Manny Pacquiao

The best pound-for-pound boxers of the past 30 years

Boxing is not on the same popularity plane as it was during past generations, but this era has produced plenty of quality boxers -- some who stack up well all time -- across most weight divisions. Here is a stab at ranking the boxers who peaked over the past 30 years, pound-for-pound.

25. Kostya Tszyu

Kostya Tszyu
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A fearsome puncher, Tszyu stood as the 140-pound kingpin for many years in the 1990s and 2000s. He won a junior welterweight belt in his 14th pro fight and, across two separate reigns, made 14 title defenses. A Russian who became an Australian citizen, Tszyu (31-2) bludgeoned Zab Judah in 2001 to become a three-belt champion. He also beat a faded Julio Cesar Chavez a year prior. Both Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Shane Mosley came through the 140 ranks during Tszyu’s run; fights did not materialize. Tszyu did not let his skills deteriorate much, retiring after a 2005 loss to Ricky Hatton.

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24. Winky Wright

Winky Wright
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One of the premier defensive matrices in modern boxing, Wright used that tactical prowess to dominate the junior middleweight division for many years between the late 1990s and mid-2000s. A late-bloomer, Wright (51-6-1) furthered Shane Mosley’s mid-career swoon by beating him twice in 2004 and exiting the division on top. Wright then routed a rapidly fading Felix Trinidad en route to a middleweight title fight he probably deserved to win (a 2006 draw with Jermain Taylor). He retired as one of the all-time greats in the 154-pound class.

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23. Prince Naseem Hamed

Prince Naseem Hamed
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Taking Muhammad Ali’s showman shtick to another dimension, the Prince was one of the most unique superstars of the 1990s. While his flashy entrances and in-ring agility generated publicity, Hamed (36-1) could crack. Blessed with uncanny knockout power, Hamed held a featherweight belt for six years and defended it 15 times — third-most at the 126-pound level. Larry Merchant referred to Hamed’s peak — his American debut against Kevin Kelley in 1997 — as the featherweight version of Hagler-Hearns. Though he was done by age 28, the Brit left an original imprint on the boxing timeline.

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22. Miguel Cotto

The only Puerto Rican four-division champion, Cotto was a beloved figure in boxing for many years. Cotto’s career is defined more by losses (against a vicious opponent docket headlined by Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao), but he achieved plenty. His 2008 loss to Antonio Margarito looms as controversial due to Margarito’s subsequent suspension , and the likely illegal beating Cotto took that night halted his rise. Cotto (41-6) avenged this defeat in 2011 and moved up to stop a faded Sergio Martinez for the lineal middleweight title in 2014, but the menacing body puncher was never quite the same after his first loss.

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21. Vitali Klitschko

The more rugged of the two Klitschkos, Vitali was one of the most dominant heavyweights in boxing history. He lost two fights because of a shoulder injury against Chris Byrd and cuts vs. Lennox Lewis, but was winning both at stoppage time. The Ukranian prodigy won the other 45 bouts and enjoyed a two-title-reign run alongside brother Wladimir atop the division. The older Klitschko barely lost a round, albeit against mostly suspect opposition. Were it not for injuries that induced a four-year retirement/hiatus in 2004, Vitali might end up being regarded as the best heavyweight of his era.

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20. Joe Calzaghe

Joe Calzaghe
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King of the super middleweight division for nearly 10 years, the Welshman finished his career unbeaten at 46-0. He reigned in relative obscurity (at least in the United States) from 1998-2007 before outpointing Mikkel Kessler to unify the 168-pound division. Calzaghe defended his belt a division record 21 times and ended his career on an exemplary note by defeating Bernard Hopkins and a declining Roy Jones at light heavyweight in his only American appearances. The legends’ ages aside, Calzaghe’s 2008 American tour represented a strong way to leave the sport.

