The Big Question: Pound for pound, who is the greatest ever British boxer?

Boxing Monthly
12/10/2016 7:34am

For me it’s difficult to look further than Bob Fitzsimmons (1863 - 1917). The Cornishman was the first triple weight world champion (middle, heavy and light heavy) in history, in an era where there was no alphabet soup of titles on offer.

He remains one of the hardest hitters ever, the man who twice stopped the human slab of beef that was 'Sailor' Tom Sharkey, the man credited with turning 'Gentleman' Jim Corbett into a quivering wreck with the famous solar plexus punch, and the man who, despite ultimately losing, gave a prime Jim Jeffries a vicious beating in their second encounter in 1902.

Fitz was a balding, freckled anatomical freak, boasting spindly legs but an upper body with shoulders which simply oozed power and propelled fists like pistons into his prey. He ate larger men for breakfast and the length of his career, approaching three decades, is astonishing.

Plus he gets bonus points for adding a sprinkling of stardust to the fight game – he was a showman who had the 'X factor', the indefinable 'Je ne sais quoi'. This is the man who wrestled lions decades before it became fashionable for boxers to pose with exotic animals, the man who was one of the great practical jokers in pugilistic history, and the man who once did what today’s sporting stars can only dream of when faced with an unwanted 'pap' lurking in his backyard – he simply pulled out his shotgun and blew the chap’s camera apart.

When Fitz died The Times summed up his legacy by commenting: “The name of Bob Fitzsimmons will last as long as the sport of boxing itself.” Both in and out of the ring, Fitz was the greatest. - Gary Lucken

It's a tough one to answer: Joe Calzaghe can claim to being the best 'champion', while the likes of Benn or Hatton could claim to have had the best following. Froch can possibly claim the best record against top-quality fighters, but for transcending the sport and role-model stature you'd have to consider a prime Lennox Lewis.

There's also many fighters where old grainy old-footage and/or newspaper accounts are the best we can get: Harvey, Mills, 'Kid' Lewis or Turpin could all stake a claim.

However, when it boils down to ranking someone as a fighter - and judging them against their contemporaries on a Pound-for-pound, Era-for-era format - I think a prime (1995-1997) Naseem Hamed gets my vote.

If only he'd never left Ingle. If only he'd not started to believe in his own hype. If only he'd not fallen-out-of-love with boxing. If only he'd not started relying on one-punch power. If only his hands hadn't 'gone'. If only he'd not started to have (hidden) weight issues ... He could have been a four-weight world champion and gone down as an ATG full-stop: instead he will forever be "the best Featherweight in the world, of the 1990s". - Colin Harris

This is indeed a tough one. If you’ll forgive the pun, the UK has punched above its weight in regards to producing great fighters across many weight divisions. I suspect Jimmy Wilde will come out on top, but for me, my pick is Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis. The ‘Aldgate sphinx’ grew up in an era completely foreign to the modern boxer, ending his career with a 173-30-14 record.

Winning a British title at feather when he was only 17, he became the world welterweight champion at a time when you were THE champion. His enduring rivalry with the talented and ultra durable American, Jack Britton, made him a huge star across the pond. Upon his return to the UK he cleaned up again with regards domestic and European titles, whilst putting in a spirited effort against world light heavy champ George Carpentier. - James Oddy

Jimmy Wilde, the great flyweight champ, gets my nod as the finest ever British fighter. From grainy footage available and reading 'The Mighty Atom's' fight reports, the power the Welshman generated for such a little man (weighing less than 100lbs for much of his career) was utterly freakish.

Sources disagree on just how many fights Wilde had, but Harry Mullan recorded 'The Tylorstown Terror' as KO'ing 101 of the 151 men he fought, many of whom were much, much larger.

A hundred KOs!

Wilde also convincingly beat his two rival claimants to the flyweight title in Johnny Rosner and 'Young Zulu Kid', to become genuinely undisputed champ (the first at flyweight) in days when only eight weight divisions existed.

Wilde only lost four bouts (again, some sources list three) but that two of those matches happened at all, past his best and at the very end of his career, speak loudly for Wilde's fearless character. With the Prince of Wales ringside, Pete Herman, formidable former bantamweight champ outweighed Wilde by nearly ten pounds as he TKO'd the Welshman in the 17th round. In his final bout, Wilde defended his title following two years of inactivity against future great Pancho Villa. Footage of the beating inflicted by the fearsome young Filipino, and in particular the seventh round knockout, is heartbreaking.

The Ring magazine once listed Wilde as the third greatest puncher of all time. At his best and during his six year world title reign, the little man was without peer in Britain for my money, at any weight and at any time. Or, as Bert Sugar wrote about Wilde, "In a world of comparing stature and greatness pound for pound, Jimmy Wilde will never be outweighed." - Chris Williamson

Tricky question this. Comparing fighters from different historical eras is always a tricky one. For me, it comes down to a debate between Bob Fitzsimmons, Jimmy Wilde and Lennox Lewis.

Wilde and Lewis were both dominant world beaters in their divisions. If it was a straight decision between these two, then I'd go with Wilde by virture of the fact that a prime Lewis suffered defeats against men he really should have beaten in McCall and Rahman.

However in a shoot-out between Wilde and Fitzsimmons, I give 'Ruby Robert' the slight edge because of his achievements across three weight categories in an age when there were far fewer weight divisions than there are today, and, of course, only one champion per division.

In 1929 Munsey’s Magazine declared that: “Pound for pound there is no question but that Bob Fitzsimmons was the finest piece of fighting mechanism ever cast in the mold of man.” This comment pre-dated the age of Sugar Ray Robinson, who I think edges Fitz, but if we are talking British fighters only, the Cornish-born warrior is my man.

A final couple of honourable mentions before I conclude - firstly, to lightweight Freddie Welsh who is often overlooked in such discussions but is a top ten British pound for pounder for me, and finally to Naseem Hamed. Like Colin Harris I rate him extremely highly and I believe he could have come to be regarded as the greatest British boxer pound for pound ever, and indeed would have done had it not been for hubris and complacency. His talent, power and potential were truly staggering and other worldy. - Luke G. Williams