Robinson pips Ali as fighter of century

British fighters given scant regard as Sugar Ray's championship record eclipses world's greatest heavyweight
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The Independent Online

Providing plenty of opportunity for argument, an Associated Press poll taken to determine the best boxers of the 20th century features only two British world champions, the flyweights Jimmy Wilde of Wales and Jackie Patterson of Scotland.

Providing plenty of opportunity for argument, an Associated Press poll taken to determine the best boxers of the 20th century features only two British world champions, the flyweights Jimmy Wilde of Wales and Jackie Patterson of Scotland.

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.

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