By Cliff Rold
Who would win a fight between Floyd Mayweather and Guillermo Rigondeuax if they were the same size?
Roman Gonzalez and Manny Pacquiao?
Takashi Uchiyama and Wladimir Klitschko?
Questions like those are where some of the great barbershop debates have always erupted. They can be lots of fun. At their root, the question of what would happen if everyone were the same size is what the pound-for-pound stuff is all about. The fantasy, the what if, is no different than wondering about what would happen in mythical matches between the greats of today versus the greats of days past.
It all ends up at the same two answers whether we’re talking Mayweather-Rigondeuax or Bernard Hopkins-Marvin Hagler (both Middleweight prime, of course):
Answer One: Who knows?
Answer Two: We’ll never know.
Jr. Lightweights will never magically be Heavyweights. Danny Garcia and Kostya Tszyu will always belong to different Jr. Welterweight eras. While these sorts of debates might be fun, they ultimately mean nothing.
We should spend more time celebrating what matters.
Once a year, this corner is reserved for a worthy celebration. While their volume and politics often water down the merit of winning a ‘world title,’ championships are still at the core of achievement in boxing. The sport doesn’t take place in a pound-for-pound fantasyland. It takes place in weight classes, one fight at a time, with two primary goals:
Goal One: Make as much cash as possible (let’s not kid ourselves).
Goal Two: Become a Champion.
With so many belts, not every man who wins one really earns the label of champion. Those who do, those who win and then defend their titles against real contenders and successfully exit the ring with their crown still in place, merit the utmost respect. It’s not easy to win a title. Those who challenge themselves find them even harder to keep.
This is their list. It’s not pound-for-pound…it’s Champ for Champ for the year of 2013. At the end of last year, the top ten champions selected were:
10) Orlando Salido - WBO Featherweight (Since Defeated; Regained Vacant Belt)
9) Takashi Uchiyama WBA Super Featherweight
8) Roman Gonzalez - WBA Light Flyweight (Moved to Flyweight; Still Recognized as “Super” Champion by WBA)
7) Marco Huck – WBO Cruiserweight
6) Nonito Donaire – Lineal World Jr. Featherweight (Since Defeated)
5) Brian Viloria – WBA/WBO Flyweight (Since Defeated)
4) Andre Ward – Lineal World Super Middleweight
3) Vitali Klitschko – WBC Heavyweight (Since Vacated, Retired)
2) Sergio Martinez – Lineal World Middleweight
1) Wladimir Klitschko (59-3, 51 KO) – Lineal World Heavyweight – 6 Defenses
One year later, this is how it shakes out...
10) Gennady Golovkin (28-0, 25 KO) – WBA/IBO Middleweight – 9 Defenses
Let’s say what everyone is thinking: Golovkin is probably the uncrowned Middleweight champion. He has two belts. The lineal crown eludes him in large part because, when he’s not rehabbing from an injury, World Champion Sergio Martinez seems focused on more profitable and safer options. All Golovkin can do is build a mandate and fight anyone with the chutzpah to try him. The biggest argument against Golovkin has been the level of foe he’s faced, something he began to emphatically answer in 2013 with a third round body shot destruction of Matthew Macklin. It was one of four knockout title defenses for a man who is doing it the way the best champions should: you set them up, the champ knocks them down. There’s nothing wrong with making money but if Martinez can’t get the big money he needs to take the big challenge.
9) Akira Yaegashi (19-3, 9 KO) – Lineal World Flyweight – 2 Defenses
Yaegashi lost his share of the 105 lb. crown in an entertaining unification clash in 2012 against Kazuto Ioka and wasted no time in leaping two classes for the best year of his career. A lopsided win over Toshiyuki Igarashi gave him the lineal and WBC crowns in April. His first defense was a bit of a paycheck outing against limited Oscar Blanquet. His second was what we should expect of a serious champion. Former Jr. Flyweight titlist Edgar Sosa came in with six straight wins, including impressive outings against former champions Ulises Solis and Giovani Segura. Showing off his speed and some of the best boxing he’d displayed in years, Yaegashi won a decisive verdict. Unification is exceedingly rare at Flyweight but a rematch with Ioka, now a titlist at 108 lbs., would be a worthy substitute.
8) Adonis Stevenson (23-1, 20 KO) – Lineal World Light Heavyweight – 2 Defenses
Stevenson had one hell of a year. From fringe contender at Super Middleweight to Light Heavyweight king and Fighter of the Year (at BoxingScene and Ring Magazine), Stevenson showed himself a fighting champion right away. He followed his first round knockout of Chad Dawson for the crown (WBC belt included) with stoppage defenses against a pair of legitimate top ten contenders Tavoris Cloud and Tony Bellew. In the latter he shared the bill with WBO titlist Sergey Kovalev. Should a Stevenson-Kovalev fight take place in 2014, and it should, expect to see one of those men very high on this list next year. After all, nothing says champion like beating the number one physical threat in the division.
