It's hard to believe from listening to him talk sometimes, but there were great fighters who came before Floyd Mayweather Jr. And, believe it or not, there are some who were better.
With Mayweather (42-0) set to challenge Miguel Cotto for the World Boxing Association super welterweight title on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden on HBO Pay-Per-View, it seemed like a good time to try to quantify Mayweather's position among his peers.
I've come up with a list of the top 25 boxers of the last 25 years, from 1988 through 2012. One of the caveats of my list is that a fighter has to have fought at least 10 times over that period to be considered. Otherwise, what do you do with a great fighter like Michael Spinks, who fought once in 1988, was knocked out in 91 seconds by Mike Tyson, and retired?
If a fighter fought more than 10 times in the 1988-2012 span, I'll consider his whole career when I rank him.
I rated the fighters based upon significant victories, quality of opposition, consistency, offensive ability, power, defensive ability, and overall accomplishments. Some may question why I split offensive ability and power into two categories. The reason is there are some fighters who had unbelievable power, but didn't offer a very good offense otherwise. And power is such a defining factor in boxing.
In the case of ties, I gave the advantage to the fighter who had more significant wins from 1988 on, given that if they qualify for the list, some of their biggest wins may have been from 1987 or before.
With that being said, let's get to the list, presented from No. 25 to No. 1:
23. Felix Trinidad, 1990-2008, 42-3, 35 knockouts – Trinidad was a vicious puncher and a quality offensive fighter who fought just about all of the greats of his era.
22. Riddick Bowe, 1989-2008, 43-1, 1 no contest, 33 knockouts – Though he had a great record, including two wins over Evander Holyfield, Bowe seems like a failure because he was so physically gifted.
21. Humberto "Chiquita" Gonzalez, 1984-1995, 43-3, 31 knockouts – Gonzalez was a little man with big power. He's regarded as one of the pound-for-pound best punchers ever.
20. Mike Tyson, 1985-2005, 50-6, 2 no contests, 44 knockouts – Tyson was a massive puncher, but he isn't higher because he never beat a truly elite heavyweight in his prime.
19. Mike McCallum, 1981-1997, 49-5-1, 36 knockouts – McCallum was one of the sport's best body punchers who may have been the best super welterweight of his time.
18. James Toney, 1989-present, 74-7, 45 knockouts – Toney was a master craftsman who would be higher on this list if not for his maddening inconsistency.
17. Juan Manuel Marquez, 1993-present, 54-6-1, 39 knockouts – Marquez is a complete fighter who combines offense and defense as well as anyone in the last quarter-century.
16. Michael Carbajal, 1989-1999, 49-4, 33 knockouts – He was so good, he forced Americans to pay attention to the light flyweight division. That's saying a lot.
15. Marco Antonio Barrera, 1989-2011, 67-7, 1 no contest, 44 knockouts – "The Baby-faced Assassin" reeled off wins over the likes of Naseem Hamed, Erik Morales, Johnny Tapia and Paulie Ayala.
14. Joe Calzaghe, 1993-2008, 46-0, 32 knockouts – Calzaghe had a remarkable run at super middleweight, going 22-0 in 168-pound title fights.
13. Lennox Lewis, 1988-2003, 41-2-1, 32 knockouts – Lewis beat every man he faced, avenging losses to Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman, and fought to a draw with Evander Holyfield.
12. Manny Pacquiao, 1995-present, 54-3-2, 38 knockouts – Pacquiao made an extraordinary rise through the weight classes and his speed and power made him elite.
11. Bernard Hopkins, 1988-present, 52-6-2, 2 no contests, 32 knockouts – In 2011, Hopkins defeated Jean Pascal to become, at 46, the oldest man ever to win a major belt. He also made 20 consecutive successful defenses of the middleweight title earlier in his career.
10. Ricardo Lopez, 1985-2001, 51-0-1, 38 knockouts – A master craftsman, Lopez was the best small fighter of his era. He went unbeaten in 26 world title fights (25-0-1) and knocked off a who's who of his era's best.
9. Floyd Mayweather Jr., 1996-present, 42-0, 26 knockouts – Mayweather was at his best at super featherweight, when he had a streak in which he beat a string of elite fighters. He remains a masterful defensive fighter who has underrated counterpunching ability.
8. Thomas Hearns, 1977-2006, 61-5-1, 48 knockouts – Hearns' prime came before 1988, but he has wins over a small army of Hall of Famers. He was a devastating knockout puncher and carried his pop with him from welterweight through middleweight.
7. Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., 1980-2005, 107-6-2, 86 knockouts – Chavez began his career an astounding 87-0 and beat so many world champions, a list of them all would be the size of a phone book. He was a ferocious inside fighter who went hard to the body and punched well in combination.
6. George Foreman, 1969-1997, 76-5, 68 knockouts – Arguably the greatest puncher ever, and I know that creates an argument. Foreman destroyed Joe Frazier to win the title in his first stint. After a 10-year retirement, he came back and became the oldest man, at the time, to win a major world title – a record since surpassed by Bernard Hopkins.
5. Evander Holyfield, 1984-present, 44-10-2, 29 knockouts – Holyfield would fight anyone, usually beat them and almost always won in entertaining fashion. He had memorable wins over Mike Tyson, Larry Holmes, George Foreman, Riddick Bowe, Michael Dokes and Dwight Muhammad Qawi.
4. Pernell Whitaker, 1984-2001, 40-4-1, 17 knockouts – Whitaker was the best defensive fighter of his era and was practically unhittable at his peak. He racked up innumerable quality wins, but his best performance came when he was robbed against Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. Whitaker got a draw in a fight he appeared to easily win.
3. Larry Holmes, 1973-2002, 69-6, 44 knockouts – Holmes was at his prime from 1976 through 1984. He had a terrific jab, a great chin and fought and beat most of the great heavyweights of his day.
2. Roberto Duran, 1968-2001, 103-16, 70 knockouts – Duran's peak was from 1971 through 1985, and he may be the greatest lightweight who ever lived. Inconsistency, with losses to the likes of Kirkland Laing and Pat Lawlor, hurt him badly in his bid for the top spot.
1. Roy Jones, 1989-present, 55-8, 40 knockouts – Jones was perhaps boxing's most physically gifted fighter in his prime. He was as fast as anyone in the sport, but he was an extraordinarily powerful puncher. He was rarely hit when he was in top form and he took out elite fighters like Bernard Hopkins, James Toney, and Mike McCallum in his heyday. He's hung on far, far too long and is a remnant of the great he was, but that doesn't take away from what he did when he was at his best.