Boxing


All Time Heavyweight Survey

Muhammed Aliby Geoffrey Ciani:

Who are the ten best heavyweights of all-time?

This question has resulted in a long running debate amongst fans and boxing historians alike for some time. Ranking different athletes from different eras is always a difficult endeavor. Was Babe Ruth really a better hitter than Ted Williams? Is Joe Montana the greatest quarterback in NFL history? Could Kobe Bryant hold Michael Jordan's jock strap? Was Muhammad Ali truly The Greatest? I will try to address that last question in the article.

Although this is a very subjective topic that is skewed by personal bias, differences of opinion, and the absence of a universally agreed upon criteria to judge past fighters, we can still establish some degree of consensus. While contemplating my own list of top heavyweight pugilists, I decided gathering the input of others might help display a more accurate portrayal of what a 'true' top 10 list should look like compared to my own.

I conducted a survey with 80 long-time boxing fans (myself included). My question was simple. I had each person in the survey provide me with a chronological list of who he considered to be the ten best heavyweights in boxing history. Ties were not allowed, just a straight-forward list from one to ten. I then used a weighted-points system to assign points to fighters based on where they appeared on each individual's list. First place votes received 25 points. Second place votes were worth 15 points, third place votes were worth 12, and fourth and fifth place votes were worth 10 and 8 points respectively. After that, the point differential was constant, with sixth place votes getting 5 points, seventh place votes getting 4, eighth place getting 3, ninth place 2, and tenth place 1.

Survey Results:

After all of the lists were tabulated with the aforementioned points system, a total of twenty-two different boxers had received mention. Below is a list of the results. (First place votes are indicated in parenthesis).

1.1675 Muhammad Ali (52)
2. 1375 Joe Louis (23)
3. 638 Rocky Marciano (1)
4. 580 Larry Holmes
5. 488 Lennox Lewis (1)
6. 462 Jack Johnson (1)
7. 318 [tie] George Foreman
7. 318 [tie] Jack Dempsey (2)
9. 233 Mike Tyson
10. 221 Joe Frazier
11. 217 Sonny Liston
12. 106 Evander Holyfield
13. 79 Jim Jeffries
14. 23 Gene Tunney
15. 21 Sam Langford
16. 15 Jersey Joe Walcott
17. 14 John L. Sullivan
18. 8 Ezzard Charles
19. 4 Harry Wills
20. 2 [tie] Wladimir Klitschko
20. 2 [tie] Riddick Bowe
22. 1 Floyd Patterson

Here is the distribution of votes.
TOTAL LISTS MADE - NAME - (1st-2nd-3rd-4-5-6-7-8-9-10)

80 Muhammad Ali (52 20 3 3 0 1 1 0 0 0)
80 Joe Louis (23 50 1 1 2 2 0 0 1 0)
78 Rocky Marciano (1 3 22 13 9 8 8 6 4 4)
72 Larry Holmes (0 1 18 14 14 10 8 3 2 2)
66 Lennox Lewis (1 0 11 12 14 7 8 8 3 2)
60 Jack Johnson (1 4 10 11 5 10 9 4 3 3)
67 George Foreman (0 0 2 5 10 9 14 15 6 6)
52 Jack Dempsey (2 1 4 7 5 6 7 5 7 8)
49 Mike Tyson (0 1 2 7 5 5 1 8 11 9)
65 Joe Frazier (0 0 2 0 3 9 10 16 15 10)
52 Sonny Liston (0 0 2 2 7 7 10 2 14 8)
35 Evander Holyfield (0 0 0 2 2 2 2 9 7 11)
11 Jim Jeffries (0 0 3 1 2 2 0 2 0 1)
7 Gene Tunney (0 0 0 1 0 1 0 1 1 3)
9 Sam Langford (0 0 0 0 0 1 2 0 2 4)
6 Jersey Joe Walcott (0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 2 3)
3 John L. Sullivan (0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 1)
1 Ezzard Charles (0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0)
4 Harry Wills (0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4)
1 Wladimir Klitschko (0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0)
1 Riddick Bowe (0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0)
1 Floyd Patterson (0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1)

Was there a consensus?

Although a unanimous consensus was never reached, it is clear from the results that Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis are widely viewed as the two greatest heavyweights of all-time. They were the only two names to appear on all 80 lists from the survey (Marciano finished next highest, present on 78 lists). Ali missed the top three on just five lists and Louis only failed to make the cut on six. There were only five first place votes that did not go to either of these two men. Ali received 52 first place votes and 20 second place votes; Louis received 23 first place votes and 50 for second. The near mirror image of these numbers illustrated that almost every person surveyed agreed that Ali and Louis were the two best, with the majority preferring Ali. According to this survey, Muhammad Ali is indeed The Greatest.

