Pound-for-Pound Debate: After Chocolatito Loss, Who is No. 1?

Photos: Ed Mulholland and Will Hart

By Kieran Mulvaney

The March 18 fight card at Madison Square Garden was advertised as featuring the consensus pound-for-pound No. 1 boxer – Nicaragua’s Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez – and the man most frequently offered as No. 2 on the list, middleweight Gennady Golovkin. The night ended with Gonzalez losing his undefeated record in a decision shared by virtually no one outside the three official judges, while Golovkin retained his with a points verdict that was similarly, although not equally, disputed. In the wake of those stunning turn of events, who can reasonably lay claim to the best boxer on the planet, pound-for-pound, right now?

One person who surely no longer can is Gonzalez. Leave aside for a moment the widespread disagreement with his majority decision defeat to Srisikat Sor Rungvisai – although the fact that all three judges scored the bout essentially the same suggests that this was one of those battles that looked different at the very closest of quarters than even from near-distance. Even had the judges’ verdict tallied with that of most other observers, Chocolatito’s struggles with Rungvisai were the latest in what is now unmistakably a trend.

From July 16, 2011 to October 17, 2015, Gonzalez was taken the distance just once in 16 fights, and scored stoppages in the last 10 of those. In three contests since then, he has gone the full distance each time. There is a consistent element to these relative struggles: the first, a unanimous win over McWilliams Arroyo, was his final fight at 112 pounds, and continuing to make that weight was proving a debilitating burden. His subsequent two outings – a close win over Carlos Cuadras and the loss to Rungvisai – saw him step up to 115 pounds, the fourth weight class he has contested as a professional. He hit Cuadras and, especially, Rungvisai repeatedly with ferocious power punches; yet, although he clearly stung both men on numerous occasions, he did not come close to stopping them.

For most of us, the difference between 112 and 115 pounds might be barely noticeable, but at the highest levels of the sport, and the lowest levels of its weight divisions, it can mean the difference between punching power being imposing and middling. For Gonzalez, who started his career 10 pounds lighter and 47 fights earlier, this final step appears to mark a turning point, the transition from being an overwhelmingly dominant fighter to a merely very good one. 

Figuring out exactly where to now place Gonzalez on any pound-for-pound list is a complicated one. Should he be below Rungvisai? Should his loss be treated as the flawed victory that many considered it to be? Fortunately, that’s a matter for another article. The question at hand for this one is simply: If Chocolatito is no longer on top of the pile, then who is?

The most obvious answer is Golovkin, but his coronation couldn’t come at a more awkward time in his to-this-point stellar career. After Gonzalez was outpointed by Rungvisai, Golovkin underwhelmed in a disputed decision win over Daniel Jacobs that saw him taken the 12-round distance for the first time since he pulled on a pair of boxing gloves as a pro. The glass-half-full explanation of what happened against Jacobs, the one that would justify calling GGG the best boxer in the world right now, would likely incorporate some or all of the following sentiments: 

•    Styles make fights, and a tall, rangy, hard-hitting guy like Jacobs, particularly one who showed such good footwork, was always the most likely to give Golovkin fits.
•    It's just one fight. In Marvin Hagler's last bout before beating Alan Minter to win the middleweight title, Hagler was taken the distance by the unremarkable Marcos Geraldo, who a couple of years later was knocked out in the first round by Thomas Hearns.
•    Jacobs was not only by some distance the bigger, heavier man on March 18, but his weight advantage would likely have been exacerbated by the early 9 a.m. weigh-in the previous day, giving the American an extra half-day to replenish and refuel.
•    And, as much as some fans – OK, numerous fans – didn’t like it, he did win the fight, according to all three judges, the HBO announce crew and at least half the ringside media (and most of those in the last category who favored Jacobs did so by only a point or two). 

