Throughout the twentieth century professional boxing, just like professional wrestling, was a sport in which mainly Americans and boxers from nearby countries, such as Mexico and Puerto Rico, could participate in. However, Olympic boxing tournaments and World Amateur Championships were usually dominated by the USSR, Cuba, and the former Soviet Bloc countries, even though their boxers never made it to the next level because their governments prevented them from competing as professional athletes for political and economic reasons.
By the mid-nineties and after the collapse of the Iron Curtain all of this changed and the face of professional boxing has transformed during the past two decades, especially in the bigger weight classes. Here’s a list of 25 of the greatest boxers in history outside of North America who made it big despite the economic and political odds in a sport that had its borders closed until relatively recently.
Jeff Fenech is one of the “hottest” boxing products Australia has ever produced. During the ‘80s the “mad” Aussie managed to become a world champion in three different weight divisions (Bantamweight, Super Bantamweight, and Featherweight) by beating fellow boxing legends as Carlos Zarate and Azumah Nelson.
Ken Buchanan is the greatest boxer in Scottish history thanks to his truly brave and fan-pleasing boxing style. He captured the Lightweight World title back in the early seventies by beating Ismael Laguna twice but later lost his title to the greatest lightweight boxer of all time, the one and only Roberto Duran, in a fight that is usually included in the supreme boxing bouts of all time.
Max Schmeling was a legendary German boxer who was the heavyweight champion of the world between 1930 and 1932. Unfortunately and despite not being a fan of Nazi ideology, Hitler used his boxing success for his political and racial propaganda. His two epic fights with American legend Joe Louis in 1936, which Schmeling won, and 1938 which Louis won, became worldwide cultural and political events because of the intense socio-political era during which they took place.
If you grew up in the ‘90s and even if you weren’t a big boxing fan there’s still a good chance you heard the name “Prince” Naseem Hamed. The former WBO, WBC, IBF, and lineal featherweight champion is without a doubt one of the most impressive boxers of our generation and one of the greatest showmen the sport has ever produced, with his boxing antics and sensational ring entrances becoming part of boxing’s pop culture and legacy.
Anton Christoforidis was not a flamboyant fighter but he got the job done. During his prime he defeated fellow all-time greats Ceferino Garcia, Jimmy Bivins, and Lou Brouillard. In 1941 he made history when he became the first world boxing champion from Greece by beating Melio Bettina, in a fight that had a heavy political background just like the Louis vs. Schmeling fights.
Christoforidis fought against an Italian-American boxer for the world title while his country was under siege by Mussolini’s fascist forces and his victory was seen and celebrated as more than just a mere sports victory.
After Pascual Pérez won the gold medal for his country at the 1948 Olympic boxing tournament in London, he went on to become Argentina’s first-ever professional boxing champ when he captured the world title in 1954 against a Japanese fighter in Japan. He went undefeated for his first 51 fights and held the title for over six years. He is considered the second-greatest flyweight boxer in history behind only the great Jimmy Wilde.
Die-hard boxing fans usually refer to Azumah Nelson as the greatest boxer to ever come from Africa and the Ghanaian “Lion” did everything he could to prove them right. For over a decade (1984 to 1997) Nelson was Featherweight and Super Featherweight world champion and his unforgettable bouts with Jeff Fenech, Pernell Whitaker, and the great Mexican warrior, Salvador Sánchez, are considered all-time classic material in the boxing world.
Kostya Tszyu was one of the very first former Soviet boxers to flee to the free world so he could pursue a professional career in boxing back in the early ‘90s. So after he won gold in two Amateur World Championships for the USSR he moved to Australia and won several world titles on a professional level and The Ring magazine named him the greatest junior welterweight boxer of the previous decade.
After Gennady “GGG” Golovkin won a gold medal at the 2003 World Amateur Championships and silver at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, he pursued a professional career and since then has become the fans’ favorite boxer. He’s been undefeated in 30 bouts and is the reigning WBA and IBO middleweight world champion with an impressive 90 percent knockout rate, which is the highest KO ratio in middleweight championship history.
If you’re a boxing fan then you know Dariusz as “the beast” or as the boxer that a prime Roy Jones Jr. ducked and avoided openly. On the other hand, Dariusz fought against anyone and accepted any challenge, becoming a world champion in two weight divisions. He held the WBO Light Heavyweight title for nine years (1994–2003) and set the record for most title defenses in the history of this weight division with twenty-three. He went undefeated for forty-eight bouts before losing a controversial split decision to Julio César González of Mexico at age thirty-five.
Every boxing expert you ask will tell you that Nicolino Locche is one of the three greatest defensive boxers in the sport’s history along with Floyd Mayweather and the legendary Willie Pep. Locche turned professional at age nineteen and achieved a record of 117–4, during which time he held the WBA Light Welterweight world title for four years entertaining the crowds with his one-of-a-kind boxing style.
Here’s the crazy thing about Vasyl Lomachenko: he’s only twenty-six and many boxing experts consider him the greatest amateur boxer in history. With a “magic” record of 396 wins and only one loss which he avenged twice, he went on to win two Olympic gold medals and two gold at the World Amateur Championships, while as a professional he made history this past June by joining Saensak Muangsurin as the fastest boxer to win a world title in only his third professional bout by beating America’s hottest boxing prospect, Gary Russell Jr. In this case the phrase “the sky’s the limit” is perfectly apt and for all we know in ten years time he might be ranking at number one in such list.
