Current Fighters Who Will Be Locks for the Boxing Hall of Fame
The heart of sports is the glory of competition. But the soul of sports is the sweet memory of that glory. Sports fans thrill in the moment, but we live largely in the past.
That's always been the attraction of Hall of Fames. The sports Halls are pilgrimage sites for fans to revel in the days gone by.
The weekend in June when boxing's greatest past stars flock to Canastota, New York, for the induction ceremony each year is always a moment to treasure for a true boxing fan. I highly recommend the trip to any who can make it.
I've overlooked some likely candidates on this list. There are boxing stars who will almost certainly make the Hall of Fame someday but haven't done enough yet to be "locks" if they never box again. There are other fighters with decent cases for induction who might actually get in.
But the 10 fighters on this list should receive little opposition.
Nonito Donaire is just 31 and has one of the weaker resumes on this list. He was also thoroughly outclassed by Guillermo Rigondeaux last year, in what was only the Cuban's 12th fight.
But Donaire's work from flyweight through super bantamweight is hard to dispute. He was a world champion at 112 pounds and by the time he had filled out to 118, he was regarded as one of the sport's top pound-for-pound stars.
His performances at 118 and 122 include knockouts over some of the top champions of his era. There is a very good chance he'll add a featherweight title to his trophy case before he retires, but if he walked away tomorrow, he'd be a lock for Canastota.
Timothy Bradley is just 30, and like Nonito Donaire, he could probably use a few more big moments to convince everyone that he belongs in the Hall of Fame. But based on what he's done so far, I think he'd get enough support from voters to get in if he retired tomorrow.
It will no doubt be held against him that one of his two biggest wins was a victory he didn't deserve, when he beat Manny Pacquiao by split decision. His split-decision win over Juan Manuel Marquez, though, was obvious. I have trouble seeing how anybody could have scored that fight against Bradley.
Bradley had a long run as a dominant champion at light welterweight and has spent a significant chunk of his career in the pound-for-pound top 10 and, more recently, the top five. His victorious survival in a Fight of the Year war with Ruslan Provodnikov last year was exactly the kind of emotional performance that pads a resume.
Andre Ward is the youngest fighter on this list, having turned 30 earlier this year. He also has the fewest fights.
But his ticket to Canastota was punched two years ago, in my estimation. His dominant run through the Showtime Super Six super middleweight tournament established that he was on an entirely different level than the rest of his weight class.
An Olympic gold medalist in 2004, he has not lost a boxing match of any type since before he was competing at the national level. If he never boxed again, he'd be regarded as one of the most talented fighters of his era.
One of the most popular stars of his generation, Miguel Cotto has also compiled a career record worthy of the Hall of Fame. Although he has come up short against elite fighters like Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, the three-division world champion has topped enough world-class fighters over a long enough period of time to ensure his future induction.
Cotto's first loss was a brutal TKO against Antonio Margarito, who likely had plaster hand wraps. Cotto has been a world champion since that fight and got revenge by pummeling Margarito in a December 2011 rematch, but it's tough to estimate how that loss might have damaged the trajectory of his career.
Although he was at his best early in his career at 140 and then at 147, he will have a chance to make history this summer when he fights Sergio Martinez for the lineal middleweight crown.
You can criticize the overall quality of the heavyweight division during the era that Wladimir Klitschko dominated it. You can criticize the jab, clinch and lean style that he sometimes employs.
You can even criticize the fact that he's lost three fights in his career by stoppage, although all of them were a decade or more ago.
But the fact is, Wladimir Klitschko has ruled the heavyweight division for more than 10 years now, beating the best available opponents in the world. He has ducked no one. Meanwhile, he's accumulated one of the best KO percentages in the history of the division.
So regardless of how popular he is in the United States, Klitschko will easily get enough votes to be inducted into Canastota. Fairness requires it.
Sergio Martinez has been one of the most exciting and explosive boxing stars of the last decade. In 2010 he captured the lineal middleweight title from Kelly Pavlik. The Argentine's one-punch knockout of Paul Williams is iconic.
The most remarkable thing about Martinez's entire career is how late it started. A former soccer star, he did not take up the sweet science until age 20.
To become a pound-for-pound star after such a late start is remarkable. Win or lose against Miguel Cotto in June, Martinez's enshrinement in Canastota is assured.
Juan Manuel Marquez
Juan Manuel Marquez belongs in any conversation about the best boxers to ever come out of Mexico. To rank in that kind of pantheon makes a fighter an automatic Hall of Famer.
He is a four-division world champion, having captured titles at featherweight, super featherweight, lightweight and junior welterweight. After beating Mike Alvarado earlier this month, he is angling for a fifth fight with his longtime rival Manny Pacquiao.
A win against Pac-Man later this year would make Marquez the WBO welterweight champion and Mexico's first five-division world champion in the process.
Like any extremely popular athlete, Manny Pacquiao attracts his share of detractors as well. But even the most absurd Pacquiao hater can't deny that he belongs in Canastota.
His world titles in eight divisions are often cited for proving his greatness. It is clearly impressive, though in the era of alphabet soup belts, it means a lot less than some fans seem to think it does. It doesn't remotely compare to Henry Armstrong simultaneously ruling featherweight, lightweight and welterweight, for example.
But it does help illustrate Pacquiao's amazing progression as a fighter. He went from a scrawny teenager with a monster left hand to a well-rounded fighter who was capable of dominating world-class talent at welterweight, traditionally boxing's most competitive division. He's been at or near the top of the pound-for-pound rankings for most of a decade.
That makes him an obvious Hall of Famer.
There is always going to be debate about where Floyd Mayweather deserves to rank among the all-time, pound-for-pound greats. But the fact that he is even mentioned in those debates proves he belongs in the Hall of Fame.
He is a five-division world champion, from super featherweight through junior middleweight. He's not only been a titleholder at those weight classes but he's been the clear-cut top fighter and lineal champion in each of them.
Mayweather's inability or unwillingness to make a fight with Manny Pacquiao will taint his legacy to some degree. I'd be more impressed with his existing legacy if he had fought Paul Williams in 2009 instead of making a foray into professional wrestling.
But on balance, Mayweather's career accomplishments put him in elite company.
Bernard Hopkins had already punched his ticket to Canastota a decade ago, when he was still the reigning middleweight champion with a record 20 successful title defenses. What he's doing now, at age 49, is unprecedented in the history of this sport or any other.
He dropped his middleweight title and disputed back-to-back decisions to Jermain Taylor in 2005. Even many fans like myself, who thought he should have won those fights, assumed that at 40, he was probably more or less done as an active competitor.
He was anything but. Since dropping the two fights to Taylor, Hopkins has compiled a 9-2-1 record. In May 2011, at age 46, he beat Jean Pascal by unanimous decision to capture the lineal light heavyweight championship. It made him the oldest man to ever win a legitimate world championship in boxing.
It's a record he's since broken, most recently this past April, when he beat Beibut Shumenov to add the WBA 175-pound world title to the IBF belt he already held.