1. Roman Gonzalez (46-0, 38 KO)
The world’s best boxer moved up from flyweight to super flyweight this year, beating top dog Carlos Cuadras by decision on September 10. That followed an April title defense at 112 against McWilliams Arroyo. Both of his fights this year did go the full 12 rounds, his first time doing so since 2012 against Juan Francisco Estrada. Here’s something wild about Gonzalez, too: he’s only 29. Now, if super flyweight isn’t his size limit, bantamweight likely will be, but we’re talking about a guy who’s 46-0 and in his prime, not winding down a career. He’s looking at 50-0 and beyond right now, which is not to say there aren’t threats in this division, because there are. But Gonzalez has earned this spot, just like he’s earned billing as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the sport today.
2. Carlos Cuadras (35-1-1, 27 KO)
The only loss in his career came this year to Chocolatito, and he wasn’t, like, dominated, or embarrassed. To me, he came out of that fight clearly the second best fighter in the division. His other bout this year was a win over Richie Mepranum in April, four and a half months before losing to Gonzalez. The 28-year-old Mexican is still dead in his prime and there’s every reason to believe he’ll be back in the world title picture sooner than later.
3. Naoya Inoue (12-0, 10 KO)
Inoue, 23, is a terrific talent with a hand that might be a problem long term. But this year, it wasn’t. After missing time between NYE 2014 and NYE 2015 due to injury, he fought three times this year, beating David Carmona (UD-12), Petchbarngborn Kokietgym (KO-10), and Kohei Kono (TKO-6), all successful defenses of his WBO belt. You could have him No. 2, but I think a lot of Cuadras, obviously.
4. Juan Francisco Estrada (34-2, 24 KO)
After losing to Chocolatito in 2012 at 108 pounds, Estrada went to flyweight. He promptly upset Brian Viloria to win a pair of world titles, then defended successfully against Milan Melindo, Richie Mepranum, Giovani Segura, Rommel Asenjo, and Tyson Marquez, also beating Joebert Alvarez in a non-title fight during that stretch. This year, he fought just one time, and decided to move up in weight, still chasing a potential rematch with Gonzalez. You could argue Estrada into the top 10 pound for pound, but the three above him have proven more at this weight.
5. Jerwin Ancajas (25-1-1, 16 KO)
The 25-year-old Filipino southpaw fought just once in 2016, but he made it count, beating McJoe Arroyo for the IBF super flyweight title on September 3 in Manila. It was by far the best win of his career, so I’m not going overboard just yet, but it’s a really promising victory, especially because he did it by deserved decision, dropping Arroyo in the eighth round. It was no fluke KO or questionable decision.
6. Kal Yafai (21-0, 14 KO)
Yafai leapt from prospect to champion at age 27, shutting down Luis Concepcion to win the WBA “world” title in December, following victories over Dixon Flores, Jozsef Ajtai, and Johnson Tellez earlier in the year. Since turning pro in the summer of 2012, Yafai has been paced very nicely, and has done his job at each level. This is a good fighter just entering his prime, and could be trouble for anyone.
7. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (41-4-1, 38 KO)
Feasts on weak opponents, beating four guys with a combined incoming record of 15-24 this year (two of them were making their pro debuts). And he really hasn’t done anything since May 2015, when he waxed Jose Salgado in the fourth round. But he fights consistently, so there’s that, I guess. His lone loss came to Carlos Cuadras in 2014, a fight where he wasn’t uncompetitive before losing on a technical decision in the eighth round. He can fight.
8. McJoe Arroyo (17-1, 8 KO)
Sometimes perceived as the lesser of the two Arroyo brothers, McJoe is a not as big a puncher as McWilliams, and only fought one time in 2016, losing to Ancajas in September after beating Arthur Villanueva for the vacant IBF belt in 2015.
9. Luis Concepcion (35-5, 24 KO)
The 31-year-old veteran from Panama lost a title shot against Cuadras in 2015, then beat David Sanchez, Tyson Marquez, and Kohei Kono, the win over Kono netting him the WBA “world” title at 115, the climax of a sort of renaissance in his career. Concepcion is younger than he seems, but he was also dominated by Yafai on December 10, after missing weight by nearly three pounds. There was a gulf in class between the two of them.
10. Sho Ishida (23-0, 12 KO)
Didn’t have the sort of year you might have hoped for him at 25, but remains undefeated after going 2-0 against very light opposition in 2016. Tall (5’8”) and lanky for the division, he still has some good promise, and is a former Japanese champion.