Many great boxers have come and gone. For some reason however, some fighters fight their way up the ranks, show the world their prowess, but get very little acclamation for it. Some great fighters do get acclamation and respect, but then get forgotten by future generations. And then there are those boxers who were great, but disliked or disrespected for whatever reason, so their achievements and place in history were downplayed and not promoted as much. And lastly, there are those fighters who were great, but didn’t reach the level of greatness and titles they should have had because they weren’t given the opportunities to manifest their gifts and make history. There are a variety of variables that have affected the careers and legacies of several athletes.
The task of selecting underrated boxers has it’s insurmountable challenges. It’s almost impossible to capture all the truly underrated boxers, most likely because they were underrated in their time which meant being kept from the spotlight, which in turn leaves them as unknowns. A better task would be to compile a list of boxers who did make it all the way, but were still unknown, forgotten, or under appreciated for various reasons.
Below is a top 10 list of the world’s most underrated boxers of all time. Many of them champions, these boxers were ranked according to their skill, achievements or opportunities denied, historic milestones and record in contrast to their popularity or homage.
Look out for picks 11-20!!!!
1. Sam Langford
RECORD: WINS 178 (128 KO) LOST 32 DRAWS 40 (178-32-40)
BOXING ERA: 1899-1926
Sam Langford was a Canadian boxer who was one of the best of all time, also known as one of the best boxers of all time who never won a world title.Sure, he pummeled several World Champions and Hall of Fame boxers. However, he beat each of the title holders soundly either right before they won the title, or right after they had lost it. When boxers were on top holding titles, they ducked Sam Langford like the plague. Unfortunately, no one ever gave him a shot when it mattered.
What many people, including some boxing historians don’t know or remember is that Langford was actually one of the first black Heavyweight Champions of the World, but he never pressed for his title. Jack Johnson, the 1st black Heavyweight champion failed to meet his agreement with the National Sport Club, so they sent Langford who was the top contender to face the British World Champion William “Iron” Hague. Langford knocked Hague out clean in the forth round and became Heavyweight Champion of the World. However when he returned to America he was just phased out. So technically Jess Willard and Jack Dempsey weren’t truly the next Heavyweight Champions because they should’ve fought Langford. This is huge.
Sam Langford was one of those fighters who had to brawl and take whatever he could get. No one was going to protect him, make him a star, or do him any favors, so he fought whoever wherever. He jumped up in weight divisions way more impressively than anyone could ever do today.
Sam Langford fought contenders from lightweight on up to heavyweight and stung them all, which was incredible. Comparing Langford to nowadays standards would be like a guy who beat up on Darchinyan, Marquez, Berto, Chad Dawson, Chris Arreola, David Haye—and with Mayweather, Pacquiao, Andre Ward and theKlitchko’s refusing to fight him while they were holding belts. No fair at all, but that was Langford’s life.
Langford fought Tiger Flowers, the legend who put Harry Greb into retirement, and knocked Flowers out clean by the 2nd round. After crawling out of the ring from his beating from Langford, Tiger Flowers went on to become World Middleweight Champion shortly thereafter. Heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey said it best when he said, “The hell I feared no man. There was one man I wouldn’t fight because I knew he would flatten me. I was afraid of Sam Langford.”
Sam Langford fought a “who’s who” list of his era, everyone knew him, and everyone feared him. He’s one of the few fighters to have beaten a list of world champs in several divisions—without a title himself. If there ever was a boxer who deserved acclamation despite accolades he could’ve easily attained if people weren’t running in every direction away from him, it was Sam Langford. Langford eventually stopped boxing because his eyes were too badly damaged from years of punishment. Unfortunately for Langford, he eventually died poor, blind and forgotten.
Most professional lists all recognize Sam Langford as one of boxing’s most underrated and under appreciated boxers of all time, but they still never put him as number one even on an underrated list. As if being phased out of a historical Heavyweight championship after knocking out the British World Champ doesn’t qualify. Well, here you go.
2. Larry Holmes
RECORD: WINS 65 (44 KO) LOST 6
BOXING ERA: 1973-2002
Larry Holmes was a great American heavyweight boxer who did everything right and achieved more accolades than most, but unfortunately he could never rise out of the shadow of Muhammad Ali. Larry Holmes used to be a sparring partner for Ali and many great fighters of the day. He was an incredible boxer with great technique, and became heavyweight champ in a tough era. When it came to carving his own name into boxing history and respect, poor Larry Holmes could never get a break.
