The first four months of 2013 have been a lively time indeed for professional boxing. Wars have been waged in the ring, titles have changed hands, and some of the top fighters in the sport have gone down. The pound-for-pound rankings have been in flux.
The rankings have never been anything but subjective opinion. But recent developments have thrown even a lot of what was once consensus into disarray. Familiar stars are continuing to age, and the young guns continue to nose their way into the debate.
That the comment sections that follow these articles are always packed with disputation shows that this sport is healthy. The great drama surrounding a prize fight is the payoff of seeing who wins. So the more debate there is over which fighters deserves to be on top, the bigger the anticipation for the eventual fights.
Without further ado, here is one man's take on the best 25 fighters today.
Why He's Here: Lucas Matthysse is a ferocious brawler with solid boxing skills. He has knocked out 31 of 35 opponents, and his only two losses have come by contested split decision, to Zab Judah and Devon Alexander. The loss to Alexander is widely considered among the worst in recent years, and a lot of people still consider Matthysse an undefeated fighter.
Previous Ranking: 25
Why He Could Climb: Earlier this week Matthysse signed a deal with Al Haymon, one of the most powerful figures in the sport. As long as he keeps winning, the exciting Argentinian is now in the perfect position to land the kind of fights he needs to keep climbing through the rankings.
What's Next for Him: Matthyse has a May 18 showdown scheduled with IBF junior welterweight belt holder Lamont Peterson. The winner should get WBA, WBC and Ring champion Danny Garcia in the fall.
Why He's Here: The IBF junior welterweight title holder bested Amir Khan in a hotly contested and highly controversial split decision in December of 2011, at the time capturing the WBA belt, too.
A subsequent failed drug test cost him the WBA strap, though the IBF accepted his claim that he is a legitimate Testosterone Replacement Therapy patient and kept their belt around his waist. In December of 2010, he came back from two knockdowns against Victor Ortiz to earn a majority draw.
Previous Ranking: 24
Why He Could Climb: Peterson came back strong from his PED suspension, scoring a Round 8 TKO over former champion Kendall Holt in February. Still popular despite the controversy surrounding him, he fights in a talent-laden division, and so long as he keeps winning, every one of his next few fights will have the potential to push him upward.
What's Next for Him: As mentioned in the previous slide, Peterson has a May 18 showdown scheduled with Lucas Matthysse. If he wins, he should get Danny Garcia next. A rematch with Amir Khan should happen eventually.
Why He's Here: The WBA super middleweight champion from Denmark has only been beaten by Joe Calzaghe and Andre Ward, two fighters who have both beaten everybody they ever fought. Kessler is one of only two men to beat the super-tough Carl Froch. At 34, it's possible his best days are behind him, but he looked perfectly sharp last year against Allan Green (KO 4) and Brian Magee (TKO 3).
Previous Ranking: 23
Why He Could Climb: The fights that might push Kessler up the ranking are out there at 168 and 175. Still, there is a glass ceiling in his division named Andre Ward.
What's Next for Him: On May 25, Kessler has a rematch scheduled with Carl Froch. The winner will no doubt lobby for a return bout with Andre Ward, though I think unbeaten South African Thomas Oosthuizen might be a more realistic possibility.
Why He's Here: Austin Trout entered his fight with Miguel Cotto last December an undefeated title holder, but he's relatively unknown to casual fans. He beat the future Hall of Famer with ease and emerged from the night as one of boxing's new stars. His most recent fight was a competitive loss to Saul Alvarez, one that some observers felt he deserved to win.
Previous Ranking: 22
Why He Could Climb: At 27, Trout should have a lot of good years left in front of him. He is an extremely talented boxer with tremendous heart and a professional approach to the sport.
What's Next for Him: The junior middleweight division has enough talent so that Trout should get another worthwhile fight his next time out. While I thought Alvarez deserved the decision against him, Trout did a brilliant job of taking away Canelo's best weapon, the left hook to the body; any fan would welcome a rematch between the two at some point.
Why He's Here: By 2011, most serious boxing observers already had Garcia tabbed as a future star. The young prospect had a veteran's studious patience and a shark's instinct for honing in on the kill. Then, last January, he completely dismantled Orlando Salido, capturing the WBO featherweight title and establishing himself as the clear top dog at 126 pounds.
