Year-End Pound-For-Pound Top 20 List

We still have a bit of 2008 housekeeping to attend to, and one of the final tasks is a final pound-for-pound list of the best fighters in the world regardless of weight.

As usual, my criteria includes, in approximate order of importance: recent activity, career achievement and overall ability.

1. Manny Pacquiao junior welterweight (140 lbs.) 50-3-2 (36 KOs)

Key wins: TKO11 Marco Antonio Barrera, 2003; TKO10, Erik Morales, 2005; SD12 Juan Manuel Marquez, 2008

Recent activity: W TKO8 Oscar De La Hoya 12/08

Whereas before you could make an argument, however weak, for Juan Manuel Marquez or Joe Calzaghe to deserve the top pound-for-pound spot, Pacquiao’s destruction of Oscar De La Hoya — a man I (with others) had ranked at around #15 — in a weight class well above where he started the year should have ended all that debate. He’s the best. Case closed. Anyone who doesn’t have Pacquiao ranked #1 either doesn’t consider Floyd Mayweather, Jr. retired (and even then I question their judgment) or may have some kind of animus against the Pacman. A nearly signed bout for next summer with Ricky Hatton in which he should be the heavy favorite offers him a chance nonetheless to re-establish himself as the best against elite competition.

2. Juan Manuel Marquez lightweight (135 lbs.) 49-4-1 (36 KOs)

Key wins: TD7 Derrick Gainer, 2003; UD12 Marco Antonio Barrera, 2007; TKO11 Joel Casamayor, 2008

Recent activity: W TKO11 Casamayor, 9/08

His record is the same as the last time I did these rankings, coming off one of his finest wins, a knockout of lineal Ring magazine lightweight champ Joel Casamayor. What really keeps him in the #2 slot is that he’s given the #1 man the two hardest fights of his life. If you ever have cause to doubt whether Marquez is a great fighter — and some still do, occasionally — just look at how Pacquiao manhandled De La Hoya. Then look at the fits Marquez gave Pacquiao. Beating Juan Diaz in early 2009 would be an excellent win, but as competitive as Pacquiao and Marquez are against one another when they’re in the ring, Marquez would have to do a lot more than that or count on a Pacquiao loss to move up.

3. Joe Calzaghe light heavyweight (175 lbs.) 46-0 (32 KOs)

Key wins: UD12 Jeff Lacy, 2006; UD12 Mikkel Kessler, 2007; SD12 Bernard Hopkins, 2008

Recent activity: W UD12 Roy Jones, Jr. 11/08

I’d once raised the possibility that Calzaghe’s expected defeat of Roy Jones, Jr. could elevate him above Marquez. That’s not possible after the ripple effect Pacquiao’s win over De La Hoya had on Marquez. And as good as Calzaghe looked against Jones, Jones’ performance vindicated the skeptics (including myself) about whether that was going to be a competitive fight. His retirement would remove him from the list entirely, if he follows through on his threat, but beating, say, a Chad Dawson could vault him above Marquez.

4. Bernard Hopkins light heavyweight 49-5-1 (35 KOs)

Key wins: TKO12 Felix Trinidad, 2001; KO9 Oscar De La Hoya, 2004; UD12 Winky Wright, 2007

Recent activity: W UD12 Kelly Pavlik 10/08

Like most of my top 10, Hopkins hasn’t fought since the last update, so he holds steady. Like old foe Calzaghe, he may retire, and a Calzaghe rematch seems unlikely. If he calls it a day after one of his best performances and most stunning achievements, October’s shutout of Kelly Pavlik, he’ll leave the list but will have walked away in about as high a note as he can strike. If he sticks around for someone like Dawson, don’t count him out, and he would climb the list should he pull off another big win.

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

Same story here as for Hopkins: no fights, no change. Margarito could follow his career-best win, a knockout of Cotto, with what would probably be his second-best career win if he fells Shane Mosley next month. It might be enough to push him up a spot or two. The retirement of Hopkins and/or Calzaghe also would do the trick.

6. 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

You guessed it: no fights, no change in position. Beating Michael Jennings early in 2009 does nothing for his position on this list. His spot is predicated on retirements or losses from above, and hell, even if Mosley beats Margarito, it’d be tricky to justify putting Cotto ahead of Margarito given how their head-to-head meeting went. Of course, Cotto beat Mosley…

7. Israel Vazquez junior featherweight (122 lbs.) 43-1 (31 KOs)

Key wins: TKO10 Jhonny Gonzalez, 2006; TKO6 Rafael Marquez, 2007; SD12 Marquez, 2008

Recent activity: W SD12 Marquez, 3/08

As previously discussed, Vazquez is a candidate for retirement, maybe. Obviously, that would remove him from the list. Also, just to be consistent, if he doesn’t fight by March, he will have been inactive for a full year, which means I’d have to eject him. But if he does come back and puts up a win of any kind of note, I would be strongly inclined to throw him back at or near his old spot.

8. 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

See Vazquez on inactivity. But there is some discussion afoot for Marquez to fight the extremely feared Celestino Caballero, and if he does so and wins, given the hair’s breadth between himself and Vazquez, I wouldn’t be as hesistant to move Marquez above Vazquez as I would be with the Margarito-Cotto situation.

9. Ivan Calderon junior flyweight (108 lbs.) 32-0 (6 KOs)

Key wins: TD9 Eduardo Marquez, 2003; SD12 Hugo Cazares, 2007; TD7 Cazares, 2008

Recent activity: W TD7 Cazares, 8/08

Calderon survived a threat in my book from a couple potential top-10 entrants, but barely. He did get a very good win earlier this year against Hugo Cazares to go along with his overall consistency, and that gave him the edge here. Given the potential of others beneath him to move up in the near term, he’ll need to snag a high quality win soon or count on some retirements if he is to remain in the upper half of this list.