Holmes was an excellent technical boxer with a dangerous jab. He was undefeated, taking on all challengers and eventually grabbed the heavyweight championship clearly in his own lane. However, after all the excitement and iconic rivalries of the Ali era, Holmes lacked the same charisma and his fights didn’t generate the same enthusiasm. Holmes was doing everything he was supposed to do in beating the best of the best, but never got the respect he truly deserved.
Once Holmes finally did get huge international attention, it wasn’t exactly a good thing. He was about to be humiliated worse than any other boxer in his era. Holmes was part of the last of the biggest race fights in boxing history. Even though Holmes was the undefeated champ, the country clearly paid more respect, love and deference to the other fighter, Gerry Cooney.
The fight was huge, heavily promoted and hyped up all over the country. Gerry Cooney was a white, up and coming knock out artist quickly rising in the heavyweight division. Cooney was good, knocking contenders out with a powerful left hook, but was a bit over-hyped and Holmes knew it. Regardless, the media payed more attention to Cooney and focused on his chances. When an irritated Holmes tried to make a case for himself and downplay Cooney, America hated him more. There was something very dark about this fight and the promoters intentionally played up the race card—-a little too much. Eventually it was a monster out of control.
On the day of the fight, the jam packed arena was full of Hollywood stars and people from all over the world. It was before this massive, star-studded crowd that Holmes would be dealt another jaw dropping insult. It’s very well known that the reigning champ of each division gets announced into the ring last and honored as the champ, always and no matter what. Shockingly however, they announced Holmes first and announced Cooney who was not the champion, last to the ring with a hero’s applause. It was one of the ugliest, disrespectful moments in recent boxing history. It was shameful, but typical of the disrespect Holmes received his entire career long.
To make a long story short, the fight wasn’t close. Holmes dominated Cooney until his corner threw in the towel before he could be knocked out. The crowd didn’t get to see what it came to see. Even though Holmes destroyed Cooney in one of the most hyped fights of the decade, and with one of the highest purses, Holmes still walked out like a loser.
The last frustrating detail to Holmes’ career was the fact that he was a perfect, undefeated fighter on route to breaking Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 record. However, literally on his 49th fight at 48-0, he lost by decision to Michael Spinx. Another feather in his cap that flew way in the wind.
Still in the game as boxing’s elite and still hunting for glory and respect, Larry Holmes could at least still boast that he’s never been knocked out or put on his back ever—–and then a kid named Mike Tyson showed up. An older Holmes who had never been down, got knocked out early, flat on his back by a young and powerful Mike Tyson roaring onto the scene. This was the very first time Holmes ever hit the canvas, and he went down to kid that was on route to getting more press than he had ever gotten all career long. All eyes were on Tyson in the 80’s and people were beginning to forget about an excellent boxer who never got his due. From the floor, Holmes realized that a new era in boxing had arrived. And these are the breaks.
Holmes still won 21 of his next 24 fights and remained a relevant fighter until his retirement in 2002. Holmes career surpasses many, but his accolades never seemed to match the acclamation he probably should’ve received.
3. Bobby Fitzsimmons
RECORD: WINS 68 (59 KO) LOST 8 DRAWS 4 NC 19 (68-8-4-19)
BOXING ERA: 1883-1914
DIVISION: MIDDLEWEIGHT/LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT/HEAVYWEIGHT
Bobby Fitzsimmons is a very special fighter, and special to the sport for many not very well known reasons. Bobby Fitzsimmons was a British boxer of Irish decent, who is the very first 3 division champion of all time. He is also in the Guinness Book of World Records as the lightest heavyweight champion of all time. In addition to all of that, his fight in which he beat Bob (KO) Sweeney, is considered the first filmed fight in boxing history.
Bobby Fitzsimmons became an outstanding force to be reckoned in developing a skillful style with a very unusually powerful punch, most likely a result of his days as a blacksmith. Fitzsimmons was winning his fights by punishing knockout showing exemplary boxing talent and skill for the time.
Fitzsimmons won the Middleweight title by knocking out Jack (Nonpareil) Dempsey. He later jumped up in weight and won 2 different versions of the Heavyweight title.
Fitzsimmons eventually lost the title to boxing legend James J. Jeffries who remained undefeated until he fought Jack Johnson in their world famous fight of the century. In their second match, Fitzsimmons punished Jeffries badly, breaking his nose and cheek bones. It was so bad that throwing in the towel seemed like a good idea for Jeffries corner. However, Jeffries was much bigger and much younger than Fitzsimmons, and was able to survive to eventually win by KO.
