Predicting the Top 10 Pound-for-Pound Fighters at the End of 2014
Boxing pound-for-pound lists are ultimately based on opinion. And the thing about opinions is, everybody's got them.
So for the purpose of this article, I've used The Ring rankings. I certainly don't agree with them 100 percent, but the publication's longtime standing gives its judgments a certain institutional authority.
And despite the Ring's recent ties to Golden Boy Promotions, it does seem to be driven more by objective historical analysis than individual enthusiasm and whim. The Ring has certainly placed a few clunkers in its pantheon (cough..cough...Adrien Broner), but overall it is as accurate as any other high-profile list.
There's a good chance its top 10 will look exactly the same at the end of the year as it does today. But the fights are in place to create some huge shake-ups.
Fighters Most Likely to Crack the Rankings This Year
It's unlikely, but if Marcos Maidana can upset Floyd Mayweather in their rematch this September, he will clearly enter the top 10 with a bullet. It's doubtful he'll simply swap places with Mayweather at the very top, but he'll be trending toward the top five.
Chris Algieri came out of obscurity this year to upset Ruslan Provodnikov and somehow earn a pay-per-view shot at Manny Pacquiao. If Algieri somehow wins, he'll possibly enter the top 10, but I think it's more likely Pacquiao might simply tumble out.
Gennady Golovkin faces Marco Antonio Rubio on October 18. That could be his last fight of the year, but if he finishes 2014 having gone 7-0 with seven knockouts since the start of 2013, he'll be in many individual pound-for-pound top-10 rankings and will be a likely candidate to nose his way into The Ring rankings, if there is an opening.
If Bernard Hopkins can continue to defy Father Time and beat Sergey Kovalev this year to add a third light heavyweight belt to his current collection, he might very well crack the top 10. If Kovalev can become the first man ever to stop the legendary Hopkins, he'd have an outside shot of entering the list.
10. Saul Alvarez
Like almost any extremely popular fighter, Canelo Alvarez attracts his share of detractors. I'll concede his popularity outstrips his actual resume, but I also think it's reasonable to have him in the pound-for-pound top 10 at this point.
His split-decision win over Erislandy Lara last July locked up his claim to top-10 status. In a sport where fans complain about the best not fighting the best, Alvarez went out of his way to fight Austin Trout in 2013 and Lara this year.
I don't see him winning the kind of fight necessary to move up higher this year. And, if he should happen to lose, he'll obviously drop out.
9. Roman Gonzalez
On September 5, Roman Gonzalez will face WBC and Ring flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi in Tokyo. A win will make him a three-division world champion at 40-0 with at least 33 knockouts.
I'd have Gonzalez rated higher than nine in my own rankings, but I'm glad The Ring has at least finally made space for him this year. Perhaps if he wins against Yaegashi and some other shake-ups occur, Gonzalez will move up.
If he loses, of course, he'll drop out, and Yaegashi will not be likely to replace him. But I'd be very surprised if Gonzalez loses.
8. Carl Froch
Aside from losing by one-sided decision to Andre Ward, Carl Froch has handled every top super middleweight in the world over the past several years. After struggling in a controversial stoppage win over George Groves late last year, Froch won the rematch last May with the nicest one-punch KO of his career.
James DeGale and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. look like the two most likely opponents to face Froch before the end of this year. Neither win would push up his ranking, and a loss would get him dropped.
Sitting at No. 8, Froch is on the bubble for this list. With enough shake-ups and big performances by fighters on the other side of the bubble, Froch could drop out of the top 10 through no real fault of his own.
7. Guillermo Rigondeaux
In my own rankings, I'd place Guillermo Rigondeaux fourth. But I can understand objections to placing a fighter with his limited body of work so high. It's remarkable enough that a fighter with only 14 fights should be in the pound-for-pound top 10 at all.
But Rigondeaux handed a boxing lesson to Nonito Donaire, who was then a universal pound-for-pound top-five star. Perhaps Donaire was being overrated a bit, but Rigo's performance proved he was a remarkable talent.
Now that Rigo is free to sign with Golden Boy, he should be able to land better fights than he's had since beating Donaire. A fight with fellow undefeated super bantamweight champion Leo Santa Cruz could help Rigondeaux remind folks how great he truly is.
Without that kind of opponent, though, it's tough to see Rigondeaux moving up any higher than he is now.
6. Juan Manuel Marquez
Juan Manuel Marquez, who turned 41 last week, has earned his spot on this list. His November 2012 knockout of Manny Pacquiao is one of the iconic, one-punch KOs of the past decade.
I thought Timothy Bradley deserved his split-decision win over Marquez last October. Still, Marquez fought competitively against a younger, stronger man. Marquez was dominant during most of his unanimous-decision victory over Mike Alvarado last May.
But there is something of a legacy, placeholder status to Marquez's current ranking. I'm not at all convinced he would succeed against younger, naturally larger welterweights like Keith Thurman and Kell Brook.
I'm also not sure there's a fight out there that would lure Marquez back into the ring this year. He's made no secret about his primary motivation at this point being the chance to become Mexico's first five-division world champion.