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19. Erik Morales

Erik Morales
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The Mexican brawler ended up on the short end of the epic trilogy with Marco Antonio Barrera, but he has one of this generation’s best wins: a 2005 decision over Manny Pacquiao. The first four-division Mexican champ, Morales (52-9) defeated Barrera in the countrymen’s 2000 thriller (a disputed decision, but still), took a super bantamweight belt off Hall of Famer Daniel Zaragoza and defended it nine times before winning straps at 126, 130 and 140 pounds. “El Terrible” was done as an elite fighter around age 30, but he packed plenty of action into a Hall of Fame career.

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18. Vasiliy Lomachenko

Vasiliy Lomachenko
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Operating at a higher skill level than every peer, Lomachenko is a three-division world champion who has chosen — like Pacquiao — to campaign one or two classes above his natural weight. At his peak, Lomachenko (17-2) made four straight opponents quit. The former 396-1 amateur has outclassed multi-division belt-holders and resided as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter for multiple years. Loma ran into a size issue in a 2020 loss to Teofimo Lopez; how he navigates larger opposition at lightweight will help define his legacy. He also passed on recollecting his belts, via the George Kambosos fight Devin Haney won, to be in his native Ukraine after the war started.

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17. Canelo Alvarez

Canelo Alvarez
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Taking advantage of his status as the Western Hemisphere’s top in-ring attraction, Alvarez sports a spectacular opponent ledger. Canelo (58-2-2) beat Miguel Cotto at middleweight (well, a catchweight), took Gennadiy Golovkin’s belts, and stopped Sergey Kovalev at 175. The popular Mexican also nearly cleaned out the 168-pound division and did good work at 154. Other big names are on Canelo’s resume, but favorable judging — as a draw scorecard against Floyd Mayweather and the draw result against Golovkin in the rivals’ 2017 opener best shows — has played a role in his rise. A 2022 loss to Dimitry Bivol stung, but the 32-year-old icon will still have his pick of top foes to pad his legacy.

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16. Terence Crawford

If a cumulative pound-for-pound No. 1 honor in the post-Mayweather world could be awarded, Crawford (39-0) would claim it. The three-division champion has barely been tested, dominating at lightweight, junior welterweight, and, for nearly five years, welterweight. But the versatile Nebraskan has run into trouble with the political divide that boxing brings. He is neither a major pay-per-view draw nor was he aligned with the promotional stable most of this period’s top welterweights chose. While Shawn Porter crossed over and battled Crawford, the elusive Errol Spence fight has entered #MayPac territory. Though largely out of Crawford’s control, his strength of schedule could dock him historically.

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15. Gennadiy Golovkin

Golovkin (42-2-1) has made the most of a truncated time in the limelight. He spent his 20s in relative obscurity before breaking out in his HBO debut: a fifth-round knockout of Grzegorz Proksa in 2012. GGG defended his middleweight title a record-tying 20 times. His otherworldly power (34 KOs) dissuaded rivals from facing him at his peak, but the popular Kazakh still compiled wins over all comers — including Kell Brook and Daniel Jacobs. Waiting out his rival, Alvarez capitalized on their eight-year age gap. In the view of most, GGG should be either 2-1 or 1-1-1 against Canelo, not 0-2-1, but scorecards went to the popular Mexican. How much will that disputed trilogy define Golovkin’s legacy?

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14. Andre Ward

Ward’s career arc makes this ranking difficult. He became a top-tier fighter after obliterating the Super Six super middleweight tournament, culminating in a Carl Froch 2011 decision win. He usurped Manny Pacquiao at No. 2 on some pound-for-pound lists in 2012. But promotional issues caused Ward (34-0) to miss the better part of two years, perhaps his would-be apex, shortly after. He was given a decision most felt he did not deserve over Sergey Kovalev — a result ESPN ceaselessly brings up — before beating the Russian in their rematch. But instead of making up for lost time, Ward abruptly retired. The Oakland-honed talent left some legacy points on the table.

