12 of the Most Famous Boxers To Ever Step Foot Inside a Ring
As far as combat sports go, few have as rich a history as boxing. The Olympic sport has been around for centuries, evolving from brutal hand-to-hand combat in Ancient Greece to the skillful version of the sport we watch today. Boxing requires speed, strength, endurance, and above all, intelligence. You’ve also got to have the guts to enter the squared ring and know there’s a chance you might get the shit kicked out of you and it’s all legal. The sport has turned many ordinary men into famous boxers who have made millions from the sport and become major personalities.
Most famous boxers made their mark over the past century as boxing progressed from a pugilistic slugfest to the multi-million dollar sport it is today. Fighters now earn millions of dollars for marquee fights broadcast all around the world. Being a famous boxer is the equivalent of being in the movie business or a high-profile musician.
The sport of boxing has given us many great champions over the decades who have not only made it in the boxing world but also become pop culture icons. From the great Muhammad Ali to the undefeated Floyd Mayweather, here are 12 of the most famous boxers of all time.
12 of the Most Famous Boxers To Ever Step Foot Inside a Ring
1. Muhammad Ali
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” That’s just one of the many gems spoken by Muhammad Ali during his controversial boxing career. Regarded by many as the greatest boxer of all time, Ali began boxing at age 12 and won an Olympic gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics at 18. Across his 21-year career, he held the World Heavyweight Championship on three separate occasions and beat some of the best fighters to ever grace a ring, such as Sonny Lister, Ken Norton, Joe Frazier in the Thrilla in Manila, and George Foreman in The Rumble in the Jungle.
Outside the ring, Ali was a charismatic individual deeply devoted to the Muslim faith. He refused to fight in the Vietnam War and was stripped of his titles in 1966. He didn’t step in a ring for four years as he fought to stay out of jail. While missing from the ring during his prime years, Ali’s stance made him even more popular and he helped raise awareness about social issues involving black Americans.
Ali became an activist, writer, singer, and actor after his fight career ended in 1981. Just a few years later, in 1984, Ali announced he was battling Parkinson’s disease which he contributed to his boxing career. Despite his health battles, Ali continued his humanitarian work and helped spread the word about Parkinson’s before passing away in 2016 at the age of 74.
2. Floyd Mayweather Jr.
“Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather Jr. is the greatest boxer of the past 25 years. The short but powerful Mayweather turned pro in 1996 and went on to have 50 fights, remaining undefeated. During that time he won 15 major world championships, including the Super Featherweight and Light Middleweight Championships.
Trained by his father Floyd Mayweather Snr., who was also a pro boxer, Pretty Boy Floyd is one of the modern boxers who helped turn the sport into a million-dollar industry. His fights earned not only promoters but Mayweather himself millions over the years, with the boxer believed to have earned over $1 billion during his fight career. Although retired, Mayweather continues to fight exhibition matches when the dollar figure is to his liking.
3. Jack Dempsey
Jack Dempsey gave people much joy during the roaring 20s when he reigned as the World Heavyweight Champion from 1919 to 1926. Known as “The Manasa Mauler,” Dempsey fought an aggressive style that resonated with audiences, helping turn him into a sporting icon of the times. He won 65 out of 85 fights, with 53 of those coming by knockout.
Dempsey was a big draw during his time in the ring and set many attendance and gate records. He competed in the first million-dollar fight and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. He is recognized as a legend in the ring who helped popularize the sport of boxing with his efforts.
4. Mike Tyson
Boxing in the 80s was defined by one man: Iron Mike Tyson. A brute of a man with knockout power unlike anything ever seen before, Tyson won his first 19 fights via knockout. He became the youngest World Heavyweight Champion of all time, claiming the World Boxing Council (WBC) belt at the age of 20 years, four months, and 22 days. He would go on to win all three major World Heavyweight Championships, the first and only person to do so.
The Baddest Man on the Planet seemed untouchable during his reign from 1987 to 1990, but it all came unstuck after a shock defeat to Buster Douglas in 1990. A rape conviction in 1992 sent Tyson to jail but he returned to the ring in 1995 after serving his time inside. Although he would capture the WBA and WBC titles, Tyson wasn’t the same and would court more controversy after biting Evander Hollyfield’s ear during their 1997 matchup.
A disgraced Tyson fell on hard times in the 00s but has managed to resurrect both his career and image over the years. While an exhibition fight with Roy Jones Jr. in 2020 showed Mike Tyson still has it, it’s his cannabis company and frequent media appearances that have given him success over the past decade.
5. Joe Frazier
There’s always going to be room on a list of famous boxers for the first man to beat Ali. Joe Frazier did exactly that in the Fight of the Century in 1971. His long and illustrious boxing career included a record of 32 wins, 4 losses, and 1 draw. He won the gold at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo and was crowned World Heavyweight Champion of the world.
Along with possessing a powerful left hook, Frazier was a fast mover who would weave and duck around the ring, putting pressure on his opponents to strike first. He had many memorable fights during his career and continued to train fighters after he retired until his death from liver cancer in 2011.
