We are fortunate that one of the best boxers to ever compete in a ring is still active today. The outstanding Manny Pacquiao has won titles in an amazing 8 different weight classes, his speed and power have served him well from Light Flyweight right up to Welterweight. He truly deserves a place among the all time greatest boxers. There are many other fighters who can claim to be among the greatest. Here are a few great boxers of the past, some distant and some from the more recent past.

Boxing matches have been contested in some form or another for centuries. Long before the Queensbury rules were first introduced, fighters would engage in prize fights in front of tens of thousands of people for huge purses. Fights were often over 100 rounds, each round ended when one fighter was knocked down. It was in these gruelling fights that one of the great boxers of the past rose to prominence. William Bendigo Thompson competed in 21 organised bare knuckle fights, some lasting over two hours. Despite the fearsome nature of boxing at this time, he never had a nose bleed or black eye in his whole career. His only losses where as a result of fouls. He retired in 1850 aged 39 after winning his last fight and retiring as the All England Champion.

Bendigo is credited with inventing the left handed, southpaw stance, this is his legacy to boxing and is still widely used today. He often fought much bigger fighters, often giving up several stone in weight and up to a foot in height to his opponents. He weighed in at around 168 lbs so would have most likely fought at Middleweight or even Welterweight today. He usually fought against Heavyweights as no provision was made at that time for weight differences.

Thompson’s punches where fast and powerful and his later position as a boxing teacher at Cambridge University suggests that he was an accomplished boxer rather than an untidy brawler. Thompson fought his way from absolute poverty, raised in a workhouse, to a position of wealth and respect. He was a likeable character who unfortunately suffered with alcoholism after his fight career ended. Despite this he still managed to save three people from drowning in a fast flowing river when in his fifties. In his later years he became popular and famous again as a bible preacher despite being illiterate. He died in 1880 aged 69 after a fall at his home and is remembered today as on of the best bare knuckle fighters ever.

Moving forward to the 1920’s. another notable fighter from the past is the hard hitting Heavyweight Jack Dempsey. By this time the rules of boxing had advanced and were much like we know today. Boxing had also advanced. Video cameras filmed many of Dempsey’s fights and they still survive today. He was a very quick fighter and a brutally hard hitter with a left hook that could win a fight on it’s own. He reigned over the Heavyweight division from 1919 to 1926. He fought in front of as many as 70.000 people to win the title in 1919 against the brave Jess Willard who was out classed by Dempsey. The fight was one of the most brutal ever filmed and Willard took a terrible beating.

Dempsey eventually lost his title after a period of three years out of the ring to Gene Tunney. Upon his return he did not have the same speed and power as before. He faired much better in a rematch but controversially lost the second bout due to a long count. Dempsey knocked Tunny down. The referee counted to nine and Tunny got up. The actual length of the count was 14 seconds.

Shortly after Dempsey came a fight who many say rivals Muhammed Ali as the best fighter ever. Joe Lewis was an outstanding boxer who won titles and acclaim despite the added complication of racism which was common at the time. Lewis reigned as Heavyweight champion from 1937 until 1949 winning 27 fights.

He was also very culturally important in the USA as a black champion during World War II, he flew in the face of the Nazi party and was the first black American to become a national hero.

In the 1970’s three great boxers of the past came along at once. Joe Frazier, Muhammed Ali and George Forman would have all reigned as Heavyweight champion for years if they were born separately. The 3 engaged in some of the most famous and fascinating bouts ever in what was the golden era of boxing. All three deserve a place among the best fighters of all time.

Other great fighters from the past include Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Leonard, Sugar Ray Robinson, Max Schmeling and more recently Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson and Joe Calzaghe.

NB:article written in 2011

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