Thomas “Hitman” Hearns) make this list? Read on and find out.

#8: “Smokin’” Joe Frazier – Frazier’s signature punch was his left hook. Google the childhood accident (involving a pissed off pig) that literally left him with his left arm perfectly cocked to deliver that devastating punch at any moment. But that crazy story, which I’m not even gonna attempt to break down here, is not what landed Frazier on this list. He was simply was of the meanest, baddest fighters during one of the meanest, baddest eras of boxing. Sure, he first gained the heavyweight championship while Ali was banned from boxing due to Ali’s refusal to serve in the Vietnam War. But when he and Ali met for the first time, in what was then dubbed “The Fight of the Century” (March 8, 1971), it was Frazier that earned a unanimous 15-round decision over Ali. And sure, Ali won the next two times they fought. But Ali said himself, that their third fight, the “Thrilla in Manilla” (Oct. 1, 1975), “was the closest thing to death” he’d ever experienced. After the fight, Ali was no more good for the rest of the evening, or even days afterwards. Frazier, though, spent the entire evening partying at a Manilla club–after going toe-to-toe with the man white America called the “Louisville Lip” because he (Ali) talked more trash than a little bit (and he backed it up, too). Of the few who actually beat Frazier in the ring, no one beat him down… except one man—the next on this list.

#7: George Foreman – A product of the mean streets of Houston’s Fifth Ward, Foreman readily admitted that he was a bully growing up, beating up kids for their lunch money. Foreman took that same approach and persona to the ring. So much so, that Foreman literally struck fear into his opponents. Folk old enough to remember know that Foreman was Mike Tyson before Mike Tyson. He was his generation’s Sonny Liston. Foreman was seen as invincible. He didn’t just win fights, he destroyed people. Foreman snatched souls. Foreman absolutely beat the manhood out of his opponents. When one opponent talked much trash before his scheduled fight with Foreman, George’s manager calmly said, Foreman’s gonna “beat him like he caught him stealing chickens.” So, what happened in that fight? Foreman beat that brother like he caught him stealing chickens. When Foreman took on the Heavyweight Champ at the time, Joe Frazier, folk predicted a true battle of the titans, because neither man had any backdown in him. The result, however, was a fight so lopsided that iconic sportscaster Howard Cosell’s words describing the fight became iconic themselves: “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!” Foreman knocked down “Smokin’” Joe six times! SIX TIMES! Nobody, absolutely nobody wanted a piece of Foreman. And when Ali said he’d fight him, his friends, family, media folk and trainer (the late, great Angelo Dundee) feared “The Greatest” would get killed in the ring. Not just beat down, but killed, as in beat to death. But Foreman is on this list for not just what he did in the early years of his career. After he (SPOILER ALERT) lost to Ali in the “Rumble in the Jungle” (Oct. 30, 1974), and went into an admitted depression, he turned his life around, and won back the title in his 40s! There may have never been a greater comeback story in the history of sports. Boxing is not the kind of sport you can walk away from for over a decade, and then come back in your 40s and hope to compete with boxers in their late teens and 20s. But Foreman not only competed when he came back, he dominated and was crowned heavyweight champ once again. Insane!

#6: Jack Johnson – Another Texan-born fighter made this list. And it’s none other than Jack Johnson, the first Black heavyweight champion. On Oct. 26, 1908, this Galveston native beat Tommy Burns so bad in winning the title that 5-0 literally entered the ring to stop the fight. Did you read what I just wrote? The police came into the ring to stop the fight because this Black man, who was supposed to be inferior to any white man (and especially Burns, the Heavyweight champ), was beating dude like a drum. The police even ordered all filming of the fight to cease because they didn’t want the ass-whuppin’ Johnson was putting on their great white hope to be seen by Blacks and give them ideas of fighting back against their daily oppression. Neither did the powers and principalities want that fight footage to be seen by whites, fearing it would destroy the illusion of their supposed “superiority” over Black people. The Johnson story is an amazing one that you need to check out for yourself. And oh yeah, there were literally white domestic terrorist attacks on Black communities on multiple occasions after Johnson won some of his fights because white folks were so pissed that this Black man continued beating their champions.