The glass-half-empty objection would presumably be: “Dude, he struggled to beat (or, depending on your perspective, lost to) Danny Jacobs, and you’re telling me he’s the best boxer in the world? Seriously?” Apart from anything else, that’s unfair to Jacobs, who fought a tactically sound fight and whose sole career blemish prior to March 18 came at a time when he was struggling with family tragedy and was just months away from being diagnosed with cancer. It’s possible that Jacobs is now every bit as good as plenty of observers thought he might be before that 2010 loss to Dmitry Pirog, and that Golovkin’s win, close though it was, ought to be celebrated and held up as a rationale for his exalted position atop the pound-for-pound rankings rather than as Exhibit A against it. 

Perhaps Golovkin should, in the fight's aftermath, be considered the interim best, with permanent status dependent on his performance in his next fight – rumored to be against Billy Joe Saunders in June – and perhaps the one after that. Should he splatter Saunders, the “styles make fights/Jacobs was better than we realized” arguments will likely be in the ascendant and carry GGG into a possible fall showdown with Canelo Alvarez. If he were to then beat Alvarez, he would almost certainly stand tall and undisputed as the baddest guy in boxing – with, perhaps, a Jacobs rematch around the corner to settle the score once and for all.

It is possible, though, that Golovkin may have reached his peak. He may struggle with Saunders and/or lose to Canelo. In which case, who outside of GGG and Chocolatito might stake a claim?

We can begin with Alvarez – who might be boxing's biggest star in the last year or two, but has not been considered its best, or even necessarily among its most elite. That’s slowly beginning to change: He is now on most P4P top-10 lists, and victory over a significantly larger Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in May, followed by a win against Golovkin in September, would enable him to stake a legitimate claim.

Let us not forget, though, that just last November the light-heavyweight clash between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev was billed as “Pound for Pound.” Ward in particular has his advocates; indeed, he was tucked in at No. 2 behind Floyd Mayweather on many lists before electing to absent himself from the ring as a result of promotional issues. Still, although he emerged victorious on points against Kovalev, the verdict was so close and – again – controversial that it is difficult to make a case for elevating him without taking Kovalev along with him. The tea leaves are predicting a summer rematch between the two; a clear victory for either would give the winner a strong case for pound-for-pound supremacy.

Coming up on the rails, meanwhile, is Terence Crawford, who won the Fighter of the Year award from the Boxing Writers Association of America in 2014, was in the running for it again last year and has added excitement to his technical proficiency. The ease with which he dispensed alleged rival Viktor Postol was testament to his superior skill set. Alas, the lack of any big names on his résumé – or indeed of many obvious career-defining rivals in the future, save perhaps cross-promotional clashes with Keith Thurman or up-and-coming future P4P contender Errol Spence – make it difficult for him to separate himself from the pack.

That may not be the case, however, for the man with arguably the most natural talent of them all – who, as it happens, will be the next man to headline an HBO Boxing card, on April 8. Vasyl Lomachenko already is the best in the world, according to none other than Roy Jones – who was once, and for some time, the undisputed holder of that crown himself. Lomachenko’s skills at times appear to border on the supernatural, and the way in which he is able to practically pirouette around world-class opponents is practically hypnotizing. 

And yet, Lomachenko has fought only eight times as a professional; can such a neophyte truly be considered pound-for-pound king? Perhaps not yet, even with his two Olympic gold medals and reported 396 wins from 397 amateur contests. But he may well have more opportunities than any of the others to demonstrate his quality: The 130-pound division in which he presently resides boasts real talent, in the form of Takashi Miura, Miguel Berchelt, Francisco Vargas, Jezreel Corrales, Gervonta Davis and Orlando Salido, the only professional to blemish Lomachenko’s record. And just five pounds farther north lies the tantalizing prospect of a clash with Mikey Garcia – himself once a P4P entrant who, like Ward, spent a long time away from the sport as he resolved promotional disputes. 

It is the Ukrainian, then, who in the medium-to-long term seems the best bet to seize the mantle and keep it; for now, like it or not, the crown is Golovkin’s. But he will need to look more like the Golovkin of old, and less like an old Golovkin, if he is to keep it for long. 
 

