When deciding pound-4-pound rankings, minor details make the difference between making the cut, or just missing out. The depth of the division, performances against the highest calibre of opponents, and the fighters’ defects on the big stage are just some of the things someone should take into consideration when rating and separating the best from the rest. In boxing, it’s always a tough task, and it’s commonly whatever takes your fancy.
So before I disappoint you all and make you start waving your fist in fury at the computer screen, I’ll give you a little insight in the mind of yours truly.
What I tend to look for is longevity. If someone has been at the top of his game, and able to maintain his performance output throughout the decade, for me, it seals the deal. How much of a decline a fighter goes through after hitting his prime, did he adjust his style to deal with his age, or was he like fine wine, getting better with age?
If there are many great fighters with a nano-meter of distance separating their achievements, I search for the career defining moment. The outskirts of the top 10 is always tricky, but without further ado, here are my top 20 fighters of the ‘00s:
Don’t be fooled by the clumsy record, his defeats all came to fighters that are either currently in the pound-4-pound rankings, or in the top 20 of the decade, bar Glen Johnson. Not only was he the first to send Roy Jones Jr. into decline, he also had wins over Montell Griffin, Glen Johnson and Clinton Woods. His career defining moment is one of the images of the decade, and for that sole reason, he deserves a place amongst the top 20.
#19 Rafael Marquez (20-3, 17 KOs)
Make no mistake about it, Marquez is a warrior. His thrilling wars with the previously undefeated South African, Silence Mabuza, raised his stock as he emerged as the true bantamweight champion. His trilogy with Israel Vasquez will live long in the memory even for a casual fan, maybe even running Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward close. Their fourth fight will be a test to show who has the most left in the tank.
#18 Kostya Tszyu (8-1, 6 KOs)
‘From Russia With Glove’, Tszyu was at the tailend of his career in the early part of the decade and he would be ranked higher if Hatton hadn’t stopped him. Another aggressive fighter, Tszyu defeated the legend Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Sharmba Mitchell and an unbeaten Zab Judah all by stoppage.
#17 Ricky Hatton (29-2, 21 KOs)
‘The Hitman’ has been living off the Tszyu victory throughout his career, attracting gigantic crowds in his hometown of Manchester. Defeated a shot Jose Luis Castillo with a heavy liver shot, but failed to capture the pound-4-pound crown on two occasions, stopped against Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao at the MGM Grand. Might have ranked Hatton a bit high, but his two losses did come to two quality operators.
#16 Israel Vasquez (22-2, 16 KOs)
You can’t rank Vasquez far in front of Marquez, their trilogy proves that. The competitiveness of their bouts shines through as the ebb and flow of the contest drastically changes every round. Revenged his earlier defeat to Oscar Larios with a stunning third round stoppage and a knockout victory over Jhonny Gonzalez in another war shows Vasquez’s champion heart. Has recently shown signs that the battles are catching up with him.
#15 Miguel Cotto (34-2, 27 KOs)
Cotto made a string of high-standard defences of his WBO title at 140 pounds, his best performance against DeMarcus Chorley, before moving up in weight defeating Carlos Quintana, Zab Judah and Shane Mosley. Suffered a horrific beating to Antonio Margarito, who might have been fighting with loaded gloves, and has never been the same since. He eked out a disputed decision over Clottey and received another battering, this time at the hands of Manny Pacquiao.
#14 Vitali Klitschko (12-2, 10 KOs)
The injury prone big brother would struggle to make the list if he hadn’t made a return to the fight scene, but impressive performances against Sam Peter, Chris Arreola and Kevin Johnson prove that Vitali has still got more to give. Was involved in the heavyweight fight of the decade with Lennox Lewis, where he came out second best because of a deep gash.
#13 Roy Jones Jr. (14-5, 7 KOs)
Defeating John Ruiz hardly merits a place in the top 20, but if you become the second man ever to win the middleweight championship and then a heavyweight belt, you’re a shoe-in candidate as an all-time great. Had his best days in the ‘90s, but his legacy was strengthen in the early part of the decade. He went back down to 175 pounds to be the first man ever to defend his light heavyweight belt while being the reigning heavyweight champion. A true legend.
