Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Saturday Night Boxing Top-20

Change is inevitable.  When I started Saturday Night Boxing, I wrote a brief mission statement that would define the blog, web site, facebook page, etc., "The big fights, the best fighters and the colorful characters in the world of boxing."  My emphasis was clear; Saturday Night Boxing was a place to discuss the most prominent figures in the sport.   

Along the way, I added some additional bells and whistles.  I set up a rankings system to highlight not just the elite fighters, but also great boxers on their way up and young guns who were starting to make their mark in the sport.  These were all well-intentioned concepts but, in my eyes, my various rankings lists over time became muddled and/or vague. In addition, several top fighters who were beneath my elite fighters list didn't place on any of my rankings lists; there was a disconnect.  

As a way to bring further clarity to my rankings process, I decided to start from scratch.  Clearly, by spending more time talking about say, Scott Quigg, instead of Miguel Cotto, I wasn't doing justice to the mission statement of Saturday Night Boxing; I was ignoring too many top fighters from a rankings perspectives. 

So for now, let me reintroduce the SNB Rankings with a more familiar bent. I'll begin with my top-20 pound-for-pound list.  As with all lists, these are subject to personal whims and misplaced faith.  However, let me state my criteria.  

The most important factor in determining positioning in the rankings is what a fighter has accomplished in the ring.  This is less subjective than other variables but still not black-and-white. How much credit should Yuriorkis Gamboa get for beating Orlando Salido? How good is Salido, really?  It's a quality win, certainly, but to what extent? I, like all of you, will have to provide my best guesstimates here.  

The second factor for me is domination.  It's one thing to squeak by with a disputed victory.  It's another thing to knock out an opponent or win every round.  That's the chief argument for why I believe that Floyd Mayweather deserves the top spot.  He's never in close fights.  Facing solid guys, he rarely loses more than a round or two legitimately.  Similarly, the Klitschkos rank high on my list because they don't give up rounds.  Yes, their quality of competition has been weak, but their mastery of those whom they do face is undeniable.  

A third factor is how good the fighter is right now.  Perhaps the most glaring omission on my list is Bernard Hopkins.  He is just one fight away from being the top light heavyweight in the world.  But I saw his last bout against Chad Dawson, where he wouldn't throw punches and barely engaged. To me, his age, unwillingness to let his hands go and lack of punching power lead me to believe that he is on the decline (this is not necessarily an assessment that smacks of genius).  

I don't believe that Bernard Hopkins is a top fighter anymore, which transitions nicely to my fourth factor: activity. Floyd Mayweather may only enter the ring once a year, but when he does, he still dominates good fighters with relative ease.  That example is pretty clear. But what about less active fighters like Chris John or Toshiaki Nishioka, who have some big wins, but don't fight often?  When they do get in the ring, it often isn't against top opposition.  I think that these boxers do deserve some demerits, for how can you be a top fighter if you don't actually, you know, fight.  

In a nutshell, the four criteria are quality wins, domination factor, current ability level and activity. I'd like to make one additional point at this time.   Moving further away from the top of the rankings, the individual placement of the fighters becomes far more subjective.  For instance, I could passionately argue why I believe that Andre Ward should be ranked higher than Sergio Martinez should be, but I'm less certain when it comes to the relative merits of Brian Viloria versus Marco Huck.  They are in the same range in my eyes. If you wanted to make a case for or against either fighter, I certainly could be convinced.  

Finally, this is just one man's opinion.  That's an obvious statement but it's worth being made.  Rankings are fun.  It's enjoyable to debate, protest and listen to other arguments.  I'm hoping for some interesting feedback from you on these Rankings moving forward.  I have made my case for what I believe, but it's not definitive.  Perspectives change over time.  It's all a part of the process. 

