There have been too many developments lately — most recently, Vic Darchinyan’s big win — for me to not have refreshed by now my list of the best boxers in the sport regardless of weight. Nor have I been keeping up with the minor updates I sometimes provide immediately after key fights.
I’ll do a fuller breakdown at the end of the year, because several of the men who are in my top 20 are going to be in action between now and 2009. For now, here’s a quicker, more stripped-down version to replace the last full-length treatment here, from August.
As usual, the criteria includes, in approximate order of importance: recent activity, career achievement and overall ability.
Vic Darchinyan, pictured above center, makes his debut on the list after dominating Cristian Mijares the same way his people once dominated the United States.
1. Manny Pacquiao (lightweight, 135 lbs.): Neither he nor anyone else has done anything to disturb his spot here since he ascended to it in June. Juan Manuel Marquez is close behind, though. I’m not sure what I’d do with him if he loses to Oscar De La Hoya; losing to a much bigger man wouldn’t necessarily reflect that poorly on him. Winning, on the other hand, solidifies his spot for a long, long time. Some have argued that beating De La Hoya would establish him as an all-time great. He’s already and all-time great, in numerous ways. It would make him an all-time great-er, certainly. I do think a win is mitigated by De La Hoya’s age, but you’ll note De La Hoya’s still on this list, so it’s a pretty big deal, both because of the leap up in size and the fact that even at his age De La Hoya’s pretty good.
2. Juan Manuel Marquez (lightweight): His destruction of Joel Casamayor in his lightweight debut warranted a jump to #2 over Joe Calzaghe. And since Marquez arguably beat #1 Pacquiao twice – I think he lost once, won once – he already had a case. There’s nothing he can do to topple Pacquiao here if Pacquiao beats De La Hoya, but if Pacquiao loses and Marquez takes down a fellow top lightweight like Nate Campbell or Juan Diaz, his argument for #1 gets better. Also, winning a third fight with Pacquiao would do the trick.
3. Joe Calzaghe (light heavyweight, 175 lbs.): I remain unconvinced that beating a faded Roy Jones, Jr. next weekend would prove much, but if Jones looks good and Calzaghe beats him anyway, maybe I send him up to #2. If he retires after, as he has threatened, I might keep him here a little longer, until I’m convinced he’s gone for real.
4. Bernard Hopkins (light heavyweight): Hopkins was already at #4 for me before beating Kelly Pavlik, but I had reservations. I contemplated moving him up to as high as #2, but since he was slipping down my list after losing to Calzaghe, I decided he justified his place and no more. He may be retiring soon, if neither Calzaghe nor Jones want a rematch, as both men claim.
5. Antonio Margarito (welterweight, 147 lbs.): He hasn’t done anything since beating Miguel Cotto in July, but nobody’s done anything to threaten his spot, so he stays put at #5. Beating Joshua Clottey in a rematch, which was under discussion for 2008, would have helped his case for moving up and for being Fighter of the Year.
6. Miguel Cotto (welterweight): Pavlik’s drop bumps him up one spot. I contemplated moving someone up over him, but nobody lower has fought lately either, so it really just would’ve been a chicken move on my part to second-guess my previous rankings.
7. Israel Vazquez (junior featherweight (122 lbs.): Here’s the guy I might’ve jumped up above Cotto. Some people have Vazquez higher than Margarito, which is very reasonable. It’s a tough call for me, but, again, I’m sticking to my previous guns.
8. Rafael Marquez (junior featherweight): Thus ends the sequence of fighters who have fought each other once or multiple times going back-to-back on my list. I think having Marquez anywhere between #8 and #10 is fair.
9. Ivan Calderon (junior flyweight, 108 lbs.): If there’s anyone who could’ve broken up the pattern by now, it’s Calderon, whom I was tempted to push above Marquez. But I’d had him at #10 after winning his rematch against Hugo Cazares, and can’t backtrack.
10. Kelly Pavlik (middleweight, 160 lbs.): Losing to a Hopkins who delivered a career-best performance, at a weight Pavlik shouldn’t be fighting (170), with bronchitis, isn’t enough to evict him from the top 10, but I get people who have him at #11 or #12 even.
11. Chad Dawson (light heavyweight): He’s just so talented, and now his resume includes wins over Tomasz Adamek, Glen Johnson and finally, a well-known star in Antonio Tarver. He’s not perfect, but the sky’s the limit.
12. Paul Williams (welterweight): Beating a virtual unknown like Andy Kolle isn’t what moves him up; it’s that he blew him out in one round, at middleweight, 13 pounds above the weight where he’s a titleholder. He’s scary good and like Dawson, deserves stardom.
13. Vic Darchinyan (junior bantamweight, 115 lbs.): I had Cristian Mijares at #11, and Darchinyan a little outside the top 20. He absolutely crushed Mijares, making him the #1 man in arguably boxing’s third-best division behind lightweight and welterweight.
14. Shane Mosley (welterweight): Having a rough time with Ricardo Mayorga hurt him with me, but he won, and that matters most. Still, he and the next two are hanging by a thread. How one wins is less important than the “W,” unless others are winning more convincingly.
15. Ricky Hatton (junior welterweight, 140 lbs.): Paulie Malignaggi could eject him from the list altogether when they fight this month. Hatton’s looked shaky too often, but he still finds a way to win and remain atop his division.
16. Oscar De La Hoya (welterweight): It will be hard for De La Hoya to move up. He wouldn’t deserve an awful lot of credit for stomping the smaller Pacquiao in December, and if he loses, he’s gone from the top 20 for sure.
17. Nate Campbell (lightweight): He was robbed of an opportunity to climb when Joan Guzman unprofessionally failed to make weight for their fight. And now Guzman is gone from this list because he will have been inactive for one year before he fights again.
18. Wladimir Klitschko (heavyweight, unlimited): Again, he often looks shaky, but he’s still the man in his division. Beating Hasim Rahman in December offers him no chance of moving up, but it’ll be hard to shake Klitschko from the bottom half of this list.
19. Chris John (featherweight, 126 lbs.): At long last, John beat someone legit when he outpointed Hiroyuki Enoki. He’s a great talent but his resume is padded, except for a questionable win over Juan Manuel Marquez. His inclusion forces out David Haye, who has been inactive.
20 (tie). Juan Diaz (lightweight) and Nonito Donaire (flyweight, 112 lbs.): It’s not my bravest maneuver, but Diaz was nearly in my top 10 before losing to Campbell, and with his win over Michael Katsidis, he deserves to return to the top 20. Likewise, Donaire fended off a credible title challenger this weekend and owns a knockout of Darchinyan, back before either man had won much top-20 consideration. Darchinyan’s resume is lengthier, so I can’t imagine putting Donaire above Darchinyan, but I can’t justify Donaire not being on the list at all any longer.
Hanging around: Cristian Mijares (from #11 to just outside the top 20), Fernando Montiel (a very underrated fighter, maybe even underrated by yours truly), Mikkel Kessler (the man at super middleweight [168 lbs.] but fighting lackluster competition), Arthur Abraham (knockout win this year over Edison Miranda was very impressive, and he’s easily defeated a number of decent opponents), Jermain Taylor (only two losses to Pavlik, but looked bad in many fights before that), Glen Johnson (arguably beat Dawson this year)