The greatest pound-for-pound boxers this century

The pound-for-pound best boxers of the 21st century: Oleksandr Usyk makes the list and the newly retired Manny Pacquiao competes for top spot… but who else makes Sportsmail’s top 10?

  • Boxing legend Manny Pacquiao announced his retirement on Wednesday 
  • He is the only boxer ever to win world titles at eight different weight classes 
  • The 42-year-old exits the sport as one of the greatest to ever compete 
  • But where does he rank among this century’s pound-for-pound stars? 

Manny Pacquiao announced his retirement on Wednesday, officially bringing an end to an astonishing 26-year career in which the Filipino won world titles across eight distinct weight classes. 

The 42-year-old, who now narrows his focus towards running for Philippines president next year, exits the sport as one of the all-time greats, winning 12 world titles throughout his 72 fights, of which he won 62, lost eight and drew two. 

The future Hall of Famer, who won his first world title at the age of just 19, became renowned for accepting any and every challenge, while taking on the best in the business seemingly regardless of their weight. 

But where does he rank among the pound-for-pound best boxers to grace the ring in the 21st century?  

Sportsmail attempts to answer the question below, but there is a slight caveat: This is not the best fighter to have entered the ring this century – this list analyses the accomplishments achieved in the given timeframe. 

Floyd Mayweather (left) and Manny Pacquiao (right) top Sportsmail’s pound-for-pound stars

We start with Gennady Golovkin, who is one of the best middleweights ever to grace the sport. 

The 39-year-old won his first strap in his 19th outing, claiming the WBA interim middleweight belt against Milton Nunez in just his second bout outside of Germany, which became a second home during the early stages of his career.  

Golovkin carries extraordinary power and continued to march through the middleweight division as he picked up the IBO strap just three fights later.

He memorably stopped Britain’s Martin Murray in the 11th round of their 2015 bout, before knocking out David Lemieux just eight months later to unify the division as he claimed the Canadian’s IBF strap. 

Golovkin continued to show is fearsome prowess as he handed Kell Brook the first defeat of his career in 2016 with a brutal fifth-round stoppage win, though his opponent did jump two weight classes for the challenge. 

Gennady Golovkin fell marginally short in his epic double-header against Canelo Alvarez

His points win over Daniel Jacobs, though ending a run of 23-straight knockouts, provided a reminder that Golovkin does indeed possess an elite-level skillset, not just his brute force. 

Then came the decisive moment in Golovkin’s career, as he and Canelo Alvarez shared a controversial draw in their 2017 outing. Though the Mexican finished the fight the stronger, many to this day believe it was Golovkin who won what was a closely-contested affair. 

But in the rematch – which followed a stoppage win over Vanes Martirosyan – GGG was defeated via majority decision, with Canelo claiming the WBA and WBC straps. 

Golovkin’s reign as middleweight champion was over, though he did quickly regain his former IBF strap with a 2019 win over Sergiy Derevyanchenko. 

Now, there are reports he will take on WBA titleholder Ryota Murata on December 31 as he bids to unify the division once more. 

Record: 41 wins, 1 loss, 1 draw (36 KOs)

9) Oleksandr Usyk

Next up is Oleksandr Usyk, who cemented his place in this list with a truly phenomenal performance against Anthony Joshua last weekend. 

The Ukrainian made the switch to professional boxing after a stellar amateur career, in which he claimed gold at the London 2012 Olympics and won a staggering 350 bouts. 

With experience aplenty, Usyk swiftly rose through the cruiserweight ranks, winning a world title after just 10 fights as he defeated Krzysztof Glowacki with ease. 

And just five fights later, Usyk became the first-ever undisputed cruiserweight champion in the four-belt era, as he convincingly defeated Murat Gassiev to win the World Boxing Super Series. 

Oleksandr Usyk outclassed Anthony Joshua to become unified heavyweight world champion

After defending his belts with another highly impressive performance against an in-form Tony Bellew, Usyk made the step to heavyweight, where he has only furthered his already-magnificent reputation. 

He found his feet as a heavyweight in less-than convincing wins over Chazz Witherspoon and Derek Chisora, but it was against Joshua where the 34-year-old truly showed his credentials. 

Fighting on away turf, a familiar trend throughout his career, Usyk silenced the 70,000 in attendance at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, with his ingenious lateral movement and unwavering stamina proving too much for the WBA, WBO and IBF champion. 

The pair are set to go to battle once more in the rematch, which will take place early next year. The Ukrainian has already outlined his intentions to become undisputed champion once more should he prevail again. 

If Usyk is to eventually beat one of Tyson Fury or Deontay Wilder for all of the belts, he will no doubt rise significantly on this list. 

