Ranking Boxing's 17 Divisions: Top Fighters, Report Cards, and Predictions
2010 has been a slow year for boxing, but a number of big, long-awaited fights are going to end the year with a bang. Some of the exciting fights still in store for 2010: Williams vs. Martinez II, Ward vs. Dirrell, Rafa Marquez vs. Juan Manuel Lopez, Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Michael Katsidis, Froch vs. Abraham, Pascal vs. Hopkins, and Pacquiao vs. Margarito.
Early 2011 will bring more great action: Timothy Bradley vs. Devon Alexander in January, Tomasz Adamek vs. Vitali Klitschko early in the year, and a number of long-awaited fights that are destined to happen sooner or later.
So people who are trying to write boxing off are missing part of the story - there are some weight divisions just oozing with talent and excitement, and people will soon realize that boxing is undergoing a popular resurgence.
Which divisions and rivalries will define boxing in the the coming years? Read on to see descriptions and report cards for each of boxing's 17 weight classes.
Strawweight (105 Lbs)
Top Fighter: Roman Gonzalez
Top Contenders: Nkosinathi Joyi, Oleydong Sithsamerchai
Whether it be the small boxers, the prevalence of non-English speaking fighters, or TV booking issues, this division doesn't get much love in the west.
But there's one fighter that should. Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez is arguably the best prospect in boxing right now.
His natural speed and power made him the top fighter in this division at just 21 years old. Now 23, he's mentioned as a future pound for pound #1 and is someone every true boxing fan should watch.
Jr. Flyweight (108 Lbs)
Top Fighter: Giovanni Segura
Top Contenders: Ivan Calderon, Omar Nino
This division got a shot in the arm when Segura defeated Calderon in an exciting match last month.
Calderon had long dominated this division, and has a ton of pure boxing talent that is beautiful to behold, but it's nice to see a guy with some knockout power emerging here.
There's no top fighter who is undefeated, making it a competitive division, but it still needs some more marquee fights.
Grade: B-, for now
Flyweight (112 Lbs)
Top Fighter: Pongsaklek Wonjongkam
Top Conenters: Koki Kameda, Daisuke Naito
Pongsaklek is one of the greatest fighters of our age, and #8 on Ring Magazine's pound for pound list right now.
However, the division is stagnating a bit right now, and needs something to breathe new life into it.
The top guys have been there for years, and the division doesn't seem to have a lot of crossover appeal for U.S. audiences.
Jr. Bantamweight (115 Lbs)
Top Fighter: Nonito Donaire
Top Contenders: Vic Darchinyan, Hugo Cazares
Over three years ago, Nonito Donaire stunned the world by knocking out Darchinyan.
However, Nonito has had no good fights in the past 2 years, and has stagnated so much that Darchinyan is now considered Ring's #1 guy in the division again.
This is a loaded division, and Cazares had a good set of fights against Nobuo Nashiro, but given the talent in this division, more should be happening.
Bantamweight (118 Lbs)
Top Fighter: Fernando Montiel
Top Contenders: Anselmo Moreno, Hozumi Hasegawa
This division has been getting a lot of buzz lately, with Fernando Montiel's move into the Pound for Pound top 10 and potential fighter of the year discussion.
His stunning knockout of Hasegawa (pictured) was one of the biggest wins in boxing during the last 12 months, and Anselmo Moreno is a quality fighter too.
A Montiel fight with Nonito Donaire is always looming over this division, but this division is deep, diverse, and has delivered lately.
Jr. Featherweight (122 Lbs)
Top Fighter: Poonsawat Kratingaenggym
Top Contenders: Toshiaki Nishioka, Steve Molitor
Poonsawat has been doing a commendable job keeping the action and excitement in this division, which seems to have an oddly shallow talent pool.
Case in point: Ring Magazine lacks profile photos for 6 of their top 10 guys in the division.
Poonsawat is a very good fighter. However, he's not getting big fights, probably because the division is so weak right now.
Featherweight (126 Lbs)
Top Fighter: Chris John
Top Contenders: Juan Manuel Lopez, Yuriorkis Gamboa
Possibly the most buzz-worthy division in boxing. So much so, in fact, that Rafael Marquez is not even one of its most talked-about fighters.
The top three guys in this division are all undefeated, and oddly all of them take on big, tough fights too. Gamboa just beat Orlando Salido, Lopez (pictured) is facing Marquez before the end of 2010. Chris John may be the most underrated fighter in the sport.
Jr. Lightweight (130 Lbs)
Top Fighters: Mzonke Fana, Ricky Burns
Top Contenders: Roman Martinez, Takashi Uchiyama, Jorge Linares
Roman Martinez was the next big thing before his loss to Ricky Burns. The division's now in and odd place where there have been good storylines, but nobody is a huge draw. Most of the fighters are 4-5 fights away from being notable again.
