Top ten chins in heavyweight history
The top ten most durable heavyweights of all time
By Michael J Jones
THE most popular weight division in boxing since it’s creation under the Marquis of Queensbury rules are the heavyweights. Generally, the reason stems from the fact that with the fighters being larger and more powerful, there is more chance of a sudden and brutal knock-out to conclude a prize-fight. Staying upright for a pro heavyweight bout is an achievement in itself but what about that rare fighter who avoided crushing stoppage defeats through his career, who shrugged off punches from the most destructive hitters in boxing history.
Livefight gives you the top ten most durable heavyweights who ever competed-
No.10 Joe Bugner
Surprised at the Hungarian-born fighters inclusion? Don’t be. Bugner was stopped just four times in 83 professional bouts; once on his debut aged 17 in 1967, on cuts to Earnie Shavers fifteen years later and then (when way past his prime years) to young guns Frank Bruno and Scott Welch. Sandwiched between his first two stoppage defeats, Bugner, who finally retired for good in 1999, went the distance with both Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. His second bout with Ali in Kuala Lumper in 1975, strapping Joe gave a good account of himself in taking the world champion the full fifteen-round distance in scorching heat.
Bugner, often the subject to negative press in the UK (due largely to his close decision win over Henry Cooper in 71’), was durable partly because of a clever defence but also had a great chin. No man ever stopped him legitimately anywhere-near his prime and even well into his 40’s “Aussie Joe” was still a handy fighter at a lower level.
No.9 Larry Holmes
Another fighter who carried on boxing far after his prime, Holmes was stopped just once in 75 bouts. In his prime a long-reigning champion, Larry fought on and proved a force on the world stage with his good skills and probably the best left jab in boxing history.
During his glory years, 6’3” Larry came off the floor to beat contenders Earnie Shavers and Renaldo Snipes. Holmes also got shaken up on occasion but always rallied to win, showing remarkable powers of recuperation.
By 85’ Larry had slowed down enough for bulked-up light-heavyweight Michael Spinks to edge him in two bitterly-contested fifteen-round contests. After a short lay-off Larry took on a Mike Tyson at the peak of his considerable powers. The aged former champion held his own early but in the fourth was dropped heavily by a big right hand. A follow up flurry sent him down again and in the dying seconds of the session the stricken fighter wound up a big right uppercut. As Larry’s right hand became tangled in the ropes, Tyson launched two massive overhand rights to knock Holmes spark out.
Losing in that fashion to a prime Tyson is no disgrace and the Pennsylvanian legend would never be halted again in 24 subsequent contests. In competitive bouts with the likes of Evander Holyfield, Ray Mercer and Oliver McCall, the faded Holmes never so much as took a count, let alone come close to being stopped.
No8. Marian Wilson
A durable fighter who we had to include on this list is teak-tough journeyman Marion Wilson. Turning pro late at 33-years-old in 1989, Wilson would take on dozens of top class heavyweight prospects, contenders and veterans in going 12-41-4 (5).
The single stoppage loss on the Maryland boxer’s record was in his second year as a pro when unbeaten Derek Isaman stopped him on cuts. The tough war-horse would avenge the loss the following year and would never suffer an inside-the-distance defeat again in taking the likes of Shannon Briggs, Hasin Rahman and Oleg Maskaev the distance.
Wilson, a smallish heavyweight at 6’1” and around 210lbs, would box an astonishing 28 undefeated fighters in his 57 bouts and eight world champions from past or present. Wilson was a tricky and cagey fighter but could also take a very good shot. He could also provide the occasion surprise, such as in July 94’ when he held 38lbs-heavier Ray Mercer to a ten-round draw in Atlantic City. One judge had Wilson beating the former WBO champion by 97-94, many believing Wilson had been robbed blind. Wilson also broke the unbeaten streak of several younger fighters such as Paea Wolfgramm, who was 14-0 and out-weighed Marion by over 100lbs.
