Yeah, yeah, it’s “technically” not 2016 anymore, but this serves as the year-end list, mofos. We’ve got a lot of changes since the last update a couple months back, given some un-retirements and big fights that closed out the year.
As always, the main standard is quality wins, especially of recent vintage. The eyeball test is worth something, too, but it’s one thing to look like a good fighter and another thing to prove it against top competition. We care about proof here. Boxers who are inactive for a year or more aren’t considered.
1. Roman Gonzalez, junior bantamweight
Gonzalez’s pound-for-pound crown was in play as a result of a November meeting between the two men just below him on this list. But it didn’t play out definitively, so he holds the top spot. In March, he’s expected to rematch Carlos Cuadras, the hardest opponent of his life, and sadly he’ll do so without his head trainer, who passed away.
2. Andre Ward, light heavyweight
Obviously, Ward’s win over Sergey Kovalev was disputable. A minority thought he deserved to win. But with his second half surge against one of the terrors of boxing, he definitely demonstrated he was one of the best alive. Plus, he got the official victory. So he’s above Kovalev, but by a paper-thin margin.
3. Sergey Kovalev, light heavyweight
Sometimes a loss isn’t much of a loss. Kovalev moves down one total slot, to the man who officially beat him. He wants a rematch, but Ward says he might retire if he can’t get the money he wants. That could be a tough sell — the pay-per-view didn’t do well and Ward tends to overreach on his demands.
4. Manny Pacquiao, welterweight
Pacquiao returned in November with a win over Jessie Vargas that showed he still has a lot left. His un-retirement means he resumes a spot near where he was before he fake-quit. It’s unclear how interested he is in a meeting with another man near him on this list, Terence Crawford, but the winner might also contend for the #1 position.
5. Vasyl Lomachenko, junior lightweight
Your p4p list compiler was just waiting for Lomachenko to get a marquee win to put him up here. He’s always looked like the goods. Nicholas Walters had the resume, but when the pair met in November, Walters kinda crapped the bed. Lomachenko helped him do it. A rematch with Orlando Salido to avenge his only loss might loom.
6. Terence Crawford, junior welterweight
Crawford dominated John Molina, as expected, to end a Fighter of the Year-style campaign (the two men above him and Ward were the other runners-up; the winner is a few spots below). Crawford has a jail stint to contend with then wants Pacquiao, which would be a career-best victory if he could get it.
7. Gennady Golovkin, middleweight
A lot of lists have Golovkin higher. The problem is, by the standards of this list, he doesn’t have a single better win than anyone above him. His best win is over, dunno, David Lemieux? (Kell Brook, a welterweight, is the best fighter he’s faced.) Right now he’s doing work on volume against top-10 contenders. A win over Daniel Jacobs in March could move the needle.
8. Canelo Alvarez, junior middleweight
Alvarez had a “meh” 2016 after two good years in a row. Undersized Amir Khan and Liam Smith just ain’t that good a two-some. And he didn’t face Golovkin like he should’ve. Then he broke his hand. A meet-up with Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. mid-year would be fun and do big business, but isn’t particularly meaningful.
9. Shinsuke Yamanaka, bantamweight
This fella had a terrific year, but there’s nothing out there about what he’s doing next. Sooooo. Let’s just move on.
10. Carl Frampton, featherweight
This fella had the BEST 2016. The Queensberry Rules’ Fighter of the Year is going to kick off 2017 with a bang, as he’s facing a rematch with Leo Santa Cruz in January. We need more fighters like Frampton in this sport. He’s due to jump a few spots after this if he wins again.
11. Naoya Inoue, junior bantamweight
Inoue crushed longtime contender Kohei Kono just before the year ended. It was the first meaningful victory he’d had in a long time, but it showed his stuff. He’s pining for Gonzalez but it looks like he needs to get in line.
12. Timothy Bradley, welterweight
Bradley’s inactivity compared to other fighters has seen him plummet. Possible next opponents include Jeff Horn and Errol Spence, but it’s all very vague.
13. Keith Thurman, welterweight
In another great early 2017 fight (along with Golovkin-Jacobs and Frampton-Santa Cruz II) Thurman is set to face Danny Garcia in March. A top-10 p4p standing is likely for the winner.
14. Juan Francisco Estrada, junior bantamweight
Estrada just can’t get himself a good fight. Like Inoue, he’s pining for Gonzalez. He’s probably third in line, sadly, but we always kind of suspected the rematch wouldn’t happen.
15. Guillermo Rigondeaux, junior featherweight
Here’s another guy who can’t get a good fight. When boxing media folk who cheerlead the skanky alphabet belts as a way for boxers to enrich themselves, they leave out cases like Rigo. At least he’s facing a real contender in February, Moises Flores.
16. Adonis Stevenson, light heavyweight
If only Stevenson wasn’t serially facing bottom top 10-level contenders, we might know whether he’s for real. Instead, he lingers around here all the time. A possible meeting with Joe Smith, Jr. would be an improvement.
17. Danny Garcia, welterweight
See Thurman, above.
18. Kell Brook, junior middleweight
He’s got a belt mandatory against Spence, but he’s in talks with Khan. The Khan fight probably makes more sense. It’d do big business in the United Kingdom, even if a Spence win would mean considerably more.
19. Carlos Cuadras, junior bantamweight
He got pretty close to beating Gonzalez. Now it looks like he’ll get another chance. Don’t count him out. This would be a huge win.
20. James DeGale, super middleweight
Various entries and exits leave a spot open, and it falls to DeGale. Two weekends from now, he could climb or fall out, depending on whether he beats Badou Jack in a great match-up.
Honorable mentions: Floyd Mayweather, Juan Manuel Marquez, Tyson Fury, Wladimir Klitschko, Miguel Cotto, Erislandy Lara, Leo Santa Cruz, Marco Huck, Oleksandr Usyk, Errol Spence, Jorge Linares, Donnie Nietes, Oscar Valdez
(LAS VEGAS — Manny Pacquiao stands in the corner during his welterweight fight against Jessie Vargas at the Thomas & Mack Center on Nov. 5; Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)