I think sometime we'll get the gang together again and get a group top 20, but I wanted to just sort of re-check things myself and put my own together for the time being. Given the lack of time others have, this is simply more efficient for the time being.
Please feel welcome to throw your own in in the comments, and to take a dump on mine. But I can't have that list on the left-hand sidebar having Pavlik ranked over Hopkins. It feels horribly, horribly wrong now.
Pacquiao's drive to be the best in the world is pretty amazing. His willingness to take on the bigger man, Oscar de la Hoya, in December has been the most ignored aspect of the drama building up to that megafight.
While some may question Oscar fighting the smaller man, why not some praise for Manny for risking a fight with the bigger, stronger Oscar?
I think it's about time we did that. Pacquiao is putting no title on the line, and yes, he's getting his biggest payday ever, but acclaim and love can fall quickly with a loss in this sport. Win, lose, or draw, Pacquiao will remain his country's greatest icon, and he should remain the pound-for-pound champ of the sport. It's not as decisive a reign (short as it's been so far) as Floyd Mayweather's was, or Roy Jones' when Roy was on top, but he's earned everything he's gotten.
It's been said before, but we're blessed with guys like Pacquiao (and some others) -- some of the sport's very best are also its most exciting. Guys like Pacquiao, the Marquez brothers, and Israel Vazquez are not only excellent boxers, but they're dramatic fighters with a willingness to fight the best competition. It's a win-win every time these guys fight.
If Pacquiao beats de la Hoya, he transcends his weight class(es), and he becomes more than the little guy, the pound-for-pound guy. He becomes the brightest star in boxing, period.
Joe Cool's ability will never be in question for me again. That ended, for good, last year, when he schooled Mikkel Kessler in what I consider Joe's career-best performance. It was one of two occasions, at that point, that Calzaghe took the risk of fighting THE guy people wanted him to fight. He crushed the truly overrated/overhyped Jeff Lacy in 2006, but Kessler presented a bigger, better challenge. And Kessler fought his ass off against Calzaghe. But Joe prevailed, because he's better.
Joe also beat Bernard Hopkins fair and square in April. In that fight, his style just gave Hopkins too many problems. Skill-for-skill, natural ability, Calzaghe is better than Hopkins every time out. A prime Hopkins would have been better able to move around, not get tired, and not get mixed up by Calzaghe's awkward, one-of-a-kind style. But it doesn't matter -- Calzaghe, simply put, has more tools than Bernard. Hopkins has always lived and died on what he could do with the other guy more than what he could do himself. Joe's not the type of fighter to get out-thought so badly that he becomes ineffective. Once Joe got into a rhythm, Bernard's night was lost. And that is a great credit to Calzaghe.
I'm not going to use this space to go into my issues with Calzaghe's mouth of late. It doesn't matter when discussing what the man can do in the ring. He should easily dispose of ancient Roy Jones on November 8, and after that, I hope we see Calzaghe continue on against better opposition. Joe knows what he's doing with this Jones fight; and in truth, he's doing Roy a financial favor, because outside of the Trinidad exhibition, Roy hasn't had a big fight since 2005. The proof's in the pudding: the last time Jones fought truly top-tier fighters, he lost three in a row, convincingly.
He's not who he used to be. Calzaghe is still who he says he is.
Marquez is closing in on career win number 50, something I think should have been his already. I thought he edged out Pacquiao in March, but it was such a great, close fight that I've never truly argued the outcome. It was a pick'em. And the boxing world demands and deserves to see those two tangle once more. They are each other's greatest challenge.
When Marquez knocked out Joel Casamayor in September, it was a huge statement. Not only could he fight at 135, but he could beat a great boxer. Yes, Casamayor was a wreck last November, but he recovered from that to silence Michael Katsidis in March and then fought valiantly against Marquez, a man who flat-out beat him in every facet of the game. It was a fairly close fight, with Casamayor's craftiness winning some rounds, but in the end, Marquez was much too much for the Cuban veteran.
