The 10 Hardest Punchers in Heavyweight History

A look at the hardest hitters in the division where the biggest punchers reside.

Heavyweights punch hard. Ask anyone who has been hit by one.

Some, however, punch harder than that. When their fists meet the head, something unusual happens, even by the brutal standards of boxing. One fighter compared absorbing the punch of a heavyweight to being hit by a speeding car. Or in the case of the men below, by a Mack truck.

Here is a list of the 10 hardest punching heavyweights of the modern, post-World War II era, in order of knockout percentage (of wins).

1 DEONTAY WILDER

KO rate: 98%

Years active: 2008 – present

Record: 41-0-1

KOs: 40

KOs inside 3 rounds: 30

Notable KO wins: Chris Arreola, Dominic Breazeale, Luis Ortiz, Malik Scott, Bermane Stiverne

Background: One remarkable aspect of Deontay Wilder’s punching power is his size. “The Bronze Bomber” is tall (6-foot-7), but he’s relatively slight, generally fighting in the 220’s. Still, his punching power is tremendous. His horrific one-punch knockout of Dominic Breazeale last May left no doubt about his ability to turn out the lights at any moment.

Malik Scott, who lasted only 96 seconds against Wilder, said unusual speed is a key element in Wilder’s power. 

“Who gets there faster with the power is Deontay out of anybody I ever been in with,” Scott told FightHype.com. “He gets there fast. You got (a) different kind of power. You got George Foreman type of power.”

Retired heavyweight Richard Towers reportedly has sparred with many top heavyweights, including Anthony Joshua, the Klitschko’s, Tyson Fury and Wilder. He recently told The Sun: “I've sparred with every heavyweight you could think of, except Joseph Parker. And I know when it comes to power, Deontay Wilder is in a league of his own.”

Wilder, the only active fighter on this list, returns to the ring on Saturday, November 23, when he puts his WBC world heavyweight title on the line in an anticipated rematch versus Cuban southpaw Luis Ortiz at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, live on FOX Sports Pay-Per-View (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT)

2 EARNIE SHAVERS

KO rate: 92%

Years active: 1969-83; ’87, ’95

Record: 74-14-1

KOs: 68

KOs inside 3 rounds: 51

Notable KO wins: Joe Bugner, Ken Norton, Jimmy Ellis, Jimmy Young

Background: One thing that stands out about Shavers’ legendary power is the number of early knockouts on his record. Fifty-one of his 68 stoppages came within three rounds. And not all of his victims were pushovers. He was a longtime contender who fought ranked fighters regularly beginning in the mid-1970s.

Muhammad Ali’s comic line – "Earnie hit me so hard, it shook my kinfolk back in Africa” – was meant in part for laughs but you get his point. Journeyman Leroy Caldwell fought many of the best heavyweights from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. He was asked for a Mayweather Promotions video:  Who punched the hardest? “Shavers,” said Caldwell, who lasted less than two rounds against him. And when did he know he was in trouble in that fight? “When they were taking my gloves off.” Shavers never won the heavyweight title but people are still talking about that punching power. Said legendary trainer Angelo Dundee: “Earnie wasn't really a good boxer, but God, his power was amazing."

3 GEORGE FOREMAN

KO rate: 89%

Years active: 1969-77; ’87-’97

Record: 76-5

KOs: 68

KOs inside 3 rounds: 46

Notable KO wins: George Chuvalo, Jerry Cooney, Joe Frazier (twice), Ron Lyle, Michael Moorer, Ken Norton, Chuck Wepner

Background: One generation of fans witnessed the chiseled Olympic champion slug his way through the division from 1969 to 1977. The next generation watched in delight as the jovial, pudgy – but still immensely strong – ex-champ picked up where he left off a decade earlier. Both versions could tear your head off. “He hit me harder than any other fighter,” said Evander Holyfield, who outpointed the second incarnation of Big George. “He didn’t knock me down but with one shot, I thought he knocked my teeth out.”

Many people feared for Muhammad Ali before his meeting with Foreman in 1974. Foreman (40-0, 37 KOs at the time) had stopped 11 of his previous 12 opponents within two rounds, including Joe Frazier (to win the title) and Ken Norton. Alas, Ali used “rope-a-dope” to wear Foreman down and knock him out. Few were so fortunate. Foreman “retired” in 1977 but returned a decade later and continued his reign of terror. He failed in a few attempts to regain a title before securing a fight with beltholder Michael Moorer in 1994. Moorer was ahead on all cards when a right from Foreman split his gloves and put him down for the count. Thus, Foreman, 45, became the oldest to win a heavyweight title. That power.

