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 #theone. 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 (oops, try this link) 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 three years ago. And we visit it because debating thought experiment-style lists is fun for us, and maybe for you, too.
Here's the part where I warn people in no uncertain terms that this is not my actual pound-for-pound list, but they ignore it and tell me I'm a stupid Mr. Writer Man anyway. This year I'm even going to do it all-caps and it still won't matter. IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS, YOU MUST KNOW THIS IS NOT ANYONE'S "REAL" POUND-FOR-POUND LIST. IF YOU WANT TO SEE SOMETHING LIKE THAT, CLICK HERE, FROM EARLIER TODAY, BECAUSE TWO POUND-FOR-POUND LISTS IN A DAY IS A REAL TREAT. YOU TAKE THING TOO SERIOUSLY, KIDDO, IF ANY OF THIS BOTHERS YOU. (That disclaimer won't work. Just watch.)
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.
As if to provide evidence of how fleeting is this "eyeball test" p4p evaluation, last year's list has been pretty dramatically reworked. Turns out looking like you're good and being good are different things.
1. Floyd Mayweather, junior middleweight
The new king of our imaginary land! Last year this time super middleweight king Andre Ward was still a guy who fought boxing matches, and he got one of his better wins not long after against then-light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson. But he's done nothing since, and Mayweather in the interim went back to resembling something of his old unhittable self against Robert Guerrero.
2. Andre Ward, super middleweight
Would I pick Mayweather right now to beat Ward right now if they were both in the same weight class and carried the same advantages they currently possess in their current weight class? Yeah, on rust alone. Mayweather is back to defensive genius-ry, while Ward is coming off a long layoff and shoulder surgery. That's the difference right now, and it's only that.
3. Juan Manuel Marquez, welterweight
So far, this is pretty vanilla, I know. But it's coming straight from my soul, man. Marquez is a real welterweight now, as he showed by giving Manny Pacquiao the full faceplant treatment. If you want to say he's juicing, I can understand, but I can't go there without hard evidence. However he's done it, he's the complete package now at 147.
4. Wladimir Klitschko, heavyweight
Just imagine a weight division, any weight division, where there's a dude who's 25 percent taller than anyone else, hits harder than anyone else and has a fragile chin but devotes almost every ounce of his existence to making sure he doesn't ever get hit cleanly. You think that guy gets beaten by very many people? Me neither. Klitschko's real pound-for-pound record is hampered by lack of competition, but some scale model of him fares pretty well against almost anyone fighting today.
5. Guillermo Rigondeaux, junior featherweight
Now we're getting somewhere, although there are souls who really think Rigo is a top 5 p4p fighter already. I'm not 100 percent sold IRL where he has one elite win, over Nonito Donaire, and he had to rise from a knockdown to get it. But the fool he made out of Donaire? He'd make a lot of others fools too, with his sublime skills and winning — if not fan-winning — style.
6. Gennady Golovkin, middleweight
Boom. That just happened. The first left field pick. Look, GGG is relatively unproven. But I would favor him over any middleweight these days and by a comfortable margin. He hits so, so hard, and he sets up that power intelligently, and he might still be improving. He won't get tested until he goes up to 168, if then.
7. Lucas Matthysse, junior welterweight
There are people who think Matthysse will have his hands full with Danny Garcia. I am not one of them. He's too powerful, too relentless, and he doesn't care how hard you hit him back. He's the junior welterweight version of Golovkin. OK, he's sloppier, but they have that same quality where you're not sure if they're a robot or a monster or some kind of monster cyborg.
8. Carl Froch, super middleweight
Oh, but he's so awkward! And he's not fast! And he has no defense! Fuck you, none of that has mattered except against Ward, and you see where Ward is on this list. IRL, his p4p resume is insanely underrated. In Imaginationland, he still beats a lot of top fighters. You know how I know he does? Because he bloody well has. When someone defies expectations and predictions again and again and again, wise the fuck up, son.
9. Roman Gonalez, junior flyweight
Little man can crack and he can brawl and he ain't bad technically, either. The awesomeness of Juan Francisco Estrada since Gonzalez beat him has made Gonzalez look all the better, too. You wonder how he'd fare against this flyweight crew that's awfully good and fun these days.
10. Sergey Kovalev, light heavyweight
No, I'm not absolutely sure Kovalev would beat the man just beneath him or division champion Adonis Stevenson. I can see Stevenson with his lights-out power getting to Kovalev, for instance. But I'm more convinced that Kovalev gets to him first. Would Stevenson do to Nathan Cleverly what Kovalev did? Eventually, maybe, but not with the savagery that Kovalev did it.
