Aside from the endless debates, speculations, accusations, hand-wringing, hair-pulling, and general mental instability surrounding the proposed Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather fight, another less heated, less debilitating, and ultimately more rectifiable debate has surrounded the two preeminent practitioners of the sweet science – who is the best fighter in the world, pound for pound?
Mayweather held the top spot for several years before abdicating with his “retirement” in 2008. Then Pacquiao assumed the throne with his historic ascent through the weight classes. When Mayweather dominated Shane Mosley earlier this year, however, the debate re-opened, with some observers moving Mayweather to the top of the heap for handily defeating (second round notwithstanding) the man generally recognized as the welterweight champion of the world, while others kept Pacquiao atop the list due to his outstanding recent body of work.
The problem with the pound-for-pound list in general, the way I see it, is that it’s not descriptive enough. The gulf between Floyd and Pac and the rest of the fighters in the world is tremendous. The gap between Floyd and Pac is slight. Yet with Manny at one, Floyd at two, and anyone else at three, the same number of spots separate Manny from Floyd and Floyd from anyone else on the list.
The solution? Steal from Bill Simmons. Simmons came up with the Hall of Fame Pyramid idea a few years ago and it’s stuck with me (and him, he references it often) ever since. It is genius because it is a very slight modern wrinkle on the timeless tradition of putting together lists – it’s basically a list with ranges. Plus, it would clarify the pound for pound rankings significantly. Manny and Floyd might be one or two spots away from the number three fighter, but they would be in a different tier. They would be distinguished from the rest of the fighters on the distinguished list. And for now, they should.
(If Simmons somehow finds this, now I made him throw up in his mouth a little. Score!)
OK, so this won’t settle the debate between Mayweather fanatics and Pacquiao fanatics about who is better. That’s OK, that’s how it should be. Until they get in the ring, we’ll never get a satisfactory answer, anyway. What it will do, I hope, is give a clearer landscape of the best fighters in the sport, at least from my perspective.
Without further ado, I unveil the Pound 4 Pound Pyramid, v1.0. Don’t worry, it has GPS and is 4G compatible. Unfortunately, though, the antenna is crappy.
Tier 1: The VIP Section
The best of the best of the best.
1. Manny Pacquiao – Yup, Manny is still #1, even on the list of the guy who defends Floyd Mayweather the way Robert Shapiro defended OJ. One jab at PacLand: When is the last time that Manny fought a true boxer, as opposed to an offensive-minded, come-forward fighter? Juan Manuel Marquez in 2008, of course, the last fight in which Manny looked human. And unless it’s Floyd, I don’t see any pure boxers on Arum’s wish list, either. Just saying. That’s nitpicking, though; right now, Manny is the man. Unfortunately, if he doesn’t fight Floyd, I’ll either have lukewarm interest in his next bout (Miguel Cotto) or be boycotting the fight like I’m the U.N. and it is North Korea (Antonio Margarito).
Key stats: 51-3-2 (38 KO), Ring Magazine junior welterweight champion, welterweight titlist
2. Floyd Mayweather – Beating Shane Mosley took one of the biggest criticisms of Mayweather – that he had never fought and defeated a true top welterweight – out of the conversation. But the hate keeps on coming as Floyd’s enigmatic approach to the fight with Manny has pushed boxing fans to the brink. I’m going to stay perched on my limb and say that the fight will happen, the only question is when. My guess is May 2011 but we’ll see what happens. Regardless, it’s clear that Manny and Floyd are on a different plane than everyone else in the sport.
Key stats: 41-0 (25 KO)
Tier 2: Ringside Seats
These fighters are closest to cracking the top of the pyramid, and have the means and ability to do so someday soon.
3. Chad Dawson – The light heavyweight champ arguably flies further under the radar than almost anyone else on the list, at least at this level. All he does is win, however, and against the best opponents he can get in the ring. He beat Tomasz Adamek when the popular Pole was at light heavyweight (a win that only gets more impressive with time), then cleaned out the old guard of Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson. If he beats tough Jean Pascal on August 14 in Montreal, his resume only gets stronger. He might not be the most interesting guy on the list, and his lack of power may ultimately limit his ceiling, but on a list with two certainties and nothing but questions after, I think Dawson has the strongest claim to the top of the second tier at the moment.