The dogged veteran finally walked away at the ripe old age of 50 in 2007. His final bout saw him lose a decision to another experienced heavyweight in former champion Oliver McCall. McCall had previously beaten Wilson via disqualification when the losing fighter was thrown out for excessive holding.
No7. Ray Mercer
Former Olympic gold medal winner Mercer was stopped a couple of times towards the end of his career but at his peak he took the hardest bombs from renowned punchers in Tommy Morrison, Bert Cooper, Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield.
Much was expected from the former US Marine after winning Gold at the 88’ Seoul Games and he started his career well, racing to 18-0 (13) and picking up the WBO title from unbeaten Fransesco Damiani. Mercer looked the goods in demolishing Tommy Morrison in five rounds, taking some meaty hooks and uppercuts along the way before brutally stopping “The Duke” in the fifth. Mercer would then lose his own undefeated record by being out-classed by cagey former champion Larry Holmes. Listless Ray then had two controversial fights with Jesse Ferguson before boxing a draw with trial-horse Marion Wilson.
Disgusted with his form, bullish Ray got in tremendous shape to push Evander Holyfield all the way just two fights before the “Real Deal” upset Mike Tyson to regain a portion of the world title. Mercer was dropped for the first time in his career by a huge left hook to the ribs in the fifth but got up to make it comfortably to the final bell. In the bested fighter’s very next fight he took a prime Lewis to the wire at Madison Square Garden. Many even thought Mercer had done enough to win against a fighter who had possibly the best right hand in heavyweight history.
Mercer hardly fought in the next few years but made a comeback and surprisingly got rewarded with a shot at Wladimir Klitschko’s WBO belt. The 40-year-old received a steady beat-down, eventually crumbling in the sixth as his sturdy whiskers finally began to show cracks.
Three years later, the aged Mercer was also stopped by Shannon Briggs after a shot caught him behind the ear and left him all at sea to be stopped in the seventh session.
Those two defeats damage his reputation somewhat, but there’s no doubting a prime Mercer had one of the best chins in heavyweight history. The best pet punches of many of the greatest hitters of his era couldn’t make a dent in a jaw that seemed at times made of concrete.
No6. Evander Holyfield
What more do you need to know about Evander Holyfield’s chin that in all of his famous bouts with Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis, George Foreman and Mike Tyson, he suffered just three knockdowns; two in his rubber match with “Big Daddy”. Evander’s chin is a big part of the reason why he is still, today competing as a pro at the advanced age of 49.
Turning pro after winning a silver medal at the 84’ Olympics, Holyfield swept through the cruiserweight division and in no time was undisputed champion. Eager to earn the type of money Mike Tyson was demanding in the late 80’s, “The Real Deal” moved up to heavyweight.
Never weighing much more than 210lbs, Holyfield beat Tyson conqueror Buster Douglas before losing the crown in his fourth defence to the much bigger Riddick Bowe. A year later, Holyfield would reclaim the title with a close points victory over Bowe before losing his crown again to former light-heavyweight champion Michael Moorer.
When Bowe stopped his old foe in eight rounds in November 95’ most thought the former champion’s best days were behind him but just a year later he came back to shock “Iron” Mike Tyson to win a world championship for the third time.
Holyfield kept his titles until losing a unification bout to rival WBC champion Lennox Lewis in 1999. Although he briefly reigned as WBA champion the year after, Evander has fought father time since in subsequent losses to the likes of John Ruiz and James Toney.
In the Atlanta-native’s 57-bout career, he has been halted just twice; by Riddick Bowe in 95’ (when Evander claimed to be suffering sickness before the bout) and to James “Lights Out” Toney in 2003. Whilst walking through the best bombs of guys like Tyson and Lewis without so much as a flinch, Evander has suffered a few trips to the canvas over the years.
