Monday, August 6, 2007

Pound For Pound

The United States Congress kept me from viewing Saturday night's clash between Rafael Marquez and Israel Vasquez, and wouldn't you know it -- it turned out to be the NEW consensus fight of the year. It's re-airing Tuesday night on Showtime, so I thought I'd preoccupy myself with something else...

You'll notice I don't have a "pound for pound" list, a prerequisite for any and all boxing publications and websites that want to give you their take on who the best fighters are regardless of weight class, from the strawweights (105 lbs.!) to some of the gigantic heavyweights (300 lbs.!). I opted against this for several reasons. First off, admittedly, it's difficult to judge. Should one just imagine all the fighters shrunk or grown to one size -- say, 160 lbs. -- and evaluate who would win? That's hardly the best way, it seems to me, because certain world-class fighters may be vulnerable to certain styles. He may beat almost every other fighter around, but lose to a second-tier fighter who just presents a bad match-up. Sure, the best fighters overcome that, but it shouldn't be the only standard. What about quality of wins? This is very important, obviously. But what if a good fighter loses a decision that most everyone thinks he won? That, too, suggests compilers of pound-for-pound lists should only consider it as a factor. All this and more is why I instead have a list of my favorite fighters -- to me, that's more interesting anyway. Which boxers do I like to watch, regardless of whether they win or lose?

That said, I've finally summoned the cojones to prepare my own list, using factors such as wins, whether X fighter would beat all the others weight being equal and a few more. I think the top three on my list are actually very clearly the three best. The remainder are people who are great fighters but their records are mixed for some reason, because of recent losses or some other neutralizer I'll describe in each individual case.

Feel free to tell me how wrong I am, of course.

  1. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. (welterweight, 147) I think Floyd defeats every fighter on this list, size being even, by virtue of his physical gifts, ring intelligence and underrated willpower. His career is riddled with wins against likely hall-of-famers, and although he has taken a press beating lately for making boring fights or not fighting the best fighters available every time he steps between the ropes, he staved off a challenge from the #2 person on my list by defeating the much bigger Oscar De La Hoya in a weight class about two too high, junior middleweight (154 lbs.). Oscar's not as good as the general public probably assumes he is, but he is a top 20 fighter and even in losses against the best has comported himself well. There may be guys who could trouble Floyd with size or a difficult style, but not many.
  2. Manny Pacquiao. (junior lightweight, 130) Manny has deployed his whirling dervish offense against several fighters who, at the time, were considered among the best pound-for-pound. It's paid off for him. He only lost once in the sequence, to all-time Mexican great Erik Morales, but avenged that one with two knockouts against a guy in Morales who'd never in his career suffered even a clean knockdown. In something of a pattern, he also mauled all-time great Mexican Marco Antonio Barrera like he never had been before, and flattened another all-time great Mexican in Juan Manuel Marquez three times in the first round en route to a draw. With ever-improving boxing skills to match his power and energy, Pacquiao beats most everyone on this list, but his quality of wins is through the roof.
  3. Bernard Hopkins. (light heavweight, 175) Yes, he's old as hell. Yes, he bores me to tears. But he simply finds a way to win, no matter if his opponent is an undersized superstar like Tito Trinidad or a bigger man like Antonio Tarver, the previous light heavyweight king. His last win was against a man rated higher at the time on most pound for pound lists, Winky Wright. Think hard before you decide he couldn't beat the younger, faster, perhaps stronger Joe Calzaghe. The crafty Hopkins simply out-thinks everyone he fights.
  4. Juan Manuel Marquez. (junior lightweight, 130) After years of questions about his willingness to get hit and what he would do if he finally got clocked, he got hit convincingly and frequently in his amazing showdown with Pacquiao in 2004. He proved he had heart by coming back from three knockdowns to score a draw. His only blip since is a questionable loss to Chris John, versus a major win over Marco Antonio Barrera. I'm pretty sure he'd lose to Pacquiao in a rematch, but that's about the worst you can say about him.
  5. Joe Calzaghe. (super middleweight, 168) His flawless win over mega-puncher Jeff Lacy proved that his streak of title defenses, now at 21, was no fluke. That said, he fights too often to the level of his competition, performing poorly against borderline fighters yet still pulling out the win. And I think Calzaghe's next opponent, the skilled Dane Mikkel Kessler, stands a strong chance of ending his streak.
  6. Winky Wright. (middleweight, 160) Set aside his recent close loss to Bernard Hopkins, because he was fighting at too high a compromise weight (170). Look instead at the quality wins and the fact that his style would make him nigh-impossible to beat whether he was a natural heavyweight or natural minimumweight. Yet it's clear he's getting old.
  7. Shane Mosley. (welterweight, 147) Sugar, too, is getting old, but he's looked refreshed after his rough stretch of four combined losses against Winky Wright and Vernon Forrest, and was fantastic in a return to a more favorable weight class, welterweight. His past accomplishments, and his willingness to take all comers, pushes him higher on this list than he is on similar pound-for-pound compilations.
  8. Ricky Hatton. (junior welterweight, 140) Ricky's performances of late have been rocky, but you can't say much bad about his signature victory against all-time great junior welterweight Kostya Tsyzu. And you can't really say much bad about the fact that he's found a way to win every fight he's been in, ugly or not, against reigning champions or game contenders of every style and ability level.
  9. Miguel Cotto. (welterweight, 147) Eventually, I think Cotto stands a chance to overtake a lot of people on this list, even if he loses to Mosley later this year. The only thing holding him back is that he does not yet own that victory over a truly great fighter, but like he does in the ring, Cotto will just keep stalking and stalking and stalking...
  10. Rafael Marquez. (junior featherweight, 122) Before this weekend, I would have had him as high as fourth. This may be too steep a drop, but it's hard for me to list him as a better fighter than his recent conqueror, Israel Vasquez, when they have split a pair of fights and Vazquez has an ever-growing legacy of his own that doesn't compare too badly. My eyes tell me nonetheless that Marquez is still a better fighter than Vazquez -- although I reserve the right to change my mind after Tuesday's re-airing of their second clash.

