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.
1. Manny Pacquiao
Welterweight 52-3-2 (38)
Last Year’s Ranking: 1
Status Report: As most of us expected, Pacquiao made mincemeat out of Antonio Margarito, who not so long ago everyone was calling the most feared fighter in the world. It wasn’t Pacquiao’s most impressive achievement of the past year; the bludgeoning of Miguel Cotto (KO 12) in November of 2009 gets the nod there, and getting points too is the shutout he pitched against the highly competent if reluctant Joshua Clottey (W 12). Along with everyone else we would have preferred the year ended with a superfight against the next guy on this list, but you can’t have everything. As it is, Pacquiao comes awfully close.
Future: Shane Mosey on May 7. Despicable.
2. Floyd Mayweather
Welterweight 41-0 (25)
Last Year’s Ranking: 2
Status Report: It’s hard to maintain a ranking as high as this fighting just once in all of 2010, but Mayweather did it. How? By completely out-classing Shane Mosley. And he did it by standing right in Mosley’s grill, more or less, and out-fighting him. That Mayweather was rocked in the second round and came back to dominate every second of every round thereafter — as easily as he did against Juan Manuel Marquez — is proof enough that Mayweather remains at worst the second best fighter on the planet.
Future: Every time we think we have Mayweather figured out he does something that seems nonsensical to the rest of us, but look where he is and where we are. Who’s smarter? Aside from the legal matters that seem to pop up every other day lately, he’s made the right move for Floyd Mayweather every single time. But he knows this: he must fight Pacquiao. In 2011 he will.
3. Sergio Martinez
World Middleweight Champion/Junior Middleweight 46-2-2 (25)
Last Year’s Ranking: 71
Status Report: If our math is right, Martinez jumped about 3,000 rungs since last year’s analysis, which might be a record. Either way, it’s deserved. He fought Williams to a standstill in the first match – you‘re not alone if you thought he should have gotten the nod – cut up and damn near stopped Kelly Pavlik in April, then rendered Williams instantly boneless with a single left hand in their long-awaited rematch (KO 2). That’s a hell of a year.
Future: Your guess is as good as ours. Martinez is scheduled to defend his middleweight title in March in NYC against either Irish prospect Andy Lee or alphabet mandatory Sebastian Zbik, but he deserves the big paydays that come with more significant fights. Lou DiBella, his promoter, would love a Pacquiao match. He can forget it. That fight’s not happening. Martinez’s best bet for some meaningful fights might be to jump to 168.
4. Juan Manuel Marquez
World Lightweight Champion 52-5-1 (38)
Last Year’s Ranking: 5
Status Report: Not many thought Marquez was really as bad as he looked in his loss to Mayweather near the end of 2009, but when he took off a full 10 months before getting in the ring again you had to wonder. But there he was again in July, handing poor Juan Diaz another boxing lesson (W 12), and then taking apart the spirited and very tenacious Michael Katsidis (KO 9) in another defense of the straight-up lightweight world title. We don’t know how much longer Marquez can be Marquez, but this much should already be decided: he has a room reserved in Canastota.
Future: Marquez, who may face fellow future hall of famer Erik Morales in April, seems as hungry and ambitious now as he ever has. Call him a late bloomer.
5. Nonito Donaire
Junior Bantamweight 23-1 (15)
Last Year’s Ranking: 6
Status Report: Donaire obliterated Wladimir Sidorenko (KO 4) on December 4, his third fight of 2010 — quite busy indeed for a top pound-for-pounder these days. We wouldn’t mind if the level of competition was as ambitious as the schedule; Manuel Vargas (KO 3) and Hernan Marquez (KO 8) were pretty much no-hopers. Sidorenko was a welcome step up, if not a huge one.
Future: Donaire is scheduled to meet Fernando Montiel on Feb. 19 in one of the best matchups that can be made today. Montiel probably qualifies as the best fighter Donaire has ever faced and what happens when they meet will go a long way toward determining where Donaire appears on this list next year.
6. Pongsaklek Wonjongkam
World Flyweight Champion 76-3-1 (40)
Last Year’s Ranking: 41
Status Report: If all the very good fighters in the world went to work as frequently as Wonjongkam does, we’d see high-quality fights every weekend, and not just in the last two months of the year. Wonjongkam fought four times since last year’s analysis, beating Rodel Tejares (KO 6), undefeated Japanese star Koki Kameda (W 12), Rey Migrino (KO 1), and Suriyan Por Chokchai (W 12). Wondering if that justifies a 34-point jump? Look at it this way: the Kameda fight was big, and Wonjongkam was overdue for a promotion. This year he gets it.
