Ranking the 10 Best Technical Fighters in Boxing Today
Floyd Mayweather is a boxing prodigy. Like Mozart, he was born with tremendous natural gifts. But also like Mozart, Mayweather was set to work developing the skills necessary to use those gifts at a tender young age.
Boxing is an art. To reach the elite level, a fighter needs rare physical talent. But that natural talent will amount to little if he doesn't develop his technical skill.
Note that this ranking is not a pound-for-pound ranking. But it does fairly closely resemble one. More often than not, the best fighters in the world are the ones who have the most well-developed technique.
10. Mikey Garcia
Mikey Garcia grew up in a boxing family. His older brother is elite trainer and former world champion Robert Garcia.
Not surprisingly, the younger Garcia brother has always displayed high ring intelligence. Even as a rising prospect, he showed veteran patience in breaking opponents down.
As he has moved into the world championship level over the past two years, his performances have been even more dominant. This kind of improvement while moving up in competition is a true sign of potential greatness.
Garcia is a complete all-around fighter. He has very good defense and fight-ending power. He should be a future pound-for-pound superstar.
9. Timothy Bradley
Timothy Bradley made a tactical mistake in his rematch with Manny Pacquiao. Although his aggressive approach did allow him to fight competitively in the first part of the fight, the pace wore him out. When Pacquiao made his own adjustments, Bradley had nothing left to respond with.
But Bradley deserves to be viewed as a great technician nevertheless. Without really dangerous punching power, he managed to hold world championships and remain undefeated for the better part of a decade.
He often makes fights into awkward and ugly affairs, but that is a technical choice he makes to complement his physical strength. Against the brutal Ruslan Provodnikov, Bradley used slick boxing to win even after being nearly knocked out on his feet.
Against Juan Manuel Marquez, Bradley had enough skill to press his physical advantages and out-maneuver one of the best technical fighters in the sport.
8. Manny Pacquiao
It's always been easy to underrate Manny Pacquiao's technical ability. He's a force of nature, and to be honest, earlier in his career, he did rely heavily on his explosive left hand and quick reflexes.
But at this point in his career, he deserves some credit for his technical acumen. Under the guidance of Freddie Roach, he has developed a very solid approach to the sport that maximizes his physical advantages.
Even late in his career, his speed is a difference-maker. But he beat Timothy Bradley in their rematch because he did a better job of adjusting mid-fight and controlling the angles.
Even before getting knocked out by Juan Manuel Marquez in their fourth fight, Pacquiao was fighting a very smart technical fight and winning prior to getting lured into a blunder by one of the sport's masters.
7. Erislandy Lara
Members of the Cuban national boxing team are quite literally students of the game. As members of the prestigious amateur squad, they must also enroll in university and work toward a bachelor's degree in sports science.
Not surprisingly, the small island nation dominates the international amateur scene. And in recent years, Cubans have become an increasingly visible force in the pro end of the sport.
Light middleweight Erislandy Lara has been at the forefront of this trend. He shot to prominence in 2011 when he dropped a controversial majority decision to Paul Williams. It was one of the worst judging decision in recent years.
Last December Lara beat former world champion Austin Trout by a one-sided unanimous decision. It was a far more dominant victory than pay-per-view star Saul Alvarez had secured over Trout, prompting a widespread outcry for Lara to get a shot at "Canelo."
This July, Lara will get his wish when he faces the popular Mexican redhead in Las Vegas.
6. Wladimir Klitschko
A big part of being a great technical fighter is employing the right techniques to maximize physical advantages. The 6'6" heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko is a classic example.
He employs excellent lateral movement and one of the best jabs in the division's history to keep most fights at a distance, where he can score comfortably while denying his opponents the opportunity to hit him back.
He stays safe while setting up the opportunity to unload his thunderous right hand.
Even aspects of his game that fans find infuriating or dull are still technically quite smart. His use of clinching and leaning is perfect for a fighter with his build. It's exactly what the great Emanuel Steward trained him to do.