With it, Marquez became the rightful lightweight champion of the world, and a very respectable champion at that. Casamayor's reign had been tainted by the gloriously awful decision win over Jose Armando Santa Cruz, a B- fighter that never should have been able to so thoroughly dominate Casamayor the way he did. Joel may not be his best anymore, but he can still fight when motivated and properly trained. He gave it his best. Marquez was better.
What does Marquez do? Well, he wants Pacquiao, which is going to take until next spring at the earliest. In the meantime, a fight with Juan Diaz or Nate Campbell would be most welcome. Marquez has shown that he'll take a risk to further himself and get closer to what he wants. He can do it again.
There is no reason that a 43-year old man should be able to do what Bernard Hopkins did this past Saturday night, when he outclassed, outpunched, outlanded, and outworked 26-year old middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik en route to a decisive unanimous decision victory.
There is no reason Bernard Hopkins should be able to do what he still does. He hung in against Calzaghe, a great fighter, earlier this year. Prior to that, he beat Winky Wright, demolished Antonio Tarver, and went tit-for-tat against a younger, more athletic, more naturally skilled fighter in Jermain Taylor two times.
Almost all of Bernard's losses have been disputed by someone other than Bernard. But in his biggest wins (Pavlik, Tarver, de la Hoya and Trinidad), he has clearly been the better man.
It comes from a strong desire to always prove everybody wrong, and a work ethic that is perhaps unmatched in the entire sport. There is nothing more that needs be said about Bernard. If a fight with Jones isn't lucrative enough for the two sides to agree to that rematch (which is way past its expiration date, honestly), then Bernard could retire peacefully and leave the world of boxing on top of his game. Never has he been so incredibly stunning as he was on Saturday night.
I don't think you can justify putting him ahead of anyone in the top four, but you can't justify putting him below anyone else, either. Vazquez is still THE must-see fighter in the sport, and his return to the ring can't come soon enough. It's good that he's taken this much time off to let his body recover from the three wars with Rafael Marquez, but now I'm starting to get itchy to see him back in action.
Does he come back straight away against Marquez? Outside of a rust-removing tune-up, I think there's no better option. Juanma Lopez is fast becoming a seriously dangerous force in the sport, but he doesn't yet promise the same money a fourth tangle with Marquez could.
Besides, if Vazquez beat Marquez again and Lopez kept winning, say hello to another big Mexico-Puerto Rico clash. It'd be big as it is, and it'd be big if Vazquez took an easier fight than Marquez and waited for Lopez to get ready, but hey, I'll take all the great fights I can get.
6. Antonio Margarito (37-5, 27 KO, WBA Welterweight Titlist)
Margarito's workman climb to the top of the sport has been nothing short of inspiring. This is a man who was at one point in his career a kid with a 9-3 record; nine wins over chump opponents, three losses to anyone with credibility (one of which was a young Rodney Jones). On October 14, 1996, Margarito's journey began, though of course nobody on earth knew it at the time.
That night in Anaheim at the Arrowhead Pond, Margarito knocked out Alfred Ankamah in the fourth round. Ankamah went on to have an indistinguished, forgotten career as an opponent, going 20-11 with 17 knockouts and losing fights to the likes of Oba Carr and, in his 2004 career finale, Marco Antonio Rubio. Ankamah at that time, though, was a 16-1 fighter whose only loss had come to future welterweight titlist James Page.
Margarito was the underdog that night. He won. He'd keep on winning until a 2004 loss to Daniel Santos. After that, it took three years until another fighter -- this time, Paul Williams -- would figure out Margarito and beat him over 12 rounds, though Margarito put quite a scare into Williams late in the fight.
As good and as fearsome as Margarito had been going into the Miguel Cotto fight, there seemed to be the sense that he would lose against a great fighter. He lost to Williams. He lost to Santos. He had beaten Kermit Cintron twice, outlasted Joshua Clottey, and taken down several other name fighters. But he'd never beaten someone as good as Cotto.
It took 11 grueling rounds, but he did it. But Margarito is not indestructible; he can be beaten. While he's earned his spot, he has his flaws, the same as anyone else. It'll be very interesting to see how long Margarito can reign as one of the sport's truly elite fighters.