Future: Wonjongkam’s arch nemesis, Daisuke Naito, lost to Kameda in 2009 and is 36 years old so another match with him is probably unlikely. A rematch with Kameda isn’t out of the question.
7. Fernando Montiel
WBC Bantamweight Titleholder 44-2-2 (34)
Last Year’s Ranking: 21
Status Report: Who would have thought that the guy who froze against Mark Johnson in 2003 would now be among the very best fighters in the world? Probably nobody but Montiel himself. Here he is anyway, with four good wins in 2010 propelling him into the top 10. Victories over Ciso Morales (KO 1), Hozumi Hasegawa (KO 4), Rafael Concepcion (KO 3) and Jovanny Soto (KO 2) get him here. Ah, who are we kidding? It was the win over Hasegawa, which also rid Montiel of the stink left from his suspicious technical draw against Alejandro Valdez in 2009.
Future: Is scheduled to face fellow tiny pound-for-pound entrant Nonito Donaire on February 19 in a wonderful 118-pound matchup.
8. Wladimir Klitschko
World Heavyweight Champion 55-3 (49)
Last Year’s Ranking: 20
Status Report: This is for everyone who thinks THE RING discriminates against heavyweights, foreign-born and otherwise. For the first time in about forever, a heavyweight is so demonstrably better than the stiffs he’s facing that we have no choice but to assume his genius and rank him among the very best in the game. Certainly, 2010 victims Eddie Chambers (KO 12) and Sam Peter (KO 10) would agree.
Future: Though he’s now 34, Klitschko shows no signs of slipping and appears as motivated as ever, even if an abdominal injury forced him to pull out of a fight with one Dereck Chisora. There is talk that he and David Haye are close to signing. We’ll believe that when we see it.
9. Timothy Bradley
Junior Welterweight 26-0 (11)
Last Year’s Ranking: 30
Status Report: Another big jump, but Bradley did something in 2010 nobody else on this list did: beat two undefeated guys in consecutive fights and signed to fight another. Bradley’s wins over Lamont Peterson (W 12) and Luis Carlos Abregu (W 12) would have gotten him here well enough. Both demonstrated his versatility, skills and level of conditioning. The guy’s a machine. But when he agreed to face rising star Devon Alexander, we found out something else about him. He’s fearless. And that never hurts.
Future: Bradley and Alexander will meet on January 29 in Michigan. We like Bradley to win that one big. After that look for a match with another upper-level 140 or 147-pounder, possibly Amir Khan.
10. Juan Manuel Lopez
Featherweight 30-0 (27)
Last Year’s Ranking: 29
Status Report: Bob Arum’s latest Puerto Rican star convinced Rafael Marquez to quit in one of the year’s best slugfests (KO 8) topping off a fine year indeed for “JuanMa.” His victories over the very good Steven Lueveno (KO 7) and Bernabe Concepcion (KO 2) were not without anxious moments here or there, but this is an exceptionally talented kid just vulnerable enough to keep us on the edge of our seats.
Future: Lopez is scheduled to defend his belt on April 16 in Puerto Rico, probably against Philadelphia prospect Teon Kennedy, but the fight everyone hopes happens in 2011 is a showdown with Yurorkis Gamboa. The reality: not until Arum is good and god damned ready.
11. Miguel Cotto
Welterweight/Junior Middleweight 35-2 (28)
Last Year’s Ranking: 7
Status Report: There’s a reason most fighters don’t want to face the best guys out there all the time — it’s a good way to get your head handed to you. Cotto, bless his heart, has never run from a good fight, and that’s why Manny Pacquiao beat him senseless (KO by 12) in one of 2009’s bigger events. Cotto was never in it after the second round, but he looked as good as new pulverizing gimpy, feather-fisted Yuri Foreman (KO 9) the next time out. Let the other guys talk about retirement. Cotto’s not going anywhere.
Future: A money-making “gimme” fight with Ricardo Mayorga on March 12 in Las Vegas, but then what? Bob Arum can threaten all he wants to make Pacquiao-Cotto II, but even he can’t sell it. We know it and he knows it. He’s been talking a lot about Cotto-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. too. That’s even less competitive. So who’s he really thinking about putting in with Cotto? Try Vanes Martirosyan or Antonio Margarito.
