Yesterday, we gave you a little introduction into who could be considered the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. Today, We break down the first round of matchups. As a refresher, here they are:
- Evander Holyfield versus Max Baer.
- George Foreman versus Max Schmeling.
- Larry Holmes versus John L. Sullivan.
- Rocky Marciano versus Sam Langford.
- Sonny Liston versus Harry Wills.
- Joe Frazier versus Gene Tunney.
- Jack Johnson versus Mike Tyson.
- Jack Dempsey versus Jersey Joe Walcott.
- Ezzard Charles versus Jim Jeffries.
So, who moves on? Well…
If these men could actually fight each other, here’s how I believe it would go down. Keep in mind, my theorizing about these matchups is based on the fighters as they were in their prime and at the height of their skill level.
Max Baer was more of a boxer than a fighter, much like Gene Tunney was. (More on Tunney shortly). Baer is also the uncle of The Beverly Hillbilly’s character Jethro in real life, Buddy Baer. Tunney was a bit tougher but when you think about Evander Holyfield, you think warrior. Holyfield had as much heart as any heavyweight boxer before or after him. If you never saw the rematch of Holyfield/Dwight Muhammad Qawi, look it up. That was a war. Qawi was trying to avenge a fourth-round KO at the hands of Holyfield on December 5, 1987. Back then, championship fights were 15 rounds. This second fight went the distance.
If these two men fought in their prime, there is no way Max Baer at his best beats Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield. Holyfield, with his partially bitten off ear thanks to Mike Tyson, moves on. Who had the biggest power in the heavyweight division in history? George Foreman? Mike Tyson? Foreman used to scare opponents with his brute force.
While Max Schmeling made Adolph Hitler very proud at one time by beating Joe Louis, an African-American, Louis got his rematch and absolutely crushed Schmeling, knocking him out so viciously that the German’s leg was twitching. Louis was a hard hitter but not in the power class of George Foreman at his best.
If you want a taste of how great the power of George Foreman was, just watch a replay of his fight with Joe Frazier. With a total of six knockdowns, Foreman destroyed an almost equal power-puncher in Frazier, hitting “Smoking Joe” so hard at one point that he lifted him off his feet. Foreman would have done the same to Max Schmeling who experienced most of his fame from that one Joe Louis knockout.
One of my favorite fighters growing up (and who I thought was underrated) was Larry Holmes. Forget Holmes being knocked out by Mike Tyson late in his career. Holmes was way past his prime in the squared circle with a vicious young tiger. Only Rocky Marciano retired as an undefeated heavyweight champion with a record of 49-0. Holmes may have tied or surpassed that mark if he didn’t run into Michael Spinks who he lost to twice.
With this next fictional fight, Holmes faces one of the early 20th century great fighters in John L. Sullivan. One fact that has to be taken into consideration is that since Sullivan was a bare-knuckle fighter, does this fight take place with or without gloves? Having lost just one fight in his entire career, a career-ending championship fight with James Corbett that lasted until the 21st round, my gut tells me that any bare-knuckle fighter from that era is a tough draw.
Believe it or not, when Corbett lost that fight on July 9, 1892, boxing matches could go on for what seemed like forever. In fact, just before that loss to Corbett, Sullivan fought 75 rounds with Jake Kilrain. Of his 40 career victories, John Sullivan knocked out 34 opponents. It would be 35 with Larry Holmes, gloves or no gloves.
Up next, we have the great Rocky Marciano. It’s hard to determine how good The Rock actually was, as most of the big-named fighters he faced were old and past their prime. Marciano beat guys like Archie Moore, Ezzard Charles and Jersey Joe Walcott. But perhaps the most embarrassing win was that over Joe Louis.
“The Brockton Blockbuster,” as Marciano was known, did not want to fight his hero (Louis). But, they climbed into the ring only to have Louis get embarrassingly pummeled. Sam Langford had a very long career, stretching from 1902 until he retired in 1926 after fighting an incredible 316 bouts! These days, pro boxers barely fight twice a year. As an example, in 1923 Langford fought 18 times. Consider there are only 12 months in a year.
I personally believe Rocky Marciano is overrated. That his record is the main reason he finds himself in the top 10. There is no way he would beat a tough and far more experienced Langford. Langford fought our next boxer, Harry Wills, and lost to him multiple times..
In this mythical tournament, Wills laces up the gloves to fight Sonny Liston.
Sonny Liston was an earlier version of Mike Tyson. A scary fighter with frightening power. When he agreed to fight the then Cassius Clay, Clay would become Muhammad Ali. And, Clay was not afraid of Liston. But his support team was. They thought Liston might actually hurt Clay. But Cassius surprised and in his words, “shocked the world” by knocking out the tough Liston.
Liston knocked out 39 of his 50 opponents he beat. And, was undefeated when he met Ali for the first time. Then, he would lose the rematch. Liston would lose just one more time before retiring, but tragically passed from a heroin overdose in 1970. A bout with Liston would be a doozy. But I believe Liston would win such a bout.
Gene Tunney was arguably the first real “boxer” in the sport. That meaning, he would use footwork, defense and a cunning ability to win the 65 fights he had in his 68 bouts. His only loss came at the hands of the great Harry Greb who he would later avenge. His opponent here is “Smoking Joe” Frazier who, while a great puncher with a solid chin and courageous heart, would be no match for the smart and mobile Tunney.
I have followed Mike Tyson’s entire career, and I believe he should be ranked higher. I also believe that if “Iron Mike” had not lost Cus D’Amato when he passed away, then fired Jimmy Jacobs and trainer Kevin Rooney, his career may have taken a much more positive path. But we are talking about fighters in their prime and Tyson is probably the scariest heavyweight of all time.
For most of this career, Mike Tyson was just obliterating opponents. He knocked them out with such force and ferocity, he became feared. I attended the pay-per-view telecast at the old Civic Arena in Pittsburgh to watch Tyson fight Michael Spinks. That fight was over before it started. When the two came to touch gloves before the bout began, you could easily see the fear in Spinks’ eyes. I knew right there he was going to lose. 91 seconds and a vicious knockout later, Tyson had wiped out another opponent.
Jack Johnson was the first great black boxer in pro boxing. But, his life outside the ring was much more controversial and troubled than his life in it. Tyson and Johnson had one thing in common: they both served jail time. Most boxing fans know Tyson’s history and his jail time for rape. But for Johnson, he was jailed for violating a law of 1912 called the Mann Act—which prohibited the transport of women across state lines for immoral purpose. The woman in question was involved with Johnson and alleged to be a prostitute, therefore violating the Mann Act.
But as for the sport these two men cherished, this fight would be spectacular. This might even top the “Fight of the Century” that Johnson was a participant in with former champion James Jeffries. One which Johnson won by knockout. As much as I’d like to pick Mike Tyson, I believe he would be a bit in over his head here and lose.
Another very tough customer was Jack Dempsey. His opponent here is ‘Jersey’ Joe Walcott, who comes with a bit of trivia. What was Walcott’s birth name? Arnold Raymond Cream. I bet most diehard fans did not know that. Cream would get creamed here. Dempsey in a walk.
So, we finish with the aforementioned Jim Jeffries stepping into the ring with Ezzard Charles. Charles was a crafty fighter who fought 19 long years. Jeffries did not have many fights. And, his only loss was that Fight of the Century defeat. But he was a very good fighter and I believe if given the chance, he would best Charles.
Do you agree with these suggestions? If not, who do you believe would move on instead? With Round 1 of matchups out of the way, be sure to come back tomorrow. That’s when both Ali and Louis will enter the fray. And for more from Harv Aronson, check out his website!