By Eric Raskin
Sports fans always want to know who's next. But it's important not to lose sight of who was last.
Through almost the entirety of the existence of HBO Boxing, there has been a clearly defined superstar carrying the sport, a man (or, sometimes, "men") who served as the face of the fight game. Here's a look at the fighters who ruled their eras, in the ring and at the box office, since the first boxing broadcasts on HBO in the early 1970s:
(RELATED: Eric Raskin examines the next generation of up-and-coming superstar hopefuls.)
Muhammad Ali: Arguably the most famous sports figure of all-time, Ali's inclusion on this list should require no explanation, even to the uninitiated. He was never the same as a fighter after 1975's "Thrilla in Manila," but Ali's star status remained unsurpassed up through his final bout.
Sugar Ray Leonard: While Ali was losing three of his last four fights between '78-'81, the Olympic gold medalist Leonard turned welterweight into boxing's glamour division. Undefeated heavyweight champ Larry Holmes played second fiddle to Sugar Ray throughout the first half of the '80s – even when Leonard was largely inactive.
Mike Tyson: There was some overlap with the Leonard era thanks to Sugar Ray's legendary comeback win over Marvin Hagler, but from the moment he won a piece of the heavyweight crown in '86, "Iron Mike" brought the worlds of tabloid journalism and sports journalism together like no one before.
Oscar De La Hoya: "The Golden Boy" began to emerge when Tyson was in jail, and broke through as the man to put boxing on his shoulders around the time Tyson's teeth replaced his fists as his weapons of choice. It's safe to say there's never been a fighter with a bigger female fan base than Oscar. But he also fought every great fighter of an exceptional era.
Manny Pacquiao/Floyd Mayweather: Together—but very much separately—the last two fighters to defeat De La Hoya have replaced him. Pacquiao drives pay-per-view sales with charm and dynamic offense; Mayweather does the same with a persona that many love to hate and a defense that few can penetrate.