12. Vitali Klitschko
WBC Heavyweight Titleholder 40-2 (38)
Last Year’s Ranking: 22
Status Report: Two heavyweights in the top 20? Have we gone mad? Maybe. But you just can’t deny anymore that the elder Klitschko, as ungainly, awkward, and stiff-legged as he seems, is one of the best in the world at what he does — which is beat up really bad heavyweights. In fact, the only guy better than him at it is his brother. Even if he’s starting to creak a little — he is 39, after all — Big Brother belongs here. Kevin Johnson (W 12), Albert Sosnowski (KO 10) and Shannon Briggs (W 12) can’t be wrong.
Future: He denies it publicly, but retirement for the big guy is not far down the road. He and Wladimir seem to be in a longevity contest, and this Vitali cannot win. Nevertheless, his alphabet mandatory is chubby Cuban Odlanier Solis. We can hardly wait.
13. Hozumi Hasegawa
Bantamweight 28-3 (12 KOs)
Last Year’s Ranking: 12
Status Report: Hasegawa remains a world-class performer, but drops several rungs based on his surprisingly poor showing against Fernando Montiel (KO by 4). Sure Montiel can crack, but we expected more from this guy. In his only other appearances of the period, Hasegawa beat Alvara Perez (KO 4) and outpointed Juan Carlos Burgos for a featherweight strap.
Future: We’re doubtful Hasegawa can be as effective at 126 as he was at 118. That’s a lot of weight, relatively speaking, for a guy the size of a one of Nicolai Valuev’s skin tags.
14. Jean Pascal
World Light Heavyweight Champion 27-1-1 (16)
Last Year’s Ranking: 61
Status Report: Another big jump here, but Pascal earned it, beating Adrian Diaconu (W12) in their rematch, upsetting Chad Dawson (Tech Dec 11) to claim the world light heavyweight title, and barely scraping by an oddly resurgent Bernard Hopkins (D 12). You can say Dawson fought the wrong fight against Pascal or that Pascal got a gift against Hopkins, but it’s nitpicking. Pascal does what he has to do. That counts for something. In fact, it counts for a lot.
Future: What we’d like: a rematch against Hopkins. What we’ll get: a rematch against Dawson. We’ll take it.
15. Bernard Hopkins
Light Heavyweight 51-5-2 (32)
Last Year’s Ranking: 4
Status Report: If you gave the old man no shot against Pascal, you don’t know Bernard Hopkins. When will you learn? Okay, so he looked awful and dispirited against Roy Jones (W 12). He was better against Enrique Ornelas (W 10) but downright nasty against Pascal (D 12), chasing the Canadian all over the ring over the fight’s second half and almost breaking him in half with body punches. This guy is the baddest 45-year-old on the planet.
Future: Forget about a rematch with Pascal; he’ll never get it. Who does that leave? How about IBF belt holder Tavoris Cloud? Wouldn’t that be fun?
16. Paul Williams
Middleweight/Junior Middleweight 39-2 (27)
Last Year’s Ranking: 11
Status Report: Williams takes a big tumble after going to sleep against Sergio Martinez in their rematch (KO by 2). He had an interesting 2010 even before that disaster; an all-out punch-a-thon with Martinez in the first match (W 12) that said both good and bad about “The Punisher,” and then a curious and not altogether inspired win over Kermit Cintron (Tech Dec 4).
Future: Here’s what 2011 will not include for Williams: a match with Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Andre Berto or any other fighter who practices at or around 147 pounds, or a rubber match against Martinez. Can you say “rebuilding year?”
17. Shane Mosley
Welterweight 46-6-1 (39)
Last Year’s Ranking: 3
Status Report: It’s not entirely the Floyd Mayweather fight (L 12) that results in Mosley’s demotion here. After all, there’s no shame in dropping 10 of 12 rounds to Little Floyd. It is Mosley’s mostly ineffectual performance against Sergio Mora (D 12), too. “Sugar Shane” will still beat a lot of guys, which is why he’s ranked where he is. Give him a pressure guy and he’ll look like he’s 25 again. Movers and counter punchers? Not so much.
Future: Manny Pacquiao, whom he deserves like we deserve a Pulitzer. It just isn’t right.
18. Lucian Bute
IBF Super Middleweight Titleholder 23-0 (18)
Last Year’s Ranking: 58
Status Report: It’s hard to have a better year than Bute had. His wins over Librado Andrade in their rematch (KO 4), Edison Miranda (KO 3), and Jesse Brinkley (KO 9) were as good as anything anyone did in the Super Six tourney, which is why he jumps 41 spots.
