Mayweather, Ward, Lomachenko - Boxing's pound-for-pound top 10 of the decade

By Sports Desk December 26, 2019

Choosing boxing's pound-for-pound king is no easy feat at the best of times. Trying to do so over a decade is trickier still.

It is a debate that, due to its subjectivity, does not really have a true answer, but try stopping fans and pundits from arguing the toss anyway.

The 2010s have been a truly golden era for the sport with legacies cemented and legends born.

But just who has been the best of the best over the last 10 years? Here, we rank our top 10 pound-for-pound kings of the decade.

1) FLOYD MAYWEATHER JR

'Money' has not fought in a meaningful bout since 2015 (forget about that contest with Conor McGregor – we all should), but still merits a place at the top of these rankings. The American's list of scalps since 2010 is impressive, to say the least. It includes: Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto, Marcos Maidana (twice), Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez and, of course, Manny Pacquiao.

Timing was key for Mayweather – and not just in terms of his fighting style. He took on Canelo when he was still to hit his peak, while he kept Pacquiao – and boxing fans for that matter – waiting. Still, you should not overlook his achievements. Floyd was a genius in the ring, with his brilliant defensive technique nullifying opponents. This was the decade when he sealed his status as one of the all-time greats.

The Sweet Science pic.twitter.com/OFRssPx1Wi

— Floyd Mayweather (@FloydMayweather) October 3, 2019

2) ANDRE WARD

If not for a period of promotional paralysis in the middle of the decade, Ward would probably be top of this list. However, after an infuriating four-year spell of his prime that took in relatively inconsequential bouts against Edwin Rodriguez, Paul Smith and Sullivan Barrera, the 'Son of God' brought things home in style.

Having reigned supreme during a golden era for the super-middleweight division, beating the likes of Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham, Carl Froch and a stepping-down Chad Dawson to establish himself as the undisputed number one, Ward went north to light-heavyweight. Never the biggest puncher in his natural weight class, he pulled himself up off the canvas to outfox the ferocious Sergey Kovalev and become a two-weight world champion. In their rematch – via some legal body shots and some not-so-legal – Ward bullied the bully to an eighth-round stoppage, walking away with an unblemished 32-fight record and nothing left to prove.

3) VASYL LOMACHENKO

Arguably the finest amateur of all-time, Lomachenko has lived up to and probably surpassed such a billing in the paid ranks. He boxed for a world title in only his second fight, dropping a split decision to the Orlando Salido. The roughhousing Mexican unleashed a monster in his moment of triumph, persuading Lomachenko to embellish his unparalleled skills with a vengeful streak.

Victory over Gary Russell Jr. next time out secured the WBO featherweight title and the 31-year-old has since blazed an irresistible trail through three divisions, racking up 10 knockouts in 14 wins. Fellow former amateur standout Guillermo Rigondeaux, Nicholas Walters, Jorge Linares, Jose Pedraza and Luke Campbell are included on an impressive list of scalps Lomachenko holds three of the four main lightweight belts and will aim to become undisputed king of division a man of his dimensions has little business competing in, never mind cleaning out, against Teofimo Lopez in 2020.

4) SAUL 'CANELO' ALVAREZ

Boxing's biggest draw remains a divisive figure. A six-month ban following two failed drugs test for clenbuterol in 2018 – Alvarez protested his innocence, citing contaminated meat – compounded his standings with fans who point towards a carefully managed career and some arguable generous scorecards in his favour.

Nevertheless, the four-weight world champion's body of work is undeniably impressive and now places him towards the upper-reaches of Mexico's proud boxing tradition. Canelo iced Kovalev to become only the fourth fighter to win titles at both light-middleweight and light-heavyweight, following in the footsteps of 'Sugar' Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Mike McCallum. Since his schooling beneath Mayweather's educated fists in 2013, Alvarez has blossomed. Whether or not his gripping rivalry with Gennadiy Golovkin gets a third act, further defining nights lie ahead.

5) TERENCE CRAWFORD

A phenomenally skilled southpaw, Crawford is possibly the most complete fighter competing in any weight class today. He headed into the lion's den to win a first world title in 2014, outboxing Ricky Burns with a quicksilver display before the champion's fiercely loyal supporters in Glasgow.

