World Boxing News provides a complete history of the pound-for-pound number one spot beginning in 1970, a title revered among boxers worldwide.
One of the major talking points in modern-day boxing is the relevance of the pound-for-pound rankings 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 return to 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.
After the days when Sugar Ray Robinson ruled the sport, pound-for-pound came firmly into play with the addition of new titles.
Pound for Pound
In 1970, unified welterweight champion Jose Napoles scored two victories over Curtis Cokes alongside 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 lost for the fifth time against Billy Backus. Napoles avenged the loss six months later. Unfortunately, “Smokin” Joe Frazier had taken over P4P as the unified heavyweight titleholder.
Frazier stayed at the helm until January 1973. He then ran 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. 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 saw the baton pass. Leonard kept it 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. Unfortunately, due to a lack of activity in 1986, Mike Tyson’s achievement of becoming the youngest heavyweight champion at 20 gave them ample opportunity to crown a new champion.
Tyson’s reign was brief as Leonard’s spectacular comeback against Hagler saw the title switch hands for the second time in five years.
Leonard’s resurgence was also quick, once again due to retirement.
However, a new permanent king of the world got coronated later that year when the invincible ‘Iron’ Mike unified the top division 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. A certain Julio Cesar Chavez overhauled Whitaker when he 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.
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. One of the most accomplished of his era, Whitaker again got rated as the best in April 1994.
Roy Jones Jr
‘Sweet Pea’ was untouchable during the mid-’90s, rivaled only by light-heavyweight king Roy Jones Jr.
The emergence of the “Golden Boy” Oscar De La Hoya altered the landscape. De La Hoya enjoyed a superb pro-rank run, 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. It’s a title he’d enjoy for almost two and a half years.
A reverse against Felix Trinidad in September 1999 brought about yet another change. The Puerto Rican legend won world titles at 154 and 160 pounds in the eighteen months after overthrowing De La Hoya.
It’s subsequently easy to argue the chances of a unified Lennox Lewis or the brilliant Jones Jr. The latter respectively ran Trinidad close for the P4P title.
Trinidad’s two-year spell ended when Bernard Hopkins took his crown in September 2001. Furthermore, 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 undoubtedly 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. However, Pacquiao’s career rival returned to take the WBC belt from Victor Ortiz in September 2011.
A six-fight deal with Showtime meant Mayweather opened up a long renaissance period. 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, with no sign of Mayweather returning and contemplating facing UFC fighters, a new pound-for-pound number one took over. The undefeated Nicaraguan sensation Roman Gonzalez hailed the beginning of the new era.
Two months later, though, Manny Pacquiao ended the new resurgence. He briefly the mantle 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 Gennadiy 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. However, Canelo shockingly tested positive for a banned substance twice.
This scenario left ‘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, Vasiliy Lomachenko took advantage seven days later. He beat off competition from Terence Crawford to reach the pinnacle.
Lomachenko defeated Jorge Linares over ten rounds after being dropped earlier in the fight. He added the professional number one crown to his legendary amateur status.
Following an injury from the fight, ‘Loma’ was out until December 2018. 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 via TKO, 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 soon reclaimed his pound-for-pound number-one position with a dominant win over Luke Campbell in London. He added the WBC lightweight version to his WBO and WBA titles. It was enough to overhaul his rival and rule once more.
Several challengers, including top names in Naoya Inoue [after beating Nonito Donaire] and a resurgent Tyson Fury [after stopping Deontay Wilder], were in contention by this time.
However, to Lomachenko’s detriment, 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 cemented his position 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 super-middleweight champion in 2021.
Landing the WBN Fighter of the Year Award, Canelo went into 2022 as the most famous boxer in the world.
However, taking on Dmitry Bivol in his biggest fight at 175 pounds in a May showdown, it all crumbled for Canelo and his aura of invincibility.
His high ambitions of going through the divisions got halted by a superb title defense performance by a great fighter in Bivol.
Size does matter, as Bivol proved.
Who is the number one Pound for Pound boxer?
Canelo’s demise was undoubtedly for the gain of Oleksandr Usyk, who became the pound-for-pound king from a previous ranking of two.
His undisputed achievements at cruiserweight and unified IBF, WBA, and WBO heavyweight victory over Anthony Joshua spoke for themselves.
Furthermore, seven world title belts in three years meant few outlets needed little argument about who replaced Canelo.
Usyk hopes to become undisputed in a second weight division in his next fight.
Pound For Pound: 1970 - Today
|Jan to Dec: Jose NAPOLES|
|Dec - Joe FRAZIER|
|Jan - George FOREMAN|
|Jan - Muhammad ALI|
|Feb - Robert DURAN|
|Sept - Muhammad ALI|
|Oct - Roberto DURAN|
|Nov - Sugar Ray LEONARD|
|Feb - Marvin HAGLER|
|Nov - Mike TYSON|
|April - Sugar RAY LEONARD|
|Aug - Mike TYSON|
|Feb - Pernell WHITAKER|
|Mar - Julio Cesar CHAVEZ|
|Sept - Riddick BOWE|
|Nov - Evander HOLYFIELD|
|April - Pernell WHITAKER|
|April - Oscar DE LA HOYA|
|Sept - Felix TRINIDAD|
|May - Bernard HOPKINS|
|Sept - Roy Jones Jr|
|May - Bernard HOPKINS|
|July - Floyd MAYWEATHER|
|Nov - Manny PACQUIAO|
|Sept - Floyd MAYWEATHER|
|Sept - Roman GONZALEZ|
Nov - Manny PACQUIAO
|Sept - Gennadiy GOLOVKIN|
|May - Vasiliy LOMACHENKO|
|May - CANELO Alvarez|
|Aug - Vasiliy LOMACHENKO|
|Dec - CANELO Alvarez|
|May - Oleksandr USYK|
WBN Editor Phil has over ten years of boxing news experience. Furthermore, follow WBN us on Twitter @WorldBoxingNews.