A Complete History of Pound for Pound Number One: 1970 – 2021
World Boxing News provides a complete history of the pound for pound number one spot beginning in 1970, a title revered among boxers the world over.
One of the major talking points in modern-day boxing is the relevance of the P4P list amongst the fighters.
A regular feature on most outlets in the sport, P4P causes hot debates with fans. Many have opinions on what formula gets 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 more challenging choice.
So WBN decided to go back when the sport began to move away from crowning one sole and recognizable face in the separate weight divisions. To give a definitive rundown of who was number one throughout the decades.
In 1970, unified welterweight champion Jose Napoles gave 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 he eventually lost for the fifth time against Billy Backus. Napoles avenged the loss six months later, but ‘Smokin’ Joe Frazier had taken over P4P as the unified heavyweight titleholder.
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 would last over four years until ‘The Greatest’ himself lost to 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 brutal 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-’80s.
Hagler’s list of victims included Duran and Thomas Hearns until Leonard’s spectacular comeback saw the title switch hands for the first time in five years.
Leonard’s resurgence was brief, once again due to retirement. However, a new king of the world was 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 pounds plus division again to 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 begins a reign that would last until the pair met each other and fought out a stalemate in September 1993.
The Pound for Pound 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 Caesar’s 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-’90s, rivaled 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. getting boosted from the number two spot.
Jones enjoyed a long 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 confident Floyd Mayweather 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.
After a clash with Shane Mosley, a self-imposed Mayweather retirement 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 happened 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 returning, a new pound for pound number one took over as the undefeated Nicaraguan Roman Gonzalez hailed the beginning of the new era. 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 his first 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 lost out on 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 December 2018, when he returned to unify the division.
Around the same time, a certain Canelo claimed a third-weight world title with an impressive performance MSG.
Months on, and after Lomachenko similarly dealt with mandatory Anthony Crolla, Canelo finally grabbed top stop by unifying at 160 pounds further.
A polished triumph against Daniel Jacobs was enough to push Canelo over the line in his 55th outing.
A few months later, Lomachenko reclaimed his positions pound for pound number one with a dominant win over Luke Campbell in London.
Adding the WBC lightweight version to his WBO and WBA titles was enough to overhaul his rival and rule once more.
It wasn’t long before Canelo clawed back the top spot with a spectacular knockout of Sergey Kovalev.
Becoming a four-weight ruler, Canelo cemented his place as an all-time great.
At the beginning of 2020, Canelo had firmly established himself as the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the sport.
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.
May: Bernard Hopkins
July: Floyd Mayweather
Nov: Manny Pacquiao
Sept: Floyd Mayweather
Sept: Roman Gonzalez
Nov: Manny Pacquiao / Andre Ward
Sept: Gennady Golovkin
May: Vasyl Lomachenko
May: Canelo Alvarez
December: Canelo Alvarez