It's hard to believe from listening to him talk sometimes, but there were great fighters who came before Floyd Mayweather Jr. And, believe it or not, there are some who were better.
With Mayweather (42-0) set to challenge Miguel Cotto for the World Boxing Association super welterweight title on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden on HBO Pay-Per-View, it seemed like a good time to try to quantify Mayweather's position among his peers.
I've come up with a list of the top 25 boxers of the last 25 years, from 1988 through 2012. One of the caveats of my list is that a fighter has to have fought at least 10 times over that period to be considered. Otherwise, what do you do with a great fighter like Michael Spinks, who fought once in 1988, was knocked out in 91 seconds by Mike Tyson, and retired?
If a fighter fought more than 10 times in the 1988-2012 span, I'll consider his whole career when I rank him.
I rated the fighters based upon significant victories, quality of opposition, consistency, offensive ability, power, defensive ability, and overall accomplishments. Some may question why I split offensive ability and power into two categories. The reason is there are some fighters who had unbelievable power, but didn't offer a very good offense otherwise. And power is such a defining factor in boxing.
In the case of ties, I gave the advantage to the fighter who had more significant wins from 1988 on, given that if they qualify for the list, some of their biggest wins may have been from 1987 or before.
With that being said, let's get to the list, presented from No. 25 to No. 1:
25. Oscar De La Hoya, 1992-2008, 39-6, 30 knockouts – The biggest star of his era, he won titles in six weight classes.
24. Shane Mosley, 1993-present, 46-7-1, 1 no contest, 39 knockouts – Mosley was a dominant lightweight with uncommon speed and power.
[Martin Rogers: Shane Mosley vows to make Saul Alvarez pay for overconfidence]
23. Felix Trinidad, 1990-2008, 42-3, 35 knockouts – Trinidad was a vicious puncher and a quality offensive fighter who fought just about all of the greats of his era.
22. Riddick Bowe, 1989-2008, 43-1, 1 no contest, 33 knockouts – Though he had a great record, including two wins over Evander Holyfield, Bowe seems like a failure because he was so physically gifted.
21. Humberto "Chiquita" Gonzalez, 1984-1995, 43-3, 31 knockouts – Gonzalez was a little man with big power. He's regarded as one of the pound-for-pound best punchers ever.
20. Mike Tyson, 1985-2005, 50-6, 2 no contests, 44 knockouts – Tyson was a massive puncher, but he isn't higher because he never beat a truly elite heavyweight in his prime.
19. Mike McCallum, 1981-1997, 49-5-1, 36 knockouts – McCallum was one of the sport's best body punchers who may have been the best super welterweight of his time.
18. James Toney, 1989-present, 74-7, 45 knockouts – Toney was a master craftsman who would be higher on this list if not for his maddening inconsistency.
17. Juan Manuel Marquez, 1993-present, 54-6-1, 39 knockouts – Marquez is a complete fighter who combines offense and defense as well as anyone in the last quarter-century.
16. Michael Carbajal, 1989-1999, 49-4, 33 knockouts – He was so good, he forced Americans to pay attention to the light flyweight division. That's saying a lot.
15. Marco Antonio Barrera, 1989-2011, 67-7, 1 no contest, 44 knockouts – "The Baby-faced Assassin" reeled off wins over the likes of Naseem Hamed, Erik Morales, Johnny Tapia and Paulie Ayala.
14. Joe Calzaghe, 1993-2008, 46-0, 32 knockouts – Calzaghe had a remarkable run at super middleweight, going 22-0 in 168-pound title fights.
13. Lennox Lewis, 1988-2003, 41-2-1, 32 knockouts – Lewis beat every man he faced, avenging losses to Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman, and fought to a draw with Evander Holyfield.
12. Manny Pacquiao, 1995-present, 54-3-2, 38 knockouts – Pacquiao made an extraordinary rise through the weight classes and his speed and power made him elite.
[Kevin Iole: Bernard Hopkins remains a riddle, even in defeat]
11. Bernard Hopkins, 1988-present, 52-6-2, 2 no contests, 32 knockouts – In 2011, Hopkins defeated Jean Pascal to become, at 46, the oldest man ever to win a major belt. He also made 20 consecutive successful defenses of the middleweight title earlier in his career.
10. Ricardo Lopez, 1985-2001, 51-0-1, 38 knockouts – A master craftsman, Lopez was the best small fighter of his era. He went unbeaten in 26 world title fights (25-0-1) and knocked off a who's who of his era's best.
9. Floyd Mayweather Jr., 1996-present, 42-0, 26 knockouts – Mayweather was at his best at super featherweight, when he had a streak in which he beat a string of elite fighters. He remains a masterful defensive fighter who has underrated counterpunching ability.
8. Thomas Hearns, 1977-2006, 61-5-1, 48 knockouts – Hearns' prime came before 1988, but he has wins over a small army of Hall of Famers. He was a devastating knockout puncher and carried his pop with him from welterweight through middleweight.
7. Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., 1980-2005, 107-6-2, 86 knockouts – Chavez began his career an astounding 87-0 and beat so many world champions, a list of them all would be the size of a phone book. He was a ferocious inside fighter who went hard to the body and punched well in combination.
6. George Foreman, 1969-1997, 76-5, 68 knockouts – Arguably the greatest puncher ever, and I know that creates an argument. Foreman destroyed Joe Frazier to win the title in his first stint. After a 10-year retirement, he came back and became the oldest man, at the time, to win a major world title – a record since surpassed by Bernard Hopkins.
5. Evander Holyfield, 1984-present, 44-10-2, 29 knockouts – Holyfield would fight anyone, usually beat them and almost always won in entertaining fashion. He had memorable wins over Mike Tyson, Larry Holmes, George Foreman, Riddick Bowe, Michael Dokes and Dwight Muhammad Qawi.
