Mayweather tops list of the best fighters in the sport
Posted: Thursday April 27, 2006 11:23AM; Updated: Thursday April 27, 2006 2:29PM
No, Wladimir Klitschko does not make my pound-for-pound list (maybe if he weighed 141, not 241). But with his very efficient destruction of Chris Byrd last Saturday in Mannheim, Germany, the world's toughest Ukrainian Ph.D. jumps to the top of my list of top 10 active heavyweights. He fought with confidence, stuck to a game plan that capitalized on his far-from-minimal skills -- and on his considerable strength -- and showed very real heavyweight power.
True, Byrd was never going to test Klitschko's notoriously suspect chin, even if he had gotten close enough to land a real shot. But I get the sense that Klitschko's ability to take a punch will increase in proportion to his confidence and his comfort level in the ring, and both are soaring.
Some boxing observers whose opinion I respect would say that trainer Emanuel Steward gets too much credit for the success of his charges, but it looks to me as though Steward has got Klitschko fighting exactly the way he needs to, and that Klitschko knows that. That should make the big guy dangerous -- for whoever faces him next -- and the heavyweight division that much more interesting.
Now, a look at boxing's best, regardless of weight class ...
Pound-for-Pound Power Rankings
Floyd Mayweather Jr. (35-0, 23 KOs)
His whipping of Zab Judah on April 8 (to win the IBF and IBO welterweight belts) may not have been as spectacular as his Grand Guignol destruction of Arturo Gatti last June, but it was plenty impressive -- as much for the newfound maturity Mayweather exhibited before, during and after the fight as for the range of skills he brought to bear in beating the always annoying but talented Judah. Even a low blow and a rabbit punch followed by an in-ring riot failed to rattle Floyd. After a tentative start, he set about neutralizing Zab's quickness and troublesome southpaw attack with his own dazzling speed, combination punching and unmatched sense of distance and pace. He remains the most complete fighter today.
Manny Pacquiao (41-3-2, 33 KOs)
His 10th-round TKO of Erik Morales in January was the kind of performance that elevates a fighter to a special level. The southpaw junior lightweight had always been an electrifying puncher, rugged and exciting, but in that second go-round with Morales he showed patience, maturity, better balance and a more complete arsenal. Pacquiao is also a remarkably satisfying fighter to watch -- he exudes joy just at being in the ring. Next up: a triumphant homecoming to the Philippines (where he is a national hero) in July against veteran Oscar Larios.
Winky Wright (50-3, 25 KOs)
Wright's one of those guys who has been so famously underrated for so long that he's in danger of becoming overrated. But as a pure boxer, the southpaw is as accomplished as anyone in the game. He is not a dangerous puncher, but his relentless jab and his unsurpassed sense of distance and angles have made him very hard to beat. At 34, though, he will face a career-defining test against 27-year-old middleweight champion Jermain Taylor when they face off in Memphis on June 17.
Marco Antonio Barrera (61-4, 42 KOs)
I love watching Barrera fight. At 32, the WBC junior lightweight champion can still do it all: He has a great jab, he's a vicious body puncher, he's tough and he knows every trick in the book. Plus, he beat the stuffing out of Naseem Hamed back in 2001. He has lost just twice in the last six years -- once to Erik Morales, whom he went on to beat twice in one of the sport's great trilogies, and once to Pacquiao. He has yet to meet Pacquiao again. When he does, it will be a true superfight.
Ricky Hatton (40-0, 30 KOs)
The 27-year-old IBF and WBA 140-pound champion from Great Britain did the improbable last year, pounding the great Kostya Tszyu into quitting on his stool. He followed that up with a ninth-round knockout of Carlos Maussa. It was enough to earn him Ring Magazine's Fighter of the Year award and, more significantly, make him an attractive and credible possible opponent for Mayweather.
Jose Luis Castillo (54-7-1, 47 KOs)
Another junior welterweight (even when he was supposed to be fighting for the lightweight title, but that's another story), Castillo lost to Diego Corrales in a stunning 10th-round knockout last May, but avenged that defeat with a dominating fourth-round stoppage of Corrales five months later. Now they're set to do it a third time in June. Unless Castillo takes too much out of himself trying to make 135 pounds, he figures to be simply too strong and rugged for Corrales.
