It’s been a long time since we’ve done this, so, wow, have things changed a bunch. Beyond just a thinking and debating exercise, pound-for-pound lists have some value for a number of reasons. For one, a lot of fighters aspire to the greatness a consensus pound-for-pound king-dom symbolizes. For another, it’s a good snapshot at any period of time about many of the the movers and shakers in the sport (keeping in mind that you can move and shake without an iota of said greatness, if you’re the action hero type like Orlando Salido).
And in this case, the snapshot is of an especially tumultuous year of boxing. Three of the top four men on the last list are either gone entirely or virtually gone, and that’s just for starters. So let’s dig in. As always, this list values quality wins, especially of recent vintage, above all. Lesser standards — like the “eyeball test” where you just kinda look at a fighter and surmise his quality — factor in, but are less important.
1. Terence Crawford, junior welterweight
We’ve got a bit of a toss-up here, and even I’m not 100 percent confident on the reigning king. For now, depth of resume, plus Crawford’s two lineal championships, give him the slight edge. Dude had another great year, too. He’s due to fight Jeff Horn early in the year in his welterweight debut, and despite the move up he should be heavily favored.
2. Vasyl Lomachenko, junior lightweight
As much as Crawford LOOKS the part, Loma does even more. And he has the most impressive win of the pair, over fellow (former) pound-for-pound top 10-er and all-time Olympian Guillermo Rigondeaux. The weight divide for that fight is just enough of an asterisk, combined with how few fights he’s had, to give Crawford the edge.
3. Gennady Golovkin, middleweight
I think it’s silly to have Golovkin above either of the two up top, the way ESPN does (in part) and Ring does (in total). He doesn’t have better wins overall than Crawford, he hasn’t beaten anyone as good as Lomachenko has at all, and what’s more, his last two fights it’s looked like he’s slowing down. The Canelo rematch could change that.
4. Canelo Alvarez, middleweight
Speak of the devil. I was in the minority scoring the first Golovkin fight a draw, as most gave Golovkin the edge. That’s why he’s behind Golovkin on this list. That said, age favors Canelo in the rematch in May, giving him as good a chance as anyone to take the top spot by mid-year, especially given what looks available to Loma and Crawford.
5. Keith Thurman, welterweight
Thurman fought just once in 2017 (and was excellent), making him vulnerable here, especially if he fights Jessie Vargas in the spring and puts off rising Errol Spence until whenever. He could fortify his position a little with another Shawn Porter victory, but it wouldn’t prove TOO much given he beat him once already.
6. Naoya Inoue, junior bantamweight
Few pass the “eyeball test” like Inoue, which is why he’s this high despite having a slim-ish resume. His year-ender against Yoan Boyeaux, whose name sounds like a funny way for a frat boy to Frenchify “yo boy,” won’t do much for him, either. His division is top heavy. Get in with THOSE boys, already.
7. Leo Santa Cruz, featherweight
The revenge win over Carl Frampton, who had ascended to the top 10 just before, puts him here. But it’s also that a guy who once just flailed punches like he got a discount on them somewhere has grown leaps and bounds as a multi-faceted boxer, making him formidable. Spring Abner Mares rematch doesn’t do much for him, sadly.
8. Mikey Garcia, junior welterweight
It was easy to forget how Garcia was during a multi-year layoff amid a promotional fight, but sweet Jesus did he remind us in 2017. A Knockout of the Year candidate and a relatively easy handling of Adrien Broner could lead into a stellar 2018 if he gets his hands on Vasyl Lomachenko; first up is Sergey Lipinets, which ain’t bad.
9. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, junior bantamweight
See “top-heavy junior bantamweight” division, above. Sor Rungvisai murderized former pound-for-pound king Roman Gonzalez in a surprising knockout in 2017. Now let’s see him beat another divisional elite, preferably someone not clearly past his prime and over his ideal weight, and he could rocket up this list.
10. Jorge Linares, lightweight
No one skates the line between “brilliant” and “vulnerable” like Linares. Mostly, he has ridden the “brilliant” part in the last couple years to overcome the “vulnerable” part. Still, he might be here much longer, given the up-and-comers right behind him and his “meh” fight with Mercito Gesta to start the year while waiting on better match-ups.
11. Errol Spence, welterweight
A strong case exists for Spence in the top 10, what with the eye-popping talent and a quality win over extremely talented Kell Brook while under the weather. Sadly, Thurman is ducking him for the time being, citing the always mythical “marination” factor, so Lamont Peterson is a solid opponent in the interim.
12. Juan Francisco Estrada, junior bantamweight
Just when it looked like injury and inability to secure a top match was leaving him in the dust, he delivers a shoulda-win against highly-regarded Carlos Cuadras. Now he gets a huge chance against Sor Rungvisai in February. YES.
13. Sergey Kovalev, light heavyweight
Maybe Kovalev belongs a lot higher. After all, he got stopped by the then-best fighter in the world, Andre Ward. But he got stopped by a guy never known to stop anyone. So he fights his way back, and his March bout ain’t the answer.
14. Anthony Joshua, heavyweight
His chin shows just enough vulnerability to make you wonder, but he’s pulled out every time he’s gotten in trouble against massive punchers. A win over Deontay Wilder, if the match ever happens, and he’s top 10 easy.
15. Oleksandr Usyk, cruiserweight
Like Ukrainian homie Loma, Usyk has done a ton in a short period of time. He’ll take on yet another top 10 cruiserweight to start the new year, Mairis Briedis.
16. Donnie Nietes, flyweight
Nietes’ resume isn’t super-flashy, but man is it deep. He’s proven himself in several divisions against several contenders. He’ll try it again against Juan Carlos Reveco sometime in the near future.
17. Jermall Charlo, middleweight
The Charlo twins made a real splash in 2017, after drawing, equally, admiration for their skills/contempt for their style/doubt about their viability. Jermall’s beaten slightly better competition. His next one is uninteresting, alas.
18. Badou Jack, light heavyweight
The only knock on Jack is that he lacks a clear, marquee, definitive win. But he was an absolute revelation in 2017, a guy who’s really turned his career around.
19. Carl Frampton, featherweight
There are signs of slippage in Carl. If it’s real, Nonito Donaire has just enough left in the tank to knock him off the list in April.
20. Deontay Wilder, heavyweight
It’s comical that this guy snuck into ESPN’s top 10. But the power is real and he has mostly been TRYING to fight the right competition. He beats out some older, fading guys and other risers, barely.
Honorable mentions: Manny Pacquiao; Guillermo Rigondeaux; Adonis Stevenson; Shawn Porter; Danny Garcia; Carlos Cuadras; Oscar Valdez; Kell Brook; Roman Gonzalez; Jermell Charlo; Erislandy Lara
(Terence Crawford drops Julius Indongo; via)