Content with the WBO belt at 135lbs, Crawford stepped up to light-welterweight and won the lot, becoming undisputed champion with a three-round demolition of the previously undefeated Julius Indongo. Welterweight beckoned and the American unseated Jeff Horn in his first outing in the division. Operating outside of the PBC stable has made legacy enhancing fights at 147lbs hard to come by and we must hope for a final act worthy of the 36-0 32-year-old's glittering career.

6) ROMAN 'CHOCOLATITO' GONZALEZ

Gonzalez lost his air of invincibility with back-to-back defeats to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in 2017, the second of them by stoppage as he was knocked out cold, yet the Nicaraguan made boxing history in the decade by winning world titles at all four of the lowest weight classes.

Small in stature but big in terms of power, Gonzalez has made a habit of stopping opponents inside the distance. However, he had no problem going the distance in a thrilling slugfest with Carlos Cuadras in September 2016, winning on the scorecards to dethrone the WBC super-flyweight champion. Inactivity in recent years has seen his career stall, but at 32 there is still plenty of time to rise back to the top.

7) GENNADIY GOLOVKIN

A not-insignificant number of observers feel Golovkin was hard done by in both his split-decision draw and majority-decision loss to bitter rival Alvarez, but his vice-like grip on the middleweight division is no more and an unexpected thriller again Sergiy Derevyanchenko gave another hint at growing vulnerabilities.

Even if Golovkin is on the slide – as would be expected at 37 – he is still a deeply unpleasant night's work for anybody. He spent the bulk of the decade amassing a record-equalling run of 20 consecutive middleweight world title defences, while a 24-fight knockout streak made good on his claims of always providing a "big drama show". There were few more visceral thrills in 2010s boxing than Golovkin.

8) MANNY PACQUIAO 

It would have been a brave punter who suggested placing Pacquiao on this list after Juan Manuel Marquez left him face down and motionless on a Las Vegas canvas in December 2012. The duo's undulating rivalry ended with an emphatic exclamation mark, but Pacquiao was far from done.

He avenged his farcically judged points loss to Timothy Bradley comprehensively, meaning the superfight with Floyd Mayweather belatedly arrived – too late for Pacquiao, as it happened. Nevertheless, bouts against relatively lesser mortals did not present so much of a problem, even after shoulder surgery. A 2017 loss to Jeff Horn was not the end, just a needless blot surrounded by wins over Jessie Vargas, Lucas Matthysse, Adrien Broner and Keith Thurman for this remarkable 41-year-old.

9) NAOYA INOUE

The old boxing adage that you don't get paid for overtime was certainly taken to heart by Inoue in the 2010s. If fans blinked, they could miss him; if opponents blinked they usually found themselves flat on their backs.

A three-weight world champion since picking up the WBA bantamweight crown, Inoue's outings at the weight featured one completed round – Emmanuel Rodriguez making it to the second session after Jamie McDonnell and Juan Carlos Payano were unable to see out the opener – before November's instant classic against the great Nonito Donaire, where the 26-year-old prevailed over the course of 12 action-packed and legacy-enhancing rounds. Las Vegas awaits in April for a superstar in the making.

10) OLEKSANDR USYK

As lavishly skilled, unorthodox and dangerous as his great friend and Ukrainian compatriot Lomachenko, Usyk wasted no time in bending the cruiserweight division to his will. Krzysztof Glowacki, Michael Hunter, Marco Huck, Mairis Briedis and Murat Gassiev were all systematically taken apart en route to undisputed status before Usyk left former champion Tony Bellew splayed out helplessly to leave no doubt over who was the man at 200lbs.

Weight limits are now a thig of the past for the 32-year-old as he moves up confidently to the land of the giants. As Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury all bicker over their claims for heavyweight supremacy, do not be surprised if the sensational Usyk manages to pickpocket them all on his way to glory and greatness.

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  • LeBron after 17 years: How much further can the NBA Finals MVP go? LeBron after 17 years: How much further can the NBA Finals MVP go?

