By Steve Wellings for Undisputed Champion Nutrition – http://irishboxingreview.com/
It was a tough one but this is it….out top 10 UK And Ireland Boxers Of All Time. As the likes of Tyson Fury, Amir Khan, Anthony Joshua, Carl Frampton and Josh Taylor continue to fly the flag for UK and Ireland boxing, these islands maintain a proud record of producing talented pugilists. The UK boasts a rich history of top boxers and here are 10 of the best to ever lace up the gloves.
10. Barry McGuigan – 32-3 (28 KOs)
Born in Clones, Ireland, Barry McGuigan crossed the border to train and fight and worked his way in to the hearts and minds of not only the people of his homeland but sports fans across the water as well.
During the Troubles in Northern Ireland, McGuigan was a symbol of peace and togetherness, transcending the sporting world and impacting on the wider consciousness during a difficult period in history.
Competing from 1981-1989, ‘The Clones Cyclone’ suffered defeat in just his third bout but rather than allowing that setback to define him, Barry battled on to win British and European honours. That run of wins took him to his defining night when he challenged long-reigning WBA featherweight champion Eusebio Pedroza. The Panamanian brought his title over to Loftus Road in London and, roared on by a passionate crowd, McGuigan achieved his goal of becoming a world champion when Pedroza was beaten on points.
9. Chris Eubank – 45-5-2 (23 KOs)
A charismatic character outside of the ropes, Eubank was a man of steel inside, knowing how to get a job done. It was not always pretty but Chris Eubank was able to use his skills, toughness and guile to pull through for many years and in numerous title fights.
The Brighton man enjoyed a running rivalry with fellow UK banger Nigel Benn that even today still threatens to bubble over in to a third fight despite the pair being long past retirement. Eubank stopped Benn and they later fought to a controversial draw in 1993. Chris was also involved in the shocking night Michael Watson sustained life-changing injuries in the ring.
Eubank made numerous defences of his WBO super-middleweight title, boxing in far flung locations around the globe before eventually losing his titles in Ireland to Steve Collins.
Jimmy Wilde – 131-3-1 (98 KOs)
Records may vary on how many bouts Jimmy Wilde took part in, but some observers suggest he may have competed around 800 times in various fighting capacities.
The variety of nicknames attributed to the diminutive Welshman sum up his qualities. ‘The Mighty Atom’ in reference to his height of barely over five-feet tall. ‘The Ghost with the Hammer in his Hand’ due to his outstanding punching power despite his minuscule stature and rakish physique.
Wilde was a skilled puncher with sound defensive skills. The Merthyr Tydfil man made his name in the UK, winning British, European and World honours before finding opportunities in North America, boxing at the tail end of his illustrious career.
7. Ricky Hatton – 45-3 (32 KOs)
Not before Ricky Hatton started packing out venues in Las Vegas had British boxing created such a fervent buzz abroad. Hatton perfectly played the “everyman” role with his love of a pie and pint, which swelled his following and propelled him into a UK boxing hero. Ricky’s crowning night came on June 4, 2005, when he took the IBF super-lightweight crown off the excellent champion Kostya Tszyu.
Ricky went on to unify against Carlos Maussa before plotting his move to conquer America. First winning a world championship at a second weight in 2006 from Luis Collazo, when Hatton later blasted Jose Luis Castillo in 2007 the world was his oyster and he secured a big money clash with Floyd Mayweather.
That did not end well as Ricky gave Floyd problems but was stopped late on. Hatton would later get knocked out by Mayweather’s generational rival Manny Pacquiao as the Manchester man endured personal struggles, substance abuse issues and a very public family break-up. An ill-fated return to the ring in 2012 finally forced Hatton to leave the boxing world in a fighting capacity. He remains a trainer and manager. ‘The Hitman’s’ fight nights became the stuff of legend as Ricky effectively owned his era.
6. Bob Fitzsimmons – 61-8-4 (57 KOs)
Fighting back in a time when combat sports were truly combative, rugged affairs and fights often pushed past the territory of 20 or 30 rounds, Bob Fitzsimmons was a giant among men. Not necessarily in the physical sense, as he would be dwarfed by some of the fighting heavyweight behemoths of today, but his legacy remains intact.
The Cornish native was by all accounts a talented boxer and remains on record as the lightest heavyweight champion of all time. The British fighter became a three-weight world champion, winning at middleweight, light-heavyweight and heavyweight. His punching power secured Fitzsimmons a top 10 spot in The Ring Magazine’s top 100 punchers of all-time list.
The New Zealand-based pugilist shot to fame when he defeated the legendary ‘Gentleman’ James Corbett in 1897. Married four times in his rollercoaster 32 years, Fitzsimmons suffered gambling woes, struggled financially and died of pneumonia in 1917.
5. Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis – 192-32-14 (78 KOs)
Often ranked on “greatest ever fighters” lists, London’s Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis was born Gershon Mendeloff and quickly slotted in to the boxing scene, first as a quality amateur boxer and later as a two-time world welterweight champion.
Lewis was the first British boxer to cross the water and defeat an American for a world championship. Throughout his 20-year career ‘The Aldgate Sphinx’ won a British title at featherweight in 1913 before traversing the traditional weights through lightweight, welterweight (where he enjoyed the bulk of his success), middleweight and eventually light-heavyweight.
Lewis, who died in 1970, was later inducted in to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
4. ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed – 36-1 (31 KOs)
A puncher, a champion and a showman. Right from his debut in 1992, Sheffield’s ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed had all the moves and was a natural born entertainer. Extremely heavy-handed for someone in the lower weight classes, the ‘Prince’ raced to a European title win in just his 11th contest.
