What if… there existed another universe where fighters were ranked pound-for-pound — i.e., who’s best regardless of weight — based nothing at all on any actual evidence from what a fighter had actually accomplished? A dimension where some figure or the other just points at a fighter and says, “I think he looks like he’s pretty good. He is The One. He’s pretty good, too, I surmise. He’s #2”? And so on and so forth, for 20 different fighters.
That universe exists, friends. We visit it every year around this time, even if Anti-Monitor doesn’t want us to visit it. We visit it because it’s August and there’s not much else to talk about in pro boxing. We visit it because friend of the site Hamilton Nolan gave us the idea to do so two years ago. And we visit it because debating thought experiment-style lists is fun for us, and maybe for you, too.
Because what I’ve written below is bound to piss off some folk who take their favorite boxers too seriously, I want to be very direct about what this list is not: an actual pound-for-pound list of the best fighters in the world. You can find that here (or, at least, this writer’s version of such). This list is no stricter in its criteria than the following guideline: “Based on absolutely nothing other than my subjective judgment, these are the fighters who LOOK like the best fighters independent of having established it in reality.” It wasn’t written with shock value in mind, but yes, it probably has a few surprises. If you find yourself feeling as though your butt is hurt, remember that this is not a serious evaluation, and that there are more important things in the world than whether somebody produces an unserious list that has your bff boxer lower than you think he ought to be.
As if to provide evidence of how fleeting is this “eyeball test” p4p evaluation, last year’s list has been pretty decimated. Turns out looking like you’re good and being good are different things.
1. Andre Ward, super middleweight
Super middleweight champ Ward is the closest thing we’ve got to a blend between prime versions of Floyd Mayweather and Bernard Hopkins – defense, accuracy, smarts and a whiff of meanness. That Carl Froch win is looking better every day, too, after Froch demolished Lucian Bute, a favorite of Alternative Universe Pound-For-Pound Lists everywhere. There’s nobody in his division who could come close to beating Ward, so taking on the light heavyweight champion next month, Chad Dawson, is a bold move.
2. Floyd Mayweather, welterweight
Like his real life p4p list companion Manny Pacquiao, Mayweather has slowed down as he has aged. The difference is, he hasn’t come as close to losing a fight as Pacquiao, and he still looks almost entirely unbeatable. Who would defeat him at welterweight or junior middleweight, exactly? No word yet on who he might fight when next he enters the ring, but possible jail-induced rust could affect him when he gets back at it.
3. Yuriorkis Gamboa, featherweight
Last year’s king falls a few spots because Ward has been more impressive since then, Mayweather has reaffirmed himself some and we just haven’t seen Gamboa lately. In light of what Orlando Salido has done since the summer of 2011, Gamboa’s difficult win over the hard-headed Mexican nonetheless shines a touch more brightly. All in all, I’ve every expectation Gamboa will still be the most potent blend of speed and power in boxing when he returns to the ring. He’s got a new promoter now, so hopefully that ring return is soon.
4. Wladimir Klitschko, heavyweight
I think trainer Emanuel Steward is right: At age 36, Klitschko is actually getting better. And he can get better still. In each fight, the giant ring general dismantles opponents more easily than the one before, and the one time he got a hint of a struggle was against David Haye, who has since reestablished himself as the clear best man in the division after the Klitschko brothers. Next up: a series of heavyweight bums-by-comparison, without end.
5. Anselmo Moreno, bantamweight
Surprised? Have at it, more’s comin’. But after a run of a few fights overseas where Moreno beat good guys in close fights, he’s become more assertive and now picks everyone apart like he’s toying with them. He can hardly be hit cleanly and is a gifted natural counterpuncher with speed and some power. If the fight with Abner Mares actually happens in October like is being discussed, he’ll be taking on by far his best opponent and we’ll find out whether he’s worthy of this kind of eyeball esteem.
6. Adrien Broner, lightweight
The twin knock on Broner is that his competition has sucked, and it has; and that he hasn’t faced a hard-nosed, educated pressure fighter like Daniel Ponce De Leon since nearly losing to same, and that’s also true. But if they fought today, I’d pick Broner to massacre De Leon. He’s gotten a lot better since that fight, and his emulation of Mayweather in the ring is paying off – he’s got the quicks, his defense is improving and he hits harder than Floyd. I doubt he’ll be tested in a planned move to lightweight, either.
7. Guillermo Rigondeaux, junior featherweight
Based on current form, I’d pick Rigondeaux over Nonito Donaire should they fight. The Cuban had that one blip of vulnerability against Ricardo Cordoba, gathered himself, then beat the stuffing out of one of the best men in an admittedly then-shallow 122-pound class, Rico Ramos. With his amateur pedigree and body attack, I can see him counterpunching his way to a victory over most anyone. Too bad he’s not in the mix with the top guys in and around his weight class; Roberto Marroquin next month will have to suffice.
8. Sergio Martinez, middleweight
Last time we did this, Martinez was riding on the highs of his dominant wins over Paul Williams and Serhiy Dzinziruk. Since, he’s struggled with lesser opponents. We’ve analyzed why a million times, but the fact remains that he’s closing the show after early-round struggles, still is plenty fast and still hits plenty hard. Is that enough to contend with the massive size of Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. next month? We shall see soon enough.
