The other week Max Kellerman, currently pugilism’s premier talking head, released his new, updated pound-for-pound rankings and it sent all the hardcore boxing geeks into a tizzy. For those innocent souls less familiar with the strange phenomenon, pound-for-pound lists are a completely subjective ranking of the best competitors in this so-called sport, regardless of weight, hence the term “pound-for-pound.” It’s a bit like that game you played as a kid where you’d debate with your friends if a lion could kill a tiger, or a gorilla could beat up a bear, except it’s undertaken by grown men and debated in great seriousness.
Because boxing suffers from a chronic paucity of meaningful matches and competition, these lists have taken on a greater importance than they otherwise should. But what better way to fill the void as champions defend their dubious world titles once or twice a year, and the best keep avoiding the best, than by having an ongoing debate comparing the skills of boxers who can never fight each other?
Suffice to say, I don’t have much use for “pound-for-pound” rankings and neither, in my opinion, should anyone else who is the least bit serious about boxing. I also don’t have much use for Max Kellerman, a commentator who veers between occasionally dropping solid facts about boxing history and (more often) uttering the kind of confounding, jargon-laded horseshit that’s so pretentious it makes your eyes water.
But I should give credit where it’s due: Max has honed a unique talent for verbalizing bilge water with such self-regard and conviction that he can no doubt count on high-paying shill gigs from now until well after I’m six feet under. He’s a self-made bullshit artist, starting off on public-access TV before going on to HBO, and now following in the footsteps of clowns like Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith. That is no small feat; I know I couldn’t do it.
Now Max’s current task is to try and keep mainstream sports fans half-way interested in pugilism from his new soapbox on ESPN, hence his recent “pound-for-pound” list, which has garnered far more attention than it could possibly deserve. Here’s his take on who are the best boxers on the planet, regardless of size and weight:
The thing which apparently got some people riled up — and by “people” I mean diehard boxing nerds who don’t have a life — is that Kellerman has elevated Errol Spence Jr. — fresh off a pointlessly one sided win over Mikey Garcia — all the way up to (gasp) number four. “Whaaat???” shouted a mob of fight freaks as they stared slack-jawed at their computer screens. “That is insane!!!” And off they went to Reddit and Facebook or wherever else they could babble back-and-forth in a frenzy as if any of this matters to anyone other than a tiny tribe of self-styled boxing “experts.”
Personally I couldn’t care less about Max’s ranking, because, as I say, such lists are all hypothetical bullcrap to begin with. But having stated that, it occurs to me that The Fight City has never offered up its own pound-for-pound lists, in part because we defer to the good people at the Transnational Rankings Board. But the more I thought about Max’s list, and the more, despite myself, that I listened to the inane chatter of numerous boxing geeks, the greater the desire to offer up my two cents on this weighty topic. Because truth be told, I don’t see any pound-for-pound lists out there, not one, that I can really get behind.
So here ya go, fight freaks, the Portis Pound-For-Pound list, and not a Top Ten either, but as befits The Fight City, a full-bore Top 12. So buckle up, folks. Because if Kellerman’s list elevated your blood pressure, mine might give you a stroke.
12. Juan Francisco Estrada: Okay, first off, we should discuss one of the primary issues with these lists, namely, the lack of criteria. That is not to say there is no criteria, but more that no one agrees on which measuring stick is the most important or when it should be used. When it’s convenient, people bring up a fighter’s record and their past opposition, while other times the so-called “eye test” and how a boxer has performed of late is emphasized.
Well, I for one think Estrada scores high both ways, yet you don’t see his name come up often when people talk about the best boxers in the sport. But the fact is he’s been an elite performer for a lot of years with wins over Hernan Marquez and Carlos Cuadras and he’s given both Roman Gonzalez and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai some of the most punishing rounds of their careers in tough, close battles. I gotta give the man the respect he’s earned the hard way, so he makes the cut.
11. Sergey Kovalev: Here’s another guy who doesn’t get the respect he’s owed. Forget his dominant wins over Jean Pascal and Bernard Hopkins. You can even put aside his brilliant performance in the first fight against Andre Ward when a bullshit decision from the judges sent him into an alcohol-fueled tailspin. The prime reason to have “Krusher” Kovalev on your pound-for-pound list is what transpired when he faced Eleider “Storm” Alvarez in an immediate rematch after the Colombian squashed him in August.
