I haven’t updated my list of best fighters in the world since April, and with an uneventful stretch ahead before September, now’s a pretty good time to do some revising.
My criteria for evaluating the best of the best, regardless of weight, is a combination of career achievement, recent activity and all-around ability. Imagine it like a boxing scorecard, where clean, effective punching, ring generalship and defense all factor into a judge determining who won each round.
If you’re looking for some comparisons, I’ve linked to the recently revised pound-for-pound lists of other boxing writers at the end.
1. Manny Pacquiao lightweight (135 lbs.) 49-3-2 (35 KOs)
Key wins: TKO11 Marco Antonio Barrera, 2003; TKO10, Erik Morales, 2005; SD12 Juan Manuel Marquez, 2008
Recent activity: W TKO9 David Diaz, 6/08
The way the Filipino mega-star whooped up on Diaz was so impressive I had no choice but to vault him to the #1 spot. With Miguel Cotto’s recent loss, I don’t see his reign atop the p4p list threatened by anyone he’s talking about fighting in the lightweight division next (Humberto Soto, Edwin Valero) and maybe only kinda by Oscar De La Hoya. I think he beats both Soto and Valero, but if Pacquiao’s defeated by a man far more giant than him in De La Hoya, is he any less the all-around power-punching, technically-improved supreme boxer on the planet? I will cross that bridge when and if it happens. Anyway, Pacquiao looks pretty safe in this spot until December and perhaps beyond.
2. Joe Calzaghe light heavyweight (175 lbs.) 45-0 (32 KOs)
Key wins: UD12 Jeff Lacy, 2006; UD12 Mikkel Kessler, 2007; SD12 Bernard Hopkins, 2008
Recent activity: W SD12 Hopkins, 4/08
On the strength of his extremely narrow victory against the always crafty Hopkins, even the 43-year-old version, I had the Welsh great in the #1 spot. He just got edged out of it by Pacquiao’s dominant performance in a new weight division over a real top-5 contender. His next fight’s with Roy Jones, Jr. in November, a match-up of elderly late-30s gents who still are pretty fast for their age, but one of them, Jones, is not the fighter he once was, while the other, Calzaghe, had a poor showing against Hopkins (who doesn’t?) but otherwise has looked smarter and better than ever in recent years against excellent competition. Unless Calzaghe just absolutely obliterates Jones, I can’t see putting him back above Pacquiao. Even then it’s a stretch.
3. Juan Manuel Marquez lightweight 48-4-1 (35 KOs)
Key wins: TKO7 Manuel Medina, 2003; TD7 Derrick Gainer, 2003; UD12 Marco Antonio Barrera, 2007
Recent activity: L SD12 Manny Pacquiao, 3/08
The top three, to me, is as clear as day. Marquez, in my opinion, beat Pacquiao in their most recent fight, albeit barely. He’s clearly been Pacquiao’s most difficult foe, even if you think Pacquiao won, and that counts for something. The counter-punching wizard from Mexico has been on an upward career arc even in his relative dotage at age 34. He’s trying on a new weight class when he goes after Ring magazine champ Joel Casamayor, and winning that fight would be far more meaningful than Pacquiao’s win over Diaz. Still, Marquez is a touch behind Pacquiao in career achievements even with that big W. Maybe he goes to #1, just maybe, but more likely he just leapfrogs Calzaghe for #2. If there’s any justice in the world, one day we’ll get JMM-Pacman III.
