- BOXING - The 10 best chins in boxing

Tuesday, June 3
The 10 best chins in boxing

Beard, whiskers, chin, whatever. It's the elemental thing that separates good boxers from great ones, and can carry an unschooled pug further than his skills would on their own merits. Whatever the reason, there's some guys that just take punches as though they're cast from the rarest of molds. They're the ones that shake off the monster left hook that makes you flinch in recoil. The guys that eat right hands like Buster Douglas tearing through a $2.99 buffet, and come back for more.  

Charley Goldman, wizened trainer of Rocky Marciano, had this to say regarding elongated fighters: "You know them tall fighters, the ones with the long, skinny necks? You end up spending more on smelling salts than food for 'em".

Goldman did have a point, in that no good fighter gets caught on the chin of the chin, God forbid without it tucked safely in the chest. A long neck, in this case, is no asset for a fighter. But keeping the goods tucked away is not merely enough, and it comes down to desire, will, and sometimes being plain ornery. Here's a look at the ten best chins in the sport today, what makes them noteworthy, and comparisons they evoke to former iron-jawed pugilists. 

10. Ray Mercer: After June 29 we'll know how much Mercer's chin has survived his lengthy inactivity. But anybody who goes toe-to-toe, bell-to-bell with Bert Cooper, Tommy Morrison, Evander Holyfield, and Lennox Lewis deserves serious props. Surprisingly, he's only been floored by Holyfield, and took incredible bombs vs. Cooper, Morrison and Lewis without faltering. Built with a short neck, Mercer told "The punches can't hurt you if you see them coming," but try it in the gym sometime, it doesn't work. Six years ago Ray would've rated tops on this list, with nobody a close second.  

Reminds you of: Oscar Bonavena, who gave Joe Frazier some skeletons in his closet that took a while to get rid of. Bonavena was a tough slugger who was much more effective when you fought him instead of boxing and playing it smart. Mercer may have to go through Klitschko to force his shot vs. Lewis, who has his own controversy from the Mercer bout six years ago. If Mercer wins June 29, you can beat Lennox will feel the pressure to grant him the rematch. 

9. Wayne McCullough: Think about it, if you were a natural bantamweight without a punch, fighting Naz and Erik Morales, would you play the aggressor? McCullough did, and if he had a punch, he'd be mighty dangerous. Coupled with an all-action style, he showed how good his whiskers were in forcing "The Prince" to clown to gloss over the fact that he wanted no part of the brawl McCullough was offering. Morales whacked McCullough with everything including the kitchen sink, and got plenty of lumps and welts for his efforts. McCullough's nickname is "The Pocket Rocket" only because "The Blarney Stone" was already taken.  

Inactive for the last two years but the medical problems that put him on the shelf have apparently been cleared and he scored a rare knockout first comeback bout, which means he'll probably get a high-profile fight again. His comeback will go as far as the old beard can take him. 

Reminds you of: Tommy Cordova, great ESPN action fighter circa 1984. No punch+great chin+aggressive style=Guaranteed good fight.  

8. Marco Antonio Barrera: His whiskers are even more impressive when you look back at how he used to fight… all throttle and with the kind of abandon and willingness to trade of a club fighter that packed smoky fight clubs back in the day. His transition to textbook boxing and savvy counterpunching is a great feel-good story, but make no mistake, Barrera's chin will probably go down as an all-time great. Yeah, he was dropped by Kennedy McKinney and Junior Jones, but those shots would've dropped anyone, and Barrera got up both times. With 57 fights under his belt, and his skills better than ever, Barrera's long reign seems assured. If you can actually hit him these days, you'll just make him mad. 

Reminds you of: Wilfredo Gomez, another great technical boxer who could switch gears when a brawl developed.  

7. Johnny Tapia: Devoid of a big punch, Tapia is now campaigning as a featherweight, 11 pounds and three weight classes removed from where he started. Great feet and reflexes keep him competitive despite having lost a step, and his showdown with Naseem Hamed shows pure guts on his part. Unlikely to hurt Hamed, his confidence in his A-Grade chin will have to carry him through a dangerous bout.  

Reminds you of: Orlando Canizales, another solid boxer whose strong beard was largely overlooked, because he rarely needed it. Canizales campaigned too long, but nobody ever seemed able to knock him out in order to discourage him from doing so. 

6. Evander Holyfield: Wouldn't have included him on this list if it weren't for his victory over Rahman. Seemingly ready to be put out to pasture vs. Ruiz, Holyfield absorbed good shots vs. Rahman and wasn't even fazed by it. The old man is still pretty tough, and has had more resurrections than Jason from Friday the 13th. The problem is, nobody wants to see him face Lewis again, and therefore he'd be the perfect opponent for another contender unless he somehow secures a #1 rating and gets a mandatory. Only thing that keeps him from being higher is the serious mileage on his body. But he keeps turning back the odometer.

