Top Ten Hardest Punchers in Boxing History

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Ben Cohen
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Pacquiao puncher

As some readers know, I was a boxing journalist for quite a long time, and remain a huge fan of the sport. It's a sport with a vast history that provides an endless source of banter. I've spent hours arguing about who the greatest fighter was of all time, the fastest, the best defensive, and the biggest hitter -  and the conclusions are never definitive (other than who the greatest was - Sugar Ray Robinson without a shadow of a doubt).

Anyhow, the most fun topic, and certainly the most YouTube-able revolves around who the biggest punchers were in the sport. I wrote an article for TrueSlant.com (now a part of Forbes.com) on the top ten hardest hitters of all time that sparked off quite a lot of debate.

I've repurposed and updated the piece below with some new videos and quotes, so check it out and weigh in with your thoughts!

1. Julian Jackson

Jackson’s power at 154-160lbs was absolutely freakish. Despite lacking elite boxing skill, the Virgin Island Middleweight tore his way through 55 opponents, knocking out 49 of them and winning several world titles on the way. His one punch knockout of Herol Graham was one of the best in boxing history, especially as Jackson was badly losing in their title bout in 1990. The almighty right hand that knocked Graham out before he hit the canvass has been replayed in every knockout compilation worth watching. Graham lay unconscious for 5 minutes after being caught, and was never really the same afterwards. Jackson’s ability to literally touch an opponent and hurt them meant he was always dangerous making every fight he was in a must watch event.

2. Earnie Shavers

Earnie Shavers was without a doubt the hardest punching heavyweight of all time. The American born bruiser wasn’t exactly the most refined of fighters, but his power was so extreme he could turn a fight around with one punch. For the most part, Shavers Most weighed under 210lbs suggesting the Liverpudlian based American could have fought at the modern day cruiserweight limit. He destroyed Ken Norton in one round, dropped Larry Holmes, and landed one of the hardest punches ever seen against Ron Lyle. Shavers right hand was the sort of punch the caused audiences to turn away when it landed. Both Holmes and Ali stated that Shavers hit them harder then anyone else, and given their combined resume, (Foreman, Tyson, Frazier, Liston), it would be hard to disagree.

3. Prince Naseem Hamed

After Hamed destroyed tough South African Vuyani Bungu in March of 2000, referee Joe Cortez stated that the Prince was the hardest punching featherweight he had ever seen. Weighing a mere 126lbs in his prime, Hamed’s power was nothing short of incredible. Not only did he have knock out power in both fists, the young Prince could generate fight-ending force from a bewildering array of angles. After clinically knocking out Augie Sanchez with some hammering blows in 2001, many ringsides could not believe that the diminutive Hamed did not have something in his gloves. His power was so amazing that his sparring partners regularly reported it being equal to that of a middleweight or above. Stories of bashing up heavyweights in his gym spread like wildfire, and coupled with some of the most awesome knockouts the featherweight division has ever seen, it would be fair to place Hamed’s power alongside the very best. The highlights below are worth watching in full:

4. Tommy Hearns

Tommy Hearns was one of those rare fighters who managed to carry their power up through different weight categories. From 147 to 190lbs, Hearns possessed crunching power that could KO a fighter with one punch. Perhaps the most frightening display of his power came when he fought Roberto Duran at 154lbs. It was one of the most one-sided beatings ever seen between two great fighters, with Duran tasting the canvass three times. The final knockout came while Duran was pinned against the ropes where Hearns landed a right hand that would have felled most heavyweights. Duran was out before he hit the canvass, and the fight was promptly stopped. Hearns gangly 6ft1 frame was enormous, and the kinetic power he could generate was genuinely scary. As he filled out in weight, Hearns had no problem turning the extra pounds into extra force, retaining devastating power up to the cruiserweight division.

5. Sugar Ray Robinson

Not only was Ray Robinson one of the most skilled boxer of all time, he was one the best punchers as well. Lithe and slender, Robinson generated his power from his perfect technique. He pivoted on his feet, torqued his hips and maintained perfect posture while delivering pinpoint accurate punches. Robinson scored one-punch knockouts all the way from lightweight up to middleweight, proving that power was not just a product of muscle size. His most famous knockout came over the teak tough Gene Fullmer at middleweight. After losing a decision to Fullmer a few months earlier, Robinson landed the most perfect left hook ever landed in the 5th round of the rematch.

