With what is a fairly slow boxing week coming up before the schedule picks back up and goes crazy for a few months, I was thinking about some ideas to get everyone talking, and to keep my creative juices flowing. You know, my juices. The creative ones.
Then I remembered, you know what people like? Lists and voting and arguing about the lists and their voting. So let's do some of that! Not every division will work for the "Who's the Best?" idea, but we'll do some for divisions where there are at least some arguments. Like, there's no need for a heavyweight edition, because it's Wladimir Klitschko or you're wrong. And as good as the welterweight division is, and even with all the talented fighters there, it's Floyd Mayweather or you're wrong, at least until May 2, when someone might prove otherwise.
I know the super bantamweights might be a weird place to start, considering what I just said. Guillermo Rigondeaux fights in this division. He is the lineal champion, titleholder for two sanctioning bodies, and considered perhaps the most avoided man in boxing. He is a pound-for-pound talent who has largely dominated. But I honestly do believe there is an argument to be made here. Throw out belts, or RING championships. Who is the best and has proven it?
Here are the contenders, as I see them.
Age: 34 | Record: 15-0 (10) | Titles: WBA (Super), WBO, RING Magazine
For: Rigondeaux jumps out as the obvious answer on paper. He's got the two belts, the RING championship, and he's considered one of the sport's elite fighters, and certainly one of its best technicians. There were some early doubts about how good he actually was, but that was before he schooled Nonito Donaire over 12 rounds in April 2013. He's 3-0 since then, but against more limited competition.
Against: Rigondeaux has struggled at times. Ricardo Cordoba gave him some trouble back in 2010, but that is, to be fair, essentially ancient history. The most compelling argument came in his last fight, his New Year's Eve win over Hisashi Amagasa in Japan. Rigondeaux was mostly able to do his thing, but he hit the deck two times in the seventh round against an unheralded opponent. Rigo came back to win comfortably overall with an 11th round stoppage, but the performance overall can't be seen as a positive for Rigondeaux. It would be like if Manny Pacquiao had been dropped twice by Brandon Rios. Would anyone have said, "Well, Pacquiao came back and looked good with the stoppage"? It would be about the warning signs. And that's fair.
Outlook: Rigondeaux is at least 34 years of age and time is eventually going to become a factor. He is a guy who by all accounts keeps in shape and is truly dedicated to his craft, but the Amagasa fight may have been one that means something sooner than later. Even if it's just that he isn't quite maintaining his focus against opponents not believed to be real challenges, because the other top guys won't fight him, that could betray him.
Age: 28 | Record: 20-0 (14) | Titles: IBF
For: Frampton probably has the best argument against Rigondeaux. He's ranked No. 1 in the world by BoxRec, which isn't a perfect system but it says a little something, anyway. Frampton has three wins over guys ranked in the BoxRec top ten -- two over Kiko Martinez and one against Chris Avalos, all dominant performances. Whereas once Barry McGuigan's boisterous claims about his young client were all but laughed off, nobody's laughing now except McGuigan and Frampton -- LAUGHING ALL THE WAY TO THE BANK! Ha! Idiots. Frampton just keeps looking more and more like a true standout fighter, as he seems to get better all the time.
Against: Wins over Martinez and Avalos are solid, but not exceptional, and neither really stacks up to Rigondeaux's signature win over Donaire. Maybe Donaire was sliding out of his peak at that point (he was), but he was still more highly-regarded than Martinez, and drastically more than Avalos.
Outlook: Frampton is looking like the guy who will take over after Rigondeaux. If most consider Rigondeaux the top guy, then Frampton looks like he's got the long haul No. 1 man ability. At 28, he's just entering what should be his athletic prime, and he hasn't been in a bunch of wars or anything. His career has been managed exceptionally well, and not because he's been protected. He's just been paced nicely, taking the right steps at the right time, and proving his ability at every one of them. But is he better than Rigondeaux right now? I think it's a valid question. You may think it's crazy.
Leo Santa Cruz
Age: 26 | Record: 29-0-1 (17) | Titles: WBC
For: He has had the most fights on U.S. TV, I think, now that Rigondeaux has been exiled. And he figures to have the most visibility going forward, as he's with Haymon and he's got a reputation for an exciting style. He's a nice person, it would seem.
Against: Santa Cruz has been harshly criticized for his level of opposition. Boxing fans and media will turn on you fast if they perceive you to be a cherry picking duck artist, and, well, even though we all loved Leo when he was emerging in 2012, that was three years ago. And now we're getting to the point where the guys he's fighting are so clearly not in his league that it's become a little ridiculous. What's his best win? Cesar Seda? Victor Terrazas? Both are decent fighters, but they aren't even Kiko Martinez. (Probably same level as Avalos, though.) It's gotten really bad with his last two fights, against total no-hope non-contenders Manuel Roman and Jesus Ruiz. It's made even worse by the fact that Santa Cruz defends these opponents -- even if he believes it, it sounds terrible to those who know better. Add in his constant waffling on fighting any of the other top guys, which always results in him not doing so, and you've got a recipe for a quickly dying popularity.
Outlook: Santa Cruz doesn't appear to be long for this division, as he wants to move up to featherweight, where he would eventually fight Abner Mares, ideally. Right now, it sounds like his plan is for two tune-up fights before a bout with Mares.
Age: 26 | Record: 30-0-2 (22) | Titles: WBA (World)
For: He is young, in peak shape, undefeated, and holds a version of a version of a world title. At one time, he was more highly-regarded as a prospect and potential contender than Frampton.
Against: He is no longer more highly-regarded than Frampton. In fact, he's probably been lapped by his press rival. Quigg's career and Santa Cruz's sort of mirror one another. In 2012, everyone was excited. In 2015, the buzz has faded significantly, and it's because the opposition just has not been there. Quigg was lucky to escape with a draw in 2013 against Yoandris Salinas, and since then he's beaten Diego Silva, Tshifhiwa Munyai, Stephane Jamoye, and Hidenori Otake. None of them were any sort of challenge, and only Otake made it past round three.
Outlook: The good news for Quigg is there's a surefire quick fix to his waning hype. He just has to fight and beat Carl Frampton, or even fight and just look good against Frampton. Certainly easier said than done, but doing and saying are generally the two big things in boxing, and there's always a lot more saying than doing. Frampton-Quigg would be a big fight in the United Kingdom and certainly would draw some interest internationally, as well. It's been brewing for a few years now, and the time feels right.
Who's your pick for the best in the world at 122? Is it Rigondeaux, or has Frampton started to change your mind? If you pick one of the other two, please explain in detail! Maybe you're a genius!