Boxing

Pound-for-Pound Rankings: Ridiculous or Real?

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In case you’re unfamiliar with the term and/or its history, the pound-for-pound rankings are basically a way to rank boxing’s all-around best fighters regardless of weight class. The concept came to be during the days of welterweight/middleweight legend Sugar Ray Robinson as a way to fairly rate the talent and accomplishments of lower-weight fighters stacked up against the more publicized heavyweights.

In the present tense, the “P4P” rankings have become an increasingly big deal and the source of debate among fans as well as a source of pride among the fighters themselves.

But how, exactly, are these rankings compiled and by what criteria?

That, right there, is the inherent flaw in pound-for-pound rankings and accompanying debates over who goes where. There are no established criteria and all of this stuff is wildly subjective.

Initially, the idea was to rank the best of the best based on the fantastical idea of: “what if they were all the same weight?”

But how does any reasonable discussion about the sport’s best fighters start by asking you to rate them based on that illogical premise? Some aspects of a boxer’s game are very specific to their physical realities. Naoya Inoue and Shakur Stevenson couldn’t really do what they do if they were much larger men; Artur Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol couldn’t do what they do as smaller men. Vasiliy Lomachenko as a heavyweight would be the greatest big man of all time; Anthony Joshua– with his mindset and overall approach—would’ve made for one extremely awful featherweight.

The whole “assuming they were the same weight” criteria—which is supposedly the central logic behind assembling a pound-for-pound list– should immediately relegate pound-for-pound talk to the category of meaningless fan chatter. Why not assume that each has three fists instead of two or that they’re half-cyborgs and can shoot laser beams from their eyes?

However, pound-for-pound rankings ARE a thing and they’re becoming more and more of a factor in boxing’s real world. Boxing media and informed fans should, at the very least, come up with a more realistic set of criteria, other than the pure fantasy “who would win in a fight if they were all the same size.”

Body of work, level of competition, relative skill level, and inherent ability should all weigh equally when determining the world’s best fighters, regardless of weight.

Three-division world champ and current WBO welterweight titlist Terence Crawford recently established part of a fair pound-for-pound criteria in making the case for a no. 1 ranking for himself.

“I actually know I’m No. 1. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. I’ve been No. 1 for years in my eyes. When you ask any diehard boxing fan, they’ll say Terence Crawford is No. 1,” Crawford said during a recent interview with the Showtime Boxing podcast.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a big ego. I would say it’s confidence. Everything that I have done thus far has shown that. Stopping everybody in the welterweight division. Never having a close fight. Dominating every opponent that I ever faced. I think that’s showing that I’m No. 1. I’m moving up weight divisions and conquering them one after another. I feel like that goes hand in hand with being No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Not just fighting in one or two weight classes and getting a win. It’s dominating from one division to another division to another division.”

We’ll probably never get a definitive set of criteria when it comes to pound-for-pound rankings because, the whole thing, almost by definition, is purely subjective and little more than fantasy fight fodder. But injecting a little bit of objective realism into the fluff certainly wouldn’t hurt.

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Paul Magno has over forty years of experience in and around the sport of boxing and has had his hand in everything, from officiating to training. As a writer, his work has appeared in several online publications, including Yahoo Sports, Fox Sports, FightHype, Max Boxing, Boxing.com, Inside Fights, The Boxing Tribune, The Queensberry Rules, and Premier Boxing Champions. You can reach him at: paulmagno@theboxingtribune.com