It's been a while since the last pound-for-pound list – last summer to be exact – so it's probably about time to update.
And, since last weekend was pretty much devoid of elite action, here goes.
1. Floyd Mayweather: No big surprise here. Since the last time, Mayweather has jumped from #2 to #1, based on his destruction of Arturo Gatti, and former top guy Bernard Hopkins dropping a pair of decisions to Jermain Taylor. Sure, Mayweather's level of competition has left something to be desired lately. He needs to be fighting Antonio Margarito or Ricky Hatton, not Sharmba Mitchell and Zab Judah. But, in fairness, it's not his fault that Judah didn't train for Carlos Baldomir – making the April 8 Pretty Boy vs. Super matchup considerably less interesting and important. But it is his fault that he hasn't fought a live body since out-pointing Jose Luis Castillo in December 2002. If Mayweather doesn't fight Margarito or Hatton by the end of the year, #2 Winky Wright may supplant him at the top. But, for now, Mayweather – easily the most gifted boxer in the sport today – assumes #1.
2. Winky Wright: Unlike Mayweather, Wright seems to have the right kind of attitude – a “go-get-'em” mindset that has a lot of the boxing world in his corner. In successive fights, Winky knocked off Shane Mosley twice, and Puerto Rican great Felix Trinidad. Now, after some time off, he's tackling the younger. bigger middleweight king Jermain Taylor. It seems Wright knows he's getting up there in years, and is attempting to make the most of his time in the sun. Good for him. If Winky beats Taylor – and that is a definite possibility – and Mayweather continues to entertain fighters who are obviously overmatched, Winky will overtake “Pretty Boy.”
3. Marco Antonio Barrera: It's been something of a quiet few months for Mexico's “Baby-Faced Assassin”, who isn't such a baby anymore at 32 years old. He jacked up the hopeless Mzonke Fana in April, then shut out Robbie Peden in September. Not exactly a memorable 2005, but he's in tough this March when he hops up to lightweight and challenges IBF champ Jesus Chavez. Barrera, like arch-enemy Erik Morales, started out several weight classes below 135 pounds, and could be packing on too much weight for “El Matador.” Morales found out the hard way when he lost a lifeless decision to Zahir Raheem at lightweight in September. But, luckily for Barrera, Chavez is a natural junior lightweight/featherweight, which could make the weight class-jump a moot point. Then, if he wins, Barrera can concentrate on a rematch with Manny Pacquiao.
4. Manny Pacquiao: The Philippines' “Pac-Man” looked awesome in his January 21 destruction of Mexican icon Morales, becoming the first fighter to legitimately drop “El Terrible” (twice), and knock him out. That victory catapulted Pacquaio from #9 to #4 since the last list – a jump of five big spots. Some of that was attrition, yes, as Hopkins, Morales and Diego Corrales all lost. But most of it was the recognition of Pacquiao's incredible power and brilliance (he leapfrogged over England's Ricky Hatton). So why isn't he ahead of Barrera, whom he destroyed in 2003? Part of it is that six spots would have been too much based on one victory. Another part is that Barrera has looked pretty darn good since the whipping that Pacquiao issued, and may not have been 100 percent on that night. And still another part is that Pacquiao did indeed lose to Morales the first time they fought in March 2005, and drew with Juan Manuel Marquez in 2004. But, if he puts Morales away for good, as expected, in their rubber match in September, he'll get his second chance at Barrera sometime in 2007.
5. Ricky Hatton: The man who is rejuvenating pugilism in England has had one fight since his knockout of Kostya Tszyu last June – an 8th-round stoppage of spoiler Carlos Maussa. Both fights showcased Hatton's best points: his incredible physical strength, his granite chin, his stellar conditioning, and his tremendous determination. Those attributes will make him a tough assignment for anybody – and that includes Mayweather. In fact, Mayweather vs. Hatton may be the single most attractive fight in boxing today, as it pits “Pretty Boy's” amazing physical gifts and speed against the “Hitman's” power and will to win. Next up, though, might be Puerto Rico's Miguel Cotto, which is also a marvelous style matchup. Whatever the case, Hatton will have a chance to showcase himself against the best of the world in 2006.
