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Jun 22, 2004 12:06 AM

When Antonio Tarver knocked out Roy Jones Jr., shaking up the boxing world, Bernard Hopkins warned us to wait until after his fight June 5 before making a new "pound-for-pound" list.

The long-time middleweight champion, who had spent most of the decade looking up at Jones in the mythical (and subjective) ratings, did not want any rush to judgment until after he took care of Robert Allen to set up his big showdown with Oscar de la Hoya.

He obviously was aware that in between Jones’s fall and his expected cruise-control victory, Floyd Mayweather Jr. (his only real rival in the pound-for-pound ratings) would look sensational in his 140-pound debut against Chop Chop Corley.

I waited. I watched Mayweather entertain the fans by standing in front of his man and still put on a clinic. I watched Hopkins toy with Allen. And I have concluded: There is no pound-for-pound title. Throw it away. No one deserves it.

It was a title created for Sugar Ray Robinson, who had such competition in other weights from such as Joe Louis, Willie Pep, Billy Conn, Archie Moore et al, but who was almost unanimously agreed as the best fighter, at any weight, of his time and all times.

It was a title usurped by others in later years, most notably by Pernell Whitaker. You didn’t hear Sugar Ray Leonard or Marvelous Marvin Hagler or even Muhammad Ali claim it. But since Whitaker made a fuss about it, the pound-for-pound designation has become popular among boxing fans. I guess it’s one of those terrific hypothetical bar-room arguments that make our days, and nights, so fulfilling. Who was better, the ’27 Yankees or ’78 Steelers? Who would have won, Pancho Gonzalez or Pete Sampras? Pass the nuts.

If I had to make a list, under penalty of having to read a Thomas Hauser column, I suppose I would opt for the side of longevity and pick Hopkins No. 1. Mayweather is more talented, but he hasn’t done as much YET. And we have to give Hopkins kudos for becoming a master technician with hall of fame self-discipline and hall of fame hard work. He is an example to anyone who is not blessed with great and obvious talent, in any line of work, that success belongs to the diligent.

I was one of the first kids on my block to trumpet Hopkins. I bet cash money on him as a dog to upset Felix Trinidad Jr., who was then hollering that he deserved the pound-for-pound designation. But bottom line is that, any vote for Hopkins has to be guarded in the realization that, outside of Trinidad, he has not exactly beaten a murderer’s row during his record 18 successful 160-pound title defenses.

Three of them came at the expense of Allen, including one that ended in a no-contest because of an accidental injury; Hopkins went in as champion and came out as champion, making the "defense" successful. The best of the lot was probably Antuwon Echols. Hey, Leonard beat guys like Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Wilfred Benitez and Hagler.

Mayweather has taken on the best available opposition, but I’m sorry, victories over Genaro Hernandez, Angel Manfredy, Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo don’t compare with Whitaker beating (never mind it was officially a "draw") Julio Cesar Chavez, Azumah Nelson and Buddy McGirt. But Little Floyd is so obviously good that he easily takes the No. 2 spot on my list, if I had to make a list.

I don’t, except I’m a boxing writer and it is expected of me, and so here is the rest of the mythical, it-don’t-mean-a-thing, don’t-take-it-personally game. Go into any saloon and argue.

The rest of my mythical dozen

3. Antonio Tarver. He beat the Man and not simply because he has the perfect style to combat Roy. He’s a helluva fighter.

4. Roy Jones. You can’t dismiss a career for one punch.

5. (tie) Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. Now it becomes tricky. Would have Kostya Tszyu here, but the junior welterweight king has been on the shelf too long because of injuries. Would have had Marco Antonio Barrera here then, but he got beaten up by Manny Pacquiao, who was then held to a draw by Juan Manuel Marquez. Thus, I now have a tie for fifth between the two fearsome featherweight rivals.

7. Winky Wright. Showed the world how good he has been for a long time by knocking off Sugar Shane Mosley.

8. Rafael Marquez: I suspect Rafael is better than his big brother Juan Manuel. The bantamweight champion, after knocking out such previous pound-for-pound competitors like Marc (Too Sharp) Johnson and Tim Austin, has been curiously low-profile.

9. Shane Mosley: I think he is carrying too many pounds.

10. Oscar de la Hoya. Ditto, see Mosley.

11. Cory Spinks. Terrific boxer, though worried about that big knockdown by Zab Judah in final moments of their fight.

12. James Toney. Over-rated perhaps for victories over Vassiliy Jirov and washed-up Evander Holyfield, but still a master.

Honorable mention: Chris Byrd, who should be a cruiserweight; Barrera, who came back from losses to Junior Jones in an earlier life; Diego Corrales, Joel Casamayor and Acelino Freitas, who constitute a terrific rivalry.

You disagree? So what. Get your own column. It’s very subjective.