Pretty big change in
best pound-for-pound

Dec 25, 2006 5:16 AM

Let’s ring in the New Year with a new pound-for-pound king.

As 2006 goes off into the sunset, it is good to know that the reason for the change at the top is because Manny Pacquiao has gone ahead, not because Floyd Mayweather Jr. has slipped. The best news for 2007 is that when someone as good as Mayweather has been relegated to No. 2, it obviously augurs well for the sport.

The margin is so little there would never be an argument here for anyone keeping the dazzling defender atop the mythical standings. The problem is that Pacquiao, because of his outside-the-ring proclivity of signing any contract put in front of him, will have to wait until the courts decide he can excite us again.

Yes, he is the most exciting fighter in the game, but he ascends to the peak because of his incredible improvement under Freddie Roach. His new trainer, Roach somehow convinced the Filipino star that a right hand also can be used for punching.

Pacquiao, who once was knocked out by a flyweight (early in his career) dominated Erik Morales twice in 2006. It was also the breath-taking style in which he attacked that jumped him over both Mayweather and the technical wizardry of Winky Wright.

Mayweather, who is favored to move up to 154 pounds and beat Oscar de la Hoya on May 5, has not been the same fighter of late. Yes, he played with Carlos Baldomir to win the real welterweight title. He also was so judicious in his use of combinations that we can only conclude that his brittle hands are bothering him again.

Those hands may be the underlying reason for his promise to retire after the de la Hoya bout and possible rematch. If he is unable to fire combinations, then he is only half the fighter he once was — a defensive genius with little offense.

Wright, even at 35, is bothered more by some of his managerial decisions than by what anyone has done to him in a fight. One troublesome decision was not taking $5 million for a rematch with Jermain Taylor.

Marco Antonio Barrera, who may get his rematch with Pacquiao in 2007, follows at No. 4 though showing some signs of slippage. Joe Calzaghe’s brilliant shutout of Jeff Lacy catapaulted the super-middleweight champion into the No. 5 spot. Maybe he’ll have another real fight in 2007.

This may be a tad high, but Rafael Marquez at No. 6 can be justified. We like his longtime bantamweight champion’s credentials, plus there are questions about those beneath him.

For example Jermain Taylor, on the record, has two victories over Bernard Hopkins and a draw against Winky. He could just as easily been 0-3 in those close calls and it is with some reluctance that I give him No. 7. Hopkins follows at eight, reappearing after his thorough spanking of Antonio Tarver at light-heavy.

Ricky Hatton comes in at No. 9 (he’d be lower if he staying at welterweight). At 140 pounds, he remains a real force. Next is Jose Luis Castillo, who could be his first big opponent of 2007.

Juan Manuel Marquez will be excused for his questionable decision loss to Chris John and installed at No. 11. Then there’s Joel Casamayor, who showed with his victory over Diego Corrales that there is plenty of life left in the old Cuban.

Sugar Shane Mosley is 13, followed by de la Hoya, who can not get more credit than this for knocking out the very beatable Ricardo Mayorga. Corrales slips to 15, followed by Chris John.

Joan Guzman, who could be an intriguing Pacquiao opponent in the future, is 17, followed by a rising Israel Vazquez. Miguel Cotto, at 19, is now the No. 3 welterweight behind Mayweather and Mosley (but noticeably ahead of Antonio Margarito. Antonio’s sloppy early performance against Joshua Clottey causes him to slip out of the top 25.

Nobuo Nashiro, who came from behind to stop Martin Castillo in a 115-pound beauty, follows with another superfly Jorge Arce at 21. Castillo is next, demonstrating that losses do not get overly punished if they are against quality fighters.

Thus, Jhonny Gonzalez, who gave Vazquez a terrific match, is at 23, followed by longtime flyweight king Pongsaklek Wonjongkam. The top 25 is rounded out by Celestino Caballero, who could be facing Rafael Marquez soon.

Agree or disagree with the order. There certainly is enough talent on the list to make some interesting fights in the coming year.