(Photo courtesy of the outstanding “Happy Birthday, Muhammad Ali” gallery on Time.com. Seriously, go there right now.)
By Steve Silverman
Muhammad Ali was the most influential sports figure of the 20th century. Among athletes, Ali was without peer when it came to social influence, and had as much to do with the advancement of civil rights and the end of the Vietnam War as any other individual. As an iconic self-promoter, his golden tongue had no equals — and still doesn’t, no matter what Dana White says about Chael Sonnen.
However, as great a boxer as he was during his prime, he simply was not “The Greatest.” We can name one heavyweight and four other boxers who were better at their craft than Ali. On the occasion of his 70th birthday, we mean no disrespect. We just want to set the record straight.
Let’s start off by analyzing Ali’s fighting style. He was a heavyweight who moved like no one in his weight class before or since. His left jab was almost perfect because he kept opponents off-balance with it and he could also stun an opponent enough to deliver a power shot. He also had a strong right hand that he could use to knock out an opponent once he had hurt him with a flurry of punches.
During his prime, Ali was a very strong defensive fighter, using his speed to avoid getting hit and his long arms to parry hard punches. Obviously, he lost that ability in his later years as he was hit hard by Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, George Foreman and Larry Holmes. His ability to take hard punches and keep on fighting made him a great champion, but it cost him dearly outside the ring as he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease shortly after his career ended in 1981. Ali recorded a 56-5 record during his professional career.
Here are five boxers who rank higher than Ali…