Martinez and Linares (who was once spoken of as a potential pound for pound #1) have seen their stock drop considerably since they both suffered their first career losses over the past year or so.
Lightweight (135 Lbs)
Top Fighter: Juan Manuel Marquez
Top Contenders: Michael Katsidis, Miguel Acosta, Humberto Soto
Now we’re getting into the real mainstream boxing divisions.
Juan Manuel Marquez is ranked #3 pound for pound in the world right now, and he’s simply a guy who true boxing fans have to respect. He’s now in his late 30’s, and continues to fight the highest level of competition and perform well. His heart and boxing talent alone make this a worthwhile division.
Combine that with rugged Australian Michael Katsidis, and two strong challengers in Miguel Acosta and Humberto Soto, as well as American Anthony Peterson, and you’ve got a solid division.
Jr. Welterweight (140 Lbs)
Top Fighter: Timothy Bradley
Top Contenders: Amir Khan, Devon Alexander, Marcos Maidana, Andreas Kotelnik, Juan Urango, Paulie Malignaggi, Nate Campbell, Victor Ortiz
The best division in boxing. As you can tell by the lengthy list of quality contenders, this division is loaded with talent. When guys like Nate Campbell and Victor Ortiz can’t even crack the top ten, you know you’ve got some impressive fighters.
The boxing world is abuzz over the division’s three shining stars: Timothy Bradley (pictured, 26-0, just became Ring’s #10 P4P fighter), Amir Khan, and Devon Alexander. If all goes as planned, Bradley and Alexander will face off in January, with the winner becoming boxing’s next great American superstar and likely getting a fight with Khan next.
Even more importantly, these fighters don’t back down from a challenge. Khan has been slightly criticized, but he still has good fights. Bradley will face anyone. Maidana got here by beating Victor Ortiz. Kotelnik and Urango have faced everyone who has come along.
Juan Manuel Marquez is able to fight in this division too. It’s an extraordinary weight class right now.
Welterweight (147 Lbs)
Top Fighters: Floyd Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao
Top Contenders: Andre Berto, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley, Joshua Clottey, Tim Bradley (sometimes)
This, on the other hand is boxing’s marquee division. The two top pound for pound fighters in the world occupy this division right now, and guys like Cotto, Berto, and Bradley are exciting, world-class fighters. Clottey and Mosley are still very serviceable fighters.
But this division isn’t as exciting as it potentially could be. Mayweather keeps ducking a Pacquiao fight, and many of these guys tend to focus on other divisions – Pacquiao, Cotto and Mosley have all had recent fights at light middleweight, and Bradley tends to be a light welterweight.
Family tragedy in Haiti prevented Berto from having a showdown with Mosley earlier this year, so he hasn’t had any huge marquee fights. He’s also in between contendership and superstardom, and sometimes has trouble finding appropriate opponents. That said, he could very well become the guy who carries this division if Pacquiao keeps moving up in weight and Mayweather keeps being Mayweather.
Jr. Middleweight (154 Lbs)
Top Fighter: Sergio Martinez
Top Contenders: Kermit Cintron, Alfredo Angulo, Miguel Cotto, Yuri Foreman, Vanes Martirosyan, Sergei Dzinziruk, Antonio Margarito
Occasional Contenders: Manny Pacquiao, Paul Williams
This is another very deep division. Some of the contenders don’t have as much name recognition as they deserve, and it’s partly because this division is sandwiched between welterweight and middleweight, putting it in an unusual limbo.
Martinez is a huge draw right now, and I cannot say enough good things about him. He’s handsome, athletic, courageous, active, and popular.
Cintron and Angulo form a second tier under Williams and Martinez, but are still world-class fighters. Martirosyan is young and raw, but has tremendous confidence and upside.
There are a lot of scintillating potential matchups at Jr. Middleweight, especially because welterweights and middleweights often spend some time here.
Middleweight (160 Lbs)
Top Fighters: Sergio Martinez, Paul Williams
Top Contenders: Felix Sturm, Kelly Pavlik, Sebastian Zbik, Dmitry Pirog
Yes, Sergio Martinez is currently the top ranked fighter in both Jr. Midldeweight and Middleweight by Ring Magazine right now. Williams (pictured) obviously deserves a nod, having only lost once in 39 fights and having beaten Martinez last year.
American fans might miss out on some of the quality of this division, since Felix Sturm, Sebastian Sylvester, and Sebastian Zbik all tend to stay in their native Germany. Sturm is an interesting case, because he hasn’t fought in the U.S. since he was robbed of a victory against Oscar De La Hoya back in 2004. Another reason is because he wins fewer than half his fights by knockout. That said, he’s 9-1 in title fights since then, and has a decent claim to being the top dog in the division.
