Commentary

The 10 best chins in boxing history

A boxer's chin is sometimes his last line of defense. Graham Houston lists 10 fighters with the best whiskers in boxing history.

Originally Published: January 8, 2008
By Graham Houston | Special to ESPN.com

Gene Fullmer Grey Villet//Time Life Pictures/Getty ImagesIt took a monstrous hook from Sugar Ray Robinson to take Gene Fullmer off of his feet.
Throughout boxing history there have been some incredibly tough individuals. The "Durable Dane" nickname of old-time lightweight champ Battling Nelson was well-earned, for instance. In a look at the all-time best chins, then, the problem is not which boxers to include but which to leave out. Here, focusing on fighters of the past, is a list of the toughest of the tough.

10. Tommy Farr

Tough Tommy from Tonpandy, Wales, will forever be remembered for not only lasting the full 15 rounds with Joe Louis but actually giving the Brown Bomber a very good, competitive fight. Farr was stopped five times but three of those losses were earlier in his 126-fight career and two when he was well past his best. The Louis fight was one of the ring's great exhibitions; it showed how to endure under fire and give some back against an all-time great puncher. As James P. Dawson reported in The New York Times: "Farr, though he was beaten last night, battered and bruised and pounded with staggering force at times, won glory in that he attained the unique distinction of surviving 15 rounds against the master puncher of the day."

9. Gene Fullmer

The "Mauling Mormon" was stopped only twice, the first time famously when Sugar Ray Robinson hit him with one of the greatest left hooks ever thrown in their middleweight championship rematch. In three other 15-round fights with Robinson, Fullmer took the best punches that the greatest fighter in history could deliver. He was stopped for the second time in his career when, cut and battered, his corner retired him after the seventh round against old rival Dick Tiger in Nigeria, but by that time Fullmer, 32, was at the end of his career.

In the third of his four-fight series with Robinson -- a 15-round draw -- The Associated Press reported that Sugar Ray "rattled numerous rights off the granite-like jaw and chin of Fullmer" and that it "seemed impossible for the 29-year-old champion from West Jordan, Utah, to survive the attack." Fullmer did survive, though, and defiantly told the press afterwards: "He never hurt me."

8. Carmen Basilio

[+] EnlargeCarmen Basilio
Frank Scherschel/Time Life Pictures/Getty ImagesCarmen Basilio, right, had the ability to walk through extremely hard shots.
The onion farmer from Syracuse, N.Y., was a tireless aggressor and wicked left-hooker noted for his ruggedness and big heart. His two stoppage defeats came at the end of his career against the bigger, stronger Fullmer, and the rematch was halted mainly because Basilio was badly cut, with the brave warrior furious at the referee for stopping the fight. Basilio withstood some tremendous blows from Tony DeMarco in their two welterweight championship wars. When he narrowly defeated Robinson in the first of their two epic fights The Associated Press reported that Basilio "shook off punches that would have knocked down a horse."

7. Jake LaMotta

Not many fighters, surely, could have withstood the punishment that Jake LaMotta absorbed from Sugar Ray Robinson in their 1951 title fight without going down. Although the Bronx Bull took a terrible beating he was on his feet, bloodied but defiant, at the finish. (In the movie "Raging Bull," Robert DeNiro, as LaMotta, says with hoarse-voiced satisfaction at the end of the fight: "Ray, you couldn't knock me down." It was the sort of comment the real-life LaMotta might have made.) In more than 100 bouts against the best of his era, nobody barred, LaMotta was stopped just four times -- by Robinson, the notorious fixed fight against Billy Fox, and twice as a light heavyweight when he was largely a spent force -- but he was never counted out.

6. Kid Gavilan

[+] EnlargeKid Gavilan
Allan Grant/Time Life Pictures/Getty ImagesIn 143 fights, Kid Gavilan, left, was never stopped.
The Cuban Hawk was never stopped in 143 fights -- although he suffered a couple of knockdowns, one coming in his welterweight title fight with Basilio when he was nailed by a left hook that might have knocked out most 147-pounders. Gavilan is the fourth boxer on the list to have fought Robinson. When Gavilan gave Sugar Ray an excellent fight for the welterweight title, James P. Dawson reported in The New York Times that "the Cuban has more endurance, determination and fearlessness than any other in Robinson's limited field of challengers."

