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27th June 2020
By: Fayz Boxing
Speed Kills…Boxing is a sport that requires many traits one needs to excel at – which trait is the single most important? Is it having one punch knock out power, the sort of power middleweight Julian Jackson was capable of summoning up at any moment? What about having a rock-solid chin to absorb the inevitable punishment one will take in the ring, Gennady Golovkin has a chin which has yet to be his downfall in almost 400 amateur and professional bouts. Perhaps having an engine that can keep you fighting at a high work rate for the full fight, wearing your opponent down much as the great Henry Armstrong could do. Maybe it’s that fighting pride, the heart of a warrior who just never quits or gives in, Rocky Marciano or Muhammad Ali.
Or is the most desired trait in boxing speed? There must be a reason why they say in boxing that speed kills? Whether you believe speed is the key element in boxing or not, one thing you cannot doubt is that having speed, or being the quicker boxer in the ring will automatically give you a huge advantage over your opponent more so than many other traits. Of course, you need to have a combination of the traits to be a successful boxer but beating someone to the punch because of your quicker hand speed will undoubtedly allow you to throw and land more punches.
Speed is also something which is more natural, you can work on your speed but fast boxers are just fast with their hands naturally. A boxer can develop power in their boxing training more so than they can develop their speed. Power is often the last trait a fighter loses, in fact, you never really do lose your punching power, but speed is something which will be one of your first traits to diminish. This means that even if you do believe it is not the most important aspect of a fighter, it arguably has the biggest value. Power can knock you out, but it is the punch you don’t see coming which hurts the most so if you’ve got that blurring hand speed, you’re going to hurt a lot of people.
So which fighters are amongst the fastest we have ever seen in the boxing ring?
In this article, I am going to run through a number of boxers who in my opinion, are some of the quickest we have or will ever see. It’s important to note we are looking at overall speed here, not one punch speed – fighters such as Larry Holmes may not feature on the list but there was no denying he had an unbelievably fast jab.
Anyway, let’s get to it – who are the fastest boxers in history…
’ll start by mentioning possibly the greatest boxer to have ever lived. Robinson had so many traits that made him the greatest and a key one was his speed. More precisely it was the power he could swiftly fire off with his combination of punches. What made him even more dangerous was the ability to double up his punches, he could throw multiple crosses or hooks in quick succession which made him very difficult to defend against. Switching levels from the body to head in a flash only added to his opponent’s woes. Robinson had it all and fast hands were just a piece of the jigsaw for such an amazing fighter.
From one Sugar to the next. Sugar Ray Leonard had blindingly fast hand speed which he put together with crisp combinations. Highlight reel knockouts weren’t due to his power but his sharpshooter hands. A flurry of punches would be fired at you and it would be impossible to prevent all of them from snaking through. Leonard was flash, not just because of his moves but his flashy speed too, it’s no surprise he loved watching another speed merchant growing up – Bruce Lee! Sugar Ray is into his 60’s now but he still possesses some of that speed!
Taylor had what I call frightening hand speed. When you watch him fight, some of the combinations and the speed at which he threw them literally have you hanging your mouth in shock and awe. The kind of speed you just cannot train for to fight against and the kind of speed you could never replicate if you wanted to be as fast as Taylor. It’s a shame he is most remembered for his loss to Julio Cesar Chavez Sr, a fight he was winning but lost in the final seconds of the last round. Chavez Sr was a master of defense and slipping punches, but even he had real problems trying to get out of the way of Taylor’s hands. I struggle to think of a light welterweight who had faster hands than Meldrick Taylor and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say he has the fastest hands I have ever seen.
If there was a light welterweight who could compare to Taylor in terms of hand speed then it can only be Amir Khan. For all the criticism aimed at Khan throughout his career, one thing you cannot criticize is his amazingly fast hands. Having entered his 30’s, he still displayed the kind of crazy hand speed which enabled him to win an Olympic medal whilst still a teenager and the speed which helped him to pretty much outbox everyone he has stepped into the ring with. Of course, his suspect chin has let him down at times, but his speed certainly hasn’t left him yet. Although there are boxers now such as Ryan Garcia and Gary Russell Jnr who have very very quick hands, Khan still looks to be leading the line when it comes to the fastest boxers in the world today.
