So far in 2008, six of my top-10 pound-for-pound fighters — that is, the best fighters today, regardless of what weight class they’re fighting in — have fought each other. Another top-10 pound-for-pounder went up against his top challenger, a guy many, myself included, considered a top-20 pound-for-pounder. One took an easy fight after a monstrous 2007, but this summer is taking on a feared contender in his division. Two others are, frankly, wasting time.
With some of that action coming since I last updated the list, it’s time to revisit my top 20 for the second time. For the inaugural list, which had records, age, and other data, go here; for the first update, go here.
1. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. (welterweight, 147 lbs.)
How long do you get to be consider the best fighter on the planet if you don’t fight? Talent-wise, Mayweather’s a class above the rest. His excellent 2007 and career-long resume has given him some fuel to stay on top, but he’s wasting 2008 with a rematch with Oscar De La Hoya and that’s it; then in 2009, his only plans are for a rematch with Ricky Hatton. In other words, he’s running on fumes as the pound-for-pound best. All it’s going to take is one more quality win for my #2, #3 or even my #4 or #5, possibly, to depose Mayweather from his cherished perch.
2. Joe Calzaghe (light heavyweight, 175 lbs.)
With his defeat of Bernard Hopkins, Calzaghe ascends to the #2 spot. It’s a tough call, though. I did think he beat Hopkins, and so did the judges — and for that reason, he has the tiniest separation with #3. Beating Roy Jones, Jr. in November might be enough to put him at #1, but beating Kelly Pavlik instead — or shortly thereafter — definitely would.
3. Manny Pacquiao (lightweight, 135 lbs.)
Pacquiao drops to #3, but only by the slimmest of margins — much as he defeated Juan Manuel Marquez by the slimmest of margins on the scorecards. I thought he lost, barely. What do you count in a situation like that, when it’s for something like a pound-for-pound list? I’ll go with what I saw. That said, I think he has the best chance to take my #1 spot. How’s that? Well, beating David Diaz doesn’t get him much, if he does that, as expected, this summer. Maybe, just maybe, it moves him above Calzaghe. From there, the lightweight field is a target-rich environment. If he takes a rematch with Marquez and wins, he’s in easy. If he beats Nate Campbell — who’s near the bottom of this list — he goes to #1, but is vulnerable. If he beats the winner of Juan Diaz/Joel Casamayor — the winner would almost certainly crack my top 20 — then it’s the same deal.
4. Miguel Cotto (welterweight)
Strange as the reasoning may seem, Cotto’s blowout of Alfonso Gomez helped Cotto move up another slot on this list. Why? Well, because Cotto showed even more wrinkles in his game, looking like he’d improved even more. In addition, Gomez was a dramatic underdog, but ESPN.com had him as a top-10 welterweight, and Cotto demonstrated anew the gulf between himself and Mayweather versus the rest of boxing’s best division. If he beats Antonio Margarito this summer, I will give him a long look for #1, pound-for-pound.
5. Juan Manuel Marquez (junior lightweight, 130 lbs.)
Since Pacquiao edged him ever so slightly on the scorecards, I decided to bump Marquez down one position in my last list. But in the toss-up between himself and Hopkins for this spot, I favored my eyes: In each man’s respective last fights, I thought Marquez beat Pacquiao, and I didn’t think Hopkins beat Calzaghe. He can get to #1 if he gets his rematch with Pacquiao and wins. Maybe.
6. Bernard Hopkins (light heavyweight)
The other factor in my placement of Hopkins, besides how I scored Marquez/Paquiao II and Calzaghe/Hopkins, was the fact that, as well as he fought for a 43-year-old, the fact remains that Hopkins finally showed an age-related drop-off. Unlike Marquez/Pacquiao III, which I think Marquez would have a good chance of winning, I don’t see a rematch between Calzaghe and Hopkins producing the same chances of a Hopkins victory. Besides, he probably isn’t going to get it. That means Hopkins has very little way to go but down, because there aren’t many wins available that could boost him above the considerable resumes of my top 5, unless someone above him slips unexpectedly. And, since he’s apparently turned down a Felix Trinidad fight that would equal easy money, it’s looking more and more like retirement’s next.
7. Israel Vazquez (junior featherweight, 122 lbs.)
I wager Vazquez has a solid chance to surpass Hopkins soon, because Vazquez is more likely than Hopkins to take on a meaningful challenger. Even though I picked him for #7, it’s still weird to see him there. He’s not a traditional pound-for-pound fighter, at least the way I conceive of them. But he’s done a lot with what his body and guts have given him.
