During the days of bare-knuckle boxing fighters had to be very selective and precise with their punches. Mistakes were not only costly and painful, but a fighter could wind up damaging his hands if he wasn't cautious. Boxers of this bygone era had to rely on defense, blocking, parrying, smothering, countering and wrestling- like grappling in the clinches. The action tended to be slower paced with a lot of feinting, luring and drawing tactics. Fighters fought 20, 45 and even 75 round matches and had to conserve their energy. They didn't throw a lot of punches. They would pick their openings. Much of the bouts were fought up close, sometimes without boxing rings, the crowd forming a circle around the combatants. The long rounds often resembled a "hugging" contest as boxers regained their strength and fought in controlled two and three punch spurts over the course of the fight. To a modern boxing fan this might be considered very boring.
With the advent of gloved boxing and the Marques of Queensbury rules in the John L. Sullivan versus James Corbett match in 1892 boxing made its first step toward modernization. Styles didn't change right away. Change came slowly an innovation here, and a new technique there. Dal Hawkins, a lightweight, became the first fighter to popularize the gloved left hook around 1895. Much of the old styles remained. Boxers, in general, threw only two or three punches at a time. Glove blocking, slipping, sliding, feinting and countering was the epitome of boxing technique at the turn of the 20th century. The fighters of the early part of the century were greatly influenced by this style of boxing.
Advances in footwork and defense began around the turn of the century. Corbett demonstrated that skill could overcome a superior punch. James J.Jeffries was the first to fight out of a crouch. Jack Johnson helped improve footwork and defense. With the hands better protected a boxer did not have to fight so defensively, or be so cautious. By the 1920's combination punching became universal. Most of the best techniques were in place by this time with minor improvements occurring throughout the century.
The "Best of a Century" looks at 10 of the best pound for pound fighters of the 20th century. One fighter is chosen from each of the 10 decades of the century. The fighter chosen represents the highest form of boxing skills of his respective decade. At the end of the 10 week series we will choose the top pound for pound "Fighter of the Century". One may argue my individual selections. It's a subjective endeavor. Keep in mind these two premises: 1) Who is the best pound for pound. 2) Who had the highest form of technique.
These men are the best of a century of boxing.