During his world title defence vs late-sub’ Bert Cooper in 91’, the defending champion was caught by a series of right-hands and, as he fell against the ropes, the ref correctly gave him a count. Although a limited fighter, no-one can ever question Cooper’s dynamite power as scores of prospects fell to crunching punches throughout his career.
Riddick Bowe scored a knock-down when ripping the title off his legendary rival in their breath-taking first fight and also dropped the badly-fatigued Holyfield in their rubber match some two years later.
In recent years, only Toney and Ruiz have managed to floor the brave former champion, who is still good enough to feature in a title fight or two yet.
No5. Vitali Klitschko
Forty six fights and no trip to the canvas; what else do you need to know about “Dr Ironfist’s” whiskers? The hugely underrated Vitali Klitschko turned pro in 1996 and first came to prominence in 1999 when he destroyed defending WBO champion Herbie Hide in just two rounds. A year later he would lose that title when a shoulder injury forced him out of his bout with Chris Byrd after the ninth round. Klitschko received scorn from American critics who slated the Ukrainian for ‘quitting’ a fight he was winning clearly.
Unperturbed, Klitschko showed what he was made of three years later when given a late-notice shot at British legend Lennox Lewis. The younger man forced the pace and gave Lewis a beating early on before hideous cuts over both eyes ruled him out after the sixth. Klitschko was ahead by scores of 58-56 on all three judges cards after six and had stood up to some thudding uppercuts from Lewis in the previous two rounds, yet hardly blinked.
The 6ft 7ins Vitali hasn’t been beaten since, After a four-absence (due to an ongoing knee injury) he and brother Wladimir have dominated world heavyweight boxing for the best part of five years with their mix of calculated ring generalship and big punching power.
Since reclaiming the WBC crown he had been forced to vacate in 2005, Vitali hasn’t looked close to losing, never mind being stopped, in a contest.
The Fritz Sdunek-trained champion turns 41-years-old this year but it’s still hard to envisage anyone besting him providing that trusty chin of his holds out.
No4 George Foreman
Who will ever forget the legendary figure of George Foreman? The powerfully built Texan wreaked havoc on the heavyweight division in the early 70’s, crushing Joe Frazier to win the championship before slaughtering the much-respected Ken Norton in equally emphatic style.
It took an inspired Muhammad Ali to end Forman’s reign of terror in the famous “Rumble in the Jungle”. Ali was the first man to ever floor the young George, but only after tiring the big-punching champion with the famous “Rope-a-dope” tactics.
George took his first loss badly but eventually came back to knock-out Ron Lyle and Joe Frazier before suffering his second defeat to tricky Jimmy Young. Unfancied Young was hurt early but out-boxed the stronger man down the stretch to win a clear unanimous decision, even scoring a knock-down in the final round as Foreman tired.
Legend has it the beaten fighter found God that very night and was never the same brutish, surly man ever again, but who could have imagined that ten years later the big Texan would embark on a comeback?
At 37-years-old, thicker set around the waist and sporting a shaved head, the “Punching preacher” kept winning until rewarded with a world heavyweight title shot against the smaller Evander Holyfield. Big George fought well but had to show a great chin to withstand some hellacious hooks from the champion.
The aged former champion would also be bested by Tommy Morrison the year later in a shot at the vacant WBO title but, unbelievably, knocked out Holyfield’s successor Michael Moorer in the tenth round to reclaim the title at 45-years-of-age.
Foreman was champion again twenty years after losing it to Ali, but wisely stayed clear of the likes of Lennox Lewis and Riddick Bowe until vacating his belts a while later.
Foreman last boxed in 97’, when controversially beaten by Shannon Briggs on a majority points decision. Most had the 48-year-old winning clearly.
In 81 pro bouts, Foreman was only ever dropped by Ali, Ron Lyle and Jimmy Young. The knock-downs suffered against “The Greatest” and Young were caused mostly by fatigue and in his second career in the late 80’s and 90’s, Foreman never appeared seriously shaken in any of his bouts with Holyfield, Morrison and Moorer. One of the best heavyweights of all time, Foreman also had one of the best chins to go with it.
