Who are the all time greats at heavyweight? The top 14 should include Ali, Louis, Holmes, Jeffries, Liston, Dempsey, Foreman, Johnson, Marciano, Lewis, Bowe, Tyson, Frazier and Holyfield. I would argue that all the above names should never be below 20, and in almost all cases should be top 15. So, if these are 14 consensus names. That would leave 1 open spots to complete the top 15.
There are two ways to rank all time fighters. Head to head vs the field, or what they accomplished in their own era.
Lets look at head to head first. Head to head, I believe Vitali is a top 20 all time heavyweight. Many past great heavyweights were really cruisers or light heavies that lacked the power, size and durability to defeat Vitali in the ring. In a head to head sense, Vitali should rate over Corbett, Fitzsimmons, Chalres, Walcott, Patterson, Ingo, Spinks, ect .Those guys. As a footnote, Vitali fought two fighters who fought as cruisers / heavies. They were Norris and Hide. They lasted a combined 3 rounds.
Accomplishments in their own era is different. Tunney, Bowe, and Liston did not have long title reigns, yet they rate highly. Vitali fought in a fragment era where politics prevented re-matches. He did not choose to build his legacy on washed up has beens such as Tyson, Holyfield, Bowe or Moorer, but he could have easily knocked them all out in the late 1990's / early 2000's. Instead his legacy is based on various feats. Let us examine these accomplishments and pit them vs the best heavyweights in ring history.
Vitali's winning percentage was 94.73%. He owns the best all time knockout percentage of all heavyweight champions at 92.11%. He has the best ratio of rounds won to rounds lost, never being behind on any score card after round three. He was never being floored by a punch in his entire career. He fought the least amount of guys .500 or below. He threw lots of punches for a heavyweight. He also mounted an all time come back at age 37, taking almost four year off, and with no warm up fight beat on the #2 Ring Magazine Ranked heavyweight in the world. When someone presents a list in sports, one of the first questions asked should be, who else in on the list. And to be fair, I will only compare former great fighter in their prime or near prime years.
1 ) Vitlai knocked a higher percentage of guys out, even over Foreman, Marciano, Dempsey, Tyson, and Lewis. In fact Vitlai's knock out percentage ( 92.11% ) is the highest of any gloved champion in the history of the ring.
Others who rate below Vitlai Klitschko include:
Rocky Marciano 87.75 KO Percentage
George Foreman 83.99 KO Percentage
Mike Tyson 78.47 KO Percentage
Joe Louis 77.46 KO Percentage
Sonny Liston 77.20 KO Percentage.
2 ) Vitali dominated the score cards and had the best rounds won to round lost ratio in heavyweight boxing history . even over guys like Ali, and Holmes. This is special as even Ali and Holmes lost their share of rounds to lesser guys. It tells me that Vitali's size, skills, power, work rate, speed, and style completely forced other fighters off their games. Outboxing Vitali was not an option the 37 fighters he faced. It is estimated that Vitlai won 150 of 156 rounds in his career--give or take say two rounds. OkLets be conservative and say he won 149 and lost 7. That is still 95.51% of the rounds won. Even the prime Ali in the 1960's lost several more rounds than 7, and to be honest his competition from 1964-1967 had several men on it below the levels of Lennox Lewis, Sam Peter, and Chris Byrd.
Others who lost more rounds than Vitlai in their prime years in just a few fights alone include:
The after mentioned Muhammad Ali, in his prime years.
Joe Louis in both his fights with either Pastor of Walcott.
Larry Holmes in his fight with Norton and Witherpsoon
Lennox Lewis in his fights vs a slightly past his prime Holyfield
Gene Tunney in fights with Loughran and any 1 fight with Greb.
Joe Frazier in fights with Buster Mathis and Ocsar Bonnevena.
3 ) Vitali was never floored by a punch in his career. Only one other man can claim this, and his chin was not tested by bombs the way Vitalis was. Vitlai took flush shots to the chin, temple and head by big punchers such as Lewis, Sanders, and Hide. It is said that a good chin is the most important asset for a heavyweight. Vitali did not have a good chin, he had a great chin.
Here a list great fighters, and how many times they were down in their prime years. To be honest, many of these men where floored by lesser punchers.
4 ) Vitali has less tomato cans ( guys .500 or below when he fought them ) on his record in comparison all champions except for one.
Add the tomato cans of guys Ali, Holmes, Johnson, Foreman and others fought.
5 ) Vitlai had a second rate promoter and an unknown trainer. A good team can make a difference. Would Louis and Ali be as good without Blackburn and Dundee? I think not.
6 ) Vitlai came back at age 37 after a near 4 year layoff, then won a title with no warm up fights vs the #2 heavyweight in the world in Sam Peter. Vitlai did not lose a round.
The list of heavyweight who won their title back after age 37 is only one man, George Foreman, but to be honest Foreman was 0-2 in his first two tries, losing to Holyfield and Tommy Morrison before catching a less than durable Michael Moorer late.
Add a list of champs who tried to come back outside their prime, or after a long layoff in the 30's.
Can anyone else in history match or exceed these accomplishments in their own eras? I think not.
Even in a so-called weaker era, these facts / feats are hard to ignore.
Vitlai had two losses. Lets talk about them for a moment. The Byrd fight was a fluke loss. Vitali was basically beating Byrd with one good working arm. Perhaps if the stakes were higher or if he was thinking legacy at the time, he would have pressed on. But Vitlai lost feeling in his arm and could not lift it up anymore. He feared for his career, which at that point lacked mega paydays. So he retired while up by a 7-2 margin on the cards. Byrd is a champion and pretty good fighter who happened to be in his prime when the match happened. Without a fluke injury, Vitali wins this fight. I do not hold this loss against him. No one in a fantasy match up says, who would win, Frazier with a torn left shoulder or Quarry? Some hold Vitali quitting against him. This is fair as long as the person saying this is willing to concede that legends such as Roberto Duran, Jose Napoles, Jack Johnson, Sugar Ray Robinson, Henry Armstrong, Mike Tyson, Joe Gans, Bob Foster, Sam Langford, Marcel Cerdan, Willie Pep, Kosta Tszyu, Alexis Arguello Ezzard Chalres, Jake Lamotta, Archie Moore and about 100 other guys at one point retired or quit. To quote Ali, most people can get up but choose not to. I will skip the portion of fighters who basically gave up.
The Lewis fight was interesting. Vitlai was up 4-2 on all cards. This means Lewis, an older fighter who was gassed and forced to fight at a quick pace would need to win four of the next six rounds on at least two cards to produce a draw. Lewis never scored a TKO past round 8, and like many older fighters decided it was time to go for a Ko before he ran out of gas. The fight was stopped on a cut that was not bleeding at the time, and was not impairing Vitalis vision. It was a doctors call to stop the fight, not Vitalis. Who knows what would have happened in rounds 7-12. I tend to believe Vitlai would win late. Either way, Lewis is an all time great. Vitlai wanted re-matches. Lewis and Byrd did not despite a huge amount of guaranteed money. In addition Vitali took both the Byrd and Lewis fights on less than two weeks notice. A re-match offer of $18,000,000.00 to Lennox Lewis was offered. Lewis had to the take this huge sum of cash, or lose his title. He wisely opted to retire instead of the real risk of going out a loser.
Vitlai Klitschko certainly belongs in the conversation of all time top 20 heavyweights, and should be considered a top 15 heavyweight. In addition to the above, he stands 6'7 1/2" tall, weighs in at a fit 245-250 pounds, and sports an 80" reach.