Sunday, January 5, 2014

Grading the Top Fighters of 2013

How did the best fighters do last year? Using the updated Saturday Night Boxing Top-20 Fighters list, I graded the 2013 performances of each of the pound-for-pound boxers in my Rankings. I have assigned a letter grade to each fighter, and while these grades may not be sacrosanct and are certainly debatable, they function as a useful tool to evaluate the year that was for the best in the business.

1. Floyd Mayweather (A+) Fighting twice in a year for the first time since 2007, Mayweather scored dominant decision victories over Robert Guerrero and Saul "Canelo" Alvarez (ignore the abhorrent draw scorecard turned in by the now-banished judge, C.J. Ross). Returning to his father as lead trainer, Mayweather showed a renewed focus on defense and movement. Guerrero was ineffective after the third round and Alvarez, who was considered by many to be Floyd's toughest opponent in years, could barely pull the trigger. Mayweather confirmed his standing as the sport's best with his wildly successful 2013 campaign.

2. Andre Ward (A) Sitting out most of the year because of shoulder surgery, Ward entered the ring only once in 2013 to face super middleweight contender Edwin Rodriguez. Rodriguez wasn't expected to win the fight, but he couldn't even make the 168-pound limit. It was a rough match, with both fighters docked two points for an array of fouls. Nevertheless, Ward dominated from start to finish and his left hook remains one of the most accurate and potent weapons in the sport.

3 Sergio Martinez (C+) Martinez fought only once in 2013 as well, hosting middleweight contender Marty Murray in Argentina. Going into the fight, rumors abounded that Martinez had still not fully recovered from his 2012 match with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (after which he had hand problems and required knee surgery). As for the fight itself, Murray repeatedly caught Martinez with straight right hands and even dropped him in the eighth. Martinez lacked his usual elusiveness and his punching power didn't seem to have any effect on Murray. Still, Martinez was the busier fighter and he cemented his victory with a strong final two rounds. More than a few boxing observers had Murray pulling out the victory, but however one scored the fight, it was clear that Martinez was far from his best. Martinez needed additional hand and knee surgery after the fight.  

4. Wladimir Klitschko (A-) On one hand, Klitschko had one of his most dominant years as a professional, badgering fellow Olympic gold medalist Alexander Povetkin for 12 rounds and stopping overmatched Francesco Pianeta. However, Klitschko's fight with Povetkin was marred by holding and myriad fouls. Klitschko was in fact deducted a point for throwing Povetkin to the canvas and perhaps two of his four knockdowns of Povetkin could be attributed to pushing instead of clear, landed blows. It's true that Klitschko asserted his physical dominance over Povetkin, but it still would have been a better performance had had not been as safety-oriented.

5. Tim Bradley (A-) Winning two of the higher-profile fights of the year, Bradley eked out a close, unanimous decision over Ruslan Provodnikov in an absolute war and prevailed over Juan Manuel Marquez via a split decision. Bradley-Provodnikov was the Saturday Night Boxing Fight of the Year with Bradley edging Provodnikov despite narrowly escaping a knockout loss in three or four separate occasions; he did take a knee in the 12th round to avoid receiving more punishment. Bradley certainly displayed the heart and courage of an elite fighter during that battle but from my perspective, it's not clear that he actually won the fight (I have gone back and forth with my scoring for the match). His victory over Marquez was far more certain in my opinion. Using his boxing skills, movement and wide arsenal, he outworked Marquez throughout the fight. It was his best victory as a professional.

6. Juan Manuel Marquez (C) Marquez complained about being robbed after losing a split decision to Bradley. However, he was outthrown, outlanded and outworked. In addition, the supposed power advantage for Marquez never materialized as he was the fighter who was hurt at a couple of points during the fight. So, if you're getting outworked and your punches aren't haven't more of an impact, what is your case for winning? Yeah, I don't see it either.

