Manny Pacquiao and the Top 20 Pound-for-Pound Boxers of the Past 20 Years

Briggs Seekins@BriggsfighttalkFeatured ColumnistAugust 11, 2011

Manny Pacquiao and the Top 20 Pound-for-Pound Boxers of the Past 20 Years

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    Although Manny Pacquiao currently enjoys a level of superstardom that transcends the fight game, and the world of sports in general, it is a commonly held opinion that boxing itself has been in decline for decades.

    It is hard not to agree. This present list rates all fighters active between 1991 and 2011. A similar list compiled between 1971 and 1991 (or from between 1951 and 1971, for that matter) would feature many more true all-time greats. 

    Still, this list has plenty of terrific fighters on it, and a number of very skilled champs didn't even make the cut. If anything, compiling this list helped me see the glass as half full.

    Although they may not have received the same kind of media coverage as their counterparts in previous eras, the boxers on this list have compiled exemplary records and put on thrilling fights, by any historical standard.  

20: Oscar De La Hoya, 39(30)-6

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    Like most true sports superstars, Oscar De La Hoya tends to be overrated by some and short-changed by others. I know some will feel I have him rated too low.

    Earlier this summer, I published a top 25 non-heavyweights of all time list, and at least one commentator complained about the absence of De La Hoya from the list, even though it's hard to see how he would even be mentioned in such a conversation.

    At the same time, other fans seem to have a knee-jerk reaction against any fighter who they perceive as a media "golden boy," let alone someone deemed as THE Golden Boy.

    I would place De La Hoya's level of stardom as a few rungs above his level of talent as a fighter. In terms of pure box office appeal, he is one of the three or four biggest stars of the past 20 years.

    As a boxer he was a great champion and a definite first ballot Hall-of-Famer. Early in his career he had wins over all-time greats Julio Cesar Chavez and Pernel Whitaker (I feel he got a gift in that one).

    He had victories over many legitimate contenders, including current middleweight number two Felix Sturm, bitter rival Fernando Vargas, Arturo Gatti, Ike Quartey and Hector Camacho.

    Oscar De La Hoya lost a very close decision to Felix Trinidad, who will not be making an appearance on this list (though I would make him a first or second honorable mention). I even look forward to seeing some debate over that fight in the comment section, as it is one of the most often debated decisions on Internet chatboards.

    My own feeling is that De La Hoya might very well have won the fight, but I don't necessarily have any sympathy for him. He chose to run away for essentially the last third of the fight, and you can't be shocked to have a decision slip away from you when you do that.

19: Miguel Cotto, 36(29)-2

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    The most popular Puerto Rican champion of his era, Miguel Cotto's current record is 36-2 with 29 kayos. His only two losses came to Manny Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito.

    In the later fight, it is believed that Margarito was fighting with loaded hand wraps, and Cotto is expected to get the opportunity to avenge the loss in his next fight.

    Cotto's most recent victory was a crowd pleasing brawl with the always animated Ricardo Mayorga. Signature victories for him include a brutal TKO of Zab Judah and a unanimous decision beat down of Paul Malignaggi in a memorable Madison Square Garden matchup on the eve of the Puerto Rico Day Parade.

    He also has wins over Shane Mosely, Joshua Clottey and Carlos Quintana.

    As hard as it is to believe, Cotto only recently turned 30. With all the ring wars behind him, he should have some memorable battles left in him.

18: Ronald "Winky" Wright 51(25)-5-1

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    The former junior middleweight world champion, Wright had sigature victories over Felix Trinidad, Shane Mosley (twice) and Ike Quartey. His challenge for Jermaine Taylor's middleweight title ended in a draw.

    Wright's last two fights were a July 2007 loss to Bernard Hopkins and another decision loss to Paul Williams in April of 2009.

17: Juan Manuel Marquez 53(39)-5-1

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    Juan Manuel Marquez is the current Ring lightweight champion, though he is scheduled to meet Manny Pacquiao in the fall at welterweight. It will be the third chapter in their extremely compelling series.

    As Freddy Roach himself noted as he began to prepare Pacman for the bout, Juan Manuel Marquez is the one fighter who just might have Manny's number.

    In their first clash Pacquiao went to work quickly in the first round, with his explosive left hand, flooring Marquez three times. Marquez miraculously survived the round and proceeded to settle down and run a boxing clinic on the still very rough Pacman for the majority of the fight, expertly controlling the distance and using his footwork and jab to take Manny's big left out of the action.

    Pacquiao was lucky to survive with a draw.

