(Manny Pacquiao is not receiving oral pleasure after beating Timothy Bradley; Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)
If you’re looking for another measurement of how dismally boxing’s 2014 has kicked off — as if anyone needed any more evidence; put down that stupid giant magnifying glass, Sherlock Holmes — it took all the way until April 12 to generate even a solitary must-change to this particular list of the best fighters in the world regardless of weight. And maybe that’s the only change that should be made, but there’s another slight tweak or two as well in our first pound-for-pound assessment of the “new” year.
Most of the top fighters in the world haven’t even have fought in the first third of the year at all — only nine have, and few have been in bouts of any great significance. It’s ugly out there. Because there’s very little happening so far, for some of these fighters we’ll be taking the measure of what they’re up to next. One of the points of this enterprise is just that anyway.
As usual, the predominant standard is quality wins, especially of recent vintage. Secondary factors include they “eyeball test,” career resume, who handed out any losses, etc. Fighters inactive for one whole year without a fight being scheduled are disqualified.
1. Floyd Mayweather, welterweight
Mayweather is about to end his 2014 hiatus with his first fight of the year next weekend, against Marcos Maidana. Maidana will have a very, very difficult time overcoming the sportsbook odds. Yes, he hits hard, but he probably won’t be able to do to Mayweather what he did to Mayweather’s “little brother,” because Mayweather is better and smarter. It very well might take a knockout. It’s not impossible. We’ll be talking more about this fight throughout the week.
2. Andre Ward, super middleweight
The reason Ward hasn’t fought this year is because of yet another layoff due to a legal stouche his promoter Goossen Tutor. It’s maddening. Whatever his beef is with Goossen, he’s wasting long stretches of his career fighting in court over and over again. This month he said it could be all resolved tomorrow, or in six months. Six months would be a disaster for him.
3. Manny Pacquiao, welterweight
It didn’t take long from the time of Pacquiao’s disastrous knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez for him to get back near the top. The win over Brandon Rios helped; the conclusive win April 12 over the man who ended 2013 at #3, Timothy Bradley, was more than enough. He’s not 2009 Manny Pacquiao, but five years later he’s still a very vital version of himself.
4. Timothy Bradley, welterweight
For ranking purposes, a trio like Manny/Tim/JMM can be a bit awkward — but it would’ve taken a blowout by Pacquiao to dump Bradley below the man he beat in his previous fight. The overall resume is still good, while the performance against Pacquiao was flawed but moderately competitive. He could be out a while, though, due to that calf injury.
5. Juan Manuel Marquez, welterweight
Marquez is back in action in May against Mike Alvarado, and depending on how he performs, it could be enough to warrant putting him over Bradley. After all, it was a mere split decision loss to Bradley, one that Bradley deserved but that was close enough so as to make Bradley’s recent loss and another Marquez win worthy of reversing them here.
6. Carl Froch, super middleweight
Fortunately, between Mayweather, Froch and a few others, things are about to pick up for meaningful fights involving top boxers. Froch is due for a rematch with George Groves that is going to do outrageous business in the U.K., and is a real test of Froch’s mettle, considering how close he came to losing the first time.
7. Sergio Martinez, middleweight
And then, in June, is Martinez’s return. Opinions are divided on how much trouble he’ll get from Miguel Cotto, a smallish junior middleweight moving up to 160. Either way, Cotto presents enough of a threat so as to strengthen Martinez’s standing with a win, even if probably not enough to prompt a move up.
8. Wladimir Klitschko, heavyweight
Klitschko did that thing he does where he blows through his opponents one way or another — against Alex Leapai this weekend, it was by impressive quick KO, rather than by prolonged mauling, the way it is with those fighters with more of a pulse. Alas, there is only “more of a pulse” or “less of a pulse” at heavyweight, comparatively.
9. Guillermo Rigondeaux, junior featherweight
The Rigolution is coming off a touch like Joementum these days… he and his team have called out Carl Frampton, to no avail. Neither his promoter, Top Rank, nor the network — HBO — that put him in position to fight (and beat) Nonito Donaire, want much to do with him. His manager is saying a borderline prospect, Jonathan Guzman, could be next.
10. Danny Garcia, junior welterweight
The junior welterweight champion is lucky to still have that designation, after a win over Mauricio Herrera in March that most scored for Herrera. Next? His name is circulating for all manner of fights. Pacquiao said he’s an option someday, possible if there’s a Cold War thaw. Others: Lamont Peterson, or Lucas Matthysse again. He’s reportedly due back in July.
11. Adonis Stevenson, light heavyweight
Perhaps the least liked fighter in the sport right now thanks to his scuttling of the Sergey Kovalev fight, Stevenson nonetheless has a significant bout next month against Andrzej Fonfara that could bump him above the vulnerable Garcia.
12. Bernard Hopkins, light heavyweight
Beibut Shumenov wasn’t much of an opponent for Hopkins last weekend, but he was enough of one to boost Hopkins over Nonito Donaire, inactive and unimpressive from the beginning of 2013 to now.
13. Roman Gonzalez, flyweight
Likewise, Gonzalez hasn’t beaten much of anyone of late, but he’s tested the flyweight waters twice this year with knockout wins and is on the verge of an important and exciting bout with division champ Akira Yaegashi, possibly in August.
14. Nonito Donaire, junior featherweight
At least Donaire is back in action in May. His opponent, a real featherweight rather than a blown-up one like Vic Darchinyan — Donaire’s last fight — is the rough Simpiwe Vetyeka. A win would restore some of Donaire’s lost luster.
15. Mikey Garcia, junior lightweight
A case could be made for Garcia moving up based on his victory over Juan Carlos Burgos in January, but it’s not a real strong one given Garcia got wobbled again. He might now be locked in a legal struggle with Top Rank for a while, sadly.
16. Juan Francisco Estrada, flyweight
Estrada beat up Richie Mepranum this weekend in a fight that merely kept him busy. It feels like a bunch of exciting flyweight showdowns keep getting pushed back, but Giovanni Segura is sometime in Estrada’s near future.
17. Gennady Golovkin, middleweight
We were supposed to get some GGG R-rated violence this month against Andy Lee, but that got canceled due to a death in Golovkin’s family; now we might not get a Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. fight in July because of JCC’s beef with Top Rank.
18. Jhonny Gonzalez, featherweight
Dithering over a rematch with Abner Mares had disappointingly prevented Gonzalez from capitalizing on the best win of his career by getting back into action, but now he’s booked for late May against anonymous Clive Atwell.
19. Shinsuke Yamanaka, bantamweight
Yamanaka is making quite the impression with his power and overall tools. He beat the snot out of Stephen Jamoye this week, who was, until his last fight, a top-10 contender. Please: Yamanaka vs. Anselmo Moreno. Please.
20. Abner Mares, featherweight
See Gonzalez above, only in reverse (the worst [and only] loss of Mares’ career). Now the talk is of Mares returning in June, alongside Robert Guerrero, but against no one who has been named quite yet.