Updated Pound-For-Pound Top 20, August 2009 Edition

I haven’t done a full-length, in-depth pound-for-pound list since 2008, instead relying on shorter updates, and I’d intended to the full treatment halfway through the year, except for all kinds of summer fights got canceled, so it didn’t make much sense to do it then, since nobody was shifting or changing very dramatically.

Now makes a touch more sense. As usual, I’d encourage you to include your own top 20 in the comments section. A comprehensive explanation of my criteria can be found here, but the gist is: I put a premium on quality wins, especially of recent vintage, and a variety of other smaller factors are taken into account. Here are my two most recent updates, for comparison’s sake.

1. Manny Pacquiao, junior welterweight, 49-3-2 (37 KOs)
Key wins: TKO11 Marco Antonio Barrera, 2003; TKO10, Erik Morales, 2005; SD12 Juan Manuel Marquez, 2008
Recent activity: W KO2 Ricky Hatton, 5/09
This #1 is plumb easy. Some might put Floyd Mayweather here, I guess, but that guy hasn’t fought in nearly two years, and in the interim, Pacquiao has beaten Mayweather’s last two opponents — Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton — more destructively than Mayweather did, plus thrown in a win over Juan Manuel Marquez, among others. Pacquiao’s overall resume trumps Mayweather’s too — his top three career wins significantly exceed Mayweather’s. Losing to Miguel Cotto at 145 pounds in November would drop him from the #1 spot, although there’s one other way he might get evicted.
2. Juan Manuel Marquez, lightweight, 50-4-1 (37 KOs)
Key wins:  UD12 Marco Antonio Barrera, 2007; TKO11 Joel Casamayor, 2008; TKO9 Juan Diaz, 2009
Recent activity: W TKO9 Diaz, 2/09
Given that Marquez and Pacquiao are separated by one point on one scorecard over two fights, I have the following question: If Marquez somehow beats Mayweather in September, shouldn’t Marquez be considered the pound-for-pound king? Pacquiao has never beaten an opponent as good as Mayweather. And Marquez is coming up from lightweight to fight Mayweather at a reported 144 pounds in a bout where he will be a pretty heavy underdog. Marquez’ strength of schedule over the last year and a half probably tops Pacquiao’s, too. I don’t think answering “yes” to the above question is even kind of far-fetched.
3. 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
Due to my rule (common to many pound-for-pound lists) about one year of inactivity, Hopkins will not be on my list as of October. Looking at his resume, I wonder whether he deserves the spot he has now. The four wins listed above are all against men who had moved up in weight and suffered a disadvantage for doing so. But he did beat a bigger Antonio Tarver and almost beat a legit light heavy in Joe Calzaghe, even though Calzaghe was moving up at the time. Anyhow, he wants to fight Tomasz Adamek or Chad Dawson next, in January if he can, two bouts that would very quickly restore him to very near the top of this list if he won.
4. Shane Mosley, welterweight, 46-5 (39 KOs)
Key wins: SD12 Oscar De La Hoya, 2000; UD12 De La Hoya, 2003; TKO9 Antonio Margarito 2009
Recent activity: W TKO9 Margarito, 1/09
What a sad state of affairs for Mosley, who collected one of the finest wins of his extraordinary career in January and hasn’t been able to do jack with it. He wasn’t even able to land a consolation prize bout in December against Andre Berto. I’ve not seen anything definitive about his forthcoming plans, but it looks like he’ll end up with Joshua Clottey in another typical tough match-up that offers none of the rewards of a Mayweather, Cotto or Pacquiao. He’ll be vulnerable to being supplanted even if he beats Clottey, because of what the man beneath him is doing.
