2017 marked the 50th year anniversary of Muhammad Ali’s refusal of the draft. Looking back at this monumental time in history, we can only marvel at Ali–just 25 years and at the peak of his professional career–willing to sacrifice what would turn out to be more than three of his prime years to stand up for a fight he believed in.
Ali was immediately stripped of his championship title and his boxing license was suspended. He would later be reissued a license and the U.S. Supreme Court reversed his conviction for draft evasion. Muhammad would continue his amazing career and rivet the world as “The Greatest of All Time.”
Now, some 50 years later, does he still deservedly remain atop of the list of the greatest boxers during this time period? How does he fare against the likes of the recently re-retired Floyd Mayweather Jr., who was unquestionably the best boxer of this millennium?
So, without further ado, here is my list of the 50 Greatest Boxers of the Last 50 Years, starting at the bottom 25 (No.’s 50-26).
Ricardo Lopez – Strawweight | Record: 51 wins (38 knockouts), 0 losses and 1 draw
Technically sound boxer with a pressuring style and exceptional power for his weight class. The greatest Strawweight of all-time and world champion in two different weight classes: strawweight (minimumweight), light flyweight. Defended the WBC and Lineal world titles 21 times.
Also won the WBA and WBO versions of the belt and captured the IBF Light Flyweight title. Only blemish is a 8 round technical draw with WBA champion Rosendo Alvarez, which he later avenged via majority decision to capture his title .Only boxer to retire with an undefeated record both as an amateur and professional. Widely considered among the top five greatest Mexican boxers ever.
Fighting Harada – Bantamweight | Record: 55 wins (22 knockouts), 7 losses
Widely considered the greatest Japanese boxer of all-time. Born Masahiko Harada, his aggressive, whirlwind style helped him capture both the flyweight and bantamweight world titles.
He is the only man to defeat the legendary Eder Jofre from their two meetings. Lost a controversial referee’s decision in an attempt to wrestle the featherweight title from champion Johnny Famechon. Remains the only boxer to win both the lineal flyweight and bantamweight titles.
Wladimir Klitschko – Heavyweight | Record: 64 wins (53 knockouts), 5 losses
An intelligent, strategic boxer with great size, powerful right cross and excellent jab. The Ukrainian boxer Wladimir Klitschko holds the record, at 4,383 days, for the longest combined world championship reign in boxing history and made the second most total successful title defenses of any heavyweight boxer with 23, only behind Joe Louis (25).
Klitschko was also the 1996 Olympic gold medalist in the super-heavyweight division. Retired after facing the most formidable challenge of his career, WBA and IBF heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, losing in a gallant effort where he had the champion down and on the brink of defeat before a late rally punctuated by a monster uppercut secured a stoppage victory for Joshua.
Roman Gonzalez – Flyweight | Record: 46 wins (38 knockouts), 2 losses (career active)
Known as “Chocolatito,” this hard-punching, pressure fighter became the first boxer from Nicaragua to win world titles in four different weight divisions, and the first to do so in the four lowest weight classes: strawweight (minimumweight), light flyweight, flyweight, super flyweight.
From September 2015 to March 2017, was considered the #1 pound-for-pound boxer by The Ring magazine. Recently was knocked out by Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in round 4. Sor Rungvisai had previously taken the WBC title from him by majority decision in a fight most ring-siders felt Gonzalez had won. He remains the only man thus far to defeat Chocolatito.
James Toney – Middleweight | Record: 77 wins (47 knockouts), 10 losses, 3 draws, 2 no-contest
American boxer known for his slick, defensive style, vicious infighting, solid chin and no-nonsense “tough guy” demeanor. Toney won world titles in three different weight classes: middleweight, super middleweight, cruiserweight.
He successfully won the WBA heavyweight title, joining Bob Fitzsimmons and Roy Jones as the only world middleweight champions to win a legitimate world heavyweight title, but was later stripped and the fight was ruled a “no-contest” after he failed a drug test.
Beat many of the top fighters from Middleweight to Heavyweight, including Michael Nunn, Mike McCallum, Iran Barkley, Evander Holyfield.
Erik Morales – Super Bantamweight | Record: 52 wins (36 knockouts), 9 losses
The first Mexican-born boxer to win world titles in four different weight classes: super bantamweight, featherweight, super featherweight, lightweight.
The tall, rangy boxer-puncher was famous for his warrior spirit and trilogies with fellow Mexican legend Marco Antonio Barrera and Manny Pacquiao, although coming up short (1 out of 3) in both.
Morales defeated 15 world champions including Barrera and Pacquiao.