    The rematch was a razor close split decision victory for Pacquiao. Marquez has never made any secret of the fact that he believes he won.

    Among Marquez's greatest victories are two wins over Juan Diaz and a unanimous decision over his fellow Mexican great Marco Antonio Barrera.

16: Pongsaklek Wonjongkam 82(45)-3-1

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    The long reigning Ring flyweight champion and fixture in the pound-for-pound top 10, Thailand's Wonjongkam is a pretty obscure figure in the United States and Great Britain.

    But don't be confused by the fact that you might barely have heard of him, let alone his list of opponents. He is a technically solid craftsman with punching power who has ruled his weight class for 10 years. If anything I have him ranked too low.

    Wonjongkam's victories include wins over promotional belt holders Julio Cesar Miranda and Gilberto Keb Baas. He fought a classic four fight series against the great Japanese flyweight Daisuke Naito. Wonjongkam went 2-1-1 against his rival, knocking him out twice.

    Those who follow the lighter weight classes are optimistic an eventual showdown might take place in the next year or so between Wonjongkam and long time junior flyweight No. 1 Giovani Segura.

15: Evander Holyfield 44(29)-10-2

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    In 1991, Evander Holyfield was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. Now 20 years later, pushing 50, he continues to fight, to the great sadness of boxing fans around the world.

    Holyfield was a 1984 Olympian and crusierweight world champion. Although a smallish heavyweight, he fought with a bullying, pressure style. He participated in one of the great heavyweight championship trilogies in the history of the sport with Riddick Bowe, taking one out of three from the much larger man.

    Holyfield's greatest moment probably came in 1996, when he dismantled the heavily favored Mike Tyson.

14: Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. 33-6-2 (for 1991-2011)

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    Although JC Superstar's best years occurred prior to 1991, he was still among the greatest pound-for-pound fighters of the 1990s. During the decade he had wins over belt holders such as Joey Gamache, Greg Haugen, Hector Camacho, Tony Lopez and Angel Hernandez.

    He won two of three against Frankie Randall, avenging the first loss of his career and knocked out Meldrick Taylor in a rematch of their thrilling first fight, which Chavez had saved with a last-second knockout.

    Chavez was the type of warrior who looked for matchups with the best up and comers as he aged. His late career losses include two against Oscar De La Hoya and one against fellow June Hall of Fame inductee Kostya Tzsyu.  

13: Wladimir Klitschko 56-3 (49)

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    Whenever the Soccer World Cup rolls around, there are inevitably a few op-eds published here and there from America soccer fans, wringing their hands and professing embarrassment that their fellow countrymen and women just don't "get" soccer. I know exactly how they feel.

    Not about soccer, of course. I think that's pretty boring to watch too.

    But I know how they feel because that's how I feel about the Klitschko brothers. Between the two of them, they have ruled the heavyweight division for going on eight years, routinely putting on boxing clinics, most of which have not even been broadcast here in the land of the free.

    It is true that Wladimir Klitschko fights cautiously. He doesn't throw punches recklessly because he doesn't need to. He has excellent footwork and perhaps the best jab in the history of the division, behind which he can patiently wait to deploy his heavy right hand at exactly the right moment.

    It's not like he doesn't knock people out. He has 49 KOs in 59 fights, a very high rate.  

12: Erik Morales 51(35)-7

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    Erik Morales is the only boxer to beat Manny Pacquiao in his prime. In addition to his three fight series with Pacman, he had a trilogy with Marco Antonio Barrera which is regarded as perhaps the greatest three fight rivalry of the past 20 years.

    In addition to his victory over Pacquiao, Morales had signature wins over top ranked fighters like Paulie Ayala, Kevin Kelley and Junior Jones.

    He recently surprised the boxing world by putting up an extremely spirited and gritty performance in defeat against the larger and much younger Marcos Maidana at junior welterweight.

11: Marco Antonio Barrera 67(44)-7

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    Now 37, the Baby Faced Assassain is yet another aging champion determined to go out on his shield. He was knocked out in five rounds by Amir Khan in 2009 and has fought twice since.

    It might have been best for him to retire back in 2007, after he lost back to back against Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez.

    In his prime Barrera was about as good as anybody. He won two of three from Erik Morales and beat such top fighters as Jonny Tapia, Naseem Hamed, Kevin Kelley and Paulie Ayala.

10: Vitali Klitschko 42(39)-2

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    The older and larger of the Klitschko brothers, Vitali is also the brawler of the two. While very techicallly sound, he has still demonstrated a willingness to stand and exchange that has always been lacking in his brother.