Alexis Argüello became a world champion in three different weight divisions and was voted by the Associated Press in 1999 as the number one junior lightweight of the twentieth century. Additionally, the Nicaraguan legend is considered one of the greatest punchers and KO artists ever with an impressive record of seventy KOs in his eighty-eight total victories.
Jimmy Wilde was a Welsh boxer who held the flyweight title for seven years in an era when boxing was as popular and brutal as ever. Even though he retired back in 1923, almost a century ago, Jimmy “The Mighty Atom” Wilde is still ranked and considered by boxing experts and fans alike the greatest flyweight boxer in history, and with a record of 139 wins and only 5 losses we can’t really argue with that assessment.
Cerdan is one of the finest world middleweight champions in history with one of the most impressive boxing records: 113 wins and 4 losses, two of them from being disqualified in fights he was winning. He’s widely considered France’s greatest boxer, but unfortunately his boxing career and relationship with the famous French singer Édith Piaf were cut short when he lost his life at age thirty-three in a tragic airplane crash in 1949.
Vitali Klitschko is the older brother of the current heavyweight champion, Wladimir Klitschko, and he is the former WBC, WBO, and The Ring magazine heavyweight champion. With an incredibly high 87.23 percent knockout percentage rate, he holds the second best knockout ratio of any champion in heavyweight boxing history, behind only Rocky Marciano’s 87.76 percent. In 2008 he and his younger brother made history becoming the first world champion brothers at the same time and in 2011 they made history again becoming the first brothers to hold every World Championship belt in the same weight division simultaneously.
Lewis is a retired British boxer with Jamaican roots and the one who started the European surge in boxing’s most historic and prestigious weight division, the heavyweight, nearly twenty years ago. He convincingly beat the likes of Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson and retired as a world champion before he passed the torch to his fellow European champions who followed such as the Klitschko brothers, Ruslan Chagaev, Alexander Povetkin, and Nikolai Valuev among others.
The son of a Greek immigrant named Aristides and an Italian-Brazilian mother, Eder Jofre became the greatest Brazilian boxer of all time and the greatest Bantamweight boxer in history. He became a four-time world champion in two different weight divisions achieving an astounding seventy-two wins and only two controversial split decision losses in Japan to a local favorite nicknamed Fighting Harada.
Bob Fitzsimmons was a phenomenal bare-knuckle British boxer back in the good old days when boxing was a manly, tough, and a brutally bloody sport. He is the only professional boxer in history to win the lineal world championship in the middleweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight divisions and the first boxer to become the undisputed champion in three different weight divisions. He’s considered one of the hardest punchers in the history of the sport.
Even though most will say that Rocky Marciano is the greatest boxer who retired undefeated, the “Welsh Dragon” won more titles and defended his title many more times than the legendary Italian-American knockout artist. The former Super Middleweight and Light Heavyweight champion “Super” Joe Calzaghe beat Bernard Hopkins, Roy Jones Jr., Mikel Kessler, and Jeff Lacy among many others, held the world super-middleweight title a record 11 consecutive years, defended his crown 21 times, and retired with the title of the longest-reigning and possibly the greatest super-middleweight champion in history, with a perfect 46–0 record.
In terms of accomplishments Wladimir Klitschko is the second longest-reigning heavyweight champion of all time and the scariest part is that he looks unbeatable at the moment. An Olympic gold medalist at the Atlanta Games in 1996, Wladimir has been the definition of a dominant heavyweight champion, and from the late ‘90s to date, he has held the title for nearly twelve years in total. Additionally, he is currently tied with Muhammad Ali in second position on the list for most heavyweight title fights in history with 25, and is chasing Joe Louis’s record of 27. He recently stated that he plans to fight until age 45 and we’re really curious to see what kind of record he will set.
According to the majority of boxing experts, Carlos Monzon is the greatest Argentine boxer of all time and one of the three greatest middleweight champions ever along with American legends Harry Greb and Marvin Hagler. He held the Undisputed World Middleweight Championship title for over seven years and in the process defended it fourteen times. He fought 100 times professionally, winning 87 times, having 9 draws, and losing only 3 times in points.
The Filipino Phenom is considered by many to be the greatest boxer of our generation and how couldn’t he be when taking into account his many achievements: he became the first and only world champion in history to win the title in eight different weight divisions and the first to win the lineal title in four of them. He was also named “Fighter of the Decade” for the 2000s by the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA), the first non-American to receive such an honor. He’s regarded as a national icon in the Philippines and is without a doubt the greatest and most famous Asian boxer who ever lived.
The Panamanian living legend Roberto “Manos de Piedra” Durán is undoubtedly the greatest lightweight boxer in history and one of the greatest boxers who ever lived regardless of weight division. In 2002, he was chosen by The Ring magazine as the fifth best boxer of the last eighty years and he made history by holding the world title in four different weights—lightweight (1972–9), welterweight (1980), light middleweight (1983–4), and middleweight (1989). He’s the only modern boxer to have fought over a span of five decades from 1968 to 2001 when he retired at age fifty.
Laszlo Papp became the first boxer in history to win three consecutive gold medals at the Olympics. He was also the very first boxer from a country of the former Soviet Bloc to become professional back in the late fifties. After fighting for a few years before the communist Hungarian government retracted their decision, Papp retired undefeated with a professional record of 27 wins and no losses along with his astonishing 301 wins and 5 losses as an amateur.
In 1991 the WBC (World Boxing Council) named him the world’s best amateur and professional fighter of all time, a title no other boxer in history has ever earned to date, thus recognizing Papp’s legacy in the world of boxing.