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The best fighters in each weight category since 2000

By Max Warren

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Heavyweight - Wladimir Klitschko

Klitschko represented Ukraine at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, winning the gold medal in the super-heavyweight division. He earned the WBO Heavyweight World Title, beating two-time heavyweight champion Chris Byrd in 2000. Later, he suffered two devastating knockout losses to Corrie Sanders in 2003, and Lamon Brewster in 2004. Following both upset defeats, it appeared that we had seen the last of him.

Only it was just the beginning. He went on to have the second-longest heavyweight title reign in boxing history next to Joe Louis. Klitschko’s reign lasted over nine years, from April 2006 - November 2015, while Louis held his for almost twelve years, from June 1937 - March 1949. Klitschko made 18 consecutive defenses, and Louis defended his title 25 straight times. With respect to longevity, Kltischko stands as one of the best heavyweights in history, alongside Hall of Famers such as Larry Homes (20 total defenses), Muhammad Ali (19 total defenses), and Joe Louis.

Many criticized Klitschko for his glacial fighting style, measuring out opponents with his lead hand, and immediately clinching while on the inside. These criticisms immediately went out the window when he made a valiant effort against current WBA/IBF/WBO champion Anthony Joshua. It was universally recognized as the 2017 Fight Of The Year, as Klitschko came back after being knocked down and scored a knockdown himself. Despite losing by TKO in round 11, fans greatly respected Klitschko for what he did that night. He will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York very soon.


Light-Heavyweight - Roy Jones Jr.

Roy Jones, Jr. was blessed with incredible boxing talent, doing things that would warrant most boxing trainers to chastise their fighters. He never had his hands up, pulled back from punches, taunted opponents, and loved to throw lead rights and left hooks. Many claim Jones reigned supreme in a talent-thin weight class. This is simply not true. Jones said it best in his 2002 song “Y’all Must’ve Forgot,” stating “They got the nerve to say I ain’t fighting nobody. I just make’em look like nobody.” He defeated formidable opponents in Mike McCallum, Antonio Tarver, and Reggie Johnson.

Some consider Jones to be one of the best pound-for-pound boxers of all-time. He also set the record for most wins in unified light-heavyweight title fights at twelve. After suffering a demoralizing knockout loss to Tarver in 2004, Jones never returned to prime form. Arguably, no fighter around his weight class in boxing history could have beaten him in his prime. His ability was unparalleled, featuring an amazing combination of speed, power, and athleticism. That athletic ability could have even transferred to professional basketball and football. He was that talented.


Super Middleweight- Andre Ward

Andre “S.O.G.” Ward is America’s last fighter to win Olympic gold, winning the medal at light-heavyweight in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. Heading into the 2009 Super Six World Boxing Classic tournament, he was the dark horse and didn’t have much fanfare behind him. In a tournament that featured Mikkel Kessler, Carl Froch, Arthur Abraham, and Jermain Taylor, many believed it would be an uphill battle for S.O.G.. Not only did he prevail as the champion of the tournament, he dominated his opposition. If Mayweather and Pacquiao weren’t around in 2012, Ward would have been the clear-cut number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world by tournament’s end.

After the Super Six, he dominated Chad Dawson and Edwin Rodriguez. He stopped Dawson in round 10, and won a wide unanimous decision versus Rodriguez in 2013. Ward left no stone unturned at super middleweight, proving he stood alone in a division that was certainly not talent-thin. Due to promotional disputes with the late Dan Goossen, Ward remained inactive until 2015. He decided to move up to light-heavyweight, and defeated Sergey Kovalev twice before making an early retirement announcement last year.


Middleweight - Bernard Hopkins

Bernard Hopkins is the epitome of longevity in a sport that can end fighters’ careers in an instant. He compiled 20 consecutive middleweight world title defenses, a record Gennady Golovkin tied this year but was unable to break versus Canelo Alvarez. Hopkins is the first fighter to simultaneously hold titles from all four major sanctioning bodies (IBF, WBO, WBC, and WBA). His best wins at 160 were against Felix Trinidad, Oscar De la Hoya, and William Joppy. Despite losing his undisputed middleweight crown to Jermain Taylor in 2005, he did the unimaginable by becoming one of the best light-heavyweights in his era while fighting in his 40s.

Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. held a long and tense rivalry throughout the late 90s and early 00s. Jones beat him by unanimous decision in 1993 for the vacant IBF World Middleweight Title, but Hopkins was not able to avenge his defeat until 2010. The result of the near 20-year grudge match was a unanimous decision victory for Hopkins, but the bout occurred far too late. Hopkins feels that he eventually got the better of Jones, as he was able to fight at a world-class level into his late 40s while Jones couldn’t. He broke Foreman’s record (45 years old) as the oldest boxer in history to win a world title--at the age of 46.


Junior Middleweight - Ronald “Winky” Wright

Ronald “Winky” Wright never lost a bout throughout the 2000s at 154. Most notably, he defeated “Sugar” Shane Mosley twice in 2004, the first time by unanimous decision and the second by majority decision. After defeating Mosley twice, he immediately faced Puerto Rican star Felix Trinidad in 2005 and won by unanimous decision. Oscar De la Hoya never fought Wright at 154, and many believe Wright would have won.