Sullivan Barrera to battle Paul Parker April 15 on HBO Latino Boxing 

Sullivan Barrera (18-1, 13 KOs), the exciting Miami-based light heavyweight from Cuba, will return to HBO Latino Boxing on Saturday, April 15 at Mohegan Sun’s Uncas Ballroom against Toledo, Ohio native Paul “Pay Per View” Parker (8-1, 4 KOs). Barrera will look to build on his thrilling knockout victory on HBO Latino Boxing in December over previously unbeaten prospect Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, while the prospect Parker looks to make a statement in the biggest challenge of his career to date. The HBO Latino Boxing telecast begins at 11 p.m. ET (live ET/tape-delayed PT).

Barrera, 35, of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, made his professional debut in 2009 after defecting to the United States. His career began with five straight knockouts and a nearly seven-year undefeated streak until he suffered his first defeat against current WBO, WBA and IBF light heavyweight world champion Andre “SOG” Ward in March of last year. Barrera bounced back in late 2016 with his upset KO over Shabranskyy in his most recent appearance on HBO Latino. 

“I’m excited to be back on HBO,” said Barrera. “I want to thank my team, my promoter Main Events and HBO for putting this all together. It has been a tough start to the year for me but I’ve been in the gym working and ready for this opportunity. It is another step towards the ultimate goal of contending for a world title. My opponent is a very good boxer; we have studied him in the gym and are ready for everything he will bring come April 15th.”

Parker, 32, has had an impressive career since his professional debut in 2012. His only loss was a third-round TKO against Shabranskyy in June of 2015. Parker rebounded in early 2016 with an eight-round split-decision victory over Lionell “Lonnie B” Thompson.  

 “Well everyone thinks it’s a risky fight,” said Parker, “but where others see risk I see opportunity and I plan to capitalize on this opportunity!”

In the televised co-feature, Russian slugger Arif “The Predator” Magomedov (18-1, 11 KOs) will take on Mexican prospect Elias “Latin Kid” Espadas (13-3, 8 KOs) in a 10-round middleweight showdown. Magomedov, 24, last appeared on HBO Latino in May of 2016 during a hard-fought battle against Andrew Hernandez in Las Vegas. In Magomedov’s most recent bout, he stopped Chris Herrmann in the second round in his home country of Russia.

Espadas, 26, is from Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, and made his professional debut nearly five years ago in his home country. He has fought several times in the U.S. in both California and Florida, but this will be his first time fighting in New England. He has won his last four fights in a row with three of those wins coming by way of knockout. 

The event is part of the “Mohegan Sun’s Rising Stars Boxing Series” presented by Mohegan Sun and Main Events. The exciting joint-venture, which features boxing prospects from New England and around the world, met with rave reviews after the debut event in November. As part of the untelevised undercard, the latest installment of “Rising Stars” will feature the return of local fighters Cassius Chaney from New London, Conn., Reinaldo Graceski from Springfield, Mass., Kevin Asmat from Union City, N.J., and Shawn Cameron from Brooklyn, N.Y. 

Also returning to Mohegan Sun are highly-touted middleweight prospect Vaughan Alexander and international talents Enriko Gogokhia, a junior middleweight from Ukraine; Madiyar Ashkeyev, a junior middleweight from Kazakhstan; and Meiirim Nursultanov, a middleweight also from Kazakhstan. Tickets, which are priced at $50 and $75, are available now through Ticketmaster and the Mohegan Sun box office.

Terence Crawford to Fight Felix Diaz May 20 at MSG

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Undefeated world junior welterweight champion Terence “Bud” Crawford will put his titles on the line against No. 3-rated contender Felix Diaz in a 12-round bout on Saturday, May 20 at Madison Square Garden. Promoted by Top Rank, in association with DiBella Entertainment and Madison Square Garden, the Crawford vs. Diaz world championship event will be televised live on HBO World Championship Boxing beginning at 10:15 p.m. ET/PT.   

