Is Sergio Martinez The Best Boxer In The World? Answering “Yes” Is No Longer Heresy

(The new pound-for-pound king? Credit: Teddy Blackburn, DBE)

Almost every other month since forever, this site’s list of the best fighters in the world has placed Manny Pacquiao at #1 and cautioned routinely that almost no matter what he does, Pacquiao’s spot is secure because nobody beneath him is doing enough to challenge for the crown.

That changed on Saturday. Watch out, Manny. Sergio’s coming for your headgear. In case you didn’t notice, he has already worn a crown of his own.

Pacquiao is still #1 in my book. But after what Sergio Martinez did to Serhiy Dzinziruk this weekend, should anyone want to say Martinez has already taken Pacquiao’s title, they have a good argument*. It is not, to steal the word of long time friend of the site schraubd, “heresy.” Nor is it promotional blather from Lou DiBella aimed at hyping Martinez. It’s as real as something as ephemeral as rankings of the best fighters regardless of weight can get.

If the idea of a pound-for-pound list is to measure who’s the best fighter in the world right now, then at some point what a boxer has done lately has to factor into the decision. And there’s nobody who’s done lately what Martinez has done, and certainly not as well as he’s done it.

If what a fighter has done lately isn’t the sole consideration, then Pacquiao is on much safer ground. Among active fighters, there’s no one who’s done as much as Pacquioa has in his career, and certainly not as well as he’s done it.

Consider what Martinez has done since the beginning of last year, and what Pacquiao has done over the same stretch.

 Sergio Martinez:

1. Beat the living hell out of the middleweight champion of the world and a man who retained top-10 pound-for-pound credentials in some circles, Kelly Pavlik, to score a unanimous decision.
2. Scored the Knockout of the Year to become the Fighter of the Year against the consensus #3 man in boxing, Paul Williams, who’d hardly ever been hurt his his career prior to that sizzling counter left Martinez landed in their rematch.
3. Stopped arguably the best junior middleweight in the world, Dzinziruk, to give him his first loss and the first knockdowns of his career — five in one night — and looked sensational doing it, despite predictions that Dzinziruk would make Martinez look bad even in victory.

Manny Pacquiao:

1. Easily defeated legitimate top-5 welterweight Joshua Clottey by unanimous decision, failing to look too good doing it because Clottey is similar to Dzinziruk in that his style is hard to look good against.
2. Moved up to junior middleweight and gave away 16 pounds to beat the living hell out of Antonio Margarito, not a top contender in the division and someone who had several clouds over his head about his viability at that moment. The unanimous decision win completed a climb that saw Pacquiao’s career begin at 106 pounds.
3. Signed to fight Shane Mosley in May, a fighter most view as badly faded from his days as one of the world’s best but still a top-5 welterweight according to Ring magazine.

On the other hand, what you see there for Martinez career-to-date is about the sum total of his arguement. By way of supplementary resume material, there’s a close loss to Williams in their original fight that counts as a plus for him because he arguably deserved to win; there’s a no-one-believed-it-was-a-draw draw against Kermit Cintron; and there’s a knockout over top-10 junior middleweight Alex Bunema.

In his career, Pacquiao has five wins on par with the best two wins of Martinez’ career: knockouts over Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales, two top-10 or arguably top-5 pound-for-pound fighters at the time; a decision defeat of Juan Manuel Marquez, a top-10 or arguably top-5 pound-for-pound fighter at the time; and KO victories over Miguel Cotto and Ricky Hatton, each arguably top-10 pound-for-pound fighters at the time. He was the Fighter of the Decade in the 00s, with a few of those individual years as Fighter of the Year. He has won lineal, true championship belts in more divisions than anyone in the history of the sport.

As good as Martinez has been lately, for their careers, Pacquiao simply blows every contemporary out of the water.