Key stats: 29-0 (17 KO), interim light heavyweight titlist
4. Paul Williams – I’ve had Williams over Dawson before, but after reconsideration I had them swap places. Williams is still primed to move up among the VIPs someday, but he showed chinks in his armor in his aborted fight against Kermit Cintron and he just can’t get anyone notable into the ring with him. Sure, he could fight a rematch of his 2009 Fight of the Year candidate against Sergio Martinez, a fight that would also happen to be for the linear middleweight championship, but that would just make too much sense, wouldn’t it? Williams keeps talking about welterweight and Andre Berto can’t seem to get a fight either, so why not make that happen if he’s not interested in Martinez?
Key stats: 39-1 (27 KO)
5. Sergio Martinez – The middleweight champ is a late bloomer, but he has shown in the last year that he belongs among the elite in the sport. He lost a coin-flip decision to Williams and followed it with a hard-fought win over Kelly Pavlik to take the title and establish himself in the pound for pound conversation. A rematch with Williams is preferred, but really, there’s no shortage of options at 154 and 160. Martinez against Miguel Cotto would be a particularly interesting fight, in my opinion. Martinez isn’t getting any younger, however, so he needs to strike while the iron is hot.
Key stats: 45-2-2 (24 KO), Ring Magazine middleweight champion, middleweight titlist
Tier 3: The Mezzanine
With declining veterans and rising young fighters, this tier has the most potential for movement in the coming months than any thus far.
6. Wladimir Klitschko – Dr. Steelhammer has taken on all comers and dominated with his devastating jab and crushing right hand. His chin may still be a weakness (do we really even know anymore?), but with his style, defense, and ring generalship, we probably won’t find out very soon. While HBO may not be interested unless Wlad is facing David Haye or Tomasz Adamek, his upcoming matchup with Alexander Povetkin means he is yet against taking on a top-3 heavyweight, and a former Olympic gold medalist at super heavyweight like himself, to boot. Whether or not HBO cares, boxing fans should pay attention.
Key stats: 54-3 (48 KO), Ring Magazine heavyweight champion, heavyweight titlist
7. Shane Mosley – “Sugar” had a sour night against Mayweather, and if he fails to impress against Sergio Mora in September, he will likely plummet on this list. However, it’s difficult to dock Mosley too much for losing to Mayweather, especially since he was so dominant against Antonio Margarito in his previous performance. While it’s not the most interesting fight in the world, Mosley-Mora could tell us a lot about where Mosley will factor in on this list in the future, if at all.
Key stats: 46-6 (39 KO)
8. Juan Manuel Marquez – The great Mexican returns after his one-sided loss to Floyd Mayweather with a rematch of the 2009 Fight of the Year against Juan Diaz on July 31. Like Mosley, that fight could tell us a great deal about Marquez’s future on this list. For now, the lightweight champ deserves recognition for his recent work at 135 and a career spent taking on and beating many of the best fighters in the world.
Key stats: 50-5-1 (37 KO), Ring Magazine lightweight champion, lightweight titlist
9. Miguel Cotto – Rumors of his decline have been greatly exaggerated, as Cotto rebounded from his grueling loss to Pacquiao by taking a title at junior middleweight from Yuri Foreman. Cotto looked invigorated at Yankee Stadium with Emanuel Steward in his corner and has a loyal and dedicated following on the East Coast and in Puerto Rico. His only losses are to a (probably cheating) Antonio Margarito and the best fighter in the world right now, yet people keep trying to write him off. I’m not thrilled at the idea of his fighting Manny again (it was pretty damn definitive the first time), but anyone else around 147 and 154 would have a difficult time with Cotto, at the very least.
