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NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: POUND-FOR-POUND

By Paul Magno | May 29, 2023
NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: POUND-FOR-POUND

If you clicked on this piece expecting to find a pound-for-pound list or some debate regarding who belongs on such a list, you’re WAY off. As a matter of fact, if you’re a hardcore pound-for-pound aficionado, I might bring you to tears or have you tinkling your chonis in anger by the time you’re done reading this. 

Pound-for-pound rankings are absolute idiocy. Shame on you if you even marginally regard them as something worth talking about-- especially in a sport like boxing, which is always in desperate need of serious discussion concerning any number of pressing, sometimes life-and-death, issues. 

But while issues regarding health, safety, and our fetid septic tank of an officiating/judging model go relatively unaddressed, morons spend hours online raging in debate over whether Naoya Inoue deserves to be ranked above Oleksandr Usyk on some nerds’ fantasy rankings list that, literally, has no meaning and no meaningful criteria by which it’s assembled.  

The concept of “pound-for-pound” came to be during the days of welterweight/middleweight legend Sugar Ray Robinson. It was considered a way to fairly rate the talent and accomplishments of lower-weight fighters measured against the more publicized heavyweights. In the 90’s, however, this informal   concept became an actual Top 10 list, compiled by the folks over at Ring Magazine, who were less than one generation removed from destroying the credibility of their divisional rankings by selling rankings placements in their “Bible of Boxing” (see: Ring Magazine Scandal).  

The pound-for-pound rankings did become a thing of significance, though (because we are mostly chimps who are easily distracted by shiny objects). They’ve become an increasingly big deal in recent years and a 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 this concept. There is no established criteria regarding pound-for-pound rating and, so, the rankings are wildly subjective, compiled by media people who run the gamut from smart observers to naive fan boys to moronic wannabe experts to agenda-wielding lunk heads. That’s why the pound-for-pound debate has about as much basis in reality as a debate regarding the pecking order of space aliens on Earth-- greys vs. greens vs. reptilians vs. hybrids, etc.

One general guideline for rating fighters seems to be based on the fantastical idea of: “If they were all the same weight, who would win?”

But how do you begin any reasonable discussion about the sport's best fighters by asking you to rate them based on such an 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 David Benavidez couldn't do what they do as smaller men. Vasiliy Lomachenko as a heavyweight, with the same abilities he had as a super featherweight, 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.

This whole "assuming they were the same weight" criteria should immediately relegate pound-for-pound talk to the category of meaningless fantasy fan chatter. If we’re going to go that far, why not just rank fighters based on them possibly having three arms or the ability to shoot laser beams from their eyes?

Among the most logical of the pound-for-pound believers and professional media list makers, some reasonable criteria are applied. Body of work, level of competition, relative skill level, and inherent ability can come into consideration when determining the world’s best fighters, regardless of weight. But, even still, all of that is wildly subjective. 

Mostly, though, these pound-for-pound rankings, especially those pieced together by the Ring Magazine Rankings Panel and the Transsexual Boxing Ratings Board (or whatever that thing is called), are just reflections of the personal biases of the board/panel members compiling them.

You don’t get rid of bias by adding more biased voices to the discourse. That’s like if you have a restaurant with a shitty cook and think that bringing in 30 other shitty cooks will make for better food coming out of your kitchen. Nope. Doesn’t work that way. 

Any reasonably savvy observer, willing to spend the time to do so, could easily pick apart the pound-for-pound rankings and trace back the personal biases leading to each placement. That nice older lady with the ponytail who serves as the Ring Magazine/RingTV editor-in-chief and whoever runs the Ring Magazine Twitter account (from the tone they take, it must be a catty teenage girl) recently spent some considerable time justifying their updated pound-for-pound rankings. At the end of the day, though, the only justification for how their list was put together was that it gelled with their own take on things. 

Not surprisingly, fighters out of favor (for whatever reason) with the bosses of the board/panel get lower rankings or aren’t ranked at all. Other fighters only make the cut with the begrudging approval of  a board/panel forced to rank them or face obvious criticism. Some fighters get ranked quickly and stay ranked, regardless of losses or inactivity, seemingly needing to be murdered or cast out via exorcism to disappear from the rankings. 

And how, really, could you expect anything less from rankings compiled with no established, concrete criteria by a boxing media driven by agenda/bias and full of convenient idiocy?

At its very best, the concept of pound-for-pound rankings is harmless fluff. Back in my early days of boxing writing, I was forced by editors to put together pound-for-pound rankings and my lists were probably just as biased and altogether dumb as everyone else’s. 

At its worst, though, this kind of nonsense serves as sleight of hand in support of the status quo, a distraction from what matters in a sport that needs vigilance more than any other. We’re coming off of two fights (Romero-Barroso and Haney-Lomachenko) that spotlight boxing’s awful officiating and judging and the heat from both instances lasted only as long as the time it took for the first distraction to come along. 

You can’t fix what needs fixing if you can’t apply constant pressure to those in power. In boxing, something always seems to come along to conveniently pull attention away from anything of substance. And pound-for-pound rankings, with the silly people behind them, have become the silliest distraction of them all. 

Got something for Magno? Send it here: paulmagno@theboxingtribune.com

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