Top 12 Welterweights of the Past 40 Years

November 16, 2009

With the big 12-Round Welterweight Championship fight between Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto having just concluded, it seems appropriate to obtain a historical perspective about this much-acclaimed division. Thus, the DSH decided to break down the top 12 Welterweights of the last 40 years. Our rankings are based on how we would rate these fighters if all were fighting as welterweights today (their records alone are not the primary criteria).

Why the last 40 years? Admittedly it's a bit arbitrary, but frankly it's also about the time fights started to be shown in color television. To qualify for this list, a fighter must have fought at welterweight (140-147lbs) within the last 40 years.

Of course, this excludes all-time greats like Sugar Ray Robinson, Henry Armstrong, and Carmen Basilio. But frankly, it's always been difficult to compare current fighters, who usually fight 2-5 times per year, and previous generations who often fought 10 or more fights in a year. In any case, here is the list and let the controversy begin.

Take note that we only list the years each fighter verifiably fought at welterweight, with their last year representing when they last fought at 147 pounds or less. Also, this list ranks the fighters as welterweights, not making any assumptions regarding who is the better "pound for pound" fighter which would necessarily consider bouts at other weight classes.

12. Floyd Mayweather Jr., 2005-Present (5-0, 1KO)

The sheer skill and talent of "Pretty Boy" Floyd puts him on this list. He would be a tough finesse fighter for almost anyone. However, his lack of accomplishment at this weight class cannot allow him to go any higher. Also his sole knockout at the 147-pound limit was against Ricky Hatton, who is a blown up Jr. Welterweight. This suggests Mayweather does not have the power he had in lower weight classes.

11. Manny Pacquiao, 2008-Present (2-0, 2KO)

While some may suggest it is premature to put Pacquiao on any all-time Welterweight list when he has only fought twice at this weight, they should realize that greatness waits for nobody. Pacquiao's combination of speed and power are unmatched by any fighter today. Like Mayweather, Pacquiao is capable of rising up this all-time list significantly if he chooses to make the Welterweight division his home.

10. Paul Williams, 2001-Present (6-1, 5KO)

Some may have forgotten this fighter (or perhaps the better word is "avoided"), but we didn't. Just because he can fight at 154 or 160 pounds, doesn't mean this athletic freak with an 82-inch reach can't be considered one of the top welterweights of the last 40 years. His only loss was after a lazy performance against Carlos Quintana, which he avenged with a 1st round knockout in the rematch. Sure, his resume is a little light when it comes to big-name victories, but is that really his fault? Any current welterweight (including the two previously mentioned) would have problems with him, which is why they duck him.

9. Felix Trinidad, 1990-1999 (28-0, 22KO)

Trinidad never suffered an official defeat as a welterweight and won the first 40 fights of his career before being knocked out by Bernard Hopkins at middleweight. Noted for his resiliency and a big left hook, the Puerto Rican was extremely popular in his day and some would argue he deserves a higher place on the list. Of course, his lack of truly notable victories at this weight are the main concern. Also, his crowning "victory" over De La Hoya in 1999 is taken seriously only by people too ignorant to know the difference between a controversial decision and a totally ridiculous one.

8. Wilfred Benitez, 1974-1980 (6-1, 1KO)

Benitez clearly fought more fights at welterweight than we have indicated, but his actual weight for many fights is not clear so we do the best we can. This legendary Puerto Rican fighter was only 20 years old when he won the welterweight title in 1979 after a split decision victory over Carlos Palomino(he had won the Jr. Welterweight Title at 18). The 5'10" Benitez was a highly skilled fighter and an accurate puncher who would have had a longer reign as champion if he hadn't faced Sugar Ray Leonard later that same year. He moved up in weight shortly thereafter and faced both Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns, defeating the former and losing a close decision to the latter.

7. Pernell Whitaker, 1992-1999 (9-2-1, 2KOs)

A pure finesse fighter of the highest order, Whitaker was able to use his boxing savvy to be arguably the pound for pound king of boxing during his prime. His decision losses to De La Hoya (1997) and Trinidad (1999) in his last two welterweight fights do not necessarily indicate how those fights would have turned out if he had faced them a few years earlier.

