1. Ezzard Charles
He may never have won a world title at the weight, but Charles’ place at the top of the pile is pretty much a no-brainer.
The Cincinnati Cobra is best remembered for his reign as world heavyweight champ, but at the 12st 5lbs he was untouchable – and faced dangerous contenders such as Jimmy Bivins, Lloyd Marshall and Charley Burley who were avoided like a bad smell by the other contenders.
In fact, Charles, fast, brave and heavy-handed, only missed out on the world light-heavyweight crown because champ Gus Lesnevich steadfastly refused to face him. It was the right decision. Charles gave him a crack at the heavyweight title in 1949 and destroyed Gus in seven rounds.
His 121 bout career, stretching from 1940 to 1959, included five wins over Joey Maxim and three over the legendary Archie Moore. He was no slouch as a heavyweight either, winning two of four fights with Jersey Joe Walcott and featuring in an epic 15 rounder with Rocky Marciano.
As good as Charles was, he could’ve been even better. Deeply religious, he was plagued by the death of Sam Baroudi following their 1948 battle and never displayed the same ferocity again.
Charles was a very good heavyweight champ, but untouchable at light-heavy, beating the very best.
Sadly, like so many greats, he continued long after he should, winning only 10 of his last 23 fights and being better by men who, in Charles’ prime, weren’t fit to carry his jockstrap.