There are only a few other fighters I would consider for top-10 status, but you can make a case for all of the below squeezing some of the guys above out. In no particular order:
  • Jermain Taylor. He beat Hopkins twice and drew with Wright, yet there are some people who think he lost all three. He beat Cory Spinks, but some say he didn't win that either, all the more embarrassing because Spinks was clearly fighting at too high a weight. But at a certain point, don't you give a guy credit for fighting tough and somehow dragging out the win, even if it's questionable? To break through: Beat fearsome Kelly Pavlik convincingly in the fall.
  • Israel Vasquez. He just beat Marquez, cleaned out his division before he did that and along the way soundly beat up Jhonny Gonzalez, a threat from just south of his weight class. I'd throw him in the top ten except he looks vulnerable in every fight, albeit in that good, exciting way, the kind that produces drama, not in Jermain Taylor's awkward, frustrating way. To break through: Take the best two out of three against Marquez in the inevitable rematch.
  • Mikkel Kessler. He looked amazing blowing out Markus Beyer and overrated but tough contender Librado Andrade. To break through: Ending Calzaghe's streak would make a strong case for these two switching places.
  • Joel Casamayor. There are people who think Casamayor, a dirty-fighting Cuban, has won every fight no matter what his record says, and the case is not without merit. His list of victims, even without that hypothetical, is impressive. His nastiness probably biases some contenders against him for exercises such as these. To break through: Topple a young bulldog or two like Juan Diaz.
  • Marco Antonio Barerra. His resume is unbelievable. He's slowed, though, with age. Defeating up-and-coming Rocky Juarez despite that showed he had more left, and some think he actually won his last fight, against Juan Manuel Marquez. To break through: This fall, avenge his loss to Pacquiao, which would be all the more eye-popping because of how unlikely it sounds.

Glass Joe from the Nintendo game Mike Tyson's Punch-Out is noticeably absent from my list of the pound-for-pound best. (from


bob said...

Overall I think your pound for pound is solid. I do think Chris John has a case to at least be in the honorable mention.

Tim -- said...

Thanks. Word on the street is that JMMarquez may soon rematch with John, and if he won again he'd have an even better case. John was on my "best of the rest" list, which included Vladimir Klitschko; Juan Diaz; Mijares; Spinks; De La Hoya; Glenn Johnson; Margarito; and Paul Williams.

Tim -- said...

Oh, and Calderon.

THE BRYGUY said...

I agree with you about the pound for pound lists, I much prefer a list of favorite fighters.(I will be working on mine soon). That said, I have no real problem with your list. I'll be curious to see how it looks after the fights this fall.(Hatton-Mayweather, Kessler-Calzaghe, Taylor-Pavlick, Mosley-Cotto, Barrera-Pacquiao). There could be some major shake ups!

Tim -- said...

Another excellent point on the potential for shake-ups, bryguy.

alex said...

Not a single heavyweight in the top 10? Wow.

Tim -- said...

Maybe not a heavyweight even in the top 20; Vlad Klitschko is as close as it gets. Sam Peter has a shot at it, maybe, someday.