Insofar as pound-for-pound lists are debate fodder — and it’s one of the main ideas — there’s a lot to debate to be had with at the end of 2011 with this accounting of the top fighters in the world regardless of weight class. More than any time in a couple years, there’s a real argument to be had about who the best fighter in the world is based on resume. Everybody from three to six could be mixed up and there’d be a good case. The bottom end of the list could read like any damn thing.
Let’s have at it, then. Soon, we will do a review of 2011 with awards for Fighter of the Year and Knockout of the Year and the like, so this is something of a prelude to that. As usual, the strong preference is for fighters who beat top competition, especially of recent vintage, although the eyeball test — a subjective evaluation of how a fighter looks — is a secondary factor, among others. Departing the list from last update due to some losses: Giovani Segura, Amir Khan and Fernando Montiel.
1. Manny Pacquiao (welterweight)
More than ever, Pacquiao’s spot here is tenuous. Most everyone thought Pacquiao lost to Juan Manuel Marquez in November, and so do I, and he didn’t look very impressive for the second time in 2011. He was also fighting a much smaller fighter who was an 8-1 betting underdog. But it was a close fight, and Pacquiao got the decision, and for now, based primarily on his career resume, he keeps the top spot at TQBR.
2. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. (welterweight)
Considering that Mayweather’s recent run is more impressive than Pacquiao’s, and considering that he just looks like the better fighter these days, this wasn’t an easy call. Basically, the next time Mayweather fights and beats a decent opponent, I’ll probably switch them, unless Pacquiao does something mega-impressive before then. We probably won’t see either man for a while: Mayweather says he intends to fight in May; Pacquiao’s next move is uncertain. They could always fight one another next and settle it real easy-like, but that’s been just out of reach for two whole years.
3. Juan Manuel Marquez (lightweight)
Mostly I honor official decisions, but after November I think Marquez has deserved not just one but two decisions he didn’t get against Pacquiao. That’s good enough to move him up a couple spots, especially considering how “meh” two of the other prior contenders for #3 have looked of late. Also, let’s face it: Marquez is a remarkable fighter, one who’s established himself as one of the great fighters of this generation, even if some of his losses are losses in name only.
4. Andre Ward (super middleweight)
Because of the respect I’ve had for Carl Froch’s record over the last three years, I put a lot of stock in Ward defeating him so resoundingly this weekend. Not only that, but Ward beats everyone he fights resoundingly. They’re lucky to steal a round here or there. He’s convincing all the time, unlike the two people he leaped over to get here.
5. Sergio Martinez (middleweight)
Fighters have off-nights. Fighters have opponents who make them look bad. Maybe that’s what happened for both Martinez against Darren Barker and Nonito Donaire against Omar Narvaez. But when there’s such little separation between a handful of people, those less-impressive performances can be costly.
6. Nonito Donaire (bantamweight)
See Martinez, above.
7. Wladimir Klitschko (heavyweight)
Klitschko keeps climbing all the way to about #5 on my list, then finding himself sinking because others do more than him. Klitschko was once a very busy fighter, getting in the ring three or four times a year, but this time he managed it only once, against David Haye. It was arguably his biggest win, it just wasn’t enough to hold off what others did in 2011.
8. Vitali Klitschko (heavyweight)
At the same time, big brother keeps benefiting from others dropping. He’s up one spot for no other reason than that.
9. Pongsaklek Wongjongkam (flyweight)
Pong’s up for the same reason as Vitali — this time, both benefit from Froch tumbling out of the top 10.
10. Bernard Hopkins (light heavyweight)
Last week, the California State Athletic Commission did the right thing and changed Hopkins’ injury-induced loss to Chad Dawson to a no contest. I’d talked about putting Hopkins back where he was if and when they did that, which was the top five. But increasingly, I have a hard time keeping Hopkins that high when I think he was en route to losing to Dawson anyway. Maybe B-Hop would’ve summoned up his old magic and figured out Bad Chad, but overall I think Dawson’s the superior fighter of the two. Hopkins remains above Dawson simply because he has the better career resume.
11. Chad Dawson (light heavyweight)
At the same time, I couldn’t bring myself to separate Hopkins and Dawson by all that much. Thus, Dawson stays close to B-Hop.
12. Timothy Bradley (junior lightweight)
Bradley could still plummet soon based on the “hasn’t fought anybody all that good in a year,” because beating an old, shot, fat, pot-smokin’ Joel Casamayor last month didn’t do much to preserve his status. He still is living off the January win over Devon Alexander, in my book. And I didn’t find anything that anyone did beneath him to be worthy of surpassing Timmy.
13. Abner Mares (bantamweight)
Mares finally got a win where he didn’t barely eke it out, and his rematch revenge this month against Joseph Agbeko was unmarred by any major controversy. Mares’ record in his last four fights is now looking pretty solid: a draw against Yonnhy Perez that most think he deserved to win; a win over Vic Darchinyan; and two wins over Agbeko.
14. Lucian Bute (super middleweight)
Hey, look, Bute beat someone! Sure, Glen Johnson later said that he didn’t have any muscles attached to his elbows, but Johnson, even coming off a loss to Froch, even as timid as he looked, was still a viable super middleweight. Therefore, Bute gets some p4p movement.
15. Yuriorkis Gamboa (featherweight)
Still nothing on the YURIORKIS GAMBOA! schedule, and the likelihood of Brandon Rios moving up in weight means he’ll be less likely to have an opponent who can much benefit his p4p stock.
16. Miguel Cotto (junior middleweight)
I contemplated bumping up Cotto more than this coming off his win this month against Antonio Margarito, especially with the Puerto Rican looking so impressive, but, nah. Margarito appeared very much over the hill to me, and we’re talking about a fighter who has had lost two of his last three fights coming in and may have been cheating his whole career prior.
17. Brandon Rios (lightweight)
Rios had a terrific 2011 that might still be underrated. He knocked off three top-10 caliber lightweights, knocking every one of them out, showing extra serious toughness and power in all three. The last came this month against John Murray when he was so drained he didn’t eat food for a week or something ridiculous.
18. Carl Froch (super middleweight)
Froch suffers significantly by how badly he lost to Ward, but you still have to like much of what he did over the past three years prior. So he gets to stay on the list. For now.
19. Anselmo Moreno (bantamweight)
Anyone who saw what Moreno did to Darchinyan this month had to have been impressed — he was both offensively and defensively eye-popping. And he has some other good wins, besides the Vic win (Volodymyr Sydorenko, Tomas Rojas, Mahyar Monshipour, Nehomar Cermeno, etc.), so he’s not here just on the eyeball test.
20. Brian Viloria (flyweight)
This final spot was a tough choice between two fighters who pulled off big upsets on the same December Saturday. I went with Viloria over Lamont Peterson because: 1. He beat Segura, who was ranked higher than the man Peterson beat, Khan; 2. He beat Segura far more definitively than Peterson did Khan; and 3. He has a few more better wins than Peterson overall, including a very impressive win over Ulises Solis. Viloria has also had more downs in his career than Peterson, but that’s why I went with him only narrowly.
Honorable mentions: Peterson; Roman Gonzalez; Khan; Segura; Andre Dirrell; Mikkel Kessler; Orlando Salido; Juan Manuel Lopez; Erislandy Lara; Paul Williams; Chris John; Robert Guerrero; Marcos Maidana; Toshiaki Nishioka