With Floyd Mayweather’s masterful destruction of Arturo Gatti Saturday in Atlantic City – and after a particularly active month in the junior welterweight division – the pound-for-pound landscape has changed since the last list in December 2004.
Three Hall-of-Famers are out, along with last year’s “Fighter of the Year.”
Here’s the updated list, circa late June 2005.
1. Bernard Hopkins: No changes here, though “The Executioner’s” hold on the top spot is precarious at best. Mayweather, with his signature devastation of Gatti last week, is creeping up on Hopkins like a Carlos Maussa illegal blow to the back of the head. But let’s not be hasty. Hopkins, while not exactly scintillating in his last fight against Howard Eastman, has made 20 defenses of the middleweight title. He shouldn’t be easily dismissed. Besides, young hotshot Jermain Taylor could provide the answer to this new pound-for-pound debate on July 16, when he challenges Hopkins for all the marbles. So the solution is simple: If Hopkins wins impressively, he stays at the top. If he looks horrible, gets a decision he shouldn’t, or loses, he falls. As easy as a Mayweather seven-punch combo.
2. Floyd Mayweather: In a word, wow! Hard to imagine Hopkins performing any better on July 16 than “Pretty Boy” Floyd did Saturday against Gatti. Granted, Gatti was tailor-made for “Pretty Boy,” and that WBC title he conceded to Mayweather is bogus. But Gatti is a fighter who “The Ring” magazine says was the top contender at 140 pounds going in – not to mention a legitimate former world champion. Mayweather made him look like a sparring partner, and may have turned in one of this generation’s all-time best performances. Floyd’s at #2 for the time being, but Hopkins would have to turn in a particularly nice outing against Taylor to hold on to #1.
3. Winky Wright: Wright looked so good against Felix Trinidad on May 14 that some were arguing that perhaps he should be placed at the top of the pound-for-pound heap. It would be hard to argue against it, after Wright won 12 of 12 rounds and completely outclassed a legend. But, you also have to factor in Trinidad’s recent retirement and subsequent inactivity, and consider that “Tito’s” style was made-to-order for the Winkster. So, right now, #3 seems right for Wright – though a showdown with Hopkins would clarify things.
4. Marco Antonio Barrera: Barrera is coming off a second-round demolition of no-hoper Mzonke Fana in April, and doesn’t have anything specific lined up. He is tentatively scheduled to fight in September, and Barrera-Erik Morales 4 would be a natural for dieciseis de Septiembre weekend in Las Vegas. But promoters will likely allow Barrera-Morales 4 to cook for a while, and maybe present it for next Cinco de Mayo. This year? Perhaps Manny Pacquiao in a rematch? Or Jesus Chavez, who is coming off a decision over Carlos Hernandez? Whatever the case, Barrera reestablished himself with his second victory over Morales last November. He is solid at #4.
5. Erik Morales: “El Terrible” may have finally emerged from Barrera’s shadow in March, when he upset Filipino superstar and Barrera conqueror Pacquaio. The Tijuana legend is a three-time world champion and is second only to Gatti in number of spectacular wars fought in a career. The difference, of course, is that Morales is an elite practitioner. But his itinerary is up in the air as well, though there has been talk of a move up to lightweight to challenge new world champ Diego Corrales and WBA titlist Juan Diaz. That may be one leap too many. But, as March proved, it would be unwise to ever dismiss Morales. He and Barrera are practically interchangeable at #4 and #5.
6. Ricky Hatton: The newest addition to the list, Hatton looked like a special fighter on June 5 when he upset Kostya Tszyu to win the recognized junior welterweight championship. Everyone knew he was strong and aggressive, but very few figured he had the kind of skills that would allow him to dominate a great champion like Tszyu. Further, his chin is a block of granite and he carries a ferocity into the ring that may be unmatched by any other fighter in the game. The new best fight in boxing: Hatton vs. Mayweather – which would be everything Mayweather-Gatti was supposed to be. Hatton is younger, stronger and much more talented than Gatti. But it appears as though the “Hitman” will meet Puerto Rican hotshot Miguel Cotto first. That ain’t a bad one, either.