Record: 19 wins, 0 losses, 0 draws (13 KOs) 

8) Marco Antonio Barrera

Coming in at No 8 is Marco Antonio Barrera, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2017. 

Known as the ‘Baby-Faced Assassin’, the three-division world champion retired with a record of 67 wins, seven losses and no draws, with 44 of his victories coming by way of knockout.  

It’s primarily his performances in the early 2000s that earn Barrera a place on this list, having beaten the likes of British legend Naseem Hamed, alongside two scalps over Erik Morales in an epic trilogy.   

Morales, who won the first bout between the pair, subsequently described Barrera as the biggest puncher he had ever faced in the ring, while their first and third bouts were labeled the ‘Fights of the Year’ by The Ring Magazine. 

Though claiming a number of eye-catching scalps throughout his career, Barrera will always be remembered for his pair of defeats to Pacquiao, the first by TKO in 2003 and the second by unanimous decision in 2007. 

Marco Antonio Barrera (right) was inducted into the International Hall of Fame in 2017

But he will also be remembered for his ability to bounce back in defeat. Having fallen to back-to-back losses to Junior Jones in 1997, the Mexican was largely written off – a mistake given he won his next 14 of 16 bouts. 

And after losing to Pacquiao in 2003, he bounced back to reign for over two years as WBC super-featherweight champion. 

Barrera would retire with a record of 21-4 in championship fights across a career lasting over 20 years.     

Remarkably, Barrera, 47, is set to return to the ring for the first time in over a decade as he takes on 41-year-old Daniel Ponce De Leon in a six-round welterweight clash on November 20. 

Record: 67 wins, 7 losses, 0 draws (44 KOs)  

7) Nonito Donaire

‘The king has returned,’ Nonito Donaire said as he broke his own record as the oldest bantamweight in history to win a world title. 

At 38 years old, Donaire delivered an emphatic performance to topple France’s Nordine Oubaali and become a three-time bantamweight champion earlier in May this year.

It came after legendary fighter lost to one of the current pound-for-pound stars Naoya Inoue in their 2019 World Boxing Super Series match-up, handing over his WBA title in the process.  

The fight one was of epic proportions, however, as Donaire delivered a trademark left-hook that saw Inoue suffer an orbital fracture and left him with double vision throughout the contest.  

Inoue battled hard and dropped Donaire in the 11th round, before claiming a unanimous decision victory via scores of 116-111, 117-109 and 114-113.  

Nonito Donaire broke his own record as the oldest ever bantamweight world champion

Though losing the fight, it was another reminder of Donaire’s extraordinary talent, which was evident all the way back in 2007 when he destroyed Vic Darchinyan in five rounds to win his maiden world title.  

His performance in the fight also proved to Donaire himself that he could still perform at the highest level. 

After beating Oubaali, he said: ‘What I learned from the Inoue fight is that I’m back. I can still compete at this level. The whole time I was not fighting, I was learning. I’m ready for the next one.’ 

So the journey continues for the four-weight world champion, who has an extraordinary 41 wins on his 47-fight record. He’s already booked his place in the Hall of Fame, but how much further he can take his career remains to be seen. 

Record: 41 wins, 6 losses, 0 draws (27 KOs)   

6) Roman Gonzalez 

Though falling to a controversial defeat in his most recent encounter, Roman Gonzalez has to be included in this list. 

Gonzalez was handed the third loss of his 53-fight career in March this year, as Juan Franciso Estrada avenged his 2012 defeat to unify he WBC and WBA super-flyweight titles. Gonzalez finished the fight the stronger of the two, but it wasn’t to be for the great champion this time round. 

The 34-year-old is the only Nicaraguan to become a four-division champion, doing so in 2016 as he defeated Carlos Cuadras via unanimous decision to claim the WBC super-flyweight belt.  

Roman Gonzalez is the only Nicaraguan ever to become a four-division world champion

It added to his titles held at flyweight, light-flyweight and mininumweight, moving to 46-0 at the time and then holding the title as perhaps the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. 

Immediately after his historic win over Cuadras, Gonzalez did fall to back-to-back defeats to Wisaksil Wangek. However, he rolled back the years once more by defeating Britain’s then longest serving champion Kal Yafai to claim his WBA world super-flyweight title.

Chocalito will reportedly complete his trilogy against Estrada later this year, after their proposed October bout was postponed as Gonzalez tested positive for coronavirus.  

Record: 50 wins, 3 losses, 0 draws (41 KOs)   

5) Juan Manuel Marquez

Juan Manuel Marquez has one of the most iconic pictures in boxing history to his name, as he knocked long-term rival Pacquiao clean out with one perfectly timed punch. 

