Pacquiao, Mayweather and 8 Other Fighters We Should Enjoy While We Can

David HendrickContributor IIINovember 4, 2011

Pacquiao, Mayweather and 8 Other Fighters We Should Enjoy While We Can

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    Boxing has been getting a lot of negative press over the last number of years due to controversial fights, a lack of great fighters and any number of other reasons. It's also had its place as the world's premier combat sport threatened by the upstart that is Mixed Martial Arts.

    I think boxing is pretty strong in a number of divisions right now, while admittedly weak in others. That's the problem when you have so many weight classes separated by such small weight differences.

    I think if you look across the board, with the lone exception of cruiserweight, you'd be hard pressed to name a division that doesn't have at least one excellent fighter in it. Most have at least two.

    Boxing has a great mix of young and old, which separates it from most other sports. From 46-year-old Bernard Hopkins to 21-year-old Saul Alvarez, boxing is a sport which shows that you're never too old or too young to be great. 

    I do, however, feel that boxing is heading for a potentially tough few years as some of the greats of the modern day, a few of whom are indisputable all-time greats, are nearing the end of their careers.

    While there are very good young fighters coming through the ranks, I'm not sure we'll see the quality of the fighters we are currently privileged to watch.

    In this article I will set out 10 fighters who have been either truly great throughout their careers, are among the world's best right now, or both. All boxing fans, young and old, should enjoy watching these fighters because when they are gone, the sport will be worse off.

    I've decided not to include three legends who are still battling away: Marco Antonio Barrera, Evander Holyfield and Roy Jones Jr. My reason for leaving them off is that it's not enjoyable watching these fighters anymore. It's painful. 

    Barrera is most famous for his trilogy with Erik Morales and his warrior spirit. These days he's a shadow of his former self. Remember him this way. It works for me.

    In his prime, Holyfield was arguably the greatest cruiserweight ever and a great heavyweight. This is a reminder of what he used to be. I prefer to remember him that way than to acknowledge how he is today.

    Jones is one of the all-time greats and one of the most naturally gifted fighters there has ever been. Winning world titles at middleweight, super-middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight, he was one of the most dominant fighters in the world.

    He remains to this day my favourite all-time fighter of those I've been fortunate enough to watch in their primes.

    When Jones beat John Ruiz for the heavyweight title, he should have announced his retirement and walked away. Instead he's fought on for eight years and lost more fights than he's won. He's fighting again next month and although I don't want to watch, I know I will.

    I'd prefer to watch this or this or this over and over again than watch him fight again at this point in his career. I hope he stops soon, I really do.

Manny Pacquiao

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    Do I really need to say anything about Manny? He's the most popular fighter on the planet and probably the most likeable as well. He's universally acknowledged as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the sport and some have called him the greatest southpaw in the history of boxing.

    He's the first and only eight-division champion in boxing history and it could have been even more if he hadn't jumped super flyweight and bantamweight.

    His trainer Freddie Roach has said he may only fight on for another two years. Including his upcoming bout with Marquez, he's probably only got four fights left.

    There's nothing else to say, really. You all know how great he is and you know that when Manny retires, boxing and its fans will certainly miss him.

Floyd Mayweather

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    Never before in the history of boxing has one man polarized his audience the way "Money" has. His greatness is unquestionable, his boxing skills are sublime and his record is perfect. His personality and attitude towards the sport are anything but perfect.

    There really is no middle ground with Floyd. You either love him or you hate him. Everyone has an opinion on him though, and everyone wants to watch him fight. He's the sports biggest PPV draw and I would estimate that at least half the people that buy his fights buy them in the hope that he gets beaten.

    Nobody has managed to beat him thus far. Aside from Oscar De La Hoya and Jose Luis Castillo, nobody has even come close.

    Mayweather may be one of the most naturally gifted fighters the sport has ever seen and he matches that talent with a dedication to training that few can emulate. If he had Manny Pacquiao's personality, he would probably be universally recognised as one of the five greatest fighters that's ever lived. 

    Unfortunately he doesn't. Because of that, many people refuse to grant him the recognition he deserves.

    When Floyd calls it a day, he will retire as one of the greats and perhaps the most unappreciated great there's ever been.

    That's not the fault of the fans, it's his own fault. Many people will probably be glad to see the back of him, having grown tired of his antics and self promotion.

    But the fact remains that boxing is far better off with him than it will be without him.

Bernard Hopkins

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    Another fighter that generally splits opinion is B-Hop. Personally I'm a huge fan and think that his career is the ultimate guide in how to turn your life around and making the most of what you have.

    Hopkins is a great fighter, I think we'll all agree on that. At 46, he is the oldest man to ever win a world title and it's a title he earned through hard work and determination. 