4 ROCKY MARCIANO

KO rate: 88%

Years active: 1947-55

Record: 49-0

KOs: 43

KOs inside 3 rounds: 26

Notable KO wins: Ezzard Charles, Roland LaStarza, Joe Louis, Archie Moore, Jersey Joe Walcott (twice)

Background: Marciano’s primary strengths might’ve been his inhuman stamina, volume of hard punches and durability but make no mistake: The man could crack. Watch a video of his one-punch destruction of Hall of Famer Jersey Joe Walcott on September 23, 1952, which is arguably the greatest single shot in history. Walcott, who also fought Louis, was asked who punched harder. He responded, “Marciano was a one-punch artist. He threw every punch like you throw a baseball, as hard as he could. I have to say, with all respect to Joe, Marciano hit harder."

Marciano was small by today’s standards. He generally fought between 184 and 189 pounds, which would make him a small cruiserweight today. Thus, you have to look at Marciano’s place here as a sort of pound-for-pound designation. That acknowledged, it might not be a good idea to count Rocky out of any fight in any era. Contemporary Carmen Basilio, who died in 2012, said Marciano would’ve done just fine in this era. "Today he’d look like a midget against some of those heavyweights around, but he’d clobber them all. A great fighter, very tough."

5 MIKE TYSON

KO rate: 88%

Years active: 1985-2005

Record: 50-6

KOs: 44

KOs inside 3 rounds: 33

Notable KO wins: Tyrell Biggs, Trevor Berbick, Frank Bruno (twice), Larry Holmes, Donovan Ruddock, Michael Spinks, Pinklon Thomas, Tony Tubbs, Carl Williams

Background: No heavyweight in history made a bigger impression with his punching power than Mike Tyson in 1980s. Of course, one reason is that his blitzkrieg through the division was available to everyone on TV. Thus, he captured the imagination of even casual fans around the world. To be clear: It wasn’t his solid technique or even unusual quickness that attracted attention. It was his ability to render opponent’s unconscious at any moment of the fight. And it was imperative that you were in your seat at the opening bell and didn’t blink: Tyson had a remarkable 22 first-round knockouts.

Teddy Atlas, who trained a teenaged Tyson, laid out for RealClearLife what made Iron Mike so powerful. Among his comments: “He had a combination of quickness, speed and power, which is not common. … As far as punching ability, he’s like a Mickey Mantle in baseball. He could hit from either side of the plate just as well. Again, not common. Guys like Ernie Shavers, great puncher, but all on the right side. Tyson, either side of the plate.” Tyson was a true phenomenon.

6 JOE FRAZIER

KO rate: 84%

Years active: 1965-76; ’81

Record: 32-4-1

KOs: 27

KOs inside 3 rounds: 14

Notable KO wins: George Chuvalo, Jimmy Ellis (twice), Bob Foster, Doug Jones, Jerry Quarry (twice), Eddie Machen, Buster Mathis

Background: One knockdown that stands among the most memorable of all time was the Frazier left hook that landed on the jaw of Muhammad Ali in the 15th round of their first fight. Ali survived but Frazier, in that moment, sealed his reputation as having one of the most lethal punches in boxing history. Retired heavyweight Stan Ward, who sparred with both Frazier and George Foreman, was asked during an EsNews video which of the two punched harder. No hesitation. “Frazier,” he said, “Frazier.”

Smokin’ Joe wasn’t a mere puncher. He was a quick, athletic, bobbing, weaving, whirling-dervish of a fighter who made life hell for anyone he faced. And he wasn’t a big man. He was 5-foot-11½ and not much over 200 pounds at his best. Still, his punches – particularly that left hook – could make your head spin around multiple times. He was only 3-4-1 in his final eight fights. However, those with whom he tangled understood the impact of his punches and fire he brought into the ring every time out. Said Joe Bugner: “I … have to say that the most vicious and relentless fighter on the planet, in those days, was Smokin’ Joe Frazier.”

7 WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO

KO rate: 83%

Years active: 1996-2017

Record: 64-5

KOs: 53

KOs inside 3 rounds: 28

Notable KO wins: Chris Byrd, Ruslan Chagaev, Ray Mercer, Sam Peter, Kubrat Pulev, Hasim Rahman

Background: Klitschko is the most accomplished heavyweight of a period that stretched from 2000 to 2015, most of which he held at least one major title. His style wasn’t complicated. He used his height (6-foot-6) and reach – as well as good footwork – to keep his opponents at a safe distance. From there, he would fight behind an excellent, jarring jab to set up … you guessed it … one of the biggest right hands ever. His trainer, Emanuel Steward, said “he’s the most accurate, single-punch knockout guy I have seen. A guy can be completely fine, not hurt, and Wladimir can put his lights out with one shot.” And don’t forget: Steward saw all the great ones over a half century or so. Phil Jackson was stopped by a young Klitschko and later sparred with him. He also was KO’d by Lennox Lewis. He told BoxingInsider.com that Klitschko punched harder than Lewis. “Klitschko had more power, most definitely.”