5. Paul Williams, middleweight, 37-1 (27 KOs)
Key wins: UD12 Antonio Margarito, 2007; TKO1 Carlos Quintana, 2007; UD12 Winky Wright, 2009
Recent activity: W UD 12 Wright, 4/09
If Williams beats Kelly Pavlik in October, I think you can make a case that Williams deserves serious consideration for the #1 spot. It is not a case I would make. But he’s due for a move into the ranks of the elite of the elite, and very well could be at the #2 spot soon depending on how a few fights shake out in the stacked fall season. Come on — beating the middleweight champion of the world means a good deal for a guy who says his best weight is welterweight, right?
6. Miguel Cotto, welterweight, 34-1 (27 KOs)
Key wins: TKO11 Zab Judah, 2007; UD12 Shane Mosley, 2007; UD12 Joshua Clottey, 2009
Recent activity: W UD12 Clottey, 6/09
I have a lot of problems with people who don’t still have Cotto in their top 10 because of how he fared against Clottey. Clottey is one of the two best opponents Cotto has ever beaten, and he fought with a massive gash over his eye that should have resulted in the fight being stopped and sent to the scorecards. Is it possible that he’s not the same fighter he was before the knockout loss to Margarito? I suppose, but I don’t think anyone really knows. And besides, he got the win. In my universe, winning is the best measure of pound-for-pound excellence. What happens if Cotto beats Pacquiao next? Hard to say. He’d be defeating a smaller opponent, but an excellent one. He’d probably move up some, anyway.
7. Ivan Calderon, junior flyweight, 32-0-1 (6 KOs)
Key wins: TD9 Eduardo Marquez, 2003; SD12 Hugo Cazares, 2007; TD7 Cazares, 2008
Recent activity: D TD6 Rodel Mayol, 6/09
Calderon has shown signs of aging, everyone can agree. Head butts and cuts are leaving so many of his fights’ endings unsatisfactory. But he still finds ways to avoid losing when his fights go to the scorecards. The issue for Calderon is that the more he treads water, the more likely he is to be passed up by someone behind him. I’m not sure beating Mayol in a rematch in September does very much for him, even. And with the way that fight was going, a Mayol win is not out of the question.
8. Chad Dawson, light heavyweight, 28-0 (17 KOs)
Key wins: UD12 Tomasz Adamek, 2007; UD12 Glen Johnson, 2008; UD12 Antonio Tarver, 2008
Recent activity: W UD12 Tarver 5/09
Again, check out the resume there and tell me it isn’t a hell of a nice one. I know some people don’t like Dawson’s style, but he wins. I don’t think pound-for-pound is about how pretty your wins are. And Dawson may not have reached his full potential yet. If he beats Johnson in a rematch in November, one would think he’d have quieted some of his critics, but I bet it won’t quiet some. For me, it’ll move him up a slot or more.
9. Kelly Pavlik, middleweight, 35-1 (31 KOs) 
Key wins: TKO7 Edison Miranda, 2007; TKO7 Jermain Taylor, 2007; UD12 Taylor, 2008
Recent activity: W RTD9 Marco Antonio Rubio, 2/09
Pavlik might not be in my top 10 right now if not for some people dropping out, but if he beats Williams, he’ll have earned the spot and some. Sure, there may be some mitigators to the win, like the fact that Williams may or may not really be a middleweight, but he’s established enough at the division that you can argue he’s the #2 man in the class. It’s worth a fair amount to me.
10. Nonito Donaire, junior bantamweight, 21-1 (14 KOs)
Key wins: TKO5 Vic Darchinyan, 2007; TKO8 Luis Maldonado, 2007; TKO6 Moruti Mthalane, 2008
Recent activity: W UD12 Rafael Concepcion, 8/09
No, Donaire didn’t look that good beating Concepcion, and no, Concepcion wasn’t really an elite opponent. But Donaire did beat a quality foe three weight divisions above that of his most recent fight, since Concepcion came in so much over weight. His resume is the weakest of anyone in the top 10, but then, it’s not as if there’s much that separates him from those beneath him, so in a toss-up, I’m going to go with sheer talent. Donaire has it in spades.
