But fans knew all along that the best fighters in the world, pound-for-pound, were the littler guys. There wasn't as much formal consensus or attention on it as there is now, but real fight fans knew.
No heavyweight champion - not Dempsey, not Louis or Marciano or Frazier or Ali or Foreman or Tyson - was considered by anyone to be the best fighter in the business pound-for-pound during his reign, because he wasn't. In any era you can name, there was a smaller guy who was better. Faster, smarter, more skilled, you name it.
When in its January 1990 issue The Ring magazine for the first time published its ranking of the best fighters in the world pound-for-pound, it introduced to fight aficionados a whole new realm in which to debate fighters' merits. But fans knew all along that the best fighters in the world, pound-for-pound, were the littler guys. There wasn't as much formal consensus or attention on it as there is now, but real fight fans knew.
While Ali was grabbing all the headlines in the 1960s, it was two smaller guys, Carlos Ortiz and Eder Jofre, who jockeyed for unofficial status as the pound-for-pound best. Ortiz, a marvelous boxer-puncher and brilliant combination hitter, won the world lightweight and junior welterweight titles and defended the lightweight belt nine times over two reigns, including seven title fight wins over future Hall of Famers.
Jofre won his first 53 fights and ruled the bantamweight division from '61 to '65, retired in '67, came back as a featherweight in '69, won the title at that weight and ultimately lost just two of 78 career fights. You can throw into the mix too Pascual Perez, the dynamite punching Argentine who reigned as the flyweight world champ for better than five years.
It got no better in a pound-for-pound sense for Ali in the '70s, even as he grew into the sport's biggest star. Long-reigning lightweight champion Roberto Duran was viewed by many as the best in the sport regardless of size, and he had the record to prove it. He ruled the lightweight division for six solid years and went - get this - 53-1 in the decade.
As great as Duran was, some recognized middleweight champion Carlos Monzon as the sport's best, pound-for-pound. Not as flashy as Duran or as exciting, Monzon nonetheless rode a 56-fight, six-year undefeated streak into the decade, went 26-0 between '70 and '77, made 14 title defenses, and hadn't lost a fight since '64. Ali couldn't touch that.
Dempsey had it even worse than did Ali. Not only did he have Leonard establishing himself as perhaps the greatest lightweight ever, he also had Harry Greb raising hell at middleweight. Greb held the title for three years and tore through the best middleweights and light heavyweights of the era. Many rate him among the three or four best 160-pounders ever.