The best pound-for-pound movie boxers
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The best pound-for-pound movie boxers

Boxing movies made a noticeable comeback during the 2010s, with "Creed II" being the latest to reignite the genre. But how do the best fighters from this extensive archive of films stack up, pound for pound? It's a borderline impossible question, but here's an attempt at answering it. (Note: Biographies and documentaries are not eligible. Fictional fighters only.) 

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The best pound-for-pound movie boxers

The best pound-for-pound movie boxers

Boxing movies made a noticeable comeback during the 2010s, injecting new fighters into the fake pugilistic universe. How do the best fighters from this extensive archive of films stack up, pound for pound? It's a borderline impossible question, but here is an attempt to answer it. (Note: Biographies and documentaries are not eligible. Fictional fighters only.) 

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25. Diana Guzman

Diana Guzman
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As the only amateur on this list, Guzman's inclusion requires some extrapolation. Michelle Rodriguez's debut — 2000's "Girlfight" — set the actress on course to play numerous tough-girl roles. This brooding teen showed immense promise. Guzman advanced to the finals of a regional tournament and defeated a boy, her boyfriend, to win it. She was going on to bigger and better things. And while it shouldn't matter when assessing Guzman's potential, Rodriguez pulling off staggering upsets over then-MMA stalwarts Ronda Rousey and Gina Carano (twice) in consecutive "Fast" movies can't just be ignored.

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24. Jimmy Kane

Jimmy Kane
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James Cagney did multiple boxing movies in an eight-year span, the first being 1932's "Winner Take All." Kane is a lightweight contender who undergoes a strange in-ring metamorphosis. The second of Kane's two love interests influences him to get plastic surgery on his nose and one ear. To protect the new features, Kane decides to dance away from contact — to the dismay of fight-goers. He reverses course upon learning said love interest is leaving town midfight, winning by quick knockout to follow her in a proposal attempt/twist ending. This isn't uninteresting. 

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23. Kid Galahad

Kid Galahad
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One of many early-20th-century boxing movies involving the mob or seedy promoters, 1937's "Kid Galahad" features a bellhop blossoming into a heavyweight champ. The movie's boxing doesn't age well, but well-meaning Ward "Kid Galahad" Guisenberry mounts a considerable climb to the top. He overcomes purposely bad corner advice from his mob-affiliated trainer —- boxing matters were rarely on the up-and-up in this era — and multiple first-round knockdowns to KO champion Chuck McGraw, whom the audience becomes acquainted with after he drunkenly shoves Bette Davis. 

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22. Luther Shaw

Luther Shaw
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Omar Epps has played a boxer, running back, centerfielder, combo guard and sprinter in a decorated sports-movie career. The most recent role was Shaw, a middleweight prospect discovered by pioneer manager Jackie Kallen in 2004's "Against the Ropes." (Kallen's name is used, but Shaw is fictionalized.) Kallen managed celebrated champions Thomas Hearns and James Toney; Shaw is closer to the Toney arc. Shaw receives a premature middleweight title chance against a dirty opponent and prevails in a capable in-ring showing. Though the movie underwhelms, Epps hitting his fifth sport cannot be overlooked.

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21. Marvin Shabazz

Marvin Shabazz
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While Samuel L. Jackson's Don King-heisted character sets up a race-fueled mismatch between his unbeaten heavyweight champion and the one man who beat him as an amateur in 1996's "The Great White Hype," the top challenger — Shabazz — must wait. James Roper chides Shabazz throughout, and the No. 1 contender insists the champ's record is fraudulent. This comes to a head in a postfight skirmish after Roper dispatches "Irish" Terry Conklin. Although Shabazz — in a light blue suit — got the better of a brief exchange, he cannot reasonably outrank the champ based on the information we have.

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20. Viktor Drago

Viktor Drago
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Ivan Drago's overly muscular (for a boxer) son warrants inclusion. The 245-pound menace's third-round knockout -- which became a disqualification after a comically unnecessary extra head shot -- of heavyweight champ Adonis Creed was probably the most intense "Rocky"-universe beating (even counting their fathers' ballroom mismatch). Despite 2018's "Creed 2" giving an unpolished Viktor an invincibility aura, the Ukrainian's lack of refinement shows up in Creed-Drago II. With Ivan in his corner, however, Viktor profiles as a player in this timeline's heavyweight division.