Future: A match against Ireland’s Brian Magee in March.
19. Chris John
WBA Featherweight Titleholder 44-0-2 (22)
Last Year’s Ranking: 17
Status Report: You can make a case for demoting John more than we did; he was inactive for 14 months before beating Fernando Saucedo in Indonesia in December (W 12). This inspired the WBA to hand out featherweight title belts of varying color and significance to every upright-walking primate on the eastern seaboard, but that’s not John’s fault, and until someone beats him he stays on this list.
Future: There are lots of good featherweights out there for an ambitious guy like John. Keep your fingers crossed that he meets a couple of them.
20. Chad Dawson
Light Heavyweight 29-1 (17)
Last Year’s Ranking: 16
Status Report: It must have been fun being Dawson when he finally gave in to the media’s insistence that he fight Glen Johnson again and promptly beat him clearly and without controversy (W 12). We imagine it was less fun when Jean Pascal upset him in Montreal to receive recognition as the world light heavyweight champ ( L Tech Dec 11). But that’s just a guess.
Future: A rematch with Pascal, apparently. And if he wins that one? We’ll put it this way: Ali-Frazier these two are not.
21. Andre Berto
WBC Welterweight Titleholder 27-0 (21)
Last Year’s Ranking: 37
Status Report: Berto crushed Freddy Hernandez (KO 1) in November. Insert sound of crickets here. The guy is undeniably talented, as his demolition of Carlos Quintana (KO 8) also demonstrated, and has every gift one could want in a fighter along with a few you wouldn’t. For example, it’s not his fault there was an earthquake in Haiti, but he would have taken a giant step forward fighting and beating Shane Mosley when he had the chance.
Future: Berto’s still a relative baby at 27 years old, but cripes, what’s he waiting for? The welterweight division is full of very good fighters, including him. Let’s see him against Josh Clottey or Jan Zaveck if he can’t get Mayweather or Pacquiao. It’s a start, for chrissake.
22. Andre Ward
WBA Super Middleweight Titleholder 23-0 (14)
Last Year’s Ranking: Unranked
Status Report: It’s a surprise to most of us that Ward has emerged as the star of the Super Six tournament, beating favorite Mikkel Kessler (Tech Dec 11) and then, less surprisingly, late entrant Allan Green (W 12). Last month he out pointed another sub, Sakio Bika outside the tournament (W 12). That‘s a heck of a year in anyone‘s book.
Future: Unless something unusual happens, Ward wins this tournament. He’s the most athletic and maybe the hungriest fighter in there. It’s hard to picture any of the remaining guys beating him.
23. Yuriorkis Gamboa
WBA Featherweight Titleholder 19-0 (15)
Last Year’s Ranking: 79
Status Report: In the course of 12 months Gamboa went from gifted but amateurish prospect to one of the WBA’s 6,712 titleholders, so there’s real progress there. How’d he do it? A new trainer and a bit more discipline led him to wins over Rogers Mtagwa (KO 2), Jonathan Victor Barros (W 12) and the very good Orlando Salido (W 12).
Future: Gamboa is a special talent. He and JuanMa are going to make beautiful music together someday.
24. Rafael Marquez
Featherweight 39-6 (35)
Last Year’s Ranking: 10
Status Report: This is a big tumble for one of the game’s most respected warriors, but it’s just. Marquez fought just once since last year’s analysis, obliterating rival Israel Vazquez (KO 3) who looked entirely shot. (Though we imagine we have to give Marquez credit for making him shot.) He gave star Juan Manuel Lopez a good run for a few rounds (KO by 8), but never seemed in control. Still, his resume gets him here.
Future: He’s 35 years old and has been around the block a couple dozen times, but is nowhere near retiring. What is it with these Marquez boys anyway?
25. Giovani Segura
World Junior Flyweight Champion 25-1-1 (21)
Last Year’s Ranking: 80
Status Report: What a year for Segura. Wins over Walter Tello (KO 3) and Ronald Ramos (KO 4) were good enough, but then he stops the undefeated and wonderful Ivan Calderon (KO 8) to secure the title. This guy isn’t pretty in there, but he can punch and he’s all fighter. Those two things will take him a long way.
Future: A rematch with Calderon is possible and who would mind that? A shootout with Rodel Mayol or Ulises Solis might be even more fun.