Greatest Boxers - The 6 Magic Ingredients

6 Magic Ingredients for the Greatest Boxers

by Fran on October 19, 2012

A couple of years ago, I posted an article in which I listed 10 fighters that I considered to be the greatest boxers of all time and invited others to make their suggestions.  Having looked back at that article, I found myself wondering what are the things that distinguish the greatest boxers from the best of the rest?

Now I am sure that we will all have different views on this question, after all it is a very subjective issue. But the word ‘great’, just like the words ‘World Class’, I feel is very much overused these days. So what I wanted to do was attempt to define 6 ingredients of that magic recipe that makes a boxer more than just ‘good’, that makes him into one of the greatest boxers of them all.

So, here are my magic ingredients (in no particular order of importance) that mix to form that most rare of men in that most exclusive club, one of our greatest boxers of all time.   By the way, I’ve not listed skill in here even though great fighters obviously need it.    It just seems a little obvious.  Great fighters are highly skilled and tactically aware, whatever their style of boxing.  But that alone will not make them great.

Ingredient #1 of the Greatest Boxers Mix – Titles

In modern boxing, the proliferation of world title sanctioning bodies has become a running joke. When I was a youngster there were just two; the World Boxing Council (WBC) and the World Boxing Association (WBA). Prior to this of course there was just one, and back in those days he was known by the ring announcer as the ‘Champeen of the World.’  Becoming a champ back then and holding on to your title for any length of time was a truly outstanding achievement.

After the WBA and WBC came the International Boxing Federation (IBF). Even with 3 versions of the title at each weight, the rival sanctioning bodies whilst being competitors could often overcome the political difficulties and financial barriers to arrange the ‘super fights.’   And these super fights  resulted in what was known as an undisputed world champion, that is a fighter that held all titles in their weight at the same time.

Times have now changed. Has it been good for the sport that we now have such a mish-mash of boxing world titles? I don’t think so, but that is for another post. In becoming one of the greatest boxers there is a clear and absolute need for owning at least a world title in one weight category.  If a fighter owns world titles in multiple weight categories, then this can only have a positive impact upon their quest for greatness.

For my money the greatest achievement in the multiple weights arena was that of Henry Armstrong.  Henry held the featherweight, lightweight and welterweight titles simultaneously.  That is a staggering achievement by Hurricane Hank and one that will never be equalled.  In recent decades it’s become the norm for fighters to move up through the weights and “clean up” divisions along the way.

In the days before WBC, WBA and the rest of the alphabet organisations a common statement would be “He’s the greatest boxer never to win a world title.” There were fewer weight categories and only one champion per weight. If you were occupying the same space as a Henry Armstrong, a Joe Louis or a welterweight Sugar Ray Robinson, then it was just plain bad luck.  Your chances of landing a world title were slim, very slim.

The greatest boxers win world titles. Pound for pound, there were undoubtedly boxers back then that would have quite readily won a world title of some description in the current game. Unfortunately they will never be in the running to be in the ‘greatest boxers’ club for the simple reason that the champ they faced at the time was all powerful and they were unable to overturn them.  Them’s the breaks I guess.

This problem for the challengers though did have a positive effect on the reputation of the champion. In many ways, it made the champion even greater precisely because there was generally speaking no ‘ducking’ of opponents. This meant that the champion had no choice but to face the very best of the opposition. Fewer ‘easy’ fights results in white-hot competition for titles. This leads us neatly onto our next magic ingredient.

Ingredient #2 of the Greatest Boxers Mix – Competition

There is a school of thought, one to which I subscribe, that the greatest boxers have this greatness drawn out of them. The history of boxing is littered with examples of boxers who, because of the intensity of the competition and rivalry they had with one or more fellow boxers, found their way onto the top of the pile.  There names are amongst the first mentioned when asked for a list of the greatest boxers.

