Now you’re playing with power
Power! Sports of every variety thrive on it, perhaps none so much as boxing. Last month, the card featuring the rematch between IBF/WBA/WBO light heavyweight champion Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev featured fight-ending stoppages but they did not satisfy as WBA junior featherweight titlist Guillermo Rigondeaux scored his a second after the bell and Ward had a questionable low blow coup de grâce punctuation. Although, I believe Sergey Kovalev was going to lose that fight via stoppage sooner or later, given how he failed to protest the stoppage immediately and looked like a spent bullet. Bottom line, neither was as definitive as a knockout should be. This got me thinking about the best power punchers in the sport, the guys who leave no lingering doubts with their emphatic stoppages, the way Joe Louis, Jimmy Wilde, Mike Tyson, Wilfredo Gomez or George Foreman once did.
Of course, there are different kinds of power, when you break down individual styles and look closely at the choices with an evaluative eye. Some guys are speed-based punchers; like a bullet, they might be smaller caliber shots but carry a hefty impact, given enough velocity behind them. Others deliver their power with that extra bit of precision which makes them more impactful, given the accuracy, much like hitting a baseball with the sweet spot of your bat. The third is the combination guy, whose first punch sets up the second and then third, maybe the most memorable stoppage of which was when Ray Mercer knocked out Tommy Morrison.
Unfortunately I had to narrow my selection to 10, so boxers who merited consideration but did not make my power ranking for one reason or another are: Denis Lebedev, Vasyl Lomachenko, Alexander Povetkin (his VADA drug bust leaves me questioning his real strength), Mairis Briedis, Andy Lee, Nicholas Walters, Luis Ortiz, Richard Commey, David Lemieux, Eduard Troyanovsky, Lucas Matthysse, Yunier Dorticos, Errol Spence Jr., Sergei Lipinets, Zolani Tete, Hugo Ruiz, Regis Prograis, Mikey Garcia, Robert Easter Jr., Miguel Berchelt, Oscar Valdez, Julio Ceja and Daigo Higa.
10. Gervonta Davis, 18-0 (17) – The youngest and most recent addition who makes a large blip on my radar. Is living up to his nickname of “The Tank,” crushing opposition on both sides of the Atlantic, now that he stopped Liam Walsh in England. His muscle-laden physique, packing 5-foot-6 into a junior lightweight body, has fans drawing comparisons to Mike Tyson. At age 22, has stopped developing physically and has not yet found that “man-power” which many claim comes into play the closer you near the 30-year-mark, a bit of a rarity in that Davis is a southpaw, which may actually increase his power as it comes from angles many do not expect or see coming. As impressively, Davis’ most emphatic stoppages have come against his best opposition, marking him as an especially bright light for the future.
9. Adonis Stevenson, 29-1 (24) – If Stevenson had a better resume of opponents, he may rank in the Top 3 but that lack of ambition, when it comes to scheduling, is a legitimate consideration and big demerit. Throw in a lack of activity, as well, only venturing into a ring once a year for the last three years, and you have a mix that makes for the doldrums. However, when Stevenson does step into a ring, he does so emphatically and dominates foes, leaving audiences wanting for more. Delivers power and excitement with his dangerous and awkward attacking angles that seem to catch foes by surprise, as if they never watched a tape of Stevenson. So, the power must be what sets Stevenson apart because he does not look that unbeatable on film.
8. Takashi Uchiyama, 22-2-1 (20) – Southpaw sluggers are especially dangerous and the precision and intelligence with which Uchiyama lands is remarkable. The Japanese veteran is somewhat unique because he traded speed for precision as he aged and Uchiyama has been able to dispatch of foes in both fashions. Nickname of “KO Dynamite” may not roll off the tongue but Uchiyama’s punches do roll over opponents fast and he may be the best two-fisted puncher on this list, able to stop opponents with one shot from either hand. Has a knack for finding holes in opposing defense, which was evident as far back as his amateur days, when he had 59 stoppages in 91 amateur victories. Scored stoppages early and late, during his championship reign, but a recent split decision loss may have signaled the end for the 37-year-old bomber. So, if the old warhorse has one more fight left in him, I urge fans to see off this undervalued puncher for one last power salute.
7. Artur Beterbiev, 11-0 (11) – One of two boxers on my list who have yet to win a world title but, given the Russian’s combination of smarts and accuracy, it is only a matter of time before a belt is strapped around his powerful waist. You can argue that Beterbiev has not faced a guy who likes to punch with him but, given his timing of shots, that may be a mistake as well. Intelligent punch selection gets Beterbiev to the target first but his punches land, searing accuracy as well creating lethal concoction. That is the havoc that 300 amateur fights against elite opposition (twice defeated Sergey Kovalev) in major tourneys creates, allowing Beterbiev to knock out two former champions before his 10th professional outing. It is difficult to find a round in which Beterbiev has lost or not looked dangerous, since turning pro. Beterbiev sets up his punches masterfully, sometimes with speed and other times with adroit foot movement that create angles foes have not seen…and do not see coming!