Granted, his use of the tactic became absurd in his last fight against Alexander Povetkin. But the fault for that goes to the referee for neglecting his duty. Klitschko was simply staying safe and making sure he won the fight.
5. Juan Manuel Marquez
Juan Manuel Marquez is one of the greatest technical boxers of his generation and perhaps the greatest technical boxer to ever come out of Mexico. While most of his peers were overwhelmed by the explosive force of a prime Manny Pacquiao, Marquez always found ways to neutralize the Filipino great and force him into life-or-death wars.
Marquez gets hit more often than some great boxers, but that is generally the result of tactical decisions he makes to lure an opponent forward and set him up for his celebrated counterpunching. His famous knockout of Pacquiao is a prime example.
At 40, Marquez is still viewed as among the sport's top stars. The technical wizard has at least one or two more lessons left to teach.
4. Guillermo Rigondeaux
Guillermo Rigondeaux has been so masterful since turning professional in 2009 that he's practically worked himself out of a job. Last year, in just his 12th professional fight, the two-time Olympic gold medalist beat pound-for-pound superstar Nonito Donaire by one-sided unanimous decision to capture the WBO and WBA super bantamweight titles.
Now he finds himself with pretty much nobody else to fight.
Donaire entered the fight with Rigondeaux ranked between three and five on every pound-for-pound list in existence. He was a feared puncher with dramatic, fight-ending power.
But Rigo neutralized him completely, expertly controlling range and taking away Donaire's normally explosive arsenal. Some might want to call it a boring performance, but for anybody who appreciates the sport at a technical level, it was amazing to watch.
3. Andre Ward
Like Guillermo Rigondeaux, Andre Ward has established himself as so much better than his available competition that meaningful fights have become hard to find. The former Olympic gold medalist and super middleweight champion had already cleaned out his weight class by 2012.
He has consistently looked to be on another level while fighting the other best boxers in the world at his size. He uses movement and control of distance to deny his opponents even the opportunity to throw punches.
He has not lost a fight since moving up to the high amateur level as a teenager. There's nobody at 168 pounds who even looks like a possibility to beat him.
To get a fight the fans would find compelling, Ward will have to bump up to 175 to face the monster Sergey Kovalev or wait for explosive-punching middleweight Gennady Golovkin to come up to 168.
2. Bernard Hopkins
There is no doubt that Bernard Hopkins is a rare physical specimen. And he's spent the past three decades taking the necessary precautions in his training and diet to keep his body well-maintained.
But no 49-year-old body can compete at the elite level in any sport, let alone boxing, without guile and skill. To keep winning and defending world titles at that age, you have to be a technical mastermind.
Hopkins' last fight against Beibut Shumenov was a classic example of an old dog teaching a young pup some tricks. When he dropped Shumenov to the canvas with a short right hand in Round 11, it was a punch he'd been setting up all night.
The win allowed Hopkins to unify the IBF and WBA light heavyweight belts. In the ring following the fight, he immediately called for WBC and lineal champion Adonis Stevenson.
I have a hard time imagining any 50-year-old man beating a beast like Stevenson. Then again, I've long since gotten used to seeing Hopkins do things I would never expect from a man his age.
1. Floyd Mayweather
Some fans love Floyd Mayweather, and some fans hate him. But nobody who understands the sport can deny his technical ability. Most of the time that he's in a boxing ring, he is simply performing on a different level than everybody else.
He has spent his career making top-rated opponents look ordinary.
The one criticism I would put on him is that he doesn't throw a lot of punches for a welterweight. But that criticism is made very minor due to the accuracy with which he lands and the extremely low percentage of punches he allows his opponents to land.
One indication of just how great Mayweather is technically is how comfortable he is fighting at any distance. When fighting on the outside, he uses lightning quick counters and expert footwork to dominate. But his shoulder roll and ability to bob and weave make him perhaps even more dangerous on the inside or against the ropes.
Mayweather's antics can be criticized at times, and his resume can be nitpicked. But nobody can deny with a straight face that he's the best technical fighter in the sport.