You see, for me greatness is not something that an athlete acheives without the intensity of competition. The more stiff and difficult to overcome the competition, the more sweet the victory and ultimately the greater the achievement. Great rivalries make great boxers. Many of the greatest boxers are taken closer to defeat than they would care to go because of the brilliance of their opponent.

Roberto Duran had three encounters with the sublimely talented Estaban DeJesus, losing once and winning twice. Sugar Ray Robinson fought the ridiculously tough and durable Jake LaMotta 6 times at middleweight. Another Sugar, Ray Leonard, was taken to the very brink of defeat against Thomas Hearns, but rallied as all great fighters do to overcome a contemporary who was equally brilliant.

Taking this principle of ‘competition’ being vital in the recipe for the greatest boxers, some might argue that Joe Louis simply did not face that level of competition during his 25 successful defences of his heavyweight title. It was in fact referred to in many quarters as ‘Joe’s Bum of the Month’ club. That may be a unfair, after all a boxer can only defeat what is put in front of him and he did meet Ezzard Charles (by whom Joe was defeated) and Joe Walcott later in his career, two outstanding fighters.

For me though, that lack of quality opposition faced by the ‘Brown Bomber’ is the one blemish on the otherwise unquestionable credentials of Joe’s greatness. He single-handedly brought the modern boxing style to the fore and ultimately this boxing style has stood the test of time. It’s a question I’ll leave you to ponder. The subject of Joe does however present us with a nice opportunity to define the 3rd of our magic ingredients in the greatest boxers mix.

Ingredient #3 of the Greatest Boxers Mix – Dominance

Joe Louis may not have been challenged by the hottest quality competition, but my God he dominated his era with absolute and total control (until of course a certain Rocky Marciano came along). A champion dominating his division or indeed divisions in terms of multi-weight world champions, is clearly a basis for greatness.

If a boxer loses out in key matches, throws away sloppy defeats and does not secure his victory at all costs against all competition, then surely his credentials to be in the greatest boxers club is compromised. Let’s take Marvelous Marvin Hagler, someone who undoubtedly had total dominance of his weight category.

Marvin had the titles, he was the undisputed middleweight champion of the world. He had the competition, dispatching of a diverse and talented body of boxers including Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns, the latter in a fight widely regarded as one of the best of all time. The fact that Marvin lost a hotly disputed decision to Sugar Ray Leonard does nothing to diminish his status as one of our greatest boxers, not for me anyway.

What about Mike Tyson. Mike certainly dominated the heavyweight scene for 2 years and I firmly believe that at that time he was as close to undefeatable as a boxer can get. But does this assure his status as one of our greatest boxers of all time? Most exciting, yes. Most fearsome, yes. Most powerful, yes.

Does the fact that Mike did not exert dominance over a prolonged period challenge his status as one of our greates boxers? For me, it certainly drops him down the list with the fact that he remained competitive without being dominant keeping him well in there. One key thing about Mike Tyson was that he possessed a mass appeal that meant that when he boxed, or did anything for that matter, the World watched.  But more on that later.

Ingredient #4 of the Greatest Boxers Mix – Longevity

The greatest boxers stick around. They are not here today gone tomorrow, not without the kind of tragic interference of chance and circumstance ripping them away. The most sad and compelling case of this for me was the wonderfully talented Mexican Featherweight Salvador Sanchez, who after winning the WBC Featherweight championship in 1980, defended it 8 times only to be cruelly killed in a car crash. A greatest boxer who unfortunately never got the chance to bask in the glory of his greatness.

Fact is, the greatest boxers occupy the boxing world for long enough to stamp their mark.  Putting aside a cases such as the brilliant Sanchez, the sport does have an issue with this longevity thing.  I suppose the longevity ingredient must go hand in hand with victory.  We all dearly love to see great fighters go out at the top, unfortunately for one reason or another (ego and/or money, take your pick) they often stay on too long.

Boxing has a long list of fighers who stayed around too long.  There is no age limit here, it all comes down to taking more punches than they ever took earlier in their career.  Fighters like Archie Moore and Roberto Duran continued well into their forties but both retained their ability to make opponents miss.  They took few shots, or when they did they had taken the sting out of the shot with wily defensive skills.