    Klitschko has been outclassing the field for years, making it look easy against skilled and powerful heavyweights like Cory Sanders, Sam Peter, Shannon Briggs and Chris Arreola.

    He lost to Lennox Lewis when he was too badly cut to continue, though many observers felt he was controlling the fight and in an excellent position to beat the British champ at the time of the stoppage.

9: Ricardo Lopez, 51(38)-0-1

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    RIcardo Lopez dominated the minimum weight (105 pounds) division for the entire first half of the period that this list covers.

    Along with Joe Louis, he holds the record for winning 26 straight title fights. His streak began in 1990 when he knocked out Hideyuki Ohashi to win the WBC minimum weight title and ended in 2001 when he defended the IBF light flyweight title against Zolani Potelo.

    It can be tough to know where to rank a fighter like Lopez, due to the low level of attention the lightest weight classes receive. But Lopez was a polished professional who ended a high percentage of his fights. And a decade of complete dominance at any weight merits inclusion on a pound-for-pound list.

8: Joe Calzage 46(32)-0

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    One of the very few men in the history of the sport to retire as an udefeated world champion, Calzage comes under legitimate criticism for the quality of his opposition.

    Jeff Lacy and Saiko Bika were legitimate contenders but not the stuff a legend makes his reputation from.

    Mikkel Kessler was a quality win to be sure, and in Roy Jones Jr. and Bernard Hopkins, Calzage notched two all-time greats on his ledger. They were both over 40, of course, but in Hopkins case, at least, I'll give the Welsh champion credit for beating an elite fighter still near the top of his game.

7: Floyd Mayweather Jr. 41(25)-0

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    Money Mayweather's placement on this list would come under criticism from somebody, no matter where I placed him. Based on current resume and in-ring performances, I feel comfortable with him at seven.

    But the book is still open on him and I can foresee events falling into place in the next year or two that would demand he be lifted up to one or two.

    If the question was, "Who has demonstrated the most pure boxing talent?" over the past 20 years, again, Mayweather would rank near the very top.

    He has easily outclassed highly ranked opponents such as Zab Judah, Arturo Gatti, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Diego Corrales. He came back after nearly three years off to shut out Juan Manuel Marquez.


6: Pernell Whitaker, 17-3-1 (for 1991-2011)

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    The slickest defensive fighter since Willie Pep, Pernell Whitaker was a 1984 Olympian and many of his greatest moments as a pro occurred prior to the 1991 cut off date for my list. Just the same, he was among the greatest pound-for-pound fighters of the '90s.

    His 1993 draw with Julio Cesar Chavez is widely considered the worst decision in the history of the sport. I also regard it as very possibly the single greatest display of boxing skill over the past 20 years.

    Expected by many to spend the fight running from the rugged Mexican champion, Whitaker instead used brilliant footwork, shoulder rolls and head feints to continually change angles and move in and out of range from Chavez, harrying him relentlessly. Whitaker zipped so smoothly in and out that he nearly looked like he was on wheels.

    In their first issue following the controversial draw, Sports Illustrated place Whitaker's picture on the cover, above the one word headline "Robbed."

    During the 1990s, Whitaker recorded victories over such belt holders as Jorge Paez, James McGirt, Julio Cesar Vasquez and Wilfred Rivera. He lost a decision to Oscar De La Hoya that many (myself included) believe he deserved to win.

5: James Toney 73(44)-6-3

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    James "Lights Out" Toney exploded onto the boxing scene in 1991, with an upset knockout over middleweight champion Michael Nunn. He also beat former middleweight champion Iran Barkely and twice defeated all-time great and former 154- and 160-pound champion Mike "The Body Snatcher" McCallum.

    In the early 1990s, Toney looked all set to be a dominant force in the middle or super middleweight division for years to come.

    Instead James Toney went on to become a kind of throw-back to the 19th century and the early days of the sport, a true pound-for-pound warrior, willing to go all the way up to heavyweight to challenge the big boys.

    Or maybe Toney simply took a good look at the overall lack of talent that has resided in the heavyweight division in this era, and decided, "Forget killing myself to make weight, I can eat and drink anything I want and still collect bigger purses beating these chumps with a Buddah gut hanging over my belt."

    Either way, Toney has been mostly a success at heavyweight. He has a TKO victory over Evander Holyfield and a seventh round TKO over champion John Ruiz, that was later overturned because he tested positive for a banned substance. He lost two very close fights to a much larger and younger Sam Peter.

    After trash talking his way into an MMA fight in the UFC last year, Toney was back in action in the boxing ring last February, knocking out an obscure opponent and keeping the long journey of his career advancing further along.

