Boxing’s most influential: Nos. 1-50

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On Friday, we looked at the 51st-100th most influential figures in boxing history. Now, we count down to No. 1.:

Larry Holmes emerged from Muhammad Ali's shadow and became a memorable champion.
AP

50. Larry Holmes, boxer – Holmes had the unenviable job of following Muhammad Ali as heavyweight champion, but he was a brilliant fighter who soon became regarded as one of history’s best big men.

49. Chris Dundee, trainer/promoter – Dundee, the brother of trainer Angelo Dundee, is best known for being the proprietor of Miami’s Fifth Street Gym, where Cassius Clay (later to become Muhammad Ali) prepared early in his career. Dundee also was among the tutors of eventual Hall of Fame matchmaker Bruce Trampler.

48. Whitey Bimstein, trainer – Bimstein partnered with Ray Arcel to train many of the elite fighters of the middle of the 20th century, including Benny Leonard, Gene Tunney and Rocky Graziano. He worked for James J. Braddock in the famous “Cinderella Man” win over Max Baer.

47. A.J. Liebling, journalist –A magnificent writer, Liebling covered boxing expertly for The New Yorker. His work is among the best ever done on boxing.

46. Jose Sulaiman, sanctioning body president – Sanctioning bodies have had an undeniable impact upon modern boxing and Sulaiman has presided over the World Boxing Council for nearly 35 years. He’s hardly universally admired in the sport, but the WBC championship is the most well-known title belt in the world.

45. Arthur Mercante Sr., referee – Arguably the finest referee ever, Mercante is renowned as the third man in the ring for the March 8, 1971 “Fight of the Century” match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. He worked 145 world title fights, most of them in an era when there were just eight weight classes and one champion per class.

44. Ray Arcel, trainer – Arcel ranks among the greatest trainers in boxing history and helped mold the career of Roberto Duran, as well as dozens of others.

43. Paul Gallico, sports writer – Gallico was one of the finest sports writers of his era and was at his peak in the 1920s, when boxing was neck-and-neck with baseball as the most popular sport in America. Gallico is also the founder of the Golden Gloves.

42. Irving Rudd, publicist – Perhaps the sport’s most creative and inventive publicist, Rudd worked with stars such as Sugar Ray Robinson and Sugar Ray Leonard and most all of the major figures of the game in between.

41. Murray Goodman, journalist/publicist – Goodman, whose son, Bobby, is also a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, was a creative publicist whose work helped boost the careers of such greats as Sugar Ray Robinson, Henry Armstrong, Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali.

40. Joe Frazier, boxer – The ‘B’ side of boxing’s greatest rivalry, Frazier not only defeated Ali in their epic 1971 match, but he pushed Ali to perhaps his limit during “The Thrilla in Manila,” a sensational bout in the Philippines that remains one of the finest in the sport’s history.

39. Carlos Monzon, boxer – Monzon is a former middleweight champion who at the time of his retirement held the record, subsequently broken, for most consecutive successful title defenses, with 14.

38. Willie Pep, boxer – Many boxers have evoked comparisons to Pep over the years for their defensive skills, but few were better.

37. Oscar De La Hoya, boxer/promoter – De La Hoya is not only one of the greatest boxers of his era, an Olympic gold medalist and a six-division professional world champion, but he’s the biggest pay-per-view star in history and an elite promoter. In 2001, he founded Golden Boy Promotions and has subsequently become the only boxer to successfully maintain a high-level promotional company.

36. Gene Tunney, boxer – Tunney twice defeated Jack Dempsey in heavyweight title matches that drew more than 100,000 fans. In one of those, he got up from the canvas in the famous “Long Count” match.

35. Max Schmeling, boxer – Schmeling was seen as the symbol of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany when he met Joe Louis for the heavyweight title in 1938, but Schmeling was known as a class act who did not support the Nazi cause.

34. Archie Moore, boxer – Moore was a pro for 16 years before he got his first shot at a world title. He won the light heavyweight belt in 1952 and held it for nearly 10 years.