Reminds you of: Jerry Quarry. You could hit him, hurt him, maybe even floor him. But that just made him fight back harder. 

5. James Toney: The fraternity of middleweights who became cruiserweight contenders is small (offhand, only Bobby Czyz comes to mind). With a 30-pound jump in weight, it's simply not done. But Toney has turned the trick well, and his chin is pretty solid. He's never been stopped, and hasn't even been close to it despite facing a who's who of punchers and rough types.  

Reminds you of: Dick Tiger, the middle and light heavyweight champ who stepped in against the bigger men with fearlessness. Vassiliy Jirov may hope to play Bob Foster to Toney's Tiger, but he'd better be prepared in doing so, and better look a lot better than he did again Jorge Castro, because if he isn't, Toney beats him. 

4. Ricardo Lopez: Has fought at championship level for more than a decade, and with 25 defenses can only remember him being floored once (Rosendo Alvarez, thank you... but Joe Koizumi would know). For a pressure fighter, Lopez can take a good shot, having bested stiff bangers like Muangchai Kittikasem, Saman Sorjaturong (who boasts 36 KOs in 45 wins, an extremely high percentage for a small weight fighter) and Ratanapol Sor Vorapin (say that five times fast). Largely ignored due to an obscure caste assignment in boxing's pecking order, Lopez hasn't helped his career by fighting only once a year lately. But he seems as tough as ever despite being 35. He's an amazing fighter with all the toughness you could want. 

Reminds you of: Pasqual Perez, who reigned over the flys from 1954-1960. At a wispy 5-foot-1, Perez went unbeaten in his first 51 fights before losing to Pone Kingpetch. At 50-0, could Lopez be headed toward the same fate if he keeps fighting? Perez' diminutive frame prompted Damon Runyon to ask, "Where does that sawed-off runt get all that power?" 

3. Mickey Ward: Ward's chin, like the rest of him, is a slow starter. How else could you explain him getting seemingly hurt in the early rounds of the Leija bout and yet taking everything Gatti laid on him down the homestretch? Using a hands-high, walk-'em-down approach, Ward has faced a murderer's row of punches; Vince Phillips (who stopped him on cuts), Charles Murray, Gatti, Ricky Meyers, and Zab Judah, with only the Phillips loss inside the distance. Look back at the Gatti fight, and it's incredible to see how often he was hit, yet reacted so little. His ultimate test might be Kostya Tszyu, but Tszyu might be too smart to force a brawl and be content to box for a points win, as he did vs. Ben Tackie. But if he does, Tszyu is nibbling the bait that Gatti did, and that gives Ward his best chance to win. 

Reminds you of: Ike Quartey. Like Gatti said of Ward, "For a guy with no head movement, he's got a pretty good defense."  

2. David Tua: Yeah, so he can be outboxed, and his stock has slipped a little since losing to Lewis and Byrd. But anybody who relegates Tua to caste of "Steppingstone" is either a brave fight manager or a fool jumping the gun, because Tua's chin is so much better than anyone else on the heavyweight landscape. Sure, he's a little predictable and short, but is your guy good enough fight 12 rounds without making a single mistake? Tua's like the IRS ... he may not get you THIS time around, but given enough chances he will, and there's nothing you can do to get rid of him.  

Tua's taken bombs from Ike Ibeabuchi that would crumple mortal men, and Lewis' vaunted right hand that vanquished Rahman with one solid connect couldn't wobble the Tuaman. Built low to the ground with an enormous neck and legs, Tua's stature gives him the perfect physique to take punishment.  

Reminds you of: George Chuvalo, the durable contender of the '60s who, in his prime, guaranteed anyone a long evening. Joe Frazier and George Foreman's most notable early victories came in stoppages versus a faded Chuvalo, and you can bet that if anyone ever stops Tua that'll be a feather in their cap to be flaunted. However, it probably won't happen unless Tua is fighting a decade from now and weighs about 300 pounds.  

1. Bernard Hopkins: Most of the people picking him over Trinidad knew what the rest of the world learned the hard way ? that if Roy Jones couldn't hurt him, Tito wasn't likely to, either. Not only does Hopkins have a great chin, he rolls with punches and very rarely gets hit flush. But just how good is the beard? When Antwun Echols commenced their rematch foul-fest with a cheap shot, the bomb landed right on Hopkins' mug, as he was looking at the ref. Hopkins fired right back without hesitation, no trip, no stumble, nor fumble. That's a chin. It's the closest we've ever seen him to being hurt, and it wasn't even that close. 

Reminds you of: Marvin Hagler. Took apart big punchers like Hearns and John Mugabi, and looked invincible doing it. Most importantly, always kept his chin tucked deep and never, ever got hit without his legs being in proper position. Tito can beat up all the awkward Cherifi types in the world, but Hopkins isn't likely to get caught like them.