A hypothetical ranking of boxing’s elite, regardless of weight…
Floyd Mayweather (Previous Position: 1)
Record: 47-0 (26 KOs)
Current Belts: WBC/WBA ‘Super’ World Welterweight (147lbs); WBC World Light–Middleweight (154lbs)
Surely, this is still the only position in the rankings not up for debate. There’s no doubt that at 38 years old Mayweather appears to have lost half a step, but until he surrenders that incredible undefeated record or else looks truly atrocious in the ring, he will remain in the top spot on pretty much any list you can find. With the Pacquiao fight FINALLY being set for May 2nd of this year, Mr. Money faces the man with a higher chance than anyone of finally knocking him off of his pound-for-pound perch. In doing so, he has also managed to silence some of the “Ducker” jibes levelled against him over the previous few years (at least temporarily). Realistically, then, there are only two people with even a faint hope of achieving the feat of dethroning Mayweather: it’s either Manny Pacquiao or Father Time.
Andre Ward (Previous Position: 2)
Record: 27-0 (14 KOs)
Current Belts: WBA ‘Super’ World Super Middleweight (168lbs)
Andre Ward is probably the most frustrating fighter in boxing at the moment. Having beaten the best his division had to offer and making it look easy along the way, his career stalled thanks to a bitter contractual dispute, leaving him with just a single contest under his belt since impressively dismantling then WBC light-heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, way back in September 2012. With much of his former momentum lost, finally it seems those contractual problems have been resolved, and Ward is set to make his return to the ring in 2015, at long last. Despite the inactivity, for me Ward is still the second most-talented and capable fighter in the world, as well as the torchbearer-in-waiting for when Mayweather finally retires his position at the top.
Manny Pacquiao (Previous Position: 6)
Record: 57-5 (38 KOs)
Current Belts: WBO World Welterweight (147lbs)
Following his devastating KO loss to arch-nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez in December 2012, Manny Pacquiao has done what all of the Great fighters do: he bounced back. He might not have looked quite like the buzz-saw of old when returning against former lightweight Brandon Rios, but his return victory over highly respected Tim Bradley to set the record straight between the pair showed us that Manny is far from a spent pound-for-pound force. The fact that the unheralded Chris Algieri was able to survive a six-knockdown hammering against the Filipino last November – coupled with his drought of over five years without a KO victory – does perhaps suggest that some of the old killer instinct is yet to find favour again in the Pacman’s once brutal fists. In truth, the previous five years are largely an irrelevance now though: for the Pacman, all will be decided come May 2nd, 2015.
Guillermo Rigondeaux (Previous Position: 7)
Record: 15-0 (10 KOs)
Current Belts: WBA ‘Super’/WBO World Super Bantamweight (122lbs)
Rigondeaux may not be the most exciting fighter in the world today, and he certainly isn’t the most well-known fighter. But when it comes to the art of boxing, he is definitely one of the most accomplished. After surviving a brief scare in the 7th round of his last outing against unknown Japanese quantity Hisashi Amagasa, Rigondeaux is again on the look out for a meaningful unification bout. It’s an unfortunate bi-product of the business of boxing that such a sublime practitioner of the sport can be effectively side-lined from the biggest fights in his own division – but it should not blind us to his true talent and status as super-bantamweight numero-uno. The only question is: will any of the other champions step up to the plate and take the risk of fighting him? Until they do, consider their “world” titles meaningless. With former vanquished foe and pound-for-pound player Nonito Donaire moving back to 122lbs, and Northern Irish crowd favourite Carl Frampton making noises about a potential future fight between the two “Jackals”, hopefully there are better days of recognition on the horizon for the Cuban slickster.
Gennady Golovkin (Previous Position: 9)
Record: 32-0 (29 KOs)
Current Belts: WBA ‘Super’/WBC ‘Interim’ World Middleweight (160lbs)
Much like my No. 4 on this list, Guillermo Rigondeaux, the problem for Gennady Golovkin is that he is so good that the best opposition in his division refuse to fight him. The difference between them is that the 122lb ‘Jackal’ was at least given the chance to prove himself against a pound-for-pound star and the lineal champion of his division, thereby establishing legitimate supremacy – whereas 160lb lineal champion Miguel Cotto wants less to do with Gennady Golovkin than… well I can’t think of a metaphor to illustrate something worse than a beat-down from boxing’s very own version of the Terminator. The man they call “Triple G” is a victim both of his own vicious success and of the nature of the business of boxing that allows the ridiculous situation to persist where a “champion” can avoid the sternest challenge available to his rule. Expect the absurdity to continue just as certainly as you can expect the Kazakh iceman to continue to cut a swathe through the remainder of the middleweight division like a hot samurai sword through butter. It looks like a move to 168lbs is just about the only thing that could test Golovkin in the foreseeable future, and it is easily conceivable that he could be doing battle for the No.1 pound-for-pound spot in a year or twos time with a Mr. Andre Ward.
