Everyone loves a Pound-For-Pound list, mostly because people like to complain and argue about stuff that can’t be definitively proved true or false. Politics, religion, and lists like this one are the stuff barroom brawls are made of. Since this is my list, I’ll tell you my decisions were weighted toward recent performances in the context of the level of competition. That means if you’ve been fighting top level opposition, even if you struggled some, that’s going to weigh in your favor. If you’ve been fighting B-level guys, you damn well better be winning convincingly, and be fighting in a division where you don’t have better options. The second most important criteria is overall skill level. This is maddeningly subjective in many cases, but applies most prominently with one particular fighter. What I considered third is overall resume, meaning if I couldn’t separate two guys by the first two criteria, I went with who had the deeper resume, even if it meant going back several years. This might be why about half my list is composed of guys who aren’t likely to be on here a year or two from now, or maybe won’t be fighting at all. Lastly, if I found myself thinking, “It’s absurd for the purposes of this list to be going back more than five years to make a decision,” I brought it back to the primal question of P4P lists: who would beat who if they were the same size right now? That really only came into play with the placement of two fighters on my list, who both happen to be welterweights.
In any case, here’s my list…
10. Shinsuke Yamanaka 27-0-2, 19 KO
The 34 year old southpaw has held the WBC bantamweight title for almost five and a half years, and in that time has defended it a dozen times. A fearsome puncher, Yamanaka has stopped 9 of his 13 opponents in title fights. As with most fighters below featherweight, US fans are largely unfamiliar with Yamanaka, but via the magic of youtube anyone can watch him ply his trade and appreciate the craft and power he brings to the ring. At 34 years old, I don’t expect Yamanaka to fight much longer, and I doubt we’ll ever see him on American television, as all of his fights have taken place in Japan and bantamweights don’t earn much money here. The most recognizable names on his ledger are Vic Darchinyan and Anselmo Moreno (who he beat twice, once by SD, then last year via KO7). His most recent defense was last month against Mexico’s Carlos Carlson, who he stopped in the 7th after dominating him the entire fight.
Next fight? Being a WBC guy, he’ll likely fight whoever the mandatory is in the fall. Right now, the #1 ranked WBC bantamweight is a young, undefeated Mexican named Luis Neary (23-0, 17 KO).
9. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez 48-1-1, 34 KO
Canelo is the biggest attraction in boxing today, beloved in Mexico and by Mexican-American fans, and with his drawing power exceeding his abilities, he also has no shortage of haters. We’ve been waiting for almost a year and a half for Canelo-Golovkin, and I’ll be as disappointed as anybody if we don’t see it in September, but Canelo is in a tight spot. He’s the cash cow of the sport, and the only major money maker at GBP. While it’s somewhat understandable why they’d like to move him cautiously, the fact that he’s not protecting an undefeated record kind of makes it a moot point. If he fought Golovkin and lost, but didn’t quit or get totally steam rolled, I don’t think his reputation or earning power would be damaged much, if at all. And if he won, that would certainly enhance both. In any case, Canelo is in the #9 spot because of his underrated hand speed, combination punching, body punching, and upper body movement. He’s used these to great effect to beat guys like Miguel Cotto and Erislandy Lara. Though more recently he’s been in cash-grab fights with Amir Khan and Liam Smith. His Next Fight, on Cinco de Mayo weekend, is against Julio Caesar Chavez Jr. It’s a fight that can only elevate his marketability, and might prove some points if he can beat the naturally bigger man.
8. Keith Thurman 28-0, 22 KO
The 28 year old boxer-puncher holds the WBA and WBC Welterweight titles, and is in his physical prime. Although he hasn’t been KOing guys now that he’s consistently fighting elite level fighters, he’s proven in his last two wins that he can adapt and win fights without relying on his power. Some will argue against his placement above Canelo, but it’s hard to argue against having him on the list at all. He won close but clear decisions against Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia in his last two fights, and there is talk of him trying to add the IBF welterweight title to his collection by fighting the winner of the upcoming Kell Brook – Errol Spence fight. If that happens, you’d be hard pressed to name any fighter in the sport who has fought three fights in a row against that caliber of opponent.
Next fight: Hopefully the winner of Brook-Spence. If for some reason that falls through, I’d love to see him lobby for a Pacquiao fight, or that failing, Amir Khan, Lamont Peterson, or Adrien Broner.
