PERHAPS the biggest controversy to emerge from Floyd Mayweather beating Conor McGregor in August of 2017 was that “Money”, while beating a debutant, officially overtook Rocky Marciano’s record for the most victories by a world champion retiring undefeated with a 100 per cent record.
Marciano clocked up 49 victories and the win over McGregor moved Floyd Mayweather to 50. While the farcical nature of Mayweather’s victory is not up for debate, it is difficult to argue that beating McGregor should not be counted as an official result. As Marciano’s wins over Lee Epperson, Jimmy Weeks and Gilbert Cardone – none of whom had won a fight – are included in Marciano’s record, then McGregor also has to be counted on Mayweather’s.
Also, Floyd Patterson’s 1957 success over Pete Rademacher is accepted by all of the record books as a legitimate world heavyweight title fight, even though Rademacher had never had a professional bout beforehand. So, like it or not, Mayweather sits at the top of the table of world champions who retired with a 100 per cent record, but his claims to be “The Best Ever” – largely due to the importance he places on being unbeaten – should perhaps be put into context.
Today, promoters and managers will go a long way to keep that ‘0’ on a fighter’s record and, of course, to retire undefeated and win every fight, particularly at Mayweather’s level, is very impressive indeed. However, I’d argue that in the current era, it is easier – for want of a better word – than it would have been in days gone by to get through an entire career without experiencing a loss.
But to focus solely on champions who won every fight or went undefeated over a long career with a draw here and there is to overlook some of the incredible unbeaten runs achieved by fighters during their careers.
Furthermore, one can certainly argue that during the unbeaten streaks detailed below, the boxers getting their hands held aloft were just as ‘unbeatable’ – at least for a period – as the few who retired with their spotless records intact.
Here, we count down the longest (in fights, not years) unbeaten runs achieved by world champions during their career:
10. Ruben Olivares
61-0-1, Mexico City, Mexico
The Mexican had his first pro fight in 1965 at the age of 18, and scored 24 inside-schedule wins in a row. He cut a swathe through the ranks of the bantamweight division until he lost his WBA and WBC titles to Chucho Castillo in 1970.
During that run, Olivares not only beat the best, he destroyed them as he recorded 57 victories inside the distance. The draw came when he fought German Bastidas with an injured arm and was only able to use his left, and he knocked out that opponent in a return match. Top names such as Salvatore Burruni, Joe Medel, Lionel Rose and Alan Rudkin all fell early at the hands of the destructive Mexico City man.
9. Salvatore Burruni
62-0, Alghero, Italy
Former Olympian Burruni entered the paid ranks for the first time in 1957 and won the Italian flyweight title in his 13th fight. A loss to Albert Younsi in 1960 saw his record stand at 19-3-1. From there he kicked on to rack up 62 wins in a row. He collected the European belt in 1961 and became WBA and WBC champion in April 1965 with a victory over Pone Kingpetch. He was stripped of both titles for failing to meet his mandatory challengers, and his winning streak was ended in August 1965 in a loss to Horacio Accavallo. In his 62 victories he beat Younsi twice, Mimoun Ben Ali, Pierre Rossi, Rene Libeer and Walter McGowan.
8. Nino Benvenuti
65-0, Trieste, Italy
Italy’s Benvenuti turned pro in January 1961 after winning a gold medal at the Rome Olympics and being reportedly unbeaten in almost 120 amateur fights. He built a run of 56 consecutive victories in five years. Along the way he won the Italian and European middleweight titles, and in one of the biggest fights in the history of Italian boxing he knocked out Sandro Mazzinghi in 1965 to win the WBA and WBC super-welterweight belts, before losing a very controversial split decision to South Korean Ki-Soo Kim on away turf in 1966. He scored wins over the likes of Isaac Logart, Gaspar Ortega, Carlo Duran, Denny Moyer, Art Hernandez, Mick Leahy, Luis Folledo and Don Fullmer.
