1. Andre Ward 31-0 (15 KOs) USA By his recent standards, 2016 was a busy year for former 2004 Olympic gold medallist Ward, who fought three times after finally resolving his contractual issues that had stagnated his career. After comfortable wins over Sullivan Barrera in March and the obscure Alexander Brand in August, ‘SOG’ challenged Russian hardman Sergey Kovalev for his three light-heavyweight titles in November and had his hand raised after 12 grueling rounds. However, it was a controversial verdict, with many observers believing Ward was the beneficiary of a hometown decision after he survived a second-round knockdown and seemed to take more punishment than Kovalev. A rematch is scheduled for 17 June in Las Vegas.
2. Gennady Golovkin 37-0 (33 KOs) Kazakhstan Arguably the most fearsome puncher in the sport, unified middleweight king Golovkin made the 18th consecutive defence of his titles in March, but saw his 23-fight knockout streak end when fellow titleholder Daniel Jacobs took him to the final bell in their thrilling unification clash in New York. Jacobs certainly gave Golovkin all he could handle, and some felt the Brooklyn native did enough to deserve the nod over ‘GGG’ on the scorecards, despite suffering a hard knockdown in the fourth round. In any case, Golovkin prevailed on points and he will make defence No 19 against WBC beltholder Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez on 16 September in the most eagerly anticipated matchup in boxing.
3. Terence Crawford 31-0 (22 KOs) USA ‘Bud’ continued his perfect run in the paid ranks in 2016 with two highly impressive wins to add to already stellar resume. In July he scored the biggest victory of his career with a surprisingly easy unanimous points win over the previously unbeaten Viktor Postol in Las Vegas. In December, Crawford put on a show for his hometown fans in Omaha, Nebraska by taking apart the tough but limited John Molina in eight brutally one-sided rounds. In his first outing of 2017, Crawford produced another sublime performance, battering Olympic gold medallist Felix Diaz at New York’s Madison Square Garden until the Dominican’s corner mercifully pulled him out at the conclusion of the 10th round. Crawford called out Manny Pacquiao and Keith Thurman in his post-fight interview, though neither fight is likely to happen this year.
4. Roman Gonzalez 46-1 (38 KOs) Nicaragua When Floyd Mayweather hung up his gloves in September 2015, Nicaragua’s four-weight world champion Gonzalez took on the mantle as the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter in the eyes of most boxing scribes. However, his position as the sport’s premier fighter is now in question after he suffered his first loss in the professional ranks to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in a brutal junior bantamweight battle in March. His stock shouldn’t fall too far though, given that most ringside observers in New York felt ‘Chocalito’ had done more than enough to win the fight, despite the judges’ awarding a majority-decision to his Thai opponent. Knockoutpunch scored the bout 115-111 in Gonzalez’s favour.
5. Sergey Kovalev 30-1-1 (26 KOs) Russia After a dominant seventh-round KO win over Jean Pascal in their January rematch, ‘Krusher’ failed to impress on his return to his native Russia in July, labouring to a unanimous points win over fringe contender Isaac Chilemba. However, the 33-year-old can count himself mightily unlucky to have come out on the wrong side of the three judges’ scorecards in his high-progile clash with undefeated American Andre Ward in November. In a close and entertaining fight, Kovalev dropped Ward hard in the second round and seemed to do enough to deserve the nod in most people’s eyes. But the decision went against him, ending his unbeaten run and relinquishing his light-heavyweight titles. Kovalev will get a chance to set the record straight in a rematch with Ward on 17 June.
6. Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez 49-1-1 (34 KOs) Mexico Since his solitary defeat to all-time great Floyd Mayweather Jr in September 2013, ‘Canelo’ has reeled off seven straight wins against quality opposition to cement his reputation as the new face of the sport. After claiming the lineal middleweight title by defeating Miguel Cotto in November 2015, Mexico’s Alvarez retained his belt the following year by brutally knocking out Britain’s undersized Amir Khan in the sixth round of their megafight on Cinco de Mayo weekend. He then blotted his copy book by seemingly ducking middleweight king Gennady Golovkin and returning to junior middleweight to stop another British foe, Liam Smith, inside nine rounds. In his first fight of 2017, Canelo gave compatriot Julio Cesar Chavez Jr a severe beating over 12 one-sided rounds on 6 May, after which his team announced he had finally signed to fight ‘GGG’ on 16 September.
7. Vasyl Lomachenko 8-1 (6 KOs) Ukraine A two-time Olympic gold medallist, Ukraine’s Lomachenko has been moved very fast in the professional ranks owing to his stellar amateur career. In 2014, he won a vacant featherweight strap in just his third pro bout – tying the record for the fewest number of fights to clinch a world title. The 28-year-old has since moved up to junior lightweight and established himself as the best fighter in the 130-pound class in 2016 with dominant wins over Roman ‘Rocky’ Martinez (a fifth-round KO to claim another world title) in June and Nicholas Walters in December, in which the feared ‘Axeman’ quit on his stool after seven rounds of punishment. In his first fight of 2017, Lomachenko dominated the battle-tested Jason Sosa over nine one-sided rounds in Maryland to retain his title.
8. Manny Pacquiao 56-5-2 (38 KOs) Philippines While the Filipino legend’s best years are clearly behind him, he’s still an elite fighter who can mix it with the best in the sport. He proved that beyond doubt in 2016, with quality wins over Timothy Bradley Jr in April and the unbeaten Jesse Vargas in November to regain a welterweight world title. The one-sided rout of Vargas was all the more impressive given the 10-year age gap, and the fact Pacquaio now spends more time in the senate of his native Phillippines than in the gym these days. At 38, his time in the ring is drawing to a close but he still has some big fights in him yet. However, after his mooted superfight with former training partner Amir Khan fell through, Pacquiao surprisingly signed up to fight the obscure Australian Jeff Horn in Brisbane in July – a fight virtually no-one wants to see.
9. Carl Frampton 23-1 (14 KOs) Northern Ireland The ‘Jackal’ enjoyed a stellar 2016, defeating longtime British rival Scott Quigg via split decision in February to unify super bantamweight titles. If that domestic dust-up in Manchester was a bit of an anticlimax, then Frampton’s next outing against Leo Santa Cruz in July more than made up for it. Entering his first bout at featherweight as an underdog, Frampton put on a boxing clinic in New York against the Mexican-American to earn a well-deserved majority decision in a thrilling slugfest. However, in an eagerly-awaited rematch in Las Vegas on 27 January, Frampton duly lost his title – and his unbeaten record – via a wafer-thin majority decision. Trilogy, anyone?
10. Guillermo Rigondeaux 17-0 (11 KOs) Cuba Although his fighting style hardly gets the pulse racing, there’s no denying two-time Cuban Olympic Gold medallist Rigondeaux’s pedigree inside the square circle. He kept up his unbeaten professional record in his only outing of 2016 when he broke the jaw of overmatched challenger Jazza Dickens on his way to a second-round KO win in July. ‘El Chacal’ is supposed to be putting his featherweight titles on the line against mandatory challenger Moises Flores (25-0, 17 KOs) of Mexico in April.
Honourable mentions: Anthony Joshua, Mikey Garcia, Adonis Stevenson, Timothy Bradley, Keith Thurman, Errol Spence, Oleksandr Usyk, Jermall Charlo, Jorge Linares