This is our 15th consecutive annual ranking of the 100 best fighters in the world. And if you’ve been paying attention all these years, you’ve noticed some patterns. First, the fighters who get to the Top 5 or so tend to stay there a long while. There’s not an awful lot of turn-over in that group, and that make sense. If you’re so good that you’re among the very best in the world at something, you’ve already demonstrated staying power, consistency and world-class dedication to your craft.
That holds true this year as Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Juan Manuel Marquez, all Top-5 guys last year and the year before and the year before that, are Top-5 guys this year. They simply are not subject to the vagaries to which the rest of are. That’s what makes them the best.
Here’s another sure thing: Sooner or later those guys will drop off, but it will be when they reach a very advanced age, not when they‘re still close to their prime. Bernard Hopkins, No. 4 last year, takes a big tumble, as does Shane Mosley. They are supplanted by younger guys making their marks and doing very good work. They had good runs and knowing those too we wouldn’t be shocked if we saw them again near the top someday.
Some outside the Top 10 suffered significant demotions, too. Arthur Abraham, Mikkel Kessler, Kelly Pavlik, Rafael Marquez and Ivan Calderon all drop more than a few rungs. This is the result not of age in general, but to the frailties and indignities associated with being humans of standard-issue bodies and minds, at least as compared to those in the Top 5 every year.
Inevitably, guys drop off this list. That’s life. Roy Jones Jr. is gone. The late Edwin Valero, too. Ricky Hatton as well, but that’s the least of his worries. Cory Spinks, Joel Casamayor, Steven Luevano, Carlos Quintana, Kendall Holt, Verno Phillips and more, all gone. It’s lucky for us that every time we turn around there’s some young prospect out there knocking the bejesus out of everyone they put in front of him. That’s what keeps this list interesting year after year after year. We hope you agree.
76. Ulises Solis Junior Flyweight 32-2-2 (21) Last Year’s Ranking: 56 Status Report: You probably thought Solis was going to disappear after his KO loss to Brian Viloria in April 2009. Nope. After four straight wins — over Direcu Cabarca (W 8), Bert Batawang (KO 6), Eric Ortiz (W 10), and Luis Carlos Leon (W 10) — Solis drew with Luis Lazarte (D 12) in December. All the work keeps Solis active and honest and in the conversation. Good for him. Future: Nothing scheduled, but maybe the best fight in the class would be a shootout between Solis and Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. Bombs away!
77. Paulie Malignaggi Junior Welterweight 28-5 (5) Last Year’s Ranking: 47 Status Report: If you thought we were going to abandon Malignaggi just because he got his head handed to him by Amir Khan (KO by 11), forget it. It was a terrible style matchup for Malignaggi, who needs a little guy to come forward. Which brings us to Malignaggi’s virtuoso win over Juan Diaz (W 12) in their rematch, and the first one (L 12) was pretty damn good too. Those are why he’s here. His stoppage win over Michael Lozada (KO 6) is the boxing equivalent of raining frogs. Future: Malignaggi has changed promoters and locales, moving to California from his beloved New York. Let‘s see what it does for him.
78. Daniel Ponce de Leon Featherweight 41-2-0 (34) Last Year’s Ranking: Unranked Status Report: Few of us can forget how easily Juan Manuel Lopez annihilated Ponce de Leon in 2008, but the Mexican slugger has come back admirably. In the last year, he beat Orlando Cruz (KO 3), Cornelius Lock (W 10), Antonio Escalante (KO 3) and Sergio Medina (KO 7). He might be caught between styles a bit, but he’s still all puncher and is a threat to pancake a guy at any moment. His punch keeps him in any fight and gets him on this list. Future: There are many entertaining possibilities at featherweight. Pick one.
79. Nehomar Cermeno Bantamweight 20-2-0 (12) Last Year’s Ranking: 73 Status Report: It’s not often that a guy who’s gone 2-2 in his last three fights slides just six spots from last year, but here it’s warranted. Cermeno beat Alejandro Valdez (KO 11) and Hugo Berrio (KO 1), but lost two squeakers (L 12 twice) to the very good Anselmo Moreno, who appears on this list at No. 39. A judge glances at a round card girl or turns his head to pick his ear, maybe those fights are wins for Cermeno. Oh, like that stuff never happens. Now who’s being naïve? Future: Cermeno’s not in the bantamweight tournament, so that’s out, but why not fight a guy like, say, Eric Morel or Christian Mijares?
