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Boxrec rankings versus subjective criteria

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By Bob Smith: When trying to find out who is the better boxer, Boxrec rankings are a useful tool. Despite having followed boxing off and on for almost a decade, I was ignorance of these rankings until a month ago.

Let’s discuss these in two contexts: first, a current pound for pound comparison, and second, a comparison of fighters across eras, both P4P and by division. This first discussion will take up one article; I’ll save the other discussion for another time.

Current Pound for Pound list

There are two major pound-for-pound lists that are “subjective” but are basically a consensus of expert opinion – the Ring Magazine P4P list and the ESPN pound-for-pound list. I will list the current P4P rankings of each, and then the box rec rankings, and discuss.

Ring Magazine Pound for Pound Top 10

1. Andre Ward

2. Gennady Golovkin

3. Roman Gonzalez

4. Terence Crawford

5. Vasyl Lomachenko

6. Guillermo Rigondeaux

7. Sergey Kovalev

8. Canelo Alvarez

9. Mikey Garcia

10. Shinsuke Yamanaka

ESPN Pound for Pound Top 10

1. Andre Ward

2. Gennady “GGG” Golovkin

3. Vasyl Lomachenko

4. Roman Gonzalez

5. Canelo Alvarez

6. Terence Crawford

7. Keith Thurman

8. Sergey Kovalev

9. Manny Pacquiao

10. Guillermo Rigondeaux

Boxrec top 10 Pound for Pound by ratings

1. Canelo Alvarez

2. Andre Ward

3. Terence Crawford

4. Vasyl Lomachenko

5. Gennady Golovkin

6. Anthony Joshua

7. Shinsuke Yamanka

8. Jeff Horn

9. Miguel Berchelt

10. Keith Thurman

So, there are obviously, some major differences with the box rec ratings with ESPN and Ring Magazine, which by comparison with box rec are much more like each other. For instance, in box rec, Manny Pacquiao is #13, Roman Gonzaelez is #19, Guillermo Rigondeaux #26, Sergey Kovalev #31, and Mikey Garcia #33. By contrast, in the box rec ratings list, Anthony Joshua, Jeff Horn, and Miguel Berchelt are elevated to top 10 status.

First off, one measure of the relative usefulness of the Boxrec ratings would be to conduct a study of the predicted outcome of fights based on the Boxrec ratings versus the actual outcome, and in comparison, to ESPN, Bleacher Report, Bad Left Hook, Boxing News 24, and other boxing sites. If the computerized model performs better than there may be something to it. After all, much short-term stock market trading is now done by algorithm as well.

Second, the box rec ratings appear to account for differences in quality of opponent in a more objective way, based on their box rec ratings. For instance, five stars are awarded to bouts among (roughly) the best 100 boxers; four stars among the best 300 boxers, and three stars among the best 900 boxers. Including this in the ratings explains the relative prominence of Terence Crawford, who has had all 4 or 5-star bouts since early 2014, as compared to Guillermo Rigondeaux, who in his entire career has had only 3 four-star bouts, and 2 five-star bouts. Vasyl Lomachenko has also had much stiffer competition, with 8/9 fights at three stars or above and his last three fights all five stars.

However, there are a few things that the ratings fail to capture completely. One is boxers who change weight divisions, and/or create their own, such as Saul Alvarez, who performed very well against opposition in the welterweight and junior middleweight division, and gets to count these fights in his ranking in the middleweight division. Another is the huge importance added to the last fight – Jeff Horn ranks #8 compared to Pacquiao’s #13, and Sergey Kovalev is at #31 and Andre Ward at #2, even though both fights were close and competitive and the last fight had a controversial ending. Thus, value judgments are an important part of the rating process, for both rankings seem to most to be inaccurate.

It is worth noting, though, that Canelo, according to official BoxRec measures, has had one of the most or maybe the most challenging schedule of any boxer since 2010 and Carlos Baldomir – he has had 17 fights, all 4 stars or 5 stars, and won all but one. In retrospect, it is easy for the casual fan to dismiss fighters like Chavez Jr., Liam Smith, James Kirkland, and so on as weak fighters, but in fact they rank as 4-star fighters – in the top 300. By contrast, the opponents of GGG have been weaker – it is only since 2012 that he has started to face 4-star fighters, and his first 20 opponents can be classified as “tomato cans” or “cab drivers” little better than those opponents of Deontay Wilder. At the same time, it seems quite likely that Anthony Joshua, Miguel Berchelt, and Jeff Horn are relatively overrated due to coming off the biggest wins of each of their respective careers.

The final summary then, is this: the box rec ratings are not a useful P4P comparison when contrasted with the ESPN or Ring Magazine list. This is because judgment and interpretation are needed when considering controversial decisions, and historic victories. It is the same reason we don’t depend on computer programs to make complex legal decisions – judgment is important. However, the major benefit of this rankings is that it provides some relatively objective way to compare the quality of competition that the fighter has faced.

It is in this context that the Boxrec ratings are helpful – to compare the relative achievements of hype jobs. For instance, Deontay Wilder (265) is a very good fighter and currently ranks #3 in the heavyweight division – however, he is separated by fewer than ten points from Kubrat Pulev (258) and Luis Ortiz (257). In his 38 fights, Deontay Wilder has faced only two 4-star opponents – Stiverne and Szpilzka, and amazingly only six 3-star opponents – thus, 30/38 of his opponents have not been in the best 900 (!) boxers. Thus, Wilder ranks overall as #65 in terms of pound for pound, which is about what his achievements to date merit, in my opinion. Contrast that with Adonis Stevenson, who is rated #12 by box rec, and who has had nearly all 4 stars and 5-star opponents since 2013 and won almost all of his fights by KO. Yet who gets better press? Adonis Stevenson at this point clearly has the better achievements.

The next article in this series will discuss the box rec ratings as compared to expert opinion on all-time great fighters.

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