#12 Wladmir Klitschko (22-2, 18 KOs)
In probably the second worst era in the history of the heavyweights, beaten to it by the early ‘30s, Wladmir has captured half of the heavyweight crown, and in my view, is the undisputed heavyweight king. He might not be the most skilled heavyweight ever, but he’s one of the most professional, and as he held a title in 2000, the longevity if not the opponents, sees ‘Dr. Steelhammer’ at number 12.
#11 Joel Casamayor (17-4-1, 10 KOs)
Involved in a classic with Diego Corrales that only lasted six rounds, Casamyor has remained at the peak of his game for the whole ten years, defeating Nate Campbell, Corrales, Santa Cruz controversially, and young gun Michael Katsidis. He dropped a narrow split decision to Jose Luis Castillo, which might have seen him enter the top 10. At 38 years young, it’s hard to see where Casamayor can go to earn his money and enhance his legacy.
#10 Jose Luis Castillo (21-5-1, 15 KOs)
Castillo will be remembered for the Corrales thriller, in what was definitely a fight of the decade contender. He avenged his loss to Corrales in the rematch with a textbook left hook that floored Corrales in the fourth. Has had major problems with making weight in nearly every fight for the past 5 years, but his record is sublime. The closest someone will ever get to beating Floyd Mayweather, twice, victories over Casamayor and Julio Diaz add another dimension to the Mexican’s legacy. Does Castillo have enough for one last push for a title?
#9 Shane Mosley (13-5, 8 KOs)
Shane Mosley entered the decade as the best 135 pound fighter, and then tasted success at the big stage with two wins over Oscar De La Hoya. Group of losses too Winky Wright and Vernon Forrest lower his position, but there are plenty of well known names on the right side of his record. A victory over Antonio Margarito has seen him back in the frame at the top of the pound-4-pound stakes. The drugs scandal didn’t help his cause, but #9 seems respectable. He could face the winner of Pacquiao-Mayweather, but he’ll have to get through Andre Berto first.
#8 Ronald Wright (12-2-1, 2 KOs)
Always a feared fighter, Winky Wright struggled to find the gap in the market for his talents. After defending his IBF title a couple of times, a unification fight with Shane Mosley came to grips, and two victories saw Wright earning his 15 minutes of fame at light middleweight. As he moved up in weight, his shutout victory over Felix Trinidad was from the top drawer, before a draw with Jermain Taylor earned him even more recognition. With nobody wanting to fight him, Wright moved up in weight to face Hopkins, but the difference in strength was obvious as he was outpointed. His second decade defeat came to the talented Paul Williams, who I’m sure will be up there in the ’10 list.
#7 Joe Calzaghe (19-0, 9 KOs)
Joe Calzaghe is arguably one of the best fighters to come out of the British Isles, and after racking up 21 successful defences of his WBO super middleweight crown, which included victories over Mikkel Kessler and Jeff Lacy, Calzaghe decided to challenge Bernard Hopkins for the light heavyweight crown. He was successful, and went on to defend The Ring Magazine’s belt with a scintillating display against a shot Roy Jones. The lack of names at 168 pounds keep Joe outside the top 5, but his attributes are not to be doubted.
#6 Erik Morales (13-6, 6 KOs)
Endured the best time of his career at the late ‘90s and very early ‘00s, and stuttered at the higher level. He was expected to steamroll through Barrera, but struggled to a split verdict. He stopped a post prime Kevin Kelley in a handful of defences before he was outpointed by Barrera in a thrilling contest. Captured two titles at 130 pounds before he met Barrera in a rubber match, where he suffered a broken nose in the best fight of them all. In a great brawl, Morales upset the odds to beat Manny Pacquiao, before losing his final four professional fights, two to Pacquiao by stoppage.
#5 Juan Manuel Marquez (20-3-1, 14 KOs)
One of the best counterpunchers in the sport, Marquez won over most boxing fans when he came back from 3 first round knockdowns to earn a well-fought draw that many people, including myself, thought that he did enough to get the nod. Victories over Marco Antonio Barrera, Joel Casamayor and over Juan Diaz in The Boxing Tribune’s Fight of the Year has made Marquez one of the hottest names in boxing. Lost too Manny Pacquiao again in the rematch in a very competitive bout, before he was shut-out by Floyd Mayweather Jr. in September this year. Another great technician that keeps proving people wrong time after time.