Previous Ranking: 21
Why He Could Climb: Garcia is a boxing prodigy from a renowned boxing family, the younger brother of super-trainer Robert Garcia. Just 25, he has speed, power and craft. He is a potential pound-for-pound superstar.
What's Next for Him: Garcia has a June 15 fight scheduled with the explosive Juan Manuel Lopez. It should be exciting, but Garcia should have far too much craft for Lopez, who was stopped twice by Salido. Super fights with Guillermo Rigondeaux or Yuri Gamboa would be highly anticipated events.
Why He's Here: The Indonesian star has been the WBA featherweight champion for about a decade and is one of the only fighters to ever beat the great Juan Manuel Marquez.
A lot of people would argue he should be rated much higher, and you'll no doubt see at least a few people articulately making his case below. But in my opinion, the Marquez fight took place in 2006, and he hasn't fought or beaten a major star since.
Previous Ranking: 20
Why He Could Climb: There are a number of exciting young fighters out there who campaign in or around the featherweight division. If John were to go out and knock one off, it would be a great story, forcing western boxing writers like myself to eat our words and propel him back up in the rankings where some say he belongs.
What's Next for Him: I honestly don't feel like I have much insight into this one. Writing from the U.S., John appears something of an enigma. It would be exciting if he fought somebody like Nonito Donaire or even Mikey Garcia, but it seems more likely he'll fight somebody else that most western fans have never heard of.
Why He's Here: Danny Garcia emerged as a major star in 2012. He defeated all-time great Erik Morales twice, sandwiched around his sensational Round 4 TKO of Amir Khan. His unanimous decision over Zab Judah earlier this month was more workmanlike than spectacular, but it was nowhere near as close as some of portrayed it to be.
Previous Ranking: 19
Why He Could Climb: Garcia is one of the biggest names in a weight class full of big names. That means he will be in the kind of fights that build a resume and send a fighter climbing up the rankings. All he has to do is keep winning.
What's Next for Him: Most people expect, or at least hope, that Garcia will fight the winner of Lucas Matthysse and Lamont Peterson next fall. Beyond that, a move to 147 is on the horizon.
Why He's Here: It wasn't that long ago that Gamboa was viewed as a potential future pound-for-pound king. But a 15-month layoff and a less-than-spectacular return against Michael Farenas have sent his stock tumbling. Still, this is a guy who has beaten the likes of Daniel Ponce De Leon, Jorge Solis, Orlando Salido and Jonathan Barros with ease.
Previous Ranking: 18
Why He Could Climb: Gamboa is one of the most physically gifted fighters in the sport, and if he can shake off the ring rust that slowed him up against Farenas, a climb back up the rankings should be inevitable.
What's Next for Him: Gamboa is scheduled to fight undefeated Darley Perez on June 8. If he handles his business there, a fight with Mikey Garcia would be intriguing.
Why He's Here: Saul Alvarez is fresh off the biggest win of his career, a unanimous decision over Austin Trout that established him as the top dog at junior middleweight. He has impressive wins over much more experienced fighters like Ryan Rhodes, Kermit Cintron and future Hall of Famer Shane Mosely.
Previous Ranking: 17
Why He Could Climb: With over 40 professional fights at the tender age of 22, Canelo appears to be a future superstar. I am already seeing internet comment writers assert he should be rated as high as No. 1 or 3, which is flat-out idiotic at this point. But Alvarez has looked better every time he has fought over the past few years, so there would seem to be no obvious ceiling on how high he can climb.
What's Next for Him: I feel very confident that Alvarez will fight Floyd Mayweather on Mexican Independence Day next September. It would likely set pay-per-view records. If that doesn't work out, a rematch against Austin Trout would be a very worthwhile fight for both men and the sport as a whole.
Why He's Here: Moreno is one of the best defensive fighters in the sport. Prior to losing to Abner Mares last November, he hadn't lost since 2002. While I did give the decision to Mares, I felt it was a far closer score than the judges' cards reflected.
Previous Ranking: 16
Why He Could Climb: Moreno is only 27 but has a decade of experience as a professional fighter. Though he lacks significant knockout power, he has the ability to beat world class fighters on craft alone.
What's Next for Him: Moreno has nothing scheduled at the present, and most of the top fighters in his weight class are from the Asia-Pacific region. The best available fights for him would probably be with Japanese stars Shinsuke Yamanaka or Koki Kameda.
