A Complete History of Pound for Pound: 1970 – 2019
One of the major talking points in modern day boxing is the relevance of Pound for Pound amongst the fighters.
A regular feature on most outlets in the sport, P4P causes hot debates with fans. Many have opinions on what formula should be used to decide who is the best fighter on the planet regardless of weight class.
For some spells in the past, the top fighter has been an easy decision. Like when Mike Tyson ruled the world in the eighties or Muhammad Ali returned to slay the undefeated beast George Foreman.
Other times it’s a much tougher choice.
So WBN decided to go back in time to when the sport began to move away from crowning one sole and recognisable face in the separated weight divisions. To give a definitive rundown of who really was number one throughout the decades.
Beginning in 1970, unified welterweight champion Jose Napoles gets the nod on the back of his two victories over Curtis Cokes and an impressive performance against Emile Griffith. Those three triumphs saw Napoles named Fighter of the Year for 1969 which he cemented in February of 1970 with a 15th round stoppage of Ernie Lopez.
Napoles would keep the tag until December when eventually losing for the fifth time in his career against Billy Backus. Napoles avenged the loss six months later but by that time ‘Smokin’ Joe Frazier had taken over P4P as the unified heavyweight title holder.
Frazier stayed at the helm until January 1973 when running into a formidable George Foreman. ‘Big George’ overhauled the slugger with a knockout win that put fear into the boxing world.
We all know what happened next…
Muhammad Ali’s ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ ‘rope-a-dope’ shock placed him as the Pound for Pound champ for the first time in his career. A reign that would last over four years until ‘The Greatest’ himself was beaten by underdog Leon Spinks.
‘Hands of Stone’ Roberto Duran then enjoyed a brief time in the seat before Ali regained the world crown for an unprecedented third spell by avenging his loss to Spinks.
Due to age and plenty of hard fights, Ali’s career began to decline quickly. It was back to Duran to lead the boxing world into the new decade.
Duran’s infamous ‘No Mas’ defeat to Sugar Ray Leonard then saw the baton passed once more until the flashy American retired from the ring at the beginning of 1982 due to an eye injury.
As the heavyweight division continued a transitional period, middleweight king Marvin Hagler was the face of the sport. ‘The Marvellous One’ demolished his way through all foes during the mid-80’s.
Hagler’s list of victims included Duran and Thomas Hearns until Leonard’s spectacular comeback saw the title switch hands for the first time five years.
Leonard’s resurgence was brief, once again due to retirement. Although there was a new king of the world crowned later in that year when the invincible ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson unified the heavyweight titles to become undisputed.
Tyson remained at the top for two and half years before his universe imploded against James ‘Buster’ Douglas. This shock left the 200 pound plus division to once again take a back seat to the lower weight classes.
Pernell Whitaker enjoyed a short stint as pound for pound best in 1990 until a certain Julio Cesar Chavez won in the final round against Meldrick Taylor. The Mexican legend begin a reign that would last until the pair met each other and fought out a stalemate in September 1993.
The spotlight then fell on the heavyweights again briefly as another undisputed champion in Riddick ‘Big Daddy’ Bowe took to the summit heading into a rematch with Evander Holyfield.
Holyfield’s revenge victory at Caesars Palace would see the two-weight king then lead the way. That was until Whitaker was once again rated as the superior fighter for the second time in April 1994.
‘Sweet Pea’ was untouchable during the mid-90’s, rivalled only by Roy Jones Jr.. Before the emergence of the ‘Golden Boy’ Oscar De La Hoya – enjoying a superb run in the pro ranks fresh from his success at the 1992 Olympics.
De La Hoya defeated Whitaker at the Thomas and Mack Center in April 1997 to push himself as the spearhead of boxing. A title he would enjoy for almost two and a half years.
A reverse against Felix Trinidad in September 1999 brought about yet another change. And with the Puerto Rican winning world titles at both 154 and 160 pounds in the 18 months after taming De La Hoya, it’s hard to argue the chances of a unified Lennox Lewis or the brilliant Jones Jr, who respectively ran Trinidad close for the P4P title.
Trinidad’s two-year spell ended when Bernard Hopkins took his belts in September 2001 before some inactivity for ‘The Executioner’ eventually led to Jones Jr. being boosted from the number two spot.
Jones enjoyed a lengthy span as P4P best until Antonio Tarver derailed his career with one fateful blow in May 2004. The baton then fell back to Hopkins until a certain Floyd Mayweather Jr. finally reached his destiny. Floyd hit the peak when Hopkins shockingly lost twice to Jermain Taylor.
Mayweather was in a league of his own once he’d edged out Oscar De La Hoya in 2007. Manny Pacquiao then began to show superhuman powers when moving through division after division relentlessly.
A self-imposed Mayweather retirement after a clash with Shane Mosley saw Pacquiao swoop in, before his rival came back to take the WBC belt from Victor Ortiz in September 2011.
A six-fight deal with Showtime meant Mayweather was set for a long renaissance period, and as nobody was able to get near him due to his vast experience, ‘Money’ kept his perch until hanging up his gloves in September 2015.
A year later, and with no sign of Mayweather coming back, a new number one took over as the undefeated Nicaraguan Roman Gonzalez hailed the beginning of the new era. Just two months later though, Manny Pacquiao took over briefly after regaining the WBO title against Jessie Vargas.
Soon after, Andre Ward moved up in weight to claim Sergey Kovalev’s ‘0’ and lead the way for the first time in his career.
On September 22, 2017, Ward made the shock decision to retire leaving Gennady Golovkin to take the reigns after an impressive performance against Canelo Alvarez in Las Vegas. Golovkin was denied what should have been a defining win over the Mexican superstar by two judges who carded farcical scores at the T-Mobile Arena.
Fast forward five months, and with the highly-anticipated rematch announced, Canelo shockingly tested positive for a banned substance twice leaving ‘GGG’ susceptible to being overtaken.
A one-sided win over Vanes Martirosyan, a predominant super-welterweight, was never going to be enough to secure Golovkin’s position. Just seven days later on May 12, 2018 Vasyl Lomachenko took advantage.
Lomachenko defeated Jorge Linares over ten rounds after being dropped earlier in the fight to add the professional number one crown to his legendary amateur status. Following an injury suffered during the fight, ‘Loma’ was out until in December of 2018 when he came back to unify the division.
The Ukrainian remains the world’s best despite surges from Canelo and compatriot Oleksandr Usyk.
Pound for Pound #1 / 1970 – Present day:
Jan: Jose Napoles
Dec: Joe Frazier
Jan: George Foreman
Jan: Muhammad Ali
Feb: Roberto Duran
Sept: Muhammad Ali
Oct: Roberto Duran
Nov: Sugar Ray Leonard
Feb: Marvin Hagler
April: Sugar Ray Leonard
Aug: Mike Tyson
Feb: Pernell Whitaker
Mar: Julio Cesar Chavez
Sep: Riddick Bowe
Nov: Evander Holyfield
April: Pernell Whitaker
April: Oscar De La Hoya
Sept: Felix Trinidad
Sept: Bernard Hopkins
Sept: Roy Jones Jr.
July: Floyd Mayweather
Nov: Manny Pacquiao
Sept: Floyd Mayweather
Sept: Roman Gonzalez
Nov: Manny Pacquiao / Andre Ward
Sept: Gennady Golovkin
May: Vasyl Lomachenko