Nonito Donaire's sensational second-round stoppage of Fernando Montiel in their bantamweight title fight on Saturday in Las Vegas was a thing of beauty to see, but it created a problem.
For me, at least: Where to rank Donaire.
I have long admired Donaire's skills and felt he was one of the fastest risers in the sport. But on Saturday, he was beyond amazing in dismantling a quality opponent, a guy who very likely will wind up in the International Boxing Hall of Fame when he's done. Despite Montiel's impressive résumé, it was no contest, and Donaire made it look simple in doing it.
The problem with where to rank Donaire starts with the quality of the field. Nine of the top fighters who were ranked last month remained, with only Montiel dropping out. He was replaced by International Boxing Federation super middleweight champion Lucian Bute, whose addition means there are five unbeaten boxers in the top 10 (Floyd Mayweather, Timothy Bradley, Andre Ward, Juan Manuel Lopez and Bute).
In addition, Timothy Bradley, who in January's poll was ranked eighth, one spot ahead of Donaire, also had a quality win. He defeated previously unbeaten Devon Alexander on Jan. 29.
I had a chance to chat with former light heavyweight champion Roy Jones Jr. after the fight on Saturday. Jones is a big fan of Donaire and suggested that he may be the best fighter in the world. Jones is a very sharp boxing mind and his opinion carries a lot of weight.
Donaire also has been on a major roll recently. He destroyed a quality fighter, former bronze medalist Wladimir Sidorenko, in December and is now 5-0 with five knockouts in world title fights. He's performing his best against his best opponents.
I couldn't see ranking him ahead of Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather or Sergio Martinez. Donaire looked so good that I considered briefly jumping him over Martinez, but Martinez is coming off a second-round knockout of his own. He knocked out Paul Williams, who was third in our poll at the time, in November. I left Martinez where he was.
I ultimately felt Donaire should be fourth. So on my ballot – and, as a reminder, though I coordinate the voting and tabulate the ballots, I have just one vote and no more influence than any other panelist – I put Pacquiao first, Mayweather second, Martinez third, Donaire fourth, Andre Ward fifth, Timothy Bradley sixth, Wladimir Klitschko seventh, Juan Manuel Marquez eighth, Juan Manuel Lopez ninth and Vitali Klitschko 10th.
Before we get to the results of the February poll, I'd like to welcome several new members. The first, Chuck Johnson of HBO.com, is actually an original member. Johnson was the boxing writer for USA Today but dropped off the panel when he left the newspaper. But he's now doing work for HBO.com and I brought him back. Also new are Mike Coppinger, a freelancer whose work has appeared in Ring, USA Today and The Queensbury Rules; former Univision sportscaster Rafael Hernandez Brito, now a freelancer; and Tim Starks, the founder of The Queensbury Rules blog.
Welcome, guys. And now, on to the February Top 10:
1. Manny Pacquiao
Points: 438 (42 of 44 first-place votes)
Record: 52-3-2 (38 KOs)
Title: WBC super welterweight champion & WBO welterweight champion
Last outing: W12 over Antonio Margarito on Nov. 13
Previous ranking: 1
Up next: May 7 vs. Shane Mosley in Las Vegas
Analysis:Pacquiao has reeled off 14 consecutive wins.
2. Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Points: 381 (2 of 44 first-place votes)
Record: 41-0 (25 KOs)
Last outing: W12 over No. 10 Shane Mosley on May 1
Previous ranking: 2
Up next:Nothing scheduled
Analysis:Legal woes put fight career in jeopardy.
3. Sergio Martinez
Record: 46-2-2 (25 KOs)
Title: WBC middleweight champion emeritus
Last outing: KO2 Paul Williams on Nov. 20
Previous ranking: 3
Up next: March 12 against Sergiy Dzinziruk
Analysis: Near-unanimous pick as 2010 Fighter of the Year.
4. Juan Manuel Marquez
Record: 52-5-1 (35 KOs)
Title: WBA, WBO lightweight champion
Last outing: TKO9 over Michael Katsidis on Nov. 27
Previous ranking: 4
Up next: Nothing scheduled
Analysis: Declined offer to fight Erik Morales.