At the other end of the spectrum is the man many people feel is the greatest boxer of them all, Muhammad Ali.  It’s undeniable that Ali went on far longer than he should have.  If he would have retired after defeating George Foreman then his greatness would have been assured anyway.  Aside from the Frazier fight in Manila, my view is that not one of the other fights post-Foreman contributed in any way to his status.  When he beat Foreman, Ali had been fighting for 14 years (accepting that he had an enforced 3 year lay off), by anyone’s standards that’s the longevity ingredient well and truly added.

Ingredient #5 of the Greatest Boxers Mix – Marketability

It seems apt that having talked about Muhammad Ali we move on to another of those ingredients, marketability.  This is all about the wider appeal of the individual.  Ali, Tyson, Leonard, Pacquiao, Mayweather and on and on and on.  Certain boxers capture the imagination of the boxing public (and in some cases the wider public).  Whether this be the ‘love him or hate him’ syndrome, whether it be the ‘who knows what the hell he’s going to do’ syndrome (think Mike Tyson), fighters have to make their mark to get into and stay in the greatest boxers club.

What if the boxer is one of the most skilled you are ever likely to see, but the boxing public doesn’t really get captivated by what he’s going to do?  He could have the titles, the right competition, the dominance, but if that appeal is not built then often they can be overlooked.  A case in point is the wonderfully talented Pernell Whitaker, a super-slick southpaw who defeated all-comers in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  For the boxing purists, Whitaker was a sight to behold.  He beat them all but is seldom mentioned in greatest boxers top 10 lists.

Why is this?  Well, the answer is simple really.  You see Pernell was absolutely dominant, but most of his fights were ‘by the numbers’ points victories.  There was no excitement.  Whoever the opposition, the boxing public thought “Here we go, another points victory with a southpaw stick-and-move strategy.”  Whitaker did not capture the imagination of the boxing public, he simply was not marketable in the way others were.  For the record I think he was one of the greatest ring tacticians I’ve ever seen, but as I’ve said being a great tactician alone will not assure greatness.

Ingredient #6 of the Greatest Boxers Mix – Resilience

This final ingredient in some ways feels disappointingly obvious, but it does not lessen it’s importance in the greatest boxers recipe.  The reason I say it seems a little obvious is that it goes without saying that any fighter needs to be resilient.  It’s not known as the ‘toughest sport’ for nothing.  In essence, all fighters who seek to gain any level of success must be resilient.

But with the greatest boxers, it’s different.  They, like other great sportsmen, take the principle of resilience to a whole new level.  And this resilience is on both a physical and emotional level.  Muhammad Ali famously collapsed after Joe Frazier was retired on his stool in their war in Manila.  Fact is, Ali was as smashed to pieces as Joe was, but he was willing and able (just about) to get up and go out for another round.  Resilience beyond what any human being should realistically expect to demonstrate.

But the resilience of a fighter is not just about getting from round-to-round.  It’s about being resilient enough to lock yourself away and train like a demon for extended periods, living a life as disciplined as any occupation in human history.  It’s about coming back from defeat stronger and better than before, having the resilience to take the shattering impact of loss, put it away in a box and get back down to the business of winning.

This final point is quite relevant to me.  Over here in the UK, there used to be a featherweight called ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed.  Naseem makes it into many British fight fans greatest boxers of all time lists, but not mine.  You see, I was never really a fan of Hamed.  I felt that his style was fundamentally flawed and was never really tested by a top fighter.  Let’s remember that ‘Prince’ thought himself greater than Ali.  At least when the Beatles said they were bigger than Jesus they did it tongue-in-cheek.  Naseem really believed it.

