With Anthony Joshua currently bidding to become the greatest heavyweight knockout artist the UK has ever produced, talk among fans and pundits has naturally turned to the subject of Britain’s best. Unsurprisingly, heated debates have ensued as those look to fight the corners of their favourite pugilists.
Naturally, by throwing my own hat into the ring and joining the debate, I know I’m going to have to duck some verbal punches over the next few weeks. Indeed, just as everyone has the right to their own opinion, they also have the right to criticise mine, and I’m not afraid to commit my picks to paper (or a computer screen as the case may be).
So, with this in mind, here are six British boxers I think have a case for being called the finest practitioners of the noble art our country has ever seen.
He went from Olympic gold to heavyweight glory and retired as the undisputed champion of the world. Although it’s been said that Lewis came through at a time when heavyweight boxing was on the decline, a look through his record would suggest otherwise. Although he wasn’t around when Tyson was in his prime, he does have wins over Frank Bruno, Ray Mercer, Oliver McCall, Evander Holyfield and, of course, Vitali Klitschko.
With just two losses in 44 bouts (he went to a draw in the first Holyfield fight), Lewis was not only an extremely active heavyweight, but a dominant one. Over the course of 225 rounds, Lewis has 32 knockouts for a hit rate of 73%. That stat puts him ahead of Muhammad Ali (61%) and just behind Mike Tyson who ended his career with a 76% knockout ratio.
In fact, if you go way back before Lewis ever won the heavyweight belts, he was an amateur champion. On top of his 1988 Olympic gold medal, Lewis won titles at the 1986 Commonwealth Games, the North American Super Heavyweight Championship and a string of silvers at a host of high-level events.
From the amateurs to the pro ranks, Lewis was a champion and that’s why he’s a part of my P4P best of British.
The proverbial tough guy fighter, Hatton was easily one of the best light-welterweights of his time. Unfortunately, he was boxing in a period when Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao were in their prime, and that hurt his chances of becoming the top dog in the division. According to BoxRec, Hatton was punching at a 67% KO rate over the course of 48 fights and 284 rounds. Those stats helped him amass 32 knockouts, 45 wins, but he also suffered three losses. So how can you rank a fighter with three losses and an incomplete collection of titles as the best Britain has to offer?
Well, when you consider that two of Hatton’s losses were to Mayweather and Pacquiao, things don’t look quite as bad. Yes, losing to Vyacheslav Senchenko in his final fight wasn’t great, but that was after a three-year layoff and an ill-advised return to the ring.
If we discard this result, losing to two of the best boxers of all-time isn’t a bad achievement. In fact, when you look at it objectively, Hatton managed to crack America like few from the UK have managed to do, and he finished a whisker away from greatness. Although he may not have been the very best of his time, he was damn close, and that makes him worthy of a place in this top six of best British boxers of all time.
Ted “Kid” Lewis
If longevity and durability are reasons to be included in a best of British countdown then it’s hard to ignore Kid Lewis. Moving from welterweight through to light heavyweight and back down again, Lewis (real name Gershon Mendeloff) was a veteran of 238 fights and an astonishing 2,020 rounds.
Despite a KO ratio of just 26%, Lewis only lost 32 times and fought to 14 draws. That record left him with a career total of 192 wins and 80 knockouts. Thanks to a KO stat that’s larger than most modern boxers’ number of fights, Lewis ranked among the leading pugilists in British and world boxing.
However, it was Lewis’s rivalry with Jack Britton that helped define his career. Fighting his rival 20 times over the span of six years, Lewis gained a huge amount of respect overseas thanks to his showdowns with America’s Britton. Although he eventually lost four, won three, drew 1 and
fought to 12 no decisions, Lewis’s efforts helped to prove that British boxers were able to mix with the best North American had to offer, and that’s why many consider him a national icon.
A lightweight champion between 1970 and 1972, Buchanan went 61 and eight in his career with 27 knockouts. After claiming the title from Ismael Laguna, Buchanan went on to defend it against Ruben Navarro, Laguna (the rematch), Carlos Ortiz and Jim Watt (who would later become champion). Although he often didn’t inspire fans like some of his peers, Buchanan was a gritty boxer with a healthy dose of power.
Unfortunately, much like Hatton, he ran into an icon in the form of Roberto Duran. With the title on the line in 1972, the two fighters clashed in New York’s iconic Madison Square Garden. At the time, Buchanan was a 2/1 favourite, but a flash knockdown in the first swung the momentum.
Eventually, a low blow after the bell in the 13th floored Buchanan, and the ref refused to left the Brit fight on. This result not only cost Buchanan the title, but his future status as one of the best ever. However, does that mean he isn’t still one of the best British boxers we’ve ever seen?
Another dominant champion who won all there was to win in his weight class, Froch ended his career with only two defeats from 35 contests. Although he may not have been as active as some other fighters in the super-middleweight division (Joe Calzaghe fought 46 times), Froch earned 24 of his 33 wins via knockout and, more impressively, was never knocked out in his career. Despite being floored on a few occasions, Froch’s two losses to Andre Ward and Mikkel Kessler came by way of decision.
Froch would go on to avenge his loss to Kessler before closing out his career with a brace of wins against the young upstart, George Groves. A TKO win for Froch in the first fight was just the start of a rivalry that would boil over into a second fight. With some speculating that Froch was on the decline in the twilight of his career, anticipation was high as the pair squared-off.
In fact, such was the buzz surrounding the fight that it became the highest grossing UK fight of all time. On top of 80,000 fans inside Wembley Stadium, 900,000 British boxing fans paid for the
privilege to watch the two men fight. As well as taking a second win, Froch banked a reported £8 million for the fight and a place in national boxing history.
With a total of 46 fights to his name and multiple world titles, the southpaw super-middleweight came through a 15-year career virtually unscathed.
In fact, thanks to his durable yet evasive style, Calzaghe held the WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO titles, and when he retired he did so as the longest reigning champion of his time. That fact alone is enough to make him the best British boxer of all time, but one thing that’s often overlooked when it comes to Calzaghe is his knockout ratio.
When we point to a fighter like Hatton, the first thing we think of is power, body shots and KOs. In contrast, when people say the name Calzaghe, they think of a cerebral boxer who used a combination of cunning and pressure to beat his opponents. However, if we look at the stats, Calzaghe actually has a better KO ratio than Hatton. With 32 of his wins coming by way of knockout, Calzaghe was flooring opponents at a rate of 70% compared to Hatton’s 67%.
What’s more, when you consider that Calzaghe also had high profile wins over big name Americans like Jeff Lacey, Bernard Hopkins and the great Roy Jones Jr, it’s hard to argue that he isn’t the best.
When it comes to the best of British, there are plenty of hats to throw into the ring. The six boxers I’ve picked out here certainly have a strong case for being part of any P4P list, but what do you think? Have I picked out the best punchers or have I been blindsided and missed some obvious additions?
Thank you for taking the time to read my views on the best UK boxers of all time
But do you agree? Please leave a comment below or share this article and comment on Twitter @britishboxers
Daniel Smyth is a boxing and MMA enthusiast covering all the big fights. Daniel regularly writes boxing previews and betting articles and this post has been contributed in association with Sun Bets where you can find all the best odds and information on all the latest boxing showdowns.