    Thursday marks 17 years to the day since LeBron James made his NBA debut with the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Sacramento Kings.

    The number one overall draft pick, who had 25 points in his first game, went on to win the Rookie of the Year award in 2003-04 and has been at the forefront of the league ever since.

    James has been MVP on four occasions and earlier this month collected his fourth championship ring, also winning Finals MVP for a fourth time at the age of 35.

    Only three other players have been named Finals MVP after their 35th birthday: fellow greats Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and, of course, Michael Jordan.

    But how did they fare in the final years of their careers after being the main men on title-winning teams as veterans? And how might that colour what we can expect from LeBron beyond year 17?

    We use Stats Perform Data to take a look.
     

    WILT CHAMBERLAIN - 1972 Finals MVP, aged 35

    The Finals MVP award was not introduced until the 1969 series when Chamberlain was already in his 30s – by then an NBA champion with the Philadelphia 76ers and a four-time MVP – but he was belatedly recognised as he guided the Lakers past the New York Knicks three years later, winning their first title since moving to Los Angeles.

    But Wilt would not then go on to add to his honours as he played just one more season before retiring.

    The veteran still played all 82 regular season games in 1972-73, averaging more minutes (43.2) than in the championship-winning campaign, but he endured the lowest scoring year of his career, with 13.2 points per game. He had peaked at 50.4 points 11 years earlier.

    Shooting less regularly, there were still flashes of Chamberlain's old magic as he remarkably had the NBA's highest all-time field-goal percentage across a season (minimum 500 attempts) with 72.7 per cent made. Only DeAndre Jordan in three straight seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers – between 2014 and 2017 – has shot above 70 per cent.

    The Lakers will certainly hope James does not go down the same path, having been backed to play into his 40s by LA assistant Jason Kidd and former Miami Heat team-mate Dwyane Wade.
     

    KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR - 1985 Finals MVP, aged 38

    Abdul-Jabbar won his first Finals MVP with the Milwaukee Bucks the year before Chamberlain's but, despite collecting two more rings in the interim, had to wait until 1985 to be hailed again as the postseason's outstanding player. Kareem outperformed Lakers team-mate Magic Johnson – 12 years his junior – as they beat the Boston Celtics and he became the oldest NBA Finals MVP.

    And yet his career was not over, with the support of Johnson surely an example the 2020 Lakers would like to follow as Anthony Davis aids LeBron.

    Abdul-Jabbar's production actually improved in the season he turned 39 – scoring 23.4 points per game, up from 22.0 – but that would be the last year he averaged at least 20.0, ending a record 17-season streak that has since been matched by Karl Malone and James, who can surpass that mark in 2020-21.

    The Lakers kept winning as Kareem's numbers understandably dropped, though, taking the title in 1987 and 1988 – led by Johnson and James Worthy.

    A 42-year-old Abdul-Jabbar retired in 1989 after seeing his field-goal percentage dip below 50 per cent in a season for the first time at 47.5. His astounding 19-year stretch of making more than half of his attempts stands as a record, later tied by Shaquille O'Neal.


    MICHAEL JORDAN - 1998 Finals MVP, aged 35

    Jordan might be considered the clear rival to James in the 'GOAT' debate, but LeBron is not likely to follow in MJ's footsteps after his 'Last Dance' with the Chicago Bulls in 1998. Beating the Utah Jazz, he won a third straight title and a third straight Finals MVP for the second time yet was done at the top level thereafter.

    The 35-year-old retired from the sport again, only to return once more in 2001 with the Washington Wizards.

    Jordan would donate his salary to relief efforts after the September 11 terror attack but struggled to deliver on the floor as he battled injuries.

    The statistics when MJ did appear in 2001-02 – he made 53 starts in 60 regular season games – did not make for great reading. The five-time MVP ranked worst in the league for three-point percentage (minimum 50 attempts) at 18.9 per cent, making just 10. He was 41st of the 48 players who attempted at least 1000 field goals that year at 41.6 per cent.

    Jordan quit the sport for good in 2003.
     