Sure Naz knocked lots of people out, he had a big punch that’s for sure, and his boxing style was certainly distinctive.  But, the first time he met a truly world class fighter in Marco Antonio Barrera, he was made to look very, very ordinary.  Worse than that though, after the Barrera fight he could not get himself going again to recapture his ‘greatness.’  His ego had been badly damaged, his unbeaten tag laid battered and broken in the Vegas ring.  For me his resilience was lacking.

Great fighters are quite simply amongst the most resilient people the World has to offer.  Without resilience greatness will always be on the horizon and never any closer.

The Final Word…

During the course of my lifetime in boxing, my list of greatest fighters has no doubt changed.  I have found it interesting that at the time of writing the ‘Top 10 Greatest Boxers’ article, Floyd Mayweather did not make it into my 10 list of greatest boxers. Oh how times have changed because he sure as hell does now.  In the 2 years since that article, my respect and admiration for the quality that Mayweather brings to the ring has placed him firmly into my greatest boxers of all time list.

What has not changed for me is the pleasure I take in watching the greatest boxers ply their trade.  Another thing that has not changed are the things that I feel make the boxers great in the first place.  If a fighter possesses all of the above ingredients then they have the potential to be considered in the greatest boxers lists.  After all, it’s a very exclusive club.



Keywords: greatest boxers, greatest fighters, Joe Louis, Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler, Rocky Marciano, pernell whitaker, Muhammad Ali

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave Waterman September 13, 2013 at 2:32 pm

I think Mayweather is a sublime technician and is the best of his generation. However, I think a fair argument can be levelled against him regarding the selecting of opponents and the setting of catch weights. For instance, the fight against Alvarez is set at 152 rather than the light middle limit of 154. This clearly negatively affects Alvarez who is big at 154 and getting bigger as he matures. Camp Canelo claim that Mayweather originally wanted the fight at welterweight which was an impossibility for the Mexican. Then the light middle catch weight gradually got more realistic from 150 to 151 to the now agreed 152.

Back in the days of 8 weight divisions I can see an argument for the setting of catch weights, but today where Floyd has spent seven years happily tripping between welterweight and light middle, I can’t see a valid case other than to gain an edge. I think I’m correct in sayin that Roberto Duran never asked for a catchweight neither did Harry Greb.

Mayweather’s legacy will always be coloured by the failure to meet Pacquiao when both were flying equally as high. It’s a shame because I think he has/had the ability to beat the 44 names on his record at the height of their pomp or at a recognised weight division limit. I think he had Pacquiao’s number too.

For the reasons set above Mayweather sits below the ten names on my top ten list although I would say he still has the chance to make it in (that probably makes me sound a bit self important) but I understand why others might place him much higher.


Fran September 13, 2013 at 6:48 pm

A very sound and reasoned argument Mr W. It’s unfortunate but I think that brinksmanship is part of the game, as is the manager seeking to gain any advantage he can. When Leonard fought Hagler, Ray’s team managed to fiddle a 24 foot ring and 10oz gloves rather than the 8s that Marvin preferred. Maybe fiddling about with weights to get a catchweight is a bit more dubious, but yes definitely see the point.

To be fair, I think tomorrow will be a glorified sparring session. I wonder what the chances of Floyd getting in with Golovkin. Now, if Floyd took that fight and won then I reckon that would do it. Having said that, he’d need to take in a battle-sharpened claymore just to draw!


Dave Waterman September 10, 2013 at 12:30 am

I was skimming the discussions on the site and saw the most recent comments above. I was discussing just this with a fellow coach at the gym just last night. He says that Mayweather makes his top five. For me he’s yet to break top ten. Matt Hamilton, who has recorded some excellent interviews recently, made his top ten here:


Fran September 10, 2013 at 8:50 pm

Just watched Matt’s video Dave, really enjoyed it. It’s funny, I often find the omissions as interesting as the inclusions. No Ali and no Leonard, two guys that are often well in the list. Really good vid though.

Why no Mayweather in the top 10 mate, is it down to a theory of picking the right opponents at the right time?


Cillian O'Donnell September 3, 2013 at 5:10 pm

What does your new all time great list look like?


