It was an exceptionally busy two months for some of the pound-for-pound best boxers in the world. Eight of the people on this list were in action since the last update, and four people who used to be on it aren’t anymore.
I’ve issued a rare course correction from the last update, convinced by some of you that maybe I’d over-promoted someone last time around. No matter how consistent I try to be with this subjective dark art, it reaches its dark art tentacles into my guts and perverts me, corrupts me. Anyway, the ultimate standard remains how a boxer has fared against quality competition (especially of recent vintage), with activity level and rough estimates of talent figuring into the mix too.
But you’re probably wondering: Was there a change at the top after the big Floyd Mayweather-Shane Mosley fight? Wonder no longer.
1. Manny Pacquiao (welterweight)
Mayweather’s win over Mosley gives him the best win of his career, and arguably a better win than any of Pacquiao’s, but it doesn’t fully eclipse anything Pacquiao has done for the totality of his career or even over the last couple years. Don’t forget that since around this time in 2009, Pacquiao has beaten two boxers widely ranked in the top 10 pound-for-pound (Miguel Cotto and Ricky Hatton) and a third ranked in some people’s top 20 (Joshua Clottey in March), plus he claimed record fourth lineal championship at junior welterweight and conquered two big welterweights. And none of that takes into consideration that he beat three boxers earlier in his career that arguably rank among the 50 greatest ever (Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez) and more besides. What Mayweather has done in the last year (and his career) is extremely good too – but for now, it narrows the gap between #1 and #2 rather than closes it. I used to think there wasn’t a debate about whether Pacquiao was the pound-for-pound king. Now there is. Hopefully, everyone involved takes it personally and decides to settle it in the ring. It’s THE fight in boxing.
2. Floyd Mayweather (welterweight)
Except that 2nd round pounding he took, Mayweather turned in perhaps his best performance in a fight against his best opponent. What more could you want? We had a feeling Mayweather’s talent would rise to the occasion when presented with an opponent who was this good, and it did. If he did it more often, he’d be my pound-for-pound king. That I think Mayweather would likely beat Pacquiao is secondary — the best fighters have to prove it. Pacquiao’s proven it over and over again against the utmost competition. Mayweather, finally, is getting there. And he needs to get into the ring with Pacquiao to decide it once and for all — blood tests and purse splits be damned. Find a way to get into the ring with the best opposition, Floyd. For the first time in eight years, you did Saturday. You can do it again.
3. Paul Williams (junior middleweight)
If “The Punisher” seems too high to you, I offer you two counterarguments: 1. He was #4 on my list and a few other sensible ones, and he benefits from Mosley’s drop; and 2. On short notice last year, he beat the man who two weekends ago claimed the middleweight championship and debuts in the top 10 of my list, Sergio Martinez. A rematch becomes perhaps the second-most desirable fight in all of boxing, but if Pacquiao and X can’t come to an agreement on a fight, Williams deserves to figure into the mix. I know, I know, nobody believes he can get to 147 at his height. But what do you want to bet he weighs less than 154 this week at the weigh-in for next weekend’s bout against Kermit Cintron? Anyway, I think he’s stuck at #3 until #1 and #2 square off, or he gets a shot at one of those men himself. (P.S., most of the above is clearly contingent on Williams beating Cintron.)
4. Chad Dawson (light heavyweight)
Except Bernard Hopkins, who has no interest in battling him, Dawson has cleared out the old guard at light heavyweight. That leaves the young guard, and he’s stepped up to the plate – he’s booked for an August fight against Jean Pascal that will determine the lineal, Ring magazine light heavyweight championship of the world. That might or might not be enough to move him into my #3 spot – but if he wins it, it sure won’t hurt. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned lately that the win over Tomasz Adamek keeps looking better all the time, but it warrants mention again after Adamek got another nice notch on his belt in April.
5. Shane Mosley (welterweight)
How much to drop Mosley is a difficult question. I didn’t drop Juan Manuel Marquez very much for losing to Mayweather, and Mosley fared better against Mayweather than Mosley did. It’s tough to say why Mosley disappeared after that amazing 2nd round, but at least a big part of it was Mayweather, who really turned it up a notch in the 3rd and never let Mosley get back into things. It’s at least possible Mosley aged overnight, but it’s also possible — and he said so himself — that being out of the ring since January of 2009 affected his performance. His stamina wasn’t where it usually is. So I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt. In part because it’s hard to imagine considering putting him beneath the next guy.
