Hand speed: boxers love to show it off while working the bag in the gym but these ten men really brought it to the ring on fight night, raining blows upon their poor, slow-motion opponents.
It’s a pound-for-pound countdown, so size and weight is taken into account. However, talkSPORT is only including the last 60-odd years as poor quality footage before that makes it impossible to truly judge a boxer’s quickness. So with apologies to Sugar Ray Robinson, Willie Pep, Henry Armstrong, etc, let’s countdown the modern-day speedsters in quickfire fashion.
10. Joe Calzaghe
The Welsh punching machine was derided as ‘Joe Cal-slappy’ by critics for the fact that he didn’t load up on every punch. However what the super-middleweight great did brilliantly was mix in harder shots among his blazing combinations, so baffled opponents never knew where the real damage blow was coming from. Whether surprising Chris Eubank in round one or torturing Jeff Lacy over the full 12, southpaw Calzaghe never lost his volume or rapidity.
9. Floyd Mayweather Jr
In the second half of his career, Mayweather became more measured, relying on his timing and supreme defensive skills to pot-shot his way to victory. However the young ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd had hand speed and a dazzling array of punches. Quality boxers such as Genaro Hernandez, Angel Manfredy and Diego Corrales – Mayweather’s greatest win – were all stopped not with power, but with the velocity of the pound-for-pound great’s pinpoint combos.
8. Mike Tyson
Power is dangerous and, as the saying goes, speed kills. But when you have power and speed, it’s a truly devastating mix. Young Tyson – before he neglected his peek-a-boo style and began loading up with crude haymakers – was a sight to behold. Those early, spectacular KOs for the heavyweight first known as ‘Kid Dynamite’ were all about his ability to weave inside on taller opponents and wreak havoc with blistering uppercuts and brutal hooks. Terrifying.
7. Amir Khan
Whatever Khan’s flaws, from his punch resistance to his lack of inside game, one thing is beyond dispute: he is absolutely rapid. Even elite fighters who would go on to stop Khan, such as Danny Garcia and Canelo Alvarez, admitted they struggled to adjust to the Brit’s astonishing quickness at first as no pre-fight sparring partner could match it. Unfortunately Khan, often looking to land one extra punch, fell in love with his speed and it could be his undoing.
6. Meldrick Taylor
Olympic gold medallist Taylor suffered the most painful, nearly-man moment in boxing history. He was about to hand the great Julio Cesar Chavez his first career defeat in a 140lb world title unification fight in 1990, when Taylor was controversially stopped on his feet with only two seconds left in the final round. In the hour before that, Taylor had landed almost 450 punches, absolutely bewildering Chavez with hands so fast the eye struggled to keep up.
5. Muhammad Ali
Ali’s mesmeric footwork, as a 6ft 3in heavyweight floated around the ring, first grabbed the attention. But his hands were almost as quick. The rapid jab, shot from the waist like a gunslinger, was vicious and most of his early KOs came because opponents simply couldn’t cope with the whirlwind of punches coming at them. As ‘The Greatest’ himself said: “I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch and was in bed before the room was dark.”
4. Floyd Patterson
Was there really a heavyweight faster than Ali? Possibly, yes. The US Olympic gold medallist and slightly undersized two-time world champion Patterson lost twice to Ali but, at his peak, had almost unbelievable hand speed. Trained by Cus D’Amato in the same style the trainer would later use with Mike Tyson, Patterson didn’t have ‘Iron Mike’s thudding power or fairly durable chin, but he could blast you to body and head before you even realised he was throwing.
3. Manny Pacquiao
The sheer, adrenaline-rush dynamism of the ‘Pac Man’ at his peak was a stunning sight. A boxer as clever as Marco Antonio Barrera had simply no answer to Pacquiao’s blazing fists when they first fought, while fighters renowned for their speed such as Shane Mosley or (an admittedly faded) Oscar De La Hoya looked like they were in slow-mo against the Filipino phenomenon. Pacquiao’s left hand, in particular, was a quickfire weapon to the very end.
2. Sugar Ray Leonard
One of the most perfect fighting machines, this multi-weight great boasted excellent footwork, ring IQ, adaptability and power. However if the all-American ‘Sugar Ray’ boasted one outstanding attribute it was the blurring speed that allowed him to hit and hurt Tommy Hearns or to fool the judges into thinking he was landing more than he was against Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Because when the punches come this quickly, who can even tell where they’re landing?
1. Roy Jones Jr
Unorthodox master-boxer so rapid that he hardly ever bothered with a jab. Because when you fire off punches this fast, you don’t even need to set them up. From his famous hands-behind-the-back KO of Glen Kelly to knocking down James Toney, there are numerous examples of Jones’s superhuman speed. Ultimately, it was his undoing late in his career as RJJ simply could not adjust when his unreal reflexes and velocity finally began to slow down.
Honourable mentions: Gary Russell Jr, Zab Judah, Hector Camacho, Terry Norris, Mark Johnson, Howard Davis Jr, Sergio Martinez, Shane Mosley, Naseem Hamed, Ryan Garcia