Fran September 5, 2013 at 8:50 pm

I reckon that FLoyd makes it in Cillian 🙂


Peter_S December 5, 2012 at 12:14 am

Hey Fran! I hope all is well. Best regards to you and your loved ones. Just a question: Do you plan to write anymore analysis on others boxers? I’d love to hear what you think about certain boxers with noticeable distinction such as Floyd Mayweather Jr. and more relevantly the now retired Ricky Hatton!


Fran December 5, 2012 at 9:05 pm


Thanks, and the same to you and yours.

I have to admit to being a bit off-the-pace in terms of producing articles. This however is to change. After watching Ricky’s last fight I got to thinking about a fighter’s longevity. So, I decided to put together an analysis of Ricky coupled with dealing with the question how certain fighters can go and and be highly successful late into their 30’s and beyond. Early stages, but I’ll be putting that out in the coming days. I also plan to film some more skills videos on Saturday morning, they’ll be released over the next week or two.

Analysis articles are very well liked, so they will be a permanent feature of the site.

Thanks Peter.


Rich November 4, 2012 at 8:27 am


It’s about time we had a proper forum on here mate.

Any chance of sorting one out?




Fran November 4, 2012 at 9:01 pm

I’ll look into that Rich, sounds like a smart idea and I think there is something I could do.

Thanks for the suggestion, really appreciated.


Dave Waterman November 4, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Agreed that a My Boxing Coach forum would be very popular. The comments section have become almost that.


Fran November 6, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Going to see what I can sort Dave. Truth is I am of the opinion that there is as much and often more to learn from the wealth of comments posted by people who spend lots of time thinking about the sport than from the articles themselves. If a forum can provide an additional way for people to improve their knowledge then I’ll try my best to sort it.

Thanks Dave


Ivan November 3, 2012 at 6:25 pm

When we discuss self-belief/self confidence in boxing, a good example that occurs to me is the fight b/n Roberto Duran and Iran Barkley.
Duran was 37 years old and his best days had been in the lightweight division. Barkley was a big, lean and mean middleweight, he was 29 years old, 6 inches taller with an 8 inches reach advantage. Not only things looked scary on paper but Barkley held an early TKO win over Thomas Hearns, who had handed Duran his first KO loss. It was a deep, heavy fall and it didn’t look like Duran could ever beat Hearns.
So what do you do when you are actually a lightweight with excess luggage and have to face a big middleweight who in his previous outing had TKO-ed your worst nightmare in the 3rd round? Middleweights are too dangerous anyway, fast like the lighter guys and they hit like the big guys (perhaps it’s not the right time for me to say I used to be a middleweight back in the day, but we are talking self-belief here).
In short, Duran survived some heavy bombs but schooled this tough customer before he put Barkley down in 11th en route to an SD win. It took more than physical toughness and boxing generalship, it was a display of mental power almost like in the martial arts cult movies. Beating the odds is hard, saying “No mas!” to your demons is even harder. If anyone thought Duran was more of a brawler and a bully than a real Boxer, they’d better watch football instead.


Fran November 4, 2012 at 8:59 pm

Haha. Love the last line Ivan. In terms of Hearns, many felt that Duran held a real fear of him. I agree with you and would go a step further in saying that Duran in his fight against Hearns knew his fate was sealed from the start. Can’t say it for certain. We night find out as a movie of his life is currently being filled (apparently Usher is playing a young Sugar Ray).

Against Barkley though, he was certainly convinced of his ability to be victorious. What’s more, he had the coolness of execution to stand in front of his very dangerous opponent and maintain that for the duration of the fight. I guess a big part of it is the quality of the preparation. When trained to perfection, a man of the sublime skills of Roberto Duran even at 37 (and older) could gain the admiration of any boxing scholar.

Thanks Ivan.


Rich November 1, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Hello Ivan,

I’m not consciously aware that your post influenced my post – it may have, subconsciously.