Make no mistake: Alvarez is one of the best light heavyweights in the world and his destruction of “Krusher” was so emphatic one was very hard-pressed to find anyone picking Kovalev to prevail in the rematch. But prevail he did and in most impressive fashion, using some sharp boxing and heady technique to neutralize Alvarez and win almost every round. For me, this is the current front-runner for 2019’s Performance Of The Year and it puts him back at the top of the division.
10. Josh Warrington: Back-to-back wins over Lee Selby and Carl Frampton are no joke, especially the way “The Leeds Warrior” did it, showing tremendous heart, stamina and grit. He’s my number one featherweight and there’s few fighters out there at any weight who in the last 12 months can match those two dominant performances. Hey, Max, show me the win on the records of Mikey Garcia and Anthony Joshua that tops Warrington outworking “The Jackal” from bell to bell at a frenetic pace. Yeah, that’s right; you can’t. So why doesn’t Warrington make the cut?
9. Manny Pacquiao: Yeah, I know, we all thought that by now he would have retired, but the great Manny Pacquiao, amazingly, fights on. And since he does, I don’t understand how anyone can overlook what he’s accomplished the last few years. The loss to Jeff Horn was questionable, to put it mildly, so just as I give Kovalev credit for his performance in the first Ward bout, I give “PacMan” credit for going 12 tough rounds with a much bigger man and getting the better of it. Add his wins over Timothy Bradley, Jessie Vargas, Lucas Matthysse and Adrien Broner — all of them of a one-sided nature — and I’m left to ponder how anyone can leave the ageless wonder of the Philippines off their list. He’s on mine and I only wonder if I got him too low.
8. Tyson Fury: Say what you like about his technique, Deontay Wilder is a very dangerous, very powerful heavyweight, a fact he proved conclusively in his war with Luis Ortiz that saw him survive the big Cuban’s best shots before he put “King Kong” down and out after ten hard-fought rounds. But while the judges scored his fight with Tyson Fury a draw, everyone knows the real story. “The Gypsy King” outfoxed Wilder and won at least nine rounds. He had to take some heavy shots and get up off the canvas twice, but in the end Fury got the better of “The Bronze Bomber.”
And yet he doesn’t appear on anyone’s pound-for-pound list, despite the fact that no active heavyweight can boast a more significant win. That’s right; I’m calling it a “win” because anyone with any sense was calling bullshit on that decision right after it happened. But, hey, you do you, Max, and leave Fury out while you have Anthony Joshua in; makes so much more sense.
7. Errol Spence Jr.: Figuring out where to put “The Truth” isn’t such a tricky issue, so everyone should calm down. Is number four a bit high? Maybe, but at worst he’s currently number two in a stacked welterweight division and his stoppage wins over Kell Brook and Lamont Peterson are definitely major league.
I don’t give him a ton of credit for the shutout of Garcia, even though I picked Mikey to beat him (what was I thinking?), because let’s face it, that match made zero sense to begin with as a deluded Garcia stupidly thought he could beat the bigger man with hypoxic training and nothing else. But right now, Spence is one of the top talents, a complete fighter, dominant in all of his recent outings, not to mention likely at his peak at 29.
6. Naoya Inoue: They call him “The Monster” and you know what? That’s exactly what he is, a scary combination of lethal power and sharp skill who just keeps knocking over anyone brave enough to get in the ring with him. I have little doubt he would be in my top three if it wasn’t for the fact he has yet to mix it up with someone who has the moxy, toughness and power to really test him. I don’t think Emmanuel Rodriguez is the man to do that, but once Inoue gets past him, he’ll be facing either Zolani Tete or Nonito Donaire in the final of the World Boxing Super Series and when that happens we may learn something new about “The Monster.”
5. Terence Crawford: As Lee Wylie says, Crawford is “the complete boxer” who, like Inoue, suffers from a lack of formidable opposition and a signature win. But while it may make more sense to rank Spence above him at 147, I’m picking “Bud” to take it should that match ever happen. Crafty, vicious and powerful, Crawford is clearly one of the top talents in the sport and while I don’t, like Max, have him at the very top, I also have no beef with anyone who ranks him higher than I do. (Note to Bob Arum: after he smokes Khan, you better get Crawford a showdown with Spence or Thurman or wasting a great fighter’s prime years will be on you and no one else. Not that you really care, but c’mon Bob, make some moves!)
4. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai: Most, like Max, have the Thai ranked too low and some don’t have this guy on their list at all, which is ridiculous. Incredibly strong and tough, this dangerous southpaw has three consecutive wins which almost no one can top: a decision over the great Roman Gonzalez, a vicious one-shot KO of “Chocolatito” in the rematch, and then a close points win over Juan Francisco Estrada in one of last year’s best scraps. Yeah, I know, Gonzalez deserved better in the first fight, but the fact is it was very close and either way, you have to give Rungvisai credit for coming out of nowhere and giving the guy most at the time regarded as the pound-for-pound king the toughest battle of his career. Besides, his icing of Roman in the rematch has to be a front-runner for Knockout Of The Decade, and his win over Estrada in their war last year is huge.
3. Oleksandr Usyk: When a guy cleans out a whole division and does it with room to spare, you have to give him his just due. “The Cat” is fast, clever, strong, powerful and accurate, with exceptional footwork and mobility for a big man. He’s on a hell of a run and now he’s ready to attack the heavyweights. If he gets to the top of that mountain — and I’m not sure he can — then he’s in the running to be ranked as a latter-day great, a true Hall of Famer.
2. Vasyl Lomachenko: Anyone who doesn’t have “Hi-Tech” in their top three can’t be playing with a full deck. He’s an extraordinary talent and he’s currently competing out of his weight class, chasing glory like a real champion does, staying awake at night dreaming about a showdown with the guy who ducked him, Mikey Garcia, and looking for the next big challenge he can conquer. He’s so good he makes seasoned, skilled professionals quit in their corners like frightened children and in a streak of victories that includes wins over Nicholas Walters, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Jorge Linares, you can count on one hand the number of rounds he’s lost. You look at the record, you do the “eye test,” you rate him however you want: he’s the real deal.
1. Gennady Golovkin: Speaking of “real” champions, here he is, the true king, the best middleweight in the world, and the man who deserves to be at the top of everyone’s list. So do I have an axe to grind? You bet. Am I using my pound-for-pound list to prove a point? Absolutely. And here it is: all you so-called boxing experts would have no choice but to rank the great Golovkin number one had the judges done their job and given the Kazakh the victories he earned in his two tough battles with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.
Get it straight: the first fight was a clear-cut win for Golovkin. Was it competitive? Sure. Was a draw verdict outrageous? No. But it was wrong. Clearly wrong. Was the second bout razor close? Yes. But all the more reason to give Golovkin his due. In the ring with a younger, quicker, arguably stronger fighter, he made his brave stand in that final round to pull it out and he did just that in the eyes of the vast majority at ringside, not to mention the crowd that booed the decision. But the judges denied Golovkin his glory and now you’re hard-pressed to find anyone who ranks him in their P4P top five, which just compounds the obvious injustice. Gennady Golovkin, based on his record, his accomplishments, and how he performed in his last fight, deserves to be regarded as the best boxer in the world, pound-for-pound, no question in my mind. There should be no question in yours either.
Which leads us to the massive elephant in the room: where the hell is Canelo? Well let me tell you where he is. He’s in that lonely little cell reserved for gifted boxers who decide money and bullshit belts are more important than honor and integrity. You ask where Canelo is, I say fuck that guy. He’s the one who made Golovkin wait and wait for the chance he’d earned to fight for the undisputed middleweight title. He’s the weasel who kept saying he wasn’t a real middleweight and insisting on catch-weights, while coming into the ring as a light heavyweight. He’s the one who gave us pointless fights against Liam Smith, Chavez Junior and Rocky Fielding. He’s the cheater caught using a banned substance. He’s the one who ducks the toughest competition like a coward and lets the calendar run in the hope his older rival will get further and further from his prime. And he’s the one who did not beat Gennady Golovkin, in either fight, and whose last quality win was over a puffed-up Miguel Cotto back in 2015. So, yeah, that jerk is number 13 with a bullet! Got something to say about that? Bring it on! Hell, maybe I should follow my editor’s advice and open up a Twitter account. — Robert Portis