7. Manny Pacquiao 59-6-2, 38 KO
The 38 year old Filipino senator is a boxing legend, a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer with a resume that compares well to anybody’s. Some derided him for fighting Jesse Vargas last November, and while it’s true I can easily name five other guys at 147 I would’ve rather seen him fight, Pacman seems to be somewhat a prisoner of Bob Arum, whose actions indicate in recent years that he prefers to get a cut of the purse from each of the guys in the ring when it comes to Pacquiao fights. And to be honest, I don’t really care to watch Pacquiao in the ring, he doesn’t have anything left to prove, he hasn’t KO’d anyone since he stopped Miguel Cotto in 2009 (not a typo), and he’s pretty much performing on the fumes of the great fighter he was for about a decade and a half. I almost kept him off my list, but then I realized those fumes were still good enough that I couldn’t think of any welterweight I’d confidently favor to beat him right now.
Next fight: He holds the WBO title, and his mandatory is a guy named Jeff Horn, an undefeated Aussie fighter. Yawn.
6. Terence Crawford 30-0, 21 KO
The 29 year old Crawford currently holds the WBC and WBO Super Lightweight titles, and reigns over a division that doesn’t really have any worthy challengers for him. Crawford’s overall skill level is only second to Lomachenko’s. He fights equally effectively from an orthodox or southpaw stance, and is able to switch smoothly and at will no matter who he’s fighting. In some ways, Crawford reminds me of a blend of the young and older Floyd Mayweather Jr, in that he’s very aggressive, a great finisher, but also has a very high ring IQ and usually takes the first few rounds to see what his opponent has to offer before applying his game plan or an adjustment to dismantle his foe. Crawford’s biggest win was over highly regarded fellow champion at the time, Viktor Postol. Crawford took the measure of the taller jab specialist in the first two rounds, then put a frightful beating on him the rest of the evening en route to a wide UD win. Other than Postol, Crawford has spent the past three years fighting a collection of good but not great fighters, B-level guys who brought a variety of styles and challenges to the table, and he’s beaten all of them pretty easily. At 29, he’s got some time to raise his stock, but the biggest names for him are up at 147. An in-house Top Rank clash with Manny Pacquiao seems inevitable, but it appears Bob Arum doesn’t want to make that fight until he’s absolutely certain Crawford would win (and I’d favor Crawford right now), so why not fight Tim Bradley? Bradley’s a smaller welterweight, they could even do a catch weight of 144 or 145. In any case, right now the only person who can stop Terence Crawford is Terence Crawford; if he can stay out of trouble outside the ring, he could find himself at the top of the sport in the next two years.
Next Fight: Crawford will defend his two belts on May 20 against the light hitting Felix Diaz. It should be another dominant showcase win.
5. Gennady Golovkin 37-0, 33 KO
The WBC, WBA, and IBF Middleweight Champion has become one of the most polarizing figures in boxing, as some fans and media overrate him as P4P #1, while others decry his level of opposition and accuse him of being a hype job with punching power and not much else, who fights “cab drivers” to pad his record. He was able to justify the biases of both camps when he won a controversial UD against Brooklyn’s Daniel Jacobs last month. Jacobs was undoubtedly Golovkin’s toughest test, and even though I scored it for Jacobs, there were many close rounds (and I know people who were at the fight who all said GGG won and that it wasn’t particularly close). So I’ll exercise a bit of humility here and grant that my scorecard may have been inaccurate. If it had been a more exciting fight, I’d watch it again, but life is too short. It was competitive, but not with the kind of action that warrants a second viewing. That aside, GGG’s previous foes might be less than stellar, but the fact remains that Curtis Stevens, Martin Murray, and David Lemieux are all dangerous fighters, and Golovkin didn’t just beat them, he dominated them with both skill and power. GGG doesn’t possess the fastest hands or feet, but he might be P4P the hardest puncher in the sport, and he’s an expert at cutting off the ring and has perhaps the best chin in boxing, which are three virtues no one wants to see standing in the opposite corner when the bell rings. GGG has been angling for a huge showdown with Canelo Alvarez, and fans can only hope it actually happens this September, though Canelo needs to get by Julio Caesar Chavez Jr in May first, and GGG may try to unify all four middleweight belts by fighting (and likely defeating) WBO champion Billy Joe Saunders. Golovkin is 35, so time is not on his side. Hopefully both he and Canelo win their upcoming fights and we get to see a great action fight in September for the undisputed, unified, middleweight championship of the world. Next fight: GGG says he wants to fight in June, and would like Saunders, but may choose to wait on Canelo in September.
4. Roman Gonzalez 46-1, 38 KO
Many are saying, “how is this guy so high on the P4P list? He lost his last fight and struggled in the one before that!” The 29 year old Nicaraguan boxer-puncher has faced top level competition fairly consistently for the past few years, and until he moved up to Junior Bantamweight, he was. dominant. The fact that he moved up to a fourth weight division, took on two of the best opponents available, and engaged in very close, exciting fights both times is not the kind of thing I’m going to penalize a guy for, even if he lost one of those fights. It should be evident to everyone that Chocolatito’s power is not the same at 115 lbs as it is at 112 lbs, and he’d be wise to move back down to flyweight where there are plenty of attractive fights for him. Like NFL running backs, fighters at the lighter weights don’t age particularly well, so unless he’s ready to hang up his gloves soon, going to war against guys who can take his power at 115 lbs isn’t the greatest idea. Like Pacquiao and Yamanaka, Gonzalez is not much longer for this list, but if everyone in the sport was between 108 and 112 lbs, I can count on one hand the number of guys I’d favor to beat him.