Ali and Louis were separated by exactly 300 points. The next closest pugilist, Rocky Marciano, was separated from Louis by 743 points which further solidifies the near consensus on the top two. The difference between third place Marciano sixth place Jack Johnson, however, was only 176 points, which shows that these two along with those falling in between them—Larry Holmes and Lennox Lewis—are largely interchangeable depending on whose list you view. All four from that range appeared on at least 75% of the lists with Holmes and Marciano cracking the top 5 on more than 58% of all returns.

George Foreman and Jack Dempsey tied for seventh place with 318 points, and spots 9 through 11—Mike Tyson, Joe Frazier, and Sonny Liston—are only separated by a mere 16 points. Unfortunately for Sonny, that means he just missed the cut.

Is Mike Tyson's top ten spot justified?

When comparing my list to the results from the survey, one can see that there are many similarities between my list and the one that included input from 79 others boxing fans.

My personal top ten list:

1. Ali
2. Louis
3. Holmes
4. Marciano
5. Johnson
6. Foreman
7. Lennox
8. Frazier
9. Dempsey
10. Liston

There is one name that is different on my list—I have Sonny Liston (who fell just short) on my list, the survey has Mike Tyson there in his place. Do I personally think Mike Tyson belongs in the top ten? No, I do not. I do realize, however, that this is what makes debating these matters with other fans quite interesting. Whether or not Tyson belongs there in my opinion is irrelevant. An argument can be made that he does, and therefore, I think it is perfectly reasonable for someone to include him on a top 10 list—even if I do disagree with that assessment.

Over all, I think the results from the survey provide a fairly reasonable list.

More raw data:

Here is a quick snap-shot at how the votes broke down amongst the top eleven:

1. Muhammad Ali
Total Lists: 80 (100%)
First Place: 52 (65%)
Top Three: 75 (93.75%)
Top Five: 78 (97.5%)
Average Points: 20.9

2. Joe Louis
Total Lists: 80 (100%)
First Place: 23 (28.75%)
Top Three: 74 (92.5%)
Top Five: 77 (96.25%)
Average Points: 17.2

3. Rocky Marciano
Total Lists: 78 (97.5%)
First Place: 1 (1.25%)
Top Three: 26 (32.5%)
Top Five: 48 (60%)
Average Points: 8.0

4. Larry Holmes
Total Lists: 72 (90%)
First Place: 0 (0%)
Top Three: 19 (23.75%)
Top Five: 47 (58.75%)
Average Points: 7.3

5. Lennox Lewis
Total Lists: 66 (82.5%)
First Place: 1 (1.25%)
Top Three: 12 (15%)
Top Five: 28 (35%)
Average Points: 6.1

6. Jack Johnson
Total Lists: 60 (75%)
First Place: 1 (1.25%)
Top Three: 15 (18.75%)
Top Five: 31 (38.75%)
Average Points: 5.8

7. George Foreman
Total Lists: 67 (83.75%)
First Place: 0 (0%)
Top Three: 2 (2.5%)
Top Five: 17 (21.25%)
Average Points: 4.0

7. Jack Dempsey
Total Lists: 52 (65%)
First Place: 2 (2.5%)
Top Three: 7 (8.75%)
Top Five: 19 (23.75%)
Average Points: 4.0

9. Mike Tyson
Total Lists: 49 (61.25%)
First Place: 0 (0%)
Top Three: 3 (3.75%)
Top Five: 15 (18.75%)
Average Points: 2.9

10. Joe Frazier
Total Lists: 65 (81.25%)
First Place: 0 (0%)
Top Three: 2 (2.5%)
Top Five: 5 (6.25%)
Average Points: 2.8

*11. Sonny Liston
Total Lists: 52 (65%)
First Place: 0 (0%)
Top Three: 2 (2.5%)
Top Five: 11 (13.75%)
Average Points: 2.7

Next up, the light heavyweight division!

Going forward, I will be conducting a series of surveys on all of the original eight weight classes along with a separate list for the best pound-for-pound fighters of all-time. Next up will be the light heavyweight division.

To contact Ciani:
ciaaaani@yahoo.com

To read more by Ciani please visit The Mushroom Mag:
http://www.eatthemushroom.com

Article posted on 23.07.2009



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