Marco Antonio Barrera – Super Bantamweight | Record: 67 wins (44 knockouts), 7 losses
One of the finest Mexican technical boxers initially began his professional career as a brawler. His versatility helped him capture four world titles in three different weight classes: super bantamweight, featherweight, super featherweight.
Barrera defeated fellow Mexican legend Erik Morales 2 out of 3 times, all closely contested, in one of the greatest trilogies of all-time. Also handed hall-of-famer Naseem Hamed his first and only loss for the lineal featherweight championship. Came up on the short end of his rivalries against Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez towards the latter part of his career.
Miguel Cotto – Welterweight | Record: 41 wins (33 knockouts), 5 losses (career active)
The soon to retire boxing great is the first Puerto Rican to win world titles in four different weight classes: super lightweight, welterweight, super welterweight, middleweight. Started his career as a hard-hitting pressure fighter before evolving into a more refined boxer-puncher.
His methodical attacking style was successful in defeating the likes of Zab Judah, Shane Mosley, Sergio Martinez and often faced much bigger opponents as he moved up in weight. Cotto will retire after his fight Sadam Ali on December 2.
Saul “Canelo” Alvarez – Middleweight | Record: 49 wins (34 knockouts), 1 loss, 2 draws
The lineal middleweight champion since 2015 after defeating Miguel Cotto by decision. The Mexican boxer is a three-time world champion in two-weight classes: super welterweight (junior middleweight), middleweight. Considered one of the best active boxers, pound-for-pound, in the world.
Only 27 years old, but has already defeated Shane Mosley, Cotto, and captured three world titles against just one defeat – a split decision loss to the sport’s top fighter, Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2013.
Canelo rebounded with seven consecutive wins before settling for a disputed draw against Gennady Golovkin in September for the undisputed middleweight championship. His bullish strength, punching power, hand speed and toughness has helped him become the game’s biggest star.
Juan Manuel Marquez – Lightweight | Record: 56 wins (40 knockouts), 7 losses, 1 draw
Retired in 2017, Marquez is just the third Mexican boxer to become a four different weight world champion: featherweight, super featherweight, lightweight, super lightweight. He has won nine world titles within these weight divisions.
A fast, technical boxer with exceptional combination and counter-punching ability. His most notable bouts include a four-fight saga with Manny Pacquiao and his rivalry with Marco Antonio Barrera. Only holds one win against Pacquiao – via a spectacular knockout victory – but many fans and experts believe he should have gone 4-0 against him.
Wilfred Benitez – Welterweight | Record: 53 wins (31 knockouts), 8 losses, 1 draw
The youngest world champion in the sport’s history, defeating the great Antonio Cervantes at the age of 17 by split decision to win the junior welterweight title. Became the youngest, at age 21, to win world titles in three different weight classes: super lightweight (junior welterweight), welterweight, super welterweight.
Suffered his first loss to Sugar Ray Leonard in defense of his welterweight title in a scientific battle that was stopped prematurely with seconds remaining in the fight. An aggressive, highly skilled counter puncher with exceptional defensive abilities. Career best win was a decision victory over Roberto Duran in defense of his super welterweight title, later losing the title to another legend, Thomas Hearns, by majority decision.
Carlos Zarate – Bantamweight | Record: 66 wins (63 knockouts), 4 losses
A lanky boxer-puncher with tremendous power for a bantamweight, he – along with fellow Mexican legend and 118 lbs champion Ruben Olivares – were voted as the greatest bantamweight of the 20th century by the Associated Press. The Ring magazine ranked him #21 among the 100 greatest punchers of all-time.
Zarate made 9 successful title defenses, all by stoppages. All 4 losses, including a controversial one against former sparring partner Lupe Pintor, came against other great world champions (Wilfredo Gomez, Pintor, Jeff Fenech, Daniel Zaragoza). Has the distinction of being the only boxer to put together two win streaks of 20 knockouts in a row.
Joe Calzaghe – Super Middleweight | Record: 46 wins (36 knockouts), 0 losses
The speedy southpaw with a high-punch rate and tremendous stamina won titles in two different weight classes: super middleweight, light heavyweight. Calzaghe is the longest reigning super middleweight champion at over 10 years and made a record 21 title defenses before moving up to light heavyweight, beating Bernard Hopkins to win the lineal world title.
Wins against middleweight and super middleweight greats Chris Eubanks, Roy Jones Jr. and Hopkins all came when his opponents were past their primes. Considered one of the greatest British fighters of all-time. Retired as one of only 11 men to finish their careers as an undefeated world champion.
Oscar De La Hoya – Welterweight | Record: 39 wins (30 knockouts), 6 losses
DeLaHoya represented the U.S. at the 1992 Olympic games, winning a gold medal in the lightweight division. As a professional, Oscar amassed ten world titles in six different weight divisions (super featherweight, lightweight, super lightweight, welterweight, super welterweight, middleweight) including three lineal titles.
