Pound-for-Pound Lists

Introduction

A pound-for-pound (P4P) list is a ranking of boxers according to numerous objective and subjective factors. A P4P list is a handy tool for both experts and enthusiasts to compare boxers across weight divisions and across time. In this article, we explain how each list ranks their boxers and analyze three of the most prominent P4P lists.

What Factors Matter

It is impossible, or at least very difficult, to list all factors a P4P list might consider. For example, although Boxrec uses an algorithm with specific inputs from its database,1 ESPN relies on a panel of experts, former boxers, reporters, and analysts to vote on their picks.2 However, whether as algorithmic inputs or through expert opinion, any credible list would consider objective criteria. Some common considerations include a boxer’s number of bouts, win-loss ratio, win-loss streak, KO/TKO ratio, titles held, title defenses, and weight division. Subjective factors often include the competitiveness of a boxer’s division, flash or showmanship, toughness, heart, etc.

Active and All-Time lists also consider different things. Active P4P lists uniquely consider the age, entertainment or commercial stock of a boxer, social media following, promotional deals (e.g., Floyd Mayweather’s Showtime deals or Canelo’s DAZN deal), and average ticket or broadcasting sales. In the grand scheme of things, all of these things hold less significance. Historical P4P lists thus place more emphasis on objective factors and long-lasting legacy in the boxing game.

Most Prominent P4P Lists

BoxRec relies exclusively on objective criteria as quantified into an overall point ranking based on its own comprehensive yet admittedly incomplete database.3 Fighters are active if they fought within the past year. Otherwise, they belong on the inactive (all-time) list. Although BoxRec does not state exactly how the points are weighed, its model is based on a “whole-history rating” system described in this paper. For those who believe that data can capture the definition of “pound-for-pound,” this list is the best bet.

ESPN relies on a panel of affiliated or in-house industry experts, former boxers and coaches, and reporters. As of May 2021, the panel includes the following: Timothy Bradley Jr., Joe Tessitore, Cameron Wolfe, Eric Raskin, Ward, Teddy Atlas, Nick Parkinson, Michelle Joy Phelps, Baby, Eric Woodyard, Kel Dansby, Pilatti, Charles Moynihan and Salvador Rodriguez. Bradley, Tessitore, and Andre Ward.4 Although most of these individuals may have interests in promoting ESPN’s partners (e.g., Top Rank), the list does benefit in representing the commercial side of the fight game more so than others.

Another major P4P list is The Ring Magazine. The Ring’s Editorial Board, plus THE RING Ratings Panel of boxing reporters from around the world, collaborate on the list. In descending order of importance, this list considers a fighter’s results, performance, and track record. “Results” capture the objective criteria previously discussed. “Performance” captures how a fighter performs in a victory or defeat. Lastly, “track record” approximates the fighter’s accomplishments in the recent past and includes the quality of opposition.5 Since The Ring is a storied publication for the sport, this list deserves a lot of respect. Thus, this list is great for traditionalists.

Conclusion

Many P4P lists exist, from large institutions to individual reporters and enthusiasts. And each one emphasizes some things more than others. In order to be well-informed, we recommend considering two or more P4P lists, including one of these lists. Otherwise, you may be blindsided by the pace of the sport.

Extra Reading (Sources)

  1. BoxRec, BoxRec Rating Description, https://boxrec.com/media/index.php/BoxRec_Ratings_Description (last modified 1:23 PM May 18, 2021.
  2. ESPN, Pound-for-Pound Rankings: A New No. 1, and a Well-Deserved Debut in the Top 10, (May 26, 2021), https://www.espn.com/boxing/story/_/id/31509153/pound-pound-rankings-new-no-1-well-deserved-debut-top-10.
  3. BoxRec, BoxRec Rating Description, https://boxrec.com/media/index.php/BoxRec_Ratings_Description (last modified 1:23 PM May 18, 2021.
  4. ESPN, Pound-for-Pound Rankings: A New No. 1, and a Well-Deserved Debut in the Top 10, (May 26, 2021), https://www.espn.com/boxing/story/_/id/31509153/pound-pound-rankings-new-no-1-well-deserved-debut-top-10.
  5. The Ring Magazine, Rang Ratings – May.22 2021, https://www.ringtv.com/ratings/.

Author: Le Ho

I am currently a law student at the University of North Carolina Law School. As an undergraduate, I boxed for Carolina and earned its first men's national championship title.

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