11. Tomasz Adamek, cruiserweight, 38-1 (26 KOs)
Key wins
: MD12 Paul Briggs, 2006; TKO8 O’Neil Bell, 2008; SD12 Steve Cunningham, 2008
Recent activity: W RTD4 Bobby Gunn, 7/09
Adamek hasn’t beaten anyone as good as Donaire has in his best win, but he has beaten more guys at the top of his division. I wouldn’t argue with anyone who had Adamek higher than Donaire. If Adamek beats Andrew Golota next, I’m not sure it does much for his pound-for-pound rankings, but I’d give him a bump if he beat Hopkins.
12 .Chris John, featherweight, 42-0-2 (22 KOs)
Key wins: UD12 Osama Sato, 2004; UD12 Juan Manuel Marquez, 2006; UD12 Hiroyuki Enoki, 2008
Recent activity: D PTS12 Rocky Juarez, 2/09 
John’s best win, over Marquez, is debatable, and some (not me) thought Juarez beat him. But he has done no worse than hanging with some elite opposition, he’s shown me dimensions I never knew he had, and he’s probably going to beat Juarez in a September rematch, assuming that the version we saw draw with Juarez was under the weather, as the official story goes.
13. Wladimir Klitschko, heavyweight, 53-3 (47 KOs)
Key wins: UD12 Chris Byrd, 2000; UD12 Sam Peter, 2005; RTD9 Ruslan Chagaev, 2009
Recent activity: W RTD9 Chagaev, 6/09
I don’t get people who say heavyweights can’t be pound-for-pound. Why not? Can someone explain? Is it because the division isn’t very good? No offense to Calderon, but he’s not beaten anybody that awesome, and everyone gives him so much credit for volume of wins. Is it because heavyweights’ “skills” aren’t as good as lighter weight classes? Forgive me, but I don’t think “skills” necessarily establish pound-for-pound credentials — how skilled was Israel Vazquez, really, when he was climbing these lists? Look, I’m no Klitschko fan, but you can’t deny that he’s dominated his division and beaten every conceivable top opponent he can. The division’s lack of depth holds him back, true, but at a certain point, maybe we have to acknowledge, like it or not, that Klitschko is pretty good and deserves to be higher on a lot of these lists than he is.
14. Arthur Abraham, middleweight, 30-0 (24 KOs)
Key wins: UD12 Howard Eastman, 2005; UD12 Edison Miranda, 2006; TKO4 Miranda, 2008
Recent activity: W TKO10 Mahir Oral 6/09
No single Abraham win really jumps out at you, but he’s got a little bit of Klitschko/Calderon thing going on — he just keeps beating quality opponents in his division. He’s going to have opportunities to move up further as part of Showtime’s super middleweight tournament, although, perhaps, not much right away, given his draw in the first round. Still, it’s worth nothing that even the diminished version of Jermain Taylor he’s scheduled to meet this fall would probably have to be considered the best opponent of his life — or he’s at least in the running, right?
15. Rafael Marquez, featherweight, 38-5 (34 KOs)
Key wins: TKO8 Tim Austin, 2003; RTD9 Silence Mabuza, 2006; RTD7 Israel Vazquez, 2007
Recent activity: W TKO3 Jose Francisco Mendoza, 5/09
Marquez fell from this list because of inactivity, but he was in the top 10 before he had his lengthy break. His comeback opponent, Mendoza, wasn’t much, and his next opponent, this coming weekend, isn’t much, either. But it’s enough for him to resume a place on the list, albeit at a lower spot. He’s ripe for being leapt over because I put such an emphasis on recent competition.
16. Celestino Caballero, junior featherweight, 32-2 (22 KOs)
Key wins: UD12 Daniel Ponce De Leon, 2005; TKO3 Somsak Sithchatchawal, 2006; TKO4 Steve Molitor, 2008
Recent activity: W SD12 Jeffrey Mathebula, 4/09
People who have him in their top 10 (that’s you, Ring mag) are overrating him considerably, in my view, especially since they dropped Cotto for looking bad in his last fight and Caballero arguably lost his last fight and has never beaten anyone half as good as Cotto’s best competition. People who don’t have Caballero in the top 20 at all, though, are a bit off in my view. Checking out his key wins, beating three top-5 opponents in his division — especially a pretty good division — is enough to put him in this spot. He’s scheduled to fight some nobody or the other this month, but if he could get a hold of #17, maybe then we could talk about whether he deserves to be higher.