4. Bernard Hopkins light heavyweight 48-5-1 (32 KOs)
Key wins: TKO12 Felix Trinidad, 2001; KO9 Oscar De La Hoya, 2004; UD12 Winky Wright, 2007
Recent activity: L SD12 Joe Calzaghe, 4/08
Ugh. This wasn’t an easy choice. Cotto’s drop and Floyd Mayweather’s retirement pushed everyone up one spot. I had Hopkins dropping to 6th after losing to Calzaghe. I said to myself, “Is Hopkins really the 4th best fighter in the world? At age 43? When he looked not-so-good against Calzaghe?” And, alas, the answer was yes. Think of it this way: How many people, from middleweight to light heavyweight, would you pick to beat Hopkins without a shadow of a doubt? Calzaghe in a rematch? Reasonable people don’t even think Calzaghe beat Hopkins the first time around. Kelly Pavlik? We’ll find out soon enough — October, actually — but I think lots and lots of reasonable people will pick Hopkins to defeat the likely betting favorite, so crafty is the old master. In his last four fights, all against top pound-for-pound fighters, he’s lost two (questionably) and won two (definitively). I’m giving a lot of weight to his career achievements here, and the thought that he’s still good enough to beat a lot of contenders. But if he loses again, the drop will be long.
5. Antonio Margarito welterweight (147 lbs.) 37-5 (27 KOs)
Key wins: TKO10 Antonio Diaz, 2002; TKO5 Kermit Cintron, 2005 TKO11 Miguel Cotto, 2008
Recent activity: W TKO11 Cotto, 7/08
This one wasn’t easy, either. Margarito, an absolute monster in crushing my previous #3, Cotto, has some pretty good wins on his resume besides Cotto, but others below him have more impressive ones. I delivered him here all the way from the #20 spot. One of the reasons why is because I now consider him the top welterweight, which is in my estimation the second-best division in all of boxing. Could I see him losing to Cotto in a rematch, Paul Williams in a rematch, Josh Clottey in a rematch or Shane Mosley? Sure. But I like the certified Mexican bad-ass’ chances of going 4-0 against them all. He’s vulnerable in this spot with Pavlik knocking on his door, but I think for now he deserves top-5 status.
6. Kelly Pavlik middleweight (160 lbs.) 34-0 (30 KOs)
Key wins: TKO7 Edison Miranda, 2007; TKO7 Jermain Taylor, 2007; UD12 Taylor, 2008
Recent activity: W TKO3 Gary Lockett 6/08
Finally, someone who’s moving up and I don’t feel weird about it. Pavlik improved his stock by blasting out Lockett in one of those “Yeah, you knew he’d do it, but did you think he’d look that awesome along the way?” kind of wins. Beating Hopkins, even this ancient version of Hopkins, would propel him up two spots with ease.
7. Miguel Cotto welterweight 31-1 (25 KOs)
Key wins: RTD5 Carlos Quintana, 2006; TKO11 Zab Judah, 2007; UD12 Shane Mosley, 2007
Recent activity: L TKO11 Antonio Margarito, 7/08
Yeah, he got knocked out by Margarito. But he looked amazing early, and with what he’s done the last couple years, I just can’t justify dropping him very far.
8. Israel Vazquez junior featherweight (122 lbs.) 43-4 (31 KOs)
Key wins: TKO10 Jhonny Gonzalez, 2006; TKO6 Rafael Marquez, 2007; SD12 Marquez, 2008
Recent activity: W SD12 Marquez, 3/08
He’s been on an understandable hiatus since wrapping up his classic trilogy with Marquez. Pavlik’s marginal win and Vazquez’ inactivity over the same span is the only reason he falls from #7 to #8 in my book.
9. Rafael Marquez junior featherweight 37-5 (33 KOs)
Key wins: TKO8 Tim Austin, 2003; RTD9 Silence Mabuza, 2006; RTD7 Israel Vazquez, 2007
Recent activity: L SD12 Vazquez, 3/08
No movement for Marquez. He’s got the same excuse as Vazquez for not doing much. I’m going to have a hard time finding someone to kick him out of the top 10.
10. Cristian Mijares junior bantamweight (115 lbs.) 35-3-2 (14 KOs)
Key wins: UD12 Jorge Arce, 2007; SD12 Jose Navarro, 2008; SD12 Alexander Munoz, 2008
Recent activity: W SD12 Munoz, 5/08
Mijares is the #1 man in the third-best division in the sport, if you axe me. He could greatly climb by beating the #2 man in the division, Fernando Montiel, and profit a little by beating some other 115-pounders.