Roman Gonzalez (Previous Position: “Not Rated”)
Record: 42-0 (36 KOs)
Current Belts: WBC World Flyweight (112lbs)
If you haven’t seen much of Roman Gonzalez, don’t worry – neither have I. Neither have most people outside of the ultra hard-core boxing fanatics, in fact. That’s because he plies his trade in the wispy, sub-118lb divisions, or in the far-flung corners of the globe, or away from the glare of mainstream television – or all of the above. Don’t let that cloud your judgement, though. All you really need to know is that since 2008 the 5’3″ Nicaraguan they call ‘Chocolatito’ has managed to capture world titles in three separate weight divisions (becoming WBA minimumweight, WBA light-flyweight and WBC flyweight champion, respectively) whilst maintaining a perfect, unblemished record of 42 victories, 36 of which came by knockout or stoppage. The stats, as they say, don’t lie. If only he were blessed with a body sculpted just a few pounds heavier, or if there were some more recognizable names on his record, or if I had spent a few more hours on Youtube researching the little guy (go and look him up – you won’t be disappointed) there’s every chance he’d be significantly higher on the list.
Wladimir Klitschko (Former Position: “Near Miss”)
Record: 63-3 (53 KOs)
Current Belts: WBO/IBF & WBA ‘Super’ World Heavyweight (200lbs+)
It is, somewhat regretfully on my part, that I am forced to move “Dr. Steel Hammer” into No.7 on this list. I’m far from the heavyweight champion’s biggest fan, but the Ukrainian behemoth just keeps doing what he always does: dominating his fights in uninspiring, clinical and consistent fashion. But while I am usually left looking for a wall to paint so that I can get really excited watching it dry following a Klitschko fight, you simply cannot take away from the man his longevity at the top of the division, or the effectiveness of what he does. There was even a hint of drama in his last outing against the solid challenger Kubrat Pulev. And, perhaps my eyes were deceiving me, but I could have sworn that I saw him throw a left hook. Whatever next from the heavyweight champion of the world – body punches? Uppercuts? Three-punch combinations, for Christ’s sake?! Who knows. A more pertinent question in this context may be: in a championship reign that stretches all the way back to 2006, is David Haye really still the best name on Klitschko’s record? Very possibly, yes. Credit where credit is due for Klitschko’s vast ledger of victories – he can hardly be held responsible for the quality of available opposition. But it would be great to see something a bit more inspiring from the world’s heavyweight champion from time to time.
Miguel Cotto (Previous Position: “Near Miss”)
Record: 39-4 (32 KOs)
Current Belts: WBC World Middleweight (160lbs)
Cotto’s refusal to commit to defending his newly acquired middleweight title against the division’s hottest fighter, the aforementioned Gennady Golovkin, doesn’t much add to the Puerto Rican’s hard-earned reputation or standing in the sport. That being said, it is hard to criticize the rejuvenated four-weight world champion as he comes off of a spectacular victory over the lineal middleweight champion and former pound-for-pound standout, Sergio Martinez (previously No.5 on my list). Martinez may not have been fighting at his best last June, but immense credit has to be given to Cotto for stepping out of his comfort zone into a division that many thought he would not be capable of competing in effectively, and dismantling one of the finest champions of the sport over the last decade. A move back to 154lbs for a mouth-watering match-up with Mexican rival Canelo Alvarez seems the best move for him now – assuming, of course, that he continues to avoid the real middleweight danger man.