33. Ed Schuyler Jr., journalist – Schuyler was the boxing writer for The Associated Press for more than 30 years and delivered tightly written results pieces and provocative feature stories consistently.

32. Bruce Trampler, matchmaker – Trampler has been responsible for helping to keep Top Rank as one of boxing’s two leading promotional entities. He’s responsible in large part for building the careers of Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Kelly Pavlik and Miguel Cotto, among many others. Bob Arum often says he never makes a move without consulting Trampler.

31. George Foreman, boxer/broadcaster – Foreman won world heavyweight championships 22 years apart, becoming in 1995 at 45 the oldest man to win the title. He is one of the biggest punchers in boxing history and later became a popular member of HBO’s commentary team.

30. Damon Runyan, journalist – A sports columnist in New York, Runyan wrote with authority on boxing for more than 30 years and is the man who tagged James J. Braddock as “The Cinderella Man.”

29. Larry Merchant, broadcaster/journalist –Merchant is best known as the outspoken color analyst on HBO’s boxing broadcast, but he was also one of the best sports columnists of his day and wrote eloquently on boxing.

28. Bert Sugar, author/journalist/historian –Sugar has authored numerous books on boxing, was the editor of Ring Magazine and has become an in-demand historian.

27. Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., boxer – The biggest star from boxing-mad Mexico, Chavez was a mainstay on big cards in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. He won world titles at three weight classes and fought all the best of his era.

26. Roberto Duran, boxer – Arguably the greatest lightweight ever, Duran went on to be a dominant force as high as middleweight.

Manny Pacquiao is the biggest boxing superstar Asia ever produced
AP

25. Manny Pacquiao, boxer –One of the elite active boxers whose passionate Asian following has helped make him an international superstar and fodder for non-traditional boxing media such as CNN, Time Magazine and GQ.

24. Thomas Hearns, boxer – Hearns was one of the most exciting fighters ever and eagerly took on all comers.

23. Marvelous Marvin Hagler, boxer – Hagler was so tough, it took years for him to get a championship shot. He became one of the great middleweights of all time and was the winner in arguably the best three-round fight in boxing history, when he knocked out Thomas Hearns in 1985.

22. Cus D’Amato, trainer – D’Amato is the man who discovered Mike Tyson and built him into a fearsome title contender. He was a strategic genius and Muhammad Ali relied on his advice to defeat George Foreman in 1974. D’Amato also helped build Floyd Patterson and Jose Torres into championship fighters.

21. Jake LaMotta, boxer – LaMotta probably had the best chin in boxing. He also has a win over Sugar Ray Robinson when Robinson was in his prime, a testament to his skill. He was also the subject of the Academy Award-winning movie, “Raging Bull.”

20. Eddie Futch, trainer – Futch is arguably boxing’s greatest trainer ever and trained champions such as Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, Alexis Arguello and Riddick Bowe. He worked into his late 80s.

19. Angelo Dundee, trainer – Dundee was the primary trainer of Ali and Leonard and was a gregarious personality who worked tirelessly to promote the fight game. He also trained George Foreman during Foreman’s comeback to boxing.

18. Mike Jacobs, promoter – Jacobs was the sport’s dominant promoter in the 1930s and 1940s and controlled the New York boxing scene. He promoted many of Louis’ fights, including Louis’ memorable match with Billy Conn.

17. Don Dunphy, broadcaster – For decades, Dunphy was the quintessential boxing play-by-play man. He called fights for years on radio before moving to television and becoming a star in that medium, as well.

16. Mike Tyson, boxer – He became the youngest heavyweight champion in history when he won the title at just 20 in 1986 and became far and away the biggest star in the sport. He still holds many of boxing’s gate and pay-per-view records.

15. Rocky Marciano, boxer – Marciano retired unbeaten as heavyweight champion. He had an exciting style and developed a passionate following.

14. Nat Fleischer, journalist – Fleischer wasn’t the best boxing writer, nor was he its finest journalist. But he founded Ring Magazine in 1922 and for the rest of his life, until his death in 1972, Ring was boxing’s foremost journalistic authority. Its influence faded somewhat in the latter part of the 20th century, but it is a big part of the sport’s history.