Why He's Here: Since 2008, Carl Froch has fought a murderer's row of tough opponents, losing only to Mikkel Kessler and Andre Ward. He rebounded from the loss to Ward by exposing the previously unbeaten Lucian Bute by Round 5 TKO. Froch is an intelligent fighter with superb conditioning.
Previous Ranking: 15
Why He Could Climb: Froch is already 35, so there is a good chance his best days are behind him. Still, he has always taken great care of his body and is the rare sort of fighter that could get better as he ages and gains even more experience.
What's Next for Him: Froch has a rematch scheduled with Mikkel Kessler on May 25. If he can avenge his first career loss, he will likely campaign for a shot at Ward, who gave him his second. I think he would make for an interesting fight with Bernard Hopkins.
Why He's Here: Robert Guerrero has won world titles in four divisions, from featherweight to welterweight, putting him in rare company. He went into the biggest fight of his career against Floyd Mayweather on May 4 and ended up being thoroughly outclassed. Still, he showed tremendous heart to the end of the fight, and his beatdown of Andre Berto last November demonstrated that he clearly belongs among the best in the super competitive 147-pound division, Mayweather excluded.
Previous Ranking: 12
Why He Could Climb: Robert Guerrero will be back in high-profile fights and has the talent to win them. He might not ever be a top-five pound-for-pound fighter, but he could potentially ease his way back towards the top ten.
What's Next for Him: Provided Adrien Broner can take care of business against Paul Malignaggi in June, I would love to see him fight the hard-nosed Guerrero next. Other good possibilities for Guerrero are Victor Ortiz or a return bout with Berto.
Why He's Here: Prior to his April 27 bout with Martin Murray in Argentina, Martinez was ranked between Nos. 2 and 4 on virtually every pound-for-pound list out there. But the fighter who squeaked out a unanimous decision after being knocked down in the eighth round (in my opinion, the slip that occurred later should have been ruled a knock down, too) didn't even look like he belonged in the top 25.
Martinez was fighting on a slippery surface with an injured knee and hand, so I am keeping him this high based on his past brilliance, but I'm not going to pretend the fight doesn't mean anything, like others have done with their own ratings.
Previous Ranking: 4
Why He Could Climb: I'm not sure he can, although I hope I am wrong. But by the time Martinez returns to the ring, he will be 39 and will have undergone multiple surgeries in recent years. He has always been a fighter who relies on exceptional athleticism, much like Roy Jones Jr.
And as former pound-for-pound king Jones has demonstrated with his own career, the drop off for this kind of fighter can be sudden and shocking.
What's Next for Him: Surgery and inactivity for the rest of 2013.
Why He's Here: The Ring has Adrien Broner ranked No. 5 on their own pound-for-pound list, but they are owned by his promoter, Golden Boy, so that might explain their extreme enthusiasm.
Still, nobody can deny the 23-year-old is a remarkable talent, a highly skilled and athletic fighter with explosive power. His Round 8 TKO of Antonio Demarco and Round 5 stoppage of former world title holder Gavin Rees are two of the more impressive performances of the past year.
Previous Ranking: 14
Why He Could Climb: Along with Saul Alvarez, Broner is widely viewed as the sport's next big superstar. He has been completely dominant at 130 and 135 pounds and appears to have all the physical tools to continue winning once he jumps to welterweight.
What's Next for Him: Broner jumps all the way to 147 to challenge WBA belt holder Paul Malignaggi on June 22. Paulie Mags has been talking a lot about exposing The Problem, but provided the fight goes the way most people expect it to, it should end up thrusting Broner into the mix of the exciting welterweight division.
Why He's Here: Bradley's awkward and physical style has kept him unbeaten and allowed him to collect world titles in the super-competitive 140- and 147-pound weight classes, although most observers feel he should have lost against Manny Pacquiao last spring.
A lot of people rank him inside the top 10, and I used to, but as thrilling as his unanimous decision victory over Ruslan Provodnikov was last March, it confirmed to me that his lack of serious knockout power is a flaw that keeps him just outside of the upper echelon for now.
Previous Ranking: 13
Why He Could Climb: When I interviewed Bradley before the Provodnikov fight, he told me that adding punching power was something he was working on. A Timothy Bradley with a little more knockout ability should be a frightening prospect for everybody in the welterweight division. Even if it's a tool he can never add, he still has the technical ability to keep winning fights and force his way back up the rankings.