6. George Foreman
Young people most likely only know about the George Foreman Grill, but the American professional boxer was one of the greatest to ever do it. He is an Olympic gold medalist and two-time World Heavyweight Champion who won 76 of his 81 fights. Of his five losses, the most talked about is the iconic Rumble in the Jungle in 1974 against Muhammad Ali. He was never really the same after that fight, and although he still won plenty of boxing matches, retired in 1977.
Amazingly Forman returned to the ring a decade later at the age of 45 and managed to claim the unified WBA, IBF, and lineal World Heavyweight Championships by knocking out 26-year-old Michael Moorer. He became the oldest world champion ever at 46 years and 169 days old and eventually retired for good in 1997.
Since then he has made millions more with the George Foreman Grill and was a fight analyst for HBO for many years, with the now 73-year-old said to be enjoying retirement with his wife.
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7. Joe Louis
Another of the great boxers from the early 20th century, Joe Luis was the longest reigning World Heavyweight Champion of all time. Louis held the belt for a record-breaking 12 years, with 25 successful title defenses and a period of time spent fighting in World War II. He eventually lost the belts to Ezzard Charles in 1950 and would retire just a year later after suffering another loss to the legendary Rocky Marciano.
Outside of the ring, Louis had his own demons, dealing with substance abuse, tax problems, and personal issues. His health deteriorated in the late 70s and he died of a heart attack in 1981. Despite all this, Joe Louis was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and is still considered one of the greats by the majority of boxing fans.
8. Evander Holyfield
A three-time World Heavyweight Champion who won more belts than you can poke a stick at, Evander Holyfield was a monster in the ring. Nicknamed the “Real Deal” and “The Warrior,” Holyfield was a dominant force during the late 80s and early 90s. While he had memorable fights with the likes of Lennox Lewis, Buster Douglas, Riddick Bowe, and John Ruiz, most people remember Holyfield for his fights against Mike Tyson.
In their first meeting in 1996, Holyfield defeated Tyson to reclaim the WBA title, but it was the rematch in 1997 that got people talking. In round three Tyson bit off part of Holyfield’s ear and was disqualified. Holyfield continued to fight with mixed results before retiring in 2014. He is the first boxer to hold world titles in three different decades, the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.
9. Manny Pacquiao
One of Mayweather Jr.’s great rivals, Manny Pacquiao won 12 major titles during his decorated career. The Filipino boxer was always a big draw, raking in millions of dollars in pay-per-view buys. He is the only boxer to hold world championships across four decades (the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and 2020s) and has a professional record of 62 wins, eight losses, and two draws.
Outside of boxing, Pacquiao has been involved in politics since 2010, even challenging for the Philippino presidency in 2022, which he would ultimately lose to Bongbong Marcos. He’s also pursued a basketball career and has dabbled in music, releasing several albums and touring the Philippines playing to sold-out crowds.
10. Oscar De La Hoya
“The Golden Boy” won the gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and signified he was one to watch in the boxing world. Oscar De La Hoya was a force to be reckoned with throughout the 90s, going on a 31-undefeated streak before finally tasting defeat at the hands of Félix Trinidad in 1999, losing the WBC Welterweight title in the process.
De La Hoya is believed to have made over $700 million in pay-per-view income, making him the highest-grossing boxer of all time. Although the last decade of his career was up and down (he won several titles but also lost to Flyod Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao, and Shane Mosley twice), he is recognized as one of the best.
11. Tyson Fury
Is there a more entertaining boxer than Tyson Fury? The Gyspy King is known for his incredible boxing prowess inside the ring. He is unbelievably fast for a big man with phenomenal striking power, and his trash talk outside the ring often sees him get inside his competitor’s head, giving him a mental edge.
After defeating Wladimir Klitschko in 2015 and winning the unified WBA (Super), IBF, WBO, IBO, and The Ring titles, Fury suffered from depression and mental health issues and was forced to relinquish his belts. After dealing with alcoholism, drug use, weight issues, and mental health struggles, Fury returned after three years away from boxing in 2018.
He has since gone on to become the best fighter in the world. He has gone undefeated in his trilogy fights with Deontay Wilder while also disposing of Dillian Whyte, Francesco Pianeta, Sefer Seferi, Otto Wallin, and Tom Schwarz.
As everyone waits for the much-anticipated Fury v Anthony Joshua fight to eventuate, Fury continues to reign supreme as the world’s best boxer.
12. Sugar Ray Leonard
Across a two-decade career between 1977 and 1997, Sugar Ray Leonard made a huge impact in the boxing world. The winner of the 1976 Montreal Olympic gold medal in the Light Welterweight division, Leonard won belts in five different weight classes during his successful time in the ring.
At a time when the heavyweight scene was suffering in the 80s, Leonard was part of the “Four Kings,” a group of boxers in the lower classes who kept boxing in the spotlight. Along with Leonard, the “Four Kings” consisted of Roberto Durán, Thomas Hearns, and Marvin Hagler, with the quartet fighting each other regularly throughout the 80s.
Leonard also holds the record for being the first boxer to earn over $100 million from their fights, with the boxing legend retiring with 36 wins, three losses, and one draw to his name.
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