January 26, 2021

Friday Fights: Top 10 Welterweights

In the second installment of “Friday Fights,” Adam Milliken takes a look at the top 10 welterweights of all time.

Photo by Bryan Horowitz, courtesy of creativecommons.org. No changes made.

[title_box title=”Friday Fights: Top 10 Welterweights”]

Last week, I discussed my top 10 list in the heavyweight boxing division, the most recognizable in the sport. This time, I will take a look at my personal top 10 list of greatest welterweight boxers of all time, arguably the second most recognizable division in boxing history.

10. Barney Ross – 72-4-3-(22 KO’s): Barney Ross is widely considered to be one of the greatest lightweight and Jr. Welterweight boxers of all time, and truth be told he was probably better in those divisions. However, he was a spectacular welterweight as well. In May 1934, Ross defeated Jimmy McLarnin to win the world welterweight championship. This win also allowed Ross to become the first person to ever hold three lineal world championships at the same time. In their rematch, Ross dropped the title back to McLarnin. However, in their third bout, Ross would regain the welterweight crown and reign as champion from 1935-1938. Over the course of his career, Ross was able to defeat some truly great boxers, including Joe Gans and Ceferino Garcia. Ross also put on what some consider the most courageous performance in the sport’s illustrious history in his final fight against Henry Armstrong. Armstrong decimated Ross for the entire fight and Ross’s trainers begged him to give up. However, having never lost by way of a knockout in his career, Ross was determined to continue on and leave the ring on his own two feet. He did leave under his own power after that loss to Armstrong, and he retired after the bout.

9. Emile Griffith – 85-25-2-(23 KO’s)-1 no contest: Griffith turned pro in 1958 at the age of 20, and it didn’t take him long to start winning. He lost only twice, both on split decisions, in his first 25 fights. In his 25th bout, in April of 1961, Grifffith defeated Benny Paret by knockout to win his first world welterweight championship. Griffith would then lose the title back to Paret, which set up their tragic rubber match in March 1962. At the weigh-in for the fight, Paret made insensitive comments and called Griffith a slur for homosexual, which Griffith did not take kindly to. Griffith delivered a legendary beating to Paret, and he eventually won by technical knockout in the 12th round when Paret slumped down to the mat. Paret would never regain consciousness, and he died 10 days later. Many think that the guilt he felt over killing Paret affected Griffith immensely for the rest of his career and his life, although he continued winning. Griffith retired in 1976 as a three-time world welterweight champion.

8. Kid Gavilan – 108-30-5-(28 KO’s): ‘’The Cuban Hawk’’ was known for his flash and popularity during the early years of television. Gavilan began his career as a featherweight, but he soon moved up into the welterweight class. He earned valuable experience throughout his early years, and he is often credited with giving “Sugar” Ray Robinson his closest fight at welterweight. His experience and his extremely valuable loss to Robinson would earn Gavilan his first title shot in July 1949, which he lost to Robinson on decision. In 1951, Robinson vacated the world welterweight title to move up to middleweight, and Gavilan then became the welterweight champion. He would reign until 1954, after which he began to decline. Throughout his career, Gavilan never shied away from regularly taking on the best fighters of the time, as he faced six former world champions during the course of his career.

7. Jose Napoles – 81-7-(55 KO’s): Nicknamed “Mantequilla” (Spanish for Butler), Napoles was one of the smoothest fighters to ever step foot into a boxing ring. Although it took him nearly a decade after beginning his career to enter the welterweight division, his days as a welterweight would ultimately be his most defining and best. He earned his first world welterweight championship in April 1969 by defeating Curtis Cokes, who Napoles then beat two months later in a rematch. He reigned until December 1970 when he was upset by Billy Backus. Napoles went on to avenge that loss by winning the rematch the following June and regaining the welterweight titles. His second reign would last from 1971-1975, with his only loss during that span coming at the hands of Carlos Monzon in a bout for the world middleweight championship. Napoles would lose the welterweight crown to John Stracey in late 1975 and announced his retirement after the bout.

6. Joe Walcott – 92-25-24-(58 KO’s)-2 no contests: “The Barbados Demon” was a formidable fighter despite his small stature, standing only roughly 5’2”. Debuting in 1890, it took Walcott a bit longer than some before he tasted championship success. He won the world welterweight title in December of 1901 by defeating Rube Ferns. His reign lasted from 1901-1904, and although he did not defend the title often, he did fight often. He faced the likes of Joe Gans, Jack O’Brien, and Sam Langford. His reign came to a highly controversial end in April 1904 when he lost the title to Dixie Kid by way of a 20th round disqualification. The controversy came from the fact that by accounts, Walcott was winning the match easily and was disqualified for no reason. It was later discovered that the referee had bet on Dixie Kid to win the bout. Any claims Walcott had to the welterweight crown were silenced when he lost to Honey Mellody in late 1906. Though he never regained his old form after that point, Barbados Joe Walcott was one of the best welterweights boxing has ever seen.

