1. Vasyl Lomachenko (7-1, 5 KO)
Arguably the most skilled fighter in the world today, and I’m at the point where I’ll listen to a top pound-for-pound plea, even over Chocolatito Gonzalez and his 46-0 record. Lomachenko is really that special of a talent. The way he laid waste to Rocky Martinez and Nicholas Walters this year was something to behold; those are damn good fighters, and he took them apart like they were just another date with Romulo Koasicha or Gamalier Rodriguez. That said, this is a good division, and there are (hopefully) good fights out there for him in 2017.
2. Jezreel Corrales (21-1, 8 KO)
Corrales, 25, came out of nowhere to upset Takashi Uchiyama with a TKO-2 on April 27 in Tokyo, and followed it up with a split decision win in the rematch on New Year’s Eve at the same venue. The Panamanian southpaw had really fought no one before he got his first big chance -- a couple of decent vets, but nothing special, certainly no serious contenders -- and proved that just because you haven’t beaten good competition, doesn’t mean you can’t. We’ll see if this was a career year or the start of something even bigger for him in 2017 and beyond.
3. Francisco Vargas (23-0-2, 17 KO)
Vargas could be argued as the No. 2 guy, and I wouldn’t put up much of a fight, but I went with Corrales on the strength of two wins over what was recently the No. 1 man in the division, over Vargas beating the guy who was No. 2 at the time (Miura) in 2015, and then drawing with Orlando Salido in his lone 2016 outing. Vargas is coming back soon, facing Miguel Berchelt on January 28, live on HBO. That is not a gimme, especially coming off of back-to-back grueling battles.
4. Orlando Salido (43-13-4, 30 KO)
36 and still punching, “Siri” drew with Vargas on June 4 at the StubHub Center in a hell of a battle, and then was said to want a rematch with Vasyl Lomachenko, but those negotiations may not be going anywhere. It’s amazing that Salido, with 13 pro losses and a 21-year pro career, is still where he is in the sport. He hasn’t even won a fight since 2014, but every fight he’s had since then — two with Rocky Martinez and one with Vargas -- was action packed and debatable, with Salido going 0-1-2. Whatever he does next, it’ll be worth tuning in to see.
5. Jason Sosa (20-1-4, 15 KO)
A year ago, Jason Sosa was best known for a controversial draw against Nicholas Walters on HBO. Now, he’s the WBA “world” titleholder, upsetting Javier Fortuna via TKO-11 on June 24 in Beijing, followed by a successful defense (UD-12) against Stephen Smith on November 12 in Monte Carlo. To say the Camden, New Jersey, native could use a home date would be an understatement, and he’s certainly earned it. A rematch with Walters might actually make sense for both at some point this year, or he could target a shot at Corrales and the “Super World” belt.
6. Takashi Miura (30-3-2, 23 KO)
Fought just once this year, beating up a club fighter named Jimmy Borbon on May 7 in Tokyo, and now has a date set on January 28 with tough Mexican battler Mickey Roman. Miura, 32, is obviously looking to win that one and potentially set up a rematch with Vargas, after their 2015 instant classic and Fight of the Year. But it wouldn’t be too shocking, either, if Miura has simply hit a wall, and Roman pulls the minor upset.
7. Jose Pedraza (22-0, 12 KO)
“Sniper” Pedraza, 27, made one successful defense in 2016, defeating Stephen Smith on April 16 in Connecticut. He’s due to face Mayweather Promotions prospect Gervonta “Tank” Davis on January 14, a tough matchup for both guys on paper. Pedraza’s skills don’t leap off the TV screen, and he was lucky to get that 2015 decision over Edner Cherry, but he can fight, and his performance against Smith suggested he learned some things from the Cherry bout, too.
8. Takashi Uchiyama (24-2-1, 20 KO)
Maybe Uchiyama should be out of the top 10, but he had a good, long run as a top guy in this division, and I don’t totally count him out just yet. The two losses to Jezreel Corrales certainly hurt his stock, of course; at the end of 2016, Uchiyama was the top dog in this division, and now he’s a back end top 10 guy at best. He’s also 37 and has considered retirement before, so if he steps away from the sport without fighting again, that wouldn’t be a huge surprise. Either way, he’s had a good career, running with the WBA “World” or “Super World” title from 2010-16, going 12-0-1 in title fights (with one technical draw spoiling his perfect mark) before running into Corrales this year.
9. Rocky Martinez (29-3-3, 17 KO)
Veteran Martinez, 33, has somewhat quietly been one of Puerto Rico’s best fighters in recent years, winning three world titles at this weight, going back to his 2009 win over Nicky Cook. He’s never been a great fighter, but he’s been effective in his career, a tough battler with some power and plenty of grit. Lomachenko decimated him and scored a highlight reel KO in his only fight of 2016, but he’s still out there.
10. Nicholas Walters (26-1-1, 21 KO)
In retrospect, probably not a smart idea to take 11 months off and fight Vasyl Lomachenko. Didn’t turn out so great. Walters was overmatched and outboxed and beaten up by Lomachenko, but it is Lomachenko, so I’m keeping him right at the back end of the top 10 for now. What does give me pause about keeping him top 10 is the fact that he’s 0-1-1 as a super featherweight since moving up from 126, but the draw with Sosa was debatable at best (and I thought Walters deserved the win), and the loss to Lomachenko is a loss to Lomachenko. So maybe if he gets active again, we’ll see him back to his “Axe Man” ways in 2017.