7) Marco Huck (36-2-1, 25 KO) – WBO Cruiserweight – 11 Defenses
Huck continues to defend his crown, if not always without controversy. In 2013, he went to scratch only once but did so in a third fight with rival Ola Afolabi. After a debated draw in their second bout, he earned a majority decision to perhaps finally put their rivalry to bed. Worthy of respect, before the year was out he signed for a clash currently scheduled for January 25th against former titlist Firat Arslan. It is a rematch of a highly contentious decision win in 2012 and Huck, like a real champion, will attempt to set the record straight. The WBO beltholder since 2009, if Huck successfully defends against Arslan again, he deserves a chance at some unification in his division.
6) Takashi Uchiyama (21-0-1, 17 KO) – WBA Super Featherweight – 8 Defenses
Uchiyama is the leader at 130 lbs. and he continued to defend his crown with two impressive outings in 2013. First, he blitzed the brother of former Flyweight titlist Lorenzo Parra, Jaider, in five. Then, on the last day of the year, Japanese countryman Daiki Kaneko gave him everything he could handle. In a battle that vacillated between chess match and brawl, Uchiyama came off the floor in round ten to seize control of the fight back in the final minute of a classic eleventh round. A titlist since 2010, Uchiyama is one of the best champions American fans largely are missing and already has a stoppage win against one of his co-titlists (Takashi Miura). A unification rematch with Miura, or an ‘in a perfect world’ showdown with Mikey Garcia, would further Uchiyama’s championship credentials. For now, he’s beating who they put in front of him but, at 34, is time running out?
5) Andre Ward (27-0, 14 KO) – Lineal World Super Middleweight – 2 Defenses
Injuries wreaked havoc on the year of Ward. First, scheduled opponent Kelly Pavlik pulled out of a fight due to a reported injury early in 2013. Then a shoulder surgery kept Ward on the shelf until September. When he returned, it was ultimately against the best contender immediately available to him in Edwin Rodriguez. While reports had Ward hoping for perceived softer fare initially, the correct fight for the time and another dominant win is what we got. The only person in his division with a belt who Ward hasn’t defeated yet, WBO titlist Robert Steiglitz, is the only one he hasn’t faced. With George Groves emerging in a controversial loss to Carl Froch, a rematch with Froch always possible, and the chance that Ward will finally test the waters at Light Heavyweight, there is every reason to believe Ward could emerge as the best exemplar of what it means to be a champion in the year ahead. Inactivity was his worst opponent in 2013.
4) Guillermo Rigondeaux (13-0, 8 KO) – Lineal World Jr. Featherweight – 1 Defense
Already holding a WBA belt in the division, Rigondeaux got the fight he wanted in April 2013: a unification clash with lineal and WBO 122 lb. titan Nonito Donaire. For most of twelve rounds, it was a master class of efficient boxing. The Cuban won a unanimous decision but then found himself in a bit of a limbo. Not the most television friendly fighter out there, Rigondeaux didn’t appear in the ring again until December. Again he posted a technical clinic, this time against one of the best Bantamweights in recent years in Joseph Agbeko. It was a dull affair but also a winning one against a fighter who would have been a threat against almost anyone else. In the year ahead, it will be interesting to see if Rigondeaux can be the sort of champion he’d probably like to be. With young, crowd pleasing battlers like Carl Frampton and Scott Quigg on the rise, and Kiko Martinez resurgent with a belt in tow, the opponents are there to make him a fighting champion. Will any of them find an economic incentive in challenging the true leader of their class though?
3) Floyd Mayweather (45-0, 26 KO) – Lineal World Welterweight – 2 Defenses; Lineal World Jr. Middleweight
For the first time since 2007, Mayweather fought twice in one year, defending his Welterweight crown against a top ten contender who earned a crack (Robert Guerrero) and then moving back to Jr. Middleweight for the third time. In a fight viewed by many as between the top two in the class, Mayweather off his win over Miguel Cotto and Canelo Alvarez off his win over Austin Trout, Mayweather became only the second man in boxing history to lay claim to lineal crowns in four weight divisions. Short of a Manny Pacquiao clash, Alvarez represented the fight the public most wanted to see Mayweather in. The box office rewarded both men and Mayweather won both fights with ease. The promotional stalemate between Mayweather and Top Rank keeps some worthy challengers off the table at Welterweight (not just Pacquiao; one can count Timothy Bradley as well) and arguably the most deserving challenger at Jr.
Middleweight, Erislandy Lara, appears nowhere near a Mayweather clash. Rumors of an Amir Khan clash don’t sound like what we’d want from a fighting champion either.
Those are concerns for 2014. In the year behind us, Mayweather met the burden of a champion in two weight divisions and gets a tip of the cap.