80. Miguel Acosta WBA Lightweight Titleholder 28-3-2 (22) Last Year’s Ranking: Unranked Status Report: One sure way to get on this list is to beat two pretty good undefeated guys back to back, and that’s what Acosta did in stopping Urbano Antillon (KO 9) and Paulus Moses (KO 6). As far as we can tell, Acosta is a full level below Michael Katsidis and two levels below Juan Manuel Marquez, but we think he can hold his own and then some with any other lightweight in the world. That includes upstarts Brandon Rios, John Murray and Anthony Peterson. Especially Anthony Peterson. Future: Brandon Rios on Feb. 26 in Las Vegas.
81. Sebastian Sylvester IBF Middleweight Titleholder 32-3-1 (15) Last Year’s Ranking: 86 Status Report: Sylvester gets a small bump based on wins over Billy Lyell (KO 10) and decisions over Roman Karmazin (W 12) and Mahir Oral (W 12). Future: We’re going to go out on a limb and bet that in 2011 Sylvester will defend his belt two times against average or below-average European flotsam. Any takers? Didn’t think so.
82. Ryan Rhodes Junior Middleweight 45-4-0 (31) Last Year’s Ranking: Unranked Status Report: Since his inexplicable loss to Gary Lockett way back in 2006, Rhodes has been on a bit of a tear, winning 10 in a row, eight by knockout. That’s the good news. The bad is that unless you follow boxing very closely in the UK, you have no clue as to how good any of those 10 guys are. At the least, wins over the fairly well-credentialed Luca Messi (KO 6) — a terrible name for a fighter, we’re sure you’ll agree — and Jamie Moore (KO 7) get him into the Top 100. Future: Rhodes is competitive with the guys THE RING rates beneath him at 154, and gets absolutely destroyed by any of the monsters rated above him. Here’s a bit of advice, Ryan: Go under.
83. Brandon Rios Lightweight 26-0-1 (19) Last Year’s Ranking: Unranked Status Report: Rios’ thrilling win over Anthony Peterson (W DQ 7) in November on HBO was clearly a breakout fight for him, even if Peterson’s incessant nut-punching deprived viewers of the conclusive ending for which they were looking. Between that fight and a win over reasonably tough Jorge Luis Teron (KO 3), and another over Omri Lowther (KO 4), Rios had a very good year if you don’t count his ill-advised impression of Freddie Roach. Future: Reportedly will face Miguel Acosta on Feb. 26 in Las Vegas.
84. Mzonke Fana IBF Junior Lightweight Titleholder 28-4-0 (11) Last Year’s Ranking: Unranked Status Report: Fana may be the best of a wretchedly poor division, but he’s doing something right. You can’t discount entirely a year in which he bested once-beaten Jasper Seroka (KO 6) and then avenged a majority-decision loss to nemesis Cassius Baloyi (W 12). And the margin of victory over Baloyi was a combined 27 points. He dominated the way a guy at the top of his division should. Future: A fight against Scotland’s Ricky Burns would be wonderful. More likely is an alphabet defense against Leva Kirakosian. He will have no part of Jorge Linares, whom the THE RING and IBF still rate at 130 pounds.
85. Alexander Povetkin Heavyweight 20-0-0 (14) Last Year’s Ranking: 64 Status Report: Povetkin slides 21 rungs almost entirely because his trainer, Teddy Atlas, said he’s not good enough to face Wladimir Klitschko yet. Who are we to argue? Also, we have to say that for all the talk about Atlas taking him to the next level, Povetkin’s recent resume — wins over Leo Nolan (KO 3), Javier Mora (KO 5) Teke Oruh (KO 5) and Nicolai Firtha (W 10) — is a bit underwhelming. Future: If Atlas thinks fighting stiffs is the way to get ready for a Klitschko, we’ve got bad news for him: It’s been tried.
86. Nathan Cleverly Light Heavyweight 21-0-0 (10) Last Year’s Ranking: Unranked Status Report: Cleverly is one of just two undefeated guys in THE RING’s Top 10 at light heavyweight (Tavoris Cloud is the other) and he hasn’t been bowling over just stiffs; in December he beat 23-1 (12) Nadjib Mohammedi, for what that that’s worth and he also stopped the heretofore undefeated Karo Murat (KO 10), THE RING’s No. 8-ranked 175-pounder. Future: Nothing signed yet but how about a trip across the pond, Nathan old boy?