7. Manny Pacquiao (B+) Returning to the ring 11 months after his knockout loss to Marquez, Pacquiao dominated Brandon Rios to win an easy decision victory. Pacquiao still had his speed and power shots, but it's not clear if he has the same killer instinct that he featured earlier in his career. In addition, he let Rios tee off on him in clinches, not a good sign as he hopes to face better fighters in 2014.

8. Guillermo Rigondeaux (A+) Scoring perhaps the best single victory of 2013, Rigondeaux flummoxed and outwitted Nonito Donaire over 12 rounds to become the number-one guy at junior featherweight. Even though he did get knocked down, Rigondeaux displayed his world-class counterpunching, intelligence and footwork against Donaire. In December, Rigondeaux scored a shutout victory over Joseph Agbeko. When an action fighter such as Agbeko refuses to let his hands go, that further speaks to the skills and intimidation that Rigondeaux possesses in the ring.

9. Carl Froch (B) Earning one of the best victories of his career, Froch bested Mikkel Kessler in a rematch of their close fight won by Kessler during the Super Six super middleweight tournament. (Each winner prospered on home soil.) The rematch was terrific; the ultimate difference was Froch's activity level. Later in the year, Froch struggled mightily against untested British boxer George Groves, getting dropped in the opening round and beaten to the punch throughout the first half of the fight. Froch eventually found his way into the match and had Groves in real trouble in the ninth round when Referee Howard Foster decided to end it, giving Froch a TKO victory. However, it was an atrocious call by Foster, entirely too hasty. Froch was down on the cards at the time of the stoppage and it's anyone's guess as to how the final three rounds would have played out with a more competent referee.

10. Danny Garcia (A) Garcia had a huge first nine rounds against Zab Judah, dropping him in the eighth and clearly establishing his dominance in the fight. However, Judah stormed back in the championship rounds and hurt Garcia with a number of hard left hands. But it was too little too late for Judah. For his next fight, Garcia took on the number-one threat in his division, Lucas Matthysse. With the first half of the match fought on even terms, Garcia was able to close Matthysse's right eye in the 7th and he knocked him down in the 11th. Garcia had done just enough to win a tight decision. Garcia continues to impress. His poise, grace under fire, ability to make adjustments and countering ability are amongst the best in the sport. 

11. Roman Gonzalez (B+) Last year was rather ho-hum for Gonzalez. Moving up to flyweight to test the waters, he scored three stoppages against Ronald Barrera, Francisco Rodriguez Jr. and Oscar Blanquet -- all B and C-level talents. Big fights were certainly available for Gonzalez in 2013, especially a rematch against Juan Estrada, but he was content to get his work in against lesser boxers. The flyweight division is loaded and hopefully Gonzalez opts for more meaningful fights in 2014.

12. Bernard Hopkins (A) Turning back the clock once again in 2013, the ageless Hopkins claimed a light heavyweight world title for the second time by outhustling Tavoris Cloud. Like old times, Hopkins forced another champion to refuse to let his hands go. Later in the year, Hopkins, in a spirited offensive performance, bested mandatory challenger Karo Murat to win a wide decision. Perhaps the strangest part of 2013 for Hopkins was seeing both crowds give him a standing ovation, not a familiar occurrence throughout his career.

13. Adonis Stevenson (A+) The 2013 Saturday Night Boxing Fighter of the Year, Stevenson scored four impressive victories. He avenged his only loss as a professional by stopping Darnell Boone. He then moved up to light heavyweight to knock out lineal light heavyweight king Chad Dawson. He flashed his boxing skills and wide offensive arsenal to force Tavoris Cloud's corner to stop the match after the seventh. To cap the year, Stevenson landed pulverizing left hands in the sixth round to end his bout against mandatory contender Tony Bellew. Stevenson's power is one the best in the sport and his underrated athleticism and boxing skills make him a tough matchup for anyone at 175.

