BoxingScene Pound for Pound Top Ten
By Cliff Rold
1) Naoya Inoue (19-0, 16 KO)
Current Alphabet Titles: IBF Bantamweight (2019-Present, 1 Defense); WBA “super” Bantamweight (2019-Present, 0 Defenses)
Additional Titles: WBC Light Flyweight (2014, 1 Defense); WBO Super Flyweight (2014-18, 7 Defenses); Ring Magazine Bantamweight (2019-Present, 1 Defense)
Record in Title Fights: 12-0, 10 KO (14-0, 12 KO including WBA secondary title fights)
Last Five Opponents: Nonito Doanire (UD12), Emanuel Rodroguez (KO2), Juan Carlos Payano (KO1), Jamie McDonnell (TKO1), Yoan Boyeaux (TKO3)
Next Opponent: TBA
The Take: Inoue has been sensational from the professional cradle and at bantamweight appears to be in his full prime fresh off winning the World Boxing Super Series. He was already arguably the most dynamic, complete offensive force in the sport. After his fierce battle with future Hall of Famer Nonito Donaire, we know what happens when he gets hit back. This is a fighter who defeated then-future unified 108 lb. titlist Ryoichi Taguchi in only his fourth pro fight, won his first pro title in his sixth, and jumped two divisions to smoke Omar Narvaez two fights later for his second but we’d never seen him challenged. Donaire was only the second fighter to last the route after eight straight knockouts, seven of them against fighters who had never been stopped including four current or former titlists. Against the “Filipino Flash,” Inoue battled through a fractured orbital bone, cut eye, and busted nose to drop Donaire late and still lost just three to four rounds of the fight. It was Inoue’s fourth straight win against a fighter widely rated in or near the top five of the 118 lb. weight class and he now holds half of the major alphabet titles in class. It’s his third divisional run and one he might can impressively extend with an interesting field at bantamweight that can present fresh challenges in Nordine Oubaali, Zolani Tete, and Luis Nery. The Donaire fight was one he’ll take lessons from meaning we still may not have seen the best of Inoue. Will Top Rank keep the competition level high and let him finish his run at bantamweight or will the lure of dollars force him up the scale? 2020 will be interesting for the Japanese titan.
2) Saul Alvarez (53-1-2, 36 KO)
Current Alphabet Titles: WBA Middleweight (2018-Present, 1 Defense); WBO Light Heavyweight (2019-Present, 0 Defenses)
Lineal Titles: World/Ring Middleweight (2015-Present, 4 Defenses)
Additional Titles: WBC Super Welterweight (2011-13, 6 Defenses); Ring/WBA Super Welterweight (2013); WBC Middleweight (2015-17, 2 Defenses; 2018-19, 1 Defense); WBO Super Welterweight (2016-17); IBF middleweight (2019)
Record in Title Fights: 13-1-1, 7 KO (14-1-1, 8 KO including WBA secondary title fights)
Last Five Opponents: Sergey Kovalev (KO11), Daniel Jacobs (UD12), Rocky Fielding (TKO3), Gennady Golovkin (MD12, D12), Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (UD12)
Next Opponent: TBA
The Take: There are plenty of folks who don’t think Alvarez won either fight against Gennady Golovkin but the debate was much louder the first time around. In a razor close rematch, both men fought their hearts out and the narrow advantage went to an Alvarez who wasn’t shy about taking the fight to the one of the most dangerous finishers in the game. Alvarez’s failed test for Clenbuterol delayed the rematch, but it would be intellectually dishonest to completely discount the issue of tainted beef in Mexico. That said, it would also be intellectually dishonest to pretend that athletes in Mexico aren’t aware of the issue. It’s an illegal substance or it’s not. We know he tested vigorously for the return, came up clean, and fought even better the second time. Before Kovalev, Alvarez had rarely beaten his best foes with room to spare but he showed maturity and patience against the rangy light heavyweight stalwart. In a fight that was razor close, he put Kovalev away when he had the chance and jumps nearly to the top spot. Previous debatable decisions hurt a hair but there’s no denying Alvarez is facing more of the best available than almost anyone and he’s showing no signs of slowing down. In 2019, it’s meant clear victories over the next leading contender at middleweight in Jacobs and a knockout addition of a title two weight classes up.
