Few things in boxing inspire as much bile by their mere existence — or each list’s ability to inspire derision because of how obviously stupid its author is — as the mythical pound-for-pound list. That’s part of what makes them so delicious.
The lists do possess a certain value, though, even the most obviously awful ones (such as, whoever says it, “not mine”). For instance, many of the elite fighters themselves aspire to top it; it motivates them to make better fights for the fans. It’s a snapshot in time of the state of boxing. It’s a chance to really assess fighters for what they’re doing, what they’re not and what they ought to.
Sometimes, the popular tide is against them. Sometimes, it isn’t. Sometimes the people who once criticized them most vociferously get paid, to some degree, to make them! Sometimes those same people who savaged them used to make them! It’s complicated, man.
Making it even more complicated is that no two lists are composed with the same standard. So let’s talk about this one’s methodology.
The primary factor is a boxer’s quality of wins, especially those of recent vintage. The secondary factor is just how good a fighter looks to the naked eye. The reason is, this writer believes boxers should PROVE how good they are, and speculation is often proven wrong. A lot of boxing folk use the secondary factor first. Keep that in mind as you shoot flames out of the side of your face when you see some particularly idiotic choice.
To the list (all championship/ranking references via the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board):
1. Vasiliy Lomanchenko (lightweight)
What you have to like is that his skill level is unequalled by all but, at most, two other dudes, and that’s getting him wins against the best or near-best people a division or two above where he should be fighting. But he’s in a danger zone with these size differences. He won’t be in action for a while, but his most dangerous fight to date could be next: the winner of Richard Commey vs Teofimo Lopez.
2. Canelo Alvarez (middleweight champion)
This is the highest you’ll see the champ almost anywhere. Yes, some of his wins were close or debatable. Still: Just look at his roster of opponents beaten with the man above him or anyone below him, and it’s tough to match. Thus, he’s second based on the definitiveness of those wins. His next fight vs Sergey Kovalev probably won’t vault him over Lomachenko, given Kovalev’s decline, though.
3. Terence Crawford (welterweight)
Crawford is just begging for a downgrade. He’s fought two unranked fighters since 2018 began, and one ranked guy, Jeff Horn, who got into the rankings by getting an official win over Manny Pacquiao that he didn’t deserve. He doesn’t look like he’s going to have a difficult opponent until 2020 at the earliest, and that’s if you hold out hope that the always out-of-reach Errol Spence Jr. materializes.
4. Oleksandr Usyk (cruiserweight champion)
Usyk’s run at cruiserweight may legitimately have been the best ever; it’s at least debatable. He’s got oodles of skill and good-not-great power, with the latter suggesting his heavyweight run won’t be as impressive. You have to admire the bravery, of course, even if it’s mainly driven by the siren call of “baddest man in the world” money. His heavyweight debut begins with an ease-in in October.
5. Gennady Golovkin (middleweight)
If the pair of razor-thin draw and loss decisions vs Canelo go his way, we’re talking about GGG at no. 2 instead. But you have to care about the official rulings. Every other sport does. He faces a solid middleweight next, Sergiy Derevyanchenko, but it won’t get him above anyone up top absent a loss.
6. Naoya Inoue (bantamweight)
It’s understandable why anyone would be seduced by Inoue’s Mjolnir-as-wielded-by-a-fencer game. Yet Inoue hasn’t faced anyone elite. To put him above those with much longer track records or better wins is premature. His next opponent, Nonito Donaire, has an elite record but isn’t the fighter he once was.
7. Juan Francisco Estrada (junior bantamweight champion)
Estrada’s tendency to fight down to the level of his competition is deceptive. He beat the man that some once considered pound-for-pound no. 1, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, and some other quality fighters besides. That doesn’t lie. Possible opponent Kal Yafai is another quality fighter, if not enough to leapfrog Inoue.
8. Manny Pacquiao (welterweight)
The Pacquiao renaissance is official after Pacquiao took out the younger, hungry and talented Keith Thurman. Where it goes next is hard to figure. Mikey Garcia wants it; Shawn Porter wants it (should he get by Spence); Crawford would surely take it but the risk/reward for Pacquiao is unfavorable.
9. Errol Spence (welterweight)
Spence is taking his first really good (similarly-sized) foe in some while on next, the aforementioned Porter. You have to give him some credit for beating little Garcia, yet with his sky-high talent, it still feels like he’s aiming too low. He’ll ascend either by volume of good opponents or finally snagging Crawford.
10. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (bantamweight)
Plain and simple, SSR is here on the outskirts of the top 10 because of his past as the pound-for-pound king. Well, maybe also because even in his loss to Estrada, he still hung tough. Many, however, saw signs that the former champ is aging. That and his lack of a scheduled bout makes him plenty vulnerable.
11. Leo Santa Cruz (featherweight)
The world’s top featherweight hasn’t looked quite as special since his last Carl Frampton fight. A potential move up to junior lightweight vs Emanuel Navarrete is high risk, high reward.
12. Mikey Garcia (junior welterweight champion)
Garcia is simply too brave for his own good. If he could keep to lightweight or below, he’d be more successful. Instead, he goes from losing to Spence to aspiring to Pacquiao.
13. Deontay Wilder (heavyweight)
Yeah, his win over Fury wasn’t clear-cut. Yeah, he needs to make fights happen instead of letting them. Yeah, his skill is limited. His power and resume? Unimpeachable on the former, nearly so on the latter.
14. Tyson Fury (heavyweight)
Fury deserved the Wilder win in that bout if anybody. He has the best single win of the pair. But a win in 2015, a debatable draw and little else in many years keeps him behind his nemesis.
15. Donnie Nietes (junior bantamweight)
In baseball terms, Nietes just keeps hammering out singles, doubles and the occasional triple (such as against Kazuto Ioka, most recently). His current schedule is ambiguous.
16. Miguel Berchelt (junior lightweight)
He broke into the scene a couple years ago as a youngster and has looked even better as he enters his prime. Tough Jason Sosa is next. A win might bump him up, and after, untapped potential remains.
17. Kosei Tanaka (flyweight)
Tanaka didn’t climb to the top spot in his division by facing nobodies. He always looks so vulnerable. Then, he ultimately delivers. He’s fresh off another rough win so he doesn’t yet have next plans.
18. Regis Prograis (junior welterweight)
What a wolverine this guy is. One of boxing’s most aggressive fighters recently talked about wanting to maybe beat up heavyweight Dereck Chisora. A win over Josh Taylor and he skyrockets.
19. Jose Carlos Ramirez (junior welterweight)
His win over Maurice Hooker was impressive. Down near the bottom of this list, there’s not much daylight. Obvious talent gets Ramirez on it as much as anything.
20. Wanheng Menayothin (strawweight)
There are some good victories mixed in with the stereotypically bloated record of Thai fighters. His next one, vs Simpiwe Koncko, is definitely of the good variety if he gets it.
Honorable mentions (in no particular order): Gilberto Ramirez, Andy Ruiz, Anthony Joshua, Jermall Charlo, Jermell Charlo, Richard Commey, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Callum Smith, Porter, Gervonta Davis, Kovalev
(Photo: Noaya Inoue, via)