1. Joe Frazier — 1965-1981, 32-4-1 (27 KO)
No other name could possibly top this list, for “Smokin’ Joe’s” hook remains the most prolific and the most consistently destructive weapon of its kind ever seen in a boxing ring. It was the centerpiece of a withering, relentless bob-and-weave attack that squeezed the life out of opponents if they were unlucky enough to go more than a few rounds. The more fortunate ones were taken out in relatively short order.
Frazier’s signature punch created such a powerful imprint that it represented the quintessence of “The Philadelphia Fighter” despite Frazier being a native of South Carolina. Frazier’s pulse-pounding relentlessness, his never-give-up mentality, his innate toughness and his wrecking-ball hook personified the city’s blue-collar, no-nonsense work ethic and continues to serve as an inspiration for all fighters, especially those who reside in the “City of Brotherly Love.”
Frazier’s hook didn’t have the electrified snap of others on this list. Like Nolan Ryan’s fastball or Pete Sampras’ serve, Frazier’s hook landed with an unmistakable thud and possessed a heaviness that reverberated through the target area. Frazier’s left hand was a wrecking ball with a 13-inch circumference and some of boxing’s biggest, strongest and best men were left staring up at their 5-foot 11½-inch tormentor.
Frazier’s most famous hook was the one that floored Muhammad Ali in the final round of their classic first bout in 1971. Frazier often said it was a double hook because he first feinted to the body to get Ali’s hands down, then went over the top with the second. That blow served as the exclamation point to the signature night of Frazier’s fistic life. Only Ali’s giant fighting heart and immense pride allowed him to regain his feet with inconceivable speed but even he knew that by this point his mathematical fate was sealed.
Other Frazier hooks produced even more devastating results. One of the most noteworthy was the hook that destroyed reigning light heavyweight champion – and fellow top-10 left hooker – Bob Foster in round two of their November 1970 title fight. Frazier used the same deke to the body to set up the crushing finale, which, upon impact, caused Foster’s body to twist to the left and fall to the canvas as if in slow motion. Foster was out even more he hit the mat and by referee Tom Briscoe’s count of 10 he could only roll onto his knees. Getting up was out of the question.
Another noteworthy blow was Frazier’s final hook in his title-unifying win over Jimmy Ellis in February 1970. After a four-punch combination left Ellis on his face late in the fourth, a sweeping hook to the chin left Ellis splayed on the canvas just before the bell. The round ended before Tony Perez could toll 10 but Ellis’ chief second Angelo Dundee wisely refused to let the soon-to-be former WBA titlist come out for the next round.
Frazier was never concerned about going to the well too often. He threw as many hooks as his body would allow and the results were beyond argument. Those results are why Frazier’s hook sits at the top of not only this list but virtually every other left hook countdown for the foreseeable future.
Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order): Alexis Arguello, Antonio Avelar, Carmen Basilio, Marco Antonio Barrera, Nigel Benn, Bennie Briscoe, Simon Brown, Victor Callejas, Julio Cesar Chavez, Miguel Cotto, Oscar de la Hoya, Tony DeMarco, Jack Dempsey, Roberto Duran, Bob Fitzsimmons, Florentino Fernandez, George Foreman, Jaime Garza, Arturo Gatti, Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, Julian Jackson, Roy Jones Jr., Tae Shik Kim, Sugar Ray Leonard, Sonny Liston, Ray Mancini, Barry McGuigan, John Mugabi, Jose Napoles, Terry Norris, Ruben Olivares, Floyd Patterson, Donovan “Razor” Ruddock, Earnie Shavers, Felix Trinidad, Mickey Walker, Mike Weaver, Tony Zale, Carlos Zarate, Alfonzo Zamora.
Photos / THE RING
Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, W.Va. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 10 writing awards, including seven in the last three years. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales From the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics. To order, please visit Amazon.com or e-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange for autographed copies.