Crawford (30-0, 21 KOs), of Omaha, Neb., already a two-division lineal world champion, has won five of his last seven bouts by stoppage.  The consensus top-five pound-for-pound fighter and 2014 Fighter of the Year will be making his second defense as the unified World Boxing Organization (WBO) / World Boxing Council (WBC) / Ring magazine 140-pound world champion.  

Diaz (19-1, 9 KOs), from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, is a 2008 Olympic gold medalist.  A natural junior welterweight, Diaz has been forced to campaign at welterweight because viable opponents in the 140-pound division have been running from him.  The only blemish on his record was a disputed 12-round welterweight majority decision loss to two-division world champion Lamont Peterson in 2015.  Diaz bounced back from that loss with a dominant unanimous decision victory over previously undefeated contender Sammy Vazquez.

For fight updates, visit www.hbo.com/boxing, facebook.com/hboboxing and twitter.com/hboboxing.  Use the Hashtag #CrawfordDiaz to join the conversation on Twitter.  

David Lemieux, JoJo Diaz added to Canelo vs. Chavez PPV

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Less than two months after delivering the top knockout of 2017, Canadian knockout artist David Lemieux (37-3, 33 KOs) will return in a 10-round fight against Marco “Dorado” Reyes (34-4, 25 KOs) as the chief support to the highly anticipated battle between Canelo Álvarez and Julio Cesar Chávez Jr. on Saturday, May 6. The mega-event will be produced and distributed live by HBO Pay-Per-View beginning at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.

Opening up the stacked Cinco de Mayo weekend card at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, former U.S. Olympian and current undefeated NABF Featherweight champion Joseph “JoJo” Diaz Jr. (23-0, 13 KOs) will face perhaps his toughest challenge to date when he defends his title against the undefeated Manuel “Tino” Avila (22-0, 8 KOs) in a 10-round battle.

These two fights along with the main event and the previously announced brawl between Argentinian slugger Lucas “La Maquina” Matthysse (37-4, 34 KOs) and Emmanuel “Tranzformer” Taylor (20-4, 14 KOs) will round out the pay-per-view telecast on Saturday, May 6.

“With three of Golden Boy Promotions’ most exciting contenders appearing on the pay-per-view, as well as the biggest star in the sport, Canelo Álvarez, the Cinco de Mayo card can be described in one word, ‘stacked’,” said Golden Boy Promotions Chairman and CEO Oscar De La Hoya. “I fully expect four action-packed fights that will have fans out of their seats for the entire evening.”

The hard-hitting Lemieux is riding a three-fight winning streak and was last seen delivering a thunderous third-round knockout of the highly touted Curtis “Cerebral Assassin” Stevens that has put the Canadian directly back into the title picture. 

“I'm thankful to have the opportunity of being part of this event during the Cinco de Mayo celebrations,” Lemieux said. “I think I was able to send a clear message on March 11 with my performance against Stevens and I intend to do the same on May 6. I want to make sure that everyone understands that David Lemieux is making his way towards the top and that he intends to stay there.” 

Reyes, a 29-year-old former WBC FECOMBOX middleweight champion, has knocked out 25 opponents and went toe-to-toe with Chavez Jr. in a unanimous decision defeat that many spectators had closer than what came up on the scorecards.

“I know everyone is talking about the Lemieux knockout, but I’m ready to take him out,” Reyes said. “With my Mexican fans supporting me on Cinco de Mayo weekend, I’m ready to turn Lemieux’s lights out.”

In the opening battle of the HBO Pay-Per-View telecast, two undefeated fighters will go toe-to-toe with both Diaz Jr. and Avila risking their undefeated records for a chance at greater glory.

“I’m excited to return for the first time in 2017 and put my title on the line against such a tough competitor,” Diaz Jr. said. “This fight will put me one step closer to a world title shot.”

“This is a golden opportunity to move myself into world title contention, and I’m not planning to let that chance slip away,” Avila said. “I know all about JoJo’s undefeated record, but he’s never faced anyone like me, and at the end of the night, my hand will be raised in victory.”