An aggressive boxer with fast hands and excellent punching power, he was The Ring magazine’s #1 pound-for-pound boxer in 1997 and 1998. The first man to stop Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. and defeated another legend, Pernell Whitaker for the WBC and lineal welterweight titles.
Faced some of the greatest boxers of the past 50 years (Chavez, Whittaker, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao, Felix Trinidad, Bernard Hopkins).
Vicente Saldivar – Featherweight | Record: 37 wins (26 knockouts), 3 losses
Widely considered one of the three greatest featherweights of all-time. Saldivar is also mentioned among the great southpaws in boxing history. The Mexican brawler was known for his vicious body attack and tremendous stamina. He won the WBA title and twice the WBC titles in the featherweight division.
Among his 3 losses, one was due to disqualification which he later avenged and the other to fellow all-time great and hall-of-famer Eder Jofre. His victims included hall-of-famers Sugar Ramos, Ismael Laguna and his title reigns were highlighted by his exciting trilogy with British boxer Howard Winstone.
Eusebio Pedroza – Featherweight | Record: 42 wins (26 knockouts), 6 losses, 1 draw, 1 no-contest
Initially overshadowed by his WBC counterpart Salvador Sanchez, whose title reign coincided with his from 1980 to 1982, the tall, hard punching Panamanian boxer holds the featherweight division record for most successful title defenses at 19 and the long title reign at seven years and two months.
He became the lineal title holder after the premature death of Sanchez. Pedroza was an aggressive boxer, often resorted to dirty tactics like throwing low blows to weaken and discourage his opponents and was known for mounting late rallies in fights to secure the victory. Beat a number of former or future world champions during his title reign, including Ruben Olivares, Juan Laporte, Rocky Lockridge (twice), Royal Kobashi and Jorge Lujan.
Jose Napoles – Welterweight | Record: 80 wins (54 knockouts), 7 losses
The Cuban-Mexican boxer and former welterweight champion was nicknamed Mantequilla (which means butter in Spanish) because of his smooth boxing style. Frequently mentioned among the greatest welterweights of all-time. Napoles made 13 successful title defenses in two reigns as champion, which lasted nearly seven years.
His effortless, smooth boxing ability belied his punching power in both hands. His victims were often brutalized, as well as outclassed. Twice dominated world welterweight champion Curtis Cokes, first to capture his title and also beat future hall-of-famer Emile Griffin. Jose was also one of the top lightweights and junior welterweights of the 1960’s but unable to secure a title shot.
Felix “Tito” Trinidad – Welterweight | Record: 42 wins (35 knockouts), 3 losses
A lanky, aggressive puncher with explosive power and tenacity, Trinidad is frequently mentioned among the greatest and most beloved Puerto Rican boxers of all-time. Tito was also the best finisher in the sport. He is a three-weight world champion: welterweight, super welterweight, middleweight.
Trinidad made the second most title defenses in division history (15) and holds to record for the longest reign at 6 years, 8 months. He defeated Oscar DeLaHoya by controversial decision to win the WBC and lineal welterweight titles, Fernando Vargas to win the unified junior middleweight titles and handed the great Pernell Whitaker his first “real” loss.
Trinidad’s own first loss came at the hands of Bernard Hopkins in a title unification clash after capturing the WBA middleweight title.
Mike McCallum – Jr. Middleweight | Record: 49 wins (36 knockouts), 5 losses, 1 draw
Nicknamed “the Bodysnatcher” because of his brutal body attacks, the Jamaican boxer was a three-weight world champion: junior middleweight, middleweight, light heavyweight. McCallum was a slick, hard-hitting technician with a granite chin and exceptional toughness. He was never stopped in any of his five losses and only suffered one loss near his prime. Throughout the 1980’s, he was the most feared and avoided man in the sport.
Avoided by the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler. He withstood the vaunted punching power of future two-weight world champion Julian Jackson to quickly stop him in defense of his title and his chilling one-punch knockout of another former two-weight world champion Donald Curry remain etched in the annals of boxing as one of the most spectacular endings all-time. He is also known for his rivalry with James Toney in a clash for the middleweight title.
Miguel Canto – Flyweight | Record: 61 wins (15 knockouts), 9 losses, 4 draws
The legendary Mexican boxer was a fast, elusive pressure fighter who overwhelmed his opponents with a high-punch rate. He also had tremendous defensive abilities, slipping and dodging punches with ease.
Considered by many the greatest flyweight of all-time, along with Jimmy Wilde, Pancho Villa and Pascual Perez, Canto set a then division record with 14 successful title defenses (still the record for lineal title defenses) and defended his title all over the world.
