Top 5 boxers of all time from New England

Top 5 boxers of all time from New England

When Demetrius Andrade steps into the ring against David Benavidez in Las Vegas on Saturday night, he will do so as a rare breed – a pay-per-view headliner from New England. The six states in the northeastern USA – Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Andrade’s native Rhode Island – are today generally more associated with maple syrup, snow, and the Kennedy family than professional pugilism.. But they have yielded a surprising number of quality champions and contenders over the decades, primarily from Massachusetts and Connecticut, the region’s most populous states. Here are the best of the best:


5. John L. Sullivan


The “Boston Strong Boy” was the first heavyweight champion of the Marquess of Queensberry era, having been the last champion of the bare-knuckle era. The Philo Beddoe of his time, he would travel from town to town seeking challengers. His 1889 bout with Jake Kilrane was the last heavyweight bout of the bare knuckle championship era, and ended when he scored a stoppage win in the 75th round. Sullivan lost his title to James Corbett in 1892 - his only recorded defeat - and promptly retired.


4. Sam Langford


Perhaps the greatest boxer never to win a world title, Langford was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia but became indelibly associated with the New England region after moving there to escape an abusive father and pursue his fighting career. His association with New England’s largest city is evidenced by his nicknames: the Boston Terror, the Boston Bonecrusher and, distastefully, the Boston Tar Baby. He fought from lightweight all the way to heavyweight; denied the opportunity for world title glory largely for the sin of being black, he instead fought fellow African-American contenders multiple times. He faced Battling Jim Johnson on 12 occasions, Joe Jeannette on 14, and Sam McVea on 15. At the very end of his career, he even fought while technically blind. Jack Dempsey called him “the greatest fighter we ever had.”


3. Rocky Marciano


The “Brockton Blockbuster” is one of the most famous and celebrated heavyweight champions of all time, renowned for retiring undefeated with a record of 49-0. He won the heavyweight title against Jersey Joe Walcott, and defended it against Walcott, Roland LaStarza, Ezzard Charles (twice), Don Cockell, and Archie Moore before hanging up the gloves. Famed for his resilience, he recovered from early knockdowns to defeat Walcott and Moore and gutted out victory over Charles despite suffering a gash that split his nose. Marciano died in a plane crash in 1969, one day before his 46th birthday.


2. Marvin Hagler


Despite hailing from New Jersey, Hagler is, like Marciano, strongly associated with Brockton, Massachusetts, where he fought his entire professional career. Forced to earn his shot at the middleweight title the hard way, grinding to victories against some of the best fighters in the northeast and being forced to settle for a draw when challenging Vito Antuofermo for the title even though he was widely considered to have deserved the decision. When he finally lifted the crown via third-round stoppage of Alan Minter in 1980, he was forced to retreat immediately from the ring under a shower of beer bottles hurled by the English crowd. Defeated the likes of Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns before being controversially outpointed by Ray Leonard in 1987, after which he walked away from boxing and moved to Italy, where he became a movie star.


1. Willie Pep


Born in Middletown, Connecticut in 1922, the “Will o’ the Wisp” was not just a featherweight champion but may have been the greatest exponent of defensive boxing ever seen. His remarkable career record of 229-11-1 only begins to tell his story; he began his career 63-0 and he was 109-1-1 – going 16-0 in 1944 alone - when he somehow survived a plane crash that killed the co-pilot and two other passengers. Resuming his career just six months later, in July 1947, he went 120-10 in the back half of his career. He won the featherweight title from 1942 to 1948, until losing to Sandy saddler; he regained it in a rematch before losing it back in a third fight. He retired in 1959 before returning for one fight in 1965 and retiring again.

Honorable Mentions: Sandy Saddler, Tony DeMarco, Paul Pender, Vinny Pazienza, Micky Ward, Marlon Starling, Chad Dawson