The legend finished his career with a phenomenal 56 victories, alongside seven defeats and a single draw, one that remains a significant part of history. 

Marquez won seven world title across four different weight classes and has a number of elite-level fighters on his jam-packed resume. 

Somewhat remarkably, he actually started his career off with a loss, though it was all of his own doing. Having knocked his opponent Javier Duran to the canvas twice, Marquez was disqualified in the first round due to a headbutt. 

The always-game fighter took on the likes of Mayweather, Timothy Bradley Jr and  Barrera throughout a stunning career, but it’s his rivalry with Pacquiao that will always be remembered. 

Juan Manuel Marquez delivered a stunning one-punch knockout as he defeated Pacquiao

The pair fought on four occasions across three weight classes, such was the demand to see the pair who gelled so well in action. They were both highly aggressive and in possession of a serious punch. It made for four great fights. 

The first encounter incredibly ended in a draw, as Marquez somehow fought back from three first-round knockdowns to make it to the final bell. But it was Pacquiao who controversially took the next two bouts, first by split decision and then by majority decision. 

After three fights, the debate as to who was the better fighter remained fierce. But in their fourth and final contest, the finish was conclusive. After exchanging a pair of knockdowns, Pacquiao was in the ascendancy and was gunning for the win. 

But in doing so, he walked into one of the most vicious punches ever to be seen, and the rest was history. 

Marquez retired two fights later after beating Mike Alvarado by unanimous decision.  

Record: 56 wins, 7 losses, 1 draws (40 KOs) 

4) Bernard Hopkins

What a career this man had. With one of the best boxing IQs of all time, Bernard Hopkins is largely regarded a one of a kind, a boxer who could perhaps have fought in any era. 

We talked about Golovkin as a middleweight great earlier, but Hopkins takes that title to another level. 

His fight against the undefeated Felix Trinidad will forever be remembered. Taking place at Madison Square Garden in 2001, the pair went head-to-head in the final of an astonishing middleweight tournament. 

Bernard Hopkins will forever be remembered as one of the greatest middleweights of all time

Trinidad, 40-0 at the time, was expected to win but Hopkins put in one of boxing’s great performances in an entirely one-sided display, stopping his opponent in the 12th and final round. 

Hopkins would later go on to become undisputed middleweight champion, the first to ever to do, as he defeated Oscar De La Hoya with a ninth-round stoppage in 2004.

The American reigned as a middleweight champion for over 10 years, defending his belts a staggering 20 times. 

And perhaps even more remarkably, he became the oldest world champion in boxing history as he defeated Jean Pascal for the unified light heavyweight straps in 2011.  

Hopkins would continue fighting for a number of years, eventually losing his final two bouts against Sergey Kovalev and Joe Smith Jr, who he fought aged 51.  

Record: 55 wins, 8 losses, 2 draws (32 KOs) 

3) Canelo Alvarez

Canelo stands alone at the top of the pound-for-pound list of those still active in the sport. The likes of Terence Crawford and Usyk may disagree, but it’s difficult not to give him that title. 

With a near perfect record, Canelo has won 56 of his 59 outings. His one defeat came aged 23 in a 2013 unanimous decision defeat to Floyd Mayweather, who utilised his defensive genius and ring IQ to bamboozle the vastly less experienced Mexican. He also has draws against Jorge Juarez all the way back in 2006 and Golovkin in 2018. 

Otherwise, the fiercely powerful and astonishingly quick Mexican has proved nearly unstoppable across a multitude of weights. 

He currently holds three of the four major super-middleweight world titles (WBC, WBO and WBA) and looks to complete the set by adding the IBF strap against Caleb Plant in November.   

Canelo Alvarez most recently stopped Billy Joe Saunders as he goes in search for the title of undisputed super-middleweight champion

Canelo most recently provided another example of his sheer brilliance against an impressive Billy Joe Saunders, who did cause the Mexican some problems early on. But the Brit was broken down over the course of the fight, before a devastating uppercut left Saunders unable to rise from his stool after a lopsided eighth round. 

Aged just 31 and remaining active – with his bout against Plant to be his third of 2021 – there is still so much the all-time great can achieve. 

Quite a remarkable thought for a fighter who has already seen off the likes of Golovkin, Miguel Cotto, Daniel Jacobs and Sergey Kovalev – not to mention the highlight reel knockout win over Amir Khan. 