11. Bernard Hopkins, light heavyweight
He's going on 50 years old but don't tell me his hunt and peck, hold and foul style wouldn't be a nightmare for virtually anyone on this list. He ran into an unfavorable style match-up against Chad Dawson for his most recent loss, and by that I mean, I don't think you could have designed a fighter to give Hopkins more trouble than Dawson did. I pick Kovalev with some reluctance.
12. Manny Pacquiao, welterweight
I went back and forth and back and forth and back and forth with the two p4p Filipinos. A big part of me thinks the Pac-Man is finished since the Marquez knockout — the last two guys to get plastered like that, Rick Hatton and Paul Williams, came back but as shadows of their old selves. But if there's even a significant percentage of the Pacquiao left who nearly had Marquez knocked out his damn self, well, that speed and power is dangerous in any universe.
13. Gary Russell, Jr., featherweight
Yeah, he's annoyingly unproven. Doesn't matter. This is just about feelings and sensations. Russell's speed and technical ability forecast for excellence if and when he steps up the competition. There's a reason he's above a couple of these other featherweights.
14. Mikey Garcia, featherweight
Smarts, power. It's a good combination. Only Garcia's toughness is unproven at this point, but his surgical quality in the ring is formidable enough that he hasn't even had to prove it yet, really. I still worry a little about the whole Orlando Salido head butt/nose thing, but I do think he beats the next featherweight on the list.
15. Nonito Donaire, featherweight
See, this is why: I don't think Donaire's a featherweight. Really don't. He's barely a junior featherweight, albeit one who can still break bones at the weight. Since he's planning to leave 122, I have to consider him a 126-pounder. And that ambiguity about how he'll fare at feather, along with his lackadaisical preparation for the Rigo fight, have it so I considered him much further down. If he's focused, I still expect him to have significant speed and power in this division, too, just less of the special kind.
16. Adrien Broner, welterweight
Lightweight Broner, maybe even junior welterweight Broner, is much higher on this list. He's about to have his second fight at welter. In his first one, he had trouble hurting Paulie Malignaggi, who was hurt by Amir Khan not too long ago. Malignaggi also gave Broner a tough fight overall. Malignaggi's an intelligent and tough pugilist, don't get me wrong, but elite guys rarely struggle with him. Maybe Broner just needs to get settled in at 147, or maybe he's not as good as he looked at lower weights against less crafty fighters. I can't pick Pacquiao over him with a great deal of confidence were they to meet, but Pacquiao at least has a track record at welter and Broner has one shaky win. Thus.
17. Juan Francisco Estrada, flyweight
How I'd love a Gonzalez-Estrada rematch at 112. Estrada physically is better suited for the weight, and has grown since he first met Gonzalez. Until Gonzalez moves up, I can't pick anyone from a relatively deep flyweight division to beat Estrada. Hell, I'd favor him over anyone at 115, but some of that is about how horrible 115 is.
18. Anselmo Moreno, bantamweight
He wasn't himself at 122, and it contributed to the loss to Abner Mares. He has moved back to 118 and was pretty much right back to his "oooo, that guy can fight" self. He's only this low because a loss has to count for something, even in alternate dimensions.
19. Adonis Stevenson, light heavyweight
I say this with all due respect for the power of Klitschko, GGG, Matthysse and Kovalev: If I had to pick a guy who packs the most power in one punch in boxing right now, it'd be Stevenson. And he's much better than he was a couple years ago. It's kind of a wild card pick, but I feel like he could basically KO anyone he caught just right.
20. Canelo Alvarez, junior middleweight
The pickings are pretty slim down at 19 and 20, I can't lie. Vitali Klitschko might have made the cut if it wasn't for the fact that he's barely a fighter anymore. Is Canelo this level of talent? I was never as much of a believer as some, but the Austin Trout win showed me something. Trout is no joke. Canelo didn't manhandle him, but he handled him pretty well. I think he has as the best chance on paper coming in to beat Mayweather since Shane Mosley, and before that, uh, Jose Luis Castillo. I think it's that serious, and yes, some of it is about size. But if I think you have a chance to be competitive with Mayweather, whatever the circumstances, then you can crack this frivolous top 20.
Honorable mentions, in no particular order: Yoan Pablo Hernandez; Kazuto Ioka; Sergio Martinez; Peter Quillin; Vitali Klitschko (inactivity); Keith Thurman; Omar Figueroa; Danny Garcia