I studied psychology at uni and this was a topic (i.e. how beliefs influence behaviour and how behaviour influences beliefs) that I found particularly interesting. I often find my self thinking along these lines.



Ivan November 1, 2012 at 8:10 am

Rich/Fran, I’d be glad if my suggestion that Tyson lacked self confidence has prompted you to extrapolate self belief as an ingredient. Unacknowledged contributions are even more rewarding, people like the idea so much they acquire the self-belief its their own.


Fran November 1, 2012 at 9:06 am


Self-delusion is something that I possess, not necessarily self-belief! Apologies for the oversight in spotting and responding to your comment.



Rich October 30, 2012 at 9:52 am

Great article Fran – probably my favourite !!! Took me ages to read it as it inspired a lot of thinking. I would have to add self belief into the mix somehow. I think self belief probably underpins most of the above factors you have listed.

It seems to me that many of the greats (in their prime) had amazing self belief – almost verging on delusion. They seem to genuine believe they are the greatest. As if they can overcome any obstacle no matter what the circumstances. Losing isn’t even a consideration.

This self belief probably inspires them to seek out (or not avoid) the biggest challenges (competition) and continue to test themselves at the highest level (to achieve dominance / longevity). Not sure whether self belief would influence marketability but for me marketability is related to perceived greatness not actual greatness (never the less, I do agree with your point). I certainly believe self belief underpins resilience as the potential of the human body is almost limitless provided the mind is willing.

Wish I had more time to elaborate as the above is a bit ‘sketchie’.

Keep up the good work mate.



Fran October 31, 2012 at 10:33 pm

Hey Rich

I hope that you are well.

Not sketchie at all, spot on in fact. I’d like to propose self-belief as a 7th ingredient. Seems obvious when pointed out, top athletes must possess that. It’s a great angle because it makes you think about how self-belief is developed and then how self-belief is one of the key factors why the greatest boxers go on too long.

I’ve made a not to write something about self-belief in boxing mate, it’s a really interesting aspect of our game.

Thanks Rich.


Dave Waterman October 22, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Nice article, Fran. I think you’ve got all the criteria for determining greatness there. I linked back to your top ten list article of 2010 and added my own. I was surprised to see Mike Tyson on so many of the lists and in applying the criteria above I would argue that he fails on the longevity criterion having been dominant for four years with two of those showing definite decline.

I would also argue that he fails on resilience due to there being so few fights where he dug deep in the face of adversity to achieve a win and the damning evidence of his loss of heart during battle (Douglas and Holyfield).

Without a doubt Tyson was marketable; we remember the throwback fighter striding toward the ring without pomp or ceremony; black trunks, short black ring boots and bare chested…what a sight that was to behold in a time when boxers wore flashy gowns. But I’d argue that his marketability dissolved after Cus D’Amato died and Kevin Rooney left. He soon suffered the well documented personal turmoil that affected brand Tyson.

None of this is meant to take away Iron Mike’s place in modern boxing history, and as I’ve said before, I’m a fan of the man. But I think our judgement might be clouded by the availability and immediacy of modern media that would have made a global superstar of the likes of Benny Leonard.

I was out running at the weekend with my girlfriend and thought about who would be on my top ten (the list now on your 2010 article). I asked her who would be on hers and she answered Muhammad Ali, Nigel Benn, Ricky Burns and Barry McGuigan. Of course her list, which never got beyond four and contained only one name that holds legitimacy for a greatest of all time slot, was dictated by who she had seen, who had affected her opinion and that she’s simply no student of the fight game. I think that Iron Mike himself, being so knowledgeable regarding the history of boxing, would fail to place himself on a top ten list.


Fran October 26, 2012 at 9:23 pm

I certainly agree on Tyson’s potential to deny himself a place in the Top 10. Whatever else he is a real student of the game and learned a hell of a lot from those black and white videos. When he was maybe 20, I remember him spending an hour with Harry Carpenter on BBC watching old fighters and describing in detail what they were doing. He did so with child-like enthusiasm.

