When it comes to who was the best boxer of all time, I answer with one of two options: Sugar Ray Robinson or Hank Armstrong. When asked about who the greatest boxer of all time was, that’s where Ali’s name shines in big bright headlights.
The difference between best boxer and greatest boxer has to do with impact versus skill. If you talk about skill, Sugar Ray Robinson is hands down the best boxer of all time and Hank Armstrong was a close and very worthy second. The reason is that although Manny Pacquiao is a 7 division champion (I think the 8th division is debatable because for a 154 lb. fight he weighed between 146-148 lbs and he fought a poor excuse for a Mexican. If today’s titles would be the same as when Robinson was around, lord knows if he would have won upwards of 8 divisions since weight classes used to mean something. For his part, Hank Armstrong would have been a simultaneous multi division champion in a time when competition was fierce. Oh and he wasn’t about outpointing people, Hank liked KO’s like I like sushi. (101 of his 140 fights were won via knockout). But when you talk about impact, star power and changing the world of boxing, few people can hold a candle to Ali.
Not only was Ali a heavyweight who moved like a welterweight, he could punch, he could jab, and he could talk. Unlike jackasses like Mayweather Jr. who talk a great game, Muhammad Ali could walk the walk as well. His knockout wins over Sonny Liston and George Foreman are some of the most courageous and brutal fights you’ll ever see. His thrilogy with Frazier is one of the best in history and his impact on the media, was overwhelming.
Some people might make the case that he was a pawn of the Black Panthers who preached Islam because he was convinced to do so, but focusing on that would be to ignore his presence. Cocky and brash, he made fights bigger than what they already were. He took things to the eight level and the reality is that he was the Greatest, because he didn’t only have boxing skill, he had oratory skills, showmanship and the power to move a country and raise awareness.
It’s true, not everyone was an Ali fan. Actually, quite a few people hated him with a passion, but being the greatest doesn’t mean you are the most liked… it just means EVERYONE knows who you are. And in that realm, Ali stands tall atop the boxing world.
Here is a fascinating tribute to him, using steel, punching bags and perspective: three things fighters should consider having in their repertoire.