Preliminary bouts for the May 6 show will be announced in the coming weeks. 

Watch 2 Days: Vasyl Lomachenko (Full Show)

Watch the full episode of 2 Days: Vasyl Lomachenko, a revealing and intimate look at a 48-hour span in the life of junior lightweight world champ Vasyl Lomachenko.

Lomachenko vs. Jason Sosa happens Saturday, April 8 live on HBO World Championship Boxing beginning at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

Watch: Golovkin vs. Jacobs and Chocolatito vs. Sor Rungvisai Replay Saturday on HBO

HBO Sports presents World Championship Boxing: Gennady Golovkin vs. Daniel Jacobs and Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez vs. Sriskaket Sor Rungvisai, the exclusive replay of these two highly anticipated and action-packed title fights, on Saturday, March 25 at 10 p.m. ET. 

Postfight Analysis: When the Going Gets Tough…

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

By Eric Raskin

“Easy” is a relative word in boxing. Even when a fight is “easy,” it most likely involves getting punched in the face at least a few dozen times, to say nothing of the grueling task of enduring several weeks of training camp. But in the relative sense, Gennady Golovkin and Roman Gonzalez had it easy for quite a long time. Whether because of their supreme skills and talents, the quality of their opposition, or some combination thereof, GGG fights and Chocolatito fights have been, more often than not, showcases in which the outcome was never in doubt. They climbed the pound-for-pound lists through sheer dominance, through mastery of the eye test, without having to prove — again, in boxing’s relative terms — what they were made of deep down.

But how does a fighter respond when it isn’t so easy anymore? What does he do when he can’t just walk in and blow the other guy out? That’s when the true test of a fighter’s greatness is conducted. That’s when we find out if the reality can confirm the theoretical, if what the eye test told us was accurate. And that’s what we will remember about the night of March 18, 2017. In consecutive fights in front of a packed house at Madison Square Garden, Gonzalez and Golovkin had to answer questions rarely posed, questions about their ability to adjust in the face of adversity and to fall back on heart when their fists alone aren’t getting the job done.

Those answers came back in the affirmative. Maybe the official results were mixed. But both Golovkin and Gonzalez proved that they don’t need things to be easy.

Of the two, it was Chocolatito who had to dig deeper (but who was also more used to it, considering his previous fight, against Carlos Cuadras, also pushed him within sniffing distance of the brink). Chocolatito is more than five years younger than Golovkin — he’ll turn 30 in June — but smaller fighters tend to age faster and the Nicaraguan has had 10 more pro fights than GGG. Against Srisaket Sor Rungvisai of Thailand, Gonzalez found himself an undeniably post-prime fighter, a pugilist whose power at 115 pounds clearly isn’t what it was at 105, 108, and 112, and those revelations were complicated by the fact that southpaw Sor Rungvisai applied unrelenting pressure and was as tough to fight as saying his name five times fast.

Chocolatito got dropped by a body punch in round one. He got cut by a headbutt in round three. At a certain point, he decided he couldn’t win this fight with finesse; he’d need to stand his ground and win the exchanges. The 12th round was, in some ways, the finest three minutes of Gonzalez’s career. Fighting with cojones so big it’s a wonder he makes the super flyweight limit, Chocolatito let bomb after bomb go and had Sor Rungvisai reeling and relieved to hear the final bell.

I thought Gonzalez won, 115-111. The judges awarded a majority decision to Sor Rungvisai, a verdict that was met with boos from the MSG faithful. Gonzalez will not finish his career undefeated. He’s not the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world anymore. But he’s all fighter. Whereas once such a statement would have qualified as speculation, now it’s a fact. Or at the very least, it’s one of those opinions you’d have to be insane to dispute.

