Predicting the 10 best pound-for-pound boxers five years from now is no easy task.
While it’s safe to say mainstays like Floyd Mayweather, Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao will be retired by then or at least aged passed elite status, it’s difficult to imagine how young fighters today will fare against each other in the race to replace them.
Moreover, it’s hard to predict the longevity of a fighter’s career. For example, would anyone five years ago have predicted former middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik’s demise? Or the rise of junior welterweight Danny Garcia and welterweight Timothy Bradley since?
But Bleacher Report doesn’t shy away from the difficult. We embrace it.
Fighters are ranked by age, where they are in their careers today and how their talents, skills and abilities project to carry them into the future.
Why He’s Projected Here: Adrien Broner has already been christened by many observers as the future of the sport. It’s easy to see why. There’s a lot to like about him. He’s fast, has real power in both hands and has shown constant improvement in each bout. Broner has the naturally ability to be anywhere on this list five years from now, but he’s also proven immature enough thus far to be off it altogether by then.
Current Age: 24
Current Record: (27-0, 22 KOs)
Weight Class: Welterweight
What He Could Do to Rank Higher: Broner needs to gain a little maturity outside the ring. His weight fluctuates a bit too much for a man his size between fights, and he constantly involves himself in silly and disgusting acts via social media in what appears to be a desperate need for attention. That kind of nonsense almost always catches up with a fighter, no matter how talented he may be.
Why He’s Projected Here: The constant underdog, Danny Garcia just keeps winning. While none of his physical attributes are worldbeaters by themselves, he has enough of them to be world-class. Moreover, Garcia’s gumption and ring IQ have made him already better than most projected him to be. It’s hard to see him falling off anytime soon.
Current Age: 25
Current Record: (27-0, 16 KOs)
Weight Class: Junior Welterweight
What He Could Do to Rank Higher: As hard as it may be, Garcia needs to keep testing himself against the very best in the sport. In order to do that, he’ll need to move up to welterweight in the near future. If he can secure a bout against Mayweather in 2014 and somehow pull off the upset, the sky’s the limit.
Why He’s Projected Here: Errol Spence is one of the best prospects in all of boxing. The mean-fighting southpaw from Texas is the clearest choice from a disappointing 2012 U.S. Men’s Olympic Boxing Team to have real success in the professional ranks. He has all the physical tools but has also shown himself to be ahead of the game as a strategist.
Current Age: 23
Current Record: (9-0, 7 KOs)
Weight Class: Welterweight
What He Could Do to Rank Higher: Welterweight is right about where mainstream boxing fans start to take notice, so Spence is in a good position to launch his career. As with any young fighter, good matchmaking early can make a world of difference in preparing him for elite-level competition. He needs to fight different styles—and lots of them between now and whenever he gets his first title shot.
Why He’s Projected Here: Former Cuban amateur star Erislandy Lara enjoyed his best year in 2013. He out-slugged hard-puncher Alfredo Angulo in June, then outboxed fellow southpaw slickster Austin Trout in December. Both wins show he’s on his way to the top of the sport.
Current Age: 30
Current Record: (19-1, 12 KOs)
Weight Class: Junior Middleweight
What He Could Do to Rank Higher: Lara’s biggest problem has been his team’s inability to get him top-level opponents. He’ll need to beg, borrow and steal his way into fights with big names like Canelo Alvarez and elite superstars like Floyd Mayweather to move up as high as possible. And when the time is right, Lara should display his skills in the middleweight division, too.
Why He’s Projected Here: Roman Gonzalez is a hard-hitting, hard-fighting flyweight who dominates opponents from the opening bell. He’ll stay on the winning track so long as the fire burns as bright as it appears to burn right now. He's probably the best fighter in the world today who most fight fans wouldn't know if he walked into the room.
Current Age: 26
Current Record: (37-0, 31 KOs)
Weight Class: Flyweight
What He Could Do to Rank Higher: Gonzalez needs to do two things to move up toward the top of the sport. First, he should find bigger-named opponents to display his skills against. That might mean he needs to travel overseas to face Japanese flyweights like Akira Yaegashi or Toshiyuki Igarashi. Next, he’ll need to move up in weight as high as possible. Fair or not, the heavier weight classes get more attention.
