A few weeks back it was pretty up in the air as to who the best pound-for-pound fighter was in boxing. Some polls had Gennady Golovkin at the top while others had Andre Ward number one with a few outliers having Vasyl Lomachenko at the top. In the mix, nipping at their heels, were Sergey Kovalev, Roman Gonzalez, Terence Crawford and Canelo Alvarez.
Since February, Golovkin won a close 12-round decision over Daniel Jacobs, Lomachenko jogged past Jason Sosa en route to stopping him at the end of the ninth round, Roman Gonzalez lost a highly disputed decision to Wisaksil Wangek, Terence Crawford took apart Felix Diaz, stopping him in the 10th round, and then, a little over a week ago, Andre Ward TKO’d Sergey Kovalev in the eighth round. And it seems that Ward’s resounding win over Kovalev in their rematch, after beating him via a disputed decision last year, has most polls agreeing that Andre is number one atop boxing’s hypothetical pound-for-pound list. However, according to Oscar De La Hoya, whoever wins the much-anticipated middleweight title clash between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin on September 16th should be recognized as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Which begs the question….does anyone know the actual criteria by which fighters are measured when deducing where they should be slotted on the pound-for-pound list (because I don’t)? Is it dominance over their division? Is it level of opposition faced and defeated? How about being undefeated and having multiple titles in different divisions? Or is it the most versatile fighters who have the biggest tool box and are most capable of adapting to and overcoming varying styles? Lastly, can a heavyweight be the best pound-for-pound fighter in boxing without being as athletic as Muhammad Ali – who possessed the speed and coordination of a welterweight?
As of this writing, Andre Ward 32-0 (16) is considered the top pound-for-pound fighter on most pound-for-pound lists. But is it plausible that the victor between Canelo and Golovkin, if he’s impressive, can leapfrog Ward? Depending on who you ask, I guess so, but not on my list. I don’t care if Canelo knocks out Golovkin in the second round or vice-versa; the bottom line is that Ward is a far more complete fighter than either Canelo or Golovkin, and nothing they do against each other can change that.
The term pound-for-pound was coined by the sportswriters who covered welterweight champion Sugar Ray Robinson during the 1940’s when Robinson was in his prime. Robinson was able to fight and adapt to any style. He could trade and fight toe-to-toe and morph into a counter-puncher all in the same round. If he was in against an attacker who brought the fight to him, he could move and fight on the outside, and then move in and finish his man with ripping hooks and uppercuts. Conversely, if he was confronted by a boxer/mover, he could just as easily go on the attack and force his opponent to address his aggression. Robinson could punch with speed, power, and accuracy, and deliver his punch with either hand. In short, he was one of an elite group of fighters (less-than-a-handful who have yet lived) who in their primes were both the better boxer and better puncher with more speed and fluidity than their opponents every time they entered the ring. Robinson also had the heart of a lion, a cast-iron chin, and a frightening killer instinct driven by an immense will to win.
When you consider the fighter, Sugar Ray Robinson, and why the phrase pound-for-pound was coined, the model suggests that the boxer who should get the most consideration when ranking the best pound-for-pound combatants is the fighter who can adapt to all styles, or the fighter who wins by fighting and trading. Versatility along with level of opposition defeated should be the test, opposed to determining whether Vasyl Lomachenko at 238 could or couldn’t beat IBF heavyweight title holder Anthony Joshua — something that is utterly ridiculous.
And for these reasons, the only fighters who should be considered the number one pound-for-pound fighter in boxing today are Terence Crawford 31-0 (21), Andre Ward 32-0 (16), Roman Gonzalez 46-1 (38), Vasyl Lomachenko 8-1 (6), and Guillermo Rigondeaux 18-0 (12). All five are complete fighters who combine athleticism, physicality and versatility. Gonzalez is the most one-dimensional, needing to overwhelm his opponents to win, and he has officially lost once. Rigondeaux is probably the most gifted fighter in boxing, but his resume isn’t deep and he’s been inactive. Lomachenko also exhibits the physical gifts of a once-in-a-generation fighter, but he also has a thin resume and in only nine fights isn’t even undefeated.
When taking into account a boxer’s record, versatility, resume and accomplishments, only Crawford or Ward warrant the top spot today. In most polls that I’ve recently seen, Ward, mostly based on the recent win over Kovalev, ranks above Crawford. And I’m good with that – I can see the argument supporting Ward – he’s just not number one on my list.
In all honesty I never thought much of the mythical pound-for-pound list. Its only purpose is to stimulate debate, and that’s half the fun of sports, maybe even more so with fans of boxing. On the Boxing Channel, I have been debating host Miguel Iturrate regarding the best and most complete fighter in boxing. And in my opinion, junior welterweight champ Terence Crawford and light heavyweight champ Andre Ward are the two best fighters in the sport.
The reasons I rank Crawford over Ward are…..although both have won multiple titles, Crawford is legitimately undefeated. I’ve never even seen him struggle or have a close call, whereas I thought Ward lost to Sergey Kovalev the first time they fought. In roughly the same number of fights against comparable opposition, Ward has been down twice whereas Crawford has never been close to touching the canvas. At their current weights, I think there is a greater chance that Ward could be upset.
Furthermore, Crawford is so versatile that he has defeated upper-tier opposition fighting out of a conventional stance and as a southpaw. Defensively, Crawford, going by the way he looks after his bouts, must be harder to hit than Ward because his face is seldom marked after he fights whereas the same cannot be said for Ward……and Crawford mixes it up every bit as much as Ward and probably even more. Offensively, Crawford has more gears than Ward and at their respective weights he is slightly quicker and a little bit of a bigger puncher. The one area in which I think Ward holds a minuscule edge is in quality of opposition. However, taking everything else into consideration, that isn’t enough to tip the scale in his favor. Ward is excellent, but I don’t think he has as many resources as Crawford. Crawford has more ways to beat you, and is probably the better natural fighter. Ward’s intelligence might be his single best weapon. Or maybe his mean streak. And Crawford also has those two attributes.
I have no issue with anyone who ranks Ward number one, just as long as Crawford is in the top two. I just believe Terence Crawford is the most complete fighter in boxing.
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Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com