Zbik and Pirog are thrilling fighters and fun to watch, especially Pirog. Pavlik still has something left.
But most importantly, Paul Williams vs. Sergio Martinez II is taking place on November 20th, and every true boxing fan should be watching this fight.
Super Middleweight (168 Lbs)
Top Fighters: Lucian Bute, Andre Ward
Top Contenders: Mikkel Kessler, Carl Froch, Andre Dirrell, Sakio Bika, Arthur Abraham, Allan Green, Librado Andrade
Also known as the “Super Six” division after Showtime’s inspired tournament, this weight class has had a large uptick in popularity because of the round robin tourney. Lucian Bute’s exclusion from the tournament prevents this division’s top story from being resolved soon, but there are a lot of great fights to watch.
Andre Ward is another one of those guys who may be America’s next big champion.
Knowledge of this division is also a great benchmark for figuring out who’s a true boxing fan versus a casual observer. True fight fans are following Super Middleweight ravenously right now.
Light Heavyweight (175 Lbs)
Top Fighter: Jean Pascal
Top Contenders: Chad Dawson, Tavoris Cloud, Glen Johnson, Bernard Hopkins, Nathan Cleverly, Beibut Shumenov, Adrian Diaconu
This division and heavyweight are boxing’s two great paradoxes. It has a trifecta of young, talented North American fighters in Jean Pascal, Chad Dawson, and Tavoris Cloud. Yet Cloud keeps running into promotional issues, and Pascal and Dawson don’t score a lot of knockouts, so it’s the old veterans who often make the biggest fights.
41-year-old Glen Johnson fights top opposition at least twice a year, more than most young fighters can say. 45-year-old Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins, arguably the greatest middleweight champion in history (he made 20 consecutive title defenses over ten years), has been less active and is definitely slowing down, but seems to find ways to keep winning big fights.
Beibut Shumenov is the most accomplished 10-win fighter in the world right now, and brings some firepower to this ailing division.
Bernard Hopkins faces Jean Pascal on December 18th, in an intriguing matchup that should be an early Christmas present for fight fans.
Cruiserweight (200 Lbs)
Top Fighters: Steve Cunningham, Marco Huck
Top Contenders: Zsolt Erdei, Krzystzof Wlodarczyk
Cruiserweight seems to perennially be the younger brother of the Heavyweight division. It no doubt has some talented fighters, but isn’t always very compelling, and most of its greatest fighters leave for the heavyweight division (such as Tomasz Adamek and David Haye) to pursue bigger fighters and bigger paydays.
Steve Cunningham has been “the guy” in this division for a while now, but isn’t a really exciting boxer to follow, both because he has lost some big fights to Adamek and Wlodarczyk, and because of his 50% KO percentage – very low for such a big fighter.
Marco Huck (pictured) is a power puncher, plain and simple. He doesn’t always showcase tremendous talent, but at least provides very watchable matches that please the crowds. Krzysztof is a good but contender-esque fighter.
Along with Huck, Zsolt Erdei is probably the guy to watch in this division. He’s not an extraordinary power fighter but he has the most potential to gain fame as the top guy in the division.
Heavyweight (200+ Lbs)
Top Fighters: Wladimir Klitschko, Vitali Klitschko
Top Contenders: Tomasz Adamek, Alexander Povetkin, David Haye, Ruslan Chagaev, Nikolay Valuev, Chris Arreola
A huge conundrum for boxing fans right now is what to make of the heavyweight division. It is riddled with bizarre paradoxes.
Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko are incredible boxers but they are criticized for being boring fighters and not facing each other. It’s not entirely fair: Wladimir wins every fight by knockout and Vitali (pictured) isn’t far behind. They’re also great guys and very marketable in Europe, but perhaps the fact that there’s two of them minimizes the “Ivan Drago effect” of a seemingly unbeatable adversary.
All of the other fighters aren’t on the Klitschkos’ level, but are worth watching. Adamek is undersized physically, but makes up for it in courage, pure boxing ability (one of the best practitioners in the sport), and his activity level – fighting solid opponents at least 3 times a year. I think he can be the one to reignite the lagging Heavyweight division.
Alexander Povetkin is very good, but still needs some seasoning. David Haye is looking pretty lame right now and has lost a lot of credibility until he stops trash talking and then ducking the Klitschkos.
Adamek will be fighting Vitali Klitschko early next year. Here’s hoping for a big Adamek win to set up a major bout with reigning champ Wladimir.
A+: Junior Welterweight
A: Featherweight, Junior Middleweight, Middleweight
A-: Lightweight, Super Middleweight
B+: Bantamweight, Welterweight
B: Light Heavyweight
B-: Strawweight, Junior Flyweight
C: Flyweight, Cruiserweight
C-: Junior Bantamweight
D+: Junior Lightweight
D: Junior Featherweight