Tracy G. Callis
International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO)
Who is the best fighter in the world pound-for-pound? Who was the greatest fighter ever pound-for-pound? That's like asking which tastes better -- an apple or an orange, or which is prettier - a rose or an orchid?
It is very subjective. It is difficult enough to pick a winner between two fighters in the same weight class fighting at the time period much less attempting to decide who was a better fighter in his weight class at different periods of history.
There are two ways in which people look at this question. One is whether a fighter in his weight division is performing better against his opposition than other fighters in their divisions are doing against their opposition (i.e. is the Lightweight Champion doing better against his lightweight foes than the Heavyweight Champion is doing against his heavyweight opponents).
This is purely speculative and much depends upon the personal preferences of the individual doing the rating as to style of fighting, overall skills of the fighters, quality of the opposition, etc.
The other way of looking at this question is - if all men were the same size (i.e. weight) then who would be the best ? If a good lightweight boxer were as big as a heavyweight but fought like he fights as a lightweight, would he beat all the heavyweights around? Or, if a good heavyweight boxer were as small as a lightweight but fought like he fights as a heavyweight, would he beat all the lightweights around?
Generally, as a man gets larger he gets heavier. As he gets heavier, he gets slower. This is not always the case but usually it is true. Since the lighter men are quicker and throw more punches they most often get the nod in "pound for pound" comparisons. One imagines that if Roy Jones Jr. was as heavy as Riddick Bowe and fought like he does at his own weight, he would demolish all the big men. On the other hand, if Riddick Bowe were as light as Jones and retained his power, he would probably knock the heads off the shoulders of his opposition.
It seems that most of the time, fans can see the "inflated" lighter man fighting at a heavier weight and still be awesome. Few of us realize just how brutal a larger man would be if he retained his power and chin as he was "scaled down" to a lighter weight. This "scaling down" is rarely done by fans and is a drawback in the ratings for the men of the heavier weight classes.
Possibly the criteria for the best ever "pound for pound" boxer would be a man who actually fights successfully in several weight classes over his career and, perhaps, under different rules or circumstances - rather than a man we "suppose" or "hypothesize" would do well in various weight classes. Of course, this is another drawback for the heavyweights because many of them do not fight across several weight classes.
Another consideration for "pound for pound" greatness might be how well a fighter handles larger and heavier men. It should be noted that most of the acknowledged great fighters throughout history often fought men larger than themselves with success. With increased regulation of boxing by commissions over the years, the number of fighters who go up against much larger and heavier men has decreased.
GO AHEAD - RATE 'EM
This being said, I submit the following for consideration as the all-time best "pound for pound" fighters - Bob Fitzsimmons, "Sugar" Ray Robinson, Jack Dempsey (the "Nonpareil"), Sam Langford, Harry Greb, Charley Mitchell, Joe Walcott and Henry Armstrong. Surely, there are many men who were outstanding "pound for pound" fighters who are omitted here but deserve to be mentioned - Jack Dillon, Mickey Walker, Ted "Kid" Lewis, Tommy Gibbons and Roberto Duran to name five more.
Fitzsimmons was a natural middleweight and during his entire career never weighed more than a light-heavyweight. Yet, he won three titles, including the Heavyweight Championship. A devastating hitter, Fitz annihilated men his own size as well as much larger men. He even punished - correction: battered - the great Jim Jeffries in two fights. Only the marvelous ruggedness of Jeffries enabled him to withstand the terrible punishment and defeat Fitzsimmons.
Robinson is considered by many today as the best ever "pound for pound" fighter. He fought for 25 years, engaged in over 200 bouts, and lost only 19 times. During his peak years, 1940-1952, the "Sugar Man" lost only 3 times while winning 131 bouts. He was quick and elusive and carried explosive power. He won the Welterweight title and several Middleweight titles during his career. Had it not been for the tremendous heat when he fought Joey Maxim for the Light-Heavyweight Championship in 1952, he would have won that crown in spite of being outweighed by 15 pounds.
Dempsey started his career as a lightweight and never weighed more than a welterweight. He fought men of all weights, even heavyweights. On many occasions, he fought men 10-35 pounds heavier. He won the American Lightweight Championship and Middleweight Championship of the World. He fought using bare-knuckles as well as gloves. He only lost three fights in his career and they came at the end of his career when his health was deteriorating due to tuberculosis. Two of the men who beat him were all-time greats - Bob Fitzsimmons and Tommy Ryan. The other loss was to George LaBlanche on a questionable illegal blow.
Langford began as a featherweight and fought up through the heavyweight class. During his career, he engaged in over 290 fights. He was dominant in every division and was avoided by many men who did not want their record tarnished. He was quick, slippery, and a terrific hitter. Langford was only "truly bested" by men who were very good and much larger than himself - namely, Jack Johnson and Harry Wills - and then, only after very competitive battles.
Greb was a two-handed attacker who was slippery, rough and tough. He engaged in 299 bouts in his 14 year career and fought against men weighing anywhere from the middleweight class up through heavyweight. He won the World Middleweight Championship and the Light-Heavyweight Championship of America and experienced only eight losses. Five of these came against other Champions - Gene Tunney (twice), Tiger Flowers (twice) and Tommy Loughran.
Mitchell fought as a lightweight up through light-heavyweight. He fought under London Prize Ring rules as well as Queensberry rules and any other rules matchmakers wanted to use - it didn't matter to him. He took on huge heavyweights as quickly as he did men his own size - and whipped them. He even dazzled John L. Sullivan with bare-knuckles for 39 rounds in France during 1888 and fought the big man to a draw. There is strong argument that Mitchell is the best fighter ever under London Prize Ring rules. Possibly there was never a better middleweight than Mitchell.
Walcott was a natural lightweight-welterweight who took on anyone ranging from lightweight up through heavyweight. He was one of the hardest hitters ever and was extremely durable. Standing only 5-1 1/2, he gave away as much in height and reach as he did in weight. Yet, many larger men were leery of this awesome battler and dodged him.
Armstrong was a featherweight-lightweight-welterweight during his fifteen year career and often took on heavier men. He was a non-stop whirlwind of a fighter who won three titles - Featherweight, Lightweight, and Welterweight during his career. In 181 fights, he lost only 21. At his peak, from 1937-1942, he compiled a 72-4-1 record with three of the losses coming to other Champions.
It is the opinion of this writer that Bob Fitzsimmons was the best "pound for pound" fighter in boxing history.