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SUGAR RAY WAS MASTER OF THE SWEET SCIENCE; Following his knockout 10 of the best heavyweights, MIKE LOCKLEY, former deputy editor of Boxing News, now gives us his punch perfect performers at middleweight...

Byline: MIKE LOCKLEY

Harry |Greb IT is the most glamorous boxing division of all - the middleweights: fighters with the power to provide dramatic knockouts but the athleticism to stage ring masterclasses.

At 11st 6lbs, it was long considered the "mean" weight of fighting men and, therefore, became the most competitive division.

Sporting stars have got bulkier - super-middle (12 stone) is now the most crowded weight division, but the legacy of the great middleweights, possibly the greatest fighters to step through the ropes, remains.

Here are my top 10 middleweights of all time - and there's NO place for Benn, Eubank or even Sugar Ray Leonard.

You may disagree, but remember one thing: as a former fighter, deputy editor of Boxing News and boxing writer for 40 years, I'm right.

SUGAR RAY ROBINSON.

1 No contest. And not only the best middleweight of all time, but also the greatest fighter, pound-for-pound, the world has ever seen.

Sugar Ray was as close to ring perfection as it gets. The original Sugar Ray, a five-time world champ, was so good that he and Jake LaMotta - another boxer avoided like the plague by contenders - were forced to mark time by fighting each other. They met six times, with LaMotta winning one.

In a career spanning 1940 to 1965 and incorporating 200 fights (173 wins among them), Robinson beat LaMotta, Randy Turpin, Bobo Olson, Gene Fullmer and Carmen Basilio for the world title.

Robinson was the complete package and we will never see a fighter like him again. What's more, he was even better at welterweight.

Muhammad Ali the greatest? Don't make me laugh.

2 CARLOS MONZON. A magnificent fighter, but a deeply flawed human being. The Argentinian began adult life as a gun-toting pimp, was violent to the women in his life, beat up the paparazzi and was jailed for killing his wife. He was also shot in the leg by one of the many abused women in his life. That's the kind of CV that makes Mike Tyson look like a Chuckle Brother. Monzon was born into abject poverty and violence, exploited violence and was, ultimately, destroyed by violence. He was never going to get a part in panto.

But in the ring Monzon, the greatest South American boxer there has ever been, was simply untouchable.

He revealed his talent - and white-hot temper - to the world in 1970, travelling to Rome to thrash Italian titleholder Nino Benvenuti.

At the weigh-in, Benvenuti openly questioned Monzon's sexuality and, playing to the gallery, touched his opponent's backside. Monzon, eyes blazing, turned to the champ and hissed: "Tonight, I kill you."

Only the ref prevented Monzon from fulfilling that promise. He stopped Benvenuti in the 12th, and pasted him in three rounds of a 1971 rematch.

In all, King Carlos defended his title 14 times, beating great fighters such as Rodrigo Valderz (twice), Emile Griffith, Bennie Briscoe and Jean-Claude Bouttier.

Monzon bowed out as an undefeated world champ with an exemplary record of 87 wins, three losses, nine draws and one no-contest.

He died in 1995, aged 52, in a car crash during a weekend's furlough from the 11-year sentence he was serving for killing his wife.

3 MARVIN HAGLER. Technically, the most gifted of all middleweight champions. Southpaw 'Marvelous' Marvin had it all: power in both hands, a good engine and granite chin.

Forget the loss to Sugar Ray Leonard, the judges got it wrong. He won the title by butchering our own Alan Minter in three rounds in 1980 and defended it 12 times. His threeround destruction of Thomas 'Hitman' Hearns was enough, in itself, to earn the mighty middleweight greatness.

Hagler bowed out in 1987, having lost only three of 67 fights (two draws).

HARRY GREB.

4 No-one put the roar into the Roaring Twenties like Greb, a man, quite simply, as tough as they come. Greb wasn't much for training, but when you fight two or three |times a week, fitness takes care of itself. The Pittsburgh Windmill was perpetual motion in the ring - and notoriously dirty. While losing his title to Tiger Flowers in 1926, the challenger, a church deacon, was moved to stop the action and implore: "Curse me as much as you like, Mr Greb, but do not take the Lord's name in vain."

Greb retained his crown against the great Mickey Walker in a 1926 foul-filled brawl. The two bumped into each other in a speakeasy after the contest and treated customers to another X-rated punch-up. Walker always reckoned he won the street fight.

Greb crammed 298 fights in a career spanning 1913 to 1926 and was the only man to beat future heavyweight champ Gene Tunney. His achievements are even more remarkable when you consider he fought most contests blind in one eye after being thumbed in the left optic by Kid Norfolk in 1921.

