There are many areas of dubiety within the sport of boxing. Few, however, can evoke such passionate deliberation as the mythical “Pound for Pound” rankings. The number one spot has been up for grabs since Floyd Mayweather announced his second retirement from the sport following a decision victory over Andre Berto in September 2015. With fans and experts split on the rightful heir to the pound for pound throne, I present to you in no particular order – the six main contenders.
Name: Andre Ward
Alias: Son of God (SOG)
Division: Light Heavyweight
Record: 32-0 (16 KO’s)
SOG entered the paid ranks after capturing gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Ward would go on to enter Showtime’s Super Six Tournament in 2009 before emerging victorious in 2011 having picked up the WBA and WBC Super Middleweight titles from Mikkel Kessler and Carl Froch along the way. An impressive win over Chad Dawson preceded two periods of inactivity which saw Ward stripped of his titles. The Oakland native returned to boxing in late 2015, stopping Paul Smith in nine rounds at a catchweight before moving up to Light Heavyweight. Ward’s step up in weight culminated in a two fight saga with 175-pound kingpin Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev. SOG would take the first fight via a razor close decision to claim the Russians WBA, WBO, and IBF titles before halting Krusher in the eighth stanza of the re-match.
The Case For
A five-time world champion across two weight classes, Ward holds wins over esteemed names such as Carl Froch, Chad Dawson, Mikkel Kessler and Sergey Kovalev.
Ward possesses impeccable defense, timing, and a genius level boxing IQ. Another less talked about attribute is the American’s under-rated toughness, which he demonstrated in out-hustling Carl Froch on the inside en-route to a decision victory in the final of the Super Six.
Despite winning many of his contests with relative ease, SOG has demonstrated fortitude in twice climbing off the canvas to win (against Sergey Kovalev in their first bout and early in his career against Darnell Boone).
Ward is a complete fighter with a perfect resume which contains many notable scalps and rightly heads up many peoples pound for pound list.
The Case Against
Ward has been branded negative, at times dirty and dull to watch by some who suggest that this should count against him when deciding his place in the pound for pound list, I personally do not subscribe to this school of thought. The main black mark against the Oakland native is the time lost during his periods of inactivity which saw him fall down the ratings while his pound for pound rivals collected titles and recorded notable wins.
Name: Terrence Crawford
Record: 32-0 (23 KO’s)
Bud turned professional after coming up short in the trials for the 2008 US Olympic boxing team, scoring a debut 1st round KO in March of that year. Crawford built up a 19-0 record in relative obscurity before being offered to step in as a late replacement to face Bredis Prescott on the undercard of Brandon Rios vs Mike Alvarado 2, live on HBO. The Omaha man has not looked back since, winning his first world title (WBO, lightweight) in Scotland against local hero Ricky Burns just three fights later. Two hometown defenses followed which saw Bud dispose of Yuriorkis Gamboa in nine rounds and shut out Raymundo Beltran before stepping up to the Super-Lightweight division. Crawford would halt Thomas Dulorme in six to capture the vacant WBO title in his first fight at 140 pounds before establishing himself as the division’s kingpin with victories in unification bouts with Viktor Postol and Julius Indongo. The victory over Indongo saw Bud collect all four major titles to cement his place among the sport’s elite.
The Case For
As boxing’s first undisputed champion in over a decade, Crawford has passed every test to date with flying colours. The Omaha switch-hitter has yet to face major adversity in nine years as a pro, courtesy of his sublime skills in every department. Seeming to possess no apparent weakness, Bud has speed, power, timing and excellent footwork, and is as comfortable moving back as coming forward. Despite picking up five world titles in two weight classes, many feel the best is yet to come from the Nebraska man.
The Case Against
Whilst Crawford has cast aside all who have faced him thus far including Ricky Burns, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Julius Indongo, the Omaha native has yet to face an elite fighter. Most believe that a step up to welterweight would present the opportunities required for Bud to establish himself as the best in the world.
Name: Guillermo Rigondeaux
Alias: El Chacal
Division: Super Bantamweight
Record: 17-0 (11 KO’s)
A two time Olympic gold medallist and widely considered among the greatest amateurs of all time, Rigondeaux defected from Cuba in 2009 (after a failed attempt in 2007) in order to pursue a career in professional boxing. With skills honed in his homeland’s rigorous boxing program, El Chacal is arguably the most accomplished fighter in the world today.
Rigondeaux’s pedigree within the amateur game saw him fast tracked through the paid ranks, becoming the WBA interim champion in only his seventh fight – with a split decision win over Ricardo Cordoba on the undercard of Pacquiao vs Margarito. The two time Olympian would go on to capture the full WBA title just two fights later, scoring a sixth round body shot knockout over Rico Ramos at Las Vegas’ Pearl Theatre.
In April 2013, Rigondeaux would face his acid test in WBO super bantamweight king Nonito Donaire. Donaire entered the fight as the betting favourite and at number five on Ring Magazines pound for pound list – with many expecting the Filipino’s more comprehensive professional experience to be the telling factor in the fight. El Chacal would go on to win a wide unanimous decision, landing hard lead right hooks and left crosses throughout the contest whilst frustrating the three weight world champion with his movement.
Rigondeaux would defend the WBA and his newly acquired WBO title on three occasions before enduring a frustrating period which saw him stripped of his belts due to inactivity. The Cuban has since regained the WBA crown which he has defended twice in anti-climactic circumstances – against Jazza Dickens who retired with a broken jaw in the second and Moises Flores who was knocked out after the bell to end the first round – resulting in the fight being ruled a no contest.
Rigondeaux is next scheduled to step up to 130 pounds to face Vasyl Lomachenko, in what will be a clash of boxing’s premier talents. The winner of the hotly anticipated December showdown is sure to be recognised by many as the best in the sport.
The Case For
On skillset alone, Rigondeaux would head up the pound for pound list of most fans and experts. The Cuban possess sublime movement, seeming to glide in and out of range whilst avoiding punches and landing his own. With power in both hand’s and electric speed, El Chacal has become one of the sports most avoided fighters – with rival champions opting to relinquish belts or move up in weight to avoid facing him.
Rigondeaux’s finest hour in the professional game to date came in the aforementioned clash with now four weight king Nonito Donaire. The Cuban’s vastly superior skill set was evident throughout the contest, making an elite level fighter resemble a fringe contender.
Having gone on record to state that’s he is willing to fight any of the champions from 122 to 130 pounds, it has been through no fault of his own that El Chacal has yet to follow up the Donaire performance with wins over other established names.
The Case Against
Whilst it is due to circumstances beyond his control, Rigondeaux’s resume is weak when compared with that of other pound for pound contenders. Despite being arguably the most skilled fighter in the sport, the Cuban has only one elite scalp on his record in Nonito Donaire. Many believe that El Chacal’s pound for pound credentials hinge on the result of his forthcoming clash with fellow pound for pound star Vasyl Lomachenko.
To be continued in part 2.