Rafael Marquez (35-3, 31 KOs)
The Mexican bantamweight champion sewed up his division with impressive wins over Mark Johnson and Tim Austin a few years ago and has not been seriously challenged since. A superb puncher, he made a little noise last November with a fourth-round KO of Silence Mabuza. Marquez has no bout scheduled at this time, but a fight against Mexico's Jhonny Gonzalez, who finished off what was left of Johnson in February, could be one of the biggest bantamweight fights in a long time.
Joe Calzaghe (41-0, 31 KOs)
He's a southpaw. He's from Wales. And he's the baddest super middleweight in the world. Calzaghe, who has held the WBO 168-pound crown for more than eight years but has never defended it in the U.S., completely outclassed Jeff Lacy in March before a wildly enthusiastic crowd in Manchester, England. Calzaghe showed great speed, combination punching and conditioning as he bloodied, battered and basically shut out the favored and previously undefeated Lacy.
Antonio Tarver (24-3, 18 KOs)
He lost a highly questionable decision to Roy Jones in 2003, then came back to KO Jones (and has since beaten him again for good measure). Tarver then avenged a disputed decision to Glen Johnson with a convincing win. Now he's set to defend his light heavyweight title against Bernard Hopkins on June 10 in Atlantic City. This time look for Tarver to skip the disputed loss part and go straight to the convincing win.
James Toney (69-4-3, 43 KOs)
How does a guy who's, oh, 50 to 60 pounds overweight make it onto a pound-for-pound list? By being the most seasoned, well-rounded (you know what I mean) fighter in boxing. Sure, he's too small to bang with the real big heavywights and -- at age 37, coming off a depressing draw with Hasim Rahman -- who knows how much he has left? But Toney remains an old-school treasure, the one guy out there who still does all the little things that they just don't teach any more. Enjoy him while you can.
This weekend offers some intriguing bouts. On Friday night, in Uncasville, Conn., heavyweight Samuel Peter, the Nigerian Nightmare (can't someone come up with a better nickname for him?) will be fighting (on ESPN2) for the second time since losing to Klitschko last September.
Peter's opponent, the seven-foot-tall Julius Long (whose nickname, the Towering Inferno, is just perfect, thank you), has lost five of his last nine and doesn't figure to last, er, long against the powerful Nigerian (25-1, 21 KOs). I'm interested to see, though, whether Peter has a) learned to move and/or throw more than a single punch at a time or b) ramped up the intensity that seemed to be missing in his loss to Klitschko.
On that same evening, check out Showtime's ShoBox: The New Generation for a look at the promising Peterson brothers, headlining a card in that center of fistic activity, New Town, N.D. Lamont Peterson, 22, and Anthony Peterson, 21, are both junior welterweights, both 16-0 and both knocking on the door of contender status. The brothers have drawn some press lately because of their backstory, having grown up homeless in Washington, D.C. Well schooled by trainer Barry Hunter, they should continue to progress.
Saturday night's HBO card, from Foxwoods resort in Mashantucket, Conn., features Acelino Freitas against Zahir Rahman for the vacant WBO lightweight title. Rahman (27-1, 16 KOs) is making his first appearance in the ring since upsetting Erik Morales last September, and he has picked a tough opponent in the hard-punching Freitas (37-1, 32 KOs), whose only loss was to Corrales in 2004.
I plan to catch the undercard on Saturday for a chance to see middleweight Andre Ward in action. The only U.S. gold medalist from the Athens Olympics, the 22-year-old Ward is 8-0 as a pro. His opponent, Andy Kolle, is 9-0, so it might seem that Ward is taking a bit of a risk. I don't think so. Kolle, who will be boxing for the first time outside of Minnesota or North Dakota, has faced only one fighter with a winning record; all told, his opponents were a gaudy 21-48-8. Kolle's 0 must go.