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13. Wladimir Klitschko

The technically sound Klitschko brother held the lineal heavyweight title for almost 10 years. While the division was not strong, the Ukrainian jabbing machine dominated from 2006-15. He responded to knockout losses to Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster by linking up with Emanuel Steward, who effectively minimized his suspect chin. Wladimir (64-5) was not aesthetically inspiring but made 18 heavyweight title defenses — third-most in history. He enhanced his legacy exponentially in a loss to Anthony Joshua in 2017’s fight of the year. At 41, Wladimir showed he was not merely a product of weak competition.

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12. Felix Trinidad

Trinidad won a welterweight title at age 20 via first-round knockout of Maurice Blocker in 1993 and defended it 15 times — second-most in 147-pound history — over the next seven years. “Tito” defeated the likes of Fernando Vargas, David Reid and a faded Pernell Whitaker, but his two biggest fights featured struggles. Trinidad (42-3) was given a disputed decision in a momentous 1999 matchup with fellow unbeaten Oscar De La Hoya, but the loser provided a blueprint to best the power-punching star. Bernard Hopkins followed it and handily beat a favored Trinidad for the middleweight title in 2001, ending the latter’s time as an elite fighter.

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11. Shane Mosley

Mosley’s career featured plenty of peaks and valleys, but the highs positioned him for a time as the world’s best fighter. A demon at lightweight (eight title defenses, eight knockouts), Mosley (49-10-1) climbed to the sport’s summit after winning a 2000 welterweight war with Oscar De La Hoya. However, the middle of Mosley’s career brought tough sledding. An 0-4 combined mark vs. Vernon Forrest and Winky Wright, and 2003 steroid use , affect Mosley’s standing among the era’s greats. But so does an upset whitewash of Antonio Margarito in 2009 to secure a 147-pound title at age 37. An undisputed great.

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10. Roman Gonzalez

Taking hold of the No. 1 pound-for-pound spot as he became an HBO-affiliated fighter in 2015, Gonzalez (51-4) was well into his prime by the time viewers could see his offensive onslaughts. “Chocolatito” won titles in four divisions, minimumweight up to super flyweight (115), and paired with Golovkin on some all-action cards. After two 2017 losses (the first disputed, the second via knockout) to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai placed Gonzalez at a crossroads, he regained a 115-pound belt and showed top form in a 2021 all-action loss to Juan Francisco Estrada. Most felt Gonzalez won the rivals’ rematch, but the narrow defeat against an elite adversary further elevated his standing.

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9. Marco Antonio Barrera

Known for legendary wars with Erik Morales, Barrera was also a crafty technician. The revered Mexican won belts in three divisions and defended his 118-pound strap 12 times between 1995 and 2000. Barrera (67-7) won two of the three fights with Morales, the final two, and deployed his technical acumen in front of a wide audience by ending Prince Naseem Hamed’s featherweight run in 2001. He then beat smaller champions Paulie Ayala and Johnny Tapia. While 0-3 against Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez (though, Barrera outlanded Marquez in their 2007 fight), “The Baby-Faced Assassin” compiled a quality resume.

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8. Ricardo Lopez

The most obscure name on this list, Lopez ruled divisions that do not see much stateside exposure. Champion at minimumweight (105 pounds) and junior flyweight (108), Lopez finished his 17-year career unbeaten at 51-0-1 (and he avenged the non-win, a technical draw against Rosendo Alvarez, in 1998). The Mexican boxer-puncher won a 105-pound title in 1990 and defended 21 times. Small-division fighters are not known for aging gracefully, but “Finito” dominated the 1990s and captured a junior flyweight belt at age 33. He defended it twice before retiring at age 35.

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7. Juan Manuel Marquez

Avoided in his younger days, Marquez (56-7-1) made his 30s count. After winning his first title at age 31, Marquez snared belts in three more divisions — as high as welterweight. He defeated the likes of Barrera and Juan Diaz but also lost to non-Hall of Famers Chris John and Freddie Norwood. Marquez’s legacy centers on his four Manny Pacquiao fights; he went 1-2-1 in this series. A judging error boosted Marquez to a draw in 2004, but he came close to beating his rival in ’08 and ’11. Even if Marquez’s 2012 knockout win came when he unveiled an “improved” physique at 39, he pushed the Filipino sensation harder than anyone.