Next fight: Lots of people would like to see him fight the 23 year old phenom, Naoya Inoue, but I’d prefer to see him rematch Juan Francisco Estrada at 112.
3. Vasyl Lomachenko 8-1, 6 KO
The 29 year old WBO super featherweight champion of the world has once-in-lifetime talent. His footwork, hand and foot speed, power, mastery of distance and timing, and combination punching make him must-see TV. Widely regarded as the best amateur of all time, the Ukrainian southpaw won a featherweight titIe in his first pro fight, lost to the rugged veteran Orlando Salido in his second fight (Salido failed to make weight for the fight, enjoyed about a 15 lb weight advantage on fight night, and committed a wide variety of unpenalized fouls throughout the night), and has since not only beaten, but dominated fighters like Gary Russell Jr, Roman Martinez, and Nicholas Walters. In fact, he completely undressed Russell, who looked completely lost coming out of his corner for the 5th round, and he forced Walters, a widely respected and feared bad ass, to quit on his stool after 7 one-sided rounds. In his most recent fight, he comprehensively beat and outboxed a very tough Jason Sosa, whose father stopped the fight after 9 rounds, fearing for his son’s safety. Lomachenko is so good I wouldn’t argue with anybody who had him at the top of their list. He’s certainly on his way there.
Next fight: It looks like a showdown with Mikey Garcia is inevitable, but I’ll be surprised if Garcia is his next opponent.
2. Andre Ward 31-0, 15 KO
The 33 year old 2004 Olympic gold medalist won the WBA, IBF, and WBO light heavyweight championships via very controversial UD over Sergey Kovalev last November, and it looks like the contractually mandatory rematch will take place in June. A defensive specialist with top level infighting skills, Ward has been a somewhat polarizing figure his whole career, despite his soft-spoken confidence and lack of personal baggage outside of the ring. A smothering, defensive style difficult for the casual fan to appreciate doesn’t help, and neither has a long bout of inactivity (only two fights in three and a half years) after winning the Super Six tournament in 2011. And without going into detail, let’s just state the obvious: with his quiet confidence, undefeated record, and squeaky clean family man lifestyle, if Ward came from two white parents instead of only one, he’d be the most popular athlete in America. Anyway, he ended his spell of inactivity by agreeing to fight Kovalev, but needed to shake off the rust with a trio of showcase bouts against guys who posed no significant threat, stopping the first one, Paul Smith, and winning wide UDs against Sullivan Barrera and Alexander Brand. Many will ask why he’s not at the top of my P4P list after winning a UD over Kovalev last November, and honestly I was tempted to have he and Krusher tied at the top, but I felt Kovalev beat him. I’ve watched the fight three times and scored it for Kovalev each time, even while giving Ward more of the close rounds. In any case, this will (barring injury to either fighter in training camp) be sorted out in June when they have their rematch. Or maybe not. Maybe they have another close fight with a controversial outcome and we get a trilogy. I wouldn’t complain.
1. Sergey Kovalev 30-1-1, 26 KO
The 34 year old former IBF, WBO, WBA light heavyweight champion is one of the most fearsome punchers in the sport, and has very underrated boxing skills. He doesn’t have the fastest hands, but nobody in the sport gets all their weight into their jab the way Kovalev does, and with snap at the end of it. When he follows it with the straight right hand, it’s a lethal combination. He won his first world title, the WBO strap, by stopping Nathan Cleverly in 4 rounds in August 2013. After Adonis Stevenson bolted from HBO to SHO via Al Haymon’s PBC in early 2014, Kovalev and boxing fans were cheated out of a tasty match up of 175 pound KO artists. Kovalev then fought a trio of WBO mandatories before winning every second of every round in a UD victory over the aged legend, Bernard Hopkins. Favored by many to win, Hopkins suffered a violent knockdown in the 1st round, then managed to stave off the efficient aggression of Kovalev for the rest of the fight, before going for broke and trying to KO Kovalev in an exciting 12th round. The victory garnered Kovalev the IBF and WBA titles, which he held until the Ward decision. I have Kovalev rated above Ward because I thought he won the fight, and has faced better competition in recent years. The rematch is scheduled for June 6, so in the near future there might be more clarity at the top of this list, or maybe another close fight with a controversial decision leads to a trilogy. Either way, the fans win.