Who were the best African American boxers in the last 20 years?
1. Roy Jones Jr. – 54 (40) – 5 *Still active– The only man that the number 2 fighter on this list will admit having lost to is the guy ahead of him, Roy Jones Jr. He didn’t legitimately lose a fight for his first 50 contests, excluding a silly DQ loss that was sandwiched between years of absolute domination in which he hardly lost rounds, let alone fights. Early wins over Bernard Hopkins and James Toney in his prime at super middleweight were followed with years of light heavyweight ascendancy and a title winning effort against John Ruiz at heavyweight. While the light of Hopkins shines brighter today, Jones gets the number 1 spot on the list for a decade of sheer magnificence during which he was truly unbeatable, and the head-to-head victory.
2. Bernard Hopkins – 49 (32) – 5 – 1 *Still active– The Executioner is still fighting on, over 20 years removed from his first professional fight, now at the age of 44. He holds the middleweight record for title defenses with 20, and eventually held all four of the major sanctioning body belts. At middleweight he piled up wins over the likes of Felix Trinidad, Glen Johnson, William Joppy and Oscar De La Hoya. He moved to light heavyweight late in his career and added to his resume with wins over Kelly Pavlik, Winky Wright and Antonio Tarver.
3. Pernell Whitaker – 40 (17) – 4 – 1 – Jumping into his career in 1989, we get a look at Sweat Pea while he was coming into his own as a dominant lightweight champion. After winning a strap from Greg Haugen, he avenged a controversial loss against Jose Luis Ramirez and defended his belt eight times, unifying it along the way. After a brief stop at junior welterweight to win a title, Whitaker won a welterweight title against Buddy McGirt and subsequently got robbed of a win against Julio Cesar Chavez. He would defend his welterweight crown seven times, winning a junior middleweight title for good measure, before losing to Oscar de La Hoya in 1997. A defensive master if there ever was one, Whitaker could make anybody miss.
4. Floyd Mayweather Jr. – 39 (25) – 0 *Still active – A titleholder in five weight classes, Mayweather started his career as a dominant super featherweight before eventually moving all the way up to junior middleweight to challenge Oscar De La Hoya. Winning his first title by stopping Genaro Hernandez, he defended it eight times, including a dominant victory over the then undefeated Diego Corrales. He also has wins against Jose Luis Castillo, Ricky Hatton, Zab Judah, Carlos Hernandez and Jesus Chavez to his credit. Finishing his credit with wins over the likes of the winner of the Manny Pacquiao vs. Miguel Cotto contest could vault him into the third position on the list of the top 10 African American fighters of the last 20 years.
5. Evander Holyfield – 42 (27) – 10 – 2 – His stellar work at cruiserweight took place more than 20 years ago, but Holyfield still is near the top of this list of the best African American fighters of the last two decades. Severely undersized at heavyweight, Holyfield was able to topple many of the giants in the division. He won the world title from Buster Douglas, then engaged in an epic trilogy with Riddick Bowe before his long awaited matches with Mike Tyson. He dominated Tyson in their encounters, then avenged an earlier loss by stopped Michael Moorer. He was overmatched against a prime Llenox Lewis in 1999, but was already 36 years old. What makes that number less shocking is that he continued to challenge for the heavyweight title 10 years later, at the age of 46!
6. James Toney – 71 (43) – 6 – 3 *Still active – When stories of James Toney ballooning to 200 pounds in between his super middleweight fights were rampant, nobody could have imagined his future campaigns as a rotund heavyweight contender. In his middleweight and super middleweight days he held wins over the likes of Michael Nunn, Mike McCallum and Iran Barkley before losing to a fellow great in his prime, Roy Jones Jr. While struggling with weight and motivation, he eventually rebounded as a fierce cruiserweight champion. He then continued his eating-fueled ascension to the heavyweight ranks, where he was always close to winning a title but could never quite close the deal- thanks to a failed drug test after a title winning effort against John Ruiz.
7. Shane Mosley – 46 (39) – 5 *Still active – Most people remember Shane Mosley best for his two wins over Oscar De La Hoya. However, his days as a lightweight champion were inarguably his best, when he blended an unheard of combination of speed and power into an overwhelming offensive attack. After losing four fights in a six fight period, two each to Winky Wright and Vernon Forrest, Mosley came back onto the scene and recently knocked out welterweight champion Antonio Margarito.
8. Mike Tyson – 50 (44) – 6 – Iron Mike was also the most feared man on the planet when he rose to the heavyweight championship in the late 1980s. He had nine successful title defenses, seven of which were knockouts in seven rounds or less. Then came the shocking upset in Japan against Buster Douglas, a few comeback bouts and four years of his career lost to a prison sentence. He recaptured a heavyweight crown only to lose it to Evander Holyfield and having a string of unsuccessful comebacks.
9. Winky Wright – 51 (25) – 5 – 1 *Still active – Ronald “Winky” Wright toiled away in Europe for much of his early career, a virtual unknown fighter because no big names would risk a bout with him, until Shane Mosley made the mistake of doing just that. After a long stretch of junior middleweight title defenses, Wright beat Mosley twice, then moved up to middleweight and pitched a shutout against Felix Trinidad. He nearly became the undisputed middleweight champion when he fought to a draw against Jermain Taylor. Since then he has lost two fights in a row, to Bernard Hopkins and Paul Williams.
10. Vernon Forrest – 41 (29) – 3 – The Viper never got a chance to leave as much of a mark as he would have liked, losing years of his career to shoulder injuries before ultimately being murdered after an attempted robbery in the summer of 2009. The onetime welterweight champion will always be remembered for his two wins over Shane Mosley. In his comeback bid, he won a junior middleweight crown.