By Kieran Mulvaney
Inside HBO Boxing is crowning the greatest boxer ever to compete on the network, as determined by you, the fans. Among the countless icons and Hall of Famers who’ve battled on the HBO airwaves, we’ve selected an elite field of 32 fighters for entry in a bracket-style tournament. All matchups are previewed in depth on the HBO Boxing Podcast, and you can vote for the winners on Twitter (@HBOboxing). Who is truly the greatest? That’s for you to decide.
See Round 3: Quarter-Finals
See Round 4: Semi-Finals
And then there were two.
After four rounds of voting, and literally tens of thousands of virtual ballots cast online, The Greatest HBO Fighter of All-Time Tournament reaches its conclusion, with the final two competitors. And the matchup is, at the end of the day, probably just as it should be, as The Greatest of All Time, Muhammad Ali, takes on the ever-sweet Sugar Ray Leonard.
In the semi-finals, Ali overcame Mike Tyson, who had upended Manny Pacquiao, Joe Frazier and Roberto Duran in the voting, to earn his spot in the final. And few could argue that his place is unmerited: after all, how can the conclusion of any Greatest Fighter of All-Time tournament not include the man who styled himself The Greatest long before the rest of the world caught up to him and concluded that he probably had a point?
Ali’s career defined greatness, in the ring and out of it. In the ring, he fought like no heavyweight before or since – floating like a butterfly, stinging like a bee, and winning the heavyweight championship not once, not twice, but three times. Outside of the ring, he captivated and mesmerized; he polarized, too, when he took a stand against the Vietnam War that would see him stripped of his title and his livelihood before he staged his redemptive second and third acts.
Leonard’s career was likewise interrupted, but for personal reasons rather than political ones: after undergoing surgery for a detached retina, he declared he no longer wanted to box and stepped away from the sport at the age of 26, having already secured Olympic gold and world titles in two weight divisions, along the way overcoming fellow future Hall-of-Famers Wilfred Benitez, Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns. He would return for an extended final act or three that only enhanced his legacy, a legacy that was reflected in his support during this tournament. He wiped the floor with Shane Mosley and Alexis Arguello, before repeating in fantasy voting what in 1987 he had achieved in the real world: out-pointing Marvin Hagler. In the semi-finals, he overcame the contemporary boxer whose career arguably most closely resembles his own — Floyd Mayweather, Jr. — to set up a final matchup with perhaps the only boxer who could match his achievements, skill, talent and charisma.
So now there are two. But there can be only one. Who is truly the greatest? That’s for you to decide.
(1) Muhammad Ali vs (1) Sugar Ray Leonard
56-5 (37 KOs)
Years fought: 1960-1981
KO 6 Sonny Liston, 2-25-1964
KO 8 George Foreman, 10-30-1974
KO 14 Joe Frazier, 10-1-1975
Round 1 Result: Defeated Miguel Cotto, 89%-11%
Round 2 Result: Defeated Lennox Lewis, 78%-22%
Round 3 Result: Defeated Roy Jones Jr., 81%-19%
Round 4 Result: Defeated Mike Tyson, 64%-36%
Sugar Ray Leonard
Welterweight/Junior Middleweight/Middleweight/Super Middleweight/Light Heavyweight Champion
36-3-1 (25 KOs)
Years Fought: 1977-1997
KO 8 Roberto Duran, 11-25-1980
KO 14 Thomas Hearns, 9-16-1981
W 12 Marvin Hagler, 4-6-1987
Round 1 Result: Defeated Shane Mosley, 93%-7%
Round 2 Result: Defeated Alexis Arguello, 90%-10%
Round 3 Result: Defeated Marvin Hagler, 69%-31%
Round 4 Result: Defeated Floyd Mayweather, Jr., 55%-45%