Boxing: Robinson pips Ali as fighter of century
LEGENDS OF THE RING British fighters given scant regard as Sugar Ray's championship record eclipses world's greatest heavyweight
Wednesday 15 December 1999
Left out are such notable British figures as Jack "Kid" Berg, "Peerless" Jim Driscoll, Ted "Kid" Lewis, Freddie Welsh, Benny Lynch and, of more recent vintage, Ken Buchanan. Neither is Muhammad Ali thought to be fighter of the century. Based on technical accomplishment and subject to marks given by four celebrated American trainers - Eddie Futch, Angelo Dundee, Gil Clancy and Lou Duva - together with a veteran California promoter, Don Chargin, that honour goes to Sugar Ray Robinson.
Ali, the first to become heavyweight champion three times, is in second place; Joe Louis, who made 25 successful heavyweight defences after taking the title from James J Braddock on 22 June 1937, in third.
Featherweight Willie Pep, a ring artist with a record of 230 victories in 242 professional contests, is ranked fifth, ahead of the heavyweight Jack Dempsey. Henry Armstrong, the only man to hold three world titles simultaneously - featherweight, lightweight and welterweight - is ranked third.
Despite his "No mas" surrender to Sugar Ray Leonard when defending the welterweight championship, Roberto Duran, who took the 9st 9lb title from Buchanan in 1972, is rated seventh. Benny Leonard is in eighth place followed by the light heavyweight Billy Conn and the ferociously fearless Harry Greb. In a 13-year career, beginning in 1913, Greb, the middleweight champion from 1923, had 315 contests before his death at 32 in 1926.
Predictably, Ali is considered to be the century's leading heavyweight although Joe Louis came close, two of the five panelists putting him first. Louis is followed by Rocky Marciano, the only heavyweight champion to retire undefeated (49-0), and Dempsey. The first great modern heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson, is tied for fifth with one of Ali's five conquerors, Larry Holmes. (Ali's other four defeats in 56 contests came against Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Leon Spinks and Trevor Berbick).
Frazier is in at eighth behind Sonny Liston and ahead of Jersey Joe Walcott, who shares 10th place with the amazing Sam Langford. One of many boxers denied an opportunity to fight for a championship because of racial discrimination, Langford took on everyone he could from lightweight to heavyweight in a 24-year career.
Considered by many to be the best post-war British fighter, John Conteh was passed over for the light-heavyweight division in which Archie Moore is unquestionably the outstanding exponent.
Sugar Ray Robinson fought first for the welterweight championship, defeating Tommy Bell on a 15-rounds decision in his 74th professional contest. "By then there was nothing left for him to learn," Futch once said. "Today they are going in for championships after fewer than 20 paid fights." Robinson reigned at 10st 7lb from 1946 until 1950, when he relinquished the title. The following year he became middleweight champion for the first time by stopping Jake La Motta in the 15th round, and for the fifth and last time (including regaining it from Randolph Turpin) in 1958 when he outpointed Carmen Basilio. Robinson suffered only 19 defeats in 202 contests, 12 coming after his 40th birthday. Since Robinson also ran away with the welterweight rankings not even Ali could nudge him out of first place as the century's most outstanding fighter.
Only Ray Leonard from the recent past gets a real shout among the welterweights, coming in at third behind Armstrong, whose amazing versatility reached its zenith in 1938 when, as the welter and featherweight title holder, he outpointed Lou Ambers for the lightweight championship.
Duran was voted leading lightweight ahead of the 1920s star Benny Leonard. Alexis Arguello is given only a tie for sixth with Ambers. The modern Mexican hero, Julio Cesar Chavez, is down at eighth. More surprisingly, Carlos Ortiz is only thought to be 10th best. The panelists did not have to burn any night oil over deciding that Pep is the dominant featherweight with his great adversary, the brooding and dangerous Sandy Saddler, second.
No British fighter figures until Wilde gets third place among the century's best flyweights, with Patterson down at equal ninth. Pancho Villa, who scored a seventh-round knockout to take the title from Wilde in New York on 18 June 1923, comes out joint top.
On being told of Robinson's election, Ali said through his wife Lonnie, "It's an honour. Sugar Ray was my hero." Others, especially in these islands, are unlikely to be as happy with the panelists' conclusions.
