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Floyd Mayweather Jr. and 25 Best Defensive Boxers in History

Fred Kelley

There’s nothing like the smell of the hardwood at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. 

The San Antonio Spurs are known for their defense and it’s no question that defense wins Championships, just ask Tim Duncan.  How about in the sport of Boxing? 

I would say great defense transcends and defines champions in all sports.  Just like we’ll see in Super Bowl XLV, The NBA World Championship and this year’s boxing events, a solid defense will be the major factor that leaves someone saying "I'm going to Disneyland!"

# 25: Sam Langford

ESPN called Langford “The Greatest Fighter Nobody Knows”, primarily because he never secured a world title.  Speculators say this is due to the extremely popular Jack Johnson’s refusal to fight Langford and many thought the 5’6 185 pound Langford could beat the superior Johnson.    

# 24: Roberto Duran

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Duran gained a reputation as a “versatile brawler” more commonly known as a boxer-puncher; he could fight skillfully when he needed to and exchange aggressively at the drop on a hat. 

# 23: James Toney

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Although his professional record in MMA does not suggest it, Toney is known for slipping and rolling with punches to avoid absorbing the full impact.  Arguably one of the slickest moves in boxing, Fading or Swaying a punch gives a fighter great opportunities to counter.  Unfortunately not every fighter has the timing to pull off such a defensive move; Toney is one of the best at it. 

# 22: Larry Holmes

I will argue the jab is an absolute must for any serious heavyweight.  Holmes has a tremendous jab and handed Ali, Norton and Cooney losses because of it.

# 21: Stanley Ketchel

The “Michigan Assassin” was born to Polish immigrants in 1886.  Ketchel would remind some of us as a Manny Pacquiao of his day, Ketchel was a middleweight who often fought heavyweights.   His boxer puncher style allowed him to win against fighter who outweighed him by 30 pounds or more. 

# 20: Jack Dempsey

Dempsey is a rare once in a life time type fighter.  His offense was his defense.  He became one of the most popular boxers of his era because of his aggressive style which pleased his fans.    

# 19: Marco Antonio Barrera

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Barrera is another seemingly misplaced boxer on a “best defense” list largely because he is legendary for delivering some of the biggest brawls in boxing history.  However, Barrera put on a boxing clinic against the very dangerous fighter Naseem Hamed.  Some people claim, including myself; that Barrera had a rare ability to change his style as he got older, a trait that made him great.  

# 18: Joe Louis

Louis holds the world record at 25 for the most consecutive title defenses at heavyweight.  A clean living honest fighter, Joe Louis was rejuvenating for boxing, which had earned a bad reputation for fixed fights and gambling. 

#17: Ronald Winky Wright

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Ronald Wright is freakishly good!  With an arm span longer than his height, Wright was built for defense.  His “peek-a-boo” boxing guard allows him to work behind a seemingly impenetrable armor.  When Wrights puts up his guard his elbows extend all the way to his waist band while still covering his head.

# 16: Rocky Marciano

The only heavyweight to retire undefeated at 49-0 with 43 knockouts, enough said. 

# 15: Benny Leonard

In my opinion one of the greatest nicknames ever given a fighter was “The Ghetto Wizard” Benny Leonard.  Leonard learned to fight on the streets of a Jewish ghetto.  When he went pro, he quickly gained notoriety as a high skilled boxer with superior defensive ability.    

# 14: Henry Armstrong

ESPN ranked Armstrong number 3 in the 50 Greatest Fighters of All-Time.  Armstrong did something only Manny Pacquiao was able to supersede, winning championships in 3 or more weight divisions.  In the early 1900’s there were fewer weight divisions and if Armstrong would have fought today it would be 7 championships in 7 different weight classes.

# 13: Manny Pacquiao

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The Filipino Icon Manny Pacquiao enters the list at # 13.  While some folks will contest, Manny is more of an offensive fighter; his defense is largely under-rated.  His recent domination over larger fighters is directly attributed to his hard punching and ability to reduce the amount of punishment he takes.  Rarely holding, Pacquiao depends on his footwork and side-stepping motion to avoid taking heavy punishment from larger fighters.

# 12: Jack Johnson

Hailing from Galveston Texas, Johnson was a product of his era.  Boxing was different in the late 1800’s, a more patient approach, Johnson would wait to capitalize on mistakes.  Often Johnson was criticized as a coward because he was so cautious. 

# 11: Roy Jones Jr.

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The fastest fighter of his day, Jones once knocked out Glen Kelly with both hands behind his back.  Notably the best defensive fighter at the time because of his speed, Roy Jones almost seemed superhuman to spectators. 

# 10: Joe Calzaghe

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The “Pride of Whales” Joe Calzaghe retired undefeated at 46-0 at Super Middleweight.  Some boxing analyst claimed Calzaghe was faster and slicker than American Roy Jones Jr. and clamored for a show down.  When they finally met in the ring Calzaghe put on a boxing clinic after being down in the first round.    

# 9: Gene Tunney

Tunney was known as an extremely skilled pugilist with superior boxing ability.  He handed Jack Dempsey two defeats one of which became notoriously Known as “The Long Count”.  Dempsey was the most popular boxer of his day.  

# 8: Bernard Hopkins

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Love him or like him, Bernard Hopkins is one of the most skilled boxers of our generation.  Hopkins successfully defended his title 20 times which is a world record for most consecutive defenses at Middleweight.

# 7: Wilfred Benitez

The Puerto Rican, New York born sensation Wilfred Benitez is the epitome of the term “boxer-puncher”.  Not only did Benitez have great defense his aggressiveness was paramount.

# 6: Juan Manuel Marquez

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The most elusive Mexican fighter still competing today, Marquez is the king of “fighting in a telephone booth”.   A term used in boxing to describe fighting close in the center of the ring while using side-stepping motions to turn your opponent.  Marquez is a master at counter-punching and is regarded as one of the best Mexican boxers of all time.   

# 5: Sugar Ray Leonard

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In the 1980”s, Leonard was named boxer of the Decade and has sense been considered one of the greatest boxers of all time.  Ray’s style was considered “Too Sweet to Beat” however he got his moniker “Sugar” from his wife Juanita Wilkinson long before he was great. 

# 4: Muhammad Ali

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” Ali was a great defensive fighter.  The best of all time at the back-peddle knock-out and he invented the rope-a-dope.   

# 3: Sugar Ray Robinson

Robinson was named the greatest boxer of the 20th century by the Associated Press and is argued to be the greatest boxer ever.  Robinson had power in both hands and his fluid delivery made him a masterful pugilist.

# 2: Pernell Whitaker (draw)

Nicknamed “Sweet Pea”, Pernell Whitaker was a very slippery southpaw.  His defense and steady offense gained him world recognition when he was named Fighter of the Year by Ring Magazine at age 25.

# 2: Floyd Mayweather Jr. (draw)

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Undoubtedly the best defensive fighter still competing today, Floyd counter punching speed and accuracy are the reason he is undefeated at 41-0.  

# 1: Willie Pep

Arguably the best defensive fighter ever, Pep’s career spanned 26 years while tallying an unprecedented 241 bouts with only 11 losses.  That’s less than 5 percent!  To put this in perspective it’s the same percentage if Floyd Jr. lost his next two fights. 


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