11. Ivan Calderon junior flyweight (108 lbs.) 31-0 (6 KOs)
Key wins: TD9 Eduardo Marquez, 2003; SD12 Hugo Cazares, 2007; UD12 Juan Esquer, 2007
Recent activity: W UD12 Nelson Dieppa, 4/08
Winning his August rematch with Hugo Cazares probably edges him back into the top-10, where he had a very short stay, in my brain-parts, anyhow, even if I didn’t commit it to paper. He and Mijares would flip-flop.
12. Shane Mosley welterweight 44-5 (37 KOs)
Key wins: SD12 Oscar De La Hoya, 2000; UD12 De La Hoya, 2003; TKO6 Fernando Vargas, 2006
Recent activity: L UD12 Miguel Cotto, 11/07
I suppose knocking out Ricardo Mayorga is a good comeback fight off a difficult, close loss, but it doesn’t get him much in these here rankings.
13. Ricky Hatton junior welterweight (140 lbs.) 44-1 (31 KOs)
Key wins: RTD11 Kostya Tszyu, 2005; KO9 Carlos Maussa, 2005; KO4 Jose Luis Castillo, 2007
Recent activity: W UD12 Juan Lazcano, 5/08
Here’s a guy who, like a lot of people on the list from here on out, is hanging on to his spot by a thread. Yeah, he didn’t look that good against Lazcano, but he still won. Paulie Malignaggi has a strong chance of knocking him nearly out of the top 20.
14. Oscar De La Hoya junior middleweight (154 lbs.) 38-5 (30 KOs)
Key wins: TKO4 Julio Cesar Chavez, 1996; UD12 Pernell Whitaker, 1997; TKO11 Fernando Vargas, 2002
Recent activity: W UD12 Steve Forbes, 5/08
Such a thread-hanger. But his overall achievement, competitive losses to Hopkins and Mayweather and a decent showing in a win over a far smaller but non-awful Forbes keeps him in the top-15, barely.
15. Joan Guzman lightweight 28-0 (17 KOs)
Key wins: TKO7 Agapito Sanchez, 2004; SD12 Jorge Barrios, 2006; UD12 Humberto Soto, 2007
Recent activity: W UD12 Soto, 11/07
He and Nate Campbell could move up a good chunk, depending on who wins their September bout.
16. Nate Campbell lightweight 32-5-1 (25 KOs)
Key wins: TKO10 Almazbek Raiymkulov, 2005; UD12 Ricky Quiles, 2007; SD12 Juan Diaz, 2008
Recent activity: W SD12 Diaz, 3/08
He and Joan Guzman could move up a good chunk, depending who wins their September bout.
17. Paul Williams welterweight 34-1 (25 KOs)
Key wins: TKO11 Walter Mattysse, 2006; UD12 Antonio Margarito, 2007; TKO1 Carlos Quintana, 2008
Recent activity: W TKO1 Quintana, 6/08
His vengeful 1st round knockout of Quintana, combined with the fact that he owns a win over the new #5 on this list, propels him upward tremendously. Now can somebody get him an awesome fight?
18. Wladimir Klitschko heavyweight (unlimited) 51-3 (45 KOs)
Key wins: UD12 Chris Byrd, 2000; UD12 Sam Peter, 2005; UD12 Sultan Ibragimov, 2008
Recent activity: KO11 Tony Thompson, 7/08
He drops a spot from the last list despite beating a quality contender in Tony Thompson because of the achievements of others and how utterly unconvincing he is all the damn time. He’s like the heavyweight version of Hatton.