    Hopkins is arguably the greatest ring psychologist the sport has ever seen. He knows how to pick an opponent's weakness, highlight and then beat them in a way they don't expect.

    His style of fighting isn't the most fan friendly to watch, but every time he climbs through the ropes he puts on a master class of defensive boxing and some of the best counter punching you're likely to see.

    A true student of the game, he has taken techniques from other great fighters and molded them into his own style. In the early 90s, feeling that he was getting hit a little too often, he adopted the shoulder roll which he'd seen James Toney use to great effect. 20 years later, it's still a part of his defensive makeup.

    Hopkins is one of only three 90s champion that are still in any way relevant, one of two that are still champions and the only one able to call himself the best in his weight class.

    He's taken fantastic care of himself over the years and is a credit to himself. He has said he'll retire at 50 and based on his activity level over the last six years, that works out at about five more fights.

    That's five more chances to witness a man who is more genius than fighter, the likes of which we'll never see again.

Juan Manuel Marquez

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    Mexico has given us three truly great fighters over the last fifteen years in Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera and this man, Juan Manuel Marquez.

    At 38 and almost two decades into a sparkling career, Marquez knows that the sun is beginning to set on his time in the ring. And he intends to go out with a bang.

    In just seven days he will enter the ring with the No. 1 fighter in the world today, Manny Pacquiao. He'll attempt to prove that he is the better man and that he was on the wrong end of a poor decision in both of their previous meetings.

    Marquez has taken on and beaten some great fighters over the course of his career and has rarely, if ever, been involved in a boring fight.

    Mexican fighters are born to be exciting. When there's a lack of top quality ones in the sport, the sport suffers. When Marquez calls it a day, the sport will suffer.

Sergio Gabriel Martínez

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    Ranked as the No. 3 pound-for-pound fighter in the world by a number of media outlets, Martinez is the only fighter on this list who doesn't have at least a decade of great fights against world class opponents.

    He was always viewed as a tricky southpaw with good power who would struggle when he came up against top level opposition. That is, until he bamboozled and outboxed Kelly Pavlik in April of 2010 to take the undisputed middleweight title. Then he knocked Paul Williams out of his boots in a rematch to their epic 2009 encounter.

    While I happen to think that Martinez may be slightly overrated in some quarters, I do love to watch him fight. He's a very talented fighter who can outbox or outbrawl an opponent depending on the circumstances.

    At 36, Martinez is almost 14 years into his professional career but less than two years into his life as a world class fighter. He seems to be aware that his shelf life likely won't be long and seems intent on trying to get the biggest fight available.

    He has talked of moving up to 168 pounds to challenge the winner of Andre Ward and Carl Froch. He's also talked about moving down to fight Miguel Cotto or Antonio Margarito at 154 pounds, and even Manny Pacquiao at a lower catch-weight.

    I think the three biggest fights for him are Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. at his current weight of 160, as well as Cotto and Saul Alvarez at either 154 pounds or a 157 catch-weight.

    I haven't heard of any plans for him to retire but I can't imagine he'll fight for any more than another three years. When he goes he will be leaving behind an extremely weak class at middleweight, traditionally one of the strongest weight classes in the sport. 

    Exciting top class fighters are always missed when they call it a day. Martinez will be no different.

Pongsaklek Wonjongkam

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    What Manny Pacquiao is to the Philippines, Wonjongkam is to Thailand. He's a national hero, and a celebrated icon.

    Easily the least well known fighter on this list, Wonjongkam has practically dominated the flyweight division for the past 10 years by taking on and beating all comers. With a record of 83 wins, 3 losses and 1 draw, he could retire tomorrow and be entirely happy with his body of work.

    The only knock on him is that he hasn't fought in Europe or America. He's fought almost exclusively in his homeland, making the odd excursion to Japan and a sole venture into Cambodia. 

    At 34, he's the youngest fighter on the list and probably has the most fights left in him. Given he tends to fight between three and six times a year, the issue is how many of those fights the world will get to see.

    If you haven't seen him fight, do yourself a favour and go on Youtube and watch some of his fights. You won't be disappointed. 

James Toney

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    I'm probably in the minority with this inclusion but I've always been a huge James Toney fan. 

    He's one of the most talented fighters of his generation and one of the greatest defensive fighters of all time. His shoulder roll is legendary and he might be the best ever at employing that particular technique.

    If he had taken care of his body the way he should have, he'd be a light heavyweight today. We would have either seen or be looking ahead to a fight with Bernard Hopkins in what would surely be one of the most technical fights in boxing history.

    It's a fight I want to see, purely from a purist point of view. But I can't imagine the buy rate would be big. The two of them combined might not throw 100 punches in the fight, but the defensive aspect would be fantastic.

