The Boxers Who Find A Way To Fight The Best, And Those Who Don’t

We’re sandwiched now by a few weekends of boxers who, like Manny Pacquiao, have somehow, some way tried to — or actually have — fought the best, most obvious opponent… and some who, like David Haye — one way or the other — haven’t fought the best, most obvious opponent.

This is important stuff, friends. Maybe you’re into boxing because you want to see people club each other over the head, regardless of who those people are. Maybe you’re addicted to the soap opera-like petty grudges between promoters, networks, managers and fighters. Maybe you have a physical crush on HBO unofficial scorer Harold Lederman. More than anything, though, what I want to see is the best fighting the best.

Sirs and madams! Lords and ladies! This calls for A LIST! (Huzzah.)

Some of the boxers who made the good side of the list — like our two combatants this coming weekend, Paul Williams and Sergio Martinez — might have had to be cajoled a fair amount into fighting the best opponent. No matter. They did it, or tried.

Some of the boxers who earlier this year might have been on the bad side of the list have recently availed themselves of opportunities to correct their behavior, such as junior welterweight Amir Khan, who faces his best, most obvious opponent in Marcos Maidana next month.

As always, the list is drawn from Ring’s ratings. If some junior featherweight ranked #15 by the WBO ain’t fighting somebody he should be, it’s hard to get too rankled about it. It’s the elite fighters, the truly excellent ones, I care about. So I’ll do four each, then throw out some honorable mentions, and — as always, squared — you should make your own nominees.

Doing Enough To Make It Happen

1. Manny Pacquiao, welterweight

Best, most obvious opponent (s): Floyd Mayweather

No, ESPN commentator Teddy Atlas, you’re wrong: Pacquiao DID agree to the drug-testing demands of the the Mayweather camp. Atlas is a good analyst of action inside the ring, but he’s chronically mistaken about everything else. Pacquiao agreed to a 50-50 split. He agreed to have his name come second. He agreed to some of the drug testing Mayweather wanted the first time around, then the specific kind of drug testing Mayweather’s team wanted in the second set of negotiations. And after Pacquiao met that last demand, Mayweather still didn’t accept. Furthermore, Pacquiao has fought a ton of Hall of Fame, borderline Hall of Fame and pound-for-pound top-10 types. Maybe I wish he fought Juan Manuel Marquez a third time instead of David Diaz, or other objections. But more often than not, he has fought the best guy in his division or someone who arguably was the best guy in his division, and the time he hasn’t — Mayweather — it wasn’t his fault.

2.  Paul Williams, middleweight

Best, most obvious opponent(s): Sergio Martinez, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather

No, Williams’ team was not, evidently, all that thrilled about the idea of rematching with Martinez. They futilely tried to lure Pacquiao and Mayweather into the ring, and since Williams is #3 on my pound-for-pound list and that of some others, it’s not like this was a sucker move, to go after #1 and #2 rather than a Martinez sequel. Ultimately, despite wanting to set up shop in the lower weight climes, Williams said “yes” to Martinez. And before that, he fought Martinez at a time when no one wanted to (and on short notice), Winky Wright at a time when no one wanted to, Antonio Margarito at a time no one wanted to and rematched with the only man to beat him, Carlos Quintana. Knock him if you want for reluctantly going back at it with Martinez, but the only thing that matters to me is that he’s doing it.

3. Sergio Martinez, middleweight

Best, most obvious opponent(s): Paul Williams

Don’t act like Martinez was dying to get back in there with Williams, either. His promoter, Lou DiBella, said this summer that he didn’t think his guy should have to go back into the ring super-tough on HBO after back-to-back slugfests with Williams and Kelly Pavlik (which, at the time against Pavlik, was at a weight that Martinez’ team wasn’t too confident about). They went after Margarito, they went after Alfredo Angulo — they went after everyone not named Williams. But, as with Williams, it’s credit due: Nobody wanted to fight Williams much before the first Williams-Martinez bout, but Martinez was all about it; and here he is, just like Williams, a few days away from a do-over of a grueling battle.

4. The Klitschkos, heavyweights

Best, most obvious opponent(s): David Haye

Wladimir and Vitali have been relentlessly, ruthlessly calling out Haye, and steadily making him financial offers more beneficial than the last. They’re #1 and #2 in their division. Haye’s #3. Makes sense, no? And besides, they’ve been doing this for years now. They have beaten, or offered to fight, literally everyone in their division worth half a damn. The only asterisk here is that they aren’t fighting each other, but that’s an unreasonable expectation: They’re brothers.

