Boxing Legends Fantasy Draft: Picking our all-time greats

Muhammad Ali, Roy Jones Jr., Sugar Ray Robinson and Henry Armstrong were the first to be drafted in the Yahoo Sports Boxing Legends draft. (Photo illustration by Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)
Muhammad Ali, Roy Jones Jr., Sugar Ray Robinson and Henry Armstrong were the first to be drafted in the Yahoo Sports Boxing Legends draft. (Photo illustration by Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)

The great thing about the fight game is that despite the passage of time, the essence of it is still the same: Two men battle to hit and not get hit in return.

While the coronavirus pandemic has idled boxing for the time being, it has not idled boxing talk. A huge part of the conversation is always who is the best and who could have beaten whom.

And so four of us who have a sincere love for boxing at Yahoo Sports — editors Armando Botello II and Joe Garza, and creative producer LaJethro Jenkins — got together and tried to pick all-star teams.

The rules were simple. Each team would consist of nine fighters, one in each of the original eight classes and then a wild card that could be a fighter from any weight class who hadn’t been chosen.

Fighters could only be chosen once, and in one division. So when Botello chose Sugar Ray Robinson with the first pick, he had to choose whether to put him at welterweight or middleweight. Many historians regard Robinson not only as the pound-for-pound greatest ever, but as both the greatest welterweight and the greatest middleweight who ever lived.

And we weren’t restricted as to the order. So you could fill the team in whichever order you wanted, as long as you had one at each spot.

So those were the rules. We picked in alphabetical order and did a serpentine draft, meaning the first round was Botello, Garza, me and Jenkins. Round 2 was Jenkins, me, Garza and Botello, and so on.

I asked each guy to explain why he chose who he did in the first round. Further, I enlisted Hall of Fame promoter Lou DiBella and Cliff Rold, a columnist at BoxingScene who follows the sport and its history closely, to comment on the teams.

I was hoping for Robinson, and I would have put him at welterweight, but drafting third, I knew that was unlikely. And sure enough, Botello snagged him first. Garza, choosing second, picked Henry “Homicide Hank” Armstrong, who is No. 2 on my all-time pound-for-pound list behind only Robinson.

Going third, I chose Muhammad Ali at heavyweight. Jenkins closed out the first round with the choice of Roy Jones Jr. at light heavyweight. I would have taken Robinson and Armstrong first if either had been available to me.

Before we go any further, let’s take a look at the teams.

(Yahoo Sports illustration)(Yahoo Sports illustration)
(Yahoo Sports illustration)

Team Botello

  • Joe Louis, heavyweight.

  • Michael Spinks, light heavyweight.

  • Marvin Hagler, middleweight.

  • Sugar Ray Robinson, welterweight.

  • Julio Cesar Chavez, lightweight.

  • Willie Pep, featherweight.

  • Ruben Olivares, bantamweight.

  • Miguel Canto, flyweight.

  • Wild card: Rocky Marciano, heavyweight.

Team Garza:

  • George Foreman, heavyweight.

  • Archie Moore, light heavyweight.

  • Harry Greb, middleweight.

  • Jose Napoles, welterweight.

  • Roberto Duran, lightweight.

  • Henry Armstrong, featherweight.

  • Carlos Zarate, bantamweight.

  • Pancho Villa, flyweight.

  • Wild card: Jake LaMotta, middleweight.

Team Iole:

  • Muhammad Ali, heavyweight.

  • Ezzard Charles, light heavyweight.

  • Carlos Monzon, middleweight.

  • Thomas Hearns, welterweight.

  • Floyd Mayweather Jr., lightweight.

  • Sandy Saddler, featherweight.

  • Eder Jofre, bantamweight.

  • Jimmy Wilde, flyweight.

  • Wild card: Pernell Whitaker.

Team Jenkins:

  • Joe Frazier, heavyweight.

  • Roy Jones Jr., light heavyweight.

  • Andre Ward, middleweight.