87. Librado Andrade Super Middleweight 28-2-0 (21) Last Year’s Ranking: 83 Status Report: You could make the argument that this is an unfairly low rating for a guy who’s hell to fight for anyone who can’t jump around like a meth addict for 12 rounds, but let’s remember a couple things. First, he was way behind on points when he almost stopped Lucian Bute in their match in 2008 (L 12); Bute obliterated him in their rematch (KO by 4); and even the ancient and decrepit Eric Lucas had some success against him before Andrade walked him down (KO 8). We love to watch the guy fight, too, but we shouldn’t mistake “exciting” for ability that merits a higher ranking than this. And for a face-first guy, this is a hell of a good rating. Future: Nothing scheduled at the moment, but we’d like to see him against … well, anyone at or around 168 pounds.
88. Sakio Bika Super Middleweight 28-4-2 (19) Last Year’s Ranking: 85 Status Report: Andre Ward beat Bika in November (L 12) but Bika didn’t lose much value. Ward is seen as no worse than the second best 168-pounder around, and Bika pushed him fairly hard. In his only other appearance during the year, Bika nearly disemboweled poor Jean Paul Mendy (L DQ 1). He’s big, crazy-strong and maybe a little insane. No one ever has an easy time of it with him — ask Joe Calzaghe — but Bika’s not skilled enough to have put it all together yet. Future: Bika has already lost to the division’s best, and the second tier won’t have much inclination to fight him. He’s in a tough spot.
89. Dmitry Pirog Middleweight 17-0 (14) Last Year’s Ranking: Unranked Status Report: It would seem that Pirog’s lone noteworthy accomplishment for the year was his beautiful annihilation of Danny Jacobs (KO 5), but he also has wins over Americans Eric Mitchell (KO 5) and Kofi Jantuah (W 12). Don’t think this guy can’t fight because he’s whiter than Ricky Hatton and looks like he hasn’t hit puberty yet. He’s the goods. Ask Jacobs. Future: Pirog will be on HBO in 2011, with any luck against someone noteworthy.
90. Juan Diaz Lightweight 35-4 (17) Last Year’s Ranking: 46 Status Report: Clearly, Diaz is trending downward. Just two years ago, he landed at 22 in this analysis. Two years later, he’s lost twice to Juan Manuel Marquez (KO by 9 and L 12) and split a pair of fights with Paulie Malignaggi (W 12 and L 12). That’s the bad news. The good is that the first fight with Marquez was The Fight of the Year, and Diaz didn’t disgrace himself in the rematch. And it wasn’t Lady Gaga he lost to, for chrissakes, it was Juan Manuel Marquez. So for now, Diaz stays. Future: Guys who fight like Diaz burn out young. He’s only 27 years old, but it’s a hard 27. And he has that whole law school thing going on. Don’t be surprised if you don’t see him in a ring again.
91. Orlando Salido Featherweight 34-11-2 (22) Last Year’s Ranking: Unranked Status Report: If this list were concerned solely with straight-up hunger and balls, Salido might be in the Top 10. The guy is workboot-tough, and if you don‘t believe us, ask Cristobal Cruz, who Salido beat last May (W 12), avenging a split decision loss that occurred in 2008. His spirited if hopeless showing against Yuriorkis Gamboa (L 12) evidenced typical Salido: relentless, indefatigable, but just not as talented as he is tough. It’s s damn shame. Future: Guys with double-digit losses are frowned on by the networks, but Salido will get work for as long as he wants it. At 29 years old, he has a couple years left to make a few guys wish they’d gone into another line of work.
92. Juan Urango Junior Welterweight 22-2-1 (17) Last Year’s Ranking: 88 Status Report: Devon Alexander owes Urango a big debt. It was Alexander’s knockout of Urango (KO by 8) that made people think Alexander is suddenly a big puncher (he isn’t) and a special fighter (he might be). Urango hasn’t fought since, but he got enough good work done at junior welter before the Alexander fight that he stays on the list. For now. Future: Nothing scheduled, but Urango should get while the getting is still good. There are lots of good 140-pounders right now, and he can get in on some of the bigger fights if he wants to. Who wouldn’t want to see Urango against Marcos Maidana, for example?