No3 Muhammad Ali
Although known more for his silky skills and amazing hand-speed, Muhammad Ali also had one of the best chins in heavyweight history. During his 21-year legendary career, Ali took the full-bloodied shots of some of the divisions best-ever punchers and suffered only a handful of brief trips to the canvas.
Turning pro as little more than a light-heavyweight, the young Cassius Clay dazzled in his early pro fights with flashy combination punching and a rapier-like left hand.
The former Olympic Gold medallist, who would later become known as “The Greatest”, suffered his first recorded knock-down as a pro to Detroit’s Sonny Banks. Fighting in his eleventh contest, Ali, who had just turned 20-years-old, was dropped by a left hook in the first round. It was a flash knock-down, some even called it a slip, but the unbeaten fighter got up to drop Banks in the next before finishing him off in the 4th session.
Ali’s next trip to the canvas the following year would be one of the most famous knock-downs in boxing history. The gifted, but largely unproven, Louisville prospect was matched with British contender Henry Cooper at Wembley stadium. It was the young American’s first pro fight outside the United States (legend has it Clay was petrified of flying in aeroplanes in the early stages of his career).
The two met in June 1963 and the bout didn’t disappoint. Cooper, then 27-8-1 (19), successfully roughed up the younger man in the first but by the close of the third was cut badly over his right eye and being out-boxed. Although two inches taller and some 21½lbs heavier than Cooper, Ali was by far the faster of hand and foot and couldn’t seem to miss with his straight punches.
In danger of being pulled out in the fourth, Cooper steadied himself for a big round and threw left hook after left hook in the hope of catching his quicker foe. In the dying seconds, Cooper finally landed “Enry’s Ammer” on the unprotected chin of Clay, who fell heavily against the ropes. The bell came straight after and how differently history might have been had Cooper landed his best-ever punch at the beginning of the round?
Angelo Dundee and the stricken fighter’s corner worked frantically in the minute’s interval to rouse their fighter who seemed fresh and focused for the start of the fifth.
The moment had passed and at 2:15 of the next round the fight was stopped giving Clay his nineteenth victory.
When it came to the brash American’s world heavyweight title shot against feared champion Sonny Liston, general opinion was conclusive; if Cooper can drop Clay then Liston would surely flatten him. Liston was one of the most intimidating fighters who ever boxed; he had won and then defended the championship with two brutal first-round knockouts over Floyd Patterson and many believed he would do the same to his new challenger.
The fight held in Miami saw the much faster and mobile challenger run rings around Liston, who looked bemused and out of ideas very early in the fight. Amazingly, when the champion did land a flush punch, the supposed glass-jawed contender took the blow fine. Liston was pulled out after six and a star was born.
Ali would never come close to being dropped in the next three and a half years as champion as he dominated all challengers in his way. After being unfairly stripped of his belts after refusing to be drafted into the U.S. Army, Ali had to sit out of boxing for nearly four years.
Eventually resuming his career in 1970, Ali was now slower than before, his reflexes didn’t seem as sharp and he took a few punches he would have been able to evade in his earlier years. This is where Ali showed a granite jaw and enormous heart in the remaining eleven years of his career; because he had too.
Fighting new champion Joe Frazier in March 1971, Ali took the bout in just his third comeback fight. Ali trained hard but Frazier was at his merciless best that night. The Philadelphian, who had been repeatedly taunted by his famous rival all throughout the lengthy build-up, was like a wrecking machine in the fifteen-round bout held at Madison Square Garden. Ali boxed and moved early but couldn’t seem to get out of the way of Frazier’s relentless left hook. In the eleventh round Ali was staggered as Frazier pounced. He survived but by the championship rounds, both men were feeling the effects of an engrossing contest.
