Among boxing fans, few things provide quicker kindling for an argument than a pound-for-pound list. While there is often general agreement among writers and serious fans about who belongs at the very top of such rankings, with minor quibbles about placement, once you get outside of the top five to 10, opinions start to vary fairly widely.
Opinions, of course, are like legs: Almost everybody has them. And just like legs, some people's opinions are more solid than other's.
Still, if you look at enough pound-for-pound lists, it can be edifying and reassuring to see how much consensus there often is even further down on lists. When certain names repeatedly reappear anywhere between 13 and 25 it is a pretty good indication that the fighter has done enough to earn at least serious consideration.
This list is based entirely on my opinion, but my opinion has been informed not just from watching 95 percent of the major fights broadcast each year, along with reviewing many more fights on YouTube, but also from having collected and collated two different consensus rankings last year, based on the ballots of a number of top Bleacher Report writers.
My ultimate judgement for this kind of ranking has also to some degree been influenced by the large number of reader comments I see month to month. I take anything I read anywhere on an Internet message board with a grain of salt, but there are definitely Bleacher Report boxing readers who have written enough to establish themselves as credible and knowledgeable, and so when I see certain fighters consistently getting love from the more well-balanced segment of my readership, I take note.
And, of course, The Ring rankings are a resource I regularly refer to myself. While it is important to consider that the venerable boxing bible is now owned by Golden Boy, the overall international coverage it does, along with the historical importance, makes it automatically one of the authoritative lists.
I have to say that the Boxrec.com pound-for-pound rankings can only make serious fans shake their heads in disbelief. Nevertheless, the site itself is the most important resource ever created for boxing fans and writers, and compiling a list like this would be much more difficult and less accurate without it.
Prior to Friday night, I had a final draft of this list which featured Lucas Matthysse in this spot. But as much as I like the rugged Argentinian, after Lamont Peterson's impressive return to the ring against Kendall Holt on ESPN's Friday Night Fights, a Round 8 TKO, I feel like the IBF junior welterweight champ is ultimately more deserving of the spot.
I would rank Holt as a better win than Ajose Olusegun, the undefeated fighter Matthysse stopped last year. And Peterson beat Amir Khan, who stopped Zab Judah, who beat Matthysse.
Of course, that kind of algebra is never entirely accurate for evaluating fighters, and Mathysse's split-decision loss to Judah was disputed, just as Peterson's split-decision win over Khan's has been. Still, balancing their resumes against each other right now, I give the D.C. native the nod.
Ideally, they will fight each other this year. A long-anticipated rematch with Khan would also be a great fight, as would be a showdown with Danny Garcia, the man who benefited so much by replacing Peterson last July against Amir Khan, when Peterson was suspended for failing a PED test.
Last December 1, Austin Trout shocked the boxing world by defeating Miguel Cotto via wide margin on all three judges' cards, in front of a wildly pro-Cotto crowd in New York City's Madison Square Garden. Since then, there has been no shortage of people suggesting that Cotto was a shot fighter.
I would agree that after the wars he has been through, Cotto is probably not the fighter he was five years ago. But going into the Trout fight, Cotto was ranked No. 11 pound-for-pound in the January issue of the Ring's article about the top 100 fighter in the world.
Almost every pound-for-pound list I looked at back then had Cotto somewhere in the top 20. So I think it's only fair to give Trout credit.
Trout's last fight before Cotto was impressive, too, if not especially exciting. He pitched a near shutout against Delvin Rodriguez, a talented veteran and solid A-/B+ level fighter who is always perched on the bubble of the top 10 for junior middleweight.
The younger brother of super trainer Robert Garcia, undefeated featherweight champion Mikey Garcia was already on the radar for most fans as a young fighter to watch by 2011. The youngest brother of a famous boxing family has always looked like a prodigy in the ring—an intelligent, methodical worker with killer finishing instincts.
This past January, Garcia had his official coming-out party as an emerging star, when he thoroughly outclassed Orlando Salido in Madison Square Garden, knocking the tough veteran down four times en route to a unanimous technical decision, which earned the WBO belt.
In his in-ring, post-fight interview, Garcia called out former featherweight champion Yuri Gamboa, who debuted at 130 pounds last December on the Marquez-Pacquiao IV undercard.
Gamboa is one of the most explosive and dangerous punchers in the sport. But he has balance and defensive issues which I think Garcia could exploit.