Greb died on the operating theatre in 1926, aged only 26, during a routine procedure to fix his flattened nose. That's cosmetic surgery for you.

5 STANLEY KETCHEL. I doubt boxing has seen such a malevolent, brooding presence as Ketchel, a man condemned to live and die violently. In fairness to the thunderous puncher, Ketchel was a product of America's dustbowl poverty. By the age of 12, he was a hobo, homeless and drifting from town to town by hiding in railway trucks. His flair for brutality was spotted in Montana when the 16-year-old was confronted by a hulking railway redneck, charged with bull-whipping tramps found cadging a free ride.

Ketchel nearly killed him, ripping the whip from his hand and bludgeoning him into a pulp. He was rewarded with the job of saloon bouncer and added to his income by engaging in backroom brawls.

He won the world title by knocking out Mike "Twin" Sullivan in one round in 1908, destroyed light-heavyweight champ Philadelphia Jack O'Brien a year later and beat arch-rival Billy Papke three out of four times.

Ketchel is best remembered for his 1909 meeting with heavyweight champ Jack Johnson. Both had agreed beforehand to play out a 20-round contest, with the towering Johnson taking a points decision, but not hurting his much smaller opponent.

But in the heat of battle, Ketchel forget the script and decked Johnson in the 12th.

Jack rose and immediately flattened his rival. Footage of the heavyweight standing over Ketchel while inspecting the front teeth embedded in his gloves still exist.

Ketchel was killed in Missouri on October 15, 1910, gunned down by a ranch-hand. He was only 24.

6 CHARLEY BURLEY. Burley is prevented from being top of this list by one thing - the colour of his skin.

So good, he was avoided by white contenders and, without the financial backing to clinch big money fights, even shunned by black champs.

The list of greats who avoided Burley like a plague victim include Billy Conn, Marcel Cerdan - and even Sugar Ray Robinson.

Burley, who crammed 98 fights from 1938 to 1950, was among a select group of fighters dubbed "Murderers' Row", black boxers so accomplished that they were denied title fights. Yet light-heavyweight legend Archie Moore, beaten by Burley in 1944, dubbed him "the greatest fighter ever".

Legendary trainer Eddie Futch referred to Burley as "the finest fighter I ever saw."

Burley had to make do with the World Coloured Welterweight and Middleweight titles. That is a disgrace - and a Hollywood blockbuster waiting to happen.

Freddie Steele. Not a 7 household name, but a brilliant fighter in a brilliant era - the 1930s.

Steele, from Tacoma, turned pro at 13 and took the title with a 1935 hammering of Vince Dundee. Never stopped before, Dundee was demolished in three rounds, hospitalised for a week and ordered not to box for three months. Steele also beat Gorilla Jones, Babe Risko, Gus Lesnevich, Ken Overlin and Fred Apostoli.

The Dundee fight is on Youtube. Watch it and see why Steele remains boxing's best kept secret. He won 123 of 140 bouts (11 of them draws).

8 BERNARD HOPKINS. Not always exciting, but effective. The Executioner's pomp as a middleweight has almost been forgotten as he piled on the pounds and fought in his 40s.

But Hopkins made a staggering 20 defences of various versions of the crown from 1995 to 2005 and beat some fine fighters including Felix Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya, William Joppy and Keith Holmes. Roy Jones Jnr, however, beat him in his prime. Hopkins got the job done, but could be boring.

9 TIGER FLOWERS. The Georgia Deacon ripped the title from Greb in 1926, then repeated the feat six months later. Flowers made his debut in 1918 and had his last contest in 1927, having won 117 of 140 bouts. He died in 1927, aged 34, during an operation to remove scar tissue.

Jake LaMotta.10 Forget the hype, the Bronx Bull was far from the murderous punching. middleweight monster portrayed by Robert De Niro.

He was, in truth, not noted for knockout power, but possessed underrated defensive skills and one of the best chins in boxing.

Anyone capable of handing Sugar Ray Robinson his first loss, snapping a 40-fight unbeaten run, then pushing him to the limit in five other encounters, must have been good. In Marcel Cerdan, he also stopped a fine fighter for the world title, but a damaged shoulder played a large part in the Frenchman's 1949 defeat - much larger than the film would have you believe. LaMotta lost his title in his second defence, stopped in 13 rounds by Sugar Ray. And, yes, he really did totter over to the new champ and slur: "You couldn't put me down, Ray."

Carlos Monzon Stanley |Ketchel Charley | Burley

CAPTION(S):

'The Executioner' |Bernard Hopkins

Sugar Ray Robinson |taking on Terry Downes, right, and, above, Jake LaMotta

Freddie | Steele

Tiger |Flowers

'Marvelous' |Marvin Hagler
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jun 7, 2015
Words:1633
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