Ranking the 10 Most Underrated Fighters in Boxing Today
Roman Gonzalez is 38-0 with 32 KOs. He's been a dominant world champion at minimum and junior flyweight and already has a decisive win on his resume against current WBA and WBO flyweight champion Juan Francisco Estrada.
Most serious boxing fans realize Gonzalez is the top fighter in the world below 115 pounds. But until I see him become ubiquitous in pound-for-pound top 10s, I will continue to regard him as