Complied by Armando Paz
1-Willie Pep: The notorious defensive ability of Pep often made it difficult to seperate fact from fiction. As a result, myths would be created about Pep winning a round by not throwing a punch against Jackie Graves in 1946. Pep added new schemes in defensive boxing with a combination of precise foot movements and body movements that made him impervious to the great offensive fighters of his time. Pep was able to deflect, block, catch, and parry blows with great accuracy. The ability to weave, feint, and rolling with punches would be taken into new heights by Pep. He knew how to fight at proper distance and when to stay high or get low. The Boxing Register once said “Pep developed a ring artistry that veteran boxing observers still admire. His style of boxing has been likened to tap dancing with gloves on. He once even won a round without even throwing a punch because his tactical movements kept his opponent completely off-balance.” An opponent once said, “Fighting Pep is like trying to stamp out a grass fire.” At one point in his career Pep was 135-3, a mark achieved mainly due to his exceptional defensive ability.
2.Pernell Whitaker: The fighter known as “Sweet Pea” displayed some of the greatest defensive pugilism the sport has ever seen. Whitaker can stand in front of an opponent and make them miss with his dipsy doodle slipping and ducking scheme or block them with his gloves. Whitaker knew how to keep a low center of gravity and adapting a defensive scheme for specific oppponents. Some great defensive fighters often have trouble with a whirlwind type of offense that keeps plugging away from all angles. Whitaker in a fight with an undefeated Spaniard named Policarpo Diaz was able to withstand an incredible assault of punches coming from all directions. Julio Cesar Chavez a fighter known to eventually break down fighters with body punching couldn’t penetrate the Whitaker shield. Whitaker was like morphing computer generated images you see in films in the way he could contort and reshape his body to elude or deflect punches. Although you can make a case that guys like Locche or Benitez could rival Whitaker’s slipping ability, no other fighter had the entire defensive package that Whitaker had since Pep.
3.Nicolino Locche: The argentine fighter known as “El Intocable (the untouchable) would go 129 fights before having a KO blemish on his record. This was due to his great reflexes, agility, and eye body coordination. Locche would win the light welterweight title against Takeshi Fuji in Tokyo. The japanese audience were in awe of this fighter who was stand like a mirage in front of the champion than disappear in a fraction of a second in displays of heart stopping dexterity. Locche would be influential to the modern defensive methods of keeping hands low and using reflexes generated by the waist to keep punches at bay. In addition, even when hit Locche was able to deflect and roll with the punches to take the sting out of the blows.
4. Wilfred Benitez: Benitez was bestowed with some of the best defensive ability in recent boxing history. The youngest boxing champion in boxing history combined cat like reflexes, anticipation, with flickering gloves that caught punches like Willie Mays caught fly balls in center field. Benitez like a clock always had his feet, head, and gloves in motion to block, weave, and elude punches. Roberto Duran an underrated defensive fighter would get KO by Thomas Hearns in two rounds by being stationary and standing too tall, while Benitez with the weaker chin would go the 15 round distance with the heavy handed fighter. Hearns would corner Benitez in the closing moments of round 2 and would fire a dozen power shots and not be able to land one clean shot in close promixity. This is because Benitez was able to time the lighting fast punches with precise slipping and ducking techniques that would have resulted in a lesser skilled fighter being put to the canvas. Benitez was one of the greatest fighters to fight with his back on the ropes as he love to make opponents miss than counter them like a Mongoose pouncing on their prey.
5. Jack Johnson: This choice may surprise some. I slightly favor Johnson over guys like Mayweather, Corbett, and even a prime Ali due to innovation. Johnson was the bridge between bare knuckle boxer Daniel Mendoza and early Corbett to Gene Tunney. Johnson was excellent in using distance to take leverage off blows and using gloves to both block and catch punches. Johnson was very agile for a heavyweight and could navigate the ring due to his footwork. Johnson took sting off punches by using his arms, elbows, and shoulders to deflect and catch punches. In addition, Johnson was one of the early practioners of feinting that would be mastered by future fighters as Ali, Leonard, and Jones.