Fitzsimmons eventually defeated George Gardiner for the Light heavyweight title making him the first 3 division champion in boxing history. Fitzsimmons, Roy Jones Jr., Michael Moorer, and Michael Spinx are the only men to have the distinction of winning world titles in both the Light heavyweight and Heavyweight divisions.
Having what is believed to be the first filmed fight in boxing history, being the first 3 division champ, and being the lightest heavyweight in history earns Fitzsimmons the right to still be relevant in present day conversation. Fitzsimmons could’ve easily dominated the Middleweight and Lightweight divisions historically, but he moved up to fighter bigger, stronger men and still came out a champion, and he was the first to do it.
4. Ezzard Charles
RECORD: 96-25-1 (58 KOS)
BOXING ERA: 1940-1959
DIVISION: LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT / HEAVYWEIGHT
Mostly famous for losing 2 incredible wars with Rocky Marciano, most people don’t remember that Ezzard Charles was just a Light Heavyweight who moved up to get title shot fights he wasn’t being offered at lower weights. Also for a brief stint, Ezzard Charles was the recognized Heavyweight Champ of the world in his own right.
Charles was a gifted boxer who had an amazing amateur career. He had a perfect record of 42-0. He also won the Diamond Belt Middleweight Championship, the Chicago Golden Gloves, and the AAU Middleweight Championship. Most fighters can never boast of such a stellar amateur career.
In 1940, Charles began his professional career winning his first 15 fights without a loss. As a middleweight he beat future Hall of Fame fighters Teddy Yarosz and Charley Burley, which immediately launched him on the short list of top contenders in the division. Just as he started to earn himself a name among the top fighters, he served in the military and didn’t return to boxing until the war was over. If he hadn’t served, he would have had much more success and notoriety in the sport than he already amassed.
After serving in the military, Ezzard Charles returned to the ring as a Light heavyweight and turned heads with wins over top contenders, including future legend Archie Moore.
In this division, he won the next several fights by knockout which earned him a fight with “Jersey” Joe Walcott. He impressively won that fight too and took the NBA Light heavyweight championship.
Charles couldn’t score a title shot so he moved up to the Heavyweight division and continued to impress. Charles more than cemented that fact that he was one of the best fighters in the world on route to becoming a legend.
Charles fought his aging idol Joe Louis and outpointed him to become lineal champ of the world. The aging Louis who was in the ring because of debt would take another beating from Marciano next before he finally called it quits.
When Charles began to age himself, he lost 2 of his rematches with Joe Walcott. Regardless, Charles hung on and fought his way back into top contention, including a knockout victory over Bob Satterfield. Even though he was truly a Light heavyweight, Charles’ dominance in the Heavyweight division earned him a title fight with his friend Rocky Marciano. If Charles had won either of his 2 fights with Marciano, what we know of him and how history remembers him would be completely different to say the least. He would most likely be considered one of the top 10 or 15 greatest boxers of all time. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t win. He just came very close both times. Their last fight was almost stopped because of Marciano’s badly damaged nose and face. Instead, Marciano was extremely tough and was able to hang on and endure the punishment until winning by KO.
His accolades are impressive. Ezzard Charles beat legends like Archie Moore,Jersey Joe Walcott, Charlie Burley, and then gave Heavyweight Rocky Marciano a brutal run for the money. Unfortunately, coming up short of a Heavyweight title against the more famous Marciano has left him in obscurity. And staying in the game too long for financial reasons muddied up his record quite a bit, so newer generations may not be too impressed with a record containing 25 losses, even if he had over 100 fights. Regardless, boxing historians still regard Ezzard Charles as the greatest lightweight in boxing history.
5. Charlie Burley
RECORD: WON 83 LOST 12 DRAWS 2 NC 1
BOXING ERA: 1936-1950
Charley Burley was an African American boxer who should be a lot more known than he actually is. He was a well known legend, very well known among boxers, but they all avoided him strategically. Burley was the penultimate holder of both the World Colored Heavyweight Championship and the World Colored Middleweight Championship. Many boxing insiders referred to Burely as “too good for his own good”.
Charlie Burley was at the top of the field in a great competetive era in the 1940s. Among the boxers who ducked him were Jake LaMotta, Marcel Cerdan, Sugar Ray Robinson and Billy Conn to name a few. In some cases in earlier years, you shouldn’t necessarily judge a fighter by who he beat, but by who refused to fight him.
If Charlie Burley fought any of the aforementioned fighters and won, he would’ve been catapulted into a different stratosphere and he’d still be in discussion today.
