Voted the #1 featherweight of the 21st century by the Associated Press, Guglielmo Papeleo is a boxing icon. Better known as Willie Pep, the Italian-American held the featherweight title from 1942-1950. He fought professionally 241 times, winning 229 of those contests with 65 KOs. This truly was a different era.
Pep is the epitome of a different time. Known for his speed, elusiveness, and ring control, it was said that trying to hit him was like trying to punch a blade of grass. He even once fought Sugar Ray Robinson in the attic of a feed store. Men were made from something different back then. Truly a special talent.
The greatest female fighter in the history of MMA, Brazil’s Amanda Nunes is incredible. She has beaten almost every bantamweight and featherweight champion in UFC records. That’s Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, Valentina Shevchenko, Holly Holm, Germain De Randamie, and Cris Cyborg. That is an insane record.
It was her win over the latter that proved just how phenomenal an athlete she is. Packing devastating power and precision, few women are able to handle her devastating strength and speed. She’s also a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Nunes is the real deal and it’s going to take someone special to beat her.
The first boxer to win championships in 8 different weight divisions, Manny Pacquaio is a different class of boxer. His fans idolize him in the Phillipine where he also serves as a senator. Even up to the age of 40, he still held a belt: the WBA super welterweight title.
Pacquaio is renowned for his ferocious power and speed. He’s beaten the likes of Miguel Cotto, Oscar De La Hoya, and Ricky Hatton. He’s probably most famous though for his intense rivalry with Juan Manuel Marquez. The Pacman is the greatest boxer ever to come out of Asia. The man is an inspiration to millions across the continent and one of the most iconic faces in the sport.
Some will scoff at Adesanya’s place on this list, but his record deserves it. A former kickboxer, his striking is sublime. Fighters dream about moving like he does. He established himself as one of the biggest stars in his sport before moving to the UFC. Then, he went on an unreal run to the UFC middleweight title. The Last Stylebender is the next generation of strking.
His MMA record is resplendant. Firstly, his title eliminator with Kelvin Gastelum was magnificent. Then, he effectively dissected the champion Robert Whittaker. His title defense against Paulo Costa was sublime too. Furthermore, Adesanya has a massive social media presence. He knows how to market himself and is one of the top fighters in the world right now.
Some regard Johnson as the most skilled MMA fighter in the short history of the sport. His ability to combine wrestling with striking was something to behold. A phenomenally talented flyweight, his reign at the top of the UFC’s 125lb division went on with an incredible 11 successful defenses. Few fighters possess his range of skills.
Now on the books of ONE Championship, Johnson looks set to continue adding ridiculous statistics to his name. He’s the only flyweight to record 10 takedowns in three fights. He’s got the most finishes in flyweight history (7). Johnson is an incredibly talented and dynamic fighter. His flying armbar win over Ray Borg is one of his best moments.
No list of greatest fighters could be complete without Rocky Marciano. ‘The Brockton Blockbuster’ remains the only heavyweight champion to have retired undefeated as a champion. He had a record of 49-0 and his knockout-to-win percentage of 87.76% remains one of the best in the history of the division.
He held the title for four years from 1952-1956 defending it six times with success. Marciano’s punching power, chin, speed, and ferocity all marked him out as a special force of nature during his remarkable era. His legacy was a major influence behind the Rocky Balboa film series.
Schilt is just ahead of Ernesto Hoost on this list because he’s beaten his fellow Dutchman. Alongside his rival, he’s one of only two fighters to win the K-1 Heavyweight Grand Prix four times. However he stands alone as the only fighter to win it three times in a row. He’s also a Glory heavyweight champion too. That is a phenomenal CV.
Schilt has fought in both MMA and kickboxing, although it’s in the latter that he’s found the most success. With 50 wins on his record, the man was a force of nature. However, his career that ended when a heart condition was discovered in 2013. The man is a living legend and one of the most unique fighters on this list. A massive figure but an elite athlete.
Mayweather is a force of nature. There is a strong case that he’s the best defensive boxer ever. With an unbeaten 50-0 professional record, ‘Money’ is also one of the most successful inside and outside the cage. He fought intelligently and took very little damage throughout his career.
He beat the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, and Canelo Alvarez in a storied career where he held titles across five weight classes. He’s also one of the biggest pay-per-view draws of all time. Mayweather’s bouts against Manny Pacquaio and Conor McGregor broke records. People don’t like him because of his controversies. But inside the ring, he stands apart.