6. Jose Luis Castillo: Ok, so Castillo stunk out the place in a Feb. 4 decision over no-hoper Rolando Reyes. But that fight meant nothing. Castillo was originally to have fought nemesis Diego Corrales for the third time in nine months, and his inspiration may have dried up the minute Corrales pulled out of the fight. The good news for Castillo fans is that there was nothing in the Reyes fight to suggest that “El Temible” has somehow faded since his October knockout of Corrales in the rematch. The bad news is that Castillo again had a tough time making weight, this time 138 pounds. For a Corrales rubber match, Castillo would have to drop to 135 pounds one last time. There is some question as to whether he can do it. And, if he can, there's a question as to whether he can be effective anymore at lightweight. We'll see. For now, Castillo is scheduled to meet Corrales in June.
7. Juan Manuel Marquez: It seemed as though this overlooked Mexican would finally be a permanent fixture on the radars of elite fighters with his 12-round draw with Pacquiao in 2004. But that hasn't happened, as Marquez has returned to obscurity with victories over Orlando Salido and Victor Polo. And it doesn't appear Marquez will get anything big anytime soon, as the dance cards of Barrera, Pacquaio and Morales seem filled. So, for now, it's up to Marquez to continue to win and wait for the trio to play out their dramas against one another. Physically, Marquez is as good as ever, if a little more technical than some of his countrymen would hope. His win over Polo was masterful – but since it came on the undercard of the first Corrales-Castillo slugfest, it was hardly noticed. He'll meet the undefeated Chris John on March 4.
8. Rafael Marquez: It's fitting that the Marquez brothers are side-by-side on this list, since both seem to be the best two fighters that no one really cares about. It's especially bizarre in Rafael's case, since he is undeniably one of the hardest punchers in boxing, but a lack of big-name opponents in his boring division make him as anonymous as Juan Manuel. Consider, he was on the undercard last year of a Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. fight – appalling, considering Rafael is one of the best fighters in the world. But no one knows him, so he takes what he can get. Perhaps more disturbing is that he has no fights scheduled.
9. Jermain Taylor: Will somebody please give some respect to Taylor, a guy who knocked off a middleweight champ who had reigned for the previous decade? Twice. But it seems “Bad Intentions” is having to rid himself the reputation of a lucky, boring fighter after the pair of Hopkins victories. And, sure, they were boring. The pair acted as though each other's gloves were laced with cyanide. But give Taylor a break. He was going up against a guy who had a mountain of experience on him and, the first time, he survived a few gut-checks to eke out the decision. And the guy isn't resting on his laurels, as he meets the number two guy on this list, Wright, later this year. That could be boring, too, but if he wins, Taylor should start getting his deserved props.
10. Antonio Tarver: Though he really didn't receive his coming-out party until 2003, Tarver has been around a while, and has shown signs of slowing down. He struggled twice with Glen Johnson, a fine fighter – but one whom he probably should have dethroned with ease (he lost to the “Road Warrior” in the original). And he sleepwalked through the rubber match with Roy Jones Jr. – probably a fight that should have never happened. By the time he steps into the ring with former middleweight king Hopkins later this year, it will have been almost two years since his one-punch knockout of Jones. Tarver seemed destined for great things on that night, but great things haven't materialized. And the “Magic Man” is running out of time.
(By the way, Tarver-Hopkins could be the most boring fight in boxing history.)
11. Antonio Margarito: It's not Margarito's fault that he's being completely avoided by the marquee names of the division. Or maybe it is – as in, he has looked too good for his own good. His April knockout of Kermit Cintron was brilliant, and he cemented himself as one of the toughest hombres in the sport on that night. Next up is an old trial horse in Manuel Gomez, who was knocked out by Shane Mosley nine years ago. Once Margarito does away with Gomez, maybe his luck will change. Mayweather-Judah, Oscar De La Hoya-Ricardo Mayorga, Shane Mosley-Fernando Vargas, and Hatton-Cotto will then play themselves out, and Margarito would be more than happy to get one of the winners.
12. Bernard Hopkins: Well, Hopkins has tumbled from the top spot to the last spot since the last list – which ain't bad for somebody who is 40 years old and coming off a historic middleweight title reign. And it's still not impossible to imagine Hopkins with another belt wrapped around his waist – as tactical and unwatchable as he has become. He will be at a size disadvantage against Tarver, but, if he takes the fight inside, things could get interesting. He'll be an underdog, but the “Executioner” may have one more big effort left in him.
On the brink: Diego Corrales.
Fell out: Erik Morales, Zab Judah.