Ranking the 10 Greatest Boxers of the 2000s
The first decade of this century was marred by economic instability and endless warfare. Still, life continued to go on, and sports fans continued to enjoy their diversions. And the world of boxing saw some legendary fights.
It might not have been the greatest decade in the history of the sport, but the 2000s showcased plenty of talent. Everybody on this list is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and I left several other first-ballot guys off to narrow it down.
It's always a little complicated to put together a "best of the decade" list for sports. Nothing an athlete did in his career outside of the decade can count in this evaluation.
It can be tough to strike the perfect balance between a fighter with a few brilliant years against another one with eight or nine years that were very good but with lower peaks.
Here are the top 10 boxers from the 2000s.
10: Pongsaklek Wonjongkam
Pongsaklek Wonjongkam captured the lineal and WBC flyweight titles in 2001 and held them for most of the decade. He is a legend in his native Thailand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region, where the level of talent in the lightest weight classes is high.
He compiled a record of 44-1-1 for the decade, with his loss and draw both coming against his Japanese rival Daisuke Naito.
9: Joe Calzaghe
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Joe Calzaghe retired as the undefeated Ring light heavyweight champion after beating Roy Jones Jr. in November 2008. At some point during the previous decade, he was recognized by all four major sanctioning bodies as the super middleweight champion of the world.
He has a loyal core of fans who are likely to protest that I've rated him too low here. But while his ability to remain unbeaten so long was impressive, the quality of his resume was lacking.
The two biggest names on Calzaghe's record are Jones and Bernard Hopkins. Jones was far past his prime when he faced Calzaghe. Hopkins was beyond 40 at the time of their fight. And I personally think Hopkins deserved to win.
Calzaghe's wins over Jeff Lacy, Sakio Bika and Mikkel Kessler were all quality performances.
8: Miguel Cotto
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Miguel Cotto has been one of boxing's most popular and successful stars during this century. He captured the light welterweight title in September 2004 when he TKOd Kelson Pinto. He defended the belt six times, including against Paulie Malignaggi in a memorable Madison Square Garden performance.
In December 2006, Cotto moved up to welterweight and beat Carlos Quintana for the title. His list of wins at 147 includes Zab Judah and Shane Mosley.
Between 2000 and 2009, Cotto lost just twice, to Manny Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito. Margarito was later caught trying to wrap his hands in plaster before a fight with Mosley, and it is now widely believed that he used the same dirty trick against Cotto.
7: Chris John
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Chris John won the WBA featherweight title in 2004 and continues to hold it to his day. In 2006, he successfully defended his title against the great Juan Manuel Marquez.
There can be no doubt that John deserves to rank among the best fighters of his generation. But the Indonesian star rarely fights outside of his region or against other elite fighters from the West.
Marquez is a major line on anybody's resume. But John has little to go with it.
6: Winky Wright
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By the time this century began, Winky Wright was already an established veteran and former world champion. By 2002, he was once more a world champ, earning the IBF light middleweight belt.
He was a slick fighter and defensive wizard. He beat Shane Mosley in back-to-back fights in 2004 and defeated Felix Trinidad in 2005. After moving up to 160, he drew with Jermaine Taylor and beat Ike Quartey decisively.
Wright lost to Bernard Hopkins in 2007. He then took most of the rest of the decade off. Looking like a shadow of himself, he was beat pretty much shut out by Paul Williams in 2009.
5: Marco Antonio Barrera
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The Mexican warrior Marco Antonio Barrera was involved in some of the greatest boxing moments of the first decade of this century.
He lost just four times during the decade. In 2004, he lost to Manny Pacquiao by Round 11 TKO. He lost to Pacquiao again in 2007, which was the same year he lost to Juan Manuel Marquez.
In 2009, past his prime and 15 pounds over his ideal fighting weight, he lost to Amir Khan.
Barrera beat a laundry list of great fighters. He exposed the undefeated Naseem Hamed. He beat Johnny Tapia, Kevin Kelley and Rocky Juarez twice.
He won both the second and third fights of his classic trilogy with Erik Morales during the decade, given him a decisive edge in the decade's most thrilling rivalry.
4: Juan Manuel Marquez
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Juan Manuel Marquez spent much of the previous decade being avoided. But in 2003, he captured the vacant IBF featherweight title by TKOing Manuel Medina. He added the WBA strap later in the year.
In 2004, he defended his title against Manny Pacquiao, in what would be the first of four terrific fights between the rivals. Marquez recovered from three first-round knockdowns to force a draw.
For the decade, Marquez went 20-3-1. His only losses came against undefeated stars Chris John and Floyd Mayweather and by split decision in his first rematch with Pacquiao in 2008, a fight I think he deserved to win.
3: Bernard Hopkins
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Bernard Hopkins was a reigning middleweight champion when this century began and about to turn 35. In September 2001, he beat Felix Trinidad by Round 12 TKO.
In 2004, he knocked out Oscar De La Hoya in Round 9 to become that incredibly rare bird in the modern boxing world: an absolutely, 100 percent undisputed world champion. He united every belt available at middleweight.
He lost two straight fights to Jermaine Taylor in 2005,when he turned 40. I thought he should have won the fights, but it did seem like he might finally be slowing down.
Instead of retiring, which seemed like a likely course of action, he jumped to light heavyweight and beat Antonio Tarver to become a two-division world champion.
At 43, Hopkins lost a split decision to Joe Calzaghe that he deserved to win, in my opinion. But again, it looked like he might have reached the end of his amazing career.
Instead he came back six months later and a weight class lower. In October 2008, he faced Kelly Pavlik at super middleweight. A lot of boxing writers predicted Pavlik would be the first fighter to knock Hopkins out.
Instead, the ageless Hopkins beat the tar out of Pavlik. When the decade ended, he was about to turn 45 and still a major player on the boxing scene.
2: Floyd Mayweather
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I believe Floyd Mayweather is the best pound-for-pound fighter of this century, and I think he would have beaten Manny Pacquiao if they had fought in the 2000s.
But when I write down their records for the decade right next to each other, I end up with Mayweather in second place. A lot of this is based on the fact that Mayweather took off two years at the end of the decade with a number of great fights on the table.
But there can be no question that he was magnificent for the majority of the decade. He turned a highly anticipated super featherweight showdown with Diego Corrales in 2001 into a one-sided beatdown. He came off the shelf in 2009 to completely shut down Juan Manuel Marquez.
1: Manny Pacquiao
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Manny Pacquiao's only loss between 2000 and 2009 came against Erik Morales in 2004. He avenged it twice by stoppage.
He started the decade as a super bantamweight who had recently undergone a growth spurt from flyweight. He was an exciting and dangerous southpaw puncher. As the decade progressed, he developed into one of the two best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
He finished the decade in sensational fashion. In December 2008, he stopped Oscar De La Hoya in Round 8. The following year, he knocked out Ricky Hatton in Round 2 and pounded down Miguel Cotto by Round 12 TKO.