4. Pernell Whitaker, 1984-2001, 40-4-1, 17 knockouts – Whitaker was the best defensive fighter of his era and was practically unhittable at his peak. He racked up innumerable quality wins, but his best performance came when he was robbed against Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. Whitaker got a draw in a fight he appeared to easily win.
3. Larry Holmes, 1973-2002, 69-6, 44 knockouts – Holmes was at his prime from 1976 through 1984. He had a terrific jab, a great chin and fought and beat most of the great heavyweights of his day.
2. Roberto Duran, 1968-2001, 103-16, 70 knockouts – Duran's peak was from 1971 through 1985, and he may be the greatest lightweight who ever lived. Inconsistency, with losses to the likes of Kirkland Laing and Pat Lawlor, hurt him badly in his bid for the top spot.
1. Roy Jones, 1989-present, 55-8, 40 knockouts – Jones was perhaps boxing's most physically gifted fighter in his prime. He was as fast as anyone in the sport, but he was an extraordinarily powerful puncher. He was rarely hit when he was in top form and he took out elite fighters like Bernard Hopkins, James Toney, and Mike McCallum in his heyday. He's hung on far, far too long and is a remnant of the great he was, but that doesn't take away from what he did when he was at his best.
• I remain skeptical of Seth Mitchell's ability to become a top-level heavyweight, but give him credit for putting on a great fight Saturday. He was on the verge of going out in the first round of his bout with Chazz Witherspoon in Atlantic City, N.J., but he roared back to stop Witherspoon in the third. Golden Boy is pushing Mitchell, but he better take the slow and sure approach with him. • Bernard Hopkins says he's going to fight again, despite his loss to Chad Dawson in Saturday's main event. It is going to be interesting to see which of the top 168- or 175-pounders will go near him now. Hopkins' fight with Dawson was a lot of clutching and holding and not that much punching. • Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said a Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.-Sergio Martinez fight is a "real possibility" if Chavez beats Andy Lee on June 16. One of the sticking points will be Arum's demand for a 60-40 purse split in Chavez's favor. Martinez is by far the more accomplished fighter, but Martinez promoter Lou DiBella is lucky Arum didn't say 70-30, because Chavez is a far bigger attraction. • Props to Floyd Mayweather Jr. for agreeing to sponsor the National Golden Gloves championship, which began Monday in Mesquite, Nev. Mayweather, justifiably, gets a lot of heat for some of the things he says and does, but it's only fair to give him credit when he does the right thing, as in this case.
Who would be next for 'Money May'?
Most boxing experts, and fans alike, don't give Miguel Cotto a real chance to defeat Floyd Mayeather Jr. on Saturday. If everything plays out like most believe and Floyd and Manny Pacquiao (if he beats Timothy Bradley on June 9) cannot agree to terms for a fall fight, who would be the next logical opponent for Floyd? I mean you can place Floyd and Manny as 1A and 1B, or vice versa, in terms of top PPV draws in the sport, and clearly Cotto is the third top draw, so which opponent could Floyd truly attempt to sell to the buying public as a legitimate opponent? I would without question purchase a Floyd-Sergio Martinez fight if it came to pass, but the Floyd Mayweather I know does not face fighters who are in their primes or who pose a legitimate threat to beat him. What gives?
Assuming Mayweather wins and Saul "Canelo" Alvarez defeats Shane Mosley on Saturday, I think the leader would be Alvarez. I do think there is hope for a Pacquiao fight, though, and I wouldn't rule out a potential Mayweather-Martinez fight.
Going back in time
Do you think the outcome of Mayweather-Cotto would have been any different if the fight took place five years ago?
San Jose, Calif.
I'm assuming you believe it is a foregone conclusion that Mayweather wins, which I do not. I think he should be, as he is, heavily favored, but I do think Cotto has a chance and shouldn't be discounted. That said, Cotto was impressive in his victory over Shane Mosley in 2007, but Mayweather was far quicker back then than he is now and had the kind of lateral movement that he doesn't currently seem to possess. It's not because he wants to brawl that Mayweather has been standing flat-footed his last few outings; I believe it's a concession to his legs. He's 35 now. I think the 30-year-old Mayweather would have had an easier time with Cotto than the 35-year-old version will on Saturday.
Is extra weight an edge for Cotto?
Given that the fight is at 154 pounds, which is around the weight at which Floyd walks around, do you think Cotto could balloon to 165 pounds by the time he enters the ring? And if so, do you think that would give his power punches even more of an advantage?
I expect Cotto to gain 8-10 pounds after the weigh-in. I don't think the added weight will make him any more powerful. I think he needs to carefully consider how much weight he puts on, because he needs to be as mobile and as quick as he can to be able to cut off the ring and make Mayweather fight his fight.
Cotto lacking drive?
From watching training clips and interviews, Cotto appears to lack the same intensity and passion he had for the Antonio Margarito fight. Cotto has talked about retirement recently, and I sense that Cotto is looking for one last big paycheck instead of a win.
I really disagree, Dustin. I think Cotto is highly motivated. The Margarito fight was intensely personal for him. That said, Cotto knows if he wins Saturday, he'll hit the jackpot in a rematch and if he wins that, he'd make another load of money in a rematch against Manny Pacquiao. I think he's very serious about winning.
"I fought hard Saturday night and feel the fight was closer than two of the scores reflected. Regardless of the result, I will continue my career and challenge any champion in my division. I might be older, but I don't feel a decline in my skills or abilities in the ring. I love to fight and am still competing at a level where boxing cannot deny me the opportunity to succeed." – Bernard Hopkins, in a statement released by his publicist, announcing his intention to keep fighting.
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