I performed a Google search of the term generation. Among the definitions, one stated that the period of time for a generation spans about 30 years. Another defines it as all of the people born and living at the same time.
For purposes here, I’ll use a 30-year range to rank the five best fighters from 1980-2010. You might ask, "how on earth can I claim that Sugar Ray Leonard and Manny Pacquiao fought in the same generation?"
My response is: "please leave a comment and state your beef!"
5. Bernard Hopkins (52-5-2, 32 KO’s). I’ll admit that this selection has a lot to do with the Executioner’s latest achievement-defeating Jean Pascal to capture a share of the light heavyweight title, making him the oldest fighter (46 years old) in history to capture a major boxing championship.
If that was not enough, he was the only man to knockout (via ten-count) Oscar De La Hoya, the first man to defeat all-time great welterweight Felix Trinidad, and had more middleweight title defenses than any fighter in history.
Spanking lineal champions Antonio Tarver (light heavyweight) and Kelly Pavlik (middleweight) is just icing on the cake.
4. Pernell Whitaker (40-4-1, 17 KO’s). For the greater portion of the 90’s, the man popularly known as "Sweet Pea" took on all comers and beat nearly everyone of note from 135-147 pounds. He even beat long-time titlist Julio Cesar Vasquez in his lone fore into the 154-pound division.
I’ll admit that I am biased. Whitaker was one of my favorite fighters of all-time based on his willingness to fight anyone, anytime and anywhere. He somehow mastered the ability to fight right in front of opponents without getting hit much. Combined with the fact that he did not pack a wallop in his fists, makes his fighting skill all the more amazing.
If you need any proof, look no further than Whitaker’s virtuoso performance against Mexican great Julio Cesar Chavez.
3. Manny Pacquiao (53-3-2, 38 KO’s). I know that I am going to take some shots from the "80’s fan boys" who believe these past 10-15 years of boxing have been watered down by middling competition, a plethora of belts and their resulting alphabelt champions.
But what makes Pacquiao stand out to me, is the fact that he started fighting at 106 pounds and has ascended to ring supremacy at 147 pounds today. His list of victims is a proverbial "who’s who of the 2000’s."
The list includes: Marco Antonio Barrera (twice), Erik Morales (twice), Juan Manuel Marquez, Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto, Ricky Hatton, Shane Mosley-all champions, and all, likely Hall of Famers.
2. Roberto Duran (103-16, 70 KO’s). Arguably the greatest lightweight of all-time, "Manos de Piedra" is not just one of the greatest boxers of the past 30 years. He is one of the greatest boxers to ever don gloves.
Similar to the number four guy on my list, his best work was done while ruling the135 pound division as its undisputed champion.
But as we would all find out, Duran had a lot more left past his lightweight prime. He defeated fellow legend Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980 in perhaps the greatest moment of his career. Many fans remember the infamous "No Mas" fight in which he quit against Leonard in their rematch, but those same fans seem to conveniently forget that he was the first man to defeat Sugar Ray as a professional.
1. Sugar Ray Leonard (36-3-1, 25 KO’s). Whether named Walker Smith, Jr. or Ray Charles Leonard, Sugar Ray is always near the top of the boxing heap. If I confused you, Walker Smith, Jr. is the government name of Sugar Ray Robinson (the greatest boxer of all-time). Ray Charles Leonard, aka Sugar Ray Leonard, was named after him.
And for good reason.
The Olympic, gold medal-toting Leonard was Oscar De La Hoya before Oscar De La Hoya, combining elements of Ali’s outside-the-ring charisma, Robinson’s in-ring skill and will, and promoter Don King’s match-making guile.
But unlike the more recent Golden Boy, his flash was matched by significantly more substance. What fighter can say that he defeated three (Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns and Marvin Hagler) of the top dozen boxers of the past 30 years, in or not too far from their fighting primes?
Notable omissions from my list, include: Julio Cesar Chavez; Felix Trinidad; Marvin Hagler; Roy Jones, Jr. and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. for various reasons.
If you do not agree with my list, please tell me who you think should be on it!