The Best Welterweight Punchers Ever

Henry Armstrong

Career Wins: 151
Career Knockouts: 101
Kayo Percentage: 67%

Armstrong is primarily remembered as the only fighter in history to hold world titles in three weight classes simultaneously. He's also recalled generally as the second-best welterweight ever, right behind Robinson. Where is he underrated? As a puncher.

It might be because Armstrong was kind of a pressure fighter; the kind of guy who gets close and hammers away until the final bell rings. But look again at the number of knockouts he scored. You don't score knockouts in the triple digits if you can't punch. And if pressure was all Armstrong had going for him, he wouldn't have lasted long; swarmers never do, it takes too much out of them to fight that way. Armstrong lasted 14 years.

As the world welterweight champion, Armstrong defended a division-record 19 times, 16 by knockout. In 1937 he won 27 straight fights, 26 by kayo. On the average, his knockouts during that streak came in the fourth round. The following year he won 14 more, 10 by kayo. Even in 1944, when he was over the hill and a year from retiring, Armstrong had enough left to stop 10 of 19 opponents in an average of four rounds. "Hammerin' Hank" could punch.

Pipino Cuevas
Career Wins: 35
Career Knockouts: 31
Kayo Percentage: 88%

It's hard to convey today how dominant and scary a champion Cuevas was. That Thomas Hearns crushed him so easily undermines to an unfair degree his position among the great punchers at welterweight. Before Hearns, Cuevas' left hook was maybe the most feared punch in boxing when the game was teeming with great punchers.

Cuevas didn't just knock guys out, he brutalized them. He broke bones and sliced flesh with just a couple of punches. Guys came out of a four-round fight with Cuevas looking like they'd gone 15 rounds with a rabid wolverine. Why do you think Sugar Ray Leonard went after Wilfred Benitez instead of Cuevas?

Cuevas was no fighting genius and could be outboxed. But before running into Hearns, he defended the WBA title 11 times, 10 by knockout, with only the tough and clever Randy Shields lasting the distance. Angel Espada lasted into the 11th and got a broken jaw for his trouble. Harold Weston went out in nine, also with a busted jaw. In less than a round, former champion Billy Backus got his eye socket fractured. Cuevas probably doesn't qualify as a great fighter. But a great puncher? Absolutely.

Oscar De La Hoya
Career Wins: 38
Career Knockouts: 30
Kayo Percentage: 78%

This will raise some eyebrows, but hear us out: De La Hoya campaigned at 147 from April 1997, when he decisioned Pernell Whitaker to win the WBC title, to June 2001 when he won a junior middleweight belt against Francisco Castillejo.

During that period De La Hoya went 10-2 with seven knockouts, losing only to Felix Trindiad (in a terrible decision) and Shane Mosley. He stopped David Kamau, Wilfredo Rivera, Patrick Charpentier, and a faded and outsized Julio Cesar Chavez. Not overly impressive, right? He also stopped Oba Carr (who had only been stopped up to that point by Trinidad), Derrell Coley (Coley's only knockout loss in a 43-bout career) and Arturo Gatti (at that point the second stoppage loss of Gatti's career).

The guys who went the distance with the welterweight De La Hoya? Whitaker, a Hall of Famer, Hector Camacho, who also survived 12 with Trinidad, and Ike Quartey, who fought De La Hoya close but was floored twice and was fortunate to finish the fight on his feet. You can hate De La Hoya if you want, but he was one of the harder-hitting welterweights ever and his record proves it.

Thomas Hearns
Career Wins: 61
Career Knockouts: 48
Kayo Percentage: 79%

You can throw out the spectacular, second-round blowout of Cuevas in Detroit in 1980, which ranks probably as the most memorable of Hearns' career. After all, Cuevas was stopped six times by the time he retired. Here's the thing: only one of those knockout losses occurred before the Hearns fight. The rest came after Hearns ruined him to win the WBA welterweight title.

That Hearns developed into one of his era's most feared punchers was a surprise to those who knew him as an amateur, where he'd been strictly a hit-and-run boxer. When he turned pro Emanuel Steward taught him to use his monstrous height and reach to get leverage and before long his right hands were turning good, hardened welterweights such as Angel Espada, Harold Weston and Bruce Curry into jelly. He stopped his first 17 opponents and 27 of his first 29.

Hearns ability to knock opponents cold suffered as he rose in weight, but he still managed terrifying knockouts of Roberto Duran (the only true knockout loss of Duran's career) and James Shuler. If Hearns could have landed one or two more good right hands, Marvelous Marvin Hagler might have made the list too.

Ray Leonard
Career Wins: 36
Career Knockouts: 25
Kayo Percentage: 69%

Like Sugar Ray Robinson, Leonard is recalled as more boxer than puncher, and clearly his kayo percentage is among the lowest of this group. But when Leonard wanted to punch, he could. Who can forget his frightening one-punch starching of Davey "Boy" Green in 1980? Or his first-round blitz of Andy Price in 1979 -- the same Andy Price who a few years earlier had beaten Pipino Cuevas? The welterweight Leonard was a knockout artist when he wanted to be and a safety-first boxer when he thought it wise.

Leonard has knockout wins over Hearns and Wilfred Benitez, two of the premier fighters of his generation (for the purposes of this discussion you really can't count the win over Duran in their rematch as a knockout). You could argue that both of those fights were stopped early but you'd be in the minority. He also stopped Pete Ranzany, Ayub Kalule and Tony Chiaverini, tough fighters each (not to mention Floyd Mayweather Sr., whom he stopped in nine rounds in 1978). Leonard wasn't the hardest-hitting welterweight ever. He's not close. But when he wanted to, he could crack.