Carl Froch (Previous Position: 10)
Record: 33-2 (24 KOs)
Current Belts: WBA ‘Regular’ World Super Middleweight Champion (168lbs)
For me, Froch retains his position on this list owing to the outstanding quality of opposition he has fought and defeated over the course of his career. After a very shaky defence of his title against fellow Brit George Groves in November 2013, the rock-hard Nottingham-native showed his superior championship calibre when blitzing the cheeky Londoner in eight rounds in their highly anticipated rematch last May. A mooted blockbuster showdown with Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr. early this year has unfortunately fallen by the wayside, and Froch will therefore remain inactive for a prolonged period of time. In any case, while a fight with Chavez would likely be a real barnstormer, it would do little to enhance Froch’s pound-for-pound pedigree. For that, he would need to either rematch his bogeyman Andre Ward or else face 160lbs danger man GGG – neither of which seems likely. Expect Froch to wind down his wonderful career with the Chavez fight and then make way on this list for the next generation.
Terrence Crawford (Previous Position: “Not Rated”)
Record: 25-0 (17 KOs)
Current Belts: WBO World Lightweight (135lbs)
Boxing, more than most sports, is all about form: “You’re only as good as your last fight”, the saying goes. While there might be slightly more to it than that, it’s fair to say that in the sport of boxing Terrence Crawford is a man with form on his side more than almost anyone you can name. For me, he was easily the most impressive fighter in the world in 2014 – registering three solid victories against quality opposition and looking like a phenomenal talent in the process. Crawford is the kind of fighter who has that very rare quality of making the sweet science look effortless. He has also shown the ability to adapt to every situation presented to him and demonstrated true mettle under fire. A move to 140lbs is only going to provide more opportunities for one of boxing’s most enjoyable talents to further showcase his skills against even bigger sharks. Crawford is a fighter who could be around for a long time – and he could easily be a few places higher on this list in twelve months time.
Near Misses (in no particular order)
Juan Manuel Marquez (Previous Position: 4)
In many respects, JMM may well be the most difficult fighter on this list to rank. There’s a very good argument that he still deserves a place in the top 5 – some might even say higher than that. Like Andre Ward and Carl Froch, one thing Marquez has suffered from is a lack of activity – fighting only once in each of the previous two years. However, unlike Froch, Marquez lost his last “elite” fight (vs. Tim Bradley in 2013); and, unlike Ward, he is 41 years old and his career is coming firmly to its conclusion. A victory over the likes of IBF welterweight champion Kell Brook, for example, would easily put the Mexican back in the “pound-for-pound elite” conversation – but a far more likely option, in my opinion, is retirement.
Timothy Bradley (Previous Position: 3)
As with former foe Marquez, welterweight Bradley hasn’t done an awful lot wrong in order to be moved off the top ten list – it’s just that other fighters have been that bit more impressive of late. The American is still without doubt one of the most capable fighters in the sport, and there was no shame in his losing rematch effort against Manny Pacquiao last year – especially considering he fought the majority of the contest with an injured leg. In the pound-for-pound stakes, recent form has to be a consideration though. Despite the drawn verdict in his last outing being hotly disputed, going 0-1-1 in 2014 has left Bradley with ground to make up. A solid victory in his next outing over world-class opposition will likely see him back in the top ten mix.
Saul Alvarez (Previous Position: “Near Miss”)
After a difficult defeat to boxing’s No.1 fighter, “Canelo” has bounced back with two excellent victories – the second of which came against the classy and awkward, world class Cuban Erislandy Lara. While there’s no doubt that Alvarez represents the future of the sport, he squeezed by rather than dazzled against the crafty southpaw though, showing that there is still work to be done. A big name victory over the likes of Miguel Cotto would catapult him a number of places up the list. Expect him to put forward another solid year in 2015.
Sergey Kovalev/Adonis Stevenson (Previous Positions: Both “Not Rated”)
Boxing’s political shenanigans have created an absurd but unfortunately not so unusual situation in the light-heavyweight division: one man (Sergey Kovalev) holds the WBA, WBO & IBF world title belts – typically enough of the ‘big four’ belts to render talk of the division’s best fairly meaningless. However, another man (Adonis Stevenson) not only carries the last of the remaining trinkets (the prestigious WBC title) he also happens to be the owner of the immaterial, but arguably more valuable “lineal” title, having defeated Chad Dawson – “the man who beat the man who beat the man…” Who deserves to be called “the man”? Kovalev certainly had a more impressive run in 2015, but really there’s only one way to find out: put promotional difficulties aside and settle it in the ring.
Matt can be followed on Twitter @Boxinphilosophy