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Greatest Light Heavyweights in Boxing History: “The Cincinnati Cobra” Ezzard Charles

ezzard charles

Robert Silva is continuing his list of the greatest light heavyweight boxers of all-time. If you missed any of his previous essays, they are linked below, and then you can read his essay on the greatest light heavyweight, Ezzard Charles.

5. Archie Moore
4. Roy Jones
3. Michael Spinks

2. Bob Foster


As I stated earlier in my article on Archie Moore, several Black light heavyweights in the 1940s were denied a shot at the 175-pound world title because of overt racism. Gus Lesnevich, who held the title between 1941-1949, defended his title against only one Black fighter; the very limited and mob controlled Billy Fox. He was able to avoid all the great Black fighters such as Lloyd Marshall, Jimmy Bivins, Moore and Ezzard Charles because of this racism. Of all these incredible fighters, Charles was the best. In fact, his dominance in the 1940s against all the elite Black fighters easily makes him the greatest light heavyweight who ever lived.

As a kid, my father constantly instilled in me that Ezzard Charles was the greatest. When we first saw Evander Holyfield in the 1984 Olympics, my father was amazed at how much Evander reminded him of Charles. Pop was right. Charles’ style was beautiful. Everything he did was off of his razor sharp left jab and he had tremendous power in both hands. At 6’0 tall, Charles was a very tall 175-pounder for his time and he towered over most of his opposition. When you look at Holyfield as a cruiserweight, it was like Charles’ style and body had been transferred to The Real Deal.

Charles first fight at 175 was on January 12, 1942 versus former champion Anton Christoforidis. Charles put the division on notice as he battered Anton into a third round submission. Later that year, he defeated highly ranked contender and future 175-pound champ Joey Maxim twice by decision. Then, Ezzard would hit the only rough spot of his career at light heavyweight.

At the beginning of 1943, Charles lost a close decision to Bivins and then unwisely fought Marshall with an injured hip, resulting in Charles getting dropped eight times en route to being stopped in the eighth round. It was the worst beating of Charles’ career, but as all great fighters do, Charles rebounded from these losses with a vengeance.

As a kid, my father constantly instilled in me that Ezzard Charles was the greatest. When we first saw Evander Holyfield in the 1984 Olympics, my father was amazed at how much Evander reminded him of Charles. Pop was right. Charles’ style was beautiful. Everything he did was off of his razor sharp left jab and he had tremendous power in both hands. At 6’0 tall, Charles was a very tall 175-pounder for his time and he towered over most of his opposition. When you look at Holyfield as a cruiserweight, it was like Charles’ style and body had been transferred to The Real Deal.

After his losses to Bivins and Marshall, Charles went on a historic 17-fight winning streak that no other 175-pound fighter in boxing history can equate to. In these 17 fights, he defeated a who’s who of greats. He defeated Moore and Bivins twice and destroyed Marshall via sixth round knockout. Five wins against Hall of Fame opposition and yet, no title shot was pending despite Ezzard being one of the five greatest fighters on the planet. In 1947, only Willie Pep and Sugar Ray Robinson were considered better pound-for-pound fighters at the time. One of the biggest crimes in boxing history is Lesnevich’s refusal to grant Charles a title opportunity since you were allowed to duck a fighter if he was Black.

After losing a horrible decision to heavyweight Elmer Ray, Ezzard continued his unofficial reign as the real 175-pound champion by once again knocking out Marshall and an eight-round destruction of Moore. Before moving up to heavyweight, Charles once again defeated Bivins and Maxim. Can you believe that Maxim, after losing to Charles, was the one who got a shot and beat Lesnevich for the title? It angers me just to think about how poorly Ezzard was treated.

In 31 fights at 175 pounds, Ezzard won 29 times. Of those 29 wins, he defeated Maxim, Bivins and Moore three times while violently knocking out Marshall twice. Those are 11 wins against all-time great 175 pounders. Looking back, he was basically destroying Lesnevich’s opposition for him. Ezzard did give Lesnevich a title opportunity after Charles became heavyweight champion, issuing a one-sided beating that resulted in the racist bastard Lesnevich quitting in his corner after round seven. Lesnevich never fought again.

Ezzard Charles during the 1940s was without a doubt, the most obvious victim of racism in boxing. He dominated and defeated the best of a division stocked with great Black fighters who were shut out of title opportunities just like him. He had the type of style that would’ve defeated every great 175-pound fighter who ever lived. These are all the reasons that Ezzard Charles is undeniably the greatest light heavyweight champion of all-time.

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