By Alan Hubbard
Many of boxing’s shrewder judges, among them elder statesmen Bob Arum and Frank Warren, are of the opinion that Deontay Wilder may well hit harder than anyone in the history of the heavyweight division. And I believe they are bang on the button, so to speak.
That view will be supported by at least 40 odd heavyweights, all of whom have felt the pain and prodigious power of Wilder’s sock-it-to ’em sledgehammering. Only two men have gone the distance with the Bronze Bomber from Tuscaloosa, Alabama – Bermane Stiverne, from whom he won the WBC title by unanimous decision, then pulverised in a return, and Tyson Fury, the one man to have climbed off the floor and given Wilder the fight – and the fright – of his career, earning a draw in Los Angeles last December. Which, in any other country, surely would have been declared an unequivocal victory to Fury.
The thing about Wilder is that he can take a decent whack too, although those spindly legs have wobbled on a couple of occasions. This is why Fury believes that in next month’s long-awaited reprise (February 22 in Las Vegas) he will need to give Wilder a taste of his own medicine ball punching if he is to reign again as world heavyweight champion.
To this end he has hired a new trainer, SugarHill Steward, a disciple of late Uncle Manny’s Kronk gym where the emphasis was always on putting beef into the blows thrown by heavyweights such as Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield and Wladimir Klitschko.
Big punching has always been an essential part of the armoury of heavyweight boxers throughout the ages from the bare knuckle days. And arguably none have hit harder than Wilder although several have come close.
Former world champions George Foreman, Joe Frazier and Larry Holmes, themselves no slouches when it came to slinging their hooks, maintain that the most fearsome puncher in modern boxing was Earnie Shavers, though never a champion himself.
All sparred with him and Muhammad Ali, who actually fought him, famously declared after their Madison Square Garden contest in 1977: “Earnie hit me so hard he shook my kinfolk back in Africa!”
There was no more fearsome a puncher, or menacing a figure, than sullen Sonny Liston until Ali twice can psyched him out. The second occasion saw what was termed the Phantom Punch. I have watched the replay many times and it was definitely a punch, albeit a deceptively glancing blow to the temple which felled the not so sunny Sonny.
Ali was never the most brutal of punchers. His blows were designed to slice and sting rather than stun and he was the master of the art of catching opponents of balance. He did so with Liston in Lewiston, Maine, and then sensationally in the Rumble in the Jungle when his flashing right-hand sent the disoriented Foreman corkscrewing to the canvas.
Phantom Punch became one of boxing’s best known phrases, as did Ingo’s Bingo – the devastating right-hand thrown by Ingemar Johannson which brought Swede dreams to the majority of his opponents and in one round had Floyd Patterson crashing to the floor seven times.
Then there was Rocky Marciano’s right hand rocket Susie Q, curiously named after a dance craze in the thirties, which helped him become the only world heavyweight champion to retire unbeaten. Can Wilder – or Fury – follow suit?
We must not forget ‘Enry’s ‘Ammer, the lethal left hook which had Ali – then plain Cassius Clay – seeing stars – and not just those in the night sky above Wembley Stadium back in the sixties.
Frazier’s 15th round left hook which also dumped Ali on the canvas in 1971 was a bit special too as was Foreman’s mighty right, especially the one which lifted Frazier completely off the floor in Jamaica.
Jack Dempsey, Jack Johnson, James J Braddock, even John L Sullivan all had their own version of Slam, Bam, Goodnight Nurse, but some old timers – even older than me that is – would tell you that the Brown Bomber Joe Louis was the first to really perfect the art of the Big Hit Man. Certainly one of his punches had the German Max Schmeling screaming in agony as it crashed into his ribs. But Schmeling did get up.
Many of Mike Tyson‘s opponents didn’t and among modern heavyweights he was probably the most venomous puncher with both hands. There is also a case for another big hitting US heavyweight who had the respect of other pros, Ron Lyle.
Those Ukrainian brain boxers the Klitschko brothers, Vitali and Wladimir, notably the elder Vitali, now mayor of hometown Kiev, could well have trained as anaesthetists so effective were they in putting opponents to sleep.
Dear old Frank Bruno arguably was the heaviest puncher Britain has produced in the heavyweight division until the explosive advent of an exciting new kid on the boxing blocks in Queensberry gunslinger Daniel Dubois, who has already blitzed his way to British and Commonwealth titles after little more than a just a couple of fistfuls of fights.
Unquestionably he is the young heavyweight the world’s best are watching with some unease. Boy, can he bang and the prospect of a spring showdown with another heavy-handed heavy, Joe Joyce, has us licking our lips in anticipation of a High Noon-style shootout.
The two best punches I have seen thrown by heavyweights in a British ring were by the unknown American Jim Fletcher, a San Francisco longshoreman who was so angered by now well-known attempts to get him to throw his fight against Brian London in Liverpool that he furiously banged his gloves before promptly flattening the petrified ex-British champ with a short-fused single right to the whiakers; and the phenomenal uppercut with which the then ABA champion Billy Walker, aka the Blond Bomber almost fired huge American heavyweight Cornelius Perry into space in a televised international against the USA at Wembley.
Walker was immediately offered and accepted close to £10,000, a fortune back in the sixties, from promoter Harry Levene to turn pro. Unfortunately although he had a well-publicised and decently rewarded career he could never reproduce that wonder punch again.
Another amateur heavyweight, the Cuban Teofilo Stevenson, who I dubbed Castro‘s right-hand man, had terrifying power which earned him three Olympic titles.
So just for the hell of it here is my all-time list of Top Ten heavyweight punchers. But you will agree that such arguments, while subjective, are as much the lifeblood of boxing as a hearty punch on the nose from any of the following:
1 Deontay Wilder
2 Earnie Shavers
3 Sonny Liston
4 Rocky Marciano
5 Joe Louis
6 George Foreman
7 Vitali Klitschko
8 Joe Frazier
9 Wladimir Klitschko
10 (Equal) Frank Bruno and Daniel Dubois