What's Next for Him: Bradley is signed to fight Mexican legend Juan Manuel Marquez in September, a very compelling fight to boxing purists. Bradley lacks Dinamita's explosive counter-punching ability, but his advantages in strength and youth could make this a very even fight.
Why He's Here: The WBA light flyweight champion has established himself as the top fighter in the world 112 and under, and right now it isn't even close.
Highlights of his 2012 campaign include a Round 4 KO of Ramon Hirales and an easy unanimous decision over Juan Francisco Estrada, who just knocked off flyweight top dog Brian Viloria earlier this year. Gonzalez resembles a miniature version of Mike Tyson, circa 1988.
Previous Ranking: 11
Why He Could Climb: Only 25, Gonzalez should be able to keep annihilating opponents for at least the next few years.
What's Next for Him: Gonzalez returns to action on May 25, in his home country of Nicaragua, against 18-5-1 Gerardo Verde. It's impossible to regard this as anything but a stay-busy fight for the champ, but with Viloria knocked off, it's hard to see any obvious major fight for him on the immediate horizon. A fight with Giovani Segura would have the potential to be a highly entertaining scrap.
Why He's Here: Prior to losing to Guillermo Rigondeaux earlier this month, Donaire was universally recognized as a top-five pound-for-pound fighter. The Cuban great exposed some definite defensive holes in Donaire's game, but I'd argue that only an exceptionally athletic technician like Rigondeaux has the tool kit to take advantage of them.
Previous Ranking: 9
Why He Could Climb: Fans and writers may have over-valued Donaire slightly prior to his fight Rigondeaux, but his run of dominance is undeniable. He has destroyed world-class fighters on numerous occasions. He is only 30 and a smart enough fighter to have learned lessons from his recent loss.
What's Next for Him: Recovery from shoulder surgery.
Why He's Here: The older Klitschko brother has an 87-percent knockout ratio and has barely lost a round in years. He is a nimble giant who can punish opponents with both fists. A lack of significant talent in the heavyweight division makes it hard to truly evaluate his ultimate value, but there's no denying that he has been dominant for years.
Previous Ranking: 8
Why He Could Climb: I don't think he will. At 41, Klitschko probably has only one or two fights left in front of him, before he retires to pursue his political career full time.
What's Next for Him: Klitschko has no fight scheduled at this time. Bermane Stiverne's upset of Chris Arreola on April 27 makes the Haitian native and Las Vegas resident the No. 1 contender for Klitschko's WBC belt.
Why He's Here: A year ago, Manny Pacquiao was viewed as arguably the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world. In June he dropped a split decision to Timothy Bradley, although the overwhelming majority of observers felt he should have won. He was knocked out in November at the end of Round 6 by longtime rival Juan Manuel Marquez, but prior to getting caught, he had been winning an exciting fight and looked as good as he has in recent years.
Previous Ranking: 7
Why He Could Climb: I'm not convinced he can. He remains an extremely popular figure in the sport, but at this point I just don't see him being able to win the fights he would need to win to move up.
What's Next for Him: Pacquiao has a fight scheduled for November in China, as Bob Arum and Top Rank continue their attempts to open up the massive Chinese market. The opponent is yet to be determined, but I believe it will be Brandon Rios. This will make for an exciting fight, and unless Pacquiao has lost more than I think he has, he should emerge victorious.
Why He's Here: It's hard to believe that a fighter can rank this high after only a dozen professional fights, and I know not everybody will agree with me on it. But the two-time Olympic gold medalist has been shockingly dominant since fleeing the Cuban dictatorship and turning pro in 2009. When you can give a boxing lesson to the likes of Nonito Donaire, that makes you a special case.
Previous Ranking: 5
Why He Could Climb: Aside from Floyd Mayweather, I would rate Rigondeaux as the best technical boxer in the world. Still, he is already in his mid-30s and probably doesn't have the natural size to climb up into the divisions where the true pound-for-pound kings usually campaign.
What Next for Him: Rigondeaux has nothing scheduled at the present and no obvious next opponent. A move up to featherweight to challenge Mikey Garcia would be an exciting prospect, but Garcia has another fight already lined up.
