Pound for Pound: Clarity or Further Confusion?

By Andrew Harrison: The biggest fight in the brief history of women’s boxing took place in Biloxi, Mississippi in 2003 when Laila Ali picked the wings off Christy Martin. Ali was bigger, younger, stronger and infinitely more talented than ‘The Coal Miner’s Daughter’, so how did the fight wind up netting more moolah than any other battle between female fighters to date? Simple really, despite a mismatch on paper, they were the two most well known and therefore marketable female boxers in the world..

Modern day men’s boxing has had its fair share of problems over the past few decades. The proliferation of title belts, coupled with the expansion of weight divisions has diluted the wider public’s perception of the sport. Throw in the anarchy of alphabet organisations and their mind scrambling rules and regulations and you’d be hard pushed to find a casual fan who could list more than a handful of champions…………whatever a champion is these days.

From this turmoil, clarity has emerged in the shape of the ‘pound for pound’ lists, a hypothetical idea on who the best ten fighters in boxing are, regardless of weight at any given time. Once over it was a nice compliment to throw at the likes of Ray Robinson or Marvin Hagler, based on the fact they were clearly outperforming the guys in the marquee division north of 190 lbs. Nowadays however, it’s become a bit of a monster, fighters are now actually talking of trying to ‘win’ this title as though it was a concrete entity, something tangible, when it’s anything but. It is and always has been nothing more than a journalist’s opinion.

Born from the fact Joe the Plumber hasn’t the foggiest who the real champions are anymore, these lists have gained greater prominence and are perhaps the best pointer as to who the top men in boxing are today. Entry to this exclusive group guarantees more butts on seats when you fight, people tend to be more aware of you (if only Paul Williams could sneak on there!!), just as they knew Martin and Ali above almost all others in the female game.

Back when boxing had only eight weight divisions with one champ atop each, clarity reigned and ‘pound for pound’ was an afterthought rather than an obsession. Nevertheless, contemporary matchmakers have figured out that if you can pair a couple of these ‘pound for pound’ guys together, you have yourself a licence to print greenbacks.

So, clarity emerges out of confusion and boxing thrives right? Mmm, perhaps monetarily, however the riddle beneath such matches eats away at the entire sport. The jungle drums decry this morning that Floyd Mayweather is going to gatecrash the Pacquiao Hatton jamboree and announce to the world that he’s back to face Juan Manuel Marquez (number two ‘pound for pound’ so says Ring magazine). The fight is rumoured to be happening at 144 lbs, which is 9 lbs heavier than Marquez has ever fought. If Mayweather wins, what does it mean? What do any of these catch weight contests mean?

I could meander off toward any number of cross divisional ‘pound for pound’ battles we’ve witnessed in recent years at this juncture, but let’s stick with the guys who are front and centre in Vegas this weekend.

Pacquiao is coming off the back of his biggest career win over Oscar De la Hoya, a fight he won in dominating fashion. Post fight, the excuses made on Oscar’s behalf centred mainly around weight, perversely that Oscar was used up and spent at having to boil down to 145 lbs. If Oscar had won however, Pacquiao’s sympathisers would have bemoaned Oscar’s natural size and weight advantage and fingered these as the culprits for Manny’s fall.

Ricky Hatton’s only defeat meanwhile, came in his biggest career fight, at the hands of ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd. Again, after the event, Hatton’s alibi decried that he never was a welterweight after all and in hindsight, should have remained at light welter, the division he still champions.

Floyd Mayweather, like Pacquiao, was lured up to an unnatural weight to face Oscar De la Hoya in 2007, a fight in which he came closest to losing his spotless, unbeaten record. If Jerry Roth had scored a couple more rounds to Oscar, would ‘The Golden Boy’ have proven to be the better man, or just the bigger man?

The initial excitement on hearing news of Mayweather’s return is now clouded with confusion, trying to decipher what all of these matches between fighters converging at mutually convenient weights actually mean? If Floyd was too big for Hatton, what chance does Marquez stand? Come to that, what about Pacquiao?

What weight does Floyd now class himself? If it’s welterweight, will he face off against Mosley, Cotto et al, or will he, as Oscar was able to do to him, demand that the winner of Pacquiao Hatton comes up in weight to him? Does he then hold all of the aces?

On the flipside, would the sport shrivel if these guys stuck to their natural weights? How big would Hatton-Bradley, Marquez-Diaz or Mayweather-Mosley actually be? What the hell is Pacquiao’s natural weight these days anyway?

Hatton has a chance tonight, however a win doesn’t guarantee he becomes ‘pound for pound’ king. Was Joey Maxim a better fighter than Ray Robinson? Would John Ruiz have been a ‘pound for pounder’ if he’d starched Roy Jones Jr? Crude comparisons to be sure but you get my point? Or maybe you don’t, the number of question marks in this piece probably illustrates fine well my sense of confusion this morning………..

What fun are boxing matches when they leave more questions than answers anyway?