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Top Heavyweights from the 1930s

A Look at the Best Boxing Heavyweights from One of its Early Exciting Periods

In many ways, the 1930s were the first truly entertaining years in heavyweight boxing. The early decades of heavyweight boxing were characterized by champions who did most of their fighting earning the title shot, only to defend the title infrequently and focus on what would be called promotional deals today to make money. Gene Tunney wasn’t like that, but it wasn’t until he left the scene that a picture of a champion with multiple contenders truly emerged. The 1930s were also the decade of the Brown Bomber, Joe Louis, and it is only fitting any list of 1930s greats begin with him.

1. Joe Louis
On almost all lists of the greatest heavyweights of all time, Louis is either #1 or #2. The idea of the Brown Bomber not heading the list in his own era is ridiculous. He beat all four of the other guys on this list just to capture the title, and then went on to fight and defeat every heavyweight or light heavyweight worth mentioning until America’s entry into the Second World War. On top of those achievements, Louis the first African-American icon with true national appeal. As a boxer, his shuffling footwork has earned criticism and was a real weakness, but this must be contrasted with his heavy hands and standing as arguably the deadliest finisher ever to play the game.

2. Max Baer
Even today, Baer is the greatest clown in heavyweight history, and certainly one of its greatest underachievers. A fearsome physical specimen molded by Jack Dempsey, Baer was a truly deadly puncher, having killed one man in the ring and contributed to the death of a second. I think it is truly debatable if Joe Louis could have beaten a focused, determined Max Baer, but the problem is that there was never any such creature. Baer looked at himself as an entertainer first and foremost, and his attitude towards being heavyweight champion – as an entryway into promotional deals and cinema roles – was very much in keeping with an era only recently departed. Even so, he carved a path of destruction through the heavyweight ranks on his way to the title, beating two of the men on this list, indicating what Baer could do when he really wanted to.

3. Max Schmeling
“The Black Uhlan” was a devoted craftsman of the game, and perhaps the original European heavyweight to emphasize the stand-up, technical approach to boxing that so characterizes the European school today. He should own a 2-0 record over Jack Sharkey and stand as a former world champion, except their first encounter was such an utter example of corruption that it prompted the original uttering of the words “we wuz robbed!” Schmeling gave Baer a stern test, found a way to beat Joe Louis when no one else could, and beat a number of other major contenders, such as Paulino Uzcudun and Young Stribling.

4. Primo Carnera

The “Ambling Alp” gets a bum rap from most commentators. Yes, the mafia undoubtedly fixed Carnera’s fight with light heavyweight legend Tommy Loughran, but so many of his other victories were clearly not influenced by bribery. His win over Jack Sharkey was simply a matter of the big guy overpowering the small guy, and his victory over Paulino Uzcudun was as clean as they come. Carnera’s problem was that while he could fight, he couldn’t box. Imagine Nikolai Valuev, only a little faster and with a lot more heart.

5. Arturo Godoy

Godoy is the Chilean heavyweight who some think defeated the great Joe Louis in 1940, and by modern standards he certainly earned either a Majority Draw or a narrow Split Decision. He also beat Tony Galento twice and held a 1-1-1 record with Tommy Loughran, a light heavyweight grandmaster who invented many of the techniques of modern boxing. Billy Conn came closer to beating the prime Louis than Godoy, but Conn was a light heavyweight and out-boxed the legend. Godoy was a proper heavyweight, and from his deep crouch and hard-punching, no fear boxing style, came close to duking it out with the Brown Bomber on the champion’s own terms.

Honorable Mention: James Braddock; Tony Galento; Jack Sharkey

Plus some light heavyweights who gave the bigger guys some serious trouble:
Tommy Loughran, Billy Conn, John Henry Lewis