4: Manny Pacquiao, 53(38)-3-2

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    Manny Pacquiao's career has embodied the concept of "pound-for-pound greatness." A former flyweight, he has knocked out and/or brutally decisioning the best opponents available all the way up to welterweight.

    Under the guidance of Freddy Roach, he has developed from an overwhelming southpaw clubber into a skilled all-around fighter.

    Pacquiao has beaten such great champions as Jorge Solis, Ricky Hatton, Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto, Joshua Clottey and Juan Manuel Marquez. He won two fights against the great Marco Antonio Barrera and revenged the only loss of his prime against Erik Morales by knocking him out twice in return matches.

    Like the previously mentioned Mayweather Jr., Pacman should have the opportunity over the next couple of years to leap frog to the top of this list. With his new political career beckoning, though, his boxing career is likely in its final phase.

3: Lennox Lewis, 41(32)-2-1

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    Lennox Lewis never really got the respect he deserved on the U.S. side of the Atlantic. Although he knocked out Riddick Bowe in the 1988 Olympic, it was Bowe who was most highly regarded as the two turned professional.

    Bowe had some moments of greatness, to be sure, but 20 years later, there is no question which Olympian had the greater career.

    Lewis made his first real statement as a professional by brutally dispatching the highly respected Donovan Ruddock in only two rounds. 

    The Bowe camp reacted to this by offering Lewis a ridiculous 90-10 purse split and then throwing away the WBC belt at a press conference, rather than face Lewis as a mandatory challenger when he refused their ridiculous deal.  

    Lewis avenged the only two losses of his career, to Oliver McCall and Hasseem Rahman. He had victories over Mike Tyson, Michael Grant, Ray Mercer, Shannon Briggs, Tommy Morrison and Frank Bruno.

    He had a win and a draw against Evander Holyfield, though I don't know that I've ever spoken to anybody who thinks the draw was actually anything but a clear cut win for Lewis.  

2: Roy Jones Jr. 54(40)-8

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    It is the nature of sports that we watch our greatest heroes struggle at the end, as they desperately attempt to continue performing at a level their body can no longer sustain.

    In boxing this reaction is far more poignant because beyond the sense of embarrassment one feels for the formerly great star, their is legitimate concern for his health and long term well being.

    So I wish to God Roy Jones Jr. would retire. The brutal knock out he received from Denis Lebedev last spring was extremely difficult to watch.

    That said, Roy Jones Jr. can get knocked out by bums once a month for the next five years and it will never erase what is already in the books. At his best, Roy Jones Jr. was one of the slickest and most complete fighters to ever lace up the gloves.

    Year after year, as he moved up from middleweight to super middleweight to light heavyweight, Roy Jones Jr. consistently looked absolutely invincible. Against the top contenders his weight, all-time greats like James Toney and Virgil Hill, he made things look easy.

    He had victories against challengers and contenders like Bernard Hopkins, Vinnie Pazienza, Mike McCallum, Montel Griffin and Reggie Johnson. When he went all the way up to heavyweight to take the belt off from John Ruiz, he became the first former middleweight champion in over a century to win a heavyweight crown.  

1: Bernard Hopkins, 52(32)-5-2

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    Bernard Hopkins won the vacant IBF middleweight title by defeating Segundo Mercado in 1995. He then proceeded to go on one of the most dominant championship runs in the history of the middleweight division, reeling off victories against the likes of Glen Johnson, Simon Brown, Antwun Echols (twice), Felix Trinidad, William Joppy and Oscar De La Hoya.

    If the Executioner had retired after losing his belt to Jermaine Taylor, his place high on this list would already have been secure.

    But the end of his run at 160 was just the end of Act 1 for the seemingly ageless B-Hop. And it was that Act 2, still being written, that catapulted Hopkins to the very top when measured here against his contemporarie.

    Bernard Hopkins is currently the Ring world champion at light heavyweight. Last spring, he beat Jean Pascal in Montreal, becoming, at age 46, the oldest man to ever win a legitimate world title.

    Bernard Hopkins isn't getting credit merely for showing up post 40. He has been dominating at this advanced age. Post 40 he is 7-3-1, against the most elite competition available at his weight class.

    In the history of all professional sports, only Nolan Ryan and Gordie Howe have had comparable success at such an age (and no, I'm not counting golfers).

    Hopkins gives no indication that he plans to stop fighting anytime soon. There is a lot of speculation that he will fight 175 No. 1 contender Chad Dawson, though his more exciting possible fights might be a class down at super middleweight.