In the weeks and months ahead, I hope to add some additional rankings lists to highlight other aspects within boxing.  But for now, let's start at the beginning and talk about who the best fighters are in the sport.  Without further ado:

1. Floyd Mayweather  He doesn't fight often but when he does, he sails along with easy victories.  His last five opponents have been Miguel Cotto, Victor Ortiz, Shane Mosley, Juan Manuel Marquez and Ricky Hatton.  All are good fighters at a minimum; some are much better than that.  I have Mayweather losing only three rounds total in those five fights. 

2. Manny Pacquiao  His spot is precarious here in that Andre Ward is knocking on the door.  Pacquiao should have lost his fight with Juan Manuel Marquez last year and uncharacteristically took his foot off the gas against Tim Bradley in his last fight.  He still should have won that decision with relative ease, but he is no longer the human wrecking ball that he was from 2009-2010.

3. Andre Ward  Andre Ward dominates top fighters.  Just in the last three years, he has defeated Mikkel Kessler, Carl Froch and Chad Dawson.  I had him losing only five rounds in those fights.  He doesn't have an obvious top opponent for his next fight but depending on Pacquiao's performance later in the year, he may still move up in the Rankings. 

4. Nonito Donaire  It's become clear to me that Donaire's accomplishments are not as highly appreciated by many boxing observers as they are by me. Nevertheless, his career-defining wins over Vic Darchinyan and Fernando Montiel were devastating stoppages and he has beaten a half-dozen solid, B+ fighters when he wasn't in against "name" opposition. His next fight against Toshiaki Nishioka could further cement his top status in the sport.    

5. Sergio Martinez  Up until recently, I had Martinez ranked third; but upon further consideration, his fights are closer than they should be.  In fact, in his last seven fights, only his bouts against Serhiy Dzinziruk and the rematch against Paul Williams were blowouts.  Admittedly, he's faced good opposition, but no one is claiming that Darren Barker, Matthew Macklin and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. are elite guys, so why is he losing rounds, getting knocked down and almost getting stopped?

6. Juan Manuel Marquez  Yes, if things broke his way, he might be ranked higher.  Forget these silly rankings; his life would be far different if he had won his three fights against Pacquiao.  He has a firm case to make in the third fight, but the first two were 50-50 affairs.  I don't rank Marquez as high on my Rankings as others might because he went life-and-death with Juan Diaz and he couldn't win one round against Mayweather.  Sure, there was a weight difference with Floyd, but there was also a big disparity in skill level.  

7. Wladimir Klitschko  It's hard to ascend more in the Rankings when facing a collection of stiffs and nobodies.  He does deserve credit for his wipeout win over David Haye but lately, that's all there's been.  He beats the guys put in front of him and doesn't fight down to the level of his competition. Those are good points in his favor but still, his opponents have been awful; that can't be sugar-coated. 

8. Vitali Klitschko  His long, mid-career retirement probably keeps him further down the list than he could have been but he still has put together dominant performances against flavors-of-the-month like Chris Arreola and Tomasz Adamek.  He may only be with us for another fight or two as he contemplates retirement. 

9. Tim Bradley  Legitimately winning four rounds against Manny Pacquiao is no small accomplishment. Bradley put forth a game effort in that fight. Of course, he didn't deserve the decision but he still acquitted himself well. In addition, Bradley won three versions of the junior welterweight title and his wins over Devon Alexander and Junior Witter were particularly impressive. 

10. Anselmo Moreno  Moreno, perhaps the best pure defensive boxer in the sport, has a chance to ascend the Rankings even higher in November when he faces Abner Mares.  Moreno put on a clinic last year in his dominant win over Vic Darchinyan and he has won a number of seemingly close decisions on foreign soil that were actually much wider victories than the score totals would indicate, e.g. wins against Mahyar Monshipour and Volodymyr Sydorenko.   

11. Roman Gonzalez  Gonzalez is in my estimation the best current fighter under 118 pounds.  The undefeated (32-0, 27 KOs) knockout artist from Nicaragua has not always faced top competition, but he's stopped seven of his last eight opponents and he continues to get better. Unfortunately, junior flyweight is not terribly strong right now, but if he keeps winning in spectacular fashion, he will climb the Rankings. 