He was the most avoided fighter at 154 throughout the early 00s, featuring a style that was very difficult to outbox. Wright was a tricky southpaw, being very accurate and timing his punches well. He also had great defense. He rated as high as number 2 on The Ring pound-for-pound rankings and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in June.  


Welterweight - Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Mayweather won twelve world titles in five separate weight classes, and is most well-known for his impeccable performances at welterweight. His best wins at welterweight were against Manny Pacquiao, Shane Mosley, Ricky Hatton, Zab Judah, and Marcos Maidana. His defense remained impenetrable, causing great frustration in each of his opponents. Before every major fight, fighters’ camps claimed to possess the “Mayweather Blueprint,” but failed to crack the “May-Vinci Code”.

He proclaims that he is the best fighter ever, but that is a stretch considering the sport’s rich history, although he may be the best defensive fighter of all time. He holds the record for the three highest-grossing pay-per-view events of all time (Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, Mayweather vs. McGregor, and Mayweather vs. Alvarez). Many complain about his lack of power, but clearly he had decent power, because opponents consistently failed to get inside and pound away at Mayweather’s body. Pacquiao was the prime candidate to beat Mayweather, and fans debated for more than five years over who would win. By beating the Filipino icon, Floyd solidified his spot as the best welterweight of his era.


Junior Welterweight - Terence Crawford

Terence “Bud” Crawford recently defeated Jeff Horn for the WBO World Welterweight Title, but ultimately he will be best remembered for his dominance at 140. He stopped every opponent at 140 except for Viktor Postol, who he knocked down twice en route to a unanimous decision victory. His seven fights at the weight were mismatches, and it only took him three years to acquire the four major world title belts. His physical strength for a light-welterweight was incomparable, and later down the road he will likely carry his physical strength to 154.

During his brief lightweight title reign, fans were unaware of his “mean streak.” He knocked out Yuriorkis Gamboa, but he was believed to be merely a slick fighter with solid defense, stamina, and ring IQ. When he moved up in weight, though, he showed that he also likes to go in for the kill. Solid fighters such as Postol, Felix Diaz Jr., and Julius Indongo were never the same after losing decisively to Crawford. They all lost in their following fights. Indongo was knocked out in the second round by Regis Prograis. Postol lost to Josh Taylor by unanimous decision. Diaz shockingly lost to Francisco Santana by majority decision. 

Crawford will go on to have a great run at welterweight and light-middleweight, but boxing sages will always point out how exceptional he was at 140.


Lightweight - Juan Manuel Marquez

When Juan Manuel Marquez’s name is mentioned, the iconic four-fight rivalry with Pacquiao comes to mind. He did not have a come-forward fighting style with relentless pressure that many Mexican boxing legends are known for. Instead, he was a skilled counter-puncher with dynamite in his right hand.

The same right hand floored Pacquiao in their final fight in 2012. Besides knocking out the “Pac-Man”, his most notable victory was over Juan Diaz in the 2009 Fight Of The Year. It was for the WBO/WBA World Lightweight Title. Diaz dominated the early rounds, and opened a cut above Marquez’s right eye in the fifth. Right before the end of round eight, Marquez turned the tide by stunning Diaz. In the ninth, Marquez landed two rights in a three-punch combination that floored Diaz. Diaz came off the canvas, but Marquez soon followed up with a right uppercut that caused the referee to stop the fight. In 2010, Marquez defeated Diaz once again, by unanimous decision. His other notable victory at lightweight came against Cuban Joel Casamayor. He knocked out Casamayor in the eleventh round, capturing his sixth world title in a third weight class. This prompted The Ring to rank him number two on its pound-for-pound list in 2008. He is one of the best Mexican prize fighters ever, and never failed to put on an exciting performance.


Super Featherweight - Vasyl Lomachenko  

All of Vasyl Lomachenko’s fights at 130 have ended with stoppage victories in which he seriously outclassed his opponents. He frustrated fighters so much at 130 that four consecutive opponents quit on their stool. First Nicholas Walters, followed by Jason Sosa, Miguel Marriaga, and Guillermo Rigondeaux. After defeating Rigondeaux by RTD in round six, Lomachenko sarcastically stated that people should start calling him “No-Mas-Chenko”.

His reign was so dominant at super featherweight, Hall-of-Fame promoter Bob Arum noted that his performances reminded him of Muhammed Ali’s. It’s not the first time Arum compared a fighter to Ali, but to receive such a compliment in a career spanning less than 15 fights is extraordinary. A fighter simply cannot prepare for Lomachenko. His skills are unmatched. He utilizes excellent lateral movement, not allowing opponents to ever get set or think. He punches from many unique angles that create confusion, and his jab is second to none. The only way he loses is if he gets overpowered. No boxer can defeat him from a skill standpoint.