Taking Steve Robinson’s world title in Cardiff, 1995, Hamed formally announced himself to the wider UK and Ireland market as his style and brash personality captivated audiences first on ITV and later Sky Sports.
He could be explosive, he could be tactical, and his early relationship with Brendan Ingle in Ingle’s famed Northern England gym helped hone his natural ability. Hamed’s American debut in 1997 against Kevin Kelley was a classic up-and-down affair. The New York fans loved him.
Even though his career petered out after defeat to the excellent Marco Antonio Barrera in 2001, Hamed’s run of world title defences and featherweight title unification stands him apart.
3. Ken Buchanan – 61-8 (27 KOs)
A classy Scottish boxer with an outstanding record, Ken Buchanan is often a forgotten man of UK boxing. After treading the boards at British level and just missing out on a European title in Spain, Buchanan finally snared a world title fight in 1970.
Heading out to face WBA lightweight champion Ismael Laguna in the searing heat of San Juan, Puerto Rico, the Edinburgh native battled the elements to prevail on a split decision.
He made two Stateside defences before losing his title to boxing legend Roberto Duran, then 28-0 and on the rise in the sport. Buchanan defeated domestic rival Jim Watt for the British title before winning the European belt and having a final, unsuccessful, tilt at the WBC lightweight strap out in Japan.
2. Lennox Lewis – 41-2-1 (32 KOs)
After winning a gold medal for Canada in the 1988 Olympic Games, it took the British public a little while to warm up to Lennox Lewis, but once he showed his true quality and championship pedigree the crowds flocked to support their man.
Lewis mopped up domestically, defeating the likes of Gary Mason, Frank Bruno, Glenn McCrory and Derek Williams, won a European title and eventually conquered America. His only two defeats, to Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman, were both emphatically avenged.
Lewis defeated all his heavyweight contemporaries. Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Andrew Golota, David Tua and Vitali Klitschko were all pushed to the wayside. Old amateur foe Riddick Bowe threw his belt in a dustbin rather than face ‘The Lion’. Lennox had his detractors, but he never ducked anyone and his career is one to savour.
1. Joe Calzaghe – 46-0 (32 KOs)
For many Joe Calzaghe and Lennox Lewis could be interchangeable in the top position, given both men’s seismic achievements in boxing. Right back in 1997 when ‘The Prince of Wales’ defeated wily veteran Chris Eubank for the WBO super-middleweight title, it was already becoming clear that Calzaghe was a special talent.
After winning the belt Calzaghe embarked on a string of defences against all manner of opposition – some good, some poor.
Robin Reid, Richie Woodall, Charles Brewer and Byron Mitchell all had solid pedigree and good standing within the sport. It wasn’t really until the 2006 masterclass win over Jeff Lacy that Calzaghe’s career set fire and he became a commodity on both sides of the pond.
Beset by injuries, postponements and talk of a potential retirement, Calzaghe took the young, dangerous American to school, making him look positively one-dimensional.
Denmark’s Mikkel Kessler was a respected world champion with a title and 39-0 record when he travelled to Cardiff to take on Calzaghe. Joe outpointed him, then went to America to defeat Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr to truly cement his legacy as one of the UK’s greatest ever boxers.
Duke McKenzie – 39-7 (20 KOs) – an often-underappreciated pure boxer, the likeable Duke McKenzie won world titles in three weight classes. Coming from a proud fighting family Duke also won a European title and British strap at two weights while joking that he wasn’t even the best boxer at the dinner table.
Henry Cooper – 40-14-1 (27 KOs) – a legend of British boxing, heavyweight hero Sir Henry was most famous for dropping Cassius Clay who would later go on to become the iconic Muhammad Ali. Cooper suffered badly from cuts throughout an esteemed career that saw him win British, Commonwealth and European titles.
John Conteh – 34-4-1 (24 KOs) – Regarded as one of Liverpool’s finest boxing sons, John Conteh cleared up domestically before winning the WBC light-heavyweight title in 1974. Holding on to the belt for four years, Conteh later had two epic wars with the outstanding Matthew Saad Muhammad.
Tommy Farr – 86-35-19 (24 KOs) – A hard man forged in the valleys of the Rhondda; Tommy Farr was nicknamed the “Tonypandy Terror”. Competing at light-heavyweight in his early career, Farr moved up to heavyweight to push the peerless Joe Louis[ close in 1937 in his sole world title tilt.
Lloyd Honeyghan – 43-5 (30 KOs) – Born in Saint Elizabeth, Jamaica, Lloyd “Raggamuffin” Honeyghan was a staple of the British boxing scene through the 1980s and early 90s. His most famous win came in 1986 when he shocked the boxing world by defeating undisputed welterweight champion Don Curry in New Jersey. Curry was one of the best fighters in the world and it was considered a mismatch until Honeyghan’s stunning KO win.
Nigel Benn – 42-5-1 (35 KOs) – Packing a huge punch and a swashbuckling style, Nigel Benn was a hit in the UK and America. ‘The Dark Destroyer’ lost to both of his domestic rivals, Chris Eubank and Michael Watson, but went on a run of nine defences of the WBC super-middleweight title, including a 1995 win over Gerald McClellan that has gone down in British boxing history for both good and bad reasons.
Carl Froch – 33-2 (24 KOs) – Often derided by a section of the boxing fandom for his relentless obsessions and personal viewpoints, there is no doubting Froch’s achievements inside the ropes. After beating Jean Pascal in 2008 his run of opposition right up until retirement in 2014 is magnificent.
A fine array of talent from across the boxing generations. It is often difficult to put together a list of the greatest boxers with the weight classes, circumstances and achievements all being so varied and subjective. Regardless of ranking or placement, these quality fighters’ records stand the test of time.