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Wladimir Klitschko No. 8; Emanuel Steward names greatest heavyweights

Lee Cleveland Updated
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While the late, great Emanuel Steward was training then heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, bokster.org caught up with the boxing mentor to discuss the former's list of all-time heavyweights in an undated interview (circa 2011/12)

Steward's top heavyweight ever was Muhammad Ali.

"I would say Ali. You have to look at his performances against the best. He fought some of the best in their prime. Ali would be number one."

Indeed. No heavyweight fighter in history can compete with Ali's resume.

He defeated Earnie Shavers, Joe Frazier (twice), George Foreman, Ken Norton (twice), Floyd Patterson (twice), Karl Mildenberger, Jerry Quarry (twice), Ernie Terrell, George Chuvalo, Sonny Liston (twice) and Henry Cooper (twice).

And all of those fighters were in their prime at the time. And let's not forget, in 1967, Ali, citing his religious beliefs, refused induction into the U.S. Army. He was arrested, had his boxing license suspended and was stripped of the heavyweight title. As a result, he was inactive from March 22, 1967 to October 26, 1970, which many believe would have been his true prime years.

And keep in mind, Frazier, Foreman, Norton, Patterson and Liston were, of course, bonafide legends in their own right.

Steward liked Joe Louis at No. 2.
The late trainer insists Louis was a better all-around champion (when social implications are considered) than Ali but the latter was the better fighter in the ring.

"Joe Louis for being the greatest champion ... for... what he meant to the world. We had [World War II] going on. He had 25 defenses and 11 years as champion. He's the greatest emotional champion."

"In the ring, Ali would have beaten him [but] on their own level they are both the two top heavyweight fighters."

Louis was the poster child for what a heavyweight champion should be. He was exciting in the ring, humble, fought with frequency, donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the US Army and Navy during World War II, and defeated Hitler's champion, Max Schmeling, in one of the most significant sports events in history.

Steward acknowledges Louis's reign as the best while crediting Ali with being the better fighter.

How about Nos. 3, 4 and 5 Emanuel?

"People may laugh at me... A lot of people underestimate George Foreman... a very smart, big and strong guy."

"And then Larry Holmes and Lennox Lewis."

Foreman had incredible power in both hands and a granite chin as well as a hard, stiff jab and an amazing will to win. A gold medalist in the 1968 Olympics, Foreman had underrated ring savvy and subtle but very good technical prowess.

No Jack Johnson?
"Everybody puts a lot of emphasis on Jack Johnson. I don't do that," stated Steward.

"Two of the guys he fought we're nothing but middleweights and he dodged the good black fighters of his era. He didn't beat any big, signature fighters and is more known for his arrogance [and lifestyle] than for his boxing accomplishments."

Wladimir Klitschko / Mike Tyson
"Wladimir would be somewhere around number 8 because of his size," Steward stated of his pupil at the time.

"It would have been very difficult for anyone to fight a guy as big as he is and with his good left jab."

Like Larry Holmes before him, Wladimir Klitschko was an under-appreciated heavyweight during his reign. And like the legendary Holmes, expect history to be very kind to the Ukrainian.

In the next 20 years, Wlad might be considered a top 5 heavyweight legend.

Wladimir defeated 23 boxers for the world heavyweight championship, breaking an all-time record that belonged to Joe Louis. Klitschko holds several historical records, including the longest combined world championship reign in heavyweight history at 4,383 days; the most wins in unified title bouts and the longest unified championship reign in professional boxing history at 15 title bouts and 14 consecutive defenses respectively; and has the second most total successful title defenses of any heavyweight boxer with 23 (including his first reign as WBO champion), behind Joe Louis (25) and ahead of Larry Holmes (20) and Muhammad Ali (19).

"And stamina too," uttered Steward. "He's showed he has great stamina a great punching power all the way up to the last minute [of the 12th Round].

"Some guys like Mike Tyson, they're dangerous the first six rounds and then they're not that bad."

Tyson was the third best heavyweight of his era (Second to Lewis and Evander Holyfield), yet his mystique is that of a dominant legend. He was exciting, fearless, extremely skilled, very quick and had incredible punching power in both hands.

No Rocky Marciano?
"Marciano was an overachiever," Steward stated. "At Kronk Gym, believe it or not, you'll see more pictures of Marciano than Ali."

"[But] I think (at 5'10, 188 lbs) he was physically too small for those guys because he really wasn't a heavyweight. He had exceptionally short arms, was very clumsy and was easy to get off balance. He was cut easily, knocked down a lot but never lost a fight."

Steward parises Marciano for what he accomplished despite his limitations.

"Some of the guys he faced may have been past their prime but they weren't THAT bad of fighters."

Marciano's record of 49-0 is the best of any heavyweight champion but his resume of achievements pales in comparison to other legends. As champion, he defeated a 40s something legend Archie Moore, a puffed-up light heavyweight who still very dangerous, as well as Jersey Joe Walcott and the multi-skilled Ezzard Charles. And of course, he KO'd a balding and faded Joe Louis in a bout that's often compared to Ali vs Holmes (1980) years later.

Perhaps Rocky, who retired at 32, left the game before meeting his sternest challenges. Some surmise he retired because he didn't want to face then 21 year old Floyd Patterson who was wreaking havoc in the division.

...And who wouldn't have wanted to see Marciano vs Liston?

Honorable mention
Where's Gene Tunney, the first great pure boxer to become heavyweight champion, in the video? His style would be the blueprint for Muhammad Ali years later. Tunney finished 65-1-1 and defeated everyone he faced, including Jack Dempsey twice.

Fast, powerful, resilient, intelligent and virtually flawless in technique, Tunney had all the tools for greatness in the ring, but lacked the ferocious style and rugged charisma of Dempsey, the man from whom he wrested the heavyweight title. He was one of the greatest athletes of his generation and, perhaps, one of the greatest heavyweights ever.

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EMANUEL STEWARD

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