7. DuIlio Loi
67-0-5, Milan, Italy
Another Italian, Loi turned pro in 1948 and made an impressive start, winning the Italian title and going undefeated in his first 37 fights, but that was just the beginning. He suffered his first loss to Dane Jorgen Johansen for the European lightweight belt in 1952, but was then unbeaten in his next 72 bouts. He won the European lightweight and welterweight titles, before losing a split decision to Carlos Ortiz for the world super-lightweight crown in 1960. He would win the championship in the rematch. During his unbeaten run he scored wins over Johansen, Bruno Visintin, Glen Flanagan, Fred Galiana, Piet van Klaveren, Fernand Nollet, Wallace Bud Smith, Mario Vecchiatto and Tommy Molloy.
6. Willie Pep
72-0-1, Hartford, Connecticut
“Will o’ the Wisp” Pep is surely one of the most talented fighters ever to pull on a pair of gloves. The American had his first pro fight in July 1940 at the age of 17 and opened his career with a run of 62 wins (so could have made this list twice), before losing a very close points decision to former world lightweight champion Sammy Angott in 1943. After that, Pep was unbeaten in his next 73 bouts until losing his world featherweight title to Sandy Saddler in October 1948. At that point he had crammed 136 fights into eight years, and gone 134-1-1. He claimed wins over Joey Archibald, Chalky Wright, Manuel Ortiz, Lulu Costantino, Jackie Wilson, Sal Bartolo and Paddy DeMarco, all of whom held a version of a world title in their careers.
5. Carlos Monzon
71-0-9, Santa Fe, Argentina
When he first turned pro in 1963 there was little sign of the greatness to come as he trudged to 16-3 in his first 19 fights against modest opposition. He went 5-0-5 in his next 10 fights, but they marked the start of an unbeaten run that would end up totalling 80 bouts, during which he collected the WBA and WBC middleweight belts. The Argentine went 14-0 in world title contests, before retiring in 1977. He secured triumphs over such names as Jorge Fernandez, Nino Benvenuti (twice), Emile Griffith (twice), Denny Moyer, Jean Claude Bouttier, Tom Bogs, Bennie Briscoe, Jose Napoles, Tony Mundine, Tony Licata, Gratien Tonna and Rodrigo Valdez (twice) to effectively sweep aside every top middleweight of his era.
4. Julio Cesar Chavez
89-0-1, Culiacan, Mexico
Accepted by most as the greatest Mexican fighter of all time. From turning professional in 1980 until being held to a draw by Pernell Whitaker in 1993, Chavez scored 87 consecutive victories, which remains a record. After that draw he added two more wins to take his unbeaten run to 90 fights, before a shocking loss to Frankie Randall in 1994. He won the WBC super-feather, WBA and WBC lightweight, and IBF and WBC super-lightweight belts, and was 26-0-1 in world title bouts before losing to Randall. He registered successes over Mario Martinez, Ruben Castillo, Rocky Lockridge, Juan Laporte, Edwin Rosario, Rafael Limon, Roger Mayweather (twice), Meldrick Taylor, Hector Camacho and many other top fighters of his time.
3. Sugar Ray Robinson
89-0-2, Harlem, New York
For many the greatest fighter in the history of the sport. After turning professional in 1940 he won his first 40 fights before losing to Jake LaMotta in 1942. He was then unbeaten in his next 91 contests, winning both the world welterweight and middleweight titles, before losing the latter to Randy Turpin in 1951. Prior to that, he was 129-1-2, and it is often overlooked that the Turpin fight was Robinson’s seventh outing in two months of a ‘European Tour’. In his 91-bout unbeaten streak he took wins over LaMotta (four times), Henry Armstrong, Tommy Bell, Sammy Angott, Bernie Docusen, Kid Gavilan (twice), Robert Villemain and Bobo Olson.