    LEBRON JAMES - 2020 Finals MVP, aged 35

    If Abdul-Jabbar provides the best example of how a superstar should treat the final years of his career, LeBron appears well placed to similarly profit.

    With the arrival of Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans last year, James' game changed to incorporate a second elite scorer, becoming a passer as he logged a career-high 10.2 assists per game.

    LeBron became the oldest player in NBA history to average 25.0 points and 10.0 assists. No rival has ever managed such a performance past the age of 30, let alone 35.

    Crucially, the former Cavs man was also more protected. He visited the foul line less often (down from 7.6 free-throw attempts to 5.7) and recorded fewer rebounds (down from 8.5 to 7.8)

    And his 34.6 minutes per game – a career-low – represented the fewest in league history while scoring 25.0 points and 10.0 assists.

    With a gruelling next season just around the corner, James is likely to play even fewer minutes again but, alongside Davis, still looks primed to make the difference when it matters most.

  • Talking Point: Can Pogba, Fernandes and Van de Beek play together for Man Utd? Talking Point: Can Pogba, Fernandes and Van de Beek play together for Man Utd?

    "It's nice for some commentators to have a little go," said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as another news conference turned into a discussion about a player not in his recent plans.

    The "commentator" in question was probably Marco van Basten, the Netherlands and Ajax great who is perhaps the most authoritative voice wondering aloud why Donny van de Beek can't get a game for Manchester United.

    Since signing from Ajax for an initial £34.7million in September, Van de Beek has played 61 minutes in England's top flight, all of them as a substitute. Even with Paul Pogba restricted largely to the role of impact-sub, with post-COVID-19 fitness concerns still a problem, Van de Beek appears below Bruno Fernandes, Juan Mata, Scott McTominay and Fred in the midfield pecking order, and that's despite scoring a goal on his Old Trafford debut.

    Solskjaer made it clear the Netherlands international will get his chance and he handed him a first start in all competitions against RB Leipzig on Wednesday. Perhaps that first league start will come this weekend against Arsenal; maybe Solskjaer will give in to curiosity and start Van de Beek, Pogba and Fernandes together.

    Could such a system work?

    TRIO TROUBLES

    Part of Solskjaer's problem here is obvious: Van de Beek, Fernandes and Pogba are midfielders with similar technical qualities, so fitting them all in the same line-up is a challenge. Their average positions in league football last season, for instance, are all neatly within the centre circle.

    The issue is heightened by Solskjaer's preferred formations.

    Solskjaer tends to favour a 3-4-1-2, such as he did in the 2-1 win at Paris Saint-Germain, when United face stronger opponents who expect to have more possession. That formation allows Fernandes to play as a number 10 and speeds up the transitions to counter-attacks, but it also depends on ball-winners covering the ground behind him. Against PSG, that pairing was Fred and McTominay, and it worked well – they won six free-kicks and regained possession 14 times between them. Van de Beek came on with 88 minutes gone for a tiring Fernandes.

    When Solskjaer switches to a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, as is his preference for most Premier League matches, the stability of the midfield relies on at least one of Fred, McTominay or Nemanja Matic as the anchor while Pogba and Fernandes are given more freedom to roam. Should Van de Beek slot into this line-up, United would sacrifice a more defensive-minded player, which could put the back four at risk of runners bearing down on them, as was their undoing in home defeats to Crystal Palace and Tottenham.

    UP FOR THE CHALLENGE

    So prevails the conventional wisdom, anyway. But Van de Beek could be better suited to these systems than it appears if Solskjaer decides to be bold.

    Van de Beek's attacking strengths are clear. Last season in the Eredivisie, he managed the same number of shots (44) as Fernandes did in the Premier League, at an average of 2.1 per game (down on Fernandes' 3.3, but higher than Pogba's 1.6).

    In his 23 appearances, he got eight goals – again, level with Fernandes – and five assists from a hugely impressive 41 chances created. In terms of open play, Van de Beek outperformed Fernandes (1.7) with chances created on average per 90 minutes (1.9). His average passes in the opposition half were at 29.9, well down on Pogba (47.2) and Fernandes (45.6), but Van de Beek had well over double the number of touches in the opposition box per 90 (7.8) than either of his new team-mates.

