Alan Hubbard

Until VAR reared its ugly head no sport created more genuine debate than boxing.

Now, with the return contest between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury, looming argument rages again in pubs and clubs, this time about who is the hardest hitting heavyweight in history.

Big punching has always been an essential part of the armoury of heavyweight boxers throughout the ages from the bare knuckle days.

Based on his phenomenal record of 41 mainly quick knock-outs none have hit more venomously with a single blow than the reigning World Boxing Council (WBC) champion Wilder although several have come close.

Other former Olympians emerge high among the contenders for this unique title, among them gold medallists George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitschko and Anthony Joshua, but none have possessed more power than Wilder, the Bronze Bomber from the Beijing Games of 2008.

Many of boxing’s shrewder judges, among them elder statesmen promoters Bob Arum and Frank Warren, are of the opinion that Wilder may well carry in his jaw-shattering right hand the most explosive-ever bunch of fives. 

And I believe they are bang on the button, so to speak.

That view will be supported by the 40-odd opponents, 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 34-year-old 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 for the flamboyant Brit, who has set out to conquer America, as well as Wilder,

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, a position he was forced to forfeit before turning his troubled life around.

Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury go head-to-head at a TV event ahead of their heavyweight fight earlier this year - ©AFP
Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury go head-to-head at a TV event ahead of their heavyweight fight earlier this year - ©AFP

To this end he has hired a new trainer, SugarHill Steward, a disciple of late Uncle Manny’s legendary Kronk gym where the emphasis was always on putting beef into the blows thrown by heavyweights such as Lewis, Klitschko and Evander Holyfield.

Former world champions Foreman, 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 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.

Deontay Wilder ©AFP
Deontay Wilder ©AFP

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 Warren’s 22-year-old gunslinger Daniel Dubois, who has already blitzed his way to British and Commonwealth titles after little more than 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, Olympic silver medallist from Rio 2016, 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 whiskers; and the huge 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 the dozen most devastating 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 Lennox Lewis

11 Frank Bruno

12 Daniel Dubois