I know many boxing fans continue to reserve judgement on Saul Alvarez, or even persist in regarding him as an outright marketing fraud, a Golden Boy hype job.
My own opinion is that while Canelo is, of course, popular well beyond anything he has earned in the ring, he has nevertheless proven himself a legitimate world-class talent. He deserves to be ranked No. 1 at 154 behind Floyd Mayweather, and in my opinion, his resume, and the way he has gone about assembling it, has earned him a spot in the top 25.
As far back as 2008, when he was still not 18, Alvarez was fighting opponents with respectable records, something many prospects avoid doing for years. Against legitimate contenders like Ryan Rhodes and Kermit Cintron, he has showed boxing acumen beyond his years.
Obviously, the Shane Mosley Alvarez beat up on the Cotto-Mayweather undercard last May is not the same Sugar Shane who reigned for years as one of the sport's top stars. But he's still a future Hall of Famer, not that far removed from a spot in the pound-for-pound top 10.
On May 4, Alvarez will step up to face his most obvious No. 1 challenger, the previously profiled Austin Trout. If he wins, he should get Floyd Mayweather in September. I doubt he will win, but I do think he will surprise people by how well he does.
Guillermo Rigondeaux is the WBA junior featherweight champion, a title he captured in only his 10th professional fight.
The Cuban star's ascension through the rankings has been lightning quick by design. Prior to turning professional, Rigondeaux was a two-time Olympic gold medalist and among the greatest amateur boxers of all time.
As any boxing fan knows, the differences between the professional and amateur versions of the sport are substantial, but Rigondeaux has wasted no time after getting such a later start to his professional career.
There is a legitimate question as to whether or not Rigondeaux truly has the sort of big-name victory that justifies ranking this high. Still, against very highly regarded prospects Rico Ramos and Teon Kennedy, Rigondeaux was a terminator, dispatching the two in five and six rounds, respectively.
And later this spring, Rigondeaux will finally get the big-name opponent he has been gunning for, when he meets fellow 122-pound belt holder and pound-for-pound superstar Nonito Donaire.
Undefeated junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia was the breakout boxing star of 2012. In March, he captured the WBC title by beating Mexican legend Erik Morales. It was a fight in which Garcia seemed to settle down and get better, almost as if he was learning while the fight progressed.
In July, Garcia turned in one of the year's biggest performances, stopping Amir Khan in four rounds, adding the WBA strap to his collection in the process.
In November, Garcia fought a return bout with Morales, this time ending the night early against the former Hall of Famer via one of the year's most perfectly delivered left hooks.
Garcia sits atop a loaded weight class and should not lack for tough fights against big-name opponents.
In my opinion, Mikkel Kessler has been unfairly overlooked in the wake of the Showtime Super Six, Super Middleweight tournament. He had entered the tournament as a favorite, and though he was ultimately outclassed like everybody else by Andre Ward, he did record a unanimous decision victory over runner-up Carl Froch along the way.
Kessler's only other career loss came against the undefeated Joe Calzaghe. He has been active in the sport for a long time now, but last year still looked very impressive KOing Allan Green in four and Brian Magee In three.
Kessler is set to face Froch in a rematch later this year.
Undefeated junior flyweight Roman Gonzalez may not get the sort of television exposure that larger fighters get, but ultimately he deserves the same sort of pound-for-pound recognition. The 25-year-old Nicaraguan has torn through the 105- and now 108-pound divisions, stopping 28 of 34 opponents, often in highlight-reel fashion.
Gonzalez is an explosive puncher who throws a right hook to the body, right uppercut that makes him resemble a mini Mike Tyson. He is the rare small fighter who could potentially headline big shows.
It remains to be seen if Gonzalez will maintain his dominance while moving up, or if he will end up stumbling like former junior flyweight, pound-for-pound star Giovani Segura. Either way, it seems clear that a move to full flyweight is going to be necessary for him to get a serious test.
Cuban star Yuri Gamboa has the kind of catlike agility and explosive power that dazzles crowds and overwhelms opponents. He has dispatched world-class opponents like Ponce De Leon and Jorge Solis with ease.
Still, inactivity and a less-than-impressive performance against Michael Farenas when he returned to action on the Marquez-Pacquiao undercard last December have caused his stock to drop in the past year.
Against Farenas, he looked altogether too easy to hit and was even knocked down en route to an otherwise one-sided unanimous decision.