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19. Tommy Gunn

Tommy Gunn
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Look, "Rocky V" is obviously not good. But are we just ignoring a rising champion? Even after Gunn lost the slightly underappreciated street fight with ex-mentor Rocky Balboa, he was still the champ. Previous beltholder Union Kane, whom sportswriters vehemently insisted in an unusually tense postfight press conference wasn't a legitimate champ since he did not beat Balboa, was no match for Gunn. Plus, Tommy Morrison was then a prospect who would go on to beat George Foreman. Given a better buildup than Viktor Drago, Gunn — the youngest heavyweight champion, as of the 1990 "Rocky" universe — may have had a title reign ahead.

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18. "Honey" Roy Palmer

"Honey" Roy Palmer
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Louis Gossett Jr. was 56 when "Diggstown" premiered in 1992, but this ranking will grade partially on Palmer's one-loss career. Tabbed as an underrated heavyweight when we catch up with him in a small southeastern town 20 years into retirement, Palmer is the centerpiece of one of the most original sports-movie plots. He must defeat 10 fighters in a 24-hour period to win a seismic bet. Palmer runs into a rigged game as the night wears on and must beat the only fighter who bested him as a pro, a bulkier Hammerhead Hagan, but shows versatility at an advanced age. (This actor, Willie Green, is 30 years Gossett's junior.)

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17. Billy Hope

Billy Hope
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Playing a role meant for Eminem, Jake Gyllenhaal steps in as Hope — an undisputed light heavyweight champion known more for Arturo Gatti-esque action sequences than ring generalship. Despite "Creed" making "Southpaw" 2015's second-best movie about a 175-pound fighter, Hope's tenacity — and greater devotion to avoiding contact as this triumph-over-tragedy film progresses — would have kept him in fights with the other light heavies on this list. Though, disciplined fighters would have preyed on the reckless style Hope used to build his legacy.

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16. Danny "Stuntman" Wheeler

Danny "Stuntman" Wheeler
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Though Wheeler's career path is murky, his skills are undeniable. Given a lofty pedigree in being portrayed by unbeaten 168- and 175-pound champion Andre Ward, Wheeler is set to fight Ricky Conlan in what "Creed" deems a showdown between the Nos. 1 and 2 pound-for-pound fighters. That ultimately nixed bout was to be at light heavyweight, but by "Creed 2," Wheeler holds a heavyweight belt. After humbling an unpolished Adonis Creed in a sparring session, a 35-year-old Wheeler later drops his belt to a rising 28-year-old challenger. But Wheeler (33-1) claiming light heavy and heavyweight titles is a rare accomplishment.

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15. Maggie Fitzgerald

Maggie Fitzgerald
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A late-blooming talent with devastating knockout power, the "Million Dollar Baby" phenom became an attraction on multiple continents. Beginning her career at a lower weight, Fitzgerald moved into the welterweight ranks and was getting the better of the menacing Billie "The Blue Bear" Osterman during a 147-pound title match in the Oscar-winning 2004 film. While Fitzgerald's prime was taken away, potential must be accounted for in this case. This southpaw fighter's mid-30s could have been something special, as she attempted to traverse a Bernard Hopkins-esque (sans-prison) career arc. 

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14. Midge Kelly

Midge Kelly
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Perhaps the least likable character on a list that includes criminals, Kelly climbs to glory in 1949's "Champion." Kirk Douglas' Kelly vaults from nothing to become the best in the game, navigating (of course) mob influence. He's a beloved boxing figure but becomes involved with his manager's wife, rapes another woman and knocks out her boyfriend in the locker room before a title fight. But Kelly holds the middleweight belt for a while and finishes the movie with a final-round knockout of a longtime rival who'd floored him twice. This dark film garnered Douglas an Oscar nomination, and Kelly's boxing career warrants inclusion.