In the fifteenth and final round, the general feeling was Frazier was ahead and on course to retain his title. Ali was boxing well to take the round when disaster struck; a massive left hook exploded on Muhammad’s jaw, dropping him heavily on the canvas. It seemed a miracle when he calmly climbed to his feet to take the mandatory eight count. Frazier won a unanimous decision but Ali’s durability couldn’t have been proven much more.
It seems amusing considering Ali’s 70’s resume who he suffered his fourth and final knock-down against. Thinking of Ken Norton breaking Ali’s jaw, George Foreman pummelling him for round after round in the “Rumble in the Jungle” and Earnie Shavers smashing his best right-hands into the aging “Greatest’s” face; you’d think it’d take some slugger to drop the durable champion.
Five months after reclaiming his crown from Foreman, Ali took on Chuck Wepner in his first defence of his second reign. Wepner, who had already been stopped by Sonny Liston and Foreman was no match in any sense for Ali. However, in the ninth round Wepner thumped a right-hand into the defending champion’s body and down the surprised champion went. Ali, far more embarrassed than hurt, correctly tried to tell the ref he had slipped but he still picked up the count before stopping his brave opponent in the last round.
Despite boxing on for a good five years past his glory days, Ali was only stopped once in 61 bouts. After taking slimming drugs to drop weight, the former champion came back from a two-year retirement to take on a prime Larry Holmes and was predictably thrashed. It is testament to the legendary fighter’s iron chin that he lasted until the tenth round against a 35-0 Holmes at his peak when, as early as the first, he was landing at will to his older opponents head and body.
Of Ali’s four trips to the canvas, three were courtesy of left hooks and two could have been called slips. It’s astonishing when you think he met four men who would be on several “greatest heavyweight punchers ever” lists in Liston, Frazier, Foreman and Shavers.
No2 George Chuvalo
They didn’t come any tougher or more durable than the bull-like George Chuvalo. The Canadian fan-favourite competed as a contender for the majority of the golden years of the division from his debut in 1956. Most of the top-rated contenders and champions beat Chuvalo; but almost never halted him inside schedule.
Not blessed with the ability to move his head, George was always caught flush multiple times during any bout win, lose or draw. Heavy-handed punchers like Zora Foley and Floyd Patterson tried and failed to take the tough Canadian out but to no avail.
Chuvalo fought twice for the world heavyweight title in his long career; losing to Ernie Terrell and then Muhammad Ali only four months later (both fights took place in Toronto). Against a prime Ali, Chuvalo raked the defending champion’s body in the early rounds, trying desperately to slow the faster man down. By the later rounds, the 22-0 champion was peppering George at will and won nearly every round on all three judge’s cards.
Just over a year after that brave challenge, Chuvalo was matched with the up-and-coming Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden and was stopped on cuts in four rounds. It was George’s eleventh year as a pro and his 63rd bout; he was never off his feet despite Frazier landing at will for much of the one-sided contest.
After a defeat to Buster Mathis, Chuvalo stopped top contender Jerry Quarry in a big upset and was expected to be rewarded another title shot. Alas, the granite-jawed contender was matched with another young, undefeated prospect in George Foreman. Foreman, 21-0 (18) and in only his second year as a pro, boxed with far more skill than his limited experience showed. Foreman, 21-years-old at the time, boxed behind a ram-rod jab to easily win the first two rounds before opening up in the third. The young Texan backed poor Chuvalo into a corner and teed off with vicious punches to the head. In seconds, the hapless Canadian was hunched against the ropes as Foreman put maximum power into his hooks. The referee stepped in as it looked like the beaten fighter could have been seriously hurt. Chuvalo was, again, never off his feet and even complained about the stoppage!
In the latter part of his career, Chuvalo picked up decision losses to former champion Jimmy Ellis and old foe Muhammad Ali. That Chuvalo was never floored was certainly an amazing feat when considering the wealth of names he fought all the way through his long career. It’s debatable whether Frazier would have stopped him legitimately and Foreman only got the inside-distance victory at the tail-end of George’s heavyweight campaign.