#4 Marco Antonio Barrera (16-5, 8 KOs)
After suffering two defeats to Junior Jones in the latter half of the decade, many experts claimed that Barrera was in decline. But Barrera quickly made them re-think, as he was one of the stars of the division in the deepest weight class of the decade. He took a prime Morales the distance, before edging the trilogy, and went on to outclass Naseem Hamed in a career defining performance. He was competitive with Marquez to some extent, but was badly beaten by Manny Pacquiao in the first fight, before being outpointed in the rematch. The featherweight class of ’01 will go down in many boxing history books, and it’s evident in my rankings how great the weight class was. Who was at the top of the ratings in that year? Yes you guessed it, Barrera.
#3 Bernard Hopkins (14-3, 5 KOs)
Like I mentioned in my preview, I tend to side with longevity and how a fighter adapts to the various stages of their career. Nobody fits the bill better than ‘The Executioner’ who’s been living in the shadow of Roy Jones’ feat of heavyweight champion. The one thing he regrets about his career is not getting a rematch with Jones, but as any fighter does, he lays out all the blame on the other camp. Hopkins earned his big break by stopping Felix Trinidad in the twelfth round, a fortnight after the tragedy of September 11. He went on to make 20 defences of his middleweight title, the most rewarding of all was the stoppage of Oscar De La Hoya. Lost two close calls to Jermain Taylor, and that was enough to convince Hopkins that it was time to move up in weight. He defeated the now invincible Antonio Tarver, and won a hard-fought decision over Winky Wright. At 43, he faced undefeated Joe Calzaghe, suffering his third defeat in five fights. He went on to upset highly backed Kelly Pavlik in October 2008, and the lack of notable opponents out there have forced Hopkins to be inactive.
#2 Manny Pacquiao (23-1-2, 19 KOs)
This was the hardest decision of all to make, as both fighters deserve the recognition of the fighter of the decade. Manny is currently at the top of the sport, defeating big names such as Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto in the space of 12 months. He busted onto the scene with his upset knockout win over Lehlohonolo Ledwaba in 2001, and has improved under the guidance of Freddie Roach on every occasion. His two fights with Marquez and Barrera were gripping and intense, but his first two fights with Morales were fought at such a high pace, it was unbelievable. Every fight was battled at a remarkably high level. He keeps on getting better, stronger with every jump in weight class. He’s won seven lineal titles at seven different weights. He’s one of the best left-handed fighters to ever grace the ring. Can he eclipse every achievement by defeating Floyd Mayweather Jr. on March 13?
#1 Floyd Mayweather Jr. (18-0, 8 KOs)
The undefeated mouthy American is not everyone’s cup of tea, but when he’s in the zone, he’s untouchable. He has everything in his artillery, breathtaking reflexes and defence to match, sweet counterpunching, a potent jab and some power when he catches you clean. His marketing of fights is second to none, as he’s proven time and time again with his seven figure pay-per-view sales. In my opinion, his best performance came in 2001, against Diego Corrales, where he won every round knocking Corrales down five times in the process of stopping him in the tenth. Title defences against renowned names such as Carlos Hernandez and Jesus Chavez help set up the closest fight Mayweather has ever been in, against Jose Luis Castillo. But Mayweather prevailed, and won by a wider margin in the rematch. As he moved up in weight, he became dependent on his boxing skills as his power faded, but he carried on outclassing his opponents. DeMarcus Corley was meant to be a tough challenge, but he only won one round. Gatti buckled under the constant Mayweather power shots. Zab Judah was one of the best boxers around, and Mayweather annihilated him in a great performance. He became the undisputed welterweight champion when he shutout Carlos Manuel Baldomir, before capturing his fifth world title at different weights with a split decision over Oscar De La Hoya in the biggest revenue ever to be made in boxing. Two more victories over pound-4-pound fighters Ricky Hatton and Juan Manuel Marquez just outline Mayweather’s greatness. Could he catapult himself right at the top of the all-time greats with a win over Manny Pacquiao?
I shall now retreat to my bunker and leave you to pick your own… not easy is it?