6.Floyd Mayweather Jr: The modern era of boxing has the advantage of compubox stats and punchstat figures that help give people information about a fight as boxscores did for baseball. I once went through the entire Mayweather fightography and often opponents would land between 18-25% of their punches. Many modern fighters with defensive ability would keep their hands low and rely on great reflexes, head movements, and their feet to avoid danger. Mayweather instead was willing to fight in close quarters and have a defensive strategy to fight in a phone booth. He could avoid blows from an orthodox fighter using the shoulder roll and blocking southpaws with body twists and a high guard. The chin is protected by being tucked in while the body is covered with the left arm covered around the lower body and right arm higher to protect the chest. Moreover, when needed Mayweather could use his feet to circle the ring and potshot and counter opponents as he did against an undefeated Diego Corrales. Mayweather’s great defense has only allowed one official knockdown; which was his glove touching the canvas in pain due to an injured hand against Carlos Hernandez. Zab Judah was really the only fighter to have scored a clean knockdown against Mayweather when his glove touched the canvas due to a blow, but the referee failed to score it.
7.Muhammad Ali: If you saw the post-hiatus film of Ali and see all the clean blows he took from guys like Frazier, Norton, and Shavers you may question his defensive ability. The 1960′s version of Ali was better conditioned and still retained some of the greatest reflexes in boxing history. Ali great head movement was able to elude most opponents jab, his lateral movement prevented sustained offensive attacks, and his feints would also halt and confuse opponents. Ali was difficult to pin down or load up due to what some calledt “dancing” and others say it was “getting on the bike.” Ali would also be able to stay on the ropes and roll off blows as he did in the rope-a-dope against George Foreman. The fights against Cleveland Williams and Ernie Terrell are some of the best examples of modern scentific boxing which is to hit and not get hit and to float like a butterfly while stinging like a bee.
8.Benny Leonard: Leonard was a fighter that was able to figure out opponents than assimiliate a strategy for that specific opponent. The fighter known as the “ghetto wizard” was proficient in circling the ring using techniques as feints, slipping, and blocking while maintaning fluidity and balance. Ray Arcel before trainning Duran was the teacher of lightweight champion Benny Leonard. Leonard instinctually knew how to get out of danger by fighting back when necessary or doing defensive clinching. Leonard would often brag about not even having his hair messed up after putting on defensive clinics. Leonard was what Bernard Hopkins is today; which is a fighter that relied more on great ring IQ and finese than great athelticism. The precise movements of a ballet dancer is what allowed Leonard to defeat notable fighters as Rocky Kansas, Lew Tendler, and Freddie Welsh.
9.Archie Moore: The fighter known for having the most knockouts in boxing history is often overlooked for his great defensive contributions to the sport. Often fighters who are either stalkers or brawlers must protect themselves while being aggressive. Mike Tyson an underrated defensive fighter would use a combination of a peek a boo defense and bobbing and weaving while keeping a low posture. Moore would help popularize the cross arms or crab like defense that would protect vital areas of the body and head while coming forward. Both arms are placed horizontally on top of each other making it difficult to land straight punches or hooks to the body. If a fighter would try to use angles than a twisting the body while maintaing the position could still protect the fighter. George Foreman and Joe Frazier would use variation of this defense with great success. Moore would also maintain the cross arms well by lifting his shoulder to block and deflect punches. The fighter known as the Old Mongoose would be able to sustain a long boxing career in large part by implementing a stragedy that utilized an armadillo defense while going in for a quick knockout.
10-Gene Tunney: Would have loved the modern boxing method of analyzing opponent video to figure out the best way to defeat them. Tunney was able to use counterpunching, clinching, parrying, and footwork as defensive methods to avoid punches. Tunney is one of the few fighters to have defeated every opponent he ever faced. His only loss to Harry Greb would be avenged by going to the body and using timing with lateral movement to stifle the great offensive juggernaut that Greb was. Tunney was an early master of staying outside while offsetting offense with a great jab. Tunney would beat Jack Dempsey twice in large part due to his defensive jab. The fact that he would circile and utilize the entire ring distance would be polarizing to many boxing fans at the time who preferred more flat footed toe to toe action. Even Muhammad Ali who made derisive comments about early fighters would concede the impact that Tunney had in evolving the techinical and scientific aspect of the sport