2. Pedro Carrasco
92-0-1, Huelva, Spain
Probably the least known of this famous 10. Although Spanish, Carrasco turned pro in Italy in 1962, and after losing to Aldo Pravisani two years later, he was a modest 11-1-1. From there he went on to notch 83 wins, before being held to a draw by Joe Tetteh in 1970. He continued his unbeaten run with nine more victories, including a triumph over Mando Ramos in 1971 for the vacant WBC lightweight title. It was a fight that saw Carrasco dropped four times, before winning on a DQ. His streak came to an end in 1972 when he lost a split decision to Ramos. He collected wins over top-level European fighters in Rene Roque, Borge Krogh for the European title, Pravisani, Kid Tano, Valerio Nunez , Miguel Velazquez, Olli Maki and Tetteh.
1. Jimmy Wilde
93-0-2, Tylorstown, Wales
Known as “The Ghost with the Hammer in his Hand”, due to the 99 inside-schedule wins he scored in his career. Wilde had his first pro fight in January 1911, and packed 28 bouts into his first 12 months of activity. He was unbeaten until 1915, losing to Scot Tancy Lee in a clash for the British and European flyweight titles. This was also recognised as a world title contest by the now-defunct International Boxing Union. Wilde had already won recognition as champion by some bodies at world and domestic level at 94, 98 and 112lbs. There was such a wide weight differential in the Lee fight that Wilde weighed in fully clothed. He claimed victories over top-class fighters such as Joe Symonds and Sid Smith, before his loss to Lee.
To summarise; the times they are a-changin’
There are approximately 21,000 active professional boxers in the world, and while that seems plenty, the level of activity is miles away from that of the last century. Back in the early 1900s to the late 1950s, there was a different level of motive and opportunity. Events such as two world wars and economic depression meant that for much of that time even the ‘affluent’ world saw hardship and financial necessity pushing people into boxing. The rewards were low, but that also meant that boxing shows were not expensive entertainment. Promoting as often as possible and paying as little as possible was the strategy and, in turn, presented the need and the opportunity for boxers at all levels to fight often. Today it is almost unheard of for a world-rated fighter to compete 10 times in a year, but when Sugar Ray Robinson won the welter crown in December 1946, it was in his 16th fight of that year. He continued a high level of activity, such that when he lost his middleweight belt to Randy Turpin it was in his seventh bout in two months. We will never see that level of activity again, nor will we see unbeaten runs the size of those on the previous pages – many of which were plotted through the most dangerous waters imaginable.
MADE IT TO THE END
Five world champs who retired without a loss
1. Jimmy Barry, 58-0-10
Active from January 1891 until September 1899. Won world title bouts at 100lbs, 105lbs, 108lbs and 110lbs, and drew in a fight for a world championship at 115lbs. The Irish-American was recognised as world bantamweight champion from 1894 to 1899. Drew his last eight contests.
2. Ricardo Lopez, 51-0-1
The Mexican competed from January 1985 until September 2001. Turned pro at 18 and won WBC, WBA and WBO strawweight and IBF light-flyweight titles. Won his first 47 fights. Was 25-0-1 in 26 world title bouts.
3. Floyd Mayweather, 50-0
Fought from October 1996 until August 2017, cementing his status as an all-time great along the way. The American earned super-feather (WBC), lightweight (WBC), super-lightweight (WBC), welterweight (WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO) and super-welter (WBC and WBA) titles.
4. Rocky Marciano, 49-0
Marciano was a professional from March 1947 until September 1955. He scored 43 wins inside the distance, and made six heavyweight title defences. Anyone who questions the American’s credentials should try mixing it with Jersey
Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles and Archie Moore.
5. Joe Calzaghe, 46-0
In action from October 1993 until November 2008. The Welsh legend picked up the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO super-middleweight titles. He made 21 successful defences of the WBO crown, and is the longest-reigning super-middleweight champion, having held the belt for over 10 years.