Jose Napoles
Career Wins: 77
Career Knockouts: 54
Kayo Percentage: 71%

Napoles' nickname was "Mantequilla" (it was said that his style was as smooth as butter) and he was an exceptionally good boxer. He also could punch like all hell and those two qualities made him probably the best welterweight champion since Ray Robinson.

Napoles didn't look like much of a hitter early on: he scored just five knockouts in his first 15 pro fights. But by the time he had five full years under his belt, he'd developed into a legitimate knockout artist. He stopped 13 opponents in a row between 1963 and '65. When the excellent Eddie Perkins broke that streak by lasting 10 rounds, Napoles went on another tear, stopping 12 of his next 13, including champion Curtis Cokes. As the world welterweight champion, he made 15 defenses over a couple of reigns, winning seven by knockout.

It was Napoles' misfortune that the middleweight champion at the time was the great Carlos Monzon, who battered and stopped him in their meeting in 1974 in Paris. Napoles wasn't the puncher Hearns was or Robinson or maybe even Cuevas. But from head to toe he could have stayed with any welterweight in history.

Sugar Ray Robinson
Career Wins: 175
Career Knockouts: 109
Kayo Percentage: 62%

We've come to recall Robinson as rather a Fancy Dan, a quick-fisted mover who outboxed guys more than he flattened them. The nickname has something to do with it: "Sugar" doesn't evoke images of a puncher. Also, some of his better-remembered struggles came against Jake LaMotta, Gene Fullmer and Carmen Basilio, a trio of legendary tough guys who between them were stopped just eight times in 249 fights (Robinson scored two of those knockouts). The truth is Robinson was a debilitating puncher.

The list of the better guys Robinson stopped reads like a Hall of Fame roster: Fritzie Zivic, Bobo Olson, LaMotta, Rocky Graziano, Fullmer, Randy Turpin. That most of those knockouts came at 160 rather than 147 proves the appropriateness of his placement; he never had more than a welterweight's frame and frequently was out-sized by the middleweights he was stopping.

As a welterweight Robinson was no less impressive, winning 27 of his first 38 fights by knockout, at one point stopping nine in a row. Against the very best 147-pounders -- Kid Gavilan, Tommy Bell, Sammy Angott -- he settled for clear decision wins. Against everyone else he was a knockout threat to the final bell.

With Trinidad, you only had to ask if he could land the left hook. If he could, he would win. If he could not, he would lose. That's all that mattered.

Felix Trinidad
Career Wins: 42
Career Knockouts: 35
Kayo Percentage: 83%

With Trinidad, you only had to ask if he could land the left hook. If he could, he would win. If he could not, he would lose. That's all that mattered. As a welterweight, "Tito" landed a lot of left hooks. If you don't believe us ask Maurice Blocker, whom Trinidad crushed in 1993 to win the IBF welterweight title. Over the next six years he defended the belt 15 times, 12 by knockout, with only Hector Camacho, Pernell Whitaker and De La Hoya, three future Hall of Famers, lasting the distance.

From the time he beat Blocker until De La Hoya seemingly outboxed him only to lose a controversial decision, there wasn't a more dominant or feared punch in the business than Trinidad's cannon of a left hook.

Like most of the fighters on this list, Trinidad carried his power as he moved up in weight. He ruined junior middleweight titlists David Reid and Fernando Vargas, and demolished respected middleweight belt holder William Joppy. By virtue of the power in his left hook alone, he will be recalled among the great Puerto Rican fighters and the great welterweights.

Barbados Joe Walcott
Career Wins: 81
Career Knockouts: 48
Kayo Percentage: 59%

There have been some guys in history who didn't compile great knockout streaks or kayo percentages because they spent their entire careers outside their weight class fighting bigger, stronger, heavier men. Walcott (not to be confused with Jersey Joe Walcott, whose given name was Arnold Cream and who took Walcott's name out of admiration) is one of those fighters.

Walcott's longest knockout streak was just eight fights that took place between February and June of 1899 (he also stopped eight of nine opponents in 1894). But he spent 11 hard years knocking out middleweights, light heavyweights and heavyweights, even though he never weighed more than 150 pounds. He won the world welterweight title in 1901 by stopping the legendary Jim "Rube" Ferns in five rounds and held it on and off until 1904. How good was he? In 1900 in New York he stopped Joe Choynski in seven rounds. In 1897, Choynksi had fought to a draw with future world heavyweight champion Jim Jeffries.

Mickey Walker
Career Wins: 163
Career Knockouts: 61
Kayo Percentage: 37%

"The Irish Bulldog" is best remembered as a middleweight, but he had a long career at 147 already before he made the jump to 160. Walker wasn't really a one-punch kind of guy; you can see that from his kayo percentage. But it is misleading: he fought bigger, heavier guys throughout his career, including heavyweights. He'd be recalled as a much better puncher if he'd stuck to guys at or around his weight. How many knockouts do you think Thomas Hearns would have had if he were fighting light heavyweights and heavyweights every other month?

Walker could punch. Against the very best at 147 -- Jack Britton, Pete Latzo, Lew Tendler, for example - he had to settle for decision wins. But he stopped a lot of good fighters, too: Bobby Barrett, Artie Bird, Wildcat Nelson. And hey, the guy drew with Jack Sharkey when Sharkey was a top heavyweight contender and outweighed Walker by at least 30 pounds. You can't do that if you can't punch.