93. Anthony Mundine Middleweight 40-4 (24) Last Year’s Ranking: 63 Status Report: Before his surprising loss to novice Garth Wood (KO by 5), Mundine had been on a roll against guys no one has ever heard of — Robert Medley (W 12), Carlos Jerez (W 12) and Ryan Waters ( KO 10). He drops 30 rungs not just because of the KO loss, but for wasting our time all these years. Future: Mundine will return to the “spotlight” in a rematch against Wood. Be still our hearts.
94. Takefumi Sakata Flyweight 36-6-2 (17) Last Year’s Ranking: 70 Status Report: Sakata plummets 25 spots following a dismal year in which he beat an absolute no-hoper in Eric Siregar (KO 1) and then lost to Daiki Kameda (L 12). This after falling from 44 to 70 in last year’s analysis. Don’t get us wrong; it’s still a hell of a thing to be rated one of the best 100 fighters in the world. But dropping 51 rungs in two years is remarkable. And unless we expand this analysis next year to include the Top 150 fighters in the world, we suspect this is Sakata’s final appearance. Future: Nothing scheduled, which, all things considered, might be a good thing.
95. Nkosinathi Joyi Strawweight 21-0-0 (15) Last Year’s Ranking: Unranked Status Report: Joyi is on a roll, having beaten Florante Condes (W 12) and, importantly, Raul Garcia (W 12) over the last 18 months. He’s not a bad puncher for a little guy and isn’t afraid to get in there and work. He could be around a while. Future: Katsunari Takayama on Jan. 29 in South Africa.
96. Cornelius Bundrage IBF Junior Middleweight Titleholder 30-4 (18) Last Year’s Ranking: Unranked Status Report: Laugh all you want, but this fact remains: We put Cory Spinks at 48 last year. And in August, “K9,” if you can stand it, blew him out of the ring (KO 5). We don’t like it any better than you do, but maybe we all should just accept that with his innate strength, drive, awkwardness and Emanuel Steward in his corner, maybe Bundrage can fight a bit. We’ll bet Spinks thinks so. Future: Nothing scheduled, but there’s no reason Bundrage can’t get in on some of the good business getting done among the Top 10 guys at 154. We don’t think he beats any of those guys, but hey, we underestimate this guy at our peril.
97. Ricky Burns Junior Lightweight 30-2 (7) Last Year’s Ranking: Unranked Status Report: How does Burns crack the Top 100? Almost entirely on the weight of his win over then-undefeated Roman Martinez in September (W12). Wins over Kevin O’Hara (W 12) Michael Gomez (KO 7) and Andreas Evensen (W 12) don’t hurt either. Burns has faced a lot of sub-.500 guys, and that makes us suspicious. But the Martinez fight carries weight. Future: Tough Terdsak Jandaeng is in Burns’ near future.
98. Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. Junior Featherweight 20-0-1 (17) Last Year’s Ranking: Unranked Status Report: It’s easy to underrate the sons of famous fighting fathers, but Vazquez looks like the real thing — a rarity in this genre. Wins over Genaro Garcia (KO 7), Marvin Sonsona (KO 4), Zsolt Bedak (KO 10) and Choko Hernandez (KO 11) don’t lie. The kid can punch like a welterweight, and as his record makes clear, he carries his power late into a fight. Keep your eye on this kid — even if he is a junior. Future: Probably a blockbuster of a showdown — relatively speaking — with Mexican favorite Jorge Arce.
99. Urbano Antillon Lightweight 28-2 (20) Last Year’s Ranking: Unranked Status Report: Look at it this way: Antillon took No. 32-ranked Humberto Soto to hell and back in their wonderful brawl (L 12) in December and his only other loss is to Miguel Acosta (KO by 9), who appears at No. 80 and frankly might be a little low there. Antillo is a rough, tough guy who will press any 135-pounder in the world. He deserves to be here. Future: Future? The guy is still on the mend from the Soto fight. Don’t rush him, will ya?
100. Saul Alvarez Welterweight/junior Middleweight 34-0-1 (26) Last Year’s Ranking: Unranked Status Report: Alvarez isn’t a perfect fighter by any means, but for a 20-year-old kid, he’s got it together. Four wins in 2010 get him here — over Jose Miguel Cotto (KO 9), Luciano Cuello (KO 6), a stirring, face-first KO of shopworn but useful former welterweight world champion Carlos Baldomir (KO 6) and a workmanlike points win over Lovemore N’dou (W 12). What a future this kid has. Future: Possibly WBA welterweight titleholder Viacheslav Senchenko or Matthew Hatton. We’re sure of only one thing: There are bigger things just around the corner.