That said, were it not for the fact that some of Pacquiao’s finest career achievements are relatively recent — the victories over Hatton and Cotto came in 2009, and the victories over Clottey and Margarito are very, very good accompanying wins — he’d be in trouble in this space. But you don’t get to be the pound-for-pound best by coasting on what you did few years ago. If that were so, Roy Jones, Marco Antonio Barrera, Evander Holyfield and a bunch of others would still be inhabiting all the pound-for-pound top-10 lists.

That’s why, for the first time since Floyd Mayweather’s return to the ring, someone is threatening Pacquiao’s pound-for-pound crown. The threat from Mayweather has subsided as it has become increasingly unclear if he will fight again due to legal problems and disinterest. But Martinez is now nipping at Pacquiao’s heels.

At least in these parts, Martinez is almost certain to replace Mayweather at #2 in the every-two-months update. He might have anyway, even without the rule about one year on inactivity making Mayweather ineligible; Mayweather, too, has done more in his career than Martinez, but aside from the May 2010 win over Mosley that marked what seems like the last gasp of Mosley’s career, you have to go back to 2007 to find a particularly impressive win (Hatton).

Marquez figures into this debate in at least two other major different ways. First, he is another boxer in my top 5, one that Martinez is about to pass. His resume is deeper and his best almost-win (Pacquiao I and II) is better than Martinez’ best almost-win (Williams I). But Martinez’ streak of late is better than the very good/not great work Martinez has done beating Juan Diaz and Michael Katsidis and losing to Mayweather, plus Martinez’ best career win (Williams II) is superior to Marquez’ (an older version of Barrera, in the now-faded Mexican legend’s last world-class outing). Second, Marquez is a likely future opponent for Pacquiao. And the weight at which that potential fight transpires is crucial.

Dearest Pacfans: Should Pacquiao-Marquez III get made at welterweight, don’t forget how ruthlessly — and righteously — you deningrated Mayweather for forcing Marquez to move up two divisions as a condition for making the bout. If a Mayweather win over Marquez at welter means nothing, and it nearly does, then so does a Pacquiao win over Marquez at welter. If the bout’s at junior welterweight, then it’s a far more significant victory. But it doesn’t appear likely that the bout will be held at 140, and after that, Top Rank’s plan for Pacquiao is apparently a rematch with Cotto, a bout that would have been useless six months after Pacquiao demolished Cotto and would be even more useless in 2012.

If that is indeed what happens, then in the meantime, Pacquiao’s status as pound-for-pound king will only be safe because either 1. Martinez loses between now and 2012; or 2., ages overnight and looks awful in his wins; or 3., the competition available to Martinez at 154 and 160 is B or B+-level stuff, and wins against those fighters might not be enough to push Martinez over the edge. Even then, Pacquiao-Clottey/Margarito/Mosley/Marquez III at welter/Cotto II, plus his career-long achievements, might not be enough to hold off, say, Martinez-Pavlik/Williams II/Dzinziruk/Dmitry Pirog/James Kirkland.

If any of this strikes you as an unlikely way for Pacquiao to lose his pound-for-pound #1 ranking, consider this: Back in 2008, when Mayweather was the consensus #1 man, he was doing nothing in the ring to keep his crown, Pacquiao was beating Marquez and scaling weight classes like a maniac and beating Oscar De La Hoya more impressively than did Mayweather.

Should Pacquiao want to remain the sport’s best fighter, then, he’s going to have to get back to proving it against the best competition. Because that’s what Martinez aims to do. He said so himself: “I will not stop until I am recognized as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.”

*There are other potential factors that could have been discussed, such as the eyeball test, that are a even more subjective. With things like evaluating a fighter’s competition, there is always only “more defensible/more reasonable” and “less defensible/less reasonable.” Getting into who looks best to you and I and why is pretty difficult and nebulous comparatively, although there are ways to discuss it; at least for me, Martinez might have a slight edge in the old “eyeball test” standard, given his superior defense, comparable speed and power, etc.

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.