It’s been two months since my last update of the list of the best fighters in the world, regardless of weight, and some pound-for-pound players have been in action during that time. What makes sense on updating these things? After a change? Every month? Dunno, but I haven’t figured out how to post a picture yet on the new blog platform, so just know that my pound-for-pound list mascot, Rene Descartes (not Rod Stewart) is available to you via hyperlink.
The biggest issues to deal with are the Floyd Mayweather-Juan Manuel Marquez bout from September, and where to place four fighters whose resumes are considerable but whose best days appear to be well behind them. As usual, here’s my lengthy diatribe on how I compose my pound-for-pound lists. As usual, I encourage you to post your own list upon your completion of the reading of mine below.
1. Manny Pacquiao, welterweight. I know for some there is a debate about whether to replace Pacquiao with Mayweather, but it wasn’t a debate for me. I place a heavy emphasis on resume, particularly more recent fights, with “how a fighter looks to me in the ring” meaning a good deal less because it’s far more theoretical and much less empirical. Typically, I focus on the last two years. In that regard, Pacquiao’s wins are more impressive. He beat a diminished and disinterested Marco Antonio Barrera in October of 2007 at junior lightweight; narrowly defeated a very nearly at his best version of Juan Manuel Marquez in March of 2008 at junior lightweight; scored a dominant win over a quality if not overly talented lightweight, David Diaz, in July of 2008; demolished a faded and weight-drained but significantly bigger Oscar De La Hoya at welterweight; and demolished a possibly diminished Ricky Hatton this year, fighting at Hatton’s ideal junior welterweight. Over the same period, Mayweather has a decisive and destructive but competitive 2007 win over a blown-up welterweight but prime version of Hatton; and a comprehensive September win at welterweight over a very blown-up, past-his-prime Marquez. In his last three fights, just for bonus points, Pacquiao also passes the “looks pretty freaking incredible in the ring to me” test, moving up in weight and looking better each fight after the other. So, Pacquiao is clearly #1. That could change after Nov. 14 if he loses when he steps up against a welterweight with a lot more in his tank than De La Hoya could offer last year, Miguel Cotto. I think it’s quite clear cut that Pacquiao should be the #1 man right now, though. And if he beats Cotto, somebody’d have to do something pretty ridiculous for me to consider removing Pacquiao from the #1 slot.
2. Floyd Mayweather, welterweight. I thought of putting Mayweather lower, because the “recent fights” resume of some of the fighters beneath him is superior. But his career resume is awfully good, even if the best wins come in 2002 and prior, and he definitely looks like one of the handful of best fighters on the planet, even after his long layoff. He doesn’t get his #1 spot back just because he had it before retiring in 2008. He was already in danger of losing it on my list to Pacquiao even then, since Mayweather’s inactivity was hurting him in my books and since Pacquiao was doing so much good resume-building work. And I don’t buy this “he was pound-for-pound king before he retired, and he hasn’t lost since” line. How many years of inactivity before you take him off the list? What if he retires in 2010 and then doesn’t fight again until 2015? He isn’t automatically pound-for-pound king again, is he? Nope, he has to fight for that to take it back. As of now, it doesn’t sound like he’s thinking of taking the kind of fights that would get him back to the #1 spot — he says he’s “not going to wait” for the winner of Pacquiao-Cotto, and he’s not interested in getting into the ring with Shane Mosley “yet,” and the only name anyone who works with him has thrown out there is Saul Alvarez, a 19-year-old prospect whom a win over would prove nothing, nothing at all. As of now, Mayweather’s best chance of moving back into his old home is a Pacquiao loss, but even that doesn’t guarantee it for reasons I’ll get to in just a little bit.
3. Shane Mosley, welterweight. If Mosley was more active in 2009, even against moderate competition, I think he’d have a very strong argument for deserving the #2 slot. His win over Antonio Margarito in January was one of the year’s most impressive performances, but he won’t fight again until this coming January, assuming that Andre Berto fight gets finalized, like, ever. (The way things are going right now, it may not.) Depending on how things shake out between now and then, a win over Berto could give him consideration for the #1 slot. It’s one of the more disappointing stories of 2009 that Mosley hasn’t been able to get into the ring with anyone of note, be it Pacquiao, Cotto, Mayweather or even Joshua freakin’ Clottey coming off a loss. It’s a combination of him looking too good, other people offering higher pay at lower risk and HBO jerking him around for no reason at all.