6. Oscar De La Hoya, 1997-2008 (10-3, 7KO)

The most popular fighter of his generation, the Golden Boy was much more than a pretty face and a marketing campaign. He was a 6-division champion who at his peak was as good as any fighter of his time. Although he lost a number of fights towards the end of his career, he began that career 31-0 before losing an infamous majority decision to Felix Trinidad in 1999 after he coasted the final three rounds. That horrible injustice seemed to mortalize the previously invincible De La Hoya. Yet, De La Hoya's utter outclassing of Trinidad in their much-hyped 1999 matchup is the real memory that most should carry away from that night and his subsequent loss by split decision to Shane Mosley in 2000 will always be regarded as a classic. After that fight, De La Hoya knocked out Arturo Gatti in 5 Rounds before moving up in weight and capturing titles at 154 and 160.

5. Shane Mosley, 1996-Present (8-3, 5KO)

Shane Mosley's defeat of Oscar De La Hoya in 2000 remains one of the great Welterweight fights of the modern era. Mosley possessed a unique speed and skill at Welterweight, and only had real trouble with one fighter - the late Vernon Forrest, whose size advantage proved to be too much. Nonetheless, Mosley continued to develop as a fighter even into his late 30's and has once again become the king of the division. Even now while bigger names like Pacquiao and Mayweather clamor for pound-for-pound status and get all the applause, Mosley remains in the shadows. Apparently both fighters are waiting for Mosley to get too old to present a real challenge....but they may get old before he does!

4. Roberto Duran, 1974-1980 (8-1, 3KO)

Another all-time pound for pound great who was even better as a lightweight and eventually went on to win belts at Jr. Middlweight, Middleweight, and Super Middleweight ("NBA Title"). His decision victory over Sugar Ray Leonard in one of the all-time great fights at this weight was an incredible achievement. An extraordinarily skilled fighter, Duran was able to defeat Leonard in a close fight with a unique combination of toughness, boxing intelligence, and psychology. His reign as Welterweight Champion however lasted only 5 months as Leonard embarrassed him in the infamous "No Mas" rematch.

3. Jose Napoles, 1968-1975(19-2, 13KO)

This often forgotten Cuban star was the Welterweight champion for over a 6-year period from April 18, 1969 through December 6, 1975. He briefly lost the title in 1970 after losing by 4th Round TKO to Billy Backus, only to avenge that loss and regain the title with an 8th Round TKO of his own six months later. He had 13 successful title defenses and before that had an amateur record of 113-1!

2. Thomas Hearns, 1978-1981 (23-1, 23KO)

Without a doubt, the most underrated Welterweight Champion of all time. As an amateur he won 155 fights...with only 7 knockouts! Yet under the tutelage of Emanuel Steward the 6'1" "Motor City Cobra" developed unquestionably the most lethal right hand in the history of the division. Astonishingly, Hearns wasn't listed as one of the top 10 Welterweights by the AP or Ring Magazine, for which both should be utterly ashamed (although Ring Magazine did list him as the top Jr. Middleweight of all-time). Frankly, he was utterly dominant and knocked out every fighter he fought at Welterweight, with one notable exception. The fact that the Hitman's only loss was by 14th Round TKO to the great Sugar Ray Leonard speaks volumes about how good this guy was. When you consider Hearns was ahead at the time of the knockout and Leonard was forced to retire after the fight as a result of a detached retina the separation between the two becomes that much smaller.

1. Sugar Ray Leonard, 1977-1982 (25-1, 16KO)

The boxing genius and style of Sugar Ray Leonard made him the greatest Welterweight of the modern era. He had tremendous hand speed and power at this weight and an indomitable will. Initially, Leonard gained the title with a late knockout of Wilfred Benitez in 1979. His very close loss to Roberto Duran in 1980 was more a result of his sheer stubbornness and ego than his lack of ability. Leonard insisted on defeating Duran in a rough, inside fight...simply in order to prove a point to everyone that he could...and he very nearly did (and upon further review, indeed may have). In the rematch, Leonard decided to turn the psychological tables and gained the sweetest revenge possible by making Duran simply quit. Arguably only Leonard, with his rare combination of boxing skills, power, and heart, could have defeated the incredible Thomas Hearns. No other Welterweight in the last 40 years possessed these qualities more than Leonard.

Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting rankings, but I think Sweet Pea Whitaker should be higher. Nobody else could make DEFENSE look thrilling, only 'pea.


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