After Andy Ruiz Jr's intelligent display of boxing against the unbeaten unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, BBN decided to list their top 5 clever combatants.
Throughout the colourful and controversial history of the sport, fighters have never seized to stun spectators with the way they perform in their different styles and forms. But victories don't always come because of the capability to land the hardest of punches or even being the quicker fighter. The ability to read opponents and use boxing intelligence to be one step ahead at all times is what made the most successful and eye-pleasing champions.
Being able to foretell an opponent's move before it's made is a special skill that only a select few fighters have been able to possess. Superior boxing IQ can not only win fights, but can also break an opponent's will, like many Vasyl Lomachenko victims have discovered in the most brutal way.
You do not have to be a boxing scholar or dissertation expert to appreciate these most intelligent fighters:
1. Lennox Lewis
The heavyweight division used to tremble at the mention of the name Lennox Claudius Lewis. He is arguably the greatest British fighter of all time. He beat everyone he stepped into the ring with, avenging losses to Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman. Lennox kept a record that only a few opponents could match. He officially started his boxing career in 1989 and retired in 2003. And throughout his incredible career, Lennox featured in a total of 44 matches, recorded 41 wins with 32 won by knockouts.
But besides having an incredible record, Lennox's intelligence was something that stood him out from the crowd. He knew when to throw deadly punches that could send his opponents to the ground. He was also a three-time heavyweight world champion and a two-time lineal champion.
2. Muhammed Ali
Muhammed Ali, AKA "The Greatest" is one of the most talented fighters of the 20th century. Ali introduced himself to the world in the 1960 Boxing Olympics where he claimed a gold medal. He was incredible at analysing matches and knew precisely what to do to better his opponents.
Formerly known as Cassius Clay, he was not the hardest of punchers, but his ring smart and overiding confidence is what won a majority of his matches. Highly skilled, fleet footed and intelligence were his biggest attributes. His rock solid chin and trash talking out of he ring were also big parts of his game.
Ali invented fight tactics such as the rope-a-dope which he used to defeat world champion and fearsome puncher George Foreman. Ali's tactics aganst the world's most dangerous puncher were to let Foreman punch himself out whilst he fought off the ropes! Whilst anyone else would be screaming to stay off the ropes, Ali sat there all fight letting the big man punch himself into exhaustion, eventually taking out the completely drained champion in the eighth round.
Ali looked up to Sugar Ray Robinson, who he called 'The Master', and Sugar Ray Leonard looked up to Ali. All three shared similar traits - speed, flamboyance, heart, chin and all three were crafty ring technicians.
3. Joe Gans
The man commonly believed to have started ‘the sweet science’, Gans was a boxer who began boxing as a professional towards the end of the 19th century. The one they called the ‘Old Master’ was the first to really bring a strategic approach to boxing back in the brutal days of bare knuckle boxing. Gans liked to find out his opponents strengths and weaknesses and then form his game plan with all the information he had acquired. His ring IQ was good enough to help him fight and beat bigger opponents throughout his career despite being a lightweight himself. The first real student of the sport, a statue of Gans sits in the lobby of the iconic 'Mecca of Boxing' Madison Square Garden.
4. Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Floyd Mayweather may have only featured in the featherweight, light middleweight, welterweight and light welterweight divisions, but his results are incredible. The former professional boxer now boxing promoter is not the hardest of punchers. But his intelligence and smartness are undeniable.
Floyd knew how to control his opponents and put them in whatever state he wanted them to be in. He finished his career on a remarkable record of 50 fights, outdoing the 49-0 Rocky Marciano.
Mayweather Jr was a fighter you either love or you hate, but what cannot be denied is that his style was practically unbeatable. Marcus Maidana showed glimpses of what it could take to defeat such an awkward, defensive man by just unloading in barrages and overwhelming him as often as possible. However, it's almost impossible to stick a game plan of such activity and intensity for a full 12 rounds.
Despite the accusations of cherry picking opponents or waiting for the right time to fight, like he clearly did with Manny Pacquiao, Mayweather Jr could make adjustments in the ring against any fighter, if you managed to tag him with a shot, as Shane Mosley did that time, he would succeed in shutting you down for the rest of the fight and that would be your one and only success.
It didn’t matter if you were faster, younger, stronger, or southpaw or orthodox, Mayweather was able to provide an answer for every question any fighter threw at him.
5. Jack Johnson
Jack Johnson was one of the most avoided American fighters during the Jim Crow era. Nicknamed the "Galveston Giant," Jack was the first American heavyweight boxing champion, a title he held from 1908 to 1915. He was so skilful, smart and intelligent that no one could defeat him during his time.
Johnson's record also shows how clever he was in the ring. And he was the first black fighter to lift the prestigious world heavyweight title.
Special Mention: Vasyl Lomachenko
Despite his extensive amateur career, 'Hi-Tech' is still very early on in his paid punching days, and yet to achieve many things he is destined to achieve, so perhaps he will top this list next time around, who knows?!
Everyone loves a knockout! It's why the slower, sometimes less skilled, heavyweight division is so much more popular and lucrative than theother faster, more skilful, lighter divisions.
However, the sport is known as 'The Sweet Science' for a reason. Fighters that feint, lay traps, walk you into their tricks, and appear to be in the Matrix are the ones that not only excite, but astound and mesmerise at the same time. And these special fighters only come around every so often. It is their ring IQ which sets them apart from the rest of the world.
Terence Crawford is currently the No.1 pound for pound ranked fighter in the world right now, after replacing Andre Ward, but can also lay claim to being the smartest boxer in the world, but he is not listed here because his journey is still ongoing, as is Lomachenko's.