The 2010s were a period which, for boxing, began rather quietly. Rarely ever, did major fights make it to network television or cross over to mainstream viewers. A decade that began with the sport locked between HBO and Showtime ended without HBO entirely.
The flagship viewing platform of boxing since the 1970s has been supplanted by streaming services curated for the sports fan.
DAZN, the Fox Sports App, Premier Boxing Champions, Top Rank Boxing on ESPN (and ESPN+.) This, along with such pugilistically perfect calendar years as 2013 and 2017, have revived a sport for which many pundits were ringing funeral bells a decade ago.
Now, onto the fighters who dominated the sport over that time. Who is the “Fighter of the Decade” for the 2010s? Any such list would be entirely subjective and olored by a writer’s or a fan’s point of view.
However, evaluating the best of a decade, versus the best of all time, is far easier, and allows far less room for arguing such factors as strength of opposition, availability of film on a given fighter, etc.
Without further ado, let’s begin.
Your Honorable Mentions
Timothy Bradley (33-2-1, 13 KOs)
Timothy Bradley is always going to be remembered best for being gifted a decision over Manny Pacquiao on June 9, 2012.
Despite the unfairness of the judges’ verdict on that day, Bradley is an individual who had shown before, and has since shown, that he is far more than your typical fighter and man.
Both in and out of the ring, he has been a prime example of character, fortitude and courage. The two-division, four-time world champion sports the gaudiest of résumés.
Already a unified champ before the decade began, Tim Bradley again unified two belts at 140 pounds by gutting out a technical decision over then-undefeated Devon Alexander, then 21-0, 13 KOs. Some called it dirty, but it was indisputably entertaining.
Bradley, who never ducked anyone, added signature victories over Ruslan Provodnikov, then 22-1, 15 KOs), and hall-of-famer Juan Manuel Marquez, then 54-6-1, 40 KOs, along with closing out his trilogy with Pacquiao, before calling it a career.
Though his last fight was in 2016, he has more than earned a fringe spot on this list.
Gennadiy Golovkin (40-1-1, 35 KOs)
The Kazakh knockout king would be higher on this list were it not for a few factors which conspired against him.
Since announcing his presence on the world stage by winning a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, he has done one thing arguably better than anyone else: knock people out.
From Amar Amari through Kell Brook, GGG strung together 23 knockouts. For some perspective, he went the entire Obama administration without an opponent seeing the final bell.
Golovkin would be a leading candidate for “Fighter of the Decade,” had he been allied with a more powerful promoter (the Klitschko brothers’ K2 Promotions’ efficacy in getting deals done with other promoters has been highly questionable) and if the champions from the middle of the decade had been more willing to get in the ring with him.
Dmitry Pirog in his debut in the states in September 2012? The only man to date to knock Daniel Jacobs out? Nope. Pirog sustained a career-ending back injury, and GGG faced Grzegorz Proksa instead.
Felix Sturm? No. Wanted no part of GGG. Sergio Martinez? More of the same. Who cares who would have won. Boxing would have won if these fights were made, and that is the real crime here.
In the Hunt
Wladimir Klitschko (64-5, 53 KOs)
Behind Larry Holmes, Klitschko’s run of 18-consecutive title defenses over nine years was the longest in Heavyweight history.
Though half of that run came towards the end of the last decade, the younger Klitschko’s ability to maintain dominance despite age and other factors deserves recognition.
If you were to take his final fight off his ledger, Klitschko would be a mere “honorable mention” on this list. Without his send-off against Anthony Joshua (23-1, 21 KOs), Klitschko would have only fought through 2015: just over half of the decade over which this list is evaluating fighters.
By almost dethroning the young lion in Joshua, and fighting valiantly through the end, he proved that he was far more than the “boring, caution-first, clinch-happy technician,” which many writers had dubbed him.
Wladimir Klitschko is a warrior who outlasted all of the contemporaries from his prime and extended himself into an entirely different generation of fighters.
Miguel Cotto (41-6, 33 KOs)
Of all the fighters on this list so far, Miguel Cotto has the gaudiest résumé. He legitimately fought everyone he could at both 140 and 147 pounds, a great many at 154, and took down a future hall-of-famer in Sergio Martinez at 160 pounds, in what was his crowning moment. His losses are equally as impressive as his wins.
One could look at Miguel Cotto as having TWO separate hall-of-fame-worthy careers. Pre-and-post Antonio Margarito.
However, this being a case for Cotto’s effectiveness in the 2010’s, everything from before his move to 154 pounds must be thrown out. His exploits at 154 and 160 included three more world titles. The first Puerto Rican four-division champion. He even managed to avenge his brutal loss to Margarito.
Cotto’s losses define him as much as his wins do. His wins over so many undefeated prospects at 140, as well as his defeats of Shane Mosley at 147 and Sergio Martinez at 160, place Cotto and his devastating left hook to the body in rarified company.
Similarly, his losses to Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather and Canelo Alvarez show that he fought all-time greats from multiple eras. Going out on his shield by losing a close decision to a former Olympian, Sadam Ali, with a torn bicep in his lead arm, was a fitting end.
Unfortunately, with such a selective list, it serves to judge every candidate harshly. His losses to the greats count against him, as does the fact that he retired in 2017. Remember, this is a Fighter of the Decade evaluation, and the timing of this retirement caused him to miss two years of the decade in question.
Canelo Alvarez (53-1-2, 36 KOs)
For a fighter who began the decade at just 19 years of age to be considered in a Fighter of the Decade discussion is special. Period.
Canelo didn’t become a world champion until 2011, but that victory over Matthew Hatton, who was then 41-4-2, 16 KOs, made him the youngest 154-pound champion to date.
