Ranking the Most Talented Boxers Without a Title Right Now
In boxing, titles have become relatively cheap in the past few decades. Where once there was a single champion in a division, today there are as many as four.
Still, there are plenty of good boxers without world titles, especially in the talent-laden divisions between light welterweight and junior middleweight. In fact, this entire list is comprised of fighters who campaign between 140 and 154 pounds.
Also note that some of these fighters might hold various interim, silver or "regular" world belts. Those are trinkets I barely even keep track of. Just remembering all the legit world titleholders in each division is work enough as it is.
10. Amir Khan
Some might rank Amir Khan higher on a list like this, particularly those who are interested in seeing him put forth as a credible opponent for Floyd Mayweather. And I definitely agree that Khan has some outstanding qualities as a boxer.
He is arguably the fastest fighter in the welterweight division, and his technical skills are first-rate. He moves well and hits with power.
Still, he has shown vulnerability that others on this list simply have not. I would not go so far as to say that he has a glass jaw, but he clearly makes bad decisions when he gets rocked by a big punch, and that has led to disaster for him at times.
I am not interested in seeing Khan fight Mayweather at this point, but I'd love to see him against fellow Brit and IBF 147-pound champion Kell Brook. The winner of that bout would emerge as an obvious top candidate for the Mayweather sweepstakes.
9. Shawn Porter
Like a lot of boxing writers, I picked Shawn Porter to beat Kell Brook last summer when he defended his IBF welterweight title against the Brit. While I was wrong, I am inclined to think I underestimated Brook and failed to take into account the improved stamina he had shown in recent fights.
I wasn't overselling Porter, though. The now once-beaten, former champion remains a very tough matchup for most of the welterweight division. Porter is a technically solid fighter with a compact and powerful frame.
He's also just 26 and now well-seasoned at the world-class level. I expect him to be a participant in major fights in the 147-pound division in the next few years.
8. Lucas Matthysse
While Lucas Matthysse holds no world titles, he did win by brutal Round 3 TKO over IBF junior welterweight champion Lamont Peterson in May 2013 in a non-title fight. However, Matthysse came up short against Danny Garcia when he faced the WBC and WBA champ.
Still, Matthysse remains one of the top fighters in the always competitive division.
As he proved against John Molina earlier this year, his offensive-first approach can make him vulnerable at times. But he also demonstrated that his resilience and punching power can make up for weaknesses that might prove disastrous for other fighters.
While Matthysse lost cleanly to Garcia in September 2013, it was a competitive enough fight to warrant a rematch down the road, especially if Garcia is going to stay at 140 pounds.
7. Robert Guerrero
Since losing by near-shutout to Floyd Mayweather in May 2013, Robert Guerrero has slipped to near the back of the line for major fights. Still, the multi-division world champion remains one of the most versatile and talented fighters in the sport.
A former featherweight, Guerrero has carried enough power with him up to welterweight to impose a rugged style on opponents. The well-rounded Ghost can fight well from the outside, but he thrives at mugging his man in the phone booth.
I am not sure if another title is ultimately in Guerrero's future. But he should remain a formidable gatekeeper. I'd love to see him matched with 140-pound champ Danny Garcia when Garcia moves up.
6. Erislandy Lara
I had Erislandy Lara winning a narrow decision over Saul Alvarez in their fight last July. But it was far too close to call a robbery, and Lara gave away entire rounds with his lack of activity.
To reach his full potential as a professional, Lara is going to need to become more consistent with his offensive output. He simply won't get the fights he needs to build a legacy if he doesn't adopt a more action-oriented style.
However, Lara's talent is undeniable. His defensive movement and control of range are among the best in the sport. He has legitimate punching power when he lets his hands go.
Lara might have trouble getting another showcase fight after the letdown surrounding his fight with Alvarez. Still, he remains one of the most talented fighters in the sport, and at some point a world title should come.
5. Keith Thurman
I'd be inclined to pick Keith Thurman to beat most, if not all, of the fighters I am ranking above him on this list. But that would be me playing my hunch. Based on what he has clearly proved in the ring with his resume, Thurman can rank no higher than five on this current list.
Consider him five with a bullet. The hard-punching One Time has boxing fans excited for good reason. He's a dangerous puncher with a shrewd, measured approach. He's already shown the ability to make smart, tactical adjustments in the middle of a fight.
That combination of explosive athletic ability and analytical intelligence is what great fighters are made of. Expect big things out of Thurman in the coming years.
4. Marcos Maidana
Marcos Maidana has always been a rugged and relentless brawler. But in the past couple of years, since joining forces with elite trainer Robert Garcia, the tough Argentine welterweight has added a much busier jab and a more tactical use of angles.
The result has made a tough fighter into a dangerous one. Maidana's skillful use of brawling made his first fight with pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather surprisingly close. Most notable to me was the way Maidana's erratic movement almost completely negated Mayweather's lead right, which is usually a dependable scoring weapon.
Mayweather made adjustments, and the rematch was far less competitive as a result. But even that fight might have been much different if referee Kenny Bayless had given Maidana more opportunity to fight out of clinches.
3. Saul Alvarez
It's still fair to say that Saul Alvarez's popularity outstrips his resume. But it's also time to start giving Canelo his due. The red-headed Mexican star is a talented young fighter who works extremely hard and seems to get better in each fight.
I had Erislandy Lara winning their fight last July, but I can live with the split decision in Alvarez's favor, as there is no question he pushed the action every round. And while he had some trouble with Lara's movement, he also managed to connect with his body attack to a far greater degree than he had against previous opponents who used movement well.
At 24 years old, Alvarez is still very young but already extremely experienced. If he keeps improving in each fight, his ceiling will be high. Now that he has signed a contract with HBO, it should set up potential superfights with Miguel Cotto and Gennady Golovkin.
Those will be highly anticipated pay-per-view events.
2. Timothy Bradley
Timothy Bradley looked surprisingly flat against Manny Pacquiao when they fought last April. I think Desert Storm made a tactical mistake in pushing too hard for the big punch early, which ultimately caused his usually impeccable conditioning to fail him against Pacman's relentless speed.
Coming off a loss or not, Bradley remains one of the most talented fighters in the world without a title. He is an outstanding defensive fighter with an awkward and physical style that few welterweights on the planet can withstand.
The one weakness in Bradley's game is below-average power for a world-class prizefighter. If Bradley had a fight-changing punch in his arsenal, he would be a potential pound-for-pound king.
1. Juan Manuel Marquez
He might be 41 now, but Juan Manuel Marquez has so far shown little sign of slowing down. Against the tough Mike Alvarado last May, Marquez was the same aggressive and dangerous counterpuncher that he's always been.
He forced a bruising pace and won by clear margins on all the cards. When Alvarado did manage to answer Marquez's Round 8 knockdown by dropping Marquez in Round 9, Marquez showed the same quick recovery powers that have made him a legend over the years.
Although Marquez lost to Timothy Bradley by split decision, I've ranked him above Bradley here. As a head-to-head matchup, Bradley had the advantages in size and strength. But Marquez is ultimately the more well-rounded fighter.
The only thing still motivating Marquez at this point is the chance to make history as Mexico's first five-division champion. His best chance to capture a belt there would probably be against Manny Pacquiao, provided Pacman can get by Chris Algieri this November.
It would be a fifth meeting between the two. But considering the classics these two all-time greats have turned in together, I'd be more than happy to watch one more time.