Who are the biggest punchers in heavyweight boxing history? Did AJ or Ngannou make the cut?

Who was the biggest puncher in boxing history? The question is decades old and as we head into the heavyweight collision between former unified champ Anthony Joshua and the hard-hitting Francis Ngannou, which has been dubbed “Knockout Chaos”, it makes sense to go there again.

First, it’s important that we lay out the rules of the game. This top-5 list features heavyweights who are renowned for ending fights with a single blow and would be top choices for turning a punching machine into scrap metal. These guys are pure punchers, not necessarily finishers, and there’s a big difference.

Joe Louis, who is perhaps the best finisher of all time is not on the list. For the most part, “The Brown Bomber” would set up an opponent, hurt him badly and take him out of the fight with beautifully conceived combinations. Louis was a knockout artist, but stylistically, he was the epitome of a boxer-puncher.

Similarly, Rocky Marciano didn’t make it. “The Rock” used his conditioning, physical strength and volume punching to wear his opponents down to a frazzle. The former champ could certainly knock an opponent cold – see Jersey Joe Walcott fights 1 and 2 – but essentially Marciano was a relentless pressure fighter who beat his victims into submission.

WATCH: Anthony Joshua vs. Francis Ngannou, live on DAZN

As for Joshua and Ngannou, well, both of these giants are known to pack a punch. AJ has an 89-percent knockout ratio and Ngannou holds the record for the most powerful punch in the world today. Unfortunately, competition is tough and neither man made the cut.

The Sporting News now presents the hardest heavyweight punchers of all time.

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1 Deontay Wilder

  • Record: 43-3-1 (42 KOs)
  • First-round knockouts: 21

Wilder has serious limitations as a boxer, but his hitting power is astonishing. Up until his December loss to Joseph Parker, the American had dropped every fighter he’d faced in a career dating back to 2008.

He has no punch variety to speak of, but if you’re on the wrong of end of The Bronze Bomber’s signature right hand, then it’s Goodnight Vienna. And it’s not just a case of Wilder tossing that punch at random. The ex-champ’s gift is setting up the finisher by positioning his feet and throwing it at the right time.

It didn’t work against Parker, but Wilder’s power is legendary and will be the benchmark against which all great heavyweight punchers are measured going forward.

Knockout victims: Luis Ortiz (twice), Bermane Stiverne, Chris Arreola, Dominic Breazeale

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MORE: AJ’s 2024 mission mapped out by Saudi-fuelled Francis Ngannou megafight

2 Earnie Shavers

  • Record: 76-14-1 (70 KOs)
  • First-round knockouts: 23

Shavers is best remembered for nailing Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes with thunderous right-hand shots before losing to both all-time greats in world title bouts. However, The Black Destroyer’s legendary status as a puncher has hardly diminished since his final retirement in 1995.

While never naturally talented as a boxer, Shavers realised that he had lightning in a bottle when he started sparring at a local gym. He would be outboxed for long periods before landing a shot that would send the fighter he was in against flying across the ring. That kind of hitting power doesn’t go unnoticed.

“When Shavers hit me, the ground came up and met me. I’ve never been hit like that,” said Ron Lyle in the 2009 documentary Facing Ali. Lyle was speaking on behalf of any heavyweight who was ever caught flush by Shavers and lived to tell the tale.

Knockout victims: Jimmy Young, Jimmy Ellis, Roy Williams, Ken Norton

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3 George Foreman

  • Record: 76-5 (68 KOs)
  • First-round knockouts: 15

After winning Olympic gold in 1968, George Foreman was a champion in waiting and he lived up to expectations by flooring the previously undefeated Joe Frazier six times in two rounds to win the title in 1973.

The following year, Ken Norton was taken out in the very same round and the word attached to Foreman was “invincible”. However, in his next fight, Foreman was outsmarted and knocked out by Muhammad Ali in “The Rumble in the Jungle” and an unexpected retirement soon followed.

Foreman turned to religion and didn’t put on a glove for the best part of a decade. When he did come back into boxing in 1987 at 38 years old, the ex-champ was ridiculed as an old man with a large waistline.

The lesson we all learned by the time Foreman was finished was never to write off a puncher. While he lost fights to Evander Holyfield and Tommy Morrison, Foreman regained the heavyweight championship in 1994 by knocking out Michael Moorer in 10 rounds.

Knockout victims: Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Ron Lyle, Michael Moorer

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MORE: Evander Holyfield recalls his Sweetest Victory

4 Mike Tyson

  • Record: 50-6 (44 KOs)
  • First-round knockouts: 24

During his pomp, Mike Tyson was known as “The Baddest Man on the Planet” and that wasn’t because of his jab or his footspeed. Tyson, a former two-time heavyweight champion and the youngest man ever to win the title at 20 years old, sent fans into a frenzy because he was a devastating and merciless puncher.

Coached by legendary fight trainer Cus D’Amato, Tyson perfected every power shot in the book. The right hand was as dangerous as the left hook, and the left hook was as dangerous as the right uppercut. In several of his early fights, he can be seen knocking opponents clean off their feet.

There have been other fighters who carried a similar level of intimidation. However, Tyson was on another level and could win fights before a punch was even thrown.

Knockout victims: Trevor Berbick, Michael Spinks, Larry Holmes, Frank Bruno (twice)

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5 Sonny Liston

  • Record: 54-4 (39 KOs)
  • First-round knockouts: 8

Before Mike Tyson, there was Charles “Sonny” Liston.

Liston was incarcerated at age 20 and it was in prison that he really came into his own as a fighter. The lethal hitting power was obvious immediately and upon his release, he entered the amateur ranks to learn his craft in earnest. Unfortunately, when he turned professional, it was with the backing of underworld connections.

It didn’t take long for Liston to earn a reputation in the ring. Despite knocking out a plethora of top-rated contenders, he was perpetually ducked by the brain trust of then-heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson.

Cus D’Amato, Patterson’s trainer and manager, knew that Liston was too much for his fighter and he was right. When they finally met, Liston annihilated Patterson at 2:06 of the opening round. When they contested a rematch 10 months later, Patterson lasted just four seconds longer.

Thanks to the emergence of one Cassius Marcellus Clay, Liston became a footnote in the glorious career of Muhammad Ali. However, the ill-fated ex-champ was so much more than that.

Knockout victims: Floyd Patterson, Zora Folley, Cleveland Williams (twice), Nino Valdes


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