Why Here's Here: Abner Mares emerged over the past two years as a rising star in the bantamweight and junior featherweight divisions, using a brawling, pressure style to beat an impressive string of world class talent.
He stepped up to featherweight to challenge Daniel Ponce De Leon for the WBC belt and put on what might have been the best fight of his career. Reverting to his Olympian background, Mares mixed in terrific lateral movement and counter-punched his larger opponent with brutal efficiency, TKOing Ponce De Leon in nine.
Previous Ranking: 9
Why He Could Climb: At the start of Saturday night's pay-per-view, Mares joked with Showtime's Jim Grey that he was a master of Mexican Judo: "Ju-don't know if I'm going to box and Ju-don't know if I'm going to brawl." His ability to move effortlessly from highly skilled technician to rough-housing bully make him a particularly dangerous fighter.
What's Next for Him: It's tough to say. I'd personally love to see him fight Mikey Garcia or Guillermo Rigondeaux, even Nonito Donaire. But they are all signed with Top Rank while Mares fights for Golden Boy. After his performance tonight against Ponce De Leon, he has established himself as the kind of star other fighters should want to call out.
Why He's Here: He might have limited popularity with American boxing fans, but it is hard to make any serious arguments against Wladimir Klitschko's record of dominance in the heavyweight division.
His single weakness is a suspect chin, but good luck trying to reach it. Klitchko is a technically almost perfect heavyweight, with one of the greatest jabs in the history of the division, and nobody has come close to beating him since 2004.
Previous Ranking: 5
Why He Could Climb: Climbing any higher in the pound-for-pound rankings will be tough for Klitschko. The very concept of "pound-for-pound" was created to praise smaller fighters, and with the heavyweight division as weak as it currently is, there aren't a lot of fights that would boost his reputation.
What's Next for Him: On May 4, Klitschko delivered yet another one-sided beatdown, TKOing the severely overmatched Francesco Pianeta in six. Russian promoter Vladimir Hryunov has already put up over 23 million dollars for a purse bid to get Klitschko in the ring with so-called "regular" WBA champ Alexander Povetkin, a heavyweight matchup that could actually generate some excitement worldwide.
Why He's Here: Seriously underrated for much of his career, Marquez has emerged as one of the sport's biggest stars in his late 30s. His reputation has been greatly enhanced by his four epic fights with Manny Pacquiao, and his sensational Round 6 KO of Pacman last November has propelled him to near the very top of the ratings.
Previous Ranking: 3
Why He Could Climb: It's unlikely that he will. Marquez was thoroughly trounced by Floyd Mayweather when they fought in 2009.
What's Next for Him: Marquez is scheduled to fight Timothy Bradley in September. Marquez has never been knocked out in his career, and it's hard to imagine Bradley being the first to do it, but the extremely strong and technically solid Desert Storm could give Marquez a very tough and awkward night.
Why He's Here: Ward captured Fighter of the Year honors in 2011, after he easily beat Arthur Abraham and Carl Froch to win the Showtime Super Six Super Middleweight tournament. He followed up on that in 2012 by delivering a sensational Round 10 TKO of light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, who had dropped down to 168 to face him.
Previous Ranking: 2
Why He Could Climb: At 36, Floyd Mayweather's days at the very top could be approaching their end. Still, with a number of other exciting young fighters emerging, it is certainly not obvious that Ward will automatically assume his place.
What's Next for Him: Ward has no next fight scheduled at this time, and worthy opponents for him are in short supply at this point.
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is a gigantic middleweight, and the hugely popular star would provide a big payday if he moved up, even if the fight didn't end up being that competitive. I covered WBA middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin's U.S. debut last September, where he stated that he would be willing to move up to 168 to challenge Ward.
Why He's Here: For almost a decade now, Floyd Mayweather has consistently out-performed every other fighter in the world. In his May 4 return against Robert Guerrero, Mayweather demonstrated that at 36 he still has all of his elite tools: impeccable footwork and defense, uncanny timing and a nearly unprecedented boxing IQ that allows him to adjust to whatever he encounters in the ring.
Previous Ranking: 1
Why He Could Climb: The only place left for Mayweather to climb now is higher into the pantheon of other all-time greats.
What's Next for Him: Pretty much every boxing fan in the world is hoping it will be Saul Alvarez. A Mexican Independence Day Weekend fight with the 22-year-old Canelo could potentially become the biggest selling pay-per-view ever.