Still, Gamboa would still have to figure to be a formidable opponent for anybody in the world at 130 pounds. I think he gets hit too much to beat Adrien Broner, but he might also be the only fighter in the world south of 140 pounds with the kind of punching power that the Problem would be forced to respect.
Chris John is undefeated and has been the WBA featherweight champion for a decade. He holds a victory over Juan Manuel Marquez, so he is legit.
Still, that victory came back in 2006, and he has not faced another major western star since. So it is hard to know how legit he remains.
There are currently two undefeated young stars campaigning at featherweight, Mikey Garcia and Abner Mares. Top pound-for-pound stars Nonito Donaire and Guillermo Rigondeaux are both likely to join them there before the year is out.
So the fights are there, if Chris John wants to prove a point and take one last fight outside of his comfort zone before he hangs it up
WBO and WBA flyweight champion Brian Viloria seems to be getting better with age, having the best years of his career north of 30. In 2010, the former Olympian looked like he might be reaching the end of his prime, but then in July of 2011 he moved up to 112 pounds and captured the WBO strap by beating Julio Cesar Miranda.
A lot of people figured him for nothing more than a place holder for Giovani Segura, then ranked in the pound-for-pound top 10 by The Ring. Instead, in December of 2011, Viloria exposed Segura, taking him apart and finishing him in eight.
Viloria followed that up by avenging one of his career losses by stopping Omar Nino Romero in nine. In November, he outclassed the highly regarded Hernan Marquez in a unification showdown, stopping him in 10 in a Fight of the Year candidate.
Last November, WBA bantamweight champion Anselmo Moreno moved up to 122 pounds to challenge fellow standout Abner Mares. Mares forced the action and earned a unanimous decision, though I felt the fight was much closer than the scores indicated. James Jen Kin's 120-106 was particularly absurd.
Moreno is perhaps the finest defensive fighter in the sport. I would love to see him matched up next against the all-action Leon Santa Cruz, who fought on the Mares-Moreno undercard.
Carl Froch may be one of the less naturally gifted fighters on this list, but nobody works harder than he does. As a result the superbly conditioned Brit has enjoyed the best years of his career in his 30s.
Since beating Jean Pascal for the WBC super middleweight title in 2008, Froch has fought nothing but top of the weight class competition, going 7-2. His only losses have been against Mikkel Kessler and Andre Ward, while he has recorded victories over such talents as Jermaine Taylor, Andre Dirrell, Arthur Abraham, Glen Johnson and Lucian Bute.
Froch is now scheduled to face Kessler in a rematch. If he can avenge one of his two career losses, expect him to campaign for a rematch with Ward next.
While I think The Ring's decision to rocket Broner all the way up to seven on their pound-for-pound rankings in the wake of his destruction of Antonio DeMarco was premature, I also concede that they may merely be embracing the inevitable. The Problem's ascent through the pound-for-pound rankings in the coming years seems a foregone conclusion.
There can be no debating that Broner is a rare physical talent, a boxing prodigy with explosive punching power in both hands. Most people expected him to win against DeMarco when he debuted at lightweight last year. But it was still a shock to see him roll to victory with such ease.
Broner is coming off from another one-sided beatdown of former junior welterweight world titleholder Gavin Rees. While it was no surprise to see Broner win easily, once again it was stunning to see him handle a world-class opponent with such ease.
As Broner told me in an interview I did with him last year, "I make everybody look like nobodies."
The way it looks now, Broner might now meet with a true challenge until he goes all the way up to 140 pounds.
After having his career slowed down by his wife's well-known struggle with cancer, Robert Guerrero finally reached new heights in his career in 2012.
Make no mistake, the Ghost had always been recognized as a top talent by knowledgeable fans. The former feather and lightweight champion has always showed a rare mixture of grit and skill.
But last year, Guerrero put himself into some pretty select company, becoming one of the few men in the sport's history to capture world titles at 126, 135 and 147 pounds. In July, he captured the interim WBC belt by beating Selcuk Aydin.
In November, Guerrero turned in one of the year's best performances, knocking down Andre Berto twice en route to winning a grueling unanimous decision. Guerrero fought a very rough and physical fight and left no doubt that he had the physical ability to handle himself at welterweight.
Next up for Guerrero is the shot every top fighter in today's sport dreams about, a showdown with Floyd Mayweather.
