1. Manny Pacquiao (59-6-2, 38 KO)
At 38 and now a Senator, Manny Pacquiao remains the best active welterweight in boxing. This year, he beat Timothy Bradley Jr and Jessie Vargas, which is a tougher couple of matchups than supposed next leader of boxing Canelo Alvarez bothered to take in 2016. He really never retired after the Bradley fight, only paying lip service to the idea, and he was back on a normal schedule seven months later, and looked great against Vargas. Is he the Manny Pacquiao of 2009? Of course not. But there’s only one man in the world at 147 pounds I’d straight up put money on to beat Pacquiao, and that’s Floyd Mayweather, and he is out of the game.
2. Keith Thurman (27-0, 22 KO)
The man who would inherit the throne, or at least so he believes. Thurman beat Shawn Porter in June in his only outing of 2016. It was a good win, and he’s got a tough fight with Danny Garcia lined up next. Thurman wants to be the best fighter in the sport. Can he be? Well, I mean, probably not, not really, but he can make a claim if he beats Garcia and somehow gets a fight with Pacquiao, or something else big like that. (There’s nothing else big like that at 147.)
3. Danny Garcia (33-0, 19 KO)
He keeps winning. The fact that his 2016 wins came over a washed Robert Guerrero and the woefully overmatch Samuel Vargas is another story. But Garcia is winning, and he’s got a date set with Keith Thurman for March 4. That’s what matters. The last time Garcia was “supposed to” lose, he beat Lucas Matthysse. So we’ll see. There’s a lot of belief, it seems, that Garcia is overdue for that first official loss, but it’s not set in stone, either. He’s a smart, crafty fighter, a decent puncher at 147, and makes adjustments really well.
4. Timothy Bradley Jr (33-2-1, 13 KO)
Lost to Pacquiao in April, took the rest of the year off. Bradley, 33, was beaten quite thoroughly by Pacquiao, and I mean more mentally than physically. He fought like he had all the right ideas, but Manny just took them away repeatedly. You could see the frustration build during the fight. But he was competitive, really. He was there all night. There is some question as to whether or not he really has a lot of fire left. Getting the big, real win over Manny was a goal. What can he do now that he hasn’t already done, basically?
5. Kell Brook (36-1, 25 KO)
Fought and defeated Kevin Bizier to retain the IBF title in March, then lacking a marquee opponent, jumped at a chance for a fool’s errand shot at Gennady Golovkin at middleweight. Golovkin overpowered him, of course, but Brook showed up to fight. That said, his IBF title reign has been atrocious, with wins over Jo Jo Dan, Frankie Gavin, and Bizier all he has to show for two years as champ. It is what it is, but it’s reality.
6. Shawn Porter (26-2-1, 16 KO)
Fought once this year, losing a tough battle with Keith Thurman on June 25. But Porter remains a factor at 147, and his only losses have been to guys in this top five. Will he ever be an elite fighter? Nah, not quite. But he’ll be competitive against just about anybody. He’s tough and durable, physically strong and a very determined fighter.
7. Errol Spence Jr (21-0, 18 KO)
Spence may be the most talented fighter on this list. I know that’s saying a lot, but it very well might be true. At 26, he has destroyed his opposition thus far, including making mincemeat of Chris Algieri, who had given Amir Khan a tough fight the year before. He also knocked out Leonard Bundu, who hung around for 12 against Thurman not long ago. He’s got “special” level upside. But we still haven’t seen him against an elite fighter. That’s the only reservation.
8. Jessie Vargas (27-2, 10 KO)
It was, all in all, a pretty good year for Jessie Vargas. Yeah, he lost to Pacquiao in November, but he also had a great showing against Sadam Ali and won the WBO title earlier in the year, and hey, judge Dave Moretti had him even with Manny save for that second round knockdown. I mean, Moretti was just wrong, but it’s something! Vargas is a good, solid fighter. No more, no less.
9. Amir Khan (31-4, 19 KO)
Fought only once in 2016 and lost to Canelo Alvarez, but that was at Caneloweight. Khan, if he returns to 147 as anticipated, can still be a problem for plenty of fighters. But he is 30 years old now. We know exactly what he is and isn’t. Would you pick him over anyone ahead of him on this list? He matches up best with Jessie Vargas or Tim Bradley, probably, light punchers Khan may be able to out-quick. We’ll see what he has left.
10. Jose Benavidez Jr (25-0, 16 KO)
I debated mainly between Benavidez, Andre Berto, Felix Diaz, and Frankie Gomez. Gomez has insisted he’ll fight at 140, even if that seems unlikely. Berto is outspoken and brash, but a win over an erratic and mentally gone Victor Ortiz just doesn’t say enough. Diaz beat Sammy Vasquez Jr, but how much does that mean? So I went with Benavidez, who looked good against Francisco Santana and seems to be settling in at 147. He’s a very talented boxer-puncher when he’s at his best. I think Gomez is the more skilled fighter between the two, but Benavidez has been a bit more reliable so far in his career.