Some fighters used color lines as an excuse. Other fighters just avoided him without explanation. Regardless, Charlie Burley possessed a special gift and talent for boxing, and they all knew it. Burley was one of those boxers who wasn’t a big pay day, but one of several fights offered would’ve changed that instantly. He beat up on elite top contenders all career long, remained in the top ten best, but was never given a chance for a title. If he was offered more opportunistic title fights, we would probably be ranking this man among the top ten greats. Archie Moore, a legend whom Burley defeated referred to Burley as the greatest boxer of all time.
6. George Dixon
RECORD: 71 WINS (KO 37) LOSSES 30
DRAWS 56 NO CONTESTS 6
BOXING ERA: 1885-1904
DIVISION: BANTUM WEIGHT/FEATHER WEIGHT
George Dixon was the very first black world boxing champion in any weight class, while also being the first ever Canadian-born boxing champion. George Dixon is also credited by many as the inventor of Shadow Boxing.
In a sport that has been so heavily dominated by black athletes in prior decades, it’s ironic that the first black champion ever, is hardly known or ever discussed.
Also, shadow boxing is widley known and used, but very rarely accredited to Dixon.
Dixon was the first black boxing champion, the very first champion of multiple weight classes, and the first champion to lose and regain the title. He also defended his title more than any other champion.
George Dixon was regarded as a boxer “without a flaw”. His story is intriguing and unprecedented, being able to break color lines and achieve what so many black athletes before him had never been able to do. In a time in which blacks were kept out of world title fights, Dixon stepped in and became world champ in multiple divisions, but his story is rarely ever told.
7. John L. Sullivan
RECORD: WINS 38 (32 KO) LOST 1 DRAWS 2 (38-1-2)
BOXING ERA: 1879-1892
There are many powerful reasons John L. Sullivan is on this underrated list. Here’s the first reason: Sullivan, also known as the Boston Strong Boy, is recognized as the very first Heavyweight Champion of gloved boxing. Sullivan reigned as champ from February 7, 1882 to 1892. Sullivan is also the last Heavyweight champion of the bare-knuckle boxing era. So basically Sullivan is a legendary bridge from the old and new. The very last Bare Knuckle champ which is a huge historical milestone and the very first gloved champion, also a huge historical milestone, is one man. On top of all of that, he was the first American athlete to earn over one million dollars ever. This is distinction.
In his early days, Sullivan took his show on the road touring his fights and would pay any man to fight him for $500. Sullivan was also thrown in jail many times for fighting when boxing wasn’t yet legal. Crossing over from bare knuckle days to the modern era, Sullivan was a true pioneer and trailblazer in the sport. For several years, the Boston Strong Boy reigned as an unbeatable juggernaut until suffering his first and only defeat to James J. Corbett. The younger, fresher Corbett employed a stragety of evasion and moving with the bigger Sullivan unable to trap him in and rain blows on him. Corbett eventually dropped Sullivan with a devastating left that won the fight.
John L. Sullivan was world famous and is a historical figure important to history and the then evolving sport of boxing. We know the first president of the United States. We know they tell us the first man on the moon is. We know many firsts. John L. Sullivan has earned many “firsts” and”lasts” and should be known for each.
8. Nicolino Locche
RECORD: 117 WINS (KO 14) LOSSES 4 DRAWS 14
BOXING ERA: 1958-1976
DIVISION: LIGHT WELTERWEIGHT
Look at his record. Nicolino Locche is an Argentine boxer from Italian decent who was a super star in his country. He earned the nickname “El Intocable” (The Untouchable) for his amazing defensive skills and reflexes. He was known to fight with his hands at his sides much like Sergio Martinez from the same country of today’s boxing field. He frustrated his opponents with his superior reflexes and defensive tactics so bad that one fighter even quit.
As an amateur career, Locche incredibly only lost 5 of 122 fights. As a pro, he won the Argentine lightweight title and in 1963, he won the South American lightweight title. In 1968 he clinched the WBA junior welterweight title via 10th round TKO over Takeshi Fuji. He successfully defended the belt five times.
Locche’s boxing style made him a legend and he packed the house in Argentina. Nicolino Locche’s career and skill as a boxer is rarely discussed this side of the world and nowadays.When historians are placing focus on the best boxers of all time, men like Locche often don’t make the cut. Regardless, Locche is still a legend and his fighting style and his record will always be worthy of respect and remembrance.