5. Nonito Donaire Jr.
Record: 26-1 (18 KOs)
Title: WBC, WBO bantamweight champion
Last outing: TKO2 over Fernando Montiel on Feb. 19
Previous ranking: 9
Up next:Nothing scheduled
Analysis: Ex-champ Roy Jones says Donaire may be the best in the world.
6. Wladimir Klitschko
Record: 55-3 (49 KOs)
Title: IBF, WBO heavyweight champion
Last outing: TKO10 over Samuel Peter on Sept. 11
Previous ranking: 6
Up next: April 30 vs. Dereck Chisora in Germany
Analysis: Unification fight with David Haye is looking bleak.
7. Timothy Bradley
Record: 27-0 (11 KOs)
Title: WBO super lightweight champion
Last outing: TD10 over Devon Alexander in Pontiac, Mich., on Jan. 29
Previous ranking: 8
Up next:Likely on July 23 vs. Amir Khan
Analysis:Gets big fight with Khan if Khan gets past Paul McCloskey in April.
8. Andre Ward
Record: 23-0 (13 KOs)
Title: WBA super middleweight champion
Last outing: W12 over Sakio Bika on Nov. 27
Previous ranking: 5
Up next: Vs. Arthur Abraham, date TBA
Analysis:Now the clear favorite to win the Super Six.
9. Juan Manuel Lopez
Record: 30-0 (27 KOs)
Title: WBO featherweight champion
Last outing: TKO8 Rafael Marquez on Nov. 6
Previous ranking: 7
Up next: April 16 vs. Orlando Salido in Puerto Rico
Analysis: Powerful puncher with an entertaining style.
10. Lucian Bute
Record: 27-0 (22 KOs)
Title: IBF super middleweight champion
Last outing: KO9 Jesse Brinkley on Oct. 15
Previous ranking: NR
Up next: Vs. Brian Magee in Montreal on March 19
Analysis:A showdown with Super Six winner awaits if he keeps winning.
Others receiving votes: Bernard Hopkins, 35; Vitali Klitschko, 31; Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, 25; Paul Williams, 18; Yuriorkis Gamboa, 15; Miguel Cotto, 8; Amir Khan, 7; Tomasz Adamek, 5; Andre Berto, 4; Andre Dirrell, 4; Chris John, 4; Devon Alexander, 3; Carl Froch, 3; Steve Cunningham, 1; Anselmo Moreno, 1.
Voting panel:Raul Alzaga, Primera Hora; Al Bernstein, Showtime; Ron Borges, Boston Herald; Damian Calhoun, Orange County Register; Steve Cofield, Yahoo! Sports; Dave Cokin, ESPN Radio, Las Vegas; Mike Coppinger, freelance; Gareth A. Davies, London Telegraph; Tris Dixon, Boxing News; Andrew Eisele, About.com; Steve Farhood, Showtime; Doug Fischer, RingTV.com; Scott Fyfe, Sunday Post, Scotland; Thomas Gerbasi, BoxingScene.com; Nick Giongco, Manila Bulletin; Carlos Gonzalez, Primera Hora; Randy Gordon, Sirius/XM; Lee Groves, BoxingScene.com; Thomas Hauser, Seconds Out; Rafael Hernandez Brito, freelance; Keith Idec, Herald News, New Jersey; Kevin Iole, Yahoo! Sports; Chuck Johnson, HBO.com; Max Kellerman, HBO; Scott Mallon, Boxing Digest; Rich Marotta, Fox Sports; David Mayo, Grand Rapids Press; Franklin McNeil, ESPN.com; Gunnar Meinhardt, Die Welt; Robert Morales, Los Angeles Daily News; Marty Mulcahey, MaxBoxing.com; Kieran Mulvaney, Reuters; Peter Owen Nelson, freelance; Santos Perez, Miami Herald; Martin Rogers, Yahoo! Sports; Cliff Rold, BoxingScene.com; Michael Rosenthal, RingTV.com; Lem Satterfield, Fanhouse.com; Tim Smith, New York Daily News; Tim Starks, The Queensbury Rules; Don Steinberg, Wall Street Journal/Philadelphia Inquirer; T.K. Stewart, BoxingScene.com; Dave Weinberg, Press of Atlantic City; George Willis, New York Post.