Who are Wales’ best boxers of all time? Well, rating fighters across different eras and different weights is notoriously subjective.
How do you compare boxers who fought when there were only eight world champions in the classic eight weight divisions against today’s alphabet champions, with multiple crowns up for grabs across 17 weight classifications?
Old-time fighters tended to get into the ring much more regularly than modern professionals, battling through injury and other difficulties to keep the regular purses coming in rather than waiting for the right venue, the right opponent, the right TV deal…
We can study video of modern fighters and read countless opinions about them on the internet, but boxers from the early twentieth century may only live in the odd press report, or even in legend.
Given all those caveats, you’re not going to get scientific reasoning here. But, for what it’s worth, here are my 32 greatest Welsh fighters of all time:
32. Nathan Cleverly
Cleverly made an outstanding start to his professional career, but he was rocked by defeat to Sergey Kovalev and only time will tell if he deserves to move up this list – or to drop out of it altogether.
31. Joe Erskine
Erskine was one of the most naturally talented heavyweights Britain has ever produced, but fragile skin and a shortage of power cost him when he challenged at the very highest level.
30. Floyd Havard
Havard rose to nearly every challenge, but his poor physical state before his only world title opportunity cost the Swansea man any chance of dethroning John John Molina.
29. Nipper Pat Daly
Daly’s remarkable exploits from his 120 recorded bouts win him a deserved place on this list – even though all of his fights occurred before he reached the age of 18!
28. John O’Brien
Unofficially the best middleweight in Britain from 1891-5, the Cardiff man was to challenge world champion Bob Fitzsimmons before he was struck by sciatica.
27. Eddie Thomas
A boxer of substance who cleaned up at domestic and European level, but froze when world title possibilities began to open up.
26. Robbie Regan
Regan came closer than most to becoming the first Welshman to claim world titles at two different weights.
25. Ronnie James
One of Swansea’s finest, James lost his best years to World War II but put up a brave world title challenge against Ike Williams.
24. Lee Selby
The fourth Welshman to claim British, Commonwealth, European and world titles shot into this list with his stunning win over previously unbeaten IBF featherweight champion Evgeny Gradovich. He has the potential to climb further up the rankings.
23. Gavin Rees
A truly natural boxing talent whose ability took him to a world title, despite his own personal demons.
22. Steve Robinson
Wales’ own ‘Cinderella Man’ grasped his world title chance and ran with it, beating all-comers until running into Naseem Hamed.
21. Cyril Gallie
An outstanding amateur who then impressed as a professional in America in 1946, Gallie may have appeared much higher up this list had World War II not robbed him of the best years of his career.
20. Johnny Owen
An outstanding fighter who had conquered all at domestic and European level, Owen was in contention with the world’s best when tragedy struck.
19. Llew Edwards
The Rhondda man became British and Empire featherweight champion and the lightweight champion of Australia, but by the time he challenged the best in the States he was past his best.
18. Fred Dyer
A knee injury meant that ‘the Singing Boxer’ never quite fulfilled his potential, but his formidable record still boasts a win over Panama Joe Gans.
17. Dai Dower
The flyweight’s outstanding skills raised the hope that he would be Wales’ first world champion since Jimmy Wilde, but by the time he faced champion Pascual Perez he was way past his best.
16. Tom Thomas
Wales’ first winner of a Lonsdale Belt, the formidable Thomas may have gone on to greater glories but for rheumatism and a tragically early death.
15. Gipsy Daniels
The well-travelled Daniels was a stalwart of the British, European and US scene in the 1920s and ’30s and could boast of a first-round knock-out win over Max Schmeling.
14. Brian Curvis
The Swansea southpaw proved unstoppable on his journey towards a world welterweight title shot, but he could not overcome one of the all-time greats – champion Emile Griffith.
13. Johnny Basham
A fighter who lived up to his name, Basham cleaned up at domestic and European level before running into his nemesis, the great Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis.
12. Frank Moody
A legend on the domestic middleweight scene, Moody took his talents to the States where he beat Hall-of-Famers Kid Norfolk and Lou Bogash and challenged the great Harry Greb.
11. Tommy West
Amongst the toughest men on this list, West spent nearly all his career in the States where he faced seven world champions and five men who would make the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
10. Eddie Morgan
Morgan took on the best that America had to offer in the early years of the twentieth century and may have been Wales’ first world champion were it not for the ‘no decision’ rules.
9. Jack Petersen
Petersen was one of Britain’s greatest heavyweights who competed in some of the division’s greatest fights – but had he stayed at light-heavyweight he might have ruled the world.
8. Colin Jones
The Gorseinon welterweight carried dynamite in each fist, but two questionable Nevada decisions cost him the chance of world glory.
7. Tommy Farr
Put up the bravest of challenges for Joe Louis’s world heavyweight crown and held his own against the best in one of the division’s golden eras.
6. Percy Jones
Wales’ first world champion rose to the top, but World War I cut him off at his peak.
5. Howard Winstone
Winstone possessed one of the sweetest left hands of all time, a weapon that prompted the great trainer Angelo Dundee to enthuse that he was “the nearest I have ever seen to the great Willie Pep”.
4. Jim Driscoll
The ultimate boxing stylist whose ‘peerless’ skills enthralled boxing connoisseurs on both sides of the Atlantic.
3. Freddie Welsh
One of the greatest lightweights of all time, Welsh was a ferocious competitor who always found a way to win – as he did in his showdown with his closest rival on this list, Jim Driscoll.
2. Joe Calzaghe
Ignore the misguided criticisms that Calzaghe ducked fights – he mastered boxing in the modern age, eventually gaining the stage where his phenomenal talents were able to shine. Aside from Cleverly, the only fighter on this list with a 100% record.
1. Jimmy Wilde
‘The Ghost with the Hammer in his Hand’s’ relentless quest to face and knock out the best – whatever the obstacles in his way – just wins him the vote ahead of modern-day legend Calzaghe.