    That paints a picture of Van de Beek in a box-to-box role, one that would suit one side of a 4-3-3 or a forward position in a 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-1-2. Where, then, would the defensive balance come from? Well, from Van de Beek.

    His 46 Eredivisie tackles last season gave him an average of 2.2 per game, greater than Fernandes (1.7) or the deeper-lying Pogba (1.6). He also outperformed those two for interceptions (16) and possession won (111), although his average per 90 minutes for each were similar to Fernandes.

    Van de Beek also averaged 42.7 passes per 90 minutes in the league in the 2019-20 season but with a higher accuracy than Fernandes (82.3 compared to 75.7). A player capable of winning back the ball and retaining it as he can would offer a sufficient level of defensive stability alongside Pogba and Fernandes, particularly with his positional nous, in games where United expect to control the ball. And Pogba is accomplished in a deeper role, anyway: he played 30 passes in his own half per 90 minutes in the league last season, and 47 in the opponents' half. He can influence proceedings at both ends by holding position while Van de Beek and Fernandes are given free rein, knowing the Dutchman will be willing to track back and cover.

    EXCHANGE POLICY

    If a Pogba-Donny-Bruno set-up is to work, though, they need to start functioning together as a passing unit.

    In the second half of last season, when Pogba was fit again and Fernandes firing after his January arrival, the duo combined effectively in United's league run-in. They exchanged 129 passes in 661 minutes on the pitch together, creating seven chances for each other and each providing an assist. Those are encouraging numbers from the early months of a partnership.

    This season, though, they have exchanged 38 passes in 230 minutes, indicating a slight drop in their link play, and neither has yet created a goalscoring chance for the other.

    Van de Beek has only made four passes to Fernandes and two to Pogba but, for a player to play just 61 minutes, that's not too surprising. It does, though, indicate the need for each to get used to the others' ways of working if a strong midfield trio is ever likely to be formed.

    That said, of the seven passes Fernandes has ever played to Van de Beek in the Premier League, one created a goalscoring chance. If that ratio continues, there are strong odds Van de Beek will turn performances into regular goals and force Solskjaer's hand when it comes to his team sheet.

  • Joshua questions Usyk's 'pitty-patty' style ahead of Chisora fight Joshua questions Usyk's 'pitty-patty' style ahead of Chisora fight

    Anthony Joshua has warned Oleksandr Usyk to mix up his fighting style against Derek Chisora, suggesting "some people don't respect" his approach.

    Usyk, a former undisputed cruiserweight champion, will contest just his second fight at heavyweight on Saturday against Derek Chisora.

    The Ukrainian defeated Chazz Witherspoon in Chicago last year but faces a sterner test in the form of Chisora, unbeaten in his three bouts since being knocked out by Dillian Whyte in London two years ago.

    Usyk is the mandatory challenger to Joshua's WBO belt and is expected to be given a title shot next year, but the Briton feels he must display some greater raw punching power if he is to thrive in the heavyweight division.

    "When I boxed Andy Ruiz Jr in the second fight, I adapted to the Usyk style," Joshua told Sky Sports. "Hit and don't get hit, the sweet science of boxing. You learn that from the amateurs.

    "I was amateur for two-and-a-half years so was still adapting to different styles. Usyk was amateur for a long time so he has taken the 'hit and don't get hit' style into the pros.

    "The good thing that helped me? Sometimes I know to sit down on my feet and hurt someone.

    "You've got to let them know that you're there because all that pitty-patty stuff after 12 rounds? Sometimes people don't respect that type of power."

    Joshua puts his IBF, WBA and WBO titles on the line against Kubrat Pulev on December 12 and is set to face the first of a unifying double-header with Tyson Fury in 2021.

    But Alexander Krassyuk, Usyk's co-promoter, says an agreement is in place for the winner of Joshua-Pulev to face his man next.

    "Our plan is: A) beat Derek Chisora, B) push AJ to comply with WBO rules or vacate the title, C) defeat AJ or any other WBO champion or contender and become the heavyweight champion. Simple and practical," he said.

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