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13. Billie "The Blue Bear" Osterman

Billie "The Blue Bear" Osterman
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Were this a list of sports-movie heels, the WBA welterweight champion in "Million Dollar Baby" would have a great case for No. 1. Osterman, played by real-life unbeaten boxer and kickboxer Lucia Rijker, delivered an intimidating ring walk and was an athletic marvel. The muscular ex-prostitute, though, was an unnecessarily cartoonish character, resorting to laughably dirty tactics in nearly every scene. Fitzgerald was winning the 147-pound clash in Las Vegas prior to an unspeakable incident, but it's likely her German foe entered the ring that night as a highly regarded pound-for-pound fighter.

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12. James Roper

James Roper
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Running his record to 38-0 (34 KOs) in 1996's "The Great White Hype," Roper sees his legitimacy questioned — particularly by ducked contender Marvin Shabazz and his manager, a pre-big-things Jamie Foxx — after another easy victory. Instead of silencing critics and accepting Shabazz's challenge, Damon Wayans — amid a two-sports-movie 1996, following "Celtic Pride" — sees his character thrust into a Larry Holmes-Gerry Cooney callback. Promoter Fred Sultan (Samuel L. Jackson) finds Terry Conklin out of obscurity, and Roper demolishes him. (Cooney held on for much longer than Conklin.) The Shabazz what-if docks Roper, however.

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11. Adonis Creed

Adonis Creed
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Creed vaults several spots from this list's initial incarnation, following his heavyweight years. After receiving a Vasiliy Lomachenko fast pass to title fights (thanks to his surname's ticket-selling credentials), Creed parlays a decision loss against pound-for-pound No. 1 Ricky Conlan into a journey to a heavyweight title. Creed's fights delivering a badly needed update in "Rocky"-movie ring craft, Michael B. Jordan's character gains nearly 40 pounds between "Creed" and "Creed 2" and varied his style to outbox two rivals. Creed is still a fairly young pro, however. A third movie could vault him into fake-boxer immortality. 

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10. Mason Dixon

Mason Dixon
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A creative way to introduce an opponent came in 2006's "Rocky Balboa," when an ESPN simulated fight predicated Balboa would prevail in a prime-vs.-prime matchup with Mason "The Line" Dixon (in a universe previously so on-point with fighter names, this was a bizarre misstep). Receiving skepticism about his 33-0 record due to presiding over a weak heavyweight era, Dixon agrees to fight a long-retired Balboa. This bout ending in a split decision, despite the younger southpaw's broken hand, hurts Dixon's case. It also hurt Antonio Tarver's standing. Then 35, the 175-pound kingpin was never the same after portraying Dixon. 

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9. Kelly Robinson

Kelly Robinson
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Despite being 41 and far removed from his cinematic peak, Eddie Murphy pulls off this Prince Naseem Hamed/Floyd Mayweather Jr. hybrid (and this was before Mayweather's "Money" shtick, so Murphy's role in 2002's "I Spy" may have inspired him). Fighting twice in a week, Robinson ends the movie at 58-0. He beats you over the head with his record like Mayweather and gives fans grand entrances like Hamed. The spry actor also gave early-aughts boxing fans a nice surprise, portraying a champion in one of the sport's lesser-discussed divisions: 168-pound super middleweight.

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8. Charley Davis

Charley Davis
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"Body and Soul" being a boxing movie from the '40s (1947), Davis must navigate extensive sinister outside influences and falls prey to that life. But unlike some other fighters on this list, Davis, after winning a title under questionable circumstances, retains it repeatedly and dispatches the top contenders over a period of years. That separates Davis from others of this time, and after he double-crosses a fight-fixing agreement by rallying for a 15th-round knockdown to stop a younger challenger, he retires. The boxing action isn't superb, but it is passable to land a long-reigning champ in the top 10.

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7. Ivan Drago

Ivan Drago
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Because "Creed II" revealed Drago's career flatlined after his loss to Rocky Balboa ("Rocky IV"), the Soviet gold medalist's legacy suffers. Based on ability and a terror-inducing 1985, the PED-aided Drago has a top-three case. His tactics in that ludicrous-on-all-fronts Apollo Creed exhibition match aside, the preposterously jacked Russian bludgeoned Balboa unlike anyone. Drago's 1,850 PSI punches (highly official measurement) gave the home fighter a commanding lead prior to his defensively apathetic opponent's heroic 15th round. An inability to close the show apparently cost Drago a title reign and 1980s and '90s fame and fortune.

