It’s the kind of pastime you either hate, love to hate, or just find mildly interesting to debate: pound-for-pound updates of the best fighters in the world, regardless of weight. And boy howdy, do we ever have some movement since last time we did one one of these. We have a new man cracking the top three. Three new names in the top 10. Several folk exit.
As always, the main standard is quality wins, especially of recent vintage. Other things, like the so-called “eyeball test,” factor in as well. Fighters who are inactive for a year, or who officially retire, are eligible to return once they fight again. (Looking at you this weekend, Manny Pacquiao.)
1. Roman Gonzalez, flyweight
It feels a little like Chocolatito’s p4p reign has been a tease, as he hasn’t rematched Juan Francisco Estrada or faced Naoya Inoue since taking the throne. But if he’s not gonna face another p4p-caliber fighter, at least he took on the next best thing by moving up to junior bantam and conquering hard-hitting Carlos Cuadras. He showed vulnerability at the new weight, albeit against a terrific opponent, but still triumphed.
2. Sergey Kovalev, light heavyweight
When we last saw Kovalev, he was struggling with Isaac Chilemba. When next we see Kovalev, it might be to decide the p4p king. In November, Kovalev faces off against the man a couple spots lower, Andre Ward. Regardless of whether you think it might be “boring” because of Ward, it’s one of the best match-ups in the sport.
3. Terence Crawford, junior welterweight
Crawford’s July win over Viktor Postol gave him his best win yet, cementing the impression that, yes, this kid might one day take over boxing. He’s now a two-division lineal champ as a result. His next fight is a step down, against John Molina Jr., but still a perfectly acceptable opponent.
4. Andre Ward, light heavyweight
Ward is still mainly here coasting on work he did years ago, but he’s about to earn this spot if he beats Kovalev next month. He beat Alexander Brand in August in a fashion that, for two consecutive fights, raises doubts about whether he’s a real light heavy, and whether he might be getting old.
5. Gennady Golovkin, middleweight
Welterweight Kell Brook gave Golovkin his toughest fight in years, as an over-eager Golovkin got caught plenty by the skilled and fast-handed Brit. Once he settled down, it was his usual demolition. Too bad a comparable fight against someone his own weight — Daniel Jacobs — has been pushed to 2017.
6. Canelo Alvarez, middleweight
So the 155-pound middleweight king fought someone closer to his desired weight, junior middleweight Liam Smith, and looked spectacular. The bad news is that he broke a thumb and is out of commission for a while, pushing the long-desired Golvokin showdown back even further.
7. Shinsuke Yamanaka, bantamweight
The first time Yamanaka faced Anselmo Moreno, he was lucky to get away with the win. The second time, just last month, he finished him off via knockout. So now he’s back here, deservedly. It’s unclear what he’ll do next, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take some time off.
8. Carl Frampton, featherweight
In one of the better fights of 2016, Frampton came out on top of Leo Santa Cruz in a July war. It was just what Frampton needed to shake off a couple so-so performances since demonstrating p4p potential. Even better? We’re getting a rematch to start 2017.
9. Timothy Bradley, welterweight
Bradley is talking retirement sooner rather than later. There’s been a bit of footsie around the notion of facing Miguel Cotto, which is a nice fight, to be honest, even at 154, because Cotto isn’t the world’s biggest junior middleweight. But Bradley is super-vulnerable to keep dropping because he’s not doing anything but talking.
10. Vasyl Lomachenko, junior lightweight
Remember how we got screwed out of one of the best fights that could be made in boxing, Lomachenko vs Nicholas Walters? Well, it’s gonna happen. Lomachenko climbed into the top 10 on dominant wins against good fighters. On Thanksgiving weekend, we’ll see what he looks like against someone closer to great.
11. Keith Thurman, welterweight
Thurman, in June, got the best win of his career, against Sean Porter. He no longer looks like the knockout artist he once was hailed as, but he’s become a solid all-around fighter. That makes him a bit less fun — although the Porter fight was pretty good — and gives him a better chance against Danny Garcia next year, another stellar fight.
12. Juan Francisco Estrada, junior bantamweight
Estrada’s chasing Gonzalez, still, which is why he moved up in weight. He’d also be happy with the likes of Naoya Inoue. So would we. Dude needs to be in a good fight in the first time in forever.
13. Guillermo Rigondeaux, junior lightweight
Every now and then Rigo pops his head up to say he wants some fight or the other, or someone says something about wanting to fight him. Then he faces, like, James Dickens.
14. Naoya Inoue, junior flyweight
We’re sort of in this big zone of fighters who haven’t done much lately, but have good resumes overall. Inoue is also talking about facing Gonzalez, a welcome bout.
15. Adonis Stevenson, light heavyweight
Here’s another one. Thomas Williams, Jr. gave Stevenson a real scrap in July. He’s set to go against another top-10 light heavy, fellow Canadian Eleider Alvarez, next year — but really his whole championship reign has been lackluster-to-bad.
16. Danny Garcia, welterweight
And another one. But, at least, like some of the others in this nether-zone, Garcia is about to finally get in there against someone worthy (see Thurman, above). First up is Samuel Vargas, next month.
17. Nicholas Walters, junior lightweight
It’s annoying that he turned down big money to tackle Lomachenko, originally, but all — nah, most — is forgiven now that we’re finally getting that slobberknocker.
18. Kell Brook, welterweight
I opted not to dock Brook for a competitive showing against that monster Golovkin at a weight where he clearly doesn’t belong. He just drops overall because others moved up.
19. Carlos Cuadras, junior bantamweight
When you give the pound-for-pound king the hardest fight of his life, you just might climb into the p4p ranks yourself. A hearty welcome, Carlos.
20. Wladimir Klitschko, heavyweight
It’s weird to see Klitschko here and not the man who beat him last, but Tyson Fury is functionally retired and we’re going to treat him that way. Plus, Klitschko did plenty over the years to keep his spot.
Honorable mentions: Floyd Mayweather; Manny Pacquiao; Bernard Hopkins; Juan Manuel Marquez; Tyson Fury; Miguel Cotto; Erislandy Lara; Leo Santa Cruz
(LAS VEGAS — Junior welterweight champion Terence Crawford lands a body shot on Viktor Postol during their fight at MGM Grand Garden Arena on July 23, which Crawford won by unanimous decision; Photo: Steve Marcus, Getty Images)