3) Vasyl Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KO; 20-1, 10 KO incl. World Series of Boxing contests)
Current Alphabet Titles: WBA Lightweight (2018-present, 3 defenses); WBO Lightweight (2018-Present, 2 Defenses)
Additional Titles: Ring Magazine Lightweight (2018-present, 3 defenses)
Previous Titles: WBO Featherweight (2014-16, 3 Defenses); WBO Super Featherweight (2016-18, 5 Defenses); WBC Lightweight (2019)
Record in Title Fights: 13-1, 9 KO
Last Five Opponents: Luke Campbell (UD12), Anthony Crolla (KO4), Jose Pedraza (UD12), Jorge Linares (TKO10), Guillermo Rigondeaux (RTD6)
Next Opponent: TBA
The Take: He was starting to make it look easy but Lomachenko has found his likely ceiling at lightweight. Since moving up to Jr. lightweight, Lomachenko had been lapping the field. He forced early retirements from four straight opponents after a devastating one-punch knockout of durable Roman Martinez. In his lightweight debut, he showed off his grit under fire. In an excellent clash between skilled men at the top of their games, Lomachenko came off the floor to knock out Linares with a devastating body shot. Recovered from surgery for a torn labrum in that fight, Lomachenko added a second belt in the class to close 2018 with a decision over Jose Pedraza before getting back to making it look easy with a walk over former titlist Anthony Crolla. Luke Campbell competed but didn’t have the firepower to truly threaten. Lomachenko has more interesting options than Crawford does two weight classes higher. His “Franchise” tag from the WBC pushes a Devin Haney fight down the road but Lomachenko was always headed towards another lightweight unification with the winner of Richard Commey-Teofimo Lopez anyways and that will be a date to circle in 2020.
4) Terence Crawford (35-0, 26 KO)
Current Alphabet Titles: WBO Welterweight (2018-Present, 2 Defenses)
Lineal Titles: World/TBRB/Ring Lightweight (2014-15); World/TBRB/Ring Jr. Welterweight (2016-17, 3 Defenses)
Additional Titles: WBO Lightweight (2014-15, 2 Defenses); WBO Light Welterweight (2015-17, 6 Defenses); WBC Super Lightweight (2016-17, 3 Defenses); WBA Super Lightweight (2017); IBF Jr. Welterweight (2017)
Record in Title Fights: 13-0, 10 KO
Last Five Opponents: Amir Khan (TKO6), Jose Benavidez Jr. (TKO12), Jeff Horn (TKO9), Julius Indongo (KO3), Felix Diaz (RTD10)
Next Opponent: December 14, 2019 vs. Egidijus Kavaliauskas (21-0-1, 17 KO)
The Take: Crawford hasn’t had much interesting to do since moving to welterweight with a knockout of Jeff Horn. Crawford may be the most complete talent in boxing but he’s veritably locked out of the best fights in the class by promotional concerns. Crawford can box from both sides effortlessly, he can punch, and he’s got an old school chip on his shoulder but his next fight doesn’t set pulses racing. Others around him are just getting more opportunities against the best in their weight classes. To many eyes, the best fight is the division is Crawford versus Errol Spence. Spence is part of a stacked roster of welterweights and has dangerous options without crossing the street as displayed in his exciting win over Shawn Porter. Will the politics and business structure of boxing keep Crawford from defining fights in his third weight class? Will Crawford be left to look down the scale at the winner of a possible, logical 140 lb. unification between Jose Ramirez and Josh Taylor to remind the world just how good he is before age catches up?
5) Oleksandr Usyk (17-0, 13 KO)
Current Alphabet Titles: None
Lineal Titles: World/TBRB/Ring Cruiserweight (2018-19, 1 Defense)
Additional Titles: WBA Cruiserweight (2018, 1 Defense); WBO Cruiserweight (2016-19, 6 Defenses), WBC Cruiserweight (2018-19, 2 Defenses); IBF Cruiserweight (2018-19, 1 Defense)
Record in Title Fights: 7-0, 3 KO
Last Five Opponents: Chazz Witherspoon (RTD7), Tony Bellew (TKO8), Murat Gassiev (UD12), Mairis Briedis (MD12), Marco Huck (TKO10)
The Take: As expected, the 2012 Olympic Gold medalist at heavyweight from Ukraine reached the final of the excellent World Boxing Super Series at Cruiserweight. He closed it out in style, turning one of the most anticipated fights of 2018 into a showcase and picking up a rare four-belt unification. That it came in one of boxing’s deepest and most competitive divisions is a bonus. His move into the unlimited class, delayed was anti-climactic after an injury delay but 2020 should be more interesting after a veritable lost year. Usyk can set sights on Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, and Andy Ruiz and might be the most viable Cruiserweight threat to the whole heavyweight throne since Evander Holyfield.