6. Wladimir Klitschko (heavyweight)
Everyone knows the heavyweight division is something of a wasteland, but Klitschko has done far too much for far too long and far too dominantly not to get top-10 pound-for-pound contention, with his March win over Eddie Chambers one of his best. Chambers was ranked #3 in the division, rightfully. Over the last five years, Klitschko has defeated eight top-10 heavyweights, plus several more over the course of his career. No one else has so thoroughly owned his division for such a stretch of time, and good luck finding someone who can knock him from his perch for years to come. Really, the only thing that could lead to a slide on my list is a prolonged stretch of inactivity and better available competition at lighter weights. That is, unless David Haye – the new #3 in the division, and the best blend of speed and power at heavy, with a pound-for-pound resume from his days at cruiserweight – can do him in. It’s plausible, but unlikely. And the fight may be difficult to make, given the animosity that’s built up and the strange negotiating tactics of Haye’s team. Klitschko takes Bernard Hopkins’ spot, who exits because in the last year and a half, he’s merely beaten a too-small and under-talented Enrique Ornelas and a shot Roy Jones, Jr., and he didn’t look very good doing it. If he fights and beats a top opponent, he’ll be due for restoration to the top 20.
7. Juan Manuel Marquez (lightweight)
As one-sided as the shellacking was that he took from Mayweather in September, and as long as he’s been outside the ring since, I still can’t bring myself to drop Marquez more yet because he was fighting two weight classes above the division where he’s the lineal champion and four classes above his most effective weight. He’s due for a rematch against Juan Diaz in July, where a win which doesn’t get him much in these standings what with Diaz losing two of his last three (and arguably the third, depending on whom you ask), but combined with his achievements before the Mayweather loss, it might be enough to hold off the charging hordes below for a while longer.
8. Sergio Martinez (middleweight)
I’d defended my refusal to include Martinez based on the point that his best win was over Alex Bunema. Yes, he deserved the win over Cintron. Yes, he very well may have deserved the win over Williams, and that he could fight on such even terms with him warranted pound-for-pound consideration. Yes, he looked like a force to be reckoned with. But still. Bunema. And could it be that he was somewhat to blame for not making matters more definitive against Williams and Cintron, a la Joshua Clottey’s near misses? Now, though, with a judge-certified April ass-kicking over a borderline top-10 pound-for-pound opponent in Pavlik, and the middleweight championship belt around his waist, he’s shot into my top 10. A rematch with Pavlik or Williams might imperil (or boost) his standing later, but today, I think #8 completely defensible.
9. Timothy Bradley (junior welterweight)
OK, here’s the thinking on a slight rejiggering. I got carried away when I put Juan Manuel Lopez so high last time around, and my positioning of Bradley is the major reason I reconsidered. Using my “what have they done in the last year” metric, I looked at Cotto, Ivan Calderon, Chris John and Nonito Donaire and saw Bradley right beneath them as ripe for a promotion. But then right above that group was Lopez, and as impressed as I was with Lopez’ win over Steve Luevano, I got to thinking I’d gone too far if you compare Bradley’s achievements in the last year to Lopez’. Bradley’s beaten better overall competition. He may be slightly vulnerable at this spot since he won’t fight again until July.
10. Juan Manuel Lopez (featherweight)
I gave some thought to dropping Lopez a bit more, but I decided to stand firm on leaving him in the top 10. Here’s why: Steven Luevano, the man Lopez beat easily, had gotten some very nice work done at featherweight. Luevano had beaten an array of good fighters, and I’d had him as a borderline top-20 pound-for-pound fighter. As for what’s next, Lopez is lining himself up for a shot at the winner of Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez IV this month, and if Lopez were to beat either of those men I wouldn’t give him too much credit, really. If he were fighting the likes of John, Celestino Caballero or YURIORKIS GAMBOA! maybe then we could talk. He’s the most vulnerable man in my top 10, once you look at the rest of his potential 2010 schedule.
11. Miguel Cotto (junior middleweight)
The light-hitting Yuri Foreman may be perfect for Cotto at this point in his career, which has seen a lot of wars, but Foreman is also big and tricky. Foreman’s a legitimately nice notch on Cotto’s belt if he beats him in June, especially considering Cotto is moving up another division. I could see bumping him up above Lopez or even Bradley, which would break up the Puerto Rican fighter logjam from 10 to 12.
