For many years the welterweight division was ruled through sleight of hand and speed of boxing brain by the great Floyd Mayweather. Now retired and pursuing ludicrous cross-sport, money-grabbing opportunities, the post-Mayweather 147lb weightclass has evolved into an intriguing mishmash of very good but largely unproven contenders, all vying for top billing.
As with many things in boxing, any ranking of fighters is of course subjective – and there’s no clear, distinct answer to who the best welterweight in the world is. Cases can be made for several members of the top 10, while legitimate reasoning for two or three fighters can be portrayed in such a way as to be almost incontrovertible.
But, as stated before there is no clear number one in this weight division. Ring magazine’s 147lb belt is vacant, and there is no lineal claimant to the throne. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the fighters who can, at the very least, be considered as potentially the best welterweight on the planet.
Even at this very late stage of his career, Pac Man still has arguably the strongest case for being the best 147lber in the world. His body of work stands unrivalled amongst almost all active fighters, with the Filipino icon boasting wins over the likes of Juan Manuel Marquez, Oscar De La Hoya, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales.
His comeback from ‘retirement’ has proved similarly successful, claiming a decisive victory over Timothy Bradley last April before dispatching Jessie Vargas in November, taking his WBO title in the process. He still appears to pack a punch, dropping Vargas in his most recent performance, and he is still undoubtedly a tough out for anyone in the weightclass.
Still, we must consider Pacquiao’s age and how much he has left in the tank. Vargas was still unproven at the top, top level – losing pretty clearly to Bradley in 2015. And we already knew that Manny had Bradley’s number. There’s always the danger that Pacquiao could appear to age overnight if put in with a top-five guy like Kell Brook or Keith Thurman, but we don’t know that he would either.
It’s difficult to come to a conclusion on where Pacquiao stands in the division at this point. His CV is still far and away the best in the weightclass, and there’s nothing from his last two performances to lead us to believe that he would be wiped out by another top guy. But, who the hell knows with Manny anymore.
We British fight fans are fed a lot of hyperbole from Eddie Hearn on Kell Brook. Leading up to his defeat to Gennady Golovkin last September, we were repeatedly told that this was a meeting between the best middleweight in the world and the best welterweight. Certainly a case can be made for Brook being the number one man in the division, but it’s not as cut and dry as Hearn would lead you to believe.
For one to buy the argument that Brook is the best welterweight in the world, an awful lot of stock would have to be put in to his majority decision win over Shawn Porter in 2014 that saw him claim the IBF belt he still holds. That fight was extremely close and remains, two and a half years later, the best victory of Brook’s career. Easy defences over Jo Jo Dan, Frankie Gavin and Kevin Bizier prove nothing about your standing in the division.
We will get a real sense of Brook’s capabilities in May when he faces rising contender Errol Spence Jr. in a defence of his title expected to be held in his hometown of Sheffield. Spence has wiped out some solid opponents of late, including Chris Algieri – who took Pacquiao and Amir Khan the distance, and Leonard Bundu who did the same with Thurman. That is when Brook can make a real claim to being the best in the weightclass.
The WBA champion, Thurman has risen up the ranks by way of stoppages over middling fighters and points wins over genuine talents. One Time does have some good names on his résumé, including Diego Chaves, Robert Guerrero and most notably Porter – who he beat via unanimous decision in a barnburner last June.
Thurman is equally adept boxing on the front and back foot, when he feels comfortable enough he will wade forward looking to land flurries of hurtful punches. Likewise, he can box very neatly and enjoys picking his man off with hard counters. His power may prove to be exaggerated, but he still hits very hard for the weightclass.
Further clarification on Thurman’s standing in the division will be found at the Barclays Center in New York on March 4 – where he will face WBC titleholder, and fellow undefeated fighter, Danny Garcia. Both men can box and brawl and that contest will go some way to establishing who the best fighter in the division is. Thurman will likely be the favourite, but Garcia has proved people wrong before.
Speaking of Swift, he is also in the conversation for the best fighter in the division – or at least will be if he comes through Thurman next. The majority of the argument for Garcia is made from his accomplishments in lower weightclasses, but you cannot ignore wins over the likes of Khan, Lamont Peterson, Zab Judah and Lucas Matthysse.
Garcia has become a divisive figure amongst boxing fans, to say the least. He is often accused of cherry-picking fights and of being given favourable decisions. The fact is, however, that he remains undefeated. There are not many fighters to have beaten as many top-tier boxers as Garcia, and his underappreciation may have more to do with his controversial father Ángel than anything else.
Yes, at welterweight he is still unproven – although he did achieve the same unanimous decision victory over Guerrero that Thurman did. And yes, he has been on the right end of a few controversial decisions. But Garcia always seems to rise to the occasion and if he does so again March 4, then there may just be a (rather unpopular) number one guy in the division.
Shawn Porter remains a top guy, but after losses to Brook and Thurman he appears to have transitioned into a high-level gatekeeper. If you can beat Porter then you have to be considered one of the top guys in the weightclass.
Tim Bradley has achieved a lot in the sport, but there’s the feeling that his best days might be behind him. With wins over Pacquiao, Marquez and Ruslan Provodnikov, he is certainly legit but he needs to get back on the horse after his loss to Manny to be thought of as a top guy once again.
I suppose if you really, REALLY wanted to you could make a case for Khan, but please don’t.
But really, the division remains open. The next few months – with Thurman v Garcia and Brook v Spence – will tell us a lot about who the top guys are. For me though, Pacquiao’s shadow still looms large over the 147lb weightclass, you just can’t ignore his résumé and what he achieved as recently as November against a top 10 guy like Vargas.by