6) Errol Spence Jr. (26-0, 21 KO)
Current Alphabet Titles: IBF Welterweight (2017-Present, 4 Defenses); WBC Welterweight (2019-Present, 0 Defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Record in Title Fights: 5-0, 3 KO
Last Five Opponents: Shawn Porter (SD12), Mikey Garcia (UD12), Carlos Ocampo (KO1), Lamont Peterson (RTD7), Kell Brook (KO11)
The Take: Spence showed real chops against Brook and Peterson and dug deep in a fantastic battle with Porter. With the fight seemingly still up for grabs, a knockdown in round eleven stamped a big unification victory. Spence has never been short on guts. He went on the road to win his first title from a Brook who had never lost at welterweight and Spence got better as the fight moved along. Then he dominated a Peterson who had, outside of a blowout loss to Lucas Matthysse, never been an easy out. Spence in his previous two fights handed first career stoppage losses to a Leonard Bundu and Chris Algieri who had taken Keith Thurman and Manny Pacquiao, respectively, the distance. Mikey Garcia thought he saw something before the fight. Spence arguably didn’t let him see a single winning round. The southpaw can box, has size and speed, can punch, and he knows how to finish. Pegged as the best of the 2012 US Olympic class, Spence could reasonably unify three of the four major titles in the class over the next year fighting under the PBC banner. Seeing Crawford on this list will clear up whether he is the absolute best welterweight in the world but not before finishing his recovery from a horrific car accident after the Porter win.
7) Manny Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 KO)
Current Alphabet Titles: WBA Welterweight (2019-Present, 0 Defenses)
Additional Titles: Lineal/WBC World Flyweight (1998-99, 1 Defense); IBF Super Bantamweight 2001-03, 4 Defenses); Lineal/Ring World Featherweight (2003-05, 2 Defenses); Lineal/Ring/WBC World Jr. Lightweight (2008); WBC Lightweight (2008-09); Lineal/Ring World Jr. Welterweight (2009-10); WBC Light Middleweight (2010); WBO Welterweight, (2009-12, 3 Defenses; 2014-15, 1 Defense; 2016-17, 1 Defense); TBRB Welterweight (2016; Retired)
Record in Title Fights: 21-4-2, 11 KO, 1 KOBY (including Lineal, Ring, or TBRB title Fights); 23-4-2, 12 KO, 1 KOBY (including WBA sub-title fights)
Last Five Opponents: Keith Thurman (UD12), Adrien Broner (UD12), Lucas Matthysse (TKO7), Jeff Horn (L12), Timothy Bradley (UD12)
Next Opponent: TBA
The Take: Since losing a decision to Floyd Mayweather on 2015, Pacquiao could easily be 6-0 instead of 5-1 with wins over consensus top ten welterweights Tim Bradley, Jessie Vargas, and most impressive, against an undefeated Keith Thurman in July. It’s probably the best win in the division this year. Before the loss to Mayweather, most still had Pacquiao just outside the top slot on lists like these. If one considers the Jeff Horn fight unfairly decided, and many do, after the Thurman win Pacquiao could be argued even higher than this. Every fighter gets older and while Pacquiao has aged his gas tank has yet to run to empty. Could he defeat a Crawford or Spence in 2020? The odds are against it but the Thurman win was a reminder how rare the true great ones are. More than twenty years after winning the flyweight crown, Pacquiao is still going strong and proved he still belongs in the conversation with the game’s elite.