4. Paul Williams, middleweight. Williams moves up one slot only because light heavyweight Bernard Hopkins, my previous #4, falls out of the rankings since I have a rule about one year of inactivity. Hopkins fights again in December, so he’ll move back onto the list at a very high spot when and if he wins that tune-up fight against Enrique Ornelas, but Williams might have been due to pass him anyway. He’d had a really gangbusters fight slotted for December himself, against Kelly Pavlik, that, had he won it, would have been good enough to move Williams into my top two. But Pavlik has pulled out of that date once again, leaving Williams looking for a replacement opponent who almost certainly won’t bring the same credentials or cache to the table. Sergio Martinez is probably the most attractive available foe, and beating him would give Williams a chance to move up, but nothing like a win over Pavlik would’ve given him.
5. Miguel Cotto, welterweight. Cotto also moves up one because of Hopkins’ drop. If he beats Pacquiao, though, I think you can make a case for appointing Cotto the pound-for-pound king. It kind of depends. We don’t really know if Pacquiao is a quality welterweight based on what he’s accomplished so far, so if Cotto’s size is a major factor in this hypothetical win — which should be apparent to the eye if it is — it takes a little steam out of beating Pacquiao. It’s probably enough to move him up a bit, anyway. Resume-wise, he’s had about the toughest strength of schedule in boxing over the last couple years. I’m still always a little amazed at how much one loss, to Antonio Margarito (who this year was busted with loaded gloves and may have been cheating against Cotto too), has affected Cotto’s career. Besides the lingering questions about whether the beating Cotto suffered left him a spent force, how much higher on this list might Cotto be if he’d beaten Margarito? Mosley’s so high on my list and others in large measure because of the Margarito win.
6. Juan Manuel Marquez, lightweight. When Marquez knocked out Juan Diaz in February, I thought it looked (and said so) like a last great stand by a fighter who was getting chased down by Father Time. The loss to Mayweather made it look like Father Time had caught Marquez and thrown the shackles on him. I’d had him at #2 before that loss, and if you’re going by the “how they look” test, I could see dropping Marquez further. But, again, I go by resume, and I can’t fault Marquez too much for losing to a man three divisions above where he last fought (assuming Mayweather was a junior middleweight that night, as he refused a day-of weigh-in by HBO) and five divisions above the last weight where weight wasn’t an inhibiting factor for him. Ultimately, Marquez is very vulnerable to being dropped further now down my list if other fighters below him look good in quality wins, and likewise he’s very vulnerable to being dropped further by the increasing chances of him losing his next fights because of how much he it appears he’s crossed that point in the hill you don’t come back from.
[Of note: This makes seven straight fighters at the top of my list who have spent time recently as welterweights. That's kind of incredible. Marquez is clearly no welterweight, but throw in Ricky Hatton, Oscar De La Hoya and Margarito as other pound-for-pound caliber fighters who have recently spent time at welter, and we're talking about a pretty remarkable period around the weight class, historically. And it hasn't even come close to tapping its potential list of fights.]
7. Ivan Calderon, junior flyweight. Like Marquez, Calderon just has the feel of a fighter who’s now on the other side of the hill. He has struggled in what, four of his last six fights? Those four fights, against Hugo Cazares and Rodel Mayol, came against naturally larger opponents who were quality fighters, but one of the reasons Calderon is in anyone’s top 10 is because he was so dominant against everyone he fought. He looks a step slower and his lack of power has caught up with him as a result. That means I put him where I put Marquez: more vulnerable to being passed by fighters beneath him, either because he loses a fight sooner rather than later or because those beneath him look better in wins than Calderon does in his.
8. Chad Dawson, light heavyweight. Here’s a guy who could make a big jump soon. On Nov. 7, Dawson takes a rematch with Glen Johnson, a rematch of his hardest fight and a tough night for anyone because even at his age, Johnson is a terror in the ring. If he wins it, assuming Johnson doesn’t look like he himself has gone over the hill, I could see throwing Dawson into the top 5. Even if Dawson wins the rematch, there will be detractors who say Dawson’s best wins came against old men — two wins over Johnson, and two wins over Antonio Tarver. I say, again, age ain’t nothing but a number. Judge a fighter by how ovld he looks in the ring, not an arbitrary number. Johnson is legitimately the #2 or #3 guy at light heavyweight, just as Tarver was a top 5 light heavy both times Dawson fought him, where he remains even after back-to-back losses to Dawson. And don’t forget Dawson beat Tomasz Adamek, who wasn’t even past his prime chronological years and has actually proven better since than we ever really knew.
