Happy New Year. Here’s a last bit of sweeping up after 2015 — a year-end pound-for-pound list of the best boxers alive, regardless of weight.
This entry brings just one exit (Miguel Cotto) and one entry (Tyson Fury) since last time, but some shaking up of things here and there. The heavyweight and middleweight championships of the world changing hands matters in that regard.
We take the occasion of this list to review the 2015 of each of the fighters, then look ahead to what’s in store for them in 2016.
As usual, the top criteria is “quality wins, especially of recent vintage.” Next is “overall record.” A distant third is “the eyeball test.” That’s why you see someone like Guillermo Rigondeaux ahead of someone like Gennady Golovkin, unlike other lists — Rigo has beaten an elite fighter and Golovkin hasn’t. On the other hand, that win is getting pretty far back in the rear view mirror, so don’t expect him to keep his place long.
Here’s the most recent list, for comparison’s sake.
1. Roman Gonzalez, flyweight
After a Fighter of the Year-worthy campaign in 2015, Gonzalez’s 2016 so far is a mystery. Juan Francisco Estrada or Noaya Inoue would both be good, but it’s unclear when he might fighter either of them; the Estrada rematch doesn’t seem to be on his map or HBO’s, and Inoue says he needs a few fights first.
2. Manny Pacquiao, welterweight
Pacquiao had a rough year, losing to Floyd Mayweather, his nearest rival. Next year, he’s already booked for a third bout against Timothy Bradley. Given where Bradley sits on this list, you’d think that would be good news. We already saw how that fight goes, though, and a declining Pac + revitalized Bradley is a thin premise for excitement.
3. Timothy Bradley, welterweight
That said, Bradley did look great in 2015 under trainer Teddy Atlas, beating a disinterested Brandon Rios to somewhat warrant his higher-than-most placement on this list. It was loads better than his showing against Jessie Vargas earlier in the year. April, and Pacquiao III, is a huge opportunity for him.
4. Andre Ward, super middleweight
It’s always something with Ward. He was supposed to fight for a second time in 2015 in November after returning with an easy summer win over Paul Smith, but he pulled out with an injury. He’s already tentative against TBA in March, then could be in for a huge 2016 if he eventually faces Sergey Kovalev.
5. Juan Francisco Estrada, flyweight
Yup, he’s still higher on this list than most would have him. His 2015 was decidedly underwhelming, with the highlight being a win in a fun action fight over Tyson Marquez. He doesn’t yet have anything in the works for 2016, so far as I can tell. The Gonzalez rematch seems like just a dream right now.
6. Guillermo Rigondeaux, junior featherweight
There’s nobody more vulnerable on this list right now than Rigondeaux, who had a crappy outing in November against Drian Francisco, his only appearance of 2015. Nonito Donaire says he wants a rematch with Rigo in 2016, and that’s about as good as it gets for the 122-pound champ, but Rigo seems allergic to making fights these days, so we’ll see.
7. Sergey Kovalev, light heavyweight
Kovalev had an outstanding 2014, and a “meh” 2015. The Jean Pascal fight was fine, good even, however disappointing it was that he was the wrong Canadian (the right one being Adonis Stevenson). The Nadjib Mohammedi fight was borderline awful. Pascal again in January is lame, but if Kovalev ends up with Stevenson or Ward, it’ll be a big year.
8. Gennady Golovkin, middleweight
Golovkin continued his trend of slowly upping his competition in 2015, turning in a Fighter of the Year-worthy campaign with wins over Martin Murray and David Lemieux. He’s talking about a fight with Billy Joe Saunders next, which is right around that level. The WBC wants Canelo Alvarez for him after that.
9. Canelo Alvarez, middleweight
Speaking of. Alvarez, too, delivered a Fighter of the Year-worthy campaign. Maybe he belongs higher on this list after his big win over Miguel Cotto, even. As the middleweight champion of the world, hopefully he’ll behave like one and face Golovkin, his nearest challenger, in 2016. He doesn’t have anything booked for the year yet.
10. Terence Crawford, junior welterweight
Crawford spent most of the year cautiously introducing himself to the junior welterweight division, and doing so aptly. He had hoped for a 2016 showdown with Pacquiao, but that honor went to Bradley. Now he’s having trouble finding any opponent for his debut in the new year, reportedly.
11. Naoya Inoue, junior bantamweight
Inoue fought just once in 2015, at year’s end, and looked sensational. The Gonzalez showdown appears very likely, just not right away, in 2016.
12. Tyson Fury, heavyweight
Your new heavyweight king beat Wladimir Klitschko as part of his own Fighter of the Year campaign. A win over Anthony Joshua or Deontay Wilder, along with Klitschko again, could propel him to the top 10 in 2016.
13. Danny Garcia, welterweight
A debatable win, a needless mismatch — that’s Garcia in 2015. He’s facing faded Robert Guerrero in January, which isn’t going to do much for him.
14. Shinsuke Yamanaka, bantamweight
His 2015 highlight was a questionable victory over Anselmo Moreno, just as his rep was building. The right thing to do in the new year is a rematch.
15. Adonis Stevenson, light heavyweight
Stevenson’s 2015 was a farce, with wins over top-10ish Tommy Karpency and blown-up Sakio Bika. He’s got nothing on his 2016 plate except for an insincere, unworkable offer from Kovalev’s team.
16. Nicholas Walters, junior lightweight
Walters had a shaky 2015, missing weight at 126 and then fighting to a draw that most people thought he won. He still wants Vasyl Lomachenko. So do we.
17. Amnat Ruenroeng, flyweight
Pretty good 365 days for Ruenroeng, highlighted by victories over Zou Shiming and John Riel Casimero, however much the fouls in the latter cost him public support. A rematch might be in the works for 2016.
18. Wladimir Klitschko, heavyweight
As vulnerable as he looked against Bryant Jennings in 2015 and however much it sucks that his streak came to an end, his overall record can’t be ignored for p4p purposes. A rematch with Fury gives him a chance to get back in the top 10.
19. Takashi Uchiyama, junior lightweight
A Knockout of the Year candidate and a second win aren’t enough to rebut the fact that Uchiyama has been treading water now for years and years and years. Expect no different in 2016.
20. Vasyl Lomachenko, featherweight
What a waste of a year. Lomachenko did absolutely nothing of note in 2015. He’s calling out Leo Santa Cruz in 2016, as if that has the slightest chance of happening given the different promoters.
Honorable mentions: Floyd Mayweather; Bernard Hopkins; Juan Manuel Marquez; Miguel Cotto; Erislandy Lara; Carl Frampton; Kell Brook; Keith Thurman; Scott Quigg; Anselmo Moreno; Hekkie Budler
(Miguel Cotto and Canelo Alvarez embrace after their middleweight fight at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on Nov. 21, 2015 in Las Vegas; Photo: Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)