8) Juan Francisco Estrada (40-3, 27 KO)
Current Alphabet Titles: WBC Super Flyweight (2019-Present, 1 Defense)
Lineal Titles: World/TBRB/Ring Jr. Bantamweight (2019-Present, 1 Defense)
Additional Titles: WBA/WBO Flyweight (2013-16, 5 Defenses)
Record in Title Fights: 8-2, 5 KO
Last Five Opponents: Dewayne Beamon (TKO9), Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (UD12, L12), Victor Mendez (RTD7), Felipe Orucuta (UD12), Carlos Cuadras (UD12)
Next Opponent: TBA
The Take: One of Mexico’s most talented fighters over the last decade avenged his last defeat with a fantastic display of smart boxing in April to stake his place atop the Jr. bantamweight division. Since exploding to broader acclaim in a classic with Roman Gonzalez in 2012, Estrada has come up short again only once against several of the best in what has been one of the great eras near Estrada’s weights. Now he can say he has avenged two of his career defeats. After years apart, could the time finally be right for a rematch with Gonzalez? The Nicaraguan should be back soon from a knee injury and it’s a potentially lucrative option. So would a rubber match with Sor Rungvisai. For now, many signs point to a possible unification with WBA titlist Khalid Yafai. Could Estrada be tempted three pounds up the scale sooner than later? A showdown with Inoue might be as good a fight as could be made in boxing.
9) Gennady Golovkin (40-1-1, 35 KO)
Current Alphabet Titles: BF Middleweight (2019-Present, 0 Defenses)
Additional Titles: WBA Middleweight (2010-18, 19 Defenses); WBC Middleweight (2014-18, 8 Defenses); IBF Middleweight (2015-18, 4 Defenses)
Record in Title Fights: 20-1-1, 17 KO (21-1-1, 18 KO including interim title fights)
Last Five Opponents: Sergiy Derevyanchenko (UD12), Steve Rolls (KO4), Saul Alvarez (L12, D12), Vanes Martirosyan (KO2), Daniel Jacobs (UD12)
Next Opponent: TBA
The Take: Marvin Hagler needed Tommy Hearns to help cement him as one of the greatest middleweights of all time. Bernard Hopkins needed Felix Trinidad. Golovkin waited years for the defining showdowns with Saul Alvarez that could cap his long run at middleweight. He walked away empty handed no matter the vocal folks who think he should still be undefeated. Will there be a third fight? If there is it may not come at middleweight and time may be running short for Golovkin. he was taken to the wall in his last fight with Derevyanchenko and there were at least some that saw him getting a little lucky on the cards. Golovkin will likely be 38 by the next time he gets in the ring and since the Jacobs fight he’s struggled to be the destructive force he was for much of his run. Did the competition get better or did he just get older? It will be debated long after Golovkin is done.
10) Josh Taylor (16-0, 12 KO)
Current Alphabet Titles: IBF Jr. Welterweight (2019-Present, 1 Defense); WBA Super Lightweight (2019-Present, 0 Defenses)
Additional Titles: Ring Magazine Jr. Welterweight (2019-Present, 0 Defenses)
Record in Title Fights: 2-0
Last Five Opponents: Regis Prograis (MD12), Ivan Baranchyk (UD12), Ryan Martin (TKO7), Viktor Postol (UD12), Winston Campos (TKO3)
Next Opponent: TBA
The Take: This slot was a tough debate between Taylor and newly minted lineal light heavyweight king Artur Beterbiev. While Beterbiev couldn’t have been more impressive against Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Taylor has a little deeper run over his last five fights. In winning the World Boxing Super Series, he defeated three straight undefeated foes, saving his best for last in a Fight of the Year contender against the favored Prograis. Taylor needs one more fight to complete his claim on the top of the 140 lb. class: unified titlist Jose Ramirez. Both have said they’re interested. Time will tell if what makes sense makes cents in 2020.
Five More Who Could Easily Be Here: Artur Beterbiev, Tyson Fury, Mikey Garcia, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Kosei Tanaka
Five for the Future: Jermall Charlo, Jose Ramirez, Callum Smith, Deontay Wilder, Julian Williams
As always, feel free to agree…and disagree. This list is for entertainment purposes only and based purely on imagination, hypotheticals, and conjecture just like every other pound for pound list ever written. Neither it nor any other such list made up of such illusory ingredients should be used to forward corporate agendas of any kind.
That doesn’t make it any less fun to argue about.
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 [email protected]