19. David Haye heavyweight 21-1 (20 KOs)
Key wins: TKO9 Giacobbe Fragomeni, 2006; TKO7 Jean-Marc Mormeck, 2007; TKO2 Enzo Maccarinelli, 2008
Recent activity: W TKO2 Maccarinelli, 3/08
He’s here on the strength of his cruiserweight (200 lbs.) domination. An easing-in period at heavyweight, and the distinct possibility that the new weight class experiment will be a flop, could make it hard for him to stay.
20. Chad Dawson light heavyweight 26-0 (17 KOs)
Key wins: UD12 Eric Harding, 2006; UD12 Tomasz Adamek, 2007; UD12 Glen Johnson, 2008
Recent activity: W UD12 Johnson 4/08
You can make the case he lost to Johnson. You could also make the case that he showed us he can fight through adversity like never before, and point to Adamek’s recent quality win over O’Neil Bell, as evidence that he’s better than advertised.
Lurking around the periphery: Jermain Taylor, Juan Diaz, Chris John, Glen Johnson, Antonio Tarver, Joel Casamayor, Nonito Donaire, Fernando Montiel
A few notes of self-defense, in advance, before sharing some links to other writers’ pound-for-pound lists. Where I expect people to differ with me most are on fighters who A. have not looked so great in wins; B. have lost a few recently; or C. have achieved more over their careers than they have of late. On A., I do factor that in, which is why Klitschko hasn’t climbed much and I’m itching to drop Hatton further. But at a certain point, a fighter who finds ways to win deserves credit. Klitschko has just flat beat tons of top-10 heavyweights. Many of them suck, by historical standards, but Ivan Calderon gets credit for beating tons of substandard 105-pounders. Calderon’s higher up than Klitschko because he’s looked better doing it along the way, but as much as Klitschko annoys me, I’m surprised at how few p4p lists he’s on these days. On B., I do factor in recent losses, but I also think fighters who take on the best and have competitive showings and/or records against the best deserve some credit, too. Thus, the continual respectable ranking of Marquez, Hopkins and De La Hoya. On a related point, C., Hopkins and De La Hoya also have achieved a lot over their careers and met some of my other standards, but rest assured, if they lose again, they will plummet on my lists. I can only give someone so much credit for history and competitive recent showings if they lose too much along the way. That said, I think it’s dubious to throw someone on a p4p list because of some recent awesome win — you need a track record to be among the best.
So if you wanna see how subjective this all gets, here’s Cliff Rold’s top 10 list. He’s got Mijares at #4, Marquez at #8 and Williams at #10. Those are all radically different from my grades, especially Williams, who as far as I’m concerned has two high-quality wins, with some decent ones scattered around there. Mijares has beaten three top guys in his division, which is why he’s in my top 10, but does that put him over Pavlik’s two wins over Taylor, the win over Miranda and even his knockout of Jose Luis Zertuche? As good as Munoz, Navarro and Arce are, two of them are limited sluggers and the other’s a multi-title fight loser. You could call Miranda and Zertuche limited sluggers, but not Taylor.
Likewise, here’s Michael David Smith’s top 25 list, which is radically different from both mine and Rold’s. He’s got Chris John at #5, which befuddles me, because he only has one really nice win, over Marquez, and most people don’t think he actually won. I can live with Arthur Abraham and Joel Casamayor being on his list, but that high? Hmmm. The weirdest one to me is Verno Phillips at #19. I guess beating Cory Spinks counts for something, but, again, most people don’t think Phillips deserved that win, and it’s hard to find many other wins on Phillips’ record that suggests he’s among the best in the world.
I am significantly in line, however, with the rankings of Ring magazine and the Yahoo poll of boxing writers. Like Yahoo, I dropped Winky Wright entirely because he hasn’t fought in more than a year. ESPN’s Dan Rafael hasn’t updated his top 20 yet, but it’s beginning to look like everyone dropped Cotto farther than I did. I explained my reason for not dropping him too far above. I may also have Israel Vazquez way too low. Hard for me to figure out where to put him, though. Maybe above Pavlik? I better quit before I start tinkering again…