Juan Manuel Marquez is the clear No. 1 Mexican fighter in the world today, but how does the rest of the pound-for-pound top ten from Mexico stack up? Veterans and rising stars make for an interesting mix in one of the sport's richest fighting cultures.
Boxing is still a big time sport in Mexico, with the overall interest level in the sport dwarfing what we see in the United States. It can even be easily argued as the most important country for the sport of boxing today, with talent constantly coming out of the nation, with no end in sight.
Recently, we looked at the top 10 in the United Kingdom, and this evening, we'll discuss the current top ten in Mexico. There are a lot of fighters who deserve an honorable mention and could be here, so here's a list of at least some of them who didn't quite make my cut: Juan Carlos Salgado, Adrian Hernandez, Raul Garcia, Carlos Cuadras, Mario Rodriguez, Hugo Ruiz, and Rodrigo Guerrero.
10. Jhonny Gonzalez
Gonzalez, 31, has had a pretty fantastic career since turning pro in 1999, especially considering he started his career with two straight losses. But he's never quite hit that very top level of the sport, despite having more than enough talent to be in those ranks. His shoddy chin has let him down against Israel Vazquez, Gerry Penalosa, and Toshiaki Nishioka; those were chances for Gonzalez to make statements, and it just didn't happen. Still, he wins a hell of a lot more than he loses, with a career record of 52-8, he's got knockout power (45 KO wins), and when he's really on his game, he's a marvelous boxer. Gonzalez won't go down as one of the greats of his era, but he's won world titles at bantamweight and featherweight, and had some memorable nights. He'll look to rebound in 2013, coming off of a technical decision loss to Daniel Ponce De Leon in a disappointing fight.
9. Leo Santa Cruz
24-year-old Santa Cruz is still on the rise following a breakout year in 2012 -- or at least that's the idea. The IBF bantamweight champ might be done at 118 pounds, as he looked a little sluggish in his December 15 win over Alberto Guevara, though that may have simply been because he'd fought nine physically demanding rounds against Victor Zaleta on November 10. On his better nights, he delivers crazy punch output numbers. Against Guevera, that output was merely pretty wild. Wins over Vusi Malinga and Eric Morel were dominant, and there's talk of a fight in the near future with 122-pound titleholder Abner Mares, which could be something worth skipping a party to stay in and see.
8. Tyson Marquez
Marquez, 24, lost his last fight to Brian Viloria, but Viloria is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport right now, and there's really no shame in losing to someone fighting that well, even by 10th round stoppage in what was a mostly one-sided affair. But there is some reason to believe that it's possible we've seen the best of Marquez (34-3, 25 KO), whose two wins over Luis Concepcion might not be topped over the rest of his career. Marquez is something of a basic fighter who doesn't seem to have any standout qualities when you watch him, but he's very tough, very willing to take risks, and comes to fight. He had a fantastic run that was ended by a guy who's on an even better roll at the moment.
7. Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr
Sanchez, 22, started his 2012 campaign with a mild upset win over Rodrigo Guerrero in a debatable fight, and then he just kept beating solid opponents. Landslide wins over Topo Rosas (UD-12) and Rodel Mayol (KO-9) made for a big year for Sanchez, who is now set to rematch Guerrero on January 26. If he wins convincingly, he's got a great argument for being considered the top fighter in the world at 115 pounds.
6. Miguel Vazquez
Miguel Vazquez isn't going to win many fans with his style, but he wins fights. Still just 26, the veteran has the IBF lightweight title, and outside of Adrien Broner and Ricky Burns, there doesn't look to be anyone in the division who would be a real favorite against him. That's good and bad; good for Vazquez, a technician who makes fights ugly when he has to, but also can really shine against limited foes. His dominant wins over Lenny Zappavigna, Ji-Hoon Kim, Ammeth Diaz, and most recently, Mercito Gesta have shown what he can do. But there will be nights like his HBO escape against Marvin Quintero, a fight where Vazquez was heavily criticized for his approach.
5. Daniel Ponce De Leon
There were big questions back in 2008 for Ponce De Leon, after he was knocked out in the first round by a rising Puerto Rican star named Juan Manuel Lopez, losing his 122-pound title. Since then, however, the 32-year-old Ponce De Leon has just kept plugging away, winning the WBC featherweight title in his last outing. It was the third act of a comeback year for Ponce De Leon, who lost in 2012 to both Adrien Broner (not convincingly) and Yuriorkis Gamboa (very convincingly). He'll face Jayson Velez on March 2 in his next bout.
4. Canelo Alvarez
It's perfectly understandable to question Alvarez's opposition to this point, but he's stormed through all of it, with a brief spot of trouble against Jose Cotto about the most success anyone has really had against the 22-year-old media phenom. Alvarez is a huge star already, but he didn't get there through a family connection, and he's got legit talent that matches up well with anyone at 154 pounds. 2012 wins over Shane Mosley and Josesito Lopez proved very little, but he performed in both of those fights like he was trying to make a statement, too. There's at least a little to be said for having the desire and not underwhelming when given obviously overmatched foes. The young fighter is hoping for 2013 to be the year where he faces a real top opponent, and he appears to have his heart set on an eventual fight with Floyd Mayweather, which could be a truly huge night if it all comes together the right way.
3. Orlando Salido
Another guy who started his career on the losing end back in 1996, 32-year-old Salido has scratched and clawed his way to the top of the featherweight division thanks to a pair of wins in Puerto Rico over Juan Manuel Lopez, and both were also excellent fights, which makes the wins even better. Salido (39-11-2, 27 KO) doesn't have the sort of record that makes people pay attention right off the bat, but he's an incredibly tough, smart, and resilient fighter, the sort of guy who can give anyone problems. Outclassed in speed and technical craft, he was even a bit of a pain for Yuriorkis Gamboa in 2010, hanging around and making the Cuban uncomfortable for portions of the fight. He's matched with Mikey Garcia on January 19 in a great fight on paper that will almost certainly deliver action, and will either solidify Salido as the best in the world at 126 pounds, or make way for a new star in Garcia.
2. Abner Mares
Mares, 27, became Golden Boy's first homegrown world champion when he beat Joseph Agbeko in August 2011, but that win was marred by horrible officiating and Mares doing everything he could to get away with everything that Russell Mora would allow. It's not the only time Mares' dirty tactics have left a bad taste in the mouths of boxing fans -- his most recent victory over Anselmo Moreno was the same. Two things are very clear about Abner Mares: He can really fight, and he's one of the nastiest, meanest fighters in the sport. If you give Mares an inch, he'll take a mile as long as referees let it slide, and so far, he's been lucky in that regard. He also provides exciting fights and doesn't shy away from tough tests, keeping one of the hardest schedules in all of boxing since he jumped up in competition against Yonnhy Perez in 2010.
1. Juan Manuel Marquez
After years of sitting in the shadows of Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez has now surpassed them both for greatness, and I don't mean that to be a knock on either of those great fighters, both of them modern legends in their own right. Marquez, 39, cemented his legacy for good with a sixth round knockout of Manny Pacquiao on December 8. It wasn't a fight that proved he was great; he'd already done that several times over. But it was the sort of win that really makes a man's name stand out in the history books. Marquez had many good wins already, and some phenomenal performances even in defeat. The knockout of his greatest rival, however, was the signature victory of his Hall of Fame-bound career.