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Learn the histories of the athletes whose names are synonymous with boxing.

Boxing pros are  remembered as much for their colorful nicknames as they are for their stats. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Boxing pros are remembered as much for their colorful nicknames as they are for their stats.


Hurricane Hank, Smokin' Joe, the Brown Bomber, Ali -- these names are synonymous with the sport of boxing. Professional boxers are sometimes remembered as much for their colorful nicknames and banter as they are for their stats. Some come to symbolize themes far greater than sports as they are caught up in the cultural zeitgeist.

In the end, the statistics and records endure. While it is possible to come up with multiple lists of the top 10 professional boxers of all time, some names like Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson, will appear on almost every list.

The Top 10 Professional Boxers

Professional boxers are judged in several categories, including speed, agility and punching power. Some are defined mostly by key movements -- Henry Armstrong's blizzard of punches, Willie Pep's defensive moves and Jack Dempsey's powerful left hooks. Those who tend to appear at the very top of "best" lists, however, are boxers who demonstrated excellence in all aspects of the sport and who dominated their eras.

In no particular order, the top 10 professional boxers of all time are likely:

  • Sugar Ray Robinson. ESPN.com named Sugar Ray Robinson the best boxer of all time, as have many other sports Web sites. According to ESPN, Robinson was history's "most complete" boxer. He won the world welterweight title four times and then moved up to the middleweight classification, a title he won five times. BoxingScene LLC says Robinson's appeal rests mostly in his versatility. BBC Sport Interactive notes that Robinson had speed, stamina and superb skill. In fact, along with Ali, Robinson almost always tops the boxing best lists because he isn't defined by one trait. He stands for all elements of boxing perfection.
  • Muhammad Ali. Ali is the other virtually unanimous choice for top 10 boxing lists. His is also a household name, of course, which has come to define the sport in the public imagination. ESPN.com explains that Ali's speed and athleticism made him unique among heavyweight boxers of his era. He became a cultural icon who was well known for risking going to prison for dodging the draft. Ali's loss to Joe Frazier in 1971 has been dubbed the "fight of the century."
  • Rocky Marciano. Rocky Marciano retired undefeated - and stayed that way, unlike many other boxers who are enticed to return to eventually face ignoble defeat. Marciano held the boxing heavyweight title for four years in the 1950s. He was underestimated early in his career -- he was considered too light, too old and lacking in finesse. Marciano proved his critics wrong, however, and was known for his heart as well as his skill. When he knocked out boxing legend Joe Louis, he was so conflicted about defeating his hero that he cried in his locker room, according to the Rocky Marciano Official Web Site.
  • Joe Frazier. People called Joe Frazier Smokin' Joe for good reason. Frazier was on fire in the ring and was probably the inspiration for the movie character Rocky Balboa. However, according to Guardian.co.uk, Frazier is boxing's "unsung hero." Frazier's reputation may have been harmed when he inherited Ali's title after Ali would not serve in Vietnam. Later, however, in a fight stewed in racial politics, Frazier defeated Ali in a famous 15-round bout.
  • Henry Armstrong. Armstrong held titles in three weight classes at the same time. Known for his flurries of punches, Armstrong was nicknamed "Homicide Hank" and "Hurricane Hank." He defeated 15 of the 17 champions he faced.
  • Joe Louis. Louis managed to hold onto the boxing title the longest and defeat the most people to keep it. Two crucial fights against German Max Schmeling cemented his place in boxing history . Louis went by the nickname the "Brown Bomber", according to the Joe Louis Official Web Site. After he retired from boxing, he ended up as a celebrity greeter at a Las Vegas casino. Louis started boxing in 1934. He won his first 27 fights; 23 were by knockouts. From 1937 to 1949, he was the heavyweight champion of the world . His punches were considered compact. According to BBC Sport, he needed only six inches to throw a punch that would knock out an opponent.
  • Jack Dempsey. The handsome Dempsey was known as the Manassa Mauler. According to the Jack Dempsey Official Web Site, he is considered one of the sport's best punchers. From 1919 to 1926, he held the heavyweight boxing title. He won 60 bouts and posted only seven losses over his entire career. He was known for his powerful left hooks and great strength.
  • Roberto Duran. According to BBC Sport, Duran possessed "hands of stone." He held the lightweight title for seven years. Although he lost a bout to Sugar Ray Leonard, many experts consider Duran the greatest lightweight boxer in history . Duran's overall record stands at 106-16 with 69 knockouts. He was born in Panama , and his personality is characterized by rugged determination.
  • Sugar Ray Leonard. Overshadowed by the other Sugar Ray (Robinson) on most lists, Sugar Ray Leonard still often figures as one of the top 10 professional boxers in history. In the 1980s, his showy personality helped attract new audiences to boxing. Sugar Ray Leonard won world titles in five different weight classes. Like Ali, he dominated his era.
  • Willie Pep. Unlike boxers who are defined by their blistering punches, Pep is considered a defensive marvel. His nickname was Will O' the Wisp. The reason? He was hard to hit, and it was said that he could defeat an opponent without ever throwing a punch -- they found it virtually impossible to connect with him.

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