8. Kelly Pavlik (middleweight 160 lbs.)
After beating Jermain Taylor earlier this year, Pavlik isn’t doing a whole lot in 2008 until the end of it. He’s got two easy title defenses on his agenda, then it’s Arthur Abraham, a very serious middleweight. Still, I see him being in the top 10 at least until then, unless a couple fighters I rank lower go buck wild with quality wins, and a win over Abraham would likely bump him upwards.
9. Rafael Marquez (junior featherweight)
It’s hard to get a sense of Marquez’ prospects for moving up, because he and dance partner Vazquez are still licking their wounds, rightly, from what I consider the third best fight since 1990. But I almost feel bad for having him at #9. I had him at about #5 pre-trilogy, and he only lost the third fight by one point on my card.
10. Winky Wright (middleweight)
Mayweather and Wright are the two guys in my top-10 who are just wasting time. Wright would be far easier to bump down than Mayweather, for me. He’s done nothing, but for some reason, several of the boxers just on the verge of cracking the top 10 haven’t put anything compelling up to replace him. Like, Diaz — he could’ve snagged #10 by beating Campbell. I just need to see one quality win from one guy on the edge of entry.
11. Ricky Hatton (junior welterweight, 140 lbs.)
I think Hatton has a tough fight on his hands this summer against Juan Lazcano, but more because of the style match-up. Beating him is not the kind of win that could get him back into the top 10. Beating Paulie Malignaggi later this year? That’s the kind of thing he needs, but by then, several people just below him may have better wins on their resumes than that.
12. Shane Mosley (welterweight)
If Mosley beats Zab Judah, I shoehorn him into the top 10. He barely fits, but I can see him coming off that win and taking the place of his old conqueror, Wright, simply because beating Judah’s a quality win and Wright isn’t doing jack.
13. Ivan Calderon (junior flyweight, 108 lbs.)
Yeah, you can totally make the case for Calderon being in the top 10, skill-wise. But he’s fought in a pretty weak division most of his career. His next fight is probably a rematch with Hugo Cazares. Winning that propels him into the upper echelon for me, finally.
14. Oscar De La Hoya (junior middleweight, 154 lbs.)
De La Hoya’s ranked this high by me really only for a little while longer, I suspect. He’s likely to lose to Mayweather again later this year, and there’s no real shame in that, since it’s what pretty much anybody would do. But he’s talking retirement soon, and none of the wins he’s likely to get in 2008 are impressive enough to keep his position from eroding further should some folk below him get a couple better ones. If he fights Cotto, like he’s talking about, I bet he loses that, too.
15. Cristian Mijares (junior bantamweight, 115 lbs.)
Mijares leapfrogs De La Hoya on my list in May, assuming he beats Alexander Munoz. It’s not a given, but Mijares is one classy boxer.
16. Joan Guzman (junior lightweight)
OK, so I don’t see Guzman as better than Mijares, but he’d jump over Mijares on my list temporarily in May if he beats Alex Arthur, and De La Hoya, at least until Mijares beats Munoz a couple weeks later.
17. Vladimir Klitschko (heavyweight, unlimited)
I can’t imagine how Klitschko moves up my list this year, because beating his next two mandatory challengers, while decent wins, aren’t the kind to put him ahead of folk who have better-than-decent wins.
18. David Haye (heavyweight)
Haye is going to be incubating for a bit at heavyweight, which means it’ll be a while before he tests himself against the kind of opponent that could further boost his pound-for-pound stock. Look out below.
19. Nate Campbell (lightweight)
Would that anyone would give Campbell a chance — Pacquiao? Casamayor? Diaz? — he might prove he’s the best lightweight alive. Until then, he’ll be treading pound-for-pound water.
20. Antonio Margarito (welterweight)
Margarito has looked sensational in his last two wins, enough for me to put him in my top 20 for the first time ever. I had Jermain Taylor there until Margarito beat Kermit Cintron again. Taylor is, however, a threat to re-enter at any point, should he beat a quality super middleweight (168 lbs.) or should Margarito lose to Cotto.
Lurking around the periphery: Jermain Taylor; Juan Diaz; Chris John; Chad Dawson; Glen Johnson; Mikkel Kessler; Vernon Forrest; Joel Casamayor; Nonito Donaire