Any fighter can throw a left hook when the blood gets pumping. The ferocity of the contest demands as much, but it’s the brutality and impact of the hits that separates the good fighters from the devastating ones. Right here we won’t be looking at the sharpest athletes to have entered the boxing or UFC rings, we will take time to admire the guys who deliver blunt force trauma every time they lace a glove or throw a fist. The ones that can punch someone so hard, their ancestors will feel it.
The hardest punchers in these sports are revered in the locker room, even if they don’t cash the biggest checks or fly private jets to red carpet events. Money Mayweather can fling around all the bling in the world he wants, the fact is these 15 fighters have promoters scrambling to find matchups and leave potential opponents hiding behind the sofa.
The hardest punchers leave a legacy well after they’ve put the cue in the rack. Muhammad Ali is the greatest name in boxing history, but it’s the poundings he took from the heavy fists that earns genuine respect. In his junior days he could dance around the ring - Fly like a butterfly, sting like a bee! Rumble young man rumble! Fast-forward to his encounter with George Foreman and Cassius Clay had to endure raw pain on the ropes, suffering bomb after bomb of pure power.
Heavy punchers make or break fighters. When you enter the ring there is no escape and those that can stomach the hits are idolized into fighting folklore. Here are the men who literally left an imprint on their industry – the top 15 hardest punchers in sports history.
15 Anthony Johnson
The UFC value this guy’s fists. So much so Anthony Johnson was listed as UFC 191’s top earner with a sweet $280,000 including a $50,000 bonus. The 205 pound 31-year-old mixed martial artist is one of the serious players the light heavyweight division, losing just once in the last three years. Charges on domestic violence and abusing women in gyms has tarnished Johnson’s image in recent months with many fans rightfully venting their fury at the UFC for allowing him to earn big money, but his status as one of the biggest punchers in combat sports is undeniable.
14 Ron Lyle
Ron Lyle helped put power punching on the map, no doubt about it. The Apollo Creed lookalike never took a backward step in his career, especially in his prime during the 1970s. Boxing experts believe he could have gone on to be anything had he not fought the likes of Muhammad Ali, enduring a devastating 11th round stoppage to the great man in Las Vegas. He was a tremendous physical specimen before sports science was even a concept, capable of doing 1,000 press-ups in an hour. Standing 6-foot-3 at 210 pounds, Lyle earned his fights with Foreman and Ali through sheer force and prowess. He retired in 1980 at 39 with a record of 43 wins, 7 losses and 1 draw.
13 Tommy Hearns
What is there to say about Tommy “The Hitman” Hearns? According to the experienced observers of the sweet science Hearns didn’t fight fights, he fought wars. To demonstrate how freakish a talent the “Motor City Cobra” was, he became the first fighter in history to win world titles across four separate divisions, winning a total of eight titles from six divisions by the time he put up the gloves. Going on a string of 17 consecutive wins by way of knockout, only a defeat to Sugar Ray Leonard in 1981 stopped him from achieving absolute greatness. Since finishing in 2000 Hearns hasn’t lost his competitive spirit, calling out Floyd Mayweather to fight better opponents to earn respect in the industry.
12 Mark Hunt
New Zealand is a gorgeous family holiday destination blessed with luscious green landscapes and welcoming people, just don’t get caught on the wrong side of South Auckland. Emerging from the backstreets of these neighborhoods are brawlers like Mark Hunt, a 41-year-old mixed martial artist who strolls into UFC octagons and knocks out some of the toughest men with a single blow. The “Super Samoan” heavyweight lives by his own code, walking out of the arena when he knocks his opponents down because he doesn’t believe in hitting a man who is in a vulnerable position.
11 Joe Louis
A boxing sensation of the 1930s and 1940s, Joe Louis is widely considered to be one of the greatest heavyweight fighters of all time. The boy from LaFayette, Alabama reached incredible heights given his modest size at 6-foot-2. Going by the alias “The Brown Bomber,” Louis would avenge his loss to Max Schmeling in the first ever contest dubbed “Fight of the Century.” A final loss to Rocky Marciano in 1951 could not overshadow Louis’ stellar reputation putting legends on the canvas, a fete no one else could manage in his generation.
10 Wladimir Klitschko
It has taken a while for the Ukrainian heavyweight to get the accolades and recognition he deserves. Vitali’s little brother Wladimir is a bruising fighter who towers above most opponents (6-foot-6) in the ring before knocking them out 79% of the time. He earned the nickname “Dr. Steelhammer” from a record as imposing as his size. With 53 Kos from 64 wins and just three losses, he tells the tale of a man who has usurped his sport when he ventured into the hotbed of Ukrainian politics. At 39 years of age, his bought against Tyson Fury this October may be his last, but the controversial and sometimes maligned fighter will go down as one of the heavy hitters known to boxing.