Featherweight - Chris “The Dragon” John

Indonesian fighter Chris John boasts the longest featherweight title reign since 2000, and even defeated Juan Manuel Marquez in 2006. He was the WBA Featherweight World Champion from November 2003 until December 2013. His title reign lasted a total of ten years without much fanfare. Turning pro in 1998, he remained undefeated until losing to Simpiwe Vetyeka in 2013. He was an aggressive fighter who loved to throw to the body. He broke his opponents’ rhythm, moving in and out of range. John may not have been the most talented fighter at 126 since 2000, but his longevity in the division is noteworthy.  


Junior Featherweight - Manny Pacquiao

Despite only fighting at junior featherweight for a few years, it marks the division Pacquiao fought at when he came onto the boxing scene. Before facing Lehlo Ledwaba in 2001 for the IBF World Super Bantamweight Title, sportsbooks didn’t even take bets since Pacquiao was such a big underdog. At the beginning of the fight, the HBO broadcast team couldn’t even pronounce Pacquiao’s name. By fight’s end, that was not an issue. He annihilated Ledwaba, winning by TKO in round six.

Aside from a technical draw, resulting from the doctor stopping the bout in round six due to a bad cut over Pacquiao’s right eye from an accidental head-butt, he stopped every opponent at junior featherweight. His speed and power was far too much to handle at this weight, and he could have defended titles at 122 for as long as he would have wanted. The fact that he was knocking out formidable opponents at welterweight later down the road is indicative of how lethal his power was at junior featherweight.


Bantamweight - Shinsuke Yamanaka

Japanese southpaw Shinsuke Yamanaka features an exciting fighting style with devastating power in his left hand. When he unloads his straight left, opponents tend to get knocked down. He remained undefeated, boasting twelve title defenses, before losing to Luis Nery twice by knockout. Yet both times, Yamanaka was not fighting on an even playing field versus Nery.

After the first fight, the Mexican challenger failed the post-fight drug screeb, testing positive for the banned substance zilpatoral. Shockingly, the WBC ruled that the positive test was a result of meat contamination. The WBC did not strip him of his title, but ordered him to give Yamanaka an immediate rematch. One day prior to the rematch, Nery was overweight and stripped of his bantamweight title. On his first attempt to make weight, he weighed 123 pounds. He later returned to the scale, at 121 pounds.

The title was declared vacant, but the weight advantage clearly came into play as Nery easily knocked out Yamanaka in round two. Coming in five pounds overweight is egregious, and the bout should not have taken place. Before his fights against Nery, he was undefeated and on several pound-for-pound lists. Unfortunately, unfair advantages can destroy a fighter’s career. Athletic commissions and sanctioning bodies need to make sure fights take place in the fairest circumstances possible.  


Super Flyweight - Naoya Inoue

The Japanese sensation Naoya Inoue has been dominant ever since his career began in 2012. He stopped six of seven opponents in bantamweight world title bouts. He is rated on virtually all pound-for-pound lists, and lives up to his moniker “The Monster.”  Inoue finally came onto the U.S. boxing scene, being featured on the first installment of the “Superfly” series in which he stole the show. Boxing minds debated who would win between Roman Gonzalez and Naoya Inoue, and that night we got our answer.

Inoue obliterated Antonio Nieves, winning by sixth-round TKO. That same night, Gonzalez was shockingly knocked out by Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in round four. Inoue has won all of his fights decisively, showing no signs of slowing down. His power and activity are incredible, far too much for opponents to cope with. He moved up to bantamweight, but it is difficult to envision any fighter in the loaded 115 weight class who could have beat him.


Flyweight - Roman Gonzalez 

In the fickle nature of boxing, most fighters are defined more for their defeats than victories. Gonzalez was a killer at flyweight, bringing heavyweight action to the division. He knocked out every fighter he faced within the division aside from the game Puerto Rican McWilliams Arroyo. His work at 112 earned him the number one slot on The Ring pound-for-pound rankings.

He co-featured Gennady Golovkin’s on multiple fight cards, earning himself the nickname “Little Drama Show.” He constantly put pressure on opponents, changing up punch speeds and angles. Gonzalez was once under the tutelage of the late great Alexis Arguello, who would have been very proud to see his achievements. The knockout loss versus Srisaket Sor Rungvisai was devastating, but it does not undercut the fact that Gonzalez is a future sure-fire Hall of Famer.


Junior Flyweight - Donnie Nietes

Nietes is currently a top fighter at super flyweight, but his run at light-flyweight was most noteworthy. He hasn’t lost since 2004. From 2011-2016, he fought at 112, most notably defeating Moises Fuentes by knockout in a rematch. The first fight was ruled a draw. All of his fights at 112 except for one, a unanimous decision victory over Juan Alejo at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, occurred in the Philippines. Due to not getting exposed to an American audience, he never got the recognition he deserved for his performances at junior flyweight.


Minimumweight - Wanheng Menayothin

Menayothin (51-0, 18KOs) statistically surpassed Mayweather’s unbeaten record, and successfully defended his WBC World Strawweight Title ten times since earning the strap in 2014. He lacks a career-defining victory, but his record is certainly glossy. WBA Champion Knockout CP Freshmart would be a tough challenge that could add more substance to Menayothin’s impressive record. 


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