THE TOP FIGHTERS OF THE CENTURY
As voted by a five-member panel of experts assembled by Associated Press. First-place votes are in parenthesis; points based on 10 points for a first-place vote down to one point for a 10th-place vote. When a division has five selections, a first-place vote is worth five points. POUND-FOR-POUND
1 Sugar Ray Robinson (2) 45
2 Muhammad Ali (2) 38
3 Henry Armstrong 30
4 Joe Louis 29
5 Willie Pep (1) 27
6 Jack Dempsey 20
7 Roberto Duran 14
8 Benny Leonard 13
9 Billy Conn 12
10 Harry Greb 7
1 Muhammad Ali (2) 46
2 Joe Louis (2) 45
3 Rocky Marciano (1) 38
4 Jack Dempsey 28
5= Jack Johnson 22
5= Larry Holmes 22
7 Sonny Liston 14
8 Joe Frazier 13
9= *Sam Langford 8 9= Jersey Joe Walcott 8
1 Archie Moore (2) 41
2 Billy Conn (2) 34
3 *Ezzard Charles (1) 29
4 Roy Jones Jnr 26
5= *Jimmy Bivins 24
5= Bob Foster 24
7 Harold Johnson 21
8= Philadelphia Jack O'Brien 13
8= *Tiger Jack Fox 13
10 Maxie Rosenbloom 11
1 Sugar Ray Robinson (4) 49
2 Harry Greb (1) 42
3 Marvin Hagler 28
4 Mickey Walker 26
5 Carlos Monzon 21
6 *Charley Burley 20
7 Jake La Motta 19
8 Stanley Ketchel 15
9 Marcel Cerdan 12
10 Tony Zale 11
1 Sugar Ray Robinson (4) 40
2 Henry Armstrong (1) 31
3 Sugar Ray Leonard 28
4 Jose Napoles 23
5 Barney Ross 21
6 Carmen Basilio 19
7 Mickey Walker 16
8 Emile Griffith 15
9 Kid Gavilan 14
10 Luis Rodriguez 12
JUNIOR WELTERWEIGHTS (Five Selections)
1 Aaron Pryor (1) 14
2 Barney Ross (2) 13
3 Tony Canzoneri 11
4 Wilfred Benitez (1) 10
5 Antonio Cervantes 7
Jack "Kid" Berg received the other first place, but got no other points
1 Roberto Duran (3) 41
2 Benny Leonard 37
3 Tony Canzoneri 33
4 Ike Williams 28
5 Joe Gans (2) 21
6= Lou Ambers 20 6= Alexis Arguello 20
8 Julio Cesar Chavez 13
9 Beau Jack 12
10 Carlos Ortiz 7
JUNIOR LIGHTWEIGHTS (Five Selections)
1 Alexis Arguello (2) 19
2 Kid Chocolate (1) 16
3 Julio Cesar Chavez (1) 12
4 Johnny Dundee (1) 8
5 Sandy Saddler 6
1 Willie Pep (3) 47
2 Sandy Saddler (1) 42
3 Salvador Sanchez 28
4 Tony Canzoneri 17
5 Chalky Wright 16
6= Henry Armstrong (1) 15
6= Vicente Saldivar 15
8= Wilfredo Gomez 13
8= Azumah Nelson 13
10 Abe Attell 10
1= Ruben Olivares 36
1= Carlos Zarate (1) 36
3 Eder Jofre (1) 33
4 Panama Al Brown (1) 27
5 Manuel Ortiz (1) 18
6= Lionel Rose 15
6= Fighting Harada 15
8 Alfonso Zamora 14
9 Sixto Escobar (1) 13
10 Jimmy Carruthers 9
1= Miguel Canto (1) 26
1= Pancho Villa 26
3 Jimmy Wilde (2) 25
4 Fidel La Barba (1) 24
5 Frankie Genaro 15
6 Small Montana 13
7 Charchai Chionoi 12
8 Ricardo Lopez 11
9= Corporal Izzy Schwartz 10
9= Jackie Patterson 10
* fighter was never a champion in division in which he is ranked.
one panelist declined to vote for the flyweight division.
Members of the panel that selected the greatest boxers of the century for Associated Press
Best known as the trainer of Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard. Dundee has also worked with several other champions, including the welterweight and middleweight Carmen Basilio, the welterweight Jose Napoles, the light heavyweight Willie Pastrano, the featherweight Sugar Ramos and the welterweight Luis Rodriguez. Revered as one of boxing's great cut men.
The long-time promoter, manager and trainer. Duva has worked with such champions as the heavyweights Evander Holyfield and Michael Moorer, the junior welterweight Meldrick Taylor, and Pernell Whitaker, a champion in four weight classes.
The long-time promoter who is based in California. Also has worked as a second and manager. Given a second's licence in 1945 and promoted first show in 1950.
The Detroit Golden Gloves lightweight champion in 1933, Futch trained at same gym as Joe Louis. Often sparred with Louis when Louis needed speed work. The Hall of Famer trained 19 world champions, including the heavyweight Joe Frazier, the welterweight Don Jordan, the heavyweight Larry Holmes, the light heavyweight Michael Spinks, Alexis Arguello, a champion in three weight classes, and the welterweight Marlon Starling.
Trained and managed Emile Griffith, the welterweight and middleweight champion. Also guided the careers of the middleweight champion Rodrigo Valdez and the heavyweight contender Jerry Quarry, and briefly trained George Foreman. Serves as a boxing adviser to Oscar De La Hoya. In 1978- 80, was the matchmaker for Madison Square Garden. Has worked as a boxing analyst for several TV networks. Is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
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