10. Ricky Hatton junior welterweight 44-1 (31 KOs)

Key wins: RTD11 Kostya Tszyu, 2005; KO4 Jose Luis Castillo, 2007; TKO11 Paulie Malignaggi, 2008

Recent activity: W TKO11 Malignaggi, 11/08

When a champion can take on his weight class’ nearest challenger and win as easily as Hatton did, it makes up for a good deal. Hatton’s domination of Paulie Malignaggi erased the shaky performance against Juan Lazcano and helped make up for a knockout loss to Mayweather that never should have counted that badly against him, given that Mayweather was The Man and Hatton is no welterweight.

11. Paul Williams junior middleweight (154 lbs.) 36-1 (27 KOs)

Key wins: UD12 Antonio Margarito, 2007; TKO1 Carlos Quintana, 2007; TKO8 Verno Phillips, 2008

Recent activity: W TKO8 Phillips, 11/08

I think there’s a strong case for Williams to be in the top 10. He’s got one huge win on his resume, over Margarito, and has assembled a list of smaller but still very significant wins, across three different weight classes to boot. But Hatton’s own list is longer, and Calderon has longevity over Williams.

12. Kelly Pavlik middleweight (160 lbs.) 34-1 (30 KOs)

Key wins: TKO7 Edison Miranda, 2007; TKO7 Jermain Taylor, 2007; UD12 Taylor, 2008

Recent activity: L UD12 Bernard Hopkins, 10/08

Only the recent wins of Williams and Hatton move Pavlik out of my top 10. I doubt beating Marco Antonio Rubio helps him much on my list, but it can’t hurt. Losing would be devastating, on the other hand.

13. Chad Dawson light heavyweight 27-0 (17 KOs)

Key wins: UD12 Tomasz Adamek, 2007; UD12 Glen Johnson, 2008; UD12 Antonio Tarver, 2008

Recent activity: W UD12 Tarver 10/08

I could see bumping Dawson up a spot or two for beating Antonio Tarver in a scheduled rematch in early 2009. Maybe. He’d be better served trying to conquer a Hopkins or Calzaghe, but those would have been tough fights to make anyway, and a rematch clause is a rematch clause. Williams’ defeat of Verno Phillips pushed him down one spot.

14. Vic Darchinyan junior bantamweight (115 lbs) 31-1-1 (25 KOs)

Key wins: TKO11 Irene Pacheco, 2004; TKO8 Luis Maldonado, 2006; KO9 Cristian Mijares, 2008

Recent activity: W KO9 Mijares, 11/08

Darchinyan moves down one spot because Hatton moved above him. Otherwise, he’s still coming off his career-best win over Cristian Mijares, and his career had been somewhat underrated to that point. Beating Jorge Arce in his next bout could give him a little lift.

15. Shane Mosley welterweight 45-5 (38 KOs)

Key wins: SD12 Oscar De La Hoya, 2000; UD12 De La Hoya, 2003; TKO6 Fernando Vargas, 2006

Recent activity: W KO12 Ricardo Mayorga 9/08

No one on this top-20 list can climb more than Mosley in the next month. Upsetting Margarito could boost him as many as 10 spots. Of course, Margarito’s precisely the kind of fighter who could rather send a fading-but-still-good vet like Mosley into retirement.

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

Campbell’s inactivity, no fault of his own, has had him bouncing around on my list since March. But he’s got a tough mandatory title defense coming up against Ali Funeka, which obviously presents opportunities for advancement or a fall.

17. Wladimir Klitschko heavyweight (unlimited) 52-3 (46 KOs)

Key wins: UD12 Chris Byrd, 2000; UD12 Sam Peter, 2005; UD12 Sultan Ibragimov, 2008

Recent activity:
W TKO Hasim Rahman 12/08

Klitschko gets no real love for disposing of Hasim Rahman, but then, staying active keeps others from bouncing over him. There’s nobody on this list I’m more reluctant to have here, but hate him all you want, he’s beaten the best his division has to offer a la Calderon.

18. Jermain Taylor super middleweight (168 lbs.) 28-2-1 (17 KOs)

Key wins: SD12 Bernard Hopkins, 2005; UD12 Hopkins, 2006; SD12 Cory Spinks, 2007

Recent activity: W UD12 Jeff Lacy, 11/08

You can argue Taylor never should have been left out of the top 20. Now that he’s scored another win over a top-10 fighter in his division, no matter how badly faded Jeff Lacy was, he definitely deserves to return.

19. Arthur Abraham middleweight 28-0 (23 KOs)

Key wins:
UD12 Howard Eastman, 2005; UD12 Edison Miranda, 2006; TKO4 Miranda, 2008

Recent activity: W RTD6 Raul Marquez 11/08

Maybe Abraham’s not beaten anyone really excellent, something everyone on the list to this point can claim. But his list of defeated top-10 middleweights continues to grow, and he certainly looks like a top-20 caliber fighter.

20. Chris John featherweight (126 lbs) 42-0-1 (22 KOs)

Key wins: UD12 Osama Sato, 2004; UD12 Juan Manuel Marquez, 2006; UD12 Hiroyuki Enoki, 2008

Recent activity: UD12 Enoki, 10/08 

John is definitely vulnerable to drop out, what with a couple of the “hanging around” types having scheduled fights that if they won would thrust them above him, and given John’s proclivity for more often than not fighting terrible competition.

Hanging around: Juan Diaz; Nonito Donaire; Cristian Mijares; Fernando Montiel; Mikkel Kessler; Celestino Caballero; Glen Johnson; Joan Guzman; Winky Wright

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About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.