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6. James "Clubber" Lang

James "Clubber" Lang
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A common "Rocky"-universe question: Who wins a late-1980s Lang-Drago showdown? Clubber (29-1 as of 1982) has the common-opponent edge in beating Rocky Balboa, but his performance in the rematch brings questions. Lang's all-out attacks overwhelmed Balboa for much of the "Rocky III" action, but whereas Drago withstood Balboa's rallies until the final round in Moscow, Lang wilted in Round 3. Lang-Drago may have unfolded like Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson, with the taller man's reach making it difficult for Lang's wild swings to connect and thus forcing a frontrunning fighter to fold. But the Soviet's demise gives Lang the resume edge.

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5. George "Iceman" Chambers

George "Iceman" Chambers
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The plot of 2002's "Undisputed" veers far too close to Mike Tyson's story, hurting this film from the start. Ving Rhames' Chambers is a heavyweight champion imprisoned on rape charges he insisted were false. The plot diverges from Tyson's quiet prison stay when the confrontational Chambers learns there's a formidable incarcerated boxer with whom a fight could expedite his release. Viewed as one of the sport's greatest offensive fighters, per Jim Lampley during a prison one-on-one exclusive, Chambers entered that fight 46-0-1. Regaining the lineal heavyweight title after prison further boosts the Iceman's standing.

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4. Monroe Hutchen

Monroe Hutchen
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Wesley Snipes plays the wrench in the "Undisputed" Tyson-story rip-off — a once-well-regarded prospect before a murder conviction nixed boxing plans. He's become a de facto prison champion. George "Iceman" Chambers enters the picture after Hutchen has been jailed 10 years. When the two face off, Hutchen has a 68-0 prison record. Hutchen plays the agile counter-puncher to Chambers' brute-force style — in well-crafted scenes — and rallies for a knockout victory in a large prison cage. It's hollow, since Chambers gets out and recaptures his real title. But Hutchen's victory holds up, pound for pound.

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3. "Pretty" Ricky Conlan

"Pretty" Ricky Conlan
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Boxing movies often cast headline fighters with bodybuilder physiques — "Creed II" is guilty of this — when in reality that can be detrimental. "Creed" did well to cast real-life (and realistic-looking) cruiserweight Tony Bellew as Adonis Creed's opponent. Conlan is this high for two reasons. 1. Because the "Rocky" world did not delve into pound-for-pound statuses until it introduced light heavyweights in 2015. Conlan is an unbeaten, pound-for-pound No. 1. 2. His firefight light heavyweight victory — prior to a prison term — over Creed in England looks much better after the younger challenger's heavyweight accomplishments. 

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2. Rocky Balboa

Rocky Balboa
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This placement leans toward Balboa's fights in his 30s, rather than the mediocre resume he compiled prior to his unlikely matchup with Apollo Creed. This ranking is debatable, obviously, with Rocky's record sitting at 57-23-1. If you'd like to penalize "The Italian Stallion" for the early defeats during half-committed years, that's fine. But Balboa defeated Creed, Clubber Lang, Ivan Drago, may have ruined champion Tommy Gunn's career via street fight and went the distance with Mason Dixon 15-plus years into retirement. Balboa was a dangerously careless defender and padded his record mid-"Rocky III," but he was one of the best when focused. 

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1. Apollo Creed

Apollo Creed
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When we meet Apollo Creed, he is nearing the end of a storied run atop the heavyweight division. Before picking out a random opponent for a showcase fight, Creed compiles a 48-0 record with 48 knockouts. Derived from Muhammad Ali, this character built a monster resume — though it's not known if Creed went through an Ali-like opponent gauntlet — that outflanks the real-life inspiration's. Creed outlasts a stunningly competent Balboa and was one second away from a decision win in the rematch (before beating his friend/rival in a backroom brawl years later). Given what Balboa went on to achieve, Creed's credentials are airtight. 

Sam Robinson is a Kansas City, Mo.-based writer who mostly writes about the NFL. He has covered sports for nearly 10 years. Boxing, the Royals and Pandora stations featuring female rock protagonists are some of his go-tos. Occasionally interesting tweets @SRobinson25.

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