14. Nonito Donaire (C-) Donaire was thoroughly outboxed by Guillermo Rigondeaux in his first fight of 2013. He seemed disinclined to let his hands go and his inability to make adjustments was startling for such an accomplished fighter. Even after scoring a knockdown, Donaire seemed incapable of pressing the action. After a long break, Donaire returned to the ring in November to face Vic Darchinyan, a former knockout victim from 2007. But he struggled in the rematch and only a ninth round knockout saved him from perhaps his second loss of the year. Donaire has talked about a loss of passion for boxing and his performances from this year would certainly support this belief.

15. Anselmo Moreno (B) Fighting only once in 2013, Moreno defended his bantamweight title against unheralded William Urina. Moreno cruised to an easy victory with Urina winning a couple of rounds at best. The main threat to Moreno at bantamweight is fellow titlist Shinsuke Yamanaka. It would be wonderful if a unification match happens in 2014, but with the politics of boxing being what it is, I wouldn't count on it.

16. Juan Estrada (A+) Moving up to flyweight in 2013, Estrada put together a great performance in dethroning flyweight king Brian Viloria, winning a split decision (in truth, he took eight or nine rounds). Later in the year, Estrada beat back a spirited early challenge from Milan Melindo to earn a wide decision victory. Estrada has quickly become one of the most versatile talents in boxing. Featuring a huge offensive arsenal, tremendous conditioning and an ability to make great adjustments, Estrada has the tools to ascend to the top echelon of professional fighters. The one blemish on his record is his competitive loss to Roman Gonzalez. I hope that the rematch happens in 2014, which would be a fight-of-the-year caliber matchup.

17. Takashi Uchiyama (B-) Uchiyama fought twice in 2013. He earned a stoppage against Jaider Parra and was winning fairly widely against Daiki Kaneko early in their fight. However, Kaneko's raw punching power caught up to Uchiyama in the 10th round and the champion was dropped. Uchiyama was able to survive the championship rounds but he had some very rough moments; ultimately, he won a wide decision. Although, Uchiyama has some of the best punching power in the sport, his own punch resistance is a concern. He has been dropped twice since the start of 2011.

18. Gennady Golovkin (A+) Golovkin established himself as one of the top attraction of the sport in 2013. He notched four stoppages victories, beating Gabriel Rosado, Nobuhiro Ishida, Matthew Macklin and Curtis Stevens. Golovkin is the rare hybrid who is both a pressure fighter and a power puncher. He has multiple knockout weapons, loves to go to the body and has a great chin. To this point, most of the big names at middleweight have avoided him. However, as Golovkin's stature in the sport rises – and big American TV continues to back him – I’m sure that there will be a number of brave souls who will step up to fight him (and earn a very healthy paycheck).

19. Mikey Garcia (A) Garcia won two titles in 2013. He dropped belt holder Orlando Salido four times early in their fight. However, Salido started to come on later in the bout before an accidental head butt ended things in the eighth, giving Garcia a wide decision on the cards. Garcia failed to make weight for his first title defense, but he had enough left in the tank to destroy the ghost of Juan Manuel Lopez in four rounds. In his final performance of the year, Garcia defeated Roman Martinez, scoring a knockout in the eighth round from a beautiful left hook to the body. However, Garcia did get dropped early in the bout; I'm still waiting for him to put together a dominant 12-round performance against a top fighter.

20. Shinsuke Yamanaka (A) Bantamweight titlist Yamanaka made three more defenses in 2013. He scored a 12th-round knockout in an excellent fight against Malcolm Tunacao, destroyed overmatched Jose Nieves in one round and stopped defensive-minded Alberto Guevara in nine. Yamanaka's left hand is one of the true elite weapons in the sport. But he has more than just his left; he also possesses considerable boxing skills and a high ring IQ. Hopefully, we get to see him against Anselmo Moreno for all the marbles at bantamweight.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Contact Adam at
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