Why He’s Projected Here: Vasyl Lomachenko is one of the greatest amateur boxers in the history of the sport, and his skill set translates quite nicely to the professional ranks. He’s fast and technically sound, but his power is what sets him apart from other new professionals. He’ll be a world champion before his fifth professional prizefight easy, and it may be as soon as his second.
Current Age: 25
Current Record: (1-0, 1 KOs)
Weight Class: Featherweight
What He Could Do to Rank Higher: Lomachenko should stay aware from Guillermo Rigondeaux as long as possible, at least early on in his career. While both Olympic stars are relative newcomers to professional boxing, Rigondeaux is way ahead of him in the transition to prizefighting. Taking a master boxer like Rigo too soon could derail Lomachenko's rise to the top of the sport.
Why He’s Projected Here: Mikey Garcia is one of the better prospects in boxing. He comes from a boxing family and is near textbook perfect in his approach when the bell rings. Moreover, Garcia’s power is borderline ludicrous at this point. He’s knocking out legit upper-echelon fighters with ease, and he’s not even yet in his prime years as a fighter.
Current Age: 25
Current Record: (33-0, 28 KOs)
Weight Class: Junior Lightweight
What He Could Do to Rank Higher: Garcia’s ascension further up the ranks is all about fighting the best in the sport. That will be difficult for him with the Top Rank-Golden Boy cold war. Moreover, his close relationship with stablemate Nonito Donaire might need to be put on pause so Garcia can grab an ever-important win over elite-level opposition. There are enough big names in and around him to take him to the top, so long as he gets the fights.
Why He’s Projected Here: Gennady Golovkin appears to be the perfect slugging machine. He uses the sweet science, which he is quite proficient at, to stalk and butcher his opponents into the ground. He’s got just about everything you could want in an offensive fighter. Sooner or later, he will clean out the middleweight division, and he seems capable of moving up in weight with ease.
Current Age: 31
Current Record: (28-0, 25 KOs)
Weight Class: Middleweight
What He Could Do to Rank Higher: The sooner Golovkin can become lineal middleweight champion, the better for him in the long run. Golovkin will likely move up to super middleweight later in his career, and there are lots of interesting and important fights for him at the higher weight class who could propel him to the top spot. Example? Andre Ward. However, dominance of the historically important middleweight division will need to happen first.
Why He’s Projected Here: Ward is the man usually tabbed to replace Floyd Mayweather as the top fighter in the sport when the 36-year-old Mayweather decides to hang up the gloves. He’s certainly a candidate, but Ward’s willingness to rumble with the absolute best will probably catch up to him at least once over the next five years to keep the No. 1 spot open for debate. Regardless, Ward will be at or near the top of boxing.
Current Age: 29
Current Record: (27-0, 14 KOs)
Weight Class: Super Middleweight
What He Could Do to Rank Higher: Ward could use a dose of Mayweather in his career strategy. Whereas Mayweather almost always avoided fighting his top contenders at the times they were considered most dangerous, Ward almost always fights exactly who he should fight and when. It’s an admirable trait and will do him well in the long run historically, but he could sparingly use a dose of the Mayweather strategy to help him stay at No. 1.
Why He’s Projected Here: Rigondeaux’s career will probably be winding down in five years. After all, he’ll be 38 years old by then. But Rigo’s style and late start as a professional will pay dividends in his late 30s. He seldom takes punches in his fighting career, and those who try to trade with the gifted pugilist will usually be left face down on the canvas.
Current Age: 33
Current Record: (13-0, 8 KOs)
Weight Class: Junior Featherweight
What He Could Do to Rank Higher: The master of timing and distance won’t be defeated at his best weight, junior featherweight, but for the Rigolution to have lasting effect, he’ll need to move up and test himself at higher weight classes. It’s risky for him, but it could pay great dividends for the talented Cuban star.