In a previous series of articles (here, here, and here), I declared Muhammad Ali as the greatest heavyweight boxer ever. Throughout the history of professional boxing, the sport has gone from a handful of weight divisions growing into too many divisions to stay on top of.
In boxing’s best days, the most popular divisions were the heavys, middleweights, welterweights and lightweights. With Ali crowned by yours truly as the greatest ever in the top division, I now tackle fighters from a few classes down… the middleweights.
As indicated in the first writing of this series, in which I will attempt to determine best-ever for the divisions listed above, rankings from The Boxing Records website will be the basis for the top 10 fighters I choose. And, my favorite boxer of all time happens to be a middleweight.
“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler was an amazing boxer. A small version of a Mike Tyson. Legally changing his name to “Marvelous,Marvin Hagler Hagler had a fantastic career but in a disappointing loss to Sugar Ray Leonard, Hagler hung up his gloves following that decision loss never to step back into the squared circle again.
Hagler just didn’t retire, he packed his bags and moved to Italy where he remains today. His final record in the ring would finish at 62-3, with 52 fights ending with Hagler either standing over a knocked out fighter, or by TKO. His only three losses were to Leonard, Willie Monroe, and Bobby Watts. There are also two draws on his record, with Vito Antuofermo and Sugar Ray Seales.
The loss to Monroe came on March 9, 1976 and for the next 11 years and 36 victories later, Hagler climbed into the ring to face Sugar Ray. The result was a split decision, and in my opinion, had Hagler gotten off to a faster start, the win would have been his and not Leonard’s.
The Boxing Records ranks Marvin Hagler fourth best all time and their rankings for the middleweights are:
1. Harry Greb
2. Sugar Ray Robinson
3. Carlos Monzón
4. Marvin Hagler
5. Jake LaMotta
6. Charley Burley
7. Tiger Flowers
8. Stanley Ketchel
9. Mickey Walker
10. Billy Conn
As I did with the heavyweight mythical tournament, using the rankings above will determine the matchups. So by seeing from high to low, the fights for the first round look like this:
- Harry Greb versus Billy Conn.
- Sugar Ray Robinson versus Mickey Walker.
- Carlos Monzón versus Stanley Ketchel.
- Marvin Hagler versus Tiger Flowers.
- Jake LaMotta versus Charley Burley.
Let’s get to some interesting facts before I leave you waiting for the follow-up to this introduction, starting with Billy Conn. Best remembered for his memorable 13-round knockout loss to Joe Louis, Conn actually began as a welterweight before climbing his way through divisions. When he called it quits with his final fight on November 25, 1948, Conn knocked out Jackie Lyons, ultimately retiring with a final record of 64-11-1. A native of Pittsburgh, Conn passed away in 1993 at the age of 75 in his birth city.
Sugar Ray Robinson is considered by many to be the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in history. He fought an incredible 25 years from his debut on October 4, 1940 until his final bout on November 10, 1965 at the age of 44. That last bout took place against Joey Archer, resulting in a loss via unanimous decision. Robinson fought an amazing 198 bouts in his pro career, winning 173 of those for a rate of 87 percent.
The only time any fighter stopped Sugar Ray was in his fight with Joey Maxim in 1952. Some may call that a TKO, but the truth was that the fight in Yankee Stadium was near the end of June. The heat and humidity simply proved to be too much for Robinson, who ultimately did not answer the bell for Round 14. As an amateur, Sugar Ray Robinson won all 85 of his fights, including 40 via first-round knockouts. Robinson holds the third-longest winning streak (91), stretching from 1943 to 1951.
One of Sugar Ray Robinson’s biggest rivals was Jake LaMotta. If you are boxing fan, then you’ve seen “Raging Bull.” That’s the life story of LaMotta, which was voted the best movie of the 1980s. It’s a fantastic movie and if you haven’t seen it… SEE IT!
LaMotta was a bull in the ring. Very aggressive, fearless and possessing a massive heart. As portrayed in the movie, he antagonized Sugar Ray Robinson. And in fact, the two fighters met six times in the squared circle with Sugar Ray dominating (five victories). In LaMotta’s one victory, it came by way of unanimous decision on February 5, 1943. Incredibly, the two fought again just 19 days later. This time, Robinson took home the decision with all three judges ruling it unanimous.
Jake LaMotta’s final ring record was 83-19-4, but he knocked out just 30 opponents. Still, he was a tiger in the ring, only getting knocked out four times. One of those KO losses came at the hands of Billy Fox. And as detailed in the movie, LaMotta allegedly threw said fight.
Tragedies seem to hit professional boxers at an unusual rate. Of the all-time greats among middleweights, untimely deaths are part of our Top 10 here. Here’s a rundown of the men who passed before their time and how:
- Carlos Monzón (52 years old): Jailed for murdering his wife in 1989, Monzón was sentenced to just 11 years in prison. And while on a weekend furlough in 1995, was killed in an automobile accident while returning to jail.
- Harry Greb (32 years old): Having entered a hospital for cataract surgery in 1926 as well as an operation to repair damage to his nose and respiratory tract caused by his fighting career and several car crashes, Greg was the victim of complications while under the knife. Ultimately, he died of heart failure.
- Strangely enough, Tiger Flowers also died at the age of 32. And eerily, from a similar cause. Flowers was undergoing surgery to remove scar tissue around his eyes just a year after Greb’s death. But he too would pass away after suffering complications.
- Stanley Ketchel (24): Ketchel is our only murder victim on this list, with his death coming at the hands of two farmhands on a ranch Ketchel was staying at while resting up from a busy fight year. The farm was owned by a friend and his murderer, Walter Dipley, accused Ketchel of beating one of the horses on the ranch. He accosted Ketchel and shot him dead. At the time of his passing, Ketchel had won 51 fights—losing four—with four draws. Ketchel was the reigning middleweight champion at the time and had such heart and toughness that he challenged Jack Johnson for the heavyweight title in 1909 only to lose by knockout in the 12th round despite such a noticeable weight differential.
Despite the deaths listed above, Charley Burley lived to be 75. Sugar Ray Robinson was 67 years of age at his passing. Jake LaMotta is still going strong at 95 years old. Mickey Walker was 80 at the time of his death. Billy Conn was 75. Finally, Marvelous Marvin Hagler will turn 63 on May 23.
In my next edition of this article, the fights will begin as I try to determine who the greatest middleweight of all time is. Until then, let the guessing game begin as to whether or not anyone can challenge Sugar Ray Robinson for best ever.
And in the meantime, if you’re looking for more from Harv Aronson, check out his website!