9. Kelly Pavlik, middleweight. If I was the kind of boxing writer who judged a fighter in the ring by how he behaved outside the ring, believe me, Pavlik would be getting a demotion. His ditching of the Williams fight literally has me pouting and throwing temper tantrums like a toddler. But Pavlik hasn’t done anything to lose his slot, nor has anyone beneath him done anything to take it from him. It’s kind of remarkable, really, since he hasn’t done jack since a middling February win over Marco Antonio Rubio, but then, nobody just outside the top 10 has really burst in in a big way since February. Since I’m guessing Pavlik won’t get a meaningful fight until early next year at best, he might theoretically be vulnerable to being leapfrogged by then, but again, I don’t see how if you look at who’s beneath him and whether they’re likely to have a major fight between then and now,too. Really, the only thing that moves him down is Hopkins’ reentry into the top 10 upon his expected December return. A pity.
10. Chris John, featherweight. John makes his top 10 debut, a spot it always looked like he could get to based on his surplus of talent and skill, but his accomplishments until late hadn’t warranted it. Sure, there was the win over Marquez in 2006, but it was a win many (including myself) think he didn’t deserve, and most of the rest of his accomplishments could be chalked up to “longevity and consistency against inferior competition.” He finally decisively beat a real top-notch kind of guy in 2008 when he defeated Hiroyuki Enoki, then threw in his draw against Rocky Juarez and his subsequent definitive defeat of Juarez in the rematch last month, and suddenly we’re cooking. His resume, interpreted at its best: 43-0-2; plus a win over Marquez that, even if you disagree with it, certainly was a competitive showing against a top-10 pound-for-pound caliber opponent; plus the win over Enoki; plus one win and one draw that many thought should have been ruled a win over Juarez, who while no pound-for-pound player is himself a line of demarcation between “good” and “great,” given that he beats all the good fighters and loses to all the great ones. But: Is John slowing down — he looked a step slower in his last fight — at his age?
Or did he have some late trouble against Juarez in the rematch because of bad advice from his trainer to go for the knockout? (I stand corrected, per the comments section below — there’s no evidence that exchange happened, despite what a reader heard and repeated during our live blog of the fight.) He expects to be back in action early next year, but it’s not clear if it’ll be against anyone of note in the fairly stacked featherweight division.
11. Arthur Abraham, super middleweight. Abraham’s best career wins are a mile wide and an inch deep. Hardly anybody has massacred as much of his division’s top 10 or borderline contenders as Abraham did at middleweight, and now he’s got a top 10 super middleweight scalp after last weekend’s demolition of Jermain Taylor. He’s the Super Six tournament’s favorite with good reason: He’s frighteningly powerful, tough and skilled, especially on defense. He’s due for a U.S. fight in January against Andre Dirrell, an opponent who is talented but who has no real noteworthy career wins to speak of. An Abraham win over Dirrell could inch him up this pound-for-pound list a little, but not much.
12. Nonito Donaire, junior bantamweight. Donaire really still has just that one marquee win, over Vic Darchinyan, but it’s a good one. His next best win is probably his most recent, over Rafael Concepcion, a good news/bad news kind of victory: The bad news is he didn’t impress against a fringe contender type and hurt his hand badly enough to be sidelined for the rest of 2009; the good news is he beat an opponent in a higher division who failed to make weight and was totally gigantic. The bad news part of that meant that people underneath him had a chance to move up, and with John and Abraham notching important wins where they did impress, Donaire got bumped down a little. He’ll be back in action in January or February, it sounds like, but I’m guessing not against a world-beater type foe who could help his pound-for-pound stock, since it’ll be on a small pay-per-view.
13. Tomasz Adamek, cruiserweight. Would that Adamek had gotten his mitts on Steve Cunningham in a rematch, or Hopkins or Johnson, and won any of those fights — Adamek would be top-10 material right now. As it happens, he’s not done much with his 2009 after a breakout 2008 because of a strange disinterest from the networks, and his opponent this weekend, an old Andrew Golota who never lived up to his potential at his prime, offers opportunities for incremental gains. If Adamek loses, he can chalk it up to a failed experiment at heavyweight, and unless he gets totally obliterated, doesn’t drop too far down the pound-for-pound listings.
14. Wladimir Klitschko, heavyweight. A December win over Eddie Chambers would have given me an argument to throw Klitschko into the top 10, but an injury has pushed that fight back to early 2010. Klitschko is like a Calderon or Abraham who’s never beat anybody all that major because his weight class is barren, but he’s been so consistently dominant in his division for so long you have to give him his props no matter how much his fighting style bores you. The guy hasn’t lost in FIVE YEARS and he’s beaten a whole slew of top-10 types, most recently the #3 man in his class, Ruslan Chagaev, and if the heavyweight division was less barren than the middleweights, I’d have Klitschko above Abraham already. The difference between him and Abraham is that Klitschko has some good wins before their comparable winning streaks began, which is enough to consider bumping Klitschko over Abraham with one more high-quality win.