#5: Sugar Ray Leonard – Because Sugar Ray Leonard was America’s sweetheart during the 1976 Summer Olympics, and because he became the nation’s media daring, and because he relied on speed and style to win the majority of his fights, other fighters (and many fight fans) considered him soft. The thinking was, this pretty boy celebrity is “soft,” and real boxers will sho’nuff take him out and put him in his place. But a funny thing happened on the way to Sugar Ray’s demise. He took on all comers—Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran, Thomas “Hitman” Hearns and “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler—and beat them all. Roberto got him in their first go-round, but the next time they met, Leonard’s speed and toughness was enough to have Duran saying “No mas.” And those three Leonard/Hearns fights. Lord have mercy. More on those later.

#4: Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield – Holyfield wasn’t the biggest, fastest or strongest heavyweight ever. He was just one of the best of all time. Hence, the nickname, “The Real Deal.” During that era when grown-ass professional boxers were running for their lives from “Iron” Mike Tyson, Holyfield not only met him in the ring twice, he beat him…twice! Their first fight (Nov. 9, 1996) ended with an 11th-round TKO. The second battle (June 28, 1997) was cut short by a 3rd-round disqualification of Tyson. Why? He was so discouraged by Holyfield’s dominance that Tyson bit off part of Evander’s ear.

#3: Joe Louis “The Brown Bomber” – Louis reigned as world champ from 1937 until his temporary retirement in 1949. That’s 12 years. That’s unheard of. That’s insane. That’s the longest single reign as world champion of any boxer in any weight class on any planet in any universe in history. During that 12-year stretch, the Brown Bomber was the victor in 25 consecutive title defenses—a record for all boxing weight classes. But just as important as his victories in the ring were the victories he allowed Black people to experience vicariously through his wins. During the crazy levels of racial terror and mistreatment, Black people found strength and inspiration through the fists of Louis who took on all comers. Sadly, though the US used him as a national symbol standing in opposition to the rise of the Nazis in Germany, in his final years, Louis’ country forgot about him, and treated him as a side-show. Ironically, it was German boxer Max Schmeling, who Louis fought twice (with Schmeling winning the first, and Louis the second) who befriended Louis later in life, global geo-politics be damned.

#2: “Iron” Mike Tyson – I have no words. I’ll just let the videos tell the story.

#1: Muhammad Ali “The Greatest” _ What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Hell, this brother’s nickname is “The Greatest.” And for all that he did in the ring, including winning the heavyweight title three times, Ali’s impact was even greater out of the ring where he became a global legend/hero for his stances for the oppressed and against the oppressors. “Rumble young man rumble.”

Honorable mention: 1) Thomas “Hitman” Hearns fought Leonard three times, losing the first, coming out with a split-decision in the second and leaving the ring with a “draw” in the third, a fight for which folk to this day say Hearns was robbed. I’m absolutely certain that 2) Floyd “Money” Mayweather fans are saying I’m all kinds of crazy for omitting bruhman’s name from this list. And they might be right. I, admittedly, didn’t watch Mayweather’s career like I watched the careers of the folk mentioned. So, I accept that criticism. 3) Ken Norton has to be mentioned. Just ask Ali’s jaw how powerful Norton was. 4) Sonny Liston was the monster George Foreman fashioned his persona and style after. From all accounts, Liston was violence personified, whether inside or outside the ring. He, like Foreman and Tyson after him, was considered invincible. The fact that Ali beat two of the most feared boxers in the history of the sport, and survived Norton after Norton broke his jaw, tells you a little something about how great Ali really was. And what about 5) Archie Moore, who had one of the longest professional careers in the history of the sport, competing from 1935 to 1963, and fighting in an insane, ungodly and probably unmatched 220 professional fights, winning 186 of them. And this wouldn’t be a valid list if we didn’t mention the legendary Cuban great 6) Teofilo Stevenson who, from 1966 to 1986, won over 300 amateur fights, three World Championships and three Olympic gold medals. Stevenson likely would have added a record-setting fourth gold, had Cuba not boycotted the 1984 Olympics. He dominated his opponents with an authority that can only be compared to Mike Tyson‘s knockout streak.

Aswad Walker

I'm originally from Cincinnati. I'm a husband and father to six children. I'm an associate pastor for the Shrine of Black Madonna (Houston). I am a lecturer (adjunct professor) in the University of Houston...