He’s in there for me, but certainly suffers on the longevity and dominance categories.

In terms fo the immediacy of the media aspect, it’s interesting, but I’m not so sure that the opposite might true. That modern fighters have suffered because of the swamping of media hitting them every day. Boxing used to be a huge sport. 20 million+ watched Barry McGuigan defeat Pedroza. Throughout the early 20th century, bills were on in every major city in the UK every week. Big fights were aired on the radio, and into the 50s and beyond closed circuit TV. So exposure was massive. I believe it’s less so now, or other sports have ‘caught up’.

I think that it may be the currency thing. People like you and me know the quality of Benny Leonard and the likes, but that’s because we’re students of the game. The vast majority of modern fight fans watch the next fight up. They don’t have libraries of videos or an inclination to trawl YouTube. They watch BoxNation, Sky or Channel 5, and then wait for the next one. If the fight fan has been watching fights for 30 years or so, then a good number of their greatest boxers will be from that period I guess.

As always Dave, very thought-provoking comment, thanks.


Ivan October 21, 2012 at 6:31 pm

Hi Fran,
apparently you like the number 6 when it comes to boxing analyses. The ingredients are physical and mental like in any sport. Personality does play a big role, it is believed to determine the style of a boxer. There are purely physiological factors such as punch power, punch resistance/chin and hand speed, those things can not be improved significantly.
Personality is what made Ali sort of live up to his own hype, The Greatest. If he was just a modest introvert pugilist he would have been long forgotten. Although his IQ is record low, his social and people skills are outstanding. His boxing skills let him pass most of his tests, his personality is what made it all look so special.
Tyson was by far the most marketable item in boxing. Around the world he had more followers in his time than all other active boxer together. His personality was hidden behind the predatory looks and villainous act. He didn’t pass any of his tests though, and they were not nearly as hard as Ali’s. I think Mike lacked real self confidence, he was just a boy in man’s world until the end.
The toughest test for all high-profile boxers is dealing with the fact they are rich and famous and holding on to their common sense. Most have a really hard time with it.


Fran November 1, 2012 at 9:05 am

Sorry Ivan, I’ve had that many comments lately that I though I’d responded to yours. Ahead of Rich’s comment yours of course adds that magic 7th ingredient, you describe it as self-confidence and Rich describes it as self-belief. Whatever words we use, the difference between Ali and Tyson in this respect was stark. The point about overcoming the toughest tests is key and ties in to the competition.

A very eloquent and well pitched comment Ivan as ever. Thank you.


Shaun October 21, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Hello Fran mate

I’ve been following your site for a few weeks. I really love boxing big fan and Id like to take it up and have a go, maybe a few fights and that. But one thing I really want to know is what is the risk of brain damage in amateur boxing? Even just sparring several times a week let alone fighting? I’ve heard horror stories in the pro ranks: Watson, Mclellan, but how much risk in amateur boxing? Have you ever known any cases? If so, how severe?



Fran October 25, 2012 at 9:07 pm


The risks are so small. The medical controls are so strict. I have only ever witnessed one brain injury in the amateurs, and that was 25 years ago. In my opinion (and no doubt borne out by the statistics). You’ll get a full medical check before being allowed to begin fighting and a check before every fight.

Any risks specific to boxing are not significant enough for me to not allow myself (or indeed my children if they chose) to be involved int he sport.

If you’re curious, get involved



Shaun October 26, 2012 at 10:59 am

Thanks Fran
I was wondering because I saw this report on a recent study about the long term effects of repetitive sub concussive blows to the head over a long period of time. Apparently, blows which do not even cause symptoms of a concussion, which are just hard enough to make you see stars for a split second, can cause microscopic brain injuries, tears or lesions in brain tissue at the cellular level, that can cause TAU proteins to form collectively within the brain, leading to impaired cognitive function and early onset of dementia.