5. Carlos Monzon

Argentina's Carlos Monzon lost three fights out of 100, all on points, and although knocked down by the fine Colombian middleweight Rodrigo Valdes, he got up to win and retired afterwards as unbeaten and the undisputed 160-pound champion. I was lucky enough to have been able to cover several of Monzon's European fights from ringside, including his 1975 title defense against Gratien Tonna in Paris when the rather crude but muscular French boxer landed a tremendous left hook early in the fight -- and Monzon never went anywhere. After this, the will to fight seemed to drain from Tonna, who essentially surrendered in the fifth.

4. George Chuvalo

[+] EnlargeGeorge Chuvalo
AP Photo/Dave PickoffGeorge Chuvalo, left, took shots from some of the hardest hitting heavyweights in boxing history -- including George Foreman, right -- and never went down.
No list of best chins could be complete, in my view, without mention of Canadian heavyweight ironman George Chuvalo, who twice went the distance with Muhammad Ali and was never dropped in 93 fights. (When Chuvalo was stopped by Joe Frazier he suffered a fractured cheekbone, and he remained on his feet while being overwhelmed by George Foreman.) Chuvalo outlasted the very hard-hitting Jerry Quarry in a seven-round war.

In an interview for Boxing Monthly in 1998, Chuvalo told me that although known mostly for being able to absorb punches, he felt he could box a bit, too. "If I got hit with one-tenth of the punches that I was reputed to have been hit with, I wouldn't be able to talk to you," he said. "I'd always say: 'On the right night, I'd beat anybody.' Maybe if they had 100-round fights I would have."

3. Rocky Marciano

Rocky Marciano's ability to take punishment and keep coming is the stuff of legend. He was dropped twice in his 49 fights (all of which were victories), coming back to knock out wonderful sharpshooters Jersey Joe Walcott and Archie Moore. Although the great Ezzard Charles bloodied Marciano in each of their two fights he could not stop the Rock's relentless advances. Marciano simply seemed unstoppable in these fights. As observed by writer Ed Fitzgerald in the January 1953 edition of Sport magazine: "You can, as with an enraged grizzly bear, slow him down and make him shake his head if you hit him hard enough to wound him, but you can't make him back up."

2. Harry Greb

The old "Human Windmill" was as tough as they come. In 240 bouts he was stopped only twice, once when he was outweighed, then when he suffered a broken arm. Those losses came in the first two years of his 13-year career. A great middleweight champion, he fought the best of his era including top-caliber light heavyweights, notably Gene Tunney (later to become heavyweight champion) and Tommy Loughran.

Astonishingly, Greb fought the last several years of his career while blind in the right eye, the general consensus being that he had been thumbed in the eye in a 1921 contest.

1. Marvelous Marvin Hagler

[+] EnlargeMarvin Hagler
AP PhotoOnly Juan Roldan, right, could take Marvin Hagler off his feet -- and it was more of a slip than a knockdown.
In a list of really, really tough guys, Hagler has to be right up there. He was only dropped once, and that was an off-balance flooring against Argentina's rough and rugged Juan Domingo Roldan, whom he otherwise outclassed. Hagler stood up to the best punches of John Mugabi, one of the biggest hitters of the 1980s.

What puts Hagler at the top of the list, in my view, is the way he took some tremendous punches from Thomas Hearns in their epic three-round war. I doubt very many middleweights could have weathered the Hearns firestorm that night, but Hagler did, and he came back with an even more withering barrage of his own. What a chin -- what a fighter.

Graham Houston is the American editor of Boxing Monthly and writes for FightWriter.com.

Graham Houston is the American editor of Boxing Monthly and writes for FightWriter.com.

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