By: Ronald Cameron
3. Carlos Monzon
Professional Record: 87-3 9 draws and one no contest with 59 KO’s
Credentials: Held the Middleweight title for 7 years and was undefeated for the last 13 years of his career
Biggest wins: Nino Benvenuti (TKO 12, TKO 3) Emile Griffith (TKO 14, UD 15)
While Bernard Hopkins and Marvelous Marvin Hagler were relatively unknown early on in their careers, most of the boxing world had no idea as to how good this Argentinean legend was for many years because he fought almost all of his early fights in Argentina or Brazil. The 5-11 Monzon was a very skilled boxer who was very versatile. He had a stiff left jab, good power in his right hand and he was a very good counter-puncher. Monzon had a very good chin, he’s was only knocked down once in his career and that happened in his last professional fight.
As I mentioned earlier, Monzon fought most of his early matches in Argentina and was very active, but he suffered some setbacks in his first 3 years as a pro, losing three times(Antonio Aguilar, Felipe Cambeiro and Alberto Massi all have wins over Monzon) and fighting to a draw on 9 different occasions. But Monzon fought on and he racked up a lot of victories but against unknown opponents. Monzon avenged his three defeats by beating Aguilar, Cambeiro and Massi three times. And remember I mentioned he had 9 draws—Monzon avenged 8 of out of 9 of those draws- the only fighter he didn’t get the opportunity to face again was Ubaldo Marcos Bustos, who he fought with on even terms in 1966.
After dominating the competition in Argentina for many years, Monzon finally received his first shot at the middleweight title in his 79th professional fight against champion and future Hall of Famer, Nino Benvenuti. Going into this fight, many boxing experts didn’t give Monzon much of a chance despite Monzon’s impeccable record but the challenger would not be denied on this night. In what was the fight of the year in 1970, the champion had his moments but Monzon applied constant pressure on the champion from the very beginning, using his jab, accurate combinations and his vaunted right hand. In the 12th round, Monzon closed the show like a true champion, by rocking Nino with a vicious right hand that dropped him. The champion struggled to get to his feet but he had nothing left. Benvenuti’s corner rushed into the ring and Nino waved his hands as if to say that he didn’t want to continue and he lost his balance and went into the ropes. The fight was over and Carlos Monzon was now the new middleweight champion of the world.
In many cases, when a fighter wins a world title, especially after waiting 7 years for his opportunity, they sometimes fight a “tomato can” in their first title defense. Carlos Monzon wanted to fight the very best competition so in his first defense, he took on former middleweight champion Emile Griffith. Monzon dominated the action with his left jab that kept the challenger at bay. Griffith tried his best to get inside and he did land some good shots, but Monzon absorbed them and kept moving forward, throwing combinations and uppercuts as Griffith moved inside. In the 14th round, Monzon staggered Griffith with a right hand and he finished him by throwing 20 unanswered punches and the referee stepped in and saved Griffith from suffering further punishment.
Monzon went on to defend his middleweight title 14 times, defeating top contenders such as Bennie Briscoe (Monzon fought to a draw with Briscoe 5 years earlier) he defended it against Griffith again, Jose Napoles and future middleweight champion Rodrigo Valdez. One thing I need to mention: Monzon was stripped of his WBC middleweight title for failing to fight Rodrigo Valdez, but Monzon won the WBC title back when he defeated Valdez 2 years later. Monzon fought Valdez again a year later and the rematch was much more competitive than their first fight. In the second round, Monzon suffered the first knockdown of his career after being caught with a counter right hand. Monzon recovered and he fought as he usually did, applying a lot of pressure and throwing a lot of jabs and accurate combinations. Valdez had his moments and he won his share of rounds but Monzon was more active and he landed more punches. The fight was close, but Monzon won a unanimous decision over Valdez. Monzon retired a month after his win over Valdez and he did not attempt a comeback. The Argentinean legend was undefeated for his last 13 years – avenging all of his losses and most of his draws and he fought and beat Hall of Famers, including a prime middleweight (Benvenuti) and a former middleweight champion (Griffith).