15. Rafael Marquez, featherweight. This is one of the four faded fighters on the list I mentioned, with his brother Juan Manuel, Calderon and old foe Israel Vazquez being the others. Marquez was top-10-caliber before a layoff of more than one year, but in the interim other fighters built up their resume. When Marquez returned this summer, he looked rusty — possibly faded, possibly not — in a new weight class against a less-than-stellar foe. He was at #15 two months ago, and he remains there. I’d expect one of two courses for him next: 1. another opponent to knock off the rest of the rust; 2. a fourth fight with Vazquez early in 2010. Neither offer him many opportunities for advancement, because stay-busy fights usually offer little in the way of that, and because of the condition of Vazquez.
16. Israel Vazquez, featherweight. Vazquez almost certainly is done as a top-level fighter, based on his long layoff and terrible struggles with Angel Priolo, a much smaller opponent who couldn’t win a fight in years and ended many of them on his back. This is me really just putting Vazquez back on the list because he ended his inactive streak and his record of the last two years (and his whole career) is so remarkable. He definitely looks much more spent than Marquez, whose comeback opponent was better than Vazquez’, which is why I have him a notch below; Vazquez won two out of their three fights, but I thought Marquez deserved a draw in the rubber match if not for a point deduction for low blows that I thought was inappropriate. It was enough of a small difference to make it so that Vazquez comes in a little lower than Marquez. But make no mistake, I don’t think Vazquez is long for this top-20 list. Still, his reentry moves everyone below him down a slot.
17. Celestino Caballero, junior featherweight. Still don’t get Ring mag having this dude in their top 10. His best win is over Daniel Ponce De Leon. That almost says it all. Sure, he’s beaten a handful of other good top 10 junior feathers, like Steve Molitor, but does that exceed what Williams, Dawson, Abraham, John, Pavlik, Calderon or a bunch of other people on my list have done? No. Not at all. He’s talented and a difficult match-up, but he also is frightfully inconsistent. Nor is he likely to get a big fight soon to prove he deserves a top 10 slot, which would be an early 2010 bout against the man who’s up next.
18. Juan Manuel Lopez, junior featherweight. I’ve argued already that Lopez’ recent struggles against a tough borderline top-10 foe like Rogers Mtagwa proves that some people have promoted Lopez up the pound-for-pound lists prematurely, but I want to reemphasize that I think he still has the talent to climb my list. It’s too bad Lopez’ promoter is seemingly so dead-set on wanting to shelter Lopez from Caballero, because I’d give Lopez — even after the Mtagwa struggles — a very strong chance of winning that fight and, arguably, earning a top-10 pound-for-pound ranking in so doing.
19. Mikkel Kessler, super middleweight. Totality of wins, quality of competition faced — both really favor ranking Kessler pretty high, pound-for-pound, but since his loss to Joe Calzaghe in 2007, he’s fought a series of unworthies that have offered him very little chance to recover lost ground. That will change with the Super Six tournament. Even though Andre Ward is inexperienced at a world class level against pros, a win over him would give Kessler a nice-sized boost. It’s the most interesting first-round match-up of the tournament, and it’s due next month.
20. Vitali Klitschko, heavyweight. This would have been Timothy Bradley’s slot, but Bradley’s win over Nate Campbell since my last update has been changed to a no contest, robbing him of a victory over a guy I had in my pound-for-pound top 20. That leaves him with wins over Kendall Holt and Junior Witter and little else. In the meantime, Klitschko dominated a top-5 heavyweight, Chris Arreola, as thoroughly as a dominatin’ gets, and he’s beaten a whole array of top-10 caliber heavies himself, not to mention his extremely competitive showing against the last really good heavyweight not named Klitschko, Lennox Lewis, lo those many years ago. Of course, it’s a fairly tentative hold on the spot he has, as, at minimum, he’s out once Hopkins returns in December. His next bout, against Kevin Johnson that same month, gives him a chance to edge back in.
Honorable mentions: Bernard Hopkins (inactivity), Timothy Bradley, Hozumi Hasegawa, David Haye, Joan Guzman, Vic Darchinyan, Joseph Agebeko, Roman Gonzalez, Nate Campbell, Lucian Bute, Omar Narvaez, Joshua Clottey, Steve Luevano