Camacho was a flamboyant and charismatic fighter. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that with Ali’s retirement, his impact on the sport was such that it helped to create boxers who had a little something extra about their personalities. Sugar Ray Leonard has already been mentioned and like him, Hector ‘Macho’ Camacho was another such personality. Like Leonard, Camacho also followed the Ali route of being a speed demon. Camacho’s speed was such that he was able to fight his way through seven weight categories, beginning at super featherweight and ending as a super middleweight – losing just six of his 88 fights. Camacho had quick feet to accompany his even quicker one, two or double jab-cross combination, darting in and out of his combinations. Tragically, Macho Camacho was killed in a drive-by shooting aged 50 in 2012.
If Camacho was able to carry his speed through seven weight classes, then Manny Pacquiao deserves a mention here for carrying his speed through to become a world champion in an astonishing eight divisions. Now I know what you’re thinking, with all the drug rumors hanging over his head, was he able to carry his speed whilst getting heavier and heavier due to taking ‘something’? We may never know that so to attribute his speed to something else would be a little unfair, to say the least. Pacquiao just like Sugar Ray Leonard was a fan of Bruce Lee and he possessed the same cat-like reflexes as the martial arts legend. Pacquiao wasn’t just fast with his hands, he could bombard you with combination after combination before coming back in just as quickly for more. Although now in his 40s, he showed in his last bout against Keith Thurman, he still has enough speed left in the tank to set up some more big fights.
RJJ, as he is commonly known, may just be the greatest athlete we have ever seen in Boxing. Jones was just a freakish athlete who was capable of things in the ring other boxers could only dream of. Perhaps it isn’t so much Jones speed which stood out, but his explosiveness. Jones could be relaxing in the ring, arms down one second and then explode into a hook and throw three of them one after the other! Some say he has ruined his legacy by fighting on too long, by which time his speed and reflexes had slowed enough for mere mortals to defeat him inside the ring. But when Jones Jr was at his best, no one could ever get close to his chin. His speed and reflexes meant that his prime was as good as anyone else to have stepped inside the squared circle and that’s no joke!
I’ll end this list with a heavyweight. Simply because the quicker guys tend to be at the lower weights, rarely is it past middleweight that we see a man with fast hands. Ali was 6’3, 210lbs, and could punch quicker than many of the middleweights of his time. Like Roy Jones Jnr, Ali was an exceptional athlete and the fact we have yet to see a heavyweight with his speed ever since suggests as much. When Ali’s speed was on the decline the boxing world discovered Ali had two more traits which made him one of the all-time greats. His heart and his chin, but a prime Ali was unmatched for speed. If you want to see just how fast Ali was capable of punching, watch his Ali-fast-ko-London – that is if you can keep up with the speed of his punches!
Mike Tyson – punches in bunches – at speed! Tyson was scary, not just because of his power or attitude, but because of his speed too. Tyson could land bombs not one at a time, but five at a time.
Floyd Mayweather Jnr – Because most only remember Floyd towards the latter part of his career when he was more of a counter puncher, many have forgotten that he was actually very very fast with his hands. Floyds success as a counter puncher wasn’t just due to his otherworldly ring IQ, it was because he could deliver those counter strikes at blinding speed.
Sugar Shane Mosley – Another Sugar on the list. Much like Floyd, many forget the first half of their careers, in their younger years and at their lighter weights. Still, to earn that nickname of Sugar, you have to possess speed and the lightweight version of Mosley was good enough, that many believed he was the best lightweight since hands of stone, Roberto Duran. Mosley was still fast enough to penetrate Floyd Mayweather Jnr’s defense with the biggest punches he’s ever taken.
Pernell Whitaker – The man they called ‘Sweet Pea’ is easy to overlook when it comes to speed because he did not always ‘fight fast’ preferring to use his beautifully composed defense and footwork. But the silky smooth counter puncher was capable of turning it up a notch and punching as fast as his slick upper body movement when he wanted to.