If he can't secure a shot at the winner of Manny Pacquiao vs. Chris Algieri next spring, I suspect he could simply slip into retirement. As it is, I doubt he'll move on this list by the end of the year.
5. Timothy Bradley
Timothy Bradley looked surprisingly flat in his loss to Manny Pacquiao last April. Bradley's split-decision victory over Pacquiao in June 2012 is one of the worst decisions in recent years, and he took tremendous punishment while barely surviving with a victory against Ruslan Provodnikov in March 2013.
Bradley's claim to his current status rests largely upon his split-decision victory last October over Juan Manuel Marquez. While that's certainly a great win on his resume, Bradley's future status in the pound-for-pound top 10 could be a little bit precarious.
Bradley is a fighter who has always driven his body to extremes both in training camp and in the ring. Against a younger, elite fighter with power, he could be vulnerable.
Bradley has nothing scheduled right now for the rest of the year. He will likely end the year still in the top 10 but could get bumped further down if there are any major shifts at the top.
4. Manny Pacquiao
Manny Pacquaio fights Chris Algieri in China this November. This could end up being a relatively competitive, entertaining fight. But as an event, featuring one of the two biggest boxing stars on the planet, it makes very little sense.
Algieri turned in an intelligent and incredibly gutsy performance to come back from two first-round knockdowns against Ruslan Provodnikov earlier this year to capture the WBO light welterweight belt via split decision.
But Algieri was virtually unknown prior to that. It's a very sudden leap for him to move into a pay-per-view slot against Pacquiao.
This pairing does a lot more for Top Rank and Bob Arum than it does for Pacquiao. If Pacquiao loses, he'll likely tumble out of the top 10. If he wins, he won't move up.
I expect Pacquiao to win, of course. But without some major shake-ups at the top of the rankings, Pacquiao is most likely going to end the year in his current No. 4 spot.
3. Wladimir Klitschko
I don't personally consider Wladimir Klitschko the No. 3 pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. But he has dominated the heavyweight division for more than a decade, so I can respect the opinion of those who would place him so high.
Klitschko was set to face perhaps his biggest challenge in years on September 6 against unbeaten Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev. That fight has now been rescheduled for November due to a training injury suffered by Klitschko.
If Klitschko loses, he'll be dropped all the way out of the top 10. I think Klitschko will prevail due to better all-around skills, but Kubrat has the ability to stand toe-to-toe with the champ and land a shot to his notoriously vulnerable chin.
A Klitschko loss is the most likely scenario to cause serious changes at the top of the rankings. It's not likely, but it's more likely than the fighters above him losing.
2. Andre Ward
I think most writers and serious boxing fans would agree that Andre Ward deserves to be viewed as the No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. But of all the elite fighters out there, none have been more inactive than Ward in recent years.
After completely cleaning out the super middleweight division between 2009 and 2011, Ward fought just once each in 2012 and 2013. So far he has not fought this year.
If Ward does not fight between now and the end of the year, it will mean he's gone more than a year without a fight. In my opinion, he'll deserve to be dropped from the ratings for inactivity. The Ring editorial team will very likely agree.
If a fighter ranked as high as Ward gets dropped, it will cause some major changes.
1. Floyd Mayweather
Floyd Mayweather had his toughest fight in more than a decade last May when he came away with a majority decision against Marcos Maidana. The two will fight a rematch this September.
Mayweather adjusted well in the middle of the fight last time, and I think he'll win a tough, but more obvious, decision in the next fight. But if he loses the rematch, he'll be bumped from his No. 1 spot.
He won't slip entirely from the top 10, of course. Marcos Maidana is an experienced veteran champion who is trained by the best in the game, Robert Garcia.
But if Floyd loses, it will force some crazy changes.
I think Floyd will win and end the year where he started it—as the pound-for-pound king. But life will get very interesting for the boxing writers if he loses.
Let's Get Wacky: Imagining the World Turned Upside Down
The following is definitely not my prediction for how the pound-for-pound rankings will end up when 2014 comes to a close. But I was a Boy Scout and a United States Army infantryman. I believe in preparing for the worst.
If an entire host of scenarios come together and create a perfect storm, we could see major shake-ups. You're more likely to hit your daily number than see these events come to pass, but imagine:
- Saul Alvarez fights somebody like James Kirkland and loses.
- Carl Froch gets beaten by James DeGale.
- Manny Pacquiao loses to Chris Algieri.
- Wladimir Klitschko loses to Kubrat Pulev.
- Andre Ward doesn't fight again this year.
- Floyd Mayweather loses to Marcos Maidana.
In this proposed scenario, Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev and Terence Crawford all end the year unbeaten. Given this wacky confluence of circumstances, I'd predict an all-new pound-for-pound list that looks something like this:
10. Chris Algieri
9. Terence Crawford
8. Sergey Kovalev
7. Gennady Golovkin
6. Roman Gonzalez
5. Juan Manuel Marquez
4. Timothy Bradley
3. Floyd Mayweather
2. Marcos Maidana
1. Guillermo Rigondeaux