Undefeated Abner Mares is among the sport's most exciting young stars, an all-action, pressure fighter who works at a breathtaking pace. In the past few years, he has fought and beat a murderer's row of opponents: Yohnny Perez, Vic Darchinyan, Joseph Agbeko twice, Eric Morel and Anselmo Moreno.
With the feud between Golden Boy and Top Rank making a showdown with Nonito Donaire unlikely for Mares, he has instead expected to move to featherweight. He will no doubt remain busy against top competition in his new division, but like most fans, I do still hope to see him meet Donaire somewhere down the line.
Forty-one-year-old Vitali Klitschko has stopped 41 of 47 opponents in his career, giving him one of the highest KO percentages in the history of the heavyweight division.
His only two career losses came due to a shoulder injury and on cuts. He has barely lost a round in years and would still most likely dominate every other fighter in the heavyweight division aside from his kid brother Wladimir, and I would frankly favor big brother in that matchup.
Evaluating Klitschko as a pound-for-pound fighter is a challenge. His greatest talent is to be a 6'7" giant who can move around nimbly enough to get into position to batter his (usually) smaller opponents with both hands.
Still, Klitschko has dominated his weight class for a decade in nearly unprecedented fashion, That is the definition of pound-for-pound.
Klitschko appears to be nearing the end of his fighting days. His political career in the Ukraine is already underway.
Like most boxing writers, I do not believe Timothy Bradley deserved to win against Manny Pacquiao last June. It wasn't the year's worst decision; that was Brandon Rios over Richard Abril. But Bradley over Pacquiao was certainly good for second place.
At the same time, I am impressed Bradley did as well as he did on two badly injured legs. Bradley demonstrated once more that he is a game, unwordly tough fighter with an awkward and tricky style.
But recording an undeserved victory over a beloved icon has not exactly helped Bradley's career. After beating Pacman, he sat on the sidelines for the rest of the year while the Filipino Congressman opted for a fourth fight with Juan Manuel Marquez instead of a rematch with Desert Storm.
Bradley is finally getting back into action against Ruslan Provodnikov in March. That's not exactly the kind of high-profile matchup that will put him back in the spotlight, but at this point it is just crucial that Bradley stay active.
With Floyd Mayweather signing a six-fight deal with Showtime, Timothy Bradley would have to figure as a potential opponent down the line.
In 2012, Wladimir Klitschko recorded stoppages against former cruiserweight champion Jean-Marc Mormeck, American Tony Thompson and undefeated Pole Mariusz Wach. That's not exactly a run through the all-time greats, though as Thompson demonstrated with his Round 2 stoppage of David Price recently, he remains one of the division's big hitters.
2013 could prove more interesting for the longtime heavyweight champ. Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev has yet to face anybody at Klitschko's level, but he has demonstrated the punching power to cut a big heavyweight down.
Other serious threats to Klitschko may not materialize. It seems like fans have been waiting years to see Russian Alexander Povetkin finally face off against a Klitschko, but whether or not such a fight ever materializes remains to be seen.
Wladimir Klitschko has one of the finest jabs in the history of the heavyweight division, and a sledgehammer for a right. He is an almost technically perfect fighter. But questions will persist about his chin—likely for the rest of his career.
At this point, he may very well retire without ever finding an opponent with the talent to test it.
Manny Pacquiao face down and asleep on the canvas is the iconic image for the year in boxing, circa 2012.
But nobody should forget: Prior to Marquez landing the big right-hand counter, Pac had been turning in some of the best rounds he had fought in years. In the fifth round, he very nearly had his longtime rival out of the fight, and up until the last-second KO, he was about to go up four rounds to two for the fight.
Of course, Pacquiao has now suffered the kind of knockout that fighters sometimes have trouble coming back from. But Pacquiao's Horatio Alger-like overcoming of adversity is legendary. So I wouldn't count him out.
Meanwhile, the last time I saw him in the ring, Pacquiao looked at times about as good as I have ever seen him look. He was using head movement and feints to absolutely disrupt the supreme counterpuncher, Marquez.
The Pacquiao I saw that night still beats just about every other fighter in the world at 147 pounds and below.
In 2012, Sergio Martinez finally got the big pay-per-view headline date he has wanted for years, facing the immensely popular Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on Mexican Independence Day weekend. Martinez gave the much younger and larger challenger a boxing lesson for 11 rounds before suffering a knockdown in the 12th and hanging on for the win.