12. Carl Froch  Froch has faced the best at super middleweight.  Yes, he lost to Andre Ward decisively and dropped a razor-thin decision to Mikkel Kessler. But his victories have been substantial, including knockout wins over Lucian Bute and Jermain Taylor and impressive defeats of Arthur Abraham, Jean Pascal and Glen Johnson.  

13. Miguel Cotto  There's no denying Cotto's past accomplishments and his impressive career resume. However, in my eyes, Cotto has not beaten a very good fighter since 2009, and that was a disputed decision over Josh Clottey.  Cotto's next fight against Austin Trout in December will tell us if he really has been rejuvenated under his new trainer, Pedro Diaz, or whether his recent run has been more the product of favorable matchmaking.  I had him winning only two rounds earlier this year against Mayweather. 

14. Yuriorkis Gamboa  Gamboa may be a great fighter but he has yet to have a signature win.  Sitting on the sidelines throughout 2012 hasn't provided any further clarification about his true talent level. He's had some nice wins at featherweight (Daniel Ponce de Leon, Jorge Solis and Orlando Salido) but people more often talk about the fights that didn't happen (Juan Manuel Lopez, Brandon Rios) than the victories he's actually had. 

15. Chris John  In reevaluating my Rankings, Chris John suffered the most. Although undefeated at 47-0-2, John now only fights twice a year, and often against C-level fighters.  He's a skilled technician but if he's unwilling to face the best at featherweight, he shouldn't continue to be rewarded for his solid victories of many years ago.  Many still claim that his 2006 win over Juan Manuel Marquez was unjust.  His 2009 draw against Rocky Juarez, where he was a clear winner, does not even things out in the minds of many of his detractors.  

16. Brian Viloria  After a career of ups and downs, Viloria has really found himself at flyweight, with decisive victories over Giovani Segura and Omar Nino, who was an old nemesis of his.  Viloria has another opportunity to move up in the Rankings when he faces Hernan Marquez, one of the top fighters in the division, in November.  This may be a case of a fighter finding his optimal weight. 

17. Marco Huck  It's quite possible that the third best heavyweight in the world is hiding out at cruiserweight.  Huck has had an interesting year.  He lost a tight, and many would claim unjust, verdict against heavyweight titleholder Alexander Povetkin earlier in the year (I had it a draw) and only earned a draw against tough cruiserweight Ola Afolabi.  Huck, the longtime cruiserweight titlist, has become one of the sport's best action fighters but it's disappointing that he caved to the wishes of his promoters to stay at cruiserweight.  I think he would cause a lot of damage against the big boys – non-Klitschko division.  

18. Abner Mares  Mares' run in the last few years has been impressive. He's defeated Vic Darchinyan and Joseph Agbeko and drew with Yonnhy Perez.  He's certainly challenged himself against tough fighters. However, Mares is not dominating these opponents, but barely squeaking by.  He'll have a chance to move up if he defeats Moreno in November. 

19. Chad Dawson  Through one lens, Dawson has lost to Andre Ward and Jean Pascal in his last five fights.  Still, the current light heavyweight top dog has a number of impressive victories, including those against Hopkins, Adamek, Johnson and Antonio Tarver.  A rematch against Pascal makes a lot of sense for his next move. 

20. Daniel Geale  Beating two German champions in their backyards should mean a lot, and it does.  Geale, a clever boxer from Australia, won tight decisions over Felix Sturm and Sebastian Sylvester, but they were well deserved.  Although he doesn't wow with power shots or flash, he's a very intelligent boxer and has excellent technique.  In the solid middleweight division, if he keeps winning, he'll have a number of opportunities to ascend the pound-for-pound list. 

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1 comment:

  1. Great stuff! Very appropriate of you to outline your criteria as you did. It's definitely something every boxing writer should include/state at some point to provide a paradigm to their audience.