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6. Lennox Lewis

Not an awe-inspiring heavyweight, the Brit nonetheless beat every fighter he ever faced. Although first-fight losses to Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman make Lewis’ standing curious, he proved superior to Evander Holyfield (once in a laughably bad draw decision and again in a victorious rematch) before battering a washed-up Mike Tyson. Riddick Bowe ducked him in the early 1990s, and Lewis trudged on as WBC champ for much of the decade. Lewis (42-2-1) caught his top rivals at convenient times, but with an elite jab and an imposing frame, he would have given them big trouble at their best.

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5. Oscar De La Hoya

Against one of the strongest schedules in modern boxing history, “The Golden Boy” became one of the most popular fighters ever. The sport’s top draw between the Mike Tyson and Mayweather/Pacquiao eras, De La Hoya (39-6) won titles in six divisions (second all-time) — junior lightweight to middleweight. He beat Julio Cesar Chavez, Pernell Whitaker, Fernando Vargas and yo-yoed in weight to fight Mayweather, Pacquiao and Bernard Hopkins. De La Hoya’s resume would look better were it not for disputed decision losses to Felix Trinidad in 1999 (whom he outlanded by 97 punches) and the Shane Mosley rematch in ’03 (outlanded by 94).

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4. Roy Jones Jr.

Athletically, no one here matches Jones. Untouchable at his peak, Jones conquered the middleweight, super middleweight and light heavyweight divisions. He beat Bernard Hopkins, took apart James Toney and eviscerated lesser-known men en route to winning Fighter of the 1990s acclaim. Jones (66-9) became the first former middleweight champ to win a heavyweight belt (when he beat John Ruiz in 2003) in 106 years. However, he fell from grace fast. Losing the Antonio Tarver trilogy and being knocked out by Glen Johnson, Jones never recovered. Jones’ peak was awesome, but his resume lacks the pop of this list’s top three.

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3. Bernard Hopkins

Bernard Hopkins
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Hopkins’ “Executioner” moniker didn’t fit nearly as well as his 2010s “The Alien” alias did. He beat Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya past his 36th birthday, defeated Antonio Tarver, Winky Wright and Kelly Pavlik past 40 and held two light heavyweight belts at 49, shattering George Foreman’s record. Father Time’s toughest modern sports adversary held major titles 19 years apart and also made a record 20 straight middleweight title defenses (and lost his four belts via a debated 2005 decision to Jermain Taylor). Hopkins (55-8-2) did not possess Jones’ raw talent but was a master craftsman and boasts a wildly unique resume.

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2. Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Floyd Mayweather Jr.
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Undoubtedly boxing’s financial kingpin, Mayweather possessed generational gifts and was an all-time great defender. He beat just about notable foe in his era and was not seriously threatened by most. His risk management was notorious, however. After “Pretty Boy” Floyd proved historically dynamic in the 1990s and early 2000s, “Money” refused to step in the ring with adversaries at their best, fighting his top rivals — Manny Pacquiao, Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto — and others when it suited him rather than testing his greatness. This, and friendly scorecards against Jose Luis Castillo, got him to 50-0. Mayweather’s legacy is complicated, though.

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1. Manny Pacquiao

Manny Pacquiao
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Pacquiao lost to Mayweather, but his pound-for-pound case is better. “Pacman” (62-8-2) beat legends at or close to their apexes (Juan Manuel Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales), bested more top welterweights than Mayweather did and is not only boxing’s lone seven-division champion but its only eight-division champ, too. Handing Keith Thurman his first loss, at 40, further bolsters the Filipino legend’s resume. A fighter collecting belts from flyweight (112 pounds) to junior middleweight (154) will probably never happen again. Pacquiao’s 2009 wipeout of Miguel Cotto was perhaps this era’s zenith, and had MayPac occurred in 2010 rather than 2015, there is a good chance Pacquiao prevails.

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