The 10 Classiest Fighters in Boxing Today

Kevin McRae@@McRaeWritesFeatured ColumnistMay 12, 2014

The 10 Classiest Fighters in Boxing Today

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    It's a word that you don't often see bandied about much in today's boxing climate, what with fighters more interested in being entertainers than, you know, fighters, and promotional companies more interested in tearing each other down than building up the sport.

    But there are instances of that magical word manifesting itself in the rough and tumble world of professional prizefighting.

    These 10 men, in particular, have proven to be classy individuals. For what they've done, or in some cases refused to do, they stand out as beacons of what's good and right in a sport where the object is to hit your opponent as hard as you can.

    They are by no means the only ones, but these are the 10 classiest fighters in boxing today.

Miguel Cotto

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    Miguel Cotto is a bad dude.

    The 33-year-old Puerto Rican icon has accomplished a great deal in the sport. He’s won world championships in three weight divisions, and he’ll attempt to become the first Puerto Rican four-division champion when he faces Sergio Martinez in June at Madison Square Garden.

    Cotto is a very serious guy when it comes to the ring. He doesn’t mess around, and his professionalism has been the hallmark of a career that will one day land him in the Hall of Fame.

    He’s captured world championships at 140, 147 and 154 pounds, and he’s been in there with the absolute best fighters of his era.

    One thing that Cotto doesn’t do is build himself up or tear his opponents down. He’s equally classy in victory and defeat, and that’s a testament to his character as a fighter and as a person.

Austin Trout

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    Austin Trout was never supposed to achieve boxing notoriety. The Las Cruces, New Mexico, native almost literally had to climb in the back door of the big-time boxing world, with few willing to give him a shot.

    Trout came from humble boxing beginnings, and he was forced to, in this case, literally travel the globe in search of meaningful fights against quality opposition.

    In one stretch, between 2009 and 2011, Trout fought five of seven fights outside of the United States—Mexico, Canada and Panama—culminating in a victory over Rigoberto Alvarez that netted him the WBA Junior Middleweight Championship.

    Trout’s first big-time exposure came in a defense of that title against Cotto in December of 2012 at Madison Square Garden. He was treated as something of an afterthought—even as the defending champion—but he never complained. He just went out and won the fight.

    He got the same second-class treatment in a unification clash with Canelo Alvarez last year, and while the judges ruled against him in a fight that was much closer than the scorecards indicated, he never once complained and gave Canelo his due credit.

    You get the real sense, from talking to him and watching him perform in the ring, that Trout is one of those classy individuals who is just thankful for getting a chance to do this for a living.

Wladimir Klitschko

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    Wladimir Klitschko is the heavyweight champion of the world, has an outside shot of equalling or even exceeding Joe Louis’ record for heavyweight title defenses and is generally one of the classiest individuals in the sport of boxing.

    “Dr. Steelhammer,” whether you love or hate his style in the ring, comes off as polite, respectful and intelligent both inside and outside of boxing. He’s almost statesmanlike in his demeanor and seems completely unflappable

    Klitschko refused to be goaded in by the notoriously brash, and over the top, David Haye when the two met in a heavyweight unification clash in 2011.

    When Haye promised that the fight would be a “brutal execution,” per Kieran Mulvaney, the worst bit of smack talk that Klitschko was willing to respond with was a promise that he would make the Brit “learn some manners.”

    That’s about the worst you’re going to get from the affable unified heavyweight champion. He didn’t even respond, physically at least, when another British heavyweight provocateur, Dereck Chisora, spit water in his face during pre-fight instructions against his brother Vitali.

    No, it’s as though petty insults and trash talk are beneath him. And that’s a good thing. It helps make Klitschko, again, like him or not, one of boxing’s most valuable worldwide ambassadors.

Gennady Golovkin

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    Gennady Golovkin has taken the middleweight division, and really the United States boxing scene, by storm since his HBO debut in 2012 against Grzegorz Proksa. The Kazakh bomber has held the WBA Middleweight Championship since 2010, and his big punching ways have forced him to scour all corners of the globe for quality fighters willing to get in with him.

    For a guy with his reputation, as a vicious, near-lethal power puncher, Golovkin remains one of the nicest guys you’ll find in the sport. He doesn’t talk a whole lot—his English has greatly improved but he still struggles at times—and when he does it’s always positive.

    Golovkin refused to be pulled into a war of words with Curtis Stevens before his last fight in the United States at Madison Square Garden—Stevens is a big-time talker with a punch of his own—and listening to his words, you’d never know he’s one of the fastest rising stars in the sport.

    You get the sense that Golovkin, whatever he ultimately achieves in the sport, won’t change. He might become pound-for-pound king or he might continue to struggle to find meaningful fights against good fighters.

    Either way, he’s not going to change. It’s just not in him.

Timothy Bradley

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    Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley has faced more criticism than any elite fighter in the sport of boxing today. Fans and media are reluctant to give him the respect deserved by a fighter who until recently was undefeated—the only loss coming to a future Hall of Famer in Manny Pacquiao—and captured world titles in two weight divisions.

    And the issue all stems from something which Bradley had no control over. Did he get a decision win over Pacquiao that he didn’t earn in the ring? The overwhelming consensus of fans and media sure seem to think so.

    But the people who called on Bradley to give up the belt and declare himself the loser were out of their minds. That would never happen and nobody would ever actually go through with it. It’s a completely unfair standard.

    Through it all, Bradley remained a class act, both in and out of the ring, a dedicated family man and one of the most professional and stand up guys in the game.

    After dropping a decision to Pacquiao in their rematch—and the judges got it right this time—Bradley refused to make excuses, giving full credit to a man who he spent the preceding three months saying no longer had the fire.