8 JOE LOUIS

KO rate: 79%

Years active: 1934-51

Record: 66-3

KOs: 52

KOs inside 3 rounds: 26

Notable KO wins: Max Baer, Jim Braddock, Primo Carnera, Billy Conn (twice), Max Schmeling, Jack Sharkey, Jersey Joe Walcott (twice)

Background: The Ring Magazine ranked the biggest punchers pound-for-pound in history. No. 1? Joe Louis. The Brown Bomber’s punches were unusually fast, technically sound and naturally heavy. In other words, they were lethal. Of his record 25 successful title defenses, 21 ended inside the distance. Wrote former Ring Editor Nigel Collins for ESPN.com: “The ‘Brown Bomber’ fired his right hand with devastating speed. … There's no doubt Joe's payoff punch was short, quick and deadly.” Quick, skillful boxers could give Louis trouble but, as Louis told rival Billy Conn, “you can run but you can’t hide.” Conn became too brave in his first fight with Louis and ended up like the majority of Louis’ opponents: on the canvas and unable to continue.

Louis’ most devastating knockout came in 1938, when as a representative of the U.S. he annihilated Nazi symbol Max Schmeling in 124 seconds. New York Times correspondent John Kieran described the ending this way: “A ripping left and a smashing right. The right was the crusher. Schmeling went down. He was up again and then, under another fusillade, down again. Once more, and barely able to stand, and then down for the third and final time.'' Louis was as destructive as anyone in boxing history.

9 LENNOX LEWIS

KO rate: 78%

Years active: 1989-2003

Record: 41-2-1

KOs: 32

KOs inside 3 rounds: 15

Notable KO wins: Frank Bruno, Andrew Golota, Oliver McCall, Tommy Morrison, Hasim Rahman, Donovan Ruddock, Mike Tyson

Background: Hall of Fame boxing writer Colin Hart paid Lennox Lewis the ultimate compliment in British boxing circles when he wrote about Lewis’ knockout of Razor Ruddock in 1992. Lewis put Ruddock down with a monstrous right hand in the first round and then finished the job in the second. Wrote Hart for The Sun: “The blow that floored Ruddock in the first round was, without doubt, the best single punch I've seen from a British heavyweight since 'Enery's 'Ammer put Cassius Clay on his backside at Wembley Stadium almost 30 years ago.”

Lewis, an Olympic champion who held six major titles over a decade that he dominated, was a complete boxer. He was a good athletic – especially for a 6-foot-5 man – and clever technician, with one of best jabs of his era. However, his straight right – usually landed from the perfect distance – was his calling card. When it landed flush, his fights generally changed in an instant. The Ruddock punch, the one he landed in that ended Hasim Rahman’s night in their rematch and the shots that led to Mike Tyson’s demise stand out but many more are noteworthy. One sparring partner reportedly said: “The man hit like a tank.”

10 SONNY LISTON

KO rate: 78%

Years active: 1953-70

Record: 50-4

KOs: 39

KOs inside 3 rounds: 22

Notable KO wins: Zora Folley, Floyd Patterson (twice), Nino Valdes, Chuck Wepner, Cleveland Williams (twice)

Background: Liston is one of the most underappreciated boxers in history, in part because of the meek manner in which he lost back to back fights to a young Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay at the time). Make no mistake: He was his generation’s George Foreman or Mike Tyson. He was terrifying. He wasn’t huge (6-foot-1, around 220 pounds) but he was thick and strong. His legendary jab had the impact of some fighters’ power punches. And his own power shots? There was a reason Cus D’Amato, Floyd Patterson’s manager, didn’t want his fighter to defend the title against Liston. He knew what would happen. And it did. Liston stopped Patterson in the first round to win the championship and then did it again. At that point, he had the same aura that Foreman and Tyson would later have – that of someone who seemed invincible. Of course, that notion was quickly debunked. Ali made sure of that.

However, today we can look back on Liston’s career in its totality. Before Ali, Liston was as dangerous as all but a few heavyweights in history, a menacing, brooding figure who perfected the strategy of seek and destroy. Said Foreman, who sparred with Liston: “He was the only man I ever faced who could force me backwards."

For a closer look at Wilder vs Ortiz 2, check out our fight night page. 

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