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Two events occurred in the second half of 2009 that made choosing the top boxer in the world a lot more difficult than it once was.
For most of the last 20 years, there was a clear No. 1. For many years, it was Roy Jones Jr., the multi-division champion whose blinding speed and world-class athleticism made up for unusual, at best, technique.
Jones was almost unanimously regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world from the time he routed James Toney in 1994 until the early stages of the 21st century. At that point, Floyd Mayweather Jr. commandeered the top spot and held it until he announced his retirement on June 6, 2008.
Manny Pacquiao assumed the position upon Mayweather's departure and held it until Mayweather returned to the game in 2009.
At that stage, choosing No. 1 became much more problematic. Did one choose Mayweather, the most athletic fighter in the world and an unbeaten man who was largely unchallenged in the majority of his fights, or was the choice Pacquiao, who fought elite competition, moved up in class and often won in devastating fashion?
As the January 2010 rankings debut – held back a few days to allow voters to include the results of the featherweight doubleheader at Madison Square Garden last week featuring Juan Manuel Lopez and Yuriorkis Gamboa – the answer isn't easy.
Pacquiao deserves the top spot for the quality of opposition he's beaten and for the fact that he's beaten many of them while moving up in weight. In his last five fights, Pacquiao has beaten two men who were in the pound-for-pound Top 10 at the time he fought them, Juan Manuel Marquez and Miguel Cotto.
Mayweather fought one man who was in the pound-for-pound Top 10 in his last five, routing Marquez.
And while Mayweather defeated Marquez far more definitively than did Pacquiao – Yahoo! Sports actually scored both Pacquiao-Marquez fights for Marquez – Pacquiao deserves plenty of credit for his 2008 win because he and Marquez were in the same class. Marquez was not more than a lightweight, who had never fought at super lightweight, when he moved up to challenge Mayweather at welterweight in September. But both Pacquiao and Marquez were super featherweights when they rematched in 2008.
The answer at this point is that Pacquiao deserves to be No. 1 pound-for-pound, because he's the very definition of what the pound-for-pound category was created for: Who would win a fight if all fighters weighed the same?
But Mayweather is probably deserving of being recognized as the world's best boxer. It's kind of like the Most Valuable Player and the Player of the Year awards. It's quite possible to have two different winners.
So Pacquiao gets my vote as No. 1 pound-for-pound, because of his incredible streak of moving up and challenging, and defeating, quality opponents. But Mayweather gets the nod as the best overall fighter, because he's so good he makes most of his fights look astonishingly simple.
The top 10 is unchanged, though Pacquiao received all 20 first-place votes cast this time. Shane Mosley, who is No. 3, has been inactive for more than a year, which should disqualify him. However, he did have a fight scheduled with Andre Berto that was canceled because of the earthquake in Haiti and he's on the verge of a deal to fight Mayweather. If Mosley does not have a fight signed by the time the February voting is conducted in the middle of the month, he will become ineligible.
Here is the way the top 10 came out in the voting by the Yahoo! Sports panel for January:
1. Manny Pacquiao
Points: 200 (20 of 20 first-place votes)
Record: 50-3-2 (38 KOs)
Title: WBO welterweight champion
Last outing:: TKO12 over Miguel Cotto on Nov. 14
Previous ranking:: 1
Up next: vs. Joshua Clottey on March 13 in Arlington, Texas
Analysis:Fans still eager to see bout with Mayweather
2. Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Record: 40-0 (25 KOs)
Last outing:: W12 over No. 6 Juan Manuel Marquez on Sept. 19
Previous ranking:: 2
Up next: Negotiations on for May 1 fight with No. 3 Shane Mosley
Analysis: Mayweather needs a win over a legitimate welterweight
3. Shane Mosley
Record: 46-5 (39 KOs)
Title: WBA welterweight champion
Last outing:: TKO9 over Antonio Margarito on Jan. 24, 2009
Previous ranking:: 4
Up next: Discussing May 1 fight vs. No. 2 Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Analysis: Mosley needs to get back into the ring soon.
4. Paul Williams
Record: 38-1 (27 KOs)
Title: WBO junior middleweight champion
Last outing:: W12 over Sergio Martinez on Dec. 5
Previous ranking:: 3
Up next: Nothing scheduled
Analysis:Can be a factor at 147, 154 and 160
5. Bernard Hopkins
Record: 50-5-1 (32 KOs)
Last outing:: W12 over Enrique Ornelas on Dec. 2
Previous ranking:: 5
Up next: vs. Roy Jones Jr. on April 3 in Las Vegas
Analysis:Pay-per-view bout with Jones could be epic failure.
6. Juan Manuel Marquez
Record: 50-5-1 (37 KOs)
Title: WBA, WBO lightweight champion
Last outing:: L12 to No. 2 Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Sept. 19
Previous ranking:: 6
Up next: May 15 vs. Amir Khan
Analysis: Needs to focus on fights at 135, 140, not at welterweight.
7. Arthur Abraham
Record: 31-0 (25 KOs)
Last outing:: TKO12 Jermain Taylor on Oct. 17
Previous ranking:: 7
Up next: March 6 vs. Andre Dirrell in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Analysis: Co-favorite in Super Six tournament.
8. Chad Dawson
Record: 28-0 (17 KOs)
Title: Interim WBC light heavyweight champion
Last outing:: W12 over Glen Johnson on Nov. 7
Previous ranking:: 8
Up next: Nothing scheduled
Analysis: Starting to develop unwanted reputation as boring, safety-first fighter.
9. Wladimir Klitschko
Record: 53-3 (47 KOs)
Title: IBF, WBO heavyweight champion
Last outing:: TKO9 over Ruslan Chagaev on June 20
Previous ranking:: 9
Up next: March 20 vs. Eddie Chambers in Dusseldorf, Germany
Analysis: Extremely gifted big man
10. Juan Manuel Lopez
Record: 28-0 (25 KOs)
Title: WBO featherweight champion
Last outing:: TKO7 over Steven Luevano on Jan. 23
Previous ranking:: 10
Up next: Nothing scheduled
Analysis: Eyeing showdown with Yuriorkis Gamboa for featherweight supremacy.
Others receiving votes: Vitali Klitschko, 19; Timothy Bradley, 14; Sergio Martinez, 9; Yuriorkis Gamboa, 8; Miguel Cotto, 7; Nonito Donaire, 7; Chris John, 7; Israel Vazquez, 7; Ivan Calderon, 6; Celestino Caballero, 5; Andre Ward, 2; Hozumi Hasegawa, 2.
Voting panel: Raul Alzaga, Primera Hora; Dave Cokin, ESPN Radio 1100, Las Vegas; Andrew Eisele, About.com; Scott Fyfe, Sunday Post, Scotland; Lee Groves, MaxBoxing.com; Thomas Hauser, Seconds Out.com; Keith Idec, Herald News, New Jersey; Kevin Iole, Yahoo! Sports; Rich Marotta, Fox Sports Net; David Mayo, Grand Rapids Press; Franklin McNeil, Newark Star Ledger; Gunnar Meinhardt, Die Welt; Marty Mulcahey, MaxBoxing.com; Kieran Mulvaney, Reuters; Santos Perez, Miami Herald; Martin Rogers, Yahoo! Sports; Lem Satterfield, Fanhouse.com; T.K. Stewart, Boxingscene.com; Paul Upham, Seconds Out.com; George Willis, New York Post.