One quick note: To those who believe Monzon should not be rated ahead of Marvelous Marvin Hagler or Bernard Hopkins—as I stated at the beginning of this article, I rate quality of opposition at the top of my list and both Hopkins and Hagler never beat a Hall of Fame middleweight who was in his prime. Hopkins and Hagler beat some Hall of Famers, but none of them were natural middleweights. Guys like Trinidad, De La Hoya, Duran and Hearns moved up in weight to fight those guys and some of them were not even in their prime when they fought them. I’m not taking anything away from Hopkins or Hagler, you can only fight the best fighters in your era which they did, but Monzon fought and beat more Hall of Famers and as I said, he did not lose a fight in his last 13 years as a pro. If Monzon would have fought in the US earlier in his career, he would have been even more well-known and would have possibly been rated even higher, but the Argentinean warrior had a remarkable career.
As great as Monzon was in the ring, he was not always a nice guy outside of the ring. I’m not going to discuss what he allegedly did to land himself in jail (Google it if you want to know), but as a fighter, he was a GREAT champion and he was a technician in the ring. Monzon died in a car accident in 1995 when he was driving to work (Monzon was in the final stages of his sentence in jail and he was allowed to leave jail to work) and he was inducted into the IBHOF in 1990.
Carlos Monzon vs. Nino Benvenuti 1—Full fight: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdGpf5Hi3Yk
Carlos Monzon vs. Emile Griffith 1—Highlights http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJ5UjbMgELE
2. Harry Greb
Professional record: 261-19-18 with 48 KO’s and 6 no contests
Credentials: He fought 299 times, was the Middleweight champion for 3 years and he fought guys who out-weighed him 40-80 pounds.
Biggest wins as a Middleweight: Tommy Gibbons (UD 15) Tommy Loughran (UD 15) Mickey Walker (UD 15)
When I write these boxing lists ranking the top fighters in their respective weight class, I’ve watched several fights of the fighters that I’m writing about. I have to admit, I have not seen any Harry Greb fights, but I have read a lot of books and articles about the “Pittsburgh Windmill.” Greb was a fighter that came right at you, throwing hundreds of punches in a round, similar to fellow Hall of Famer Henry Armstrong. He was also known as being one of the dirtiest fighters in boxing history. Low blows, head-butts and rabbit punches, Greb would do whatever it took to win. He did not possess one-punch knockout power, but he had tremendous stamina and he would wear his opponents down with his non-stop work rate and his lethal body attack.
Greb began fighting professionally in 1913 and for the next 5 years he fought once a month and sometimes twice in the same month (which is unheard of in this day and age). Just to give an example, Greb fought a total of 44 times in 1917 and Greb was an equal opportunity abuser. While he fought mostly as a middleweight, he would often take on light-heavyweights and even a few heavyweights. Greb suffered some setbacks early in his career, including a second round knockout loss at the hands of Joe Chip (the only time Greb was ever knocked out in his long career), but Greb continued fighting at a record pace, taking on anyone that they would put in front of him and winning most of his fights by out-working his opponents.
After losing to Kid Graves in 1915 after he broke his arm and could not continue, he would not lose again for 8 years. During that time, Greb fought and beat a plethora of great fighters before he got his shot at the middleweight title including Mike O’Dowd, George Chip and Al McCoy, all former middleweight champions. He also defeated several future light-heavyweight champions and a future Heavyweight champion (Gene Tunney) and he fought most of his career weighing between 158-165 pounds. Back in those days, there were so many GREAT fighters and a lot of “uncrowned champions” and even though he wasn’t yet a champion, Greb sure fought like one.
While this article is about what these 5 fighters did as a middleweight, I’ve got to mention Harry’s epic fight with the great Gene Tunney in 1922. Tunney was the reigning “American” light-heavyweight champion and was undefeated and unlike what most fighters do when they move up in weight to fight a bigger guy, Greb weighed in at 162 pounds. In this fight, Tunney did well early, out-boxing Greb and controlling the fight with his jab and quick combinations, but Greb turned this fight into an all-out back alley brawl as Greb used every trick in the book. Low blows, head-butts, hutting on the break, you name it, Greb did it and Tunney had no answer for it. Tunney’s face was a bloody mess as he suffered cuts over both eyes and his nose leaked blood.
The fight went the distance, but Greb was just too much for Tunney on this night and Greb won a unanimous decision, handing Tunney his first and only loss in his career. Tunney once said that fighting Greb was “like fighting an octopus!” Tunney avenged his loss to Greb, winning back his “American” light-heavyweight title via a controversial split decision a year later, but Greb proved that he could more than hold his own against the future Hall of Famer.