Over the next two-plus years, he fought only two worthy opponents: the faded, but still good Shane Mosley, then 46-7-1, 39 KOs, and the underrated Austin Trout who at the time sported an undefeated record of 26-0, 14 KOs. After a whitewashing at the hands of Floyd Mayweather in 2013, Canelo took off.
Victories over the much-avoided Erislandy Lara, Miguel Cotto, James Kirkland, Gennadiy Golovkin, Daniel Jacobs and Sergey Kovalev have made him a household name.
Aside from a few controversial decisions (Trout, Lara, Golovkin 1,) Canelo has beaten everyone relatively easily. Even the once-devastating Sergey Kovalev was a bit of a pedestrian effort, at least up until the thunderous combination which produced a knockout win.
He is a three-division champion, and no, the trinket he collected at 168 pounds should not count. That is the fault of boxing politics, not of the fighter. Canelo is the face of boxing going forward, and would be higher on this list had he fought Gennadiy Golovkin when the consensus among boxing pundits dictated he should have.
Again, the criteria for building this list are harsh at best, and draconian at worst. No matter how things shake out when Canelo’s career is over, he will be remembered as an all-time great.
Andre Ward (32-0, 16 KOs)
A consummate winner. Andre Ward entered the decade already one fight into Showtime Boxing’s Super Six Tournament at 168 pounds. He hadn’t lost a fight since the age of 12, and would continue that undefeated run through the end of his career.
The early part of the 2010’s saw Ward scarcely lose a round, much less a fight. He breezed his way through the tournament to the finals, defeating Allan Green, Sakio Bika and Arthur Abraham along the way.
None of the three are easy fighters to look good against, yet Ward won nearly every round of those fights. Against future hall-of-famer Carl Froch, Ward fought a near-perfect fight. Considering the opponent and the event, it should have been a star-making performance.
If not that win, then surely his technical domination and knockout of fellow pound-for-pound list entrant, Chad Dawson a year later would have?
Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans. A combination of legal troubles, leading to a two-year career hiatus, and an inability to achieve crossover fame when he was active, prevented him from being a Floyd Mayweather-level star.
A move up to 175 pounds, and multiple dates with Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev who was 30-0-1, 26 KOs when they first fought, brought Ward as close to that as he could possibly come. Both undefeated. Both in the top-five pound for pound.
Their first fight, whether you agree with the decision or not, could have gone either way. That is indisputable if you’re objectively scoring the contest. The second fight, however, left little doubt. Ward stopped the Krusher in eight rounds, then called it a career later that summer in 2017.
Similarly to Cotto, Ward’s retirement timing lowers him on the list, as does the two-year activity gap in the middle of his career. The quality of opposition, however, and his undefeated record, place him below only two fighters on this list.
Ever So Close…
Floyd Mayweather (50-0, 27 KOs)
Floyd Mayweather came into the 2010’s just one fight into his first comeback. Remember, he’d been out of the ring for 21 months between his 10th-round knockout of Ricky Hatton and total technical outclassing of Juan Manuel Marquez.
The first and second rounds of Mayweather’s decade were shaky ones, against a Shane Mosley who was coming off a total annihilation of Antonio Margarito. Floyd got rocked twice in Round 2, then proceeded to beat the hell out of Shane at a controlled pace over the next 30 minutes.
Mayweather’s 2010’s included an entertaining mix of styles, if you’re a boxing purist. Technical brilliance against Mosley, Canelo Alvarez, and Manny Pacquiao, diametrically opposed to his needing to gut out wins against Miguel Cotto and Marcos Maidana.
To speak to fans who would criticize Mayweather’s “boring” style, from someone who’s been in the ring; everyone who can fight like Floyd, does. It may not be visually appealing at times, but the efficiency and technical brilliance on display whenever Floyd fights is something to behold.
George Foreman said it best. “Great boxing is like jazz. The better it is, the less it’s appreciated.” That “boring” style won him 19 of 24 rounds across his fights against Canelo and Pacquiao.
Mayweather would occupy the top slot on this list had he fought past 2015. Yes, his “Money Fight” against Conor McGregor appears on his record as a professional bout. But, his last fight against an actual boxer was in September 2015.
No one can fault Mayweather for taking advantage of an easy nine-figure payday. However, it merely solidified his status as the money man of the decade, not the fighter of the decade. This list concerns the 2010’s, not the 2000’s.
Your Fighter of the Decade Is…
Manny Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 KOs)
Simply put, Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao is the only fighter on this list who fought world-class opposition from the first year of the decade through the last. 2010 saw Pacquiao win all 24 rounds he fought across two mega-events at the-then named Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
In the latter of the two fights, he landed nearly 500 punches on Antonio Margarito to capture a title in a record eighth weight class. To close the decade out, Pacman knocked down and beat formerly undefeated Keith Thurman, a man 10 years his junior.
For a decade bookended by such highs in Pacquiao’s pugilistic career, it came with some shocking lows. Most notable of which, was his knockout loss at the hands of bitter rival, Juan Manuel Marquez. That it came immediately after his highly-disputed loss to Timothy Bradley made it all the more difficult to take.
A clear loss to Floyd Mayweather, in what was a letdown as a fight, and another robbery against Jeff Horn aimed to finish Pacquiao, as many called for his retirement.
His rebounds from all of these setbacks tell you all that you need to know about the man and the fighter that is Manny Pacquiao.
The losses to Marquez and Mayweather both followed with rousing decisions over a prime Tim Bradley, and the “Blunder Down Under” against Horn was answered with a knockout of Lucas Matthysse.
Win, lose, or draw, Pacquiao has always fought everyone. And, again, as the only fighter on this list who faced top opposition at both the beginning and end of the last decade, he is your clear fighter of the 2010s.