    Tony still sees himself as a relevant heavyweight. I hate to break it to him but he's not. He's too small and he's only a heavyweight because he's fat.

    As I write this, he has just been beaten in a cruiserweight title fight by Dennis Lebedev, who seems to be intent on becoming a legend killer having already knocked out Roy Jones this year.

    The move to cruiserweight is an encouraging sign. Toney weighed 257 pounds in his win over Damon Reed earlier this year. To have lost so much weight seems a statement of intent that Toney is taking boxing and his fitness seriously again.

    At 43, he doesn't have long left. I hope I get to see him fight Hopkins, even if it's at cruiserweight. 

    If you're not a fan of James Toney by now you probably never will be, but you really should. He's a master craftsman and a dying breed.

Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko

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    Two for the price of one with this pairing. I've put them together because people will either like both of them, or neither of them.

    Love them or hate them, it can't be denied that they have dominated the heavyweight division since Lennox Lewis beat Vitali on a dodgy cut, retired and refused to come back to fight a man that was comfortably outboxing him through six rounds.

    Vitali is the better fighter of the two and the more dominant. Nobody has ever actually beaten him in a fight, both his losses come with big bold asterix's next to them.

    His loss to Byrd was a retirement due to a torn rotator cuff. He decided to put his career ahead of his title and threw in the towel when comfortably ahead.

    Wladimir on the other hand has been knocked out a few times in his career. While he holds three of the four major titles, as well as the Ring Magazine belt, I don't think you'll find many people that would argue that he's better than his brother.

    While neither of them are particularly good to watch, and nobody will miss them because of their fighting style, it can't be denied that when they retire, the heavyweight division will be weaker than it has ever been before.

    Boxing needs a strong heavyweight division because it has traditionally been the marquee division in the sport. Names like Ali, Foreman, Frazier, Holmes, Tyson and Holyfield bring great memories flooding to the forefront of the mind.

    I hope I'm not alone in saying that names like Thompson, Ademek and Arreola do not. Especially since the Klitschko's have already wiped the floor with the three of them.

    Without the Klitschko brothers, there's not a single heavyweight worth talking about and that's a shameful thing for this great sport.

Shane Mosley

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    He should be retired already, and yes, he hasn't won a fight in almost three years, but Shane Mosley is an all-time great fighter and one of the most technically sound and naturally gifted fighters of his generation.

    Aside from his last three fights where he has really shown his age, Mosley's record is littered with some truly magnificent fights.

    I enjoy watching Mosley fight, even today. He's still a top 10 fighter at welterweight and for that reason I think he's still relevant. He'll likely never win another world title, but he can still box.

    As the only man to beat Oscar De La Hoya twice and a three-weight world champion, Mosley has put together an excellent professional career following a standout amateur career. I'll enjoy watching the end of it.

Erik Morales

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    Another Mexican great rounds out this list. Erik Morales is one of the most exciting fighters to have ever graced a boxing ring. He's also the only man to have beaten Manny Pacquiao in the last 12 years.

    Morales will always be remembered for his incredible trilogies with Pacquiao and Marco Antonio Barrera, both of which featured some of the most exciting boxing you'll ever see.

    After five losses in six fights, Morales retired in 2007 and spent almost three years away from the sport before returning in last year. His march towards a world title in a fourth weigh class ended in September of this year when he won the WBC Light Welterweight title by stopping Pablo Cesar Cano in the 10th round.

    While the title is widely viewed as nothing more than a paper title, I still think it's a fantastic achievement, given his three year absence from the ring and the mileage put on his body. It also made him the first ever Mexican to win a world title in four different weight classes.

    Morales likely won't stick around past the end of next year so enjoy his fights while you can. 

Honourable Mention: Ricardo Mayorga

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    I'm not including Mayorga because I think he's a legendary fighter that boxing will greatly miss. I'm including him because he's a complete and utter lunatic and I'll miss his antics. 

    From drinking beer at press conferences, to smoking a cigarette while talking to Larry Merchant in a post fight interview, to wildly chasing Vernon Forrest around the ring in a fit of rage, Mayorga is never boring.

    He may already be retired, he said he was taking some time off after his loss to Cotto. But I have a feeling we'll see him again. The press conferences will probably be more entertaining than the fights, but he's still worth a watch.

Thanks for Reading

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    So there you have it, my list of ten, well actually eleven, fighters that I think boxing fans should enjoy while they still have the opportunity. And of course Mayorga who's good just for breaking up the boredom.

    You may or may not be a fan of the fighters I've listed, but I would hope you'd agree that boxing will be worse off without them.

    Feel free to leave your comments and thoughts below. I always try to reply to every comment.

    I hope you've enjoyed the article, thanks for reading.