For Golovkin, the struggle was less about his best days being behind him (although it’s possible they are) or about him fighting above his best weight (although he was certainly outsized). Rather, for GGG, the problem was the other fellow in the ring. In Daniel Jacobs, Golovkin finally met something resembling his match, an opponent with the speed, skill, and self-belief to deny the Big Drama Show its typical early closing. Golovkin had knocked out 23 straight opponents dating back to 2008. He simply isn’t used to this kind of resistance, to a fighter with a game plan and the gifts and determination to execute it. We’d long wondered, what would GGG do when he could knock the other guy down but not out? How would he handle a fight whose outcome seemed up for grabs after six rounds, after eight rounds, after 10 rounds?

The answers weren’t quite everything we’d dreamed they would be. Jacobs got the better of several of the later rounds, and Golovkin rarely let his hands go with the kind of desperation the situation seemed to call for. But he didn’t let himself get discouraged in the face of stiff competition. He remained focused, he kept pumping out jabs, he cut off the ring, he closed the distance, and he took some shots from a legitimate puncher with probably 10 pounds or so on him. He wasn’t required to show as much heart as Chocolatito, but he showed his own brand of steely resolve, and it carried him to a close unanimous decision in by far the toughest challenge of his professional career.

The performances of GGG and Chocolatito, pound-for-pound elite fighters who were being rudely reminded that, to use a Golovkin-ism, “this isn’t game,” called to mind other modern greats having to use a gear they’d never needed to shift into before. Just four months ago, Andre Ward showed what he was made of when Sergey Kovalev had him down — on the scorecards and his knees — and Ward needed to use every ounce of his guile and guts to get back into the fight.

A generation earlier, fellow HBO broadcaster Roy Jones found himself in a similar situation in the same weight division, when the nearly untouchable P4P king was struggling mightily in his first fight with Antonio Tarver. Jones showed a determination nobody knew for sure existed and, like Ward, pulled out a controversial decision win. When two of Jones’ P4P rivals met in June 2000, formerly dominant lightweight champ Shane Mosley lost perhaps five of the first seven rounds against the bigger, seemingly better Oscar De La Hoya, until Sugar Shane elevated his game and streaked to a stirring victory.

And then there was the fight that Sor Rungvisai vs. Gonzalez most reminded me of: the 1998 strawweight rematch between Ricardo “Finito” Lopez (the Chocolatito of his time) and Rosendo Alvarez. Lopez, like Gonzalez, went years without losing rounds, until age and an elite opponent finally made him look human. Lopez battled through the blood to eke past Alvarez in a thriller; it was essentially Sor Rungvisai vs. Gonzalez with more palatable scorecards.

But for every time a great fighter lives up to our expectations, there’s another example of a heavily hyped boxer coming up short when it stops being easy. Mosley was actually on both sides of the dynamic. As inspiring as he was against Oscar, after a few more spectacular wins, he ran up against a nightmare style in Vernon Forrest and couldn’t make any of the necessary adjustments. The same thing happened to Naseem Hamed, who dug deep to beat Kevin Kelley in 1997, but three years later, had no answers for the masterful boxing of Marco Antonio Barrera. Hamed’s fighting spirit seemed to disintegrate over the course of those 12 rounds, never to return again. Then there are cases of highly touted prospects, seemingly working their way toward pound-for-pound rankings, only to get exposed as unworthy of the hype. Think guys like Adrien Broner and Victor Ortiz — not bad fighters, by any means, but men who both folded, to one degree or another, when asked (in both cases by the litmus test that is Marcos Maidana) to find something deep inside themselves.

It probably isn’t going to get any easier after this for Chocolatito. The same might be true for GGG. One of them lost on Saturday night, and the other flirted with losing. But they both showed dimensions they haven’t had to show before and took steps to confirm their greatness on the toughest nights of their respective careers.

PODCAST: Golovkin-Jacobs Postfight Discussion

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney reflect on a spectacular night of boxing at Madison Square Garden that shook up the pound-for-pound rankings, with Gennady "GGG" Golovkin edging Daniel Jacobs over the distance and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai shocking Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez by controversial decision.

Both bouts will be replayed on HBO World Championship Boxing on Saturday, March 25 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.