Six months after losing the rematch to Tunney, Greb finally received his shot at the middleweight title against champion Johnnie Wilson. Greb dominated most of the fight by fighting flat-footed and by out-working the champion. Wilson came on late and won the last 2 rounds, but it proved to be too little too late for the champion. Greb won an easy unanimous decision over Wilson and he was now the new middleweight champion of the world.
Before I go on, I need to mention this: Harry Greb fought in an era where there were a lot of “no-decision” fights. A no decision occurred when, by law or when the two fighters agree to it before the fight, that if at the end of the fight if both fighters are still standing, there would be no official decision and neither fighter would be declared the winner. Newspaper reporters would still give their opinion as to who they believed won the fight, but the fight would officially still be ruled a no decision.
After defending his title once, Greb took on Tommy Loughran for the 5th time. In a non-title match-up that took place on Christmas day in 1923, Greb won most of the early rounds, but in the 5th round, Loughran hurt Greb badly with a vicious right hand, but he could not knock the Pittsburgh Windmill down. Loughran won the next two rounds, but Greb rallied and dominated the rest of the fight. Greb won a hard-fought decision over Loughran, but there were some who believed that Greb was starting to show signs of slowing down. Greb continued fighting once and sometimes twice a month against elite competition and while he defended his middleweight title, he defended his title once or twice a year. As I mentioned earlier, Greb wanted to fight the best available competition. It didn’t matter if they were middleweights, light-heavyweights or future heavyweights—Greb took them all on.
In his 5th title defense, Greb battled former welterweight and future middleweight Champion Mickey Walker. Walker had one of the best left hooks in the business and like Greb he was always willing to fight bigger opponents in different weight classes. Walker started out fast, administering a vicious body attack and his vaunted left hook, but the champion’s nonstop work-rate and superior hand speed proved to be too much for the challenger. Greb won a unanimous decision over the future Hall of Famer, but he proved that could hold his own against the champion.
Still looking to face the best fighters in the world, Greb defended his title against Tiger Flowers in 1926. The busy southpaw started fast and he hurt Greb in the first round, but Greb responded with a big second round as Flowers suffered a cut over his eye. Greb fought his usual rough and tough active fight but Flowers did not waiver one bit, in fact he held his own when things got rough in the ring. The fight went the distance and Tiger Flowers upset Greb, winning a controversial decision and Flowers became the first African-American to win the middleweight title. Greb would receive a rematch against Flowers 6 months later, but the rematch was a replay of their first fight. This fight was close, but Flowers retained his middleweight title winning another controversial decision over the Pittsburgh Windmill.
His fight with Flowers proved to be his last fight because sadly, two months after his loss to Flowers, Greb was involved in a car accident and as a result of the injuries he sustained, he died on the operating table of heart failure while getting his injured nose repaired. Greb was only 32 years old when he died and it was unfortunate that he died so soon, but he was an amazing fighter with a nonstop motor, a great chin and he had tremendous hand speed. He did not have a lot of title defenses, but he more than made up for that with the quality of opposition he faced while fighting as a middleweight. I seriously considered placing Greb at the top of the list based on all of the Hall of Famers he faced, but still he was almost impossible to beat when was in his prime and if you did beat him, you would probably have to visit your local hospital after facing him. And one last thing: Greb fought the latter part of his career—with only one eye! It’s tough enough to face guys with two good eyes and Greb managed to fight through it and still prevailed. Harry Greb was unbelievable.
Harry Greb Preparing for a fight: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQIx3Thz9Fc
1. Sugar Ray Robinson
Professional Record: 173-19-6 with 108 KO’S
Credentials: Won the Middleweight title a record 5 times
Biggest wins: Jake LaMotta VI (TKO 13) Randy Turpin II (TKO 10) Gene Fullmer II (KO 5)
If you ask most boxing experts, they will say without hesitation that the greatest fighter who ever lived was Walker Smith, better known as Sugar Ray Robinson. But if you ask them who was the greatest middleweight of all time, the question is not so easy to answer. When I looked at what all of the great middleweights accomplished, there were some champions who defended their titles for a long period of time but their quality of opposition was not as strong as other champions who did not have long title reigns. When I looked at what Robinson accomplished as a middleweight, when you factor in he fought and beat so many prime Hall of Fame middleweights and he did it when he was on the back-nine of his career. He was almost unbeatable as a welterweight and was clearly the absolute best welterweight of all-time, but I also consider Robinson the greatest middleweight and I will explain why.