No1 Oliver McCall
In 27 years as a pro heavyweight, including 70 bouts against some of the heaviest hitters of the modern era, Oliver McCall has never once tasted the canvas. Lennox Lewis couldn’t floor him, neither could Frank Bruno, Larry Holmes, Buster Douglas, Tony Tucker....the list goes on. Still active today aged 47-years-old, the “Atomic Bull” surely will retire soon with his record in tact of having never been dropped.
Turning professional in November 1985, the young Chicago prospect kept busy but lost a few early bouts; all on points. By the late 80’s McCall was being edged by the likes of James “Buster” Douglas (the year before Douglas toppled Mike Tyson) and Orlin Norris. When McCall dropped yet another decision to Tony Tucker in June 92’, it seemed he would forever be a fringe contender but a five-bout knockout streak (including an upset stoppage of decent Italian Francesco Damiani) set up his first world title shot against Britain’s Lennox Lewis.
Written off almost completely beforehand, McCall took full advantage of Lewis’ poor defence to flatten the defending champion in just two rounds with a massive counter-right. McCall was WBC champion after nine years as a pro.
The new champion overcame Larry Holmes in his first defence but came unstuck a year after winning the title when Frank Bruno won a clear decision at Wembley. Bruno landed every power-punch in the book for the first nine rounds before hanging on for dear life to win the unanimous decision.
Two years later, McCall was matched again with Lewis in a shot at the vacant WBC belt, stripped of Mike Tyson. McCall had a decent first round but by round three was walking around the ring visibly crying. Lewis stalked and landed some huge right-hands and uppercuts, but couldn’t make any dent in the defenceless co-challenger. McCall was rescued on his feet by referee Mills Lane in the fifth and later claimed to be trying to sucker Lewis in “like Ali had done to Foreman”.
McCall seemed frozen out at top level as he took pointless keep-busy fights over the next few years until finally getting a decent test versus Henry Akinwande, whose only loss had been to Lewis. McCall, much shorter and slower of hand and foot, was thoroughly out-boxed early but kept the pressure on and eventually knocked out his tiring foe in the tenth to rejuvenate his career.
McCall didn’t box after that victory for three years. Returning in 2004, the former champion has had mixed results in the last few years. While victories over much-younger contenders like Sinan Samil Sam and Franklin Lawrence have been impressive, points drubbings by fast-handed types like Juan Carlos Gomez and Timur Ibragimov have slowed the aging veteran down to near-journeyman status.
The 6’2” McCall has now lost three of his last five and it’s surely time for him to call it a day nearing the age of 50.
Oliver McCall has never been dropped in the ring, only been stopped in the farce rematch with Lewis and continues to go the distance with ease some twenty years past his prime. Added to that he was a long-time sparring partner to a prime Mike Tyson and never suffered a knockdown in that period either and it’s hard to argue Oliver topping this list.
McCall currently co-trains his son Elijah “Rainman” McCall who turned pro in 2008. Elijah has a decent 9-1-1 (8) record and looks a solid prospect.
Rocky Marciano-had insane toughness but rarely fought anyone above 200lbs.
Randall “Tex” Cobb-had an incredible ability to soak up punishment, proven by his one-sided drubbing at the hands of champion Larry Holmes but loses points for the lack of top-rated contenders he fought. Both Ken Norton and Earnie Shavers were several years past their best when facing Cobb.
Riddick Bowe-never officially stopped and was only dropped by Holyfield and Andrew Golota but never faced a huge puncher like Lennox Lewis or Mike Tyson.
James J. Jeffries-Only beaten once by Jack Johnson in an ill-advised comeback after six years out of the ring. In his prime “The Boilermaker” was as tough and game as they come. He absorbed huge amounts of punishment in victories over James J. Corbett, Bob Fitzsimmons and Tom Sharkey and was on-par with Marciano for freakish durability.