Key stats: 35-2 (28 KO), junior middleweight titlist
10. Timothy Bradley – Bradley recently tested the waters at 147 against Luis Carlos Abregu, but his real business is still at 140. Fortunately, Bradley expressed interest in all the big names at 140 in his post-fight interview, including Amir Khan, who responded in kind. Unfortunately, Golden Boy Promotions will not match Khan with Bradley right now (that’s right, I’m done even saying “probably” with this stuff anymore; prove me wrong, assholes at GBP). Bradley and Devon Alexander squaring off is a more realistic possibility right now, though, and an absolutely outstanding fight. Make it happen, fellas.
Key stats: 26-0 (11 KO), junior welterweight titlist
11. Andre Ward – This is where a top 10 list would typically cut off, but to me Ward and the next guy are in the same class as the rest of the Tier 3 fighters. Perhaps the Showtime announcers went overboard with the Sugar Ray Leonard comparisons, but fans who criticized Ward for a “boring” fight with Allan Green were worse. Ward may be more Bernard Hopkins than Leonard, but B-Hop was a P4P king for quite some time, so that’s not exactly a crushing criticism. If Manny and Floyd aren’t around in a couple of years, Chad Dawson-Andre Ward could be for the top spot on this list in 2012 or so.
Key stats: 22-0 (13 KO), super middleweight titlist
12. Nonito Donaire – Donaire has been a source of frustration for boxing fans since his upset knockout of Vic Darchinyan in 2007, a prodigious young talent buried on obscure pay-per-views by his jackass promoter. He toyed with Hernan Marquez before knocking him out, but really, a fighter of Donaire’s caliber should not be fighting Hernan Marquez unless Donaire is coming off a tough loss or injury. There are talks of a matchup with Fernando Montiel, which would be an outstanding fight, but I’ll believe it when I see it. With one or two quality wins Donaire could skyrocket up this list, but until he faces a decent opponent again he is stuck below guys with much better recent resumes and comparable skills.
Key stats: 24-1 (16 KO), interim super flyweight titlist
Tier 4: The Upper Deck
Most of these guys could make an argument for inclusion in the Mezzanine, but something is holding them back. Some just need more experience, while others need to make that big splash.
13. Devon Alexander – I strongly considered putting Alexander in the Mezzanine, but he’s probably still one big fight away. Regardless, Alexander could make a strong argument for being the most well-rounded fighter in the loaded junior welterweight division, with great power, speed, and boxing ability. If he dispatches of Andreas Kotelnik as most suspect, the stars may be aligned for Alexander to square off with Bradley. The winner would probably skyrocket all the way to Tier 2.
Key stats: 20-0 (13 KO), junior welterweight titlist
14. Fernando Montiel – The most accomplished Mexican fighter still at the top of his game other than Marquez, Montiel shot onto this list on the strength of his impressive knockout of respected Japanese titlist Hozumi Hasegawa. Montiel is being talked about for a matchup with Donaire, and a win would give him the kind of late-career surge in popularity that Marquez enjoyed a few years ago.
Key stats: 43-2 (33), bantamweight titlist
15. Tomasz Adamek – The Polish punching machine scored a significant victory over Chris Arreola at heavyweight, making him a legit top five contender in the division. While few are salivating at his upcoming matchup with former contender Michael Grant, Adamek has earned enough goodwill to take a soft touch. After that, however, any Adamek matchup against a top ten heavyweight is must-see TV. And I know he’s not top ten material anymore, but could Adamek-David Tua be anything less than awesome for as long as it lasts? Each has been involved in a very good heavyweight fight this year, in an era when “very good heavyweight fight” is an oxymoron.
Key stats: 41-1 (27 KO)
16. Juan Manuel Lopez – What is it with great Puerto Rican fighters and a propensity for knockdowns? First Felix Trinidad seemed to get dropped by every fringe contender he faced on his way up, then questions about Cotto’s chin arose after his slugfest with Ricardo Torres, and most recently, Lopez was dropped by Bernabe Concepcion in a fight he otherwise dominated. Hey, I’m not complaining, just making an observation. We might learn a lot from his fall showdown with Rafael Marquez, but I’m just hoping the fight is half as good as it shapes up on paper. If it is, we won’t be lacking for Fight of the Year candidates afterwards.