2) Danny Garcia (27-0, 16 KO) – Lineal World Jr. Welterweight Champion – 0 Defenses
In terms of public recognition for his talents, no fighter came farther in 2013 than Garcia. Already owning two belts in the division, he made a splash in New York, dropping former Welterweight Champion Zab Judah before showing a tenacious ability to handle late rounds adversity in an exciting defense. Looming was the perceived champion in wait, Argentina’s Lucas Matthysse. Fight fans grown accustomed to being made to wait did so. They waited for the excuses. They waited to hear about ‘marinade.’ They waited until they heard the announcement made: Garcia wasn’t ducking anyone. He was doing what a real champion is supposed to do. He was taking the fight with the man almost everyone thought would beat him. Not only did he take the fight, he won it. Convincingly and with a knockdown, Garcia staked strong claim to the lineal crown in one of boxing’s deepest divisions in recent years and showed he could outbox and outfight a legitimate, prime badass. His reign as king at 140 lbs. is still young, but he’s already etched himself the fighting champion fans deserve.
1) Wladimir Klitschko (61-3, 51 KO) – Lineal World Heavyweight – 8 Defenses
For the fifth year in a row, the literal best fighter in the world sits atop this list and, well, that sort of thing happens when one reigns as the best fighter in the big daddy division of the sport for as long as Wladimir has. So why was this the year Klitschko almost tumbled out of the top spot?
After a fairly entertaining outing against opponents of little merit in Francisco Pianeta, Klitschko won almost every round against his number one contender and couldn’t have looked worse. Klitschko’s performance was one of the most disgraceful ever seen from a reigning Heavyweight champion.
As noted by BoxingScene’s David Greisman in the days after the contest:
Klitschko’s long been the target of criticism from those who don’t appreciate his style. But the Povetkin fight was different. In recent years we’d seen Klitschko work from a distance behind his powerful and accurate jab, setting up his sledgehammer right hand and scoring technical knockouts and wide decisions.
That worked well against fighters who couldn’t get inside on a fighter as tall as Klitschko, a champion who is very smart, very skilled and very quick, who is able to keep his foes at bay or easily move away. In the early rounds, Povetkin looked like he’d present a challenge. He was fast and aggressive, and Klitschko looked a little uncomfortable at the outset.
And so Klitschko took the fight out of Povetkin — and took it away from him. But he didn’t do this with his punching, nor did he do this with generally acceptable defensive tactics.
The bout was contested for the International Boxing Federation, World Boxing Association, World Boxing Organization and International Boxing Organization world titles.
The WBA’s philosophy on holding is espoused in its referee’s manual: “This is one of the most obvious poor tactics in the sport of boxing. It not only infuriates the fans, but it negates action during the bout. Therefore, it should be addressed accordingly.”
The IBF and WBO both refer to the Association of Boxing Commission’s unified rules. The ABC’s referee’s guidelines note that unsportsmanlike conduct includes “the three key fouls: headbutting, low blow and holding.”
It shouldn’t even be necessary to support this argument by citing these regulations, not when the answer to what Klitschko did to dominate Povetkin is “He held him more than he hit him.”
It wasn’t entertainment. It was dreadful. And it might not even have been needed, not when Klitschko has shown himself to be superior to every single heavyweight he’s faced for the past nine years.
It was really that bad.
It still wasn’t bad enough to talk oneself into the lie that Wladimir is anything but the premiere champion in the sport. He fills stadiums in multiple countries (if not the US), he’s beaten everyone who earned a crack at him not named Vitali, he fights regularly, and at 37 he remains leaps and bounds ahead of anyone else around him. In 2014 he may get the chance to add the only major belt (WBC) he’s yet to hold in the class and all signs point to an IBF mandatory against the division’s legitimate number one contender, Kubrat Pulev.
If inside the ring he’s capable of something as tedious and unwatchable as Povetkin, his career management is still what we say we want from the top dogs. In the absence of great opponents, a real champion keeps fighting the next guy in line, keeps exiting the champion.
Winning ugly doesn’t mean he isn’t good and, for another year, there is no better champion than Wladimir Klitschko.
There were others considered who could easily be among the names above…Lineal Middleweight king Sergio Martinez took on a serious contender in Martin Murray early in 2013 and escaped with his title after suffering a knockdown. Even out for the rest of the year with an injury for the rest of the year, he’d likely still be on the list but for a very public reluctance to face his real number one contender…WBC Bantamweight titlist Shinsuke Yamanaka added three knockout title defenses to his championship ledger but seems isolated to his market. Given a chance, a showdown with WBA tiltist Anselmo Moreno would give the world a true champion at 118 lbs. for the first time in years and be a pick ‘em affair…Carl Froch unified a pair of Super Middleweight belts, adding the WBA to his WBC crown, with a rematch victory over rival Mikkel Kessler. A successful defense against worthy contender George Groves ended with one of the worst stoppages in recent years in a fight Froch was clearly losing. Froch’s seeming reluctance to pursue a rematch kept him off the list for this year…Please note that, in cases where a fighter holds a lineal crown, it was opted only to reflect those defense numbers. All of them also have successful defenses of alphabet titles that in some cases are more than their lineal defense numbers.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org