Young Walker Smith was raised in Detroit, Michigan and lived there until he was 12 years old until his parents separated. Smith idolized two fighters: Henry Armstrong (who he fought later as a welterweight when Henry was near the end of his career and in need of a payday) and a man who lived on the same street when he lived in Detroit—Joe Louis. When his parents separated, him and his mother moved to Harlem, NY and learned to fight there. When he was 14 years old, he tried to enter a boxing tournament, but there was one problem—you had to be 16 years old to enter. Walker borrowed a card from his friend Ray Robinson and he found his way into the tournament and he was so impressive, a manager took a liking to the young man. After watching him fight, manager George Gainford (who ended up being his future manager) told Smith that his style was “as sweet as sugar” and shortly after that, he put it all together to come up with the name Sugar Ray Robinson and as they say, the rest is history.
Sugar Ray could do everything in the ring — he could out-box you, brawl with you and he could knock you out cold with either hand moving forward or backwards. Robinson was technically sound and was a tremendous counter-puncher and a good defensive fighter. After going undefeated as an amateur, Robinson turned pro as a welterweight and won his first 40 fights. In his next fight, he was matched against the “Raging Bull” Jake LaMotta for the second time. Outweighed by 16 pounds, Robinson was man-handled by LaMotta and he suffered a brutal knockdown in the 8th round that send him through the ropes, but the bell saved him and he recovered and made it to his feet. Robinson lost a clear unanimous decision over LaMotta, but Robinson was still convinced that he could beat LaMotta, who was a natural middleweight. Robinson would get the chance to avenge his only loss 3 weeks later and he did just that, winning a clear decision over the Raging Bull. After his loss to LaMotta, Robinson went on an 88 fight winning streak that included 2 more wins over LaMotta, future middleweight champion Bobo Olson and several Hall of Fame welterweights before he received his shot at the middleweight title against the only man that beat him… Jake LaMotta. It would be the sixth and final time these two men would meet in the ring. In what was latter called “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”, Robinson gave LaMotta a brutal beating, stopping him in the 13th round and he was now the new middleweight champion of the world.
Robinson remained active, fighting once a month against opponents all around the world, but in a series of non-title fights in what was known as Robinson’s “European Tour”. In his last fight outside of the US, Robinson defended his Middleweight title against the Englishman Randy Turpin in London, England. Robinson did not believe that Turpin would pose much of a threat and it proved to be a huge mistake. The unorthodox challenger gave Robinson fits as he was very difficult to hit and very active as he outworked the champion and Randy Turpin scored a monumental unanimous decision over the great Sugar Ray Robinson.
I remember watching this fight when I was 12 years old at my local library and I was very impressed with Turpin’s defense and work-rate and I thought that he did enough to win the fight.
Robinson would receive a rematch against Turpin 2 months later, but this time the fight was held in the Polo Grounds in New York. After 9 rounds, the fight was close and Robinson was dealing with a nasty cut over his left that was so bad, it was clear that the referee would not allow the fight to continue for much longer. Sensing that he didn’t have much time, Robinson fought like a mad-man in the 10th round. Midway through the round, he hurt Turpin badly with a bodacious right hand that sent the champion to the canvas. Turpin got up, but Robinson would not be denied as he landed 20 unanswered shot while Turpin was near the ropes. The referee jumped in and saved Turpin from further damage and Sugar Ray Robinson regained his middleweight title via a 10th round TKO over the game challenger.
After regaining his title from Turpin, Robinson successfully defended his title against future Hall of Famers Bobo Olson (UD 15) and Rocky Graziano (KO 3).
In his fight with Graziano, Robinson suffered a knockdown in the third round, but he recovered and seconds later he landed one of the most vicious right hands in boxing history that sent the Rock’s mouthpiece flying into the crowd and Rocky to the deck. The courageous challenger tried to beat the count, but he didn’t make it to his feet in time. Robinson proved once again that he could survive a knockdown and get up and win.
After failing in his attempt to win the Light-Heavyweight title (He was winning the fight against champion Joey Maxim easily, but he suffered from heat prostration and could not continue going into the 14th round) Robinson retired for 2 ½ years and tried his hand at being a singer and a dancer. Robinson returned to the ring in 1955 and early on in his comeback he suffered a clear decision loss at the hands of Ralph “Tiger” Jones. Still convinced that he could regain the Middleweight title, Robinson fought on winning his next 4 fights before receiving another shot at the title, this time against an old foe—Bobo Olson. Just as when Robinson challenged LaMotta for the middleweight title, Robinson was confident that he would win the fight because he beat Olson in two previous fights. In the second round, Sugar Ray caught Olson with a deadly left right combination that dropped the champion. Olson could not beat the count, so Sugar Ray Robinson regained the world middleweight title for the third time.