The great, late Joe Frazier was one of the world’s top heavyweights throughout the 1960s and 1970s. He was known for his strength, durability, formidable punching power, and relentless pressure fighting style. An Olympic gold medallist, his professional career was also very successfu. In 1970, he became the undisputed champion. This was his crowning achievement.
Frazier’s rivalry with Muhammad Ali is one of the most famous of all time. He beat Ali in their first match-up in the ‘Fight of the Century.’ But he lost his rematches to his fellow legend. George Foreman was the only other man to beat ‘Smokin’ Joe,’ whose left hook was one of the best in the game. In sum, he was one of the most fierce fighters ever.
Some believe that ‘Rush’ is the greatest UFC fighter of all time. He’s definitely the best welterweight with a phenomenal record in that division. The Canadian is a true martial artist. He combined karate, wrestling, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with devastating effect. After reclaiming his title from Matt Hughes, he’d defend it seven times before going on hiatus for four years.
GSP then came back and took on the middleweight champion Michael Bisping for the title. He choked out the British fighter and won his second time, becoming a two-weight champion. Humble outside the cage and ferocious when the doors are shut, St. Pierre is a legend of the sport. Many consider him the greatest of all-time.
Alvarez is combat sports’ biggest superstar and the most valuable athlete on the planet. His rise and achievements are ridiculous. The unified middleweight champion of the world is enroute to repeat the same feat at light-heavyweight. His power-punching and body work are some of his most effective techniques and have enabled him to defeat bigger and longer opponents.
Canelo lost to Floyd Mayweather but there should be a disclaimer. He was just a young man and has evolved substantially since then. Furthermore, he defeated respected fighters like Sergey Kovalev, Gennady Golovkin, and Miguel Cotto. He is also a four-weight champion. Alvarez is a force of nature and a dangerous threat to every boxer on the planet.
Few fighters will ever have the same mystique that Fedor carried throughout his career. ‘The Last Emperor’ is widely regarded as the greatest fighter never to have fought for the UFC. That was his choice because he was arguably too big to be shackled by a single organization. But it created a legend.
He went unbeaten for a ten year period and was also PRIDE’s most recognizable champion. The Russian fighter is widely believed to have the best ground-and-pound in the history of the sport. Many publications continuously awarded him fighter of the year honors ahead of UFC fighters. The man is a phenomenon.
The Brown Bomber held the heavyweight title for an incredible eleven years or 140 months, defending his strap a record-breaking 25 times. Throughout the 30s and 40s, he also gained mainstream popularity, becoming the first African-American athlete to break down racial barriers and win the love of a nation.
His punching power is regarded as one of the most devastating and powerful in history. There’s a reason that so few people were able to stand in front of him. Louis is known for his rivalry with Max Schmeling, as well as the likes of James J. Braddock, Billy Conn, and Jersey Joe Walcott. These were some of the best fighters of his generation.
Arguably the greatest MMA fighter of all time, we are lucky to have a living legend active right now. Jon Jones has a self-destructive personality and it seems like the only man who can beat him is himself. The UFC light-heavyweight champion has only lost once in his professional career, and that was a disqualification. Otherwise, none of his 26 opponents has properly tested him.
The youngest UFC champion in history, ‘Bones’ possesses a unique, lanky physique that makes it so difficult to get close enough to hit him. A master of distance and the dark arts, he’s won the UFC light-heavyweight championship four times, and surely a move up to heavyweight is on his radar. The man is a phenomenon.
On another day, we might have put Sugar Ray Robinson on top of this list. He is one of the main reasons why the pound-for-pound rankings exist. Robinson won a remarkable 85 amateur bouts before turning professional. He went 40 pro fights without defeat until he lost to Jake LaMotta.
Robinson became a welterweight champion after avenging his defeat to LaMotta. Then he won the middleweight title – a belt he would win five times. He fought during a golden era of boxing, beating the likes of Jake LaMotta and Randy Turpin. Raging Bull showed how ferocious he could be.
Without a doubt the most famous boxer in history, there’s a good reason why Muhammad Ali is on top of this list. His sporting achievements and cultural impact make him the greatest combats sports athlete ever. The former heavyweight champion of the world fought with flamboyance and speed. Cassius Clay influenced every boxer that came after him.
He first won the heavyweight title against Sonny Liston. But it’s his legendary trilogy with Joe Frazier and his fight with George Foreman in the Congo that proved his brilliance. Ali remains the only boxer ever to hold the lineal championship three times. Fighters across all disciplines adore Ali. The man’s influence went beyond boxing. Few fighters had such a strong impact.