5. Thomas Hearns – 61-5-1-(48 KO’s): Nicknamed both “The Motor City Cobra” and “The Hitman”, Hearns was one of the most devastating punchers in the history of boxing. He began his professional career in 1977, and by 1980, he was 28-0 including 17 wins by knockout. In 1980, Hearns defeated Pipino Cuevas to win the World Boxing Association (WBA) welterweight championship. In his most famous fight, Hearns took on World Boxing Council (WBC) welterweight champion “Sugar” Ray Leonard. Dubbed “The Showdown”, their legendary encounter took place in 1981 and was for the unified welterweight championship. Through 13 rounds, Hearns was leading on all three judges’ scorecards, but Leonard was able to pin Hearns against the ropes and earn a technical knockout victory in the 14th round. Hearns was also the first person in history to win titles in four different weight classes and the first to win titles in five different weight classes.

4. Floyd Mayweather Jr. – 49-0-0-(26 KO’s): Often regarded as a boring fighter to watch, Mayweather Jr. is a defensive mastermind in the ring. He has managed to tie Rocky Marciano’s record of retiring at 49-0. Throughout his career, Mayweather Jr. has won titles in five different weight classes, and he has won the lineal championship in four different weight classes. Although the subpar competition he faced throughout his career is often used as an argument to discredit his accomplishments, the fact that he has defeated them all and has never lost cannot be glossed over. Many people are rubbed the wrong way by his antics and his massive arrogance, it cannot be denied, though, that he is one of the greatest pound-for-pound boxers in the history of the sport.

3. Henry Armstrong – 151-21-9-(101 KO’s): Henry “Homicide Hank” Armstrong was a sensational fighter at multiple weight classes. In the midst of his already great career, Armstrong stepped up to welterweight and won the welterweight title handily in May 1938 from Barney Ross. From May 1938 to October 1940, Armstrong defended the title an incredible 18 times successfully, which led to many considering it to be the greatest title reign in welterweight history. His dominating championship run was brought to an end in October 1940 by Fritzie Zivic. Armstrong has the exclusive distinction of being the only person in boxing history to hold three world championships at the same time (he held the featherweight, lightweight, and welterweight for a brief period in 1938). He would continue boxing until he retired from the sport in 1945 as one of its greatest champions.

2. “Sugar” Ray Leonard – 36-3-1-(25 KO’s): Taking the nickname of his idol “Sugar” Ray Robinson, “Sugar” Ray Leonard is widely considered to be one of the best boxers of all time. He combined speed, skill, and power to an incredible degree, which translated into massive success. Turning pro in 1977, he quickly compiled a 25-0 record and was awarded his first title shot in November 1979 against the WBC welterweight champion Wilfred Benitez. At the time of the fight, neither man had ever lost a professional fight, as Benitez was 38-0-1. Leonard won a tightly contested bout, and he then successfully defended the title against Dave Green with one of the most devastating knockouts one will ever see in boxing. In June 1980, Leonard would lose the title to Roberto Duran in a classic matchup, but he would regain it just five months later in November by winning the rematch with Duran. His second reign included a victory over the WBA welterweight champion Thomas Hearns in September of 1981. An unfortunate eye injury forced Leonard into early retirement the following year, however. He would eventually make a comeback, including winning the world middleweight championship from Marvelous Marvin Hagler in 1987. Leonard won world titles in five different weight classes, including a run as the undisputed world welterweight champion. He was also a member of “The Fabulous Four”, and he defeated four future International Boxing Hall of Fame inductees throughout his career.

1. “Sugar” Ray Robinson – 173-19-6-(108 KO’s)-2 no contests: Even though the welterweight division is stacked with countless great boxers scattered throughout its history, there was never even a question as to who the greatest welterweight of all time would be. It is “Sugar” Ray Robinson without a doubt. The welterweight division belongs to Robinson; he is the kingpin. He is often cited as the greatest boxer of all time, partially due to his massive success in other weight classes (see my Top 10 Middleweights list). However, he was at his best as a welterweight. Robinson dominated throughout his amateur and early professional career, quickly amassing wins and respect. His first loss came at the hands of Jake LaMotta in April 1943, a fact that many attribute to Robinson being outweighed by about 16 pounds during the fight. In December 1946, Robinson was matched against Tommy Bell for the vacant world welterweight championship. Coming into the fight, Robinson had a professional record of 73-1-1. He won a unanimous decision to become welterweight champion. His reign would last until his fight with Charley Fusari in August 1950, which Robinson won. After the fight, Robinson decided to vacate the welterweight title to move up to middleweight for the remainder of his career. At the time of his victory over Fusari, Robinson had an astounding professional record of 110-1-2. He is widely regarded as the greatest fighter ever for a few reasons. One is his baffling record, including the 110-1-2 during his time as a welterweight. It wasn’t just wins he was compiling, however, it was wins against high quality opposition. There is also a magnificent awe about him from anyone who was lucky enough to witness him fight during his height as a welterweight. No disrespect intended for the others on this list as they great champions and some of the very best in boxing history, but this division’s crown belongs to “Sugar” Ray Robinson.

Featured image by Bryan Horowitz

Edited by Cody McClure

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Adam is the Assistant Sports Editor for the Tennessee Journalist and a Junior at UT. Most of his free time is spent watching sports, listening to good music, and enjoying life. If you wish to contact him, you can email him at amillike@vols.utk.edu, follow him on Twitter, @AdamMilliken14, or find him at https://www.linkedin.com/pub/adam-milliken/109/a89/a32.