17. Juan Manuel Lopez, junior featherweight, 26-0 (24 KOs)
Key wins: TKO1 Daniel Ponce De Leon, 2008; RTD10 Gerry Penalosa, 2009; RTD9 Olivier Lontchi, 2009
Recent activity: W RTD9 Lontchi, 6/09
Lopez, as much as I love him, continues to maintain way too high a spot on most people’s top-20 lists. Look at those key wins. De Leon is a limited slugger. Penalosa is a junior bantamweight. Lontchi proved better than expected, but still hadn’t beaten anyone of note before he fought Lopez. If you draw up your pound-for-pound lists based on talent alone, I would advise you to consider whether Lopez has proven he’s as good as his talent suggests he might be. He hasn’t done it with many quality wins. If he beats Caballero — a guy he’s currently ducking — then we can talk. Instead, his next opponent is Rogers Mtagwa, which will prove absolutely nothing about Lopez’ capabilities.
18. Mikkel Kessler, super middleweight, 41-1 (31 KOs)
Key wins: UD12 Anthony Mundine, 2005; KO3 Markus Beyer, 2006; UD12 Librado Andrade, 2007
Recent activity: KO3 Danilo Haussler, 10/08 
Kessler’s recent strength of schedule has been pitiful, but he still beat a good number of top guys in his division and gave hell to Calzaghe in a loss. Like Abraham, he has a chance to move up tremendously via the Showtime tournament, although his first round draw, Andre Ward, is so unproven that I’m not sure beating him would help much in the short run.
19. Timothy Bradley, junior welterweight, 25-0 (12 KOs)
Key wins: SD12 Junior Witter, 2008; UD12 Kendall Holt, 2009; RTD3 Nate Campbell, 2009
Recent activity: W RTD3 Campbell, 8/09
His defeat of Campbell, perhaps his best win, very well could be overturned in a couple days. And I’m in the minority that thought the fight was close through two rounds, prior to the head butt that should have led to a “no decision” rather than a “RTD” or “TKO.” But Bradley is the real deal, and right now, his resume looks as good as a number of people above him. A Campbell rematch appears unlikely; a bout with Lamont Peterson is probably next, and Peterson’s good enough that it might help Bradley nudge upward.
20. Hozumi Hasegawa, bantamweight, 27-2 (11 KOs)
Key wins: UD12 Veeraphol Sahaprom, 2005; TKO9 Sahprom, 2006; TKO1 Vusi Malinga, 2009
Recent activity: W TKO1 Nestor Rocha, 7/09
A pair of 1st round blowout wins over fringe contenders has boosted Hasegawa’s pound-for-pound argument in the “looks good” category, but his best wins are really a few years old, and I’d be surprised if he ended up fighting anyone in his pretty good division’s top 10 anytime soon. Again, I’m not completely sold on people as pound-for-pound entrants until they demonstrate their skills against top-notch competition in the ring, as opposed to in my imagination. He’s probably not long for my top 20.
Hanging around: Floyd Mayweather (inactivity), Israel Vazquez (inactivity), Joan Guzman, David Haye, Fernando Montiel, Vitali Klitschko, Roman Gonzalez, Vic Darchinyan, Nate Campbell, Lucian Bute, Glen Johnson, Joseph
Agbeko, Omar Narvaez, Ulises Solis, Edgar Sosa
(Rene Descartes’ picture is going to be a running joke for my pound-for-pound lists, I’ve decided. His most famous quote, as we know, was “Pondus quart pondus, homies.”)

About Tim Starks

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