  • Sugar Ray Leonard, welterweight.

  • Manny Pacquiao, lightweight.

  • Eusebio Pedroza, featherweight.

  • Anselmo Moreno, bantamweight.

  • Irene Pacheco, flyweight.

  • Wild card: Mike Tyson, heavyweight.

Not surprisingly when picking teams of this type, 30 of the 36 men we chose are already enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Of the six who are not, four are not yet eligible (Mayweather, Jones, Ward and Pacquiao) and are almost certain to be picked the first year they’re eligible.

Botello opened the draft and immediately chose Robinson, and it’s hard to argue with his logic.

“I obviously never watched him fight in person or even live on TV, but nobody could touch me on ‘Fight Night’ when I picked the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson as my guy,” Botello, our combat sports editor, said. “Robinson’s legacy of dominance inside the ring was etched into my college years thanks to many nights spent dancing around opponents and landing nearly endless combinations with Robinson on the PlayStation. He’s No. 1 on plenty of all-time lists for a reason. Simply put, he’s the greatest of all-time.”

Garza followed Botello and he made another safe pick by taking Armstrong. The problem he had with Armstrong was where to put him because Armstrong qualified in three classes.

Garza used him at featherweight, where Armstrong was simply fearsome.

“I chose Armstrong because he is my legit No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter of all time,” Garza said. “He held titles in three weight classes simultaneously, and he might have the greatest nickname in boxing history: ‘Homicide Hank.’”

I chose Ali third. Ali is my favorite athlete of all time, and given my top two choices were gone, he was an easy selection to make. I also took Ali as a strategic pick, because I wanted to get Saddler, Jofre and Wilde, but I figured there would be less competition for them than there would be for Ali.

If I passed on Ali, Jenkins had back-to-back picks before I’d have gone again and I can’t imagine he’d have passed on Ali twice. So I went with “The Greatest” and I’m not complaining.

Jenkins closed the first round by taking a fighter that surprised me, frankly, even though I think Roy Jones Jr. was an incredible talent. But he tabbed Jones at light heavyweight, and in my opinion, Jones isn’t one of the top three light heavyweights, so he started shaky in my opinion.

“Roy Jones at his peak was the second most frightening fighter I’ve seen, behind Tyson,” Jenkins said after the draft. “He was explosive and powerful, but he was also just mean. He didn’t just beat fighters, he embarrassed them. They weren’t opponents, they were food.”

In order not to bias either Rold or DiBella, I sent them the teams with the names A (Botello), B (Garza), C (Me) and D (Jenkins). They didn’t know who picked which team.

Rold said, “All the teams have their strengths. Team C starts with a big lead at heavyweight and at light heavyweight in Ali and Charles; both have strong cases for the best those classes ever had. Teams A-C each have someone with a legitimate case for the all-time middleweight king while the man missing from that debate is simply not available by way of also being the greatest welterweight of them all, Robinson.

“Team D likes more recent fare but with an underrated spoiler at featherweight. If I could only take one of the teams, I’d go with C given the strength of Jofre and Wilde in the lowest classes along with the strength at the top.”

DiBella, as he does with so much, passionately argued about the teams. Eventually, he chose my team over Botello’s, but just by a hair. He had Garza third and picked Jenkins as a clear fourth.

“D has two major flaws and four choices I find questionable,” DiBella said. “When I look at D, Anselmo Moreno and Irene Pacheco are the two I don’t like, and I eliminate that team as a result. Every heavyweight picked in this is better than Frazier, and he picked Tyson as a wild card, which is redundant.

“Everything on Teams A and C is defensible. Neither of those teams has a single weakness, but there are some picks that don’t belong. Team B is a clear third. I really don’t like La Motta as the wild card. I loved him for being so exciting, but with the caliber of guys on this list, he doesn’t belong. And I think Napoles was a reach, too.”

It was a fun exercise and led me to watch a lot of YouTube videos of these guys in action. 

That made it a win for me regardless of who the judges’ chose.

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