6. Deontay Wilder, 38-0 (37) – Yes, his punches are not always straight and pretty but when Wilder lands flush, the opposition falls in scary ways. Sometimes the sound of Wilder’s punches surpasses their set-up and delivery and his opposition falls with equally resounding thuds and often lie motionless for the full count. Wilder puts his entire 225-plus-pound body into punches and his balance is deceptively good, allowing the American to generate a great deal of torque and momentum from the waist up, given his lack of great footwork. It has to be said that Wilder favors his right hand to the detriment of everything else but, if something works, why not go back to the well over and over again?
5. Naoya Inoue, 13-0 (11) – At the other end of the scale is junior bantamweight Inoue and, as his nickname of “Monster” properly implies, the Japanese iconoclast is a giant, when it comes to power. America will finally get to see the diminutive destroyer in person when he makes his American and HBO debut on September 9 (mark the date) against Antonio Nieves, who has never been stopped. The 24-year-old is already a two-division champion, winning his first world title in his sixth outing, and overpowers with precision, as much as power, impugning a sense of hopelessness upon disoriented foes. His second round knockout of defensive master Omar Narvaez was dazzling in its dominance and surgical coldness. Has scored 10th and 11th round stoppages, so is not a one-trick pony who gets frustrated by mobile boxers or boxers disguised as outright track stars. One of the best body punchers as well, I can imagine many youngsters from Mexico looking upon his style with envy.
4. Sergey Kovalev, 30-2-1 (26) – Yes, it would be easy to remove Kovalev after his two setbacks to Andre Ward, but history has looked kindly on others such as Tommy Hearns or Rodrigo Valdez, who lost to legendary boxers. He does fall down the pecking order though, since he was not able to get rid of his best foe in Andre Ward. However, Ward seems to be his only Kryptonite, as Kovalev has dispatched of other quality contenders with relative ease and I predict that, despite his current two-fight losing streak, the rest of the 175-pounders will avoid the Russian rocket at all costs. In post-fight reports, you hear about foes with broken ribs or jaws and, sadly, his punching power was a factor in the injuries suffered by Roman Simakov, which lead to his sad passing three days after the fight.
3. Dmitry Kudryashov, 21-1 (21) – The Earnie Shavers of this list, “The Russian Hammer” is not a champion yet but, even if he does not make it to the top in the most competitive division in all boxing, he will have made an impact. When Kudryashov lands his first meaningful punch, you can see a worried expression envelop a foe’s face, while trying in vain to maintain his calm and avoid any further contact with the Russian rocket-thrower. Kudryashov really launches himself into punches, which makes his technique suffer a bit but, given the end results, it is hard to fault his willingness to commit to every punch. What Kudryashov lacks in artistry, he makes up for in dedication; forsaking defense, he is the definition of term “willing to take two punches to land one of his own.” The power chords cut both ways with Kudryashov, as he was knocked out in a lone loss that Kudryashov avenged just last month…via knockout of course.
2. Anthony Joshua, 19-0 (19) – All doubts about whether Joshua sported real power, or was a legitimate champion, were erased when he stopped Wladimir Klitschko in a heavyweight battle that revived the division for a new generation of boxing fans. Not only was the uppercut punch selection genius but it also showed that the young behemoth carries fight-ending power with him into the championship rounds! There is an effortlessness and flow to Joshua’s punches, which mirrors his relaxed manner outside the ring, that makes everything he does look easy, leaving audiences wanting more. Given his youth and relative inexperience, only lacing up the gloves to box at age 18, Joshua does not try to land bombs from the opening bell. There is no rush or urgency with the composed Englishman; instead, Joshua times his foes in an exacting manner and God help the division once he learns to anticipate what the opponent does instead of react to it.
1. Gennady Golovkin, 37-0 (33) – Has displayed multiple ways to dispatch the opposition, from precision to outright overwhelming them with a stream of punches, or confusing them into capitulation through his varied arsenal of punches. Often softens up foes with a knockdown before delivering some fine looking finishing flurries. Sets up the stoppages with solid bodywork or a ramrod jab that traces a path for his heavy artillery to follow. The Kazakh is equally feared in sparring sessions, in which he first gained his reputation before making his American ring debut. One of the few boxers of recent vintage, or on this list, who legitimately has a Tyson-like reputation that precedes him to ring, often paving the way to victory before Golovkin even throws a punch.