7. Miguel Cotto (32-1, 26 KO)
Cotto and Kelly Pavlik were the present-slash-future of Top Rank Promotions. Bob Arum has seen both of them go down against unrelenting veterans in 2008. With Cotto, he got the perk of it making Margarito a bigger star. Pavlik's loss to Hopkins does nothing to help Bob's checkbook.
It was almost exactly one year ago, fresh off the momentum of Kelly Pavlik's knockout of Jermain Taylor, that I did a feature article here about the "Three Kings" as I called them -- boxing's best young fighters, champions all around, young men to be respected and cherished.
Juan Diaz lost a decision to veteran Nate Campbell in March.
Miguel Cotto lost a war to veteran Antonio Margarito in July.
Kelly Pavlik got his ass handed to him by veteran Bernard Hopkins this past weekend.
Every one of them took a risk against a serious opponent, and they came up short. It happens. Diaz has already come back to maul Michael Katsidis over 12 rounds; Cotto and Pavlik will get back on the horse soon. These three young men are still three that I would pick as shining examples of the sport, because all three have the guts to go out and make big fights where they might lose.
8. Rafael Marquez (37-5, 33 KO)
Everything I said about Vazquez, I could say about Marquez. In fact, that whole bit about fighting Juanma Lopez in a big Mexico-Puerto Rico showdown, you can replace Vazquez's name with Marquez and we all win out anyway.
The younger, smaller Marquez brother is also the one who hasn't gotten the big fights his brother has, simply because there aren't as many stars around him to fight. But outside of some chin issues (Marquez has been knocked out four times), Marquez is every bit as good as big brother Juan Manuel.
Some big punchers are flashy. Marquez isn't, really. He's devastatingly precise and it's a marvel to watch him do his thing in the squared circle. Like his rival, can't wait to see him return.
9. Ivan Calderon (32-0, 6 KO, Junior Flyweight Champion)
Without Mayweather around, Calderon is the best pure boxer in the sport. With Mayweather around, you can still argue that Calderon is the best pure boxer in the sport. He has absolutely no punching power whatsoever, but it's like they say: death, taxes, and Calderon by decision.
Hugo Cazares has twice given him a tough fight, but the real money (if there can be considered "real money" at 108 pounds) is in a fight with Ulises Solis, a guy I think could beat Calderon given that Ivan is 33 and a 33-year old man getting down to 108 pounds has got to be getting tough.
Truth be told, as much as I respect Calderon and Solis and many of the other fighters in the two tiny weight classes, I'm one of the vocal few of the opinion that both classes need to be eliminated. If you cannot fight as a grown man at 112 pounds, then find a new career. I don't mean that to sound offensive or meant to downgrade these fighters; it's just that there is so little legitimate competition at 105 and 108 that the divisions are rather pointless.
10. Kelly Pavlik (34-1, 30 KO, Middleweight Champion)
Ah, what can I say? I was one of the biggest Pavlik champions around. I loved the guy. Fought hard, fought humble, worked his ass off, pride of his hometown, and making a boxing city out of Youngstown, Ohio; the type of boxing city that would gladly trek to Atlantic City in this economy to see their boy fight.
Here we are now. Pavlik is no longer undefeated, every chink in his armor was exposed by Bernard Hopkins, and he has to go back to the drawing board. EVERY opponent from here on out will watch that Hopkins win over and over looking at what Bernard did. Bernard didn't do anything special, either. He took the fight to Pavlik, went to the body early, and ELIMINATED Pavlik's straight right, putting the thing in the holster without any bullets. Hopkins took one of the best punches in boxing away from one of the best punchers in boxing. In doing so, he neutered Kelly Pavlik's offense.
I still love Kelly Pavlik. I can't help it -- he took his loss hard, you could see that on his face. But he also took it with grace, describing Hopkins' domination as "a lesson" given to him by a veteran. Pavlik will bounce back. Even with this loss, I think he can be an era-defining fighter. Everyone learns something from a loss at some point. Kelly now knows how he can be worked over. He and Jack Loew will work hard to fix these things.
Don't be surprised if it's a while before Pavlik loses another fight.