9 Gennady Golovkin
Golovkin is probably the hottest property in boxing right now and a worthy entrant to the hardest punchers in sports list. The Kazakh superstar goes by the acronym “GGG” and was pushed to the 11th round by Martin Murray this year. Speaking to the press, Murray explained that the fighter’s unpredictability could only be matched by the ferocity of the punches. “He hits hard,” said Murray, “The hardest I’ve ever been hit. I was…mentally preparing myself for torture which it was to be fair.” Although Floyd “Money” Mayweather finally stood up to Manny Pacquiao, it seems he may retire at just the right time because we wouldn’t fancy his chances against this middleweight whirlwind.
8 Sonny Liston
Liston rose from the ashes to put his name in lights. Arrested more than 20 times in his life, Sonny Liston was rescued through boxing which he discovered in prison as a mechanism to cope mentally and physically. If only the boxing world could prepare themselves for the animal that unleashed.
Liston’s reputation as a menacing brawler developed from 26 consecutive knockout wins including Floyd Patterson – the first heavyweight champion to go down in the first round. Of his 50 career wins, 39 by way of knockout, he is best remembered for two losses to Cassius Clay in 1964 and 1965 respectively before dying of suspicious circumstances in 1970.
7 Roy Nelson
Roy “Big Country” Nelson is a viral sensation in the UFC. The Las Vegas, Nevada native stands out from the crowd with his outlandish beard and beer belly that belies the athletic prowess he possesses. The frightening look matches a fairly healthy record of 20 wins, 14 by way of knockout from 33 encounters. Nelson won season 10 of Spike TV’s The Ultimate Fighter by landing one punch on Brendan Schaub’s temple, stopping the fight just 3 minutes and 45 seconds into the first round!
6 Lennox Lewis
Retiring as the undisputed world heavyweight champion is an honor few boxers can attest to. The British-born fighter packed such a heavy punch he put a few other entrants on this list on their backsides. His size and reach (6-foot-5) regularly gave Lennox the advantage and in 1997 he reduced Oliver McCall to tears just three years after his shock loss. Boxing aficionados knew Lewis had a glass jaw with two knockout defeats, but his strength and accuracy of hitting opponents with that devastating right hand allowed Lewis to monopolize the heavyweight division for 10 years all on his own (1993-2003).
5 Mariusz Pudzianowski
A career winning strongman titles is a great platform to enter the world of the UFC. The Polish national’s enormous frame at 290 pounds enables the cold-blooded warrior to dominate the ring. Super Mariusz loves fighting at home, recording a 30-second KO win over Rolles Gracie during KSW 31 in Gdansk this May. Setting records in bench press, squats and deadlifts doesn’t make Pudzianowski a fighter, but a weapon to be avoided at all costs!
4 George Foreman
You know that bald guy who sells grills on the television? He happens to be a legend of the boxing profession spanning three decades and 81 fights. Foreman thrived in the ring and acted as one of the key protagonists in The Rumble in the Jungle of 1974 with Muhammad Ali. That fight showed the world what Foreman was about, releasing series after series of blows to Ali’s body. With a KO rate comparable to any fighter in history (83.9%), Big George was a force of nature.
3 Mike Tyson
Many believe Iron Mike is the pinnacle when it comes to hard punchers. He tore apart the rulebook required to be a boxer. Before he became the youngest heavyweight champion in the world at 20 years of age in 1986, the common consensus of the sport prioritized fighters who were well rounded, using quick feet and having the endurance to last the full rounds. Tyson bullied and frightened opponents into submission through sheer strength and aggression. His pit bull style antics proved to be his downfall outside of the ring, but a conversation about heavy punchers will never be complete without Tyson.
2 David Tua
If you’ve survived the first round of a bought with David Tua, you have already surpassed 16 other professional fighters. The Samoan powder keg is another man who understands the streets of South Auckland and that baptism of fire churned out one of the most destructive boxers the sport has seen. 43 KO wins in 59 fights, Tua belies his size (5-foot-10) by becoming a walking, talking highlights reel of hard hits. Going the distance has never been Tua’s objective, he simply knocks guys out with the world’s best left hook.
1 Earnie Shavers
For a sport as brutal as boxing, there is a lot of nuance and subjectivity about the hardest punchers. But no one has the courage to debate Earnie Shavers status as the best of them all. No one. Muhammad Ali spoke during a Q&A session with the press and identified Shavers as the hardest of the bunch. “He took all I had and he hit real hard.” This coming from a man who absorbed the biggest hits dished out in a boxing ring. While other fighters of his generation had a swagger and style, Shavers was pure heavy metal violence on a mission to hurt people. Fighters universally agree, Earnie Shavers is unequivocally the hardest puncher in sports history.