I think I can prove that using the dominance criteria, there were only 4 all-time great heavyweight champions. I also think I can eliminate 2 of those...and further come up with only one.
Louis never fought several "top contenders" by the rationale extended here as a critique of Holmes.
In fact, the only heavyweight who basically fought everyone was Ali. His failures to rematch usually involve not extending an invite to a 3rd or 4th fight.
Larry Holmes indeed never faced several guys who one time or another emerged as the 'class' of the division. I may also agree that Larry's title fight comp as a whole was fairly ordinary...but not divergently so from most other champions. I don't think however being the only guy who can claim a title even means you are anything but better than rest in that specific moment in history.
I guess only 6 (7) men could be considered all-timers then: Sullivan*, Louis, Marciano, Liston, Frazier, Foreman, Ali (twice). Only these 6 were champions, having eliminated all top opposition (even if for a brief period..Jack Johnson never rematched Langford and avoided black heavies while defending his crown).
BUT Marciano and Louis and Liston may be excluded since they didn't win their title from a clear top-dog. Liston dominated, but nefore he was champ. After that, he beat Patterson and lost to Ali. He never faced bookends like Frazier for example. As for Rocky, sure Marciano beat Louis, but he was crispy..Walcott was also not clearly the top man even though he beat Ez twice (kinda). Plus Rocky didn't fight every possible top guy, or even most of them...if Holmes didn't. Maybe not as many were avoided..but he did avoid some. And to reiterate...Liston's reign was poor. End of story.
Jeffries is not on this list because he beat 168lb Fitzsimmons and proceeded to get out of the game after some stressful defenses against retreads. Sullivan* is here initially, because he indeed was universally regarded as without peer..and faced everyone save Pete Jackson who was not present throughout Sullivan's reign. Thus John L. WAS dominant. Sullivan must however be removed because he won the title from a hack named Paddy Ryan...making his win of the "title" questionable..despite his clearing out of all-comers. Back to Jeff, so we are clear as to why he is not ATG and dominant: he defended against Corbett, Fitz, Sharkey and some blobs...then he retired early..with Langford and Johnson et al hanging out. Without undeniably beating every truly serious challenger.
So then, we are left with: Ali, Frazier, Foreman. Ali won from clear best Liston. Frazier won from clear best Ali. Foreman from Frazier, Ali from Foreman. All defended the title sucessfully, won from an established unquestioned best in the division, and stamped a mark of clear dominance. this narrows down the list of dominance further..making it palatable for those who don't like grey areas.
This leaves us again with only: Frazier, Foreman and Ali. Louis never faced Bivins, Ray and assorted others. He ranks with Burns then: lots of defenses, but not a perfect record of facing the best each time out..or even handling all of the top contenders. Never mind the title length, he didn't have to rematch Simon, did he? Someone existed during his reign that in retrospect, was a clear legit title threat.
So we have 3 ATG's. Frazier, Foreman and Ali. No real question marks on who they never faced when they were at their best. Frazier never fought Lyle et al, but he was pretty much done by then anyway.
Maybe that leaves us with only Ali and Foreman. Throw Foreman out because due to Ali, he didnt dominate his own dominant time more than Ali did.
After Larry..we have Tyson? He never faced Witherspoon.. a clear top contender. Sure he unified..but after beating Spinks..did he ever rematch Tucker? I suppose Tyson may be an entry into the category above...but it is not as clear as even Frazier's claim; as Spinks was not himself the distinct best fighter in the division. Tyson never having actually won the title from an even fairly dominant fighter hurts him. Plus losing in prime to Douglas, and avoiding all the guys like Rahman, Sanders, Mercer, Bowe, Moorer etc.
Larry Holmes for his part didn't dominate to the tune of others like Louis and Marciano only in that other guys were allowed to claim to also be the champion, whereas Rocky and Joe never had to endure such. Theoretically, Liston was the last true champ..even Ali having to "share" the title repeatedly throughout his career. Larry never faced a reigning imposter in a 'unification'...whereas Ali did in Terrell, Frazier. This disqualifies Larry.
Semantics will make the position of claiming Larry was never dominant one that can be defended by keeping the definition of dominant self-fulfilling. Larry didn't dominate the way Ali and Foreman and Louis did. He also didn't unify like Tyson, Ali, Frazier and Lewis and Holyfield.
IF we use the dominate thingy: Ali and Foreman by my reckoing are the only heavyweights that faced everyone considered to be a rival and defeated them at some point in their primes and reigns. Foreman beat Norton, Frazier..followed his loss to Ali with Lyle..had beaten Chuvalo AND was undisputed champion unlike Holmes.
Maybe Foreman is eliminated because he lost to a declined Ali in prime. So, we have only one all-time heavyweight in Ali.
Suppose the tactic however was title reign. And the mark was length and number of defenses..with quality a part of the mix, but not all of it.
Let's try it: who was a better champion than Holmes save Ali and Louis? Not ATG fighter, not p4p..but title-holder? After all Frazier got bounced, so did Foreman and Liston...Dempsey fought infrequently and never fought Wills...Tyson got creamed by Douglas while an active fighter and in his early twenties...Lewis, Bowe etc had major losses on their sheets, and Holyfield waxed and waned.
Marciano? Larry's reign was much longer with many more fights.
Maybe then there were only 5 great title-holders: Sullivan, Burns, Louis, Ali and Holmes. Maybe Frazier (including his NYSAC title).
Lots of defenses with no losses that were not to other greats.
Jeffries didn't make enough defenses and retired without defending against any prime heavyweight save Sharkey who had been waxed by Fitz. Dempsey avoided fighting by living a celebrity life. Tunney avoided Jack Sharkey for crying out loud. Corbett was creamed by Fitz. Marciano defended against a grand total of 5 individuals (Walcott, Charles, Cockell, LaStarza and Moore) one of which had glandular issues, one was 38, 3 of which were one-time middles, two best remembered as LH's...one an emaciated remnant of a man who's main claim to fame is losing to Rocky.
Tyson? Please. He beat Berbick, Biggs, Thomas, Smith, Tucker, Tubbs, Bruno. 5 names best remembered for exploits or lack therof in the Holmes era. Not exactly HOF stuff. Hell he beat a 38 year old Holmes fresh from an extended retirement.
Ali had almost as many defenses, AND beat better fighters. Louis had more defenses, over a longer period. Then Larry.
So, No one but these three are ATG's by this measurement. Everyone else falls short in length, #, and quality. Only the three have at least 2 of each category.
The only man defintely on both the dominance list and the title-reign lists would be Ali and Louis. But Louis didn't really dominate technically. MAYBE Sullivan if we want to get technical. Some may say Jeff, but his was too brief and opposition too soft. Burns beat few real contenders, and Larry's quality is poor and he was defending a fragmented piece of faux-leather anyway. Remember, Larry didn't dominate.
Thus, Ali and maybe Louis. Louis avoided some guys, and his quality is nowhere near Ali.
But I digress....Since they all remained near the top for as long...and all made tons of defenses Ali's reign was best, followed by Joe and then Larry. Placing Larry as one of only three ATG's. By that way of determining ATG. THAT way of showing dominance.
I guess any point can be defended. Depends on how strenuously one wants to make that point stand up.