Andre Ward

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    Andre Ward unified the super middleweight division, and while he spends more of his time in court these days than in the ring, he remains one of the classiest individuals in boxing.

    Ward never finds his way into any sort of controversy, keeps it respectful at all times and doesn’t try to devolve his promotions into a sideshow in order to sell fights. In fact, given his talent but lack of corresponding drawing power, he might be better served by becoming a little less bland.

    That said, Ward behaves like a champion should. He lets his talent do the talking for him inside the ring rather than using his mouth outside of it.

    Now, if we could only get him out of court and back into the ring. There are just too many good fights all around him to see him in a suit with lawyers rather than in trunks surrounded by a screaming crowd.

Floyd Mayweather

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    Floyd Mayweather flaunts his wealth, has been jailed for domestic violence and has made a career out of being boxing’s No. 1 trash talker and villain.

    So what the heck is he doing on a list of classy fighters?

    Excellent question.

    So much of Mayweather’s public persona is tied up in his marketability. He’s carefully crafted an image of a fighter who’s very content being the villain—it sells—and his polarizing nature has put hundreds of millions of dollars in his bank account.

    But, and you may not know this about him, Mayweather isn’t just the best fighter in the ring, he’s one of its biggest givers outside of it.

    Mayweather recently donated $15,000 to the Susan G. Komen Foundation to support breast cancer research, and that came on the heels of an even larger $100,000 donation in 2012.

    In 2011 he paid for the funeral of former world champion Genaro Hernandez when he passed away after a three-year battle with cancer. And in 2012 he paid nearly $50,000 in medical bills for a 10-month-old in Nevada who was born with a rare and life threatening heart defect.

    He also frequently gathers his team and volunteers at Las Vegas homeless shelters.

    Almost all of these activities are purposely done away from the spotlight.

    And if more people knew about them, less people would be surprised at his inclusion on this list.

Bernard Hopkins

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    It wasn’t always this way for Bernard Hopkins.

    The hardscrabble legend from the streets of Philadelphia has been one of the top fighters in boxing for as long as many of us can remember—he won his first world title 20 years ago in 1994—and for a good portion of his reign, many considered him unapproachable.

    And now, even at 49 years of age, Hopkins remains an opinionated elder statesman of the sport. He’s candid, occasionally rubbing people the wrong way with his sometimes provocative opinions on the sport and world at large, and he always calls it how he sees it.

    As he’s aged, Hopkins has become infinitely more approachable. He attributes that to his growth process as a person and his ability to remain disciplined in all aspects of his life.

    He trash talks with the best of them—it’s business after all—but he’s always respectful after the fight and understands his position in the boxing world. There are few boxing related questions that Hopkins isn’t willing to talk your ear off about, and unlike many people involved in the sport, he has no filter.

    Why does that make him classy? He’s not and never will be a phony.

    Hopkins is true to himself. He’s an asset to the sport, and yes, we’ll miss him when he’s gone.

Luis Collazo

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    Luis Collazo is a former welterweight world champion who was recently knocked down and outpointed by Amir Khan on the undercard of “The Moment” in Las Vegas. But that doesn’t diminish who he is as a fighter or as a person.

    Collazo has achieved a great deal in the sport for someone that has been so often dismissed and cast on the scrapheap of the professional ranks. He remains humble, maintaining an everyman type of mentality in his approach to fighting and life.

    He’s come up on the short end of the stick in most of the biggest fights of his career, but you could easily argue that he deserved better in many of them.

    Shane Mosley legitimately beat him. Khan legitimately beat him.

    But his fights with Andre Berto and Ricky Hatton were pick ‘em affairs that easily could have—and some believe should have—gone his way. Through it all, he never complains and credits the adversity with making him a stronger person.

    Collazo has recently become involved in a more serious fight outside of the ring. He’s become a high-profile advocate for the NephCure Foundation, an organization devoted to combating Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, a disease that attacks the kidneys and often requires transplant, after meeting a 15-year-old Long Island girl suffering from the disease.

    The meeting inspired him, and he’s spent his last few fights trying to build awareness for the organization and about the disease, adorning his robe and trunks with their logo, and using his platform to help others.

    That’s the very definition of a class act.

Manny Pacquiao

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    Pacquiao is a rarity in today’s boxing world.

    Here’s a guy who never talks trash, never has a negative thing to say about an opponent and has developed a reputation for kindness bordering on the unhealthy. Or, at least, some people believe it could be unhealthy when he brings it into the ring.

    Before his last fight, a rematch with Bradley of their highly controversial first affair, “Desert Storm” spent the better part of three months telling everyone who would listen that the “Pac Man” just no longer had it.

    And by it he meant the killer instinct needed to compete.

    He was wrong. Sure, he’s not the Pacquiao we saw buzzing through the ranks in an unprecedented run through weight classes in the mid-2000’s. But he’s still one hell of a fighter, and he’s a class act, both in the ring and out of it.

    Coming from one of the poorest provinces of the Philippines, Pacquiao is known for his massive charitable work and contributions. He’s been known to help sparring partners buy homes, fund hospitals in poor areas of his country, and as recently as 2013, his promoter Bob Arum estimated that he gives between $5-10 million a year to charity.

    Arum went so far as to comment that Pacquiao doesn’t live the life he could, befitting his wealth and notoriety, because he’s committed to helping people out. In the wake of the devastating Typhoon Haiyan that caused thousands of deaths and untold financial damages to his home nation, Pacquiao cobbled together his own aid caravan and handed out food, Bibles and cash to victims.

    Whatever you think of him as a fighter, there’s no denying that at heart, he’s the classiest man involved in the sport today.