9. Juan Manuel Marquez, junior welterweight
There were signs of aging in Marquez in his last bout, but when the guy has two straight wins over Pacquiao as far as I’m concerned, how can I place him below Pacquiao? Marquez’s versatile style has aged well, and he’s also adapted to new weight classes better than I feared. Now, he’s just waiting for a call from the Pacman for Pacquiao-Marquez IV. He’d be higher on this list, if I wasn’t of the mind that Pacquiao-Marquez III said as much bad about Pac as it did good Marquez.
10. Manny Pacquiao, welterweight
Be mad at me if you like about this one. Pacquiao, whether it’s because of focus or aging or what, just hasn’t been the man who once was dominating everyone, weight class be damned. I’m not holding his loss to Timothy Bradley against him, but I am holding how he fought against Bradley against him – he never turned it up full throttle, whether because he couldn’t or didn’t feel like it. Neither is a good sign. That said, I still think he’d beat everyone but Mayweather and maybe Marquez at welterweight and would still be a formidable opponent in an “every boxer is now magically the same weight, who wins?” scenario.
11. Nonito Donaire, junior featherweight
Donaire at bantamweight ranks much higher. At junior featherweight, his body looks soft, he doesn’t have the same routine height advantage and he hasn’t had the same kind of frightening power, although maybe Jeffrey Mathebula’s broken jaw would tell a different tale through the wire. Nonetheless, he’s very, very, very good, and it’s great news that in October, he’ll be facing the consensus #1 man in the division, Toshiaki Nishioka.
12. Chad Dawson, light heavyweight
Dawson keeps fighting and beating oldies-but-goodies, the last of them being Bernard Hopkins in a rematch and in a more complete fashion than B-Hop has been handled in forever. He’s got size, speed, skill and enough power to do damage, and if he beats Ward he’ll have beaten a youngie-but-goodie.
13. Carl Froch, super middleweight
Sometimes, passing the eyeball test isn’t just about outrageous speed or power or skill. Sometimes, it’s just that you’re a freaking menace in the ring. Froch menaced Bute this year with some speed, some power and some skill, but mostly he did it with willpower. Froch vs. Bute, by the way, was an indictment of ranking systems that value apparent ability over actual accomplishment, but Froch has both.
14. Abner Mares, junior featherweight
This almost feels too low for Mares, but I’m approaching his new weight with caution – I fear it could dilute his effectiveness, and beating a moving-up bantam (Eric Morel) in his junior feather debut didn’t dispel those fears. But he’s got the right combination of determination, well-rounded ability and all-around skill to make an impression at 122, even if I’d put him behind Rigondeaux, Donaire and even Moreno.
15. Gary Russell, Jr., featherweight
Last year’s Prospect of the Year is still fighting a prospect’s schedule, and hasn’t stepped up to contender status at all as a result. He’s the fastest guy in the sport, by my eye, but his slate strength is slow as molasses. It’s hard to get too worked up about the mega-talent until we see him beat somebody of consequence, right? This list isn’t about accomplishment, but we have to base the eyeball test on something, and Russell hasn’t given us much to work with, with his unsightly ledger (in ratio to his talent level). There’s talk of him facing Luis Franco next in a modest step up, but my guess would be he ends up against someone far suckier.
16. Erislandy Lara, junior middleweight
I’ve been off and on the Lara bandwagon more times than I can count, but right now I’m on. He beat a faded Paul Williams, but not a “done” Williams, with ease, as Williams showed in his following fight he wasn’t “done.” Lara didn’t get the credit for the “W” on the scorecard, but he does get eyeball test silver stars. There are good reasons his promoter, Golden Boy, is keeping him away from one of its cash cows, Canelo Alvarez – Lara’s technically proficient, fights in a nettlesome southpaw stance, and has speed, power and grit in more than adequate quantities. If the fight with Vanes Martirosyan actually materializes, Lara would be a heavy favorite to win.
17. Roman Gonzalez, junior flyweight
Ulises Solis ought to be the top ranked junior flyweight based on resume, but I think Gonzalez would whoop him pretty solidly. He’s the hardest-hitting tiny man in the sport and he has a little polish to go with it. Since Solis is on the shelf due to injury, Gonzalez is looking at fights like a September showdown with Donnie Nietes, not a bad one.
18. Vitali Klitschko, heavyweight
Every couple fights, Vitali shows signs of aging and then they disappear; his latest signs of slowdown came against Dereck Chisora, but he also fought with an injured shoulder. He’ll fight Manuel Charr (who?) next month and then might retire. It’s too bad, because Vitali-David Haye has new intrigue with Haye returning and beating up Chisora in a way Vitali couldn’t.
19. Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., middleweight
Never thought I’d see the day, but Chavez has become a monster. Size is his greatest weapon, but it’s a legitimate weapon – as long as he makes weight on the scales the day before, his size the next day doesn’t matter except insofar as his opponents don’t enjoy facing it. But he also has learned to fight quite well, when to attack all-out and when to pick his spots. He’s on this list because I’m not at all sure he doesn’t take out #8 Martinez next month.
20. Timothy Bradley, welterweight
Given his injuries in the Pacquiao “win,” it’s at least possible to imagine him beating Pacquiao even-up and honest. I don’t think he’s a real welterweight, or else he might be higher on this list, but he’s got speed and all kinds of self-belief, and that was enough for him to nearly clean out the 140-pound division. It’ll be enough for him to compete with Pacquiao if they rematch in the fall.
Honorable mentions, in no particular order: Brian Viloria; David Haye; Danny Garcia; Andre Dirrell; Orlando Salido; Yoan Pablo Hernandez; Nkosinathi Joyi