Martinez is set to face undefeated Martin Murray of England next. Murray is a nice fighter, but he seems unlikely to give the Argentinian champion a true test.
The fight most fans would like to see Martinez fight in 2013 is Gennady Golovkin, the undefeated WBA champion from Kazakhstan. GGG is a dangerous puncher with a solid chin.
The fight that would be best for Martinez from a business standpoint, as it is for so many others, is against Floyd Mayweather, though he would probably have to be able to get back down to 154 pounds to have a chance of getting it.
Nonito Donaire has been fighting and beating exclusively world-class talent for years now, often in highlight-reel fashion. Few lower weight fighters in the sports history have consistently demonstrated the punching power of the Filipino Flash.
If not for Juan Manuel Marquez's stunning KO of Manny Pacquiao in December, Donaire would have been the undisputed choice for 2012 Fighter of the Year. Many writers still regarded him as such.
Donaire is already scheduled to face fellow 122-pound champion Guillermo Rigondeaux this spring. That's no gimme fight, though Donaire would have to be regarded as the favorite.
Beyond Rigondeaux, more worthy challenges await. Despite whatever impasse might exist between Top Rank and Golden Boy, Donaire-Mares is a fight fans would love to see.
If Donaire were to jump all the way up to 130 and challenge Yuri Gamboa, it would likely be a pay-per-view fight.
On December 8, 2012, Juan Manuel Marquez finally connected with the big right hand he had been waiting over 40 rounds to find, the perfectly timed counterpunch that sent his longtime nemesis Manny Pacquiao into la la land, their storied rivalry ending decisively for a change.
In a sense, it was the right hand he had been waiting his whole career for, the punch that proved once and for all that Marquez is truly one of the elite of the elite among this generation of fighters.
And now at 39, the great Mexican champion, who never seemed to get his due, finds himself suddenly near the very top of the pound-for-pound ratings.
Where he goes next remains to be seen. A fifth installment against Pacquiao would no doubt sell major numbers again. A fight with undefeated Brandon Rios would probably not be competitive, but it would be entertaining, and would give the old professor Marquez one last chance to showcase his brilliance.
It could be we have seen the last of Marquez. This is a guy who has already started a media career, and this is his chance to walk away now after having achieved probably the greatest moment in the history of Mexican boxing.
This isn't a sport known for the champions leaving on top. Still, Marquez is a brainy fighter, a guy who worked as an accountant for many years during his career. Either way, for now he stands as the No. 3 pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
In 2011, Andre Ward completed his run through the Showtime Super Six Super Middleweight tournament, beating Arthur Abraham and Carl Froch by easy decisions and earning Fighter of the Year honors.
He followed that up in 2012 by thoroughly dismantling light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, TKOing his fellow star in 10. The win propelled him to near the very top of pound-for-pound rankings.
At this point, Ward is somewhat a victim of his own success. He has convincingly thrashed the entire division and the champion from the next division up. Who does he fight next?
If Bernard Hopkins can get by Tavoris Cloud in March, he would probably be willing to provide Ward with a high-profile opponent. Whether the ageless B-Hop would still be able to beat what essentially looks like a younger, bigger, stronger version of himself is doubtful.
Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler are fighting a rematch this spring, and the winner would no doubt love a rematch with Ward.
At a press conference I attended after his American debut last September, feared WBA middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin states he would gladly fight anybody in the world from 154 to 168, so maybe he is an option.
Ward's fight with Dawson last year was contested at a 168 pounds, so a rematch at 175 might make sense, eventually.
Floyd Mayweather fought just once in 2012, but in my opinion staging his most exciting fight in years and ultimately coasting by Miguel Cotto is enough to allow Mayweather to hold onto his No. 1 pound-for-pound ranking, given the history of his career.
Still, at 36, it is fair to wonder how much longer he will hold onto his status.
Judging from the six-fight deal he has signed with Showtime, Money no doubt figures he has three good years left. This would appear to be Mayweather making the final push to establish his career legacy.
He will start in May against Robert Guerrero. It is hard to imagine the Ghost being able to beat Mayweather, but there is no doubt that he will make the fight a war. From there, expect Mayweather to take on the winner of Canelo Alvarez and Austin Trout.
If Mayweather can beat Sergio Martinez in the next year or two, even at a 154 pounds, then I think he will retire with a serious argument for all-time top-five consideration.
Follow Briggs Seekins on Twitter at #BriggsFighttalk.