Even the way he dealt with Callum Smith, a bout which started his quest to become undisputed super-middleweight champion, was so impressive. At 5ft 8, Canelo was dwarfed by his 6ft 3 opponent, but he completely outboxed the Brit to capture his WBA title and acquire the vacant WBC strap.     

Record: 56 wins, 1 loss, 2 draws (38 KOs) 

2) Manny Pacquiao 

So, Pacquiao finally enters the equation. The Filipino leaves boxing as a generational talent, one who rose from extreme poverty to the highest heights the sport can offer. 

He was born as one of six siblings and dropped out of school aged 10, finding boxing two years later as he fought on the streets. 

The Pac Man made his debut at 16, and by 19 he had acquired his first world title, defeating Chatchai Sasakul to claim the WBC flyweight crown. 

Bowing out of the sport aged 42 to focus on running for Philippines president, Pacquiao – an eight-weight world champion – left with a record of 62 wins, eight defeats and two draws. 

Some of most memorable moments arguably came in an historic trilogy against Eric Morales, who actually defeated Pacquiao via unanimous decision in their first encounter in 2005. 

Even aged 40, Manny Pacquiao was making history as became the oldest Welterweight to win a major world title as he defeated the previously unbeaten Keith Thurman in 2019

Pacquiao dazzled the Las Vegas crowd in the highly-anticipate rematch, sending Morales crashing to the canvas in the 10th round to claim the super-featherweight world title, before finishing the the Mexican in three brutal rounds 10 months later to complete the trilogy.  

Another famous win came against the legendary Oscar De La Hoya in 2008 in a bout dubbed ‘The Dream Match’, where he battered his opponent from pillar to post for eight destructive rounds. De La Hoya retired after the fight. 

Pacquiao also emphatically stopped Ricky Hatton in their 2009 meet, while claiming two wins, a draw and a stoppage loss in a phenomenal four-fight rivalry with Juan Manuel Marquez. 

The Filipino more recently defied time with his 2019 win over Keith Thurman to become the oldest welterweight world champion in history, but it was against Mayweather where he ultimately fell short. 

Dubbed the ‘Fight of the Century’ in its build-up, the bout was one of the most eagerly-anticipated boxing events in history.

With 4.6million pay-per-view buys, it remains the highest grossing fight of all time, but Mayweather somewhat strolled to a 12-round points victory, with the judges scoring the bout 118-110, 116-112 and 116-112 in his favour.  

Nonetheless, Pacquiao will forever be etched in history as one of the greatest ever. 

Record: 62 wins, 8 losses, 2 draws (39 KOs) 

1) Floyd Mayweather

Who else could it be? Though his final professional encounter came in a rather dubious affair against Conor McGregor, it saw Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather break Rocky Marciano’s 62-year record as he moved to an incredible 50-0. 

Aside from his remarkable resume, endless list of titles and jaw-dropping ease in which he navigated past the majority of his opponents, Mayweather’s record – the best in the business – is a truly standout achievement. 

Though against significantly lesser opposition, Mayweather’s record was nearly topped by Thailand’s Wanheng Menayothin, who announced his retirement at 54-0 back in July 2020. 

However, in making a return, Menayothin lost his long-held WBC strawweight title to Panya Pradabsri via unanimous decision. 

Back to Mayweather, a four-time lineal champion who won titles across five weights and is considered by many as one of, if not the greatest of all time.  

He picked up his first title all the way back in 1998 as he defeated Genaro Hernandez to claim the WBC super-featherweight title, a belt he would go on to defend eight times. 

Mayweather moved and defeated Jose Luis Castillo twice to gain the WBC lightweight title in 2002. And though the second bout was entirely convincing, he scraped through the first, with many believing he actually lost the fight. 

Mayweather put in a defensive masterclass as he defeated Pacquiao by unanimous decision

Regardless, Mayweather would continue to move up in weight as he claimed the WBC super-lightweight title with a win over Arturo Gatti, before victories over Zab Judah and Carlos Baldomir to claim the IBF and WBC welterweight straps.   

Mayweather was now entering the prime of his career, where his standout moments truly occurred. 

Beating Oscar De La Hoya at super-welterweight before dropping back down to stop Ricky Hatton and then defeating Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosely, Victor Ortiz and Miguel Cotto in succession, Mayweather went through quite the series of scalps. 

And in 2013, he made a 23-year-old Canelo look entirely average with a 12-round unanimous decision. 

As referenced above, his biggest win came against Pacquiao, however, where he truly showed just how good he was. 

Though taking on Tenshin Nasukawa and Logan Paul in recent exhibitions, it hasn’t tarnished the legacy Mayweather left behind in the pro ranks. 

Record: 50 wins, 0 losses, 0 draws (27 KOs)

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