Locche is a boxing legend with an amazing record and a genius ability, but he is never discussed and is virtually forgotten. He has been left out of all discourse largely, and ironically because of his style that gave him his fame. In his 114 wins, he only has 14 knock outs. Because most boxing fans crave slugfests and sensational knock outs, much like Gene Tunney, watching a technition at work has won him titles but left him in an obscurity he doesn’t deserve.
9. James J. Braddock
RECORD: 51 WINS (KO 26) LOST 26 DRAW 7
BOXING ERA: 1926-1938
Many might be confused by this one at first because Braddock does get plenty of acclamation, but as a story, not a boxer.
Everybody knows the story of “The Cinderella Man”, James J. Braddock. But not many know or understand that he was always one of the most underrated men in boxing his entire career. He was counted out and never taken too seriously as a major contender, which is exactly why he was able to do what he did. Braddock was always plagued by injury and poverty, and consequently never was the boxer he could have been.
Braddock’s tale is an inspirational story of will, determination, and greatness. Even when his right hand was ruined, Braddock strengthened his left working on the docks and then used his left more when he returned to boxing. Braddock is nothing short of amazing.
People quickly forgot that he went the distance with a champion, Tommy Loughranin, a close fight, because his career started to slip badly immediately afterwards. It was in this fight that Braddock fractured his right hand in several places and became very depressed for losing that championship fight. He was also grappling with poverty and the ability to feed his family during the great depression. Consequently, Braddock lost quite a string of fights. It was during all those losses in the middle of the life of a broken man that people made the mistake of assuming that was what he was worth as a boxer. He was devalued and never considered an elite top contender ever since. Braddock also often took time away to work.
Usually when a boxer’s flame starts to flicker out, it’s gone. Braddock however, made a most incredible come back that most boxers can never boast of. It’s probably the best come back in boxing history. Braddock returned to boxing after years of struggling to knock out the highly respected John “Corn” Griffin. He followed that with a win over future champion John Henry Lewis, and then Art Lansky. That first fighter, John “Corn” Griffin, was a standout in the sport that tried to use Braddock as tune up. Braddock instead turned that all around. In 3 consecutive win fights, Braddock’s name shot to the top.
Braddock was still so underrated, that he was still considered an easy tune up fight for the star champion Max Baer. Unbeknownst to most, Braddock trained and focused on the fight, and Baer was in for a very big surprise. The result was history. Braddock brought the fight to Baer and Baer could not put him away. Braddock was awarded the unanimous decision and became the Heavyweight Champion of the world.
Sure, you’ll see the many tales, movies and documentaries of a feel good underdog coming from behind story, but you never see serious commentary or critique of an amazing granite chinned boxer.
Many people know that 2 years later, he lost the title quickly to Joe Louis. However, no one realizes that he took the title away from one dangerous legend in Max Bear, and then knocked a prime Joe Louis down in the first round before losing in the 8th. So no he didn’t just lose; he gave a fight to the greatest fighter of the century. Not many fighters in the 30’s can say they knocked a prime Joe Louis down in the first round.
In Braddock, we don’t see a lucky guy who did the impossible, we see a guy that could’ve been right up there with all the greats had things gone his way. Then again, we wouldn’t have this awesome story otherwise, so I guess…so be it.
10. Gene Tunney
RECORD: 61-1-1-1 (45 KOS)
BOXING ERA: 1915-1928
DIVISION: LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT / HEAVYWEIGHT
In an action-packed era-This is a heavyweight champion with only one loss that he later avenged and never lost again. Gene Tunney was a former US marine who was the winner of one of the most famous, and highest paid fights in boxing history against Jack Dempsey, known as “The Long Count”. This fight as well as the rematch were the biggest fights in boxing for decades.
Gene Tunney never fully got the respect that he deserved because he beat beloved American all time favorite, Jack Dempsey. He beat Dempsey for the heavyweight championship by unanimous decision twice. As previously stated, the only loss he ever had was a decision loss to Harry Greb which he later avenged with a unanimous decision win. Tunney was Ring Magazine’s very first “Fighter of the Year” in 1928.
Gene Tunney’s respect was slow coming because he was more of an intelligent fighter, and didn’t have the charm or the brutal, entertaining killer instinct as did the the premier boxers of the day like Dempsey or Harry Greb. Regardless, he was eventually the man on top.
Gene Tunney should have been held in much higher regard for his accomplishments. He beat the fiercest, most brutal and legendary fighters of his day like Greb and Dempsey, but with style and technique. However, because the people were looking for exciting slug fests, Gene Tunney has had a difficult time being a fan favorite and earning his true place in boxing history with later generations forgetting him.