“I still don’t know anything about the punch,” Fullmer said years after the bout, “except I watched it on movies a number of times. The first thing I knew, I was standing up. I asked my manager, ‘What happened?’ and he said, ‘They counted ten.’ Up to then, I probably got to thinking I couldn’t be knocked out. And all at once, I realized that anybody can. It’s just got to be in the right place at the right time and you’re gone.”

6. Bob Foster

Foster was a monster puncher at Light heavyweight, and one of the division’s best champions. Foster was a tall and rangy fighter with superb technique and incredible knockout power. Foster was not successful in his attempts to fight heavyweights, but his achievements at Light heavyweight were nothing short of phenomenal. His one punch knockout of Dick Tiger and Mike Quarry will go down as two of the best in history.

7. Manny Pacquiao

Manny Pacquiao has been a knock out artist in 8 weight categories ranging from 110lbs to 154lbs, an astounding feat given most fighters inability carry their punch up with them. Pacquiao’s deadly combination of speed, balance and explosive muscle fiber has felled the majority of his opponents, and he is one of he most feared punchers in the sport. His left hand is perhaps the most feared weapon in boxing today, and his right has been so well developed by his trainer Freddie Roach that it too ranks up there with the best. Never was Pacquiao’s power more evident than when he challenged Ricky Hatton for the Ring 140lb belt, knocking the Brit down twice in the first round, then once and for all in the 2nd with an over hand left that rendered Hatton unconscious before he hit the floor. It was one of the most devastating knockouts in history, and it put Hatton out of action for almost three years. Shane Mosley reported that Pacquiao hit him so hard in the 3rd round of their fight that he blanked out for the next 3 rounds. "He has some different hitting power," said Mosley to Ben Thompson of FightHype. "I don't know how he throws his punches, but he does something where when he lands, it has a different impact. I mean, I get hit by, even now, I get hit by bigger guys all the time and there's no dazing, I don't wobble, I don't do any of that stuff. I don't feel like I'm getting ready to wobble or anything. With Pacquiao, he just touches you and you're already wobbling."

8. Roberto Duran

‘Hands of Stone’ had just that, hands of stone. Duran was an absolute beast at Lightweight with one of the best body assaults in history. Although his punch did not go up with him when he moved up in weight, the Panamanian tough man managed to compete with the very best all the way up to middleweight, a testament to how physically strong he was. The savage beating he gave Davey Moore was one of the worst in history, the punishing body shots physically lifting Moore off of the canvas from the force.

9. Rocky Marciano

It is important to remember that Marciano was not a heavyweight by today’s standard, so his stature as a puncher rises given his weight. Marciano was no more than 189lbs at the height of his professional career, but wielded one of the hardest punches the heavyweight division has ever seen. And for that reason, he deserves to go down as one of the best punchers pound for pound ever. Marciano bludgeoned his way through his opponents with a fierce determination and toughness rivalled by none. His power came from his tree trunk legs, thick torso and superb leverage. Joe Louis said of Marciano: “It hurt to bump into him….He hits harder than Max Schmeling…this kid is tough enough to beat anyone.”

10. Joe Louis

Again. Louis would have probably been a cruiserweight by today’s standards so it is only fair that he ranks above some of the biggest Heavyweight punchers in terms of power pound for pound. Louis had an amazing ability to knock people out from close range. Louis could torque his body like no one else, putting his entire body weight behind his punches. Louis’s left hook was bone shattering, and his right would simply put people to sleep. The punches that knocked out Max Schmeling in 1938 were some of the hardest seen in a heavyweight ring, with Louis hitting the German with a series of right hands that would have felled an ox. One of Joe Louis spar mates, Seal Harris said : “As he comes toward you, he seems to get smaller the closer he comes and then, he explodes at you. When he hits you, you think you been shot, and if he hits you right, you think you are dead.”