Honorable mentions: Everyone in the Super Six tournament, especially those still standing — Andre Ward, Arthur Abraham, Carl Froch, Glen Johnson, Andre Dirrell (unless you think he backed out not from an injury but from fright), Allan Green (hey, he got in there, didn’t he?), Jermain Taylor (who never got enough love for fighting top competition)… Juan Manuel Marquez, who was brave enough to challenge Floyd Mayweather two weight classes too high; #1 lightweight challengers Michael Katsidis and Juan Diaz; and still wants a third shot at Pacquiao… The aforementioned Katsidis, fighting Marquez this month despite the death of his brother… Miguel Cotto, who fought Pacquiao, Margarito and Shane Mosley at welterweight and tried to get Mayweather, plus a ton of guys at junior welterweight, and has no obvious next foe that he’s ducking but would get back in there with Pacquiao if he got the chance (maybe he should fight Angulo, but Angulo’s immigration status is up in the air)… the bantamweight tournament entrants — Yonnhy Perez, Joseph Agbeko, Abner Mares and Vic Darchinyan (you can question Darchinyan, given the failed negotiations with Nonito Donaire, but look who’s in this tournament and who isn’t — I believe Darchinyan always wanted a Donaire rematch, and Darchinyan’s vastly superior strength of schedule since the first Donaire fight points to a man who wants to fight the best).

Not Doing Enough To Make It Happen

1. Floyd Mayweather, welterweight

Best, most obvious opponent(s): Manny Pacquiao

See Pacquiao, above. The only opponent Mayweather has faced from 2003 to 2010 who was arguably the best opponent in his division was Mosley. One time. A grand total of one time. I don’t have much negative to say about Mayweather taking Mosley at an advanced age, coming off a long layoff, or whatever. Mosley was a legit, qualified, dangerous opponent. But if that kind of thing happened more than once over seven years, maybe some people would give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to Pacquiao.

2. David Haye, heavyweight

Best, most obvious opponent(s): The Klitschkos

Two years ago, Haye called out the Klitschkos. Twice, he agreed to fight them. Twice, he pulled out — the first time, against Wladimir, citing an injury, the second time, objecting to a contract demand from Vitali that was in the exact contract he’d agreed to for Wladimir. With subsequent offers, he’s feuded over TV rights. All I know is this: Wladimir and Vitali want Haye, and have made concessions to get him. What was Haye doing last weekend? Fighting Audley Harrison, whose nickname is “Fraudley,” and he earned that nickname — he landed a total of one punch in three rounds. Haye said a Klitschko bout will happen next year. But Haye’s not been very good at living up to his word when it comes to the Klitschko brothers.

3. Juan Manuel Lopez, featherweight

Best, most obvious opponent(s): Celestino Caballero, Yuriorkis Gamboa

From nearly the moment in 2008 when Lopez burst onto the scene by knocking out Daniel Ponce De Leon, Celestino Caballero has been calling him out. At every turn, Lopez and his team have had a different excuse about why they won’t fight him (saying, we’ll fight him on HBO for X amount of money, knowing that HBO won’t pay X amount of money; saying Lopez wants only “big” fights while taking opponents like Olivier Lontchi; etc). Caballero would be on the first list if he simply had called their bluff and said, “Sure, I’ll fight you for peanuts,” then beaten Lopez and made more money later. But Lopez and his team have never shown an iota of interest in fighting the man who was the only clear challenger at 122 and after fleeing to featherweight to avoid him, continuing to avoid him after Caballero moved up. As for Yuriorkis Gamboa…

4. Yuriorkis Gamboa, featherweight

Best, most obvious opponent(s): Juan Manuel Lopez, Celestino Caballero

I bet Gamboa would face Lopez right now if he could. But Top Rank has been teasing us with this fight for more than a year, pushing its due date back and back and back some more, so don’t be surprised if it never happens. As for Gamboa avoiding Caballero, he kind of brought that on himself. He’d said he would take him, but after Caballero looked good in a fight recently, suddenly Caballero was being given a lowball offer, and when he turned it down, a different opponent was given a better offer. Caballero would be on the first list if he simply had called Gamboa’s bluff and said, “Sure, I’ll fight you for peanuts,” then beaten Gamboa and made more money later. Be that as it may, Gamboa isn’t fighting the two opponents he should be.

Honorable mentions: It starts with Fernando Montiel and Nonito Donaire, neither of whom are in the bantamweight tournament, and whom Top Rank says will fight one another in February — but Montiel appears to be trying to wiggle out; as for Donaire, again, whether it’s his fault or not, his competition has been OK in spots but atrocious in others for three full years… Alfredo Angulo declined the opportunity to face Sergiy Dzinziruk even though he was the mandatory contender to his title and turned his nose up at $750,000 to face Martinez — maybe not the only obvious candidates for Angulo to face, but for a guy who’s been on HBO so much against the occasional crap opponent, a definite step up in class where he blanked twice… Andre Berto doesn’t really have any obvious next opponent, but he made a limp, DOA, undeserved offer to Mosley for a 50-50 split this summer, then his team flatly rejected the chance to face Mike Jones, the only truly good option on Berto’s finalist list for his upcoming bout this month… Hey, Humberto Soto is finally facing someone with a pulse next month, Urbana Antillon, after years of refusing to do so — but there were any number of guys who still would have been better opponents.

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.