In his next title defense, Sugar Ray took on the very durable Gene Fullmer at Madison Square Garden. The 36 year old Robinson could not keep Fullmer at bay, as the challenger moved forward and man-handled the champion. Fullmer upset Robinson, winning a unanimous decision over the legendary champion and some boxing experts questioned whether Robinson was near the end of his career. But Robinson still had some fight left him and he challenged the Utah slugger for the Middleweight title 4 months later. The two fought on even terms for 4 rounds, but something magical was about to happen in the next round. In the 5th round, Robinson landed the most picture-perfect left hook in boxing history—while moving backwards! The iron-jawed Fullmer went down for the first time in his career and he did not make it to his feet in time and Sugar Ray Robinson once again became the middleweight champion of the world.
So by now you can see the pattern with Robinson—he wins the title, defends the title, loses it and then wins it back. This pattern continued as he faced yet another future Hall of Famer—Carmen Basilio. Prior to those two facing each other in the ring, Basilio once met Robinson years ago and according to Carmen, Robinson brushed him off and that enraged him. After being disrespected by Robinson, Basilio said, “I’m going to fight him someday and I’m going to kick that SOB’s ass!” In his pre-fight interview with Howard Cosell, he was asked why 9 of 10 reporters picked Sugar Ray Robinson to win by knockout, Carmen simply replied, “They were wrong!” In what was the 1957 Fight of the Year, the two legends left everything in the ring, but Basilio landed the harder punches and was more active as he won a razor-thin split decision over the man who disrespected him years ago.
But Robinson would not go away quietly and he challenged Basilio 6 months later. The two produced another fight of the year but this time Robinson used his left jab and superior boxing ability and he was more effective at keeping Basilio at bay. The champion had his moments, but he was hindered by a huge welt over his eye that looked like a huge plum. Basilio fought a courageous fight, but in the end Robinson proved to be too much as he won a split decision over Basilio, winning the middleweight for a 5th time.
The victory over Basilio proved to be Robinson’s last hurrah as he lost his title to Paul Pender 2 years later via a split decision. Robinson would receive another shot against Pender, but he came up short this time, losing yet another split decision to Pender. Robinson went on to fight for 5 more years and he lost several times against guys that couldn’t lace his boots when he was in his prime, but that doesn’t take away from what he accomplished during those years when he was middleweight champion.
There have been guys who have had more title defenses, but no one has fought and beat as many prime Hall of Fame middleweights than Sugar Ray Robinson. I compare his career as a middleweight to Ali’s reign as Heavyweight champion. Like Robinson, Ali didn’t have the most title defenses (yet he had plenty of them) but the quality of opposition against elite fighters separates him from all the others.
Sugar Ray Robinson was beatable as a middleweight, but he almost always won his rematches against Hall of Famers that beat him. If Robinson fought his entire career as a middleweight, I’m convinced that there would not be a debate as to who the greatest middleweight of all time was. And let’s not forget—Robinson was not even in his prime when he was winning those Middleweight titles yet he still ruled the division for many years. There have been many who have tried to emulate him (Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard to name a couple) but as great as those two were, both of them would admit that the greatest fighter who ever lived was Sugar Ray Robinson. In addition to that, I also believe he was the greatest middleweight of all time barely edging out Harry Greb for the top spot. There is no such thing as a perfect fighter, but Sugar Ray Robinson was the closest thing to it.
Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Jake LaMotta VI—highlights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smvYjLBACw8
Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Randy Turpin II- highlights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3npTVGLrCs
Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Rocky Graziano—full fight: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJVVuCDfObk
Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Gene Fullmer II—full fight: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xMLt9Vakrg
Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Carmen Basilio II—highlights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xMLt9Vakrg
Boxing fans: Feel free to debate me and please give us your opinion as to why you believe were the top 5 greatest middleweights of all time. I love watching fights but I also love debating boxing fans on topics such as this one. Let’s have some fun with this—I promise I will respond to everyone who leaves a comment telling me who should be the 5 greatest middleweights. Let the debates begin!!
**Some controversial blogs are set to appear on tomorrow Monday, November 21, 2011**