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 combat sports outlets, 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 declined 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 pass 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 began 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 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 lead the way. Until Whitaker was once again rated as the superior fighter for the second time in April 1994.
ROY JONES JR
‘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 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, relentlessly moving through division after division.
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 decided 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.
Five months after the pair announced the highly-anticipated rematch, 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 enough to secure Golovkin’s position. On May 12, 2018, Vasyl Lomachenko took advantage seven days later.
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 confident Canelo Alvarez claimed a third-weight world title with an impressive performance at MSG.
Months on, and after Lomachenko similarly dealt with mandatory Anthony Crolla, Canelo finally grabbed the 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.
Lomachenko reclaimed his pound-for-pound number-one position with a dominant win over Luke Campbell in London a few months later.
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.
Canelo became a four-weight ruler and undoubtedly 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. The Mexican superstar strengthened his place by becoming undisputed at super-middleweight in 2021.
Landing the WBN Fighter of the Year Award, Canelo went into 2022 as the most famous boxer in the world. Taking on Dmitry Bivol at 175 pounds in May, it all came crumbling down for Canelo.
His high ambitions of going through the divisions got halted by a superb performance by a great fighter in Bivol. Size does matter, as Bivol proved.
Canelo’s demise was for the gain of Oleksandr Usyk, who became the pound-for-pound king. His undisputed and unified achievements at cruiserweight and heavyweight spoke for themselves.
In three years, seven world title belts certainly meant few outlets needed little argument about who replaced Canelo.
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
May: Oleksandr Usyk
WBN Editor Phil has over ten years of boxing news experience. Furthermore, follow WBN us on Twitter @WorldBoxingNews.