He beat former or future world champions like Betulio Gonzalez, Shoji Ojuma and Antonio Avela during his title reign.
Azumah Nelson – Featherweight | 39 wins (28 knockouts), 6 losses, 2 draws
The Ghanaian legend is widely considered the greatest African boxer all-time. A three-time world champion in two-weight divisions: featherweight, super featherweight. A fast-handed puncher with thudding power, he was called “the Professor” for the lessons he would teach his opponents in the ring.
As a raw, last-minute replacement to face Salvador Sanchez, had the great champion on the brink of defeat, often outworking Sanchez in a see-saw battle before succumbing the Mexican legend’s powerful left hooks with seconds left in the 15th round.
Knocked out another legend, Wilfredo Gomez, to win his first world title at featherweight. Known for rebounding well from losses or poor performances in rematches, including his other signature win: a knockout victory over three-weight champion Jeff Fenech, who got the better of Nelson in a prior meeting that resulted in a disputed draw.
Eder Jofre – Bantamweight, Record: 72 wins (50 knockouts), 2 losses, 4 draws
Considered by most boxing historians as the greatest Brazilian boxer of all-time, as well as the finest bantamweight in the history of the sport.
His unbeaten streak and first title reign as world bantamweight champion had already come to an end by fellow hall-of-famer Fighting Harada in 1966, the only man to ever defeat Jofre as a professional.
His standing here is based on his accomplishments and abilities upon returning to the ring on August 27, 1969 after first retiring following back-to-back losses to Harada.
A superb stylish who fought out of a semi-crouch and had excellent punching power, he was a two-weight world champion: bantamweight, featherweight. Eder defeated Jose Legra at the advanced age of 37, to win the WBC and lineal featherweight title.
He successfully defended that title once, against fellow hall-of-famer Vicente Saldivar in a battle of two all-time greats, scoring a 4th round knockout. The Brazilian legend went an incredible 25-0 with 12 coming by stoppage to end his career at the age of 40.
Bob Foster – Light Heavyweight | Record: 56 wins (46 knockouts), 8 losses, 1 draw
One of the greatest light heavyweights of all-time, the tall, lanky American boxer was also considered the most feared and devastating punchers in the division’s history. Won the world light heavyweight title by knocking out the great Dick Tiger in round 4 with a tremendous left hook, his signature punch. It was the only time Tiger was ever stopped. Foster successfully defended the title 14 times, a division record at the time.
Prior to his last two defeats to end his career, all but one of his 6 other losses came against heavyweights, including boxing immortals, Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. A round 4 knockout of Mike Quarry to defend his title, along with the Tiger win, are a chilling reminder of how powerful Foster was at light heavyweight.
Wilfredo Gomez – Jr. Featherweight | Record: 44 wins (42 knockouts), 3 losses, 1 draw
Frequently mentioned among the greatest Puerto Rican boxers of all-time and most universally considered the best super bantamweight (junior featherweight) in history. A three-weight class world champion: super bantamweight, featherweight, super featherweight. One of the most prolific punchers ever. His 17 consecutive knockouts in world title defenses is a record in boxing. The 17 successful title defenses is also a junior featherweight division record. Gomez’s streak reached 33 knockout in a row, a record for world titleholders.
One of those knockouts included a five-round defeat of world bantamweight champion and fellow hall-of-famer Carlos Zarate, who was 55–0 with 54 knockout wins going into the fight. Gomez failed in his first attempt to win the world featherweight title, losing by 8 round stoppage to the great Salvador Sanchez and suffering his first loss.
After the loss, returned to dominate the junior featherweight division, including his last title defense against another great bantamweight champion, Lupe Pintor, whom he stopped in round 14. Wilfredo’s other two losses came against Ghanaian legend Azumah Nelson and Alfredo Layne when he was well past his prime, both in title losing efforts of his featherweight and junior lightweight titles, respectively.
Gennady Golovkin – Middleweight | Record: 37 wins (33 knockouts), 0 losses, 1 draw (career active)
The powerful Kazakhstani has recently been elevated to the #1 pound-for-pound boxer in the world by The Ring magazine following his first superfight, a disputed draw that most ring-siders and fans felt he edged out over current fellow superstar Canelo Alvarez and the retirement of Andre Ward.
Golovkin is a calculated pressure fighter known for his precise power punching and methodical movement. He holds the highest knockout percentage (89.8%) in middleweight history and 17th title defense by knockout equalled the record set by Wilfredo Gomez. His chin is considered one of the best in modern boxing history.
With his draw against Alvarez, Golovkin earned his 19th successful title defense, which is one behind Bernard Hopkins (20) for most in division history.
Header photo Ed Mulholland/HBO