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The major difference when comparing the 12 current and 12 former heavyweights comes down to weight. Current heavyweights come in at 32 pounds heavier on average. That’s significant . . . assuming that the extra weight is used beneficially. I picture the sculpted body of the 212-pound Ken Norton across the ring from the pudgy 246- pound Whyte or 238-pound Ortiz. Would the heavier fighters be able to match the pace of Norton? Would they fatigue sooner? Would they have the strength to lean on Norton without being pushed away?
Now, realistically, if all a fighter needed to be successful in the ring was a six-pack abdomen and bulging chest muscles, Shannon Briggs would be in the Hall of Fame. Considering that a favorite and effective tactic of truly big fighters, even in the ‘70’s, is to attempt to lay all over their opponent to slow the opponent down, especially in the later rounds. That being the case, it seems just as fair to posit that the 20-to-30- pound advantage in weight for the current fighters makes them noticeably slower than the lower weight opponents, and at risk of tiring sooner.
Finally, and this can’t be underestimated, the trainers in the 1970’s were much stronger at teaching the fundamentals of boxing than are today’s trainers. This isn’t a knock on today’s trainers, who simply grew up at a time where the emphasis had shifted to a different paradigm. Also, the decline in stressing boxing fundamentals has been gradual, not a sudden change in philosophies.
Perception versus Reality
The concept of perceiving one thing over another muddies the waters when comparing fighters of today with those of 50 years ago. Admittedly, current research reveals that possibly popular boxers like heavyweights George Chuvalo, Eddie Machen, Zora Folley, Doug Jones, or Henry Cooper weren’t quite as good as we remembered. In a group that contains stylists, pressure fighters, all-around fundamentalists, Chuvalo, Machen, and other comparable pugilists wouldn’t stand much of a chance against today’s top heavyweights and may not even be competitive with some of the lesser lights (and still unproven in my mind), even with every fighter being in his prime.
Yet, my “perception” stubbornly remains that masterful boxers like Machen and Folley, and human wrecking balls like Chuvalo and Oscar Bonavena would dominate today’s heavyweights, other than the very best persists. Looking at all the factors, including better training in the fundamentals and the stiffer competition faced, the chances of the fighters I grew up watching and venerating is tangible.
However, the “reality” is that boxers like Folley, Machen, Cooper and Chuvalo would be giving up an average of 2 to 5 inches, 20 to 50 pounds, and 5 to 7 inches in reach. Even those of us who saw Folley, Machen, Jones, Cooper and Chuvalo fight would have to stretch our imagination to envision them beating many if any at all of today’s average heavyweights. Hall of Fame fighter Floyd Patterson couldn’t take the punch of fighters like Sonny Liston or Ingemar Johansson. Against the heavyweights of the 2020’s, it’s close to impossible to imagine Patterson surviving the punches of today’s big heavyweights, and certainly not those like Wilder, Fury, or Joshua.
However, I have to believe that it’s not only possible but also probable that the best heavyweights of the ‘70’s – and here we’re talking about Ali, Foreman, and Larry Holmes – could beat most of the current top twelve heavyweights. And out of curiosity what about Sonny Liston? Only 6’ 1” and typically between 200 and 215 pounds but with a lethal 84-inch reach and proven power, could Liston have beaten guys like Ruiz, Ortiz, Usyk, Chisora and that ilk?
Boxing is an inexact science, and one that can’t efficiently or consistently measure intangible assets like heart, dedication, ring smarts, etc. It’s far from certain that most of today’s heavyweights could beat most of the fighters who swapped punches in the 1970’s; and clearly the opposite is equally true.
Still, at least hypothetically, the best heavyweights of the ‘70’s through the ‘90’s could compete with the giant heavyweights fighting today. Those less than the best might want to think about dropping down to cruiserweight or light heavyweight if they want to contend as boxers in the 2020’s.