12. Ivan Calderon (junior flyweight)
Calderon had been as high as he was on my list because of sustained dominance in two divisions, but that’s all gone now. In the last year, he’s got a draw and a narrow win over Rodel Mayol, who’s not bad, mind you, but that’s all he’s got. He’s not fighting anyone anyone very good very soon, either, unless you’re wowed by Jesus Iribe. I don’t think he’s long for this list in 2010.
13. Chris John (featherweight)
John’s in almost the same place as Calderon, except he has a marquee win over Marquez (teehee) and fewer victories over top-10 divisional opponents. In the last year, he has a comprehensive win over the maddening but increasingly harmless Rocky Juarez where John almost got knocked out in the 12th round. And he recently had to postpone his token Indonesian title defense against Fernando Saucedo. Thus the demotion, and more may be imminent, unless he gets busy against a top feather.
14. Nonito Donaire (junior bantamweight)
It’s the old story for Donaire – he looks like pound-for-pound top-10 talent, but he still ain’t fightin’ nobody very good. An attempt to make a real bout in August with Vic Darchinyan is now in trouble, too, as the negotiations bog down over international broadcast rights. Donaire’s career has become one of the more frustrating in the sport, and it doesn’t seem like it’s much his fault because he clearly wants it – it’s his team’s, and bad luck. Maybe it’s time he makes like Fernando Montiel and demands a big fight and tells his team to shove it if they don’t deliver.
15. Celestino Caballero (featherweight)
In a new division, Caballero beat a qualified opponent (Daud Yordan) in April to build on a record composed of a string of moderately impressive achievements, so he bumps up two spots. He’s like a low-grade Calderon – he hasn’t fought the best competition, but he’s often appeared to be one of the best and he’s been at it for a long time. Who’s going to give him a chance to prove he’s something more? Probably nobody, if Top Rank’s “hide the Yuriorkis Gamboa” routine isn’t an illusion.
16. Tomasz Adamek (heavyweight)
It’s almost impossible for me to believe there are three heavyweights in my top 20, and I considered adding a fourth (Haye). But Adamek is still here mainly on the strength of his cruiserweight campaign. It’s impressive that he’s been able to be effective at three weight classes spanning almost 50 pounds, too. His April win over Chris Arreola confirmed he’s a real heavyweight. But if, say, Andre Ward beats Allan Green in his next fight, can Adamek hold his spot? Nah. The competition at heavyweight isn’t good enough for him to stay here for too much longer, unless he somehow beats a Klitschko, and I don’t see that happening.
17. Vitali Klitschko (heavyweight)
Hey, it’s another Klitschko and another heavyweight! Klitschko’s decision to fight Albert Sosnowski offers him no opportunities for advancement. But that’s true of virtually any opponent he might have chosen. If he ends up with Haye or Adamek at some point, he’s got something. Otherwise, nobody in the division, like prospective opponents Odlanier Solis or Nicolay Valuev, are good enough for him to keep holding on, and the clock is ticking on his career.
18. Vic Darchinyan (junior bantamweight)
Darchinyan creeps back into the top 20 he was just outside of with a couple acceptable wins and some others dropping out. As for what’s next , see #14 above unless it depressed you too much the first time.
19. Andre Ward (super middleweight)
Of all the 168-pounders, Andre gets my nod. He beat someone who at the time was already in my pound-for-pound top 20, Mikkel Kessler, plus scored another pretty good win at 168 over Edison Miranda, plus hasn’t suffered a recent defeat like all the rest of the people in the Super Six tournament. Lucian Bute isn’t a bad choice, but beating Librado Andrade twice and some wins over a few lesser fighters doesn’t equal what Ward has done. It’s also based on a sense that he’s the most talented of them all. You’ll note a little bit below, though, that all of the top super middles are poised for entry into the top 20. If Ward beats Alan Green in June, he’ll climb some more.
20. Fernando Montiel (bantamweight)
Montiel gets the final spot because of his win this week over Hozumi Hasegawa, whom some had as high as the pound-for-pound top 10, and because he already had a good resume, beating an array of top flyweights and junior bantamweights. It nearly goes without saying that being at the 20th spot leaves him vulnerable, and there are plenty of people below who are deserving and who have proving ground-type fights ahead.
Honorable mentions: Lucian Bute, Arthur Abraham (exited), Andre Dirrell, Mikkel Kessler, Carl Froch, Bernard Hopkins (exited), David Haye, Yonnhy Perez, Hozumi Hasegawa (exited), Kelly Pavlik (exited), Yuriorkis Gamboa, Devon Alexander, Pongsaklek Wonjongkam