One of the consistent "complaints" I hear is that there is a dearth of top American fighters in today's boxing game, and when I really thought about it for more than a couple of seconds that I mostly dismiss, I think there's some validity to this.
I certainly don't think that American fight fans need Americans to be the top stars, but I don't think it's a stretch to say it does help. Manny Pacquiao has become incredibly popular here (and everywhere), but boxing fans have a long history of rooting for the hometown fighter, or the guy representing the country, the same as they root for their hometown sports team or their Olympic representatives or whatever else.
That led me to another idea, which was to rank the top ten American fighters, pound-for-pound. Though I don't currently rank Floyd Mayweather Jr in our weekly divisional rankings, he's active again and he's got to be ranked here.
10. Steve Cunningham (24-2, 12 KO, Cruiserweight)
Cunningham, 35, fights in a division that has never gained much traction in the United States, and he's only sparingly been featured on American TV. At this point, he wisely doesn't even have an American promoter, as he works with Sauerland Event, based in Germany, where the division is popular. His U.S. visibility is pretty low, and his biggest fight for American fans was probably his 2008 war with Tomasz Adamek, which aired on Versus.
9. Austin Trout (23-0, 13 KO, Junior Middleweight)
Trout, 25, is a really talented rising contender and titlist in the 154-pound division, but has had zero major push with American TV. His last two fights have been his biggest, and both were unaired in the States, as Trout went on the road to Mexico to beat Rigoberto Alvarez and David Lopez. He's got the goods in the ring, but so far he just hasn't made a dent on the American public.
8. Chad Dawson (30-1, 17 KO, Light Heavyweight)
Dawson, 29, has had good TV exposure via HBO and Showtime, but he hasn't become a draw either at the gate or on the air. His next fight on October 15 will be on HBO pay-per-view with Bernard Hopkins, but it's expected to flop, both because the fight doesn't figure to be exciting and because it's poor timing, sandwiched between Mayweather and Pacquiao PPV events. Dawson doesn't have the style or charisma to be a big star, but he's a good fighter.
7. Victor Ortiz (29-2-2, 22 KO, Welterweight)
Ortiz, 24, is young, exciting, and though I don't personally enjoy his forced personality much, I'm not the greatest judge of what the American public will like in that regard, and I can see Ortiz becoming a major star. Though he's as hot as he's ever been coming off of his April win over Andre Berto, he's about to get the first really huge push of his career with his September 17 fight against Floyd Mayweather. He's a sizable underdog, but what if he pulled off the win? It would be boxing's biggest upset in a long time, and would make Ortiz a huge star. Even if he loses, he's got potential to be a long-term star so long as he makes for good fights. His style is great to watch.
6. Robert Guerrero (29-1-1, 18 KO, Junior Welterweight)
Guerrero, 28, hasn't broken through as a star yet, but he's a very good fighter who is itching to get bigger and better fights to up his profile. Guerrero has a very likable personality and story, and he's easy to root for because he's just a nice guy who can fight and seems to desperately want to take serious challenges. He hasn't fought above lightweight yet, but that will change in a few weeks when he moves up to junior welterweight to fight battle-hardened Marcos Maidana, in what will be Guerrero's first HBO main event since February 2008 when he faced Jason Litzau. Guerrero should be easy to promote, and also has the Mexican-American thing. Aaand, here's another one...
5. Brandon Rios (28-0-1, 21 KO, Lightweight)
Rios, 25, is a star in the making. He could be the new Arturo Gatti. I feel like I might have him higher than many would, but love him or hate him, Rios can fight his ass off, and I think he's better than his brawler reputation. Yes, he brawls, but he's also a solid boxer whose defensive skills are overlooked, and he puts punches together in combination, with power in both hands. Rios, like Ortiz (a former training partner and press rival), is Mexican-American, which helps promote him, too. I think this guy is one of the key cogs in boxing's future. He's going to lose some fights, probably, but I don't think he'll lose that many, and it's going to take special fighters to beat him. It's all enough to make you wish that that awful video last year with trainer Robert Garcia and gym-mate Antonio Margarito had never come out, but Rios, to his credit, has been doing his best to make up for that tremendous error in judgment.
4. Timothy Bradley (27-0, 11 KO, Junior Welterweight)
Bradley, 27, is ... well, it's hard to gauge his value right now. I doubt any promoter would turn down signing him, but he's hurt his reputation greatly by pulling out of a fight with Amir Khan, and really even worse, continually making himself sound bad when he talks about why he did it. He's not even really bringing up the valid reason of wanting to leave his promoters, who are now suing him. It's just a mess, and for a guy who can't draw a crowd, it's just not good. Bradley is a really good fighter, and has proven himself in the ring, but he's really not a star yet, and is doing himself no favors right now either. Lucky for him, a lot of these issues are easily corrected by a good promoter. Before all this, he did his talking in the ring, and he can do that again.
3. Andre Ward (24-0, 13 KO, Super Middleweight)
Ward, 27, is sort of like Bradley or Dawson, in that he's good, but not the easiest guy to promote. None of them have particularly exciting styles, aren't big punchers, and aren't the most charismatic. But of the three, I think Ward has the most potential to be a bigger star. It's doubtful he'll ever be a superstar fighter or huge draw, but being another Bernard Hopkins-level star is certainly possible, and right now he's on his way.
2. Bernard Hopkins (52-5-2, 32 KO, Light Heavyweight)
Hopkins, 46, is the fighter who refuses to go away. Not only does he still fight at the absurd of age 46, but he's the legitimate world champion at light heavyweight. He's a Hall of Fame-bound fighter who is known to the mainstream after years of major fights, many of which he wasn't supposed to win and generally did. Bernard is one of a kind.
1. Floyd Mayweather Jr (41-0, 25 KO, Welterweight)
Mayweather, 34, isn't getting any younger, and doesn't keep the schedule we wish he did. But there's no question that Floyd is the best American boxer on the planet, and he has been for years now. The only guy on this list even remotely close to him in terms of greatness is Hopkins, and no one is close to the star that Mayweather is today. Truthfully, he's America's only superstar boxer, and one of only a few fighters who can consistently draw good crowds in the States, and one of only two who can be counted on to sell major numbers on U.S. pay-per-view.
We mentioned the fact that Ortiz, Guerrero, and Rios, as Mexican-Americans, are easy to promote, because the Mexican portion of the American boxing audience is just huge. With that said, both Saul "Canelo" Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr are becoming major stars in a hurry. Both drew good numbers in their last HBO fights (1.4 million for Chavez, 1.5 million for Alvarez), and can draw a house. And of course you also have Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, and a few others who can draw in the States, but aren't American-born.
How big of a factor do you think this is? Does the lack of American-born star fighters play a major role in boxing struggling to make major waves more than a few times a year? And who do you think has the best chance among the younger guys to become a possible superstar fighter?