11. Paul Williams (35-1, 26 KO, WBO Welterweight Titlist)
Williams will fight in his third weight class in as many bouts on November 29, when he faces Verno Phillips for the interim WBO junior middleweight title. He won his WBO 147-pound crown back on June 7, gaining revenge on Carlos Quintana with a 135-second knockout. He took a stay-busy fight at 160 against Andy Kolle in September, disposing of Kolle in 97 seconds.
Phillips won't go down so quickly, I don't think. Phillips has been knocked out just once in 20 professional years, and that was way back in his fifth fight on July 30, 1988.
What's strange for me, as an aside, is I dare bet a few people reading this weren't even born the last time Verno Phillips was knocked out. I mean, I was only six, but jeez. That November we voted in first grade on our favored presidential candidate, George H.W. Bush or Michael Dukakis. I voted Dukakis. His last name intrigued me. What the hell did I know? I was six.
For the record, my school voting record is not great. In '92, I went with Perot, because he was funny. In '96, I went with Dole, because of Norm MacDonald. After that I was allowed to vote in real elections. That's when the trouble started.
Anyway, Williams is a prime example of what can happen and how quickly momentum comes and goes as far as fan favor is considered. Williams beat Margarito, and everyone decided it was Williams, not Miguel Cotto, that would be the biggest threat to Floyd Mayweather at 147. Williams then went out and lost to Carlos Quintana. Williams was no longer Mr. Big Stuff.
Williams knocks out Quintana. Margarito knocks out Cotto. Now Williams is considered by a minority to be the best of the welterweights.
Y'know, I think it explains itself. People are fickle and they love to ride the hot hand.
12. Cristian Mijares (36-3-2, 15 KO, WBC/WBA Junior Bantamweight Titlist)
27-year old slickster Mijares is in the running for 2008 Fighter of the Year, and a convincing win over November 1 opponent and IBF titlist Vic Darchinyan would give him a serious darkhorse shot at that particular unofficial crowning. Most believe he will do it, treating the one-dimensional Darchinyan the same way he did Jorge Arce in 2007, battering him over 12 rounds.
Both Mijares and Darchinyan show guts taking the good fight. Mijares has had enough fluffy defenses, thank you very much.
The thing is even with the fluff, Mijares' emerging excellence is obvious. Alexander Munoz was definitely no chump, and Mijares beat him. The fight with Darchinyan will be just the third time Mijares has fought in the States. The other two were Arce in San Antonio and Jose Navarro earlier this year in Las Vegas. Carson, Calif., has become quite the haven for good action fighters to draw a nice crowd. Hopefully, Mijares and Darchinyan can get those rowdy fans in there, making noise for what should be an entertaining matchup.
13. Chad Dawson (27-0, 17 KO, IBF Light Heavyweight Titlist)
Here's a question. Should we really start recognizing the IBO as a fifth major sanctioning body? Dawson won the IBO title in addition to the IBF strap from Antonio Tarver. The IBO also recognizes Wladimir Klitschko and Ricky Hatton as world champions, as well as Nonito Donaire and Juan Diaz. But then you have stuff like Johnathon Banks (cruiserweight), Daniel Geale (160), Isaac Hlatshwayo (147), etc.
Is this worse than some of the other crap out there? But, perhaps more importantly, do we need a FIFTH body to try and keep track of?
I don't know. I do know that Dawson is a hell of a fighter, and that I, personally, would love to see him fight Glen Johnson in a rematch, one that Johnson very much deserves. A Tarver rematch is simply not viable; the two couldn't move tickets worth a damn in Vegas, a city that had no business hosting Connecticut-based Dawson against Tampa-based Tarver to begin with. What was wrong with Tampa, where Tarver is a draw, or the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., which has hosted many nice boxing events? How about a middle ground in Atlantic City or one of the many New York venues? Maybe Boston? Maybe somewhere in North Carolina or Georgia?
I know Vegas often makes the best offer, but promoters are going to have to start looking around and being more creative. Lou DiBella is doing a good job trying to turn Tennessee into a boxing hub, and we've seen California get very involved. Promoted properly, a city like Chicago could be an excellent fight home.
