As is the case with a few other classes, the cruiserweights are wide open for any number of different guys to be included in anyone's top ten with very valid cases.
1. Tomasz Adamek (37-1, 25 KO, Ring Champion, IBF/IBO Titlist)
World champion Adamek is one of those guys who is better than the sum of his parts. He's got decent hand speed, pretty good power, and a great chin. He's iffy defensively at times and though he has a fine amateur pedigree, isn't a great pure boxer.
But he puts that all together into a package that's really hard to beat. Chad Dawson did it at 175 pounds; Adamek looked flat that fight and unsure of how to combat a young, energetic southpaw. Since then he's gone on a fine winning streak, including a dominant whooping of former champ O'Neil Bell and a classic close victory over Steve Cunningham, who has twice the physical gifts Adamek does. Last Friday he pounded out a stoppage victory over previously-unbeaten American Johnathon Banks, who came with his best game but was outclassed in the end.
Adamek has no doubt heard the winds blowing the name "Bernard Hopkins" -- Hop wants to fight Adamek for his championship, and I don't think Adamek would think twice about accepting a chance to fight a legend, one of the sport's best pound-for-pound fighters, and possibly retire him. It'd be a great payday for Adamek, and as I've said before, he's earned a major fight like that. He deserves it.
2. Steve Cunningham (21-2, 11 KO)
Boxing's nicest dude twice picked himself up off the canvas against Adamek and nearly wound up beating him on points. It was not just one of the best fights of 2008, but one of the best in the division's history. His other loss (to Krzysztof Wlodarczyk in in 2006) was debatable at the least and avenged anyway. He also beat Marco Huck after getting the W against Wlodarczyk, and he also holds a win over Guillermo Jones.
Cunningham genuinely is one of those guys that'll fight anyone, anywhere. He's done the road warrior bit, fighting Wlodarczyk twice in Poland and Huck in Germany, and he's gained a lot of respect along the way. He maybe has the fastest hands in the division but isn't a big puncher, and like we saw against Adamek, he opens himself up too much sometimes. But it's impossible not to root for Cunningham, who roots for everyone else to do well and wants to fight the best.
On the other hand, Cunningham fought just one time in 2008 and currently has nothing planned.
3. Marco Huck (24-1, 19 KO, EBU Titlist)
Huck, 24, lost to Cunningham via 12th round TKO in December 2007 and returned to go 5-0 (all knockouts) in 2008. He took a pair of soft touches to get his game back, then beat Jean Marc Monrose for the EBU title. He defended it twice, stopping Fabio Tuiach in two and then Geoffrey Battelo in three. He was born in Yugoslavia but fights out of Germany. He has the longest-term potential in the division as far as the top tier goes. A former kickboxer, Huck once scored a second round TKO over vet Pietro Aurino when Aurino was docked two points for two intentional headbutts and stormed out of the ring in a huff.
4. Guillermo Jones (36-3-2, 28 KO, WBA Titlist)
36-year old Panamanian Jones started his career as a welterweight back in 1993. The long story is long. The short story is staying in shape has never been his strong suit. In 1998 he twice challenged Laurent Boudouani for the WBA junior middleweight (154) title, drawing the first time and losing the second. He skipped middleweight and light heavyweight completely and only casually competed at 168 (mostly these weren't "official" weight bouts anyway) before firing all the way up to cruiserweight in 2002.
He's also been erratic about staying at weight here, too. He fought Kelvin Davis at 204 1/2 pounds in 2005, made the limit to beat Wayne Brathwaite, then fought a couple heavyweight bouts. He got a shot at Firat Arslan in September 2008 and stopped the ex-WBA titlist in the 10th round to win his first ever major belt. It's been a weird career; if he has the discipline to make the weight, he's among the most dangerous guys up here.
5. Enzo Maccarinelli (29-2, 22 KO)
Macca takes some shots now and then, but I don't really know why. Of all the fighters that duck and dodge and puff up their records, I don't see Maccarinelli as one of the worst offenders, or even as one worth citing. He took on true champ David Haye and got waxed inside of two rounds when Haye simply blew him up with power shots, but he went in there and fought The Man in the division. Since that loss last March, he's fought just one time, and will next be featured on the Khan-Barrera undercard on March 14. His original opponent was Victor Ramirez (14-1, 12 KO), but that didn't stick. He gets a softer touch instead.
Next: March 14 v. Ola Afolabi
6. Firat Arslan (29-4-1, 18 KO)
He's German, he's had a successful career, and he's 38. Arslan has a better resume than the next two guys so I put him a notch ahead of them.
7. Giacobbe Fragomeni (26-1, 10 KO, WBC Titlist)
Fragomeni is Italian. I know, I know, stunning given the name. He won the WBC title when it was up for grabs against then-unbeaten Rudolf Kraj by technical decision after eight rounds (77-74 across the board). He has fought outside of Italy sparingly: One bout in Spain against a total bum, and one in London, where he got knocked out by Haye. His next fight will in Milan, his place of birth and residence.
Next: March 27 v. Krzysztof Wlodarczyk
8. Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (41-2, 31 KO)
Starting with Arslan (or maybe even Jones and Macca) we're into the second tier. I think Adamek, Cunningham and Huck are, for the moment, the class of the division. A lot of the remaining guys have big questions. That also means there's some depth to the division, and a lot of guys that can beat a lot of guys. Wlodarczyk's biggest win is the questionable decision over Cunningham, and he hasn't exactly been taking on the best since losing the rematch. If he keeps winning and Adamek does, too, there's a chance for them both to make some major money with a fight in Poland.
Next: March 27 v. Giacobbe Fragomeni
9. Vadim Tokarev (26-1-1, 19 KO)
He was clearly beaten by Huck back in 2007, but it's his only loss. There's little on his sheet of note otherwise, but that's true for a lot of guys.
10. BJ Flores (22-0-1, 14 KO)
The newest Square Ring signee will reportedly fight on March 21, but he has no opponent. Flores could've fought Adamek but didn't. Instead he went up to 207 pounds and beat up a fat guy who has been knocked out by every decent fighter he's ever faced. Yippy doo, B.J. -- fight someone.
Next: March 21 v. TBA
You Coulda Been a Contender...
Former champ O'Neil Bell (26-3-1, 24 KO) looked horrid against Adamek and all he's done since then is talk about moving up to heavyweight without actually following through on any plans. He's as good as irrelevant at the moment.
The man who beat Bell for the championship, Jean Marc Mormeck (33-4, 22 KO), took all of 2008 off and there have been rumors he'll fight Guillermo Jones, but nothing close to concrete. He, too, is currently irrelevant.
"Contender" winner Troy Ross (21-1, 15 KO) is a 33-year old former light heavyweight that just hasn't been active. He turned pro in 2001 and also once beat 100-loss man Tony Booth (giving Booth the 98th of his 105 current defeats). Maccarinelli beat Booth twice, because once just isn't enough.
Wayne Brathwaite (23-3, 19 KO) has been rumored as the next opponent for Cunningham. He knocked Yoan Pablo Hernandez off last March and hasn't fought since.
37-year old slugger Herbie Hide (46-4, 42 KO, all losses by KO) has won 11 in a row, but three of his last four by decision, if you can believe such a thing. A first round TKO win over Mitch "Hold My Beer" Hicks started the streak. Hicks is the brother of the fat guy Flores recently pounded.
Honorable Mentions: Enad Licina (16-1, 10 KO), Victor Ramirez (14-1, 12 KO), Matt Godfrey (18-1, 10 KO), Johnathon Banks (20-1, 14 KO), Rudolf Kraj (14-1, 10 KO), several more