It’s been a long time…I shouldn’a left you… (c) Rakim
Mediamonkey is serenading this morning, and it brings up The Way We Were by Gladys Knight. In the intro to that song, she points out that “We look back and we think, the winters were warmer, the grass was greener…” because those were the good ole days. But, she notes that there are some people for whom today, as bad as we seem to think it is, will be the good ole days. Moreover, there are people who look on our “good ole days” with disdain. People do this all the time, and on a variety of the topics, but two of the areas where I notice it most are with sports and music.
Thomas Sowell brought this to mind a couple days ago, as he waxed nostalgic over heavyweight fighters from yesteryear. Implicit in his piece was a critique of The Greatest, although Sowell never mentioned him – or any of his contemporaries – by name. That’s why to me, it’s mostly a ‘good ole days’ piece, and not a boxing piece. But instead of talking about it on that level, I think I’m gonna focus on the boxing piece. Some of these are points I’ve made before, but they may bear repeating.
I know there are a lot of people who think that Joe Louis was the greatest heavyweight champion of all time; i knew some of them personally. I disagree strongly. I still ride hard for Ali. While there were some people for whom Ali’s antics were off-putting, what they failed to realize then (and apparently still do) is that after play time was over, dude’s knuckle game was supreme. Put it like this: the two fighters he beat to gain the title (we ain’t gon’ talk about regaining the title just yet) were widely held to be indomitable. We can go to the tape on what Big George was doin to people in 1974, but Sonny Liston was pretty much the equivalent in 1964. In fact, when Liston had the belt, there was talk that he might be at the top of the pantheon. But Ali beat them both. That would be enough to do it, but then you also hafta add in the fact that he beat each of them using completely different styles. The Ali that George fought wasn’t the same fighter as the one who decked Liston. That cannot be discounted.
Speaking of “discounted,” the only knock I have on Louis — and this is not a knock on him, really — is the level of competition. Ali once joked that Louis had a “bum of the month” club. Honestly, I don’t know if it’s possible to hold the belt for a good period of time without going through some fighters who aren’t quite at the top of the heap, but I don’t think there’s any question that Ali reigned over a much better crop of fighters than did any of the other champions. You could take any of the top 10 from 72-82, for instance, and they would pretty much break up any other era. Even the bottom half of that top 10 would be championship caliber in most eras.
All that to say, here’s a top 10:
1. Muhammad Ali
2. Joe Louis
3. Larry Holmes (Yeah, I said it.)
4. Jack Johnson
5. Rocky Marciano
6. Jack Johnson
7. Evander Holyfield
8. Jack Dempsey
9. George Foreman
10. Joe Frazier
No Tyson. Mike’s my man and all, but there are some fighters you cannot lose to and retain any kind of ‘all-time’ status. Buster Douglas is on that list.