14. Nate Campbell (32-5-1, 25 KO, WBO/WBA/IBF Lightweight Titlist)
Nate Campbell's 2008 is the story of a fighter that got screwed over. Coming off of a career-defining upset of Juan Diaz, Campbell...has done nothing. They set up a fight with Joan Guzman, and Guzman couldn't make weight despite moving up five pounds. Now he's filed for bankruptcy, looks to soon be added to the Golden Boy roster despite Don King's best efforts, and hopefully his career will get back on track. Nate worked too damn hard to get only 15 minutes in the sun.
15. Ricky Hatton (44-1, 31 KO, Junior Welterweight Champion)
I think Paulie Malignaggi has a VERY good chance of unseating Hatton atop the 140-pound division on November 22, but until that actually happens, Ricky falls no lower than 15th. He's lost one fight, against the best fighter in the world at a weight that we knew going in didn't suit him. We'll see what Floyd Mayweather, Sr., can do with him, but my gut says not much. The Mayweather hire seemed more for show than it did something that makes any real sense at all.
16. Fernando Montiel (37-2-1, 28 KO, WBO Junior Bantamweight Titlist)
Should Mijares get past Darchinyan, and Montiel wins an upcoming bout, too, there is nothing else for those two to do other than fight each other. Period. Montiel may currently be the most overlooked fighter in the sport.
17. Arthur Abraham (27-0, 22 KO, IBF Middleweight Titlist)
Forget about a fight with Kelly Pavlik, 'cause it ain't gonna happen any time soon, and if it ever does, it'll probably come at 168. That is, if Pavlik ever feels like he can carry that type of weight better than he did against Hopkins.
For now, King Arthur plies his trade. He'll beat Raul Marquez on November 8 and look for his next challenge. It's too bad Felix Sturm's promoters probably want nothing to do with either Abraham or Pavlik, because that'd be a nice win for either man, and a decent fight either way. Sturm, though rather protected in his cocoon, is a skilled boxer.
Abraham is going to have a tough row to hoe when it comes to making it big in the U.S., as he's very good, and that means he'll have a tough time getting opponents to fight him.
18. Jermain Taylor (27-2-1, 17 KO)
Taylor returns to action in November against Jeff Lacy, a fight he should win, and a WBC super middleweight eliminator, too. Should he win, that means Taylor is in line to face the winner of Carl Froch-Jean Pascal, another couple of fighters he should be able to beat.
Taylor has always been one of the good guys in boxing, and I think people seeing him as becoming less of one was a great misinterpretation. The guy thought he could beat Pavlik; hey, he almost did. When he was knocked out, he gave Pavlik all the respect in the world. He also went right back and tried to beat him again. He lost again. He moved on. I like him big over the mechanical Lacy, and if he does fight the Froch-Pascal winner, I like him big there, too. Jermain can still go, and he's got something to prove again, too.
19. Wladimir Klitschko (51-3, 45 KO, WBO/IBF Heavyweight Titlist)
He dominates his division and is a fantastic boxer, if not a light-'em-up thrills guy. There's really nothing more to it than that.
20. Shane Mosley (45-5, 38 KO)
I really like Shane Mosley, but he's looking weathered. His face is starting to show signs of aging, and the once-a-year schedule isn't going to help him. He's 37 years old and winding down, and the win over Ricardo Mayorga hurt him more than it helped him, I think.
We saw Mosley again unable to achieve at 154 what he can at 147. He's just not a 154-pound fighter, and he never really was. Mayorga should have been no challenge, and while I firmly believe Mayorga didn't present a lot of resistance, there were rounds where Mosley did nothing and let Mayorga stay in the fight. In the end, he knocked him out with one second left on the clock.
If Mosley fights Margarito, he's going down. Hard. There has also been talk of him fighting Paul Williams (a fight I like) and Andre Berto. The Berto fight is interesting because Shane could very easily beat Berto. Hey, we've seen enough unbeaten fighters drop to veterans this year to know one thing: it happens.
Honorable Mentions: Mikkel Kessler, Chris John, Nonito Donaire, David Haye, Ulises Solis, Daisuke Naito, Steven Luevano