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Wilbur’s 100 Greatest Heavyweights of all Time: Final Thoughts

By Brian Wilbur

Two months, 10 columns, and 100 great boxers later I finally finished my list of the 100 greatest heavyweight boxers of all time. Making the list was challenging, time-consuming, but very rewarding and worthwhile. I’d like to thank all of the emails and messages of support I received in response to my countdown.

Now that I’m all done, I can look back and reflect on the final product. Did I leave anyone out? Possibly. While doing the list there were a few names I noticed that I may have overlooked and should have cracked the top 100. The omissions were not travesties as none of the possible candidates would have made it any higher than #80 or so, which is not exactly sacred or heralded territory.

There are some guys, honorable mentions if you will, who deserve a shout out so I’ll do that right now.

Mike Schreck was an under-the-radar old timer who fought in the sport’s infancy. He did not have a lavish career and never received a title shot but he was good enough to score wins over Heavyweight Champions Tommy Burns and Marvin Hart.

Charles “Kid” McCoy was a prodigious pure boxer who was active during the era of Bob Fitzsimmons and James J. Jeffries. Kid was built more like a middleweight or light heavyweight but he was so gifted with technical ability that he could compete with much bigger men. He was the only quality contender of the era that Jeffries did not fight and beat, but McCoy never pushed for the fight because he knew his chances were minimal.

The very busy Young Stribling had almost 300 fights before his tragic death at the age of 28. He fought most of his fights below heavyweight, which is the main reason why I left him off, but perhaps he did enough at heavyweight, including wins over Jack Renault and Primo Carnera, to be included.

Light heavyweight Tiger Jack Fox moved up to heavyweight in the late 1930’s with success, beating Jersey Joe Walcott a couple of times among other wins.

1950’s contender Clarence Henry recorded a string of wins over Jimmy Bivins, Bob Baker, and Bob Satterfield; all fighters who made my top 100.

Lee Q. Murray did not have the resume to stand out but that was mainly because he was among the most avoided heavyweight contenders of the 1940’s. He was able to beat quality guys like Jimmy Bivins and Turkey Thompson in the few times a ranked contender was brave enough to face him.

Harold Johnson is another one whom I left out because most of his best work was at light heavyweight, yet he should have been included due to his handful of excellent wins at heavyweight. Johnson is probably my most glaring omission.

Those guys would not have made the top 10 or anything, but definitely could have bumped poor Bob Satterfield (my #100) out of the running. If I started over and did the rankings again, at least two of those guys would find a home in the top 100.

The bottom 50 was infinitely harder to rank than the top 50 because you are trying to rank boxers who recorded only a few quality wins in their careers. They essentially did not have a “legacy” but they were still important parts of the history of the heavyweight division.

So how did I differentiate these guys and finish the rankings? They were all done based on overall accomplishments but, like I said, the list becomes less exact once you move past #35 or so. Comparing different eras is challenging and an inexact science. What should be rated higher? Two decision wins over Mike De John or a knockout win over Mike Weaver? I just put everyone in buckets, from A-G, and then did my best to rank within the buckets.

In most cases I would rattle off 10 names really fast because they should be rated approximately around the same area in the top 100. Even after I finalized my rankings I had to switch a few spots around when I started writing up their biographies. If you gave me enough time I would probably keep on switching some of the names back and forth depending on how I was feeling that day. That is how subjective this process is. I gave my full effort and feel like I have an argument for the rankings, even if they may not be unanimously accepted.

One name that critics say I unjustly forgot about was Cleveland Williams. I love watching tape of him fight because he was an electrifying slugger. Big Cat was a guy I looked long and hard at when doing my rankings but ultimately I could not find room for him. His only significant win was against a green Ernie Terrell, which was avenged later on by Terrell. Other than that, Williams looked good in defeat but ultimately lost all of his big fights. Aside from going 1-1 against Terrell, what was his best win?

Enough about whom I left out, what about who I overrated? A mistake I think I consistently made in my countdown was ranking the late 1990/early 2000 fighters too high. Guys like David Tua, Chris Byrd, John Ruiz, and Hasim Rahman were a generation of heavyweights with endless promise but they ultimately disappointed. In those cases I can reflect and say that I overrated them because I ranked them on potential rather than accomplishment, which went against my mission statement. Shame on me.

Byrd and Ruiz were ranked high because they recorded many defenses of their belts, but those were paper championships. How much weight should we put in those alphabet soup titles? The answer to that question is subjective.

Based on my rankings, what was the best era? Definitely the late 60’s/early 70’s. They had both, great depth and more elite all time greats than any other era. I had three from that era in the top 10, and five in the top 35. Next best would be the 1990’s for having four in the top 20 and a decent amount of depth.

The next best were the 1890’s because they had so many all time greats with six in the top 35, although not a lot of depth. The late 1940’s/early 1950’s had the opposite issue because they had a plethora of depth but few elites. Still, that was an excellent era of heavyweights that puts the current heavyweight landscape to shame.

Thanks again for reading my column and visiting RingsideReport.com!

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