Key stats: 29-0 (26 KO), featherweight titlist
17. Yuriorkis Gamboa – Gamboa and Lopez are the Manny and Floyd of Tier 4, the fighters that everyone wants to see square off who just won’t do it right now. Lopez has the better resume, in my opinion, which is the only reason I rate him ahead of Gamboa. Gamboa has all the skills to top this list one day, and with a scheduled unification showdown with Elio Rojas lined up for September, he is finally facing serious competition.
Key stats: 18-0 (15 KO), featherweight titlist
18. Celestino Caballero – If Gamboa and Lopez are the Manny and Floyd of this Tier/weight class, then Caballero is the Paul Williams, a horrible matchup for others due to his size and skill, thus making him the most avoided fighter in his division. Caballero has good names on his resume but nothing special, with his best recent wins being Steve Molitor and Daud Yordan. As good as he is, Caballero needs a big fight to move up any higher.
Key stats: 34-2 (23 KO)
19. Ivan Calderon – The little guy with the littler punch just keeps winning, getting dropped early by Jesus Iribe in his last fight before cruising to a lopsided decision. According to reports, Calderon is set to square off with heavy hitting Giovanni Segura in a dream stylistic clash. If Calderon wins, he could shoot right back up the list.
Key stats: 34-0 (6 KO), junior flyweight titlist
20. Vitali Klitschko – From the smallest division to the biggest, Big Brother slips into Tier 4. Why the gap between big and little brother? Competition. Since coming back in 2008, Vitali has faced Sam Peter, Juan Carlos Gomez, Chris Arreola, Kevin Johnson, and Albert Sosnowski. In the same time span, Little Brother has faced Sultan Ibragimov (unification fight), Tony Thompson, Hasim Rahman, Ruslan Chagaev (unification/Ring Championship fight), and Eddie Chambers. Weak division or no, Wladimir has faced the much stronger opposition. Frankly, it’s pretty hard to tell exactly why Big Brother came back at this point.
Key stats: 40-2 (38 KO), heavyweight titlist
Tier 5: Waiting in Line
These guys have work to do to make the list, but most are young and full of talent. Most of the veterans here are one big win away from cracking the list.
21. Lucian Bute – He arguably deserves it, but the quality wins aren’t there. He might need to move up to light heavyweight to get them.
22. Chris John – Another frustrating fighter, John is an established titlist who never seems to fight the best guys.
23. Pongsaklek Wonjongkam – Do I just like typing his name? Maybe. But the great Thai fighter keeps kicking, recently winning the Ring Magazine flyweight championship.
24. Andre Dirrell – If my high hopes for Andre Ward are derailed, it might be at the hands of the “other” Andre, who has all the physical gifts but often fights negative.
25. Amir Khan – The brash Brit destroyed Paulie Malignaggi in his most recent fight, but his hopes of moving up may be hindered if GBP insists on “protecting” him.
26. Marcos Maidana – Now that the hard-punching Argentine has cleared up his promotional issues, let’s hope he can get another big name junior welterweight in the ring (COUGH COUGH Khan COUGH).
27. Andre Berto – It seems Berto has been on the verge for years. Will he ever get a big fight?
28. Yohnny Perez – Fight of the Year candidate last year against tough Joseph Agbeko. FotY candidate this year against young gun Abner Mares. Probably the most underrated action fighter going right now.
29. Michael Katsidis – He makes awesome fights. He has an awesome ring entrance. He has an awesome nickname. He’s not the most skilled fighter, but he belongs here.
30. Vic Darchinyan – A lot of people have Darchinyan much higher. I give him credit for taking on all comers, but really, I think he got way too much mileage out of a win over Christian Mijares. The recent resume doesn’t match the acclaim, as far as I’m concerned.