13. Teddy Brenner, matchmaker – Brenner became the sport’s top matchmaker, always adhering to the maxim that he wouldn’t make a match unless he’d be willing to buy a ticket to see it himself. He put together many of Ali’s bouts and is responsible for training Bruce Trampler, who himself would go on to a Hall of Fame career as a matchmaker.

12. Sugar Ray Leonard, boxer – Henry Armstrong popularized the concept of a boxer going for multiple weight division titles, but Leonard perfected it. An Olympic gold medalist with a charismatic personality, Leonard won world titles at 147, 154, 160, 168 and 175 pounds and was the biggest star in the sport after Ali retired. He later went on to become a popular television analyst and was briefly a promoter, but his influence on the game clearly came from the fans he made in his numerous big fights against the likes of Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns and Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

11. Henry Armstrong, boxer – Considered by many to be the second-best fighter ever, Armstrong once held the featherweight, lightweight and welterweight titles simultaneously, when there were only eight weight divisions. He popularized the idea of a fighter chasing titles in multiple divisions.

10. Howard Cosell, broadcaster – Cosell was the voice of boxing for ABC and was closely tied with Ali’s career, covering not only his fights but also his battle to avoid the Vietnam War. It wasn’t long before Cosell’s presence at ringside connoted a major fight.

9. Seth Abraham, television programmer – HBO began airing boxing in 1973, five years before Abraham joined the network. But it was Abraham, whose deft touch in signing matches and his genius for putting together broadcast teams, who made HBO a major player in the sport.

8. Jack Johnson, boxer – Johnson is the boxer who opened the door in many ways for African American fighters to compete. He defeated James J. Jeffries in what was the first “Fight of the Century.” In the early part of the 20th century, he was virtually unbeatable but his career was harmed by racism and he was forced to flee to Europe.

7. Jack Dempsey, boxer – The heavyweight champion who was the first boxer to consistently attract $1 million plus gates, he became an icon in the sport whose influence lasted for decades past his retirement.

6. Sugar Ray Robinson, boxer – While many boxing fans consider Ali the greatest fighter ever, Ali always considered Robinson the best. Ali patterned his style, in and out of the ring, after Robinson. Robinson was voted the greatest boxer, the greatest welterweight and the greatest middleweight of the 20th century by The Associated Press. He was a true showman and became popular outside of just the boxing crowd.

5. Don King, promoter – King, a former numbers runner in Cleveland, is a natural showman who promoted boxing like a carnival huckster. He, along with Arum, was the dominant promoter of the second half of the 20th century and promoted 12 of the top 20 largest-grossing fights in history.

4. Bob Arum, promoter – The founder of Top Rank, Arum has been one of, if not the, top promoters in boxing for nearly 50 years. He promoted many of the sport’s superstars, including Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Roberto Duran. He was the first promoter to regularly utilize boxing on cable television with his “Top Rank Boxing” series on ESPN and in his latter years, he recognized the extraordinary interest in the sport among Hispanic Americans and created a series to cater to them.

Was there ever any question who is No. 1?
AP

3. Tex Rickard, promoter – Rickard built Madison Square Garden in New York and promoted many fights at the venue which for decades would host the majority of the country’s major matches. He promoted many Jack Dempsey fights in the 1920s that had gates in excess of $1 million, figures that would be good even today.

2. Joe Louis, boxer – Louis was an American hero at a time when African Americans were decades away from achieving civil rights. The legendary sports writer, Jimmy Cannon, once wrote of Louis, “Joe Louis is a credit to race: The human race.” His 1938 victory over Max Schmeling did wonders for national morale.

1. Muhammad Ali, boxer – Ali wasn’t the greatest fighter who ever stepped into the ring. But he was among the finest and no one before or since has had the impact he’s had upon the game. His style, with his hands at his side, circling the ring and flicking out jabs, has influenced generations of fighters. His ability to promote an event and give one a reason to watch has been unmatched.

Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Sep 5, 2010