The worrying thing is that a person can accumulate damage without showing any outward signs or symptoms, and the damage inflicted during boxing may not manifest itself for another 15-20 years. Furthermore, that the effects can very often be degenerative, which is why dementia pugilistica is cited as one of the possible outcomes even of sparring.

A recent post mortem on an ex-American football player, with no recorded concussions over a 17-year career, but with obvious sub-concussive injury, revealed these abnormalities on his brain, consistent with personality changes he displayed years after his career ended. These included: manic depression, memory loss, impaired cognitive function, violent mood swings.

Here is the video about the man and the danger of these injuries. Even though it is in regards to American football the principal is the same:

I love boxing myself, certainly not against it. I just think people need to be aware of the full risks and new research like this has left me wondering whether or not it is worth it even though I really see the benefits of partaking.




Anonymous October 21, 2012 at 8:12 am

very interesting fran, and so true about the boxers, but adding to the mix, is the promotional men behind the boxer we have some clever and commercial minded men making more of a boxer than he deserves, and sometimes with big mistakes along the way.
If you look at the marketing of Audrey Harrison olympic gold medallist with careful guidance could and should been a world champion.
More later from me as I’m at the scottish boxing championships with my boys


Fran October 25, 2012 at 9:01 pm

Great comment. Audley promoted himself didn’t he, big mistake. Hope the champs went well for you!


Alexander October 20, 2012 at 2:20 pm

No argument there. All a case of your only as good as your last fight. Or is it by your next one., as far as all us ordinary dudes go. But if your great, it just shines through. The X factor an all. But there is always hope, for all us other dudes. As with that new kid that turns up at the gym. He or she could be the next greatest,, the future. Thanks for that list of shining examples Fran. Models of success. In the ring anyway. So be diligent all you coaches. keep jabbing, AlexL


Fran October 25, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Just brilliant Alexander. Thank you and my eyes remain open looking for ‘The One’ and enjoying no-end working with them all!


Joaquin October 20, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Your articles are great to read, Fran. Your amazing knowledge of the sweet science makes me want to keep learning about the greatest sport. You are certainly one of the reasons my enthusiasm for boxing hasn’t declined. Thank you.

On the article itslef: i couldn’t help but noticing that both klitschko brothers have 5 of the “magic ingredients” (competition being the one missing, obviously). How would they be ranked in your greatest-ever list? I would definetly put them in my top 10 (I know how hard to believe this is to most boxing fans; their fighting style is, for me, just outstanding!)


Fran October 25, 2012 at 8:56 pm

I agree and have written analysis articles on both fighters. As for the Top 10, I don’t know. They certainly cannot be discounted out of hand precisely because of their dominance. They may also lack a bit of marketability, certainly in The States.

Wonderful fighters though.


Paul Smith October 20, 2012 at 3:32 am

Brilliant article Fran!

I read the first paragraph and immediately went to your previous article regarding The Greatest Boxers of All time and composed my list, all before reading this article. It makes me happy to now find out, that we view things the same (except for Naseem Hamed, who imo just had a bad night when he lost to Barrera) when it comes to great boxers.



Fran October 25, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Indeed out views on Naz do differ, but ain’t that glory of the sport! Interesting (or not) tale. I have Naseem Hamed in a boxing programme from when I boxed as a 16 year old. I was 48KG and he was 45KG, it was the national championships in Newcastle. That was the night I had a tough outing against a certain Paul Ingle, future World champ (and one of the nicest people I ever met.)

Thanks Paul


Paul Smith October 26, 2012 at 12:51 am

That IS interesting…..Very interesting and impressive Fran! You most definitely must know your trade well if you were once in a match with a great fighter like Paul Ingle who eventually became a World Champion. Also, being on the same programme with Hamed at one time is pretty cool too.

Cheers Coach


C E Hinton October 19, 2012 at 10:57 pm

Fran, great article (as usual); you sure are a talented writer! You made some very insightful points and I couldn’t agree more. ; thanks a lot for sharing your wisdom.


Fran October 25, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Thanks for the comment, appreciated.


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