7. Diego Corrales: The new king of the lightweights is basking in the afterglow of his classic knockout of Jose Luis Castillo in May, but after such an all-consuming war, you have to wonder how “Chico” will be affected. The answer should come quick, especially after his recent comments that a Castillo rematch is a possibility. Corrales-Castillo 2 is a toss-up, though Corrales will definitely have a psychological advantage. If not Castillo, then a hop up to junior welter and Hatton is an option. In fact, that fight has been discussed. But it wouldn’t be a horrible idea for Chico to just sit back and rest the remainder of the year.
8. Jose Luis Castillo: How good does Castillo look after Mayweather’s knockout of Gatti? Afterall, “El Temible” is the one guy on the planet who took Mayweather to the limit, and some believe he deserved the decision in their April 2002 fight in Las Vegas. Castillo was outpointed again in the rematch, but he was only two or three rounds off. However, like Corrales, Castillo may never be the same after that brutal May 7 war. Once a granite chin is cracked, sometimes it is never the same (Pipino Cuevas being an example). If Castillo stays in top form, he’d be a major test for anyone, including Corrales, Hatton, Cotto or Mayweather.
9. Manny Pacquiao: It wasn’t that long ago that boxing fans were wondering whether “Pac-Man” was the most devastating force in boxing. Of course, the buzz has died down a bit after Pacquiao’s surprise decision loss to Morales in March. Still, Pacquiao played up to his warrior image, attacking the bigger Morales even through a couple of nasty cuts. Pacqauio may be best served to move back down to featherweight, where he appears to be at his most effective. If not, it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to fight Barrera again. He was so dominant the first time in November 2003 that you have to wonder if his style is a puzzle that the “Baby-Faced Assassin” will ever solve. Rematches with Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez would be appealing as well.
10. Juan Manuel Marquez: The biggest question is what happened to this guy? After Marquez roared back from three first-round knockdowns to get a draw with Pacquiao in May 2004, he has virtually disappeared. The big names of the division – Pac-Man, Barrera, Morales – have continued to shut Marquez out of the big-money sweepstakes. And his follow-up performances haven’t demanded that they pay attention. Too bad. Because Marquez is quality and, given the right opportunity, he is a possible winner over anybody.
11. Zab Judah: Judah looked dazzling against overmatched Cosme Rivera in his last fight, but it’s still the February knockout of Cory Spinks that speaks best of the brash New Yorker. He showed the kind of heart, guts and determination that very few thought he possessed, and now seems like a fighter reborn. There are dozens of big fights for him out there, the most tantalizing being a showdown with top contender Antonio Margarito, who looked spectacular in an April knockout of Kermit Cintron. There has also been talk of an Oscar De La Hoya challenge, as well as a defense against Mayweather. Regardless, “Super” Zab is sitting in a place that most experts didn’t expect him to reside four years ago.
12. Antonio Tarver: Okay, now that the “Magic Man” has set the record straight with a revenge decision over Glen Johnson, it’s time for Tarver to step up to the plate and become the star that he was supposed to be after the one-punch knockout of Roy Jones Jr. in May 2004. Tarver admitted being a little lazy going into the first Johnson fight, and he deservedly lost. In the rematch, he was much better conditioned, and he wasn’t afraid to step inside and bang away against the stronger “Road Warrior.” The sky is the limit for Tarver again, as possible showdowns with Hopkins and super middleweight titlist Joe Calzaghe beckon. But he is 36 years old. So he better do something soon.
Fell out: Felix Trinidad, Kostya Tszyu, Glen Johnson, Oscar De La Hoya.
On the Brink: Rafael Marquez, Antonio Margarito, Jean-Marc Mormeck.