Originally Posted by Boilermaker
Willard has a solid case for top 20. Of all world champions, i think that his legacy is the one that has deteriorated. The career of virtually all world champions follow the same path. Improving performances up until the time they win the title, in their peak performance followed by a lack of desire from this point, where they lose focus. Sometimes the very best maintain it and defend regularly, maintaining this level, but this is reasobably rare.
Willard was at is best when he beat Jack Johnson, who was quite likely the greatest fighter who had ever lived when this happened. It is often forgotten, that Willard was considered an absolute beast when he won this title and easily was thought of as the dominant world champion. There was no thought that others were better fighters, even though greats like Langford, Dempsey, Wills etc were around at various stages of their careers.
Willard was bigger than any champ before, and with it, presumably he was stronger. His power was such that it had killed a man in the ring. He was a modern Superheavyweiht with skills. Today, people forget about this, but he was a Vitali Klitchsko clone, only he had far bigger reach and size advantages than Vitali. And much, much better stamina. Even today, against the Superheavys, he is one of only 2 old time champs that stack up as a modern superheavy. But he has much more movement than the current champs and much better stamina. In comparison to say, Lennox Lewis who is almost certainly top 10, he has similar size reach stamina. Both keep the fighter away with straight punches and like to fight at a distance. Both have huge straight right hands. Lewis seems to have a tighter defence but Willard has undisputedly far better stamina. I am not sure if Willard necesserally has a far better chin, as Lewis has taken big shots before, but he certainly seems to have shown better heart and desire on the occassions where that chin was actually cracked. Sadly, Willard is written off as being unskilled, mostly because in his most commonly viewed fight, he ran into a first round splattering by an undisputable all time great. Dont forget also, after the savage beating he took from Dempsey, it took incredible heart and courage to step back in the ring and actually chase a Dempsey rematch. Age and inactivity, of course meant it was never to be.
A decent portion of people actually considered Willard the greatest of all time. He was bigger than any champ who came before and simply seen as a phenonem. YOu cant beat the evolution of the species! He was bigger and stronger. Even today, he outsizes nearly all champs in front of him. Of the lineal champions to this day, Only Carnera, Bowe, Lewis, and the Klits can match his size. Carnera was simply not as good or dominant as Willard, The Klits havent even really became World champs yet (due to not fighting each other). If you subscribe to the bigger is better theory, then Willard must be to top 15 and maybe better. Head to head, if the Klits are unstoppable monsters, so is Willard!
In fact, one of the hallmarks of a great champion is that they take the title from a great champion (usually an aging one) and it takes another great champion (usually a younger more focussed one. Willard is absolutely no exception and in Johnson and Dempsey, he has probably the greatest "pair" of guys to start and end his run ever.
Looking over the years, it is completely forgotten today, that if you look at newspaper articles from that time, the consensus was that Willard was an unstoppable monster and was as dominant a champion as we have seen. One that simply could not be beaten. Not very many people can really say this either. Certainly no more than 15 or 20.
Forget about the Dempsey loss, that means nothing due to loss of focus and inactivity. It wasnt the real Willard (like with Tunney and Dempsey).
Jess Willard is the most underated champion today and has a case for a top 10 and may better position. He is definitely top 15!
....Note: I am not necessarilly sure that i rate Willard top 15 but he definitely has a case.