Boxing pound-for-pound rankings: At least until Saturday's superfight, Naoya Inoue is No. 1

Naoya Inoue of Japan (R) and Stephen Fulton of the US fight in the WBC, WBO super bantamweight world title match at Ariake Arena in Tokyo on July 25, 2023. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP) (Photo by KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images)
Naoya Inoue of Japan (R) and Stephen Fulton of the US fight in the WBC, WBO super bantamweight world title match at Ariake Arena in Tokyo on July 25, 2023. (Photo by Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP)

If you got up early on Tuesday morning and watched Naoya Inoue destroy Stephen Fulton — an outstanding, world-class, elite opponent — it was hard not to walk away thinking you’d just seen the best fighter in the world.

Who else is there with that kind of speed and power as well as that type of ring generalship and boxing smarts? Inoue has one of the best jabs in the game. He’s one of the finest body punchers in the game. He’s a tremendous finisher. And he’s got an uncanny ability to pick the perfect combination at the perfect time.

He finished Fulton in the eighth round after dominating the first seven and became the unified super bantamweight champion in the process. This, after having been undisputed bantamweight champion and having held titles at light flyweight and super flyweight.

Watch that, soak all of that in and, yeah, it’s clear: Inoue is No. 1.

There’s always a but, though, and this is it: Terence Crawford had been No. 1 and he is facing a top-five opponent Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas when he meets No. 5 Errol Spence Jr. for the undisputed welterweight championship.

Is it fair to Crawford to update the pound-for-pound rankings on a Tuesday before he’s had his opportunity to fight Spence and shine on the biggest stage on Saturday?

Well, maybe not, but then again, the pound-for-pound rankings are just a mythical thing for fun and to spark debate about who the best fighters in the world are.

And after Inoue destroyed Fulton, who had the size advantage along with a perfect record going into the fight, it just seemed that Inoue had eked past Crawford.

There are arguments for both men. Inoue has held titles in four classes — 108, 115, 118 and 122 — while Crawford has won belts at 135, 140 and 147. Inoue was undisputed at 118 and Crawford was undisputed at 140.

In Crawford’s defense, he’s facing a tougher opponent in Spence than Inoue did in Fulton, though that’s splitting hairs a bit. But Inoue probably has faced better opposition in his career, start to finish, at this exact moment than Crawford.

We could go on and on, but you have to make a decision.

I was just blown away by the way Inoue looked, captivated by his speed, amazed by his composure and awed by his power.

I had taken Spence out of my rankings in April for inactivity, but a week after I’d removed him, he scheduled a bout. So now that I’m updating on an off-schedule, I put Spence back in, at No. 5.

Inoue is No. 1. Crawford is No. 2.

If Crawford wins Saturday — particularly, if he’s as impressive in beating Spence as Inoue was in beating Fulton — I may flop them again. If Spence wins, he’s got a chance to leap up, though I think it’s a harder jump to make for him.

So for at least the next four days or so, Inoue is No. 1.

Boxing pound-for-pound rankings as of July 25

1. Naoya Inoue (25-0, 22 KOs), WBC-WBO super bantamweight champion. Previous Ranking: 2
2. Terence Crawford (39-0, 30 KOs), WBO welterweight champion. Previous Ranking: 1
3. Oleksandr Usyk (20-0, 13 KOs), IBF-WBA-WBO heavyweight champion. Previous Ranking: 3
4. Shakur Stevenson (19-0, 9 KOs), Lightweight contender. Previous Ranking: 4
5. Errol Spence Jr. (28-0, 22 KOs), IBF-WBA-WBC welterweight champion. Previous Ranking: NR
6. Gervonta Davis (29-0, 27 KOs) Secondary WBA lightweight champion. Previous Ranking: 5
7. Canelo Alvarez (58-2-2, 39 KOs), Undisputed super middleweight champion. Previous Ranking: 6
8. Tyson Fury (33-0-1, 24 KOs), WBC heavyweight champion. Previous Ranking: 7
9. Dmitry Bivol (21-0, 11 KOs), WBA light heavyweight champion. Previous Ranking: 8
10. Artur Beterbiev (19-0, 19 KOs), IBF-WBC-WBO light heavyweight champion. Previous Ranking: 9