Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Boxing [Print without images]

Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Top 10 fighters we love to watch

By Brian Campbell

In boxing, just as in all sports, there's nothing quite like a fresh set of rankings to stir debate and help bring order to the subject at hand.

We use pound-for-pound rankings as a method of classifying the best and most skillful fighters regardless of weight. We've seen lists similar to the Grantland Relevance Rankings, which aggregates superiority based on a combination of ability, marketability and importance. Heck, even HBO's Jim Lampley has his "Gatti List," named after the late Arturo Gatti, which attempts to order the best blood-and-guts warriors who lay it all on the line.

But what about a set of rankings aimed at the very reason why we watch fights? Which major-network attractions -- superseding in some cases titles won, drawing power and even likeability -- are the most entertaining, compelling and watchable fighters on any given Saturday?

This isn't a list of simply the best all-action brawlers or most artistically beautiful fighters, but in some ways a marriage of both, with a chunk of personality thrown in -- a nod to the fighters who do a better job than others of selling their brand through creative sound bites and flamboyant antics.

Without any further ado, here are boxing's current top 10 most entertaining fighters, with a tip of the cap to honorable mentions Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Abner Mares, Sergio Martinez, Miguel Cotto and Carl Froch, who just missed the cut:

10. Leo Santa Cruz

Pros: Fights at an absurdly relentless pace behind a high guard, using his long arms to punish with hooks to the body. He's as exciting on a minute-by-minute basis as any fighter in the sport. In his May 4 victory over Alexander Munoz, he became the first boxer in history to have both the Watson brothers and Mariachi Skull Guy in his corner at the same time during the prefight introductions. Now that's some serious representation.

Cons: Even with an ambitious five appearances on television in 2012, Santa Cruz needs a bit more time to build a bigger following and audience.

9. Victor Ortiz

Pros: It's getting to the point where fans can expect one of two scenarios each time Ortiz steps into the ring: It's either going to be a toe-to-toe battle or it'll end in a Tyson-esque meltdown. Sometimes we even get both. Interviews with Ortiz can be an equally bizarre ride. He is at times painfully honest -- such as following his loss to Marcos Maidana when, at 22, he openly contemplated retirement -- and at other times detached and almost unaware of the gravity of what just took place. He added to his fan base with a surprising appearance on ABC's "Dancing With The Stars" and never fails to entertain in some fashion.

Cons: Oritz is the kind of personality you can only take in occasional doses, unlike other polarizing fighters who draw you to the screen time and again, regardless of your level of loathing. And, of course, there's always that VO FaceLube commercial.

8. Canelo Alvarez

Pros: The red-haired and freckled Mexican warrior with the matinee idol looks is, despite having 43 pro fights under his belt, still just 22. Not only does he have an Oscar De La Hoya-like ability to attract mainstream female fans due to his smile, he brings in casual male fans with his exciting style. There's a certain star quality to Canelo that you can't teach, let alone describe, and few fighters his age have looked as comfortable as he does in the spotlight.

Cons: Up until this year, he had been brought along far too slowly for a fighter of his popularity and potential, feasting on an unexciting mix of faded names and journeyman contenders. Although he has made strides, he still isn't fluent enough in English to give his own interviews.

7. Gennady Golovkin

Pros: Has the face of a 12-year-old boy, but punches like Wreck-It Ralph. He also once endearingly referred to opponent Gabriel Rosado as "a good boy" in a postfight interview after stopping him. Such a polite fellow. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find another fighter who is as efficiently violent inside the ring and almost naively sweet outside of it. That contrast is compelling enough on its own, never mind his crushing right hand.

Cons: Despite the fact that he's been a middleweight titlist for three years and is a featured player on HBO, the only thing holding back Golovkin's ability to entertain is the fact that he’s too dangerous for his own good and could end up having difficulty finding big-name opponents -- same as Martinez did. But will it ever really get boring watching him knock out middle-of-the-road competition?

6. Amir Khan

Pros: The combination of his dynamic and top-end offensive talents mixed with his shaky chin make the vulnerable Khan, who fights with a tremendous amount of courage, a must-see attraction. He also has a way of speaking with a confidence that defies the reality of his own limitations, which is encouraging to some and tremendously irritating to others. Either way, we keep watching.

Cons: He's somehow equally overrated and underrated at the same time, making it impossible to get a grasp at any point on just how good he really is.

5. Manny Pacquiao

Pros: Still brings a very exciting style to the table and has arguably the most recognizable name among active fighters. Also, the expectant drama that should come as he attempts to recover from a brutal one-punch knockout against Juan Manuel Marquez while navigating the twilight of his career could be interesting. And, you know, there's always Buboy Fernandez.

Cons: Outside of a pair of recent bouts with Marquez, we really haven't seen Pacquiao in a competitive and evenly matched fight since 2009. The storylines in his personal life have also been played out ad nauseam in the various documentary series leading up to his fights.

4. Brandon Rios

Pros: There might not be another fighter in the sport who loves brawling at close range and testing his manhood more than Rios, who not only doesn't know how to make a bad fight, but might actually be crazy. Rios very well may have more talent and potential inside the ring than his style lets on, meaning he doesn't go to war each fight because he has to, but does so instead because it's too much fun for him not to. He's got the Gatti gene.

Cons: Only a lack of one-punch knockout power really separates Rios from becoming a breakout star and topping this list.

3. Lucas Matthysse

Pros: He has the best nickname in the sport -- "The Machine" -- and an explosive, wrecking-ball style to match. Oh yeah, and he don't need no stinking judges. (How does an 86.5 percent knockout rate grab ya?) Throw in the rat tail, tattoos and the raw emotion with which he fights, and Matthysse has become appointment viewing. The power in his hands, even on grazing shots, is frightening.

Cons: With his stock at the moment being as hot as a fighter's could be, Matthysse has a window to make a crossover leap. But although you could argue that his fists do enough talking for him, the opportunity to address the masses in English after one of his spectacular knockouts would greatly improve his value to the casual American audience.

2. Adrien Broner

Pros: If you find yourself irritated at the end of a Broner interview, it means he's doing it right. Although some say the fighter owes too much of his style and swagger to Floyd Mayweather Jr., Broner is slowly carving out his own niche with his intentionally polarizing persona outside of the ring and his spectacular potential inside of it. By standing right in front of his opponents and sitting down on his power punches, all the while with a smirk on his face, viewers will be tuning in to see Broner knock people out -- or end up the victim of one -- for years to come.

Cons: Even if you're sick of the postfight hairbrush already, no one provides a sound bite quite like the self-proclaimed "Can Man." But Broner often steps too far over the line of decency. See his recent comments during the buildup to his welterweight debut against titlist Paulie Malignaggi.

1. Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Pros: The greatest reality star the sport has ever seen, Mayweather dominates the spotlight he helped create and does so despite a defensive style that is appreciated but not always considered entertaining. Along with his brilliant ability to market fights and the general buzz he creates by making claims that he is the best fighter in history, "Money" never fails to deliver inside of the ring despite his advancing age and multiple layoffs. His pursuit of perfection and the ongoing debates about his legacy remain boxing's biggest storylines. There isn't a more consistently compelling figure in the sport who demands our attention and keeps us watching.

Cons: Outside of any differences you might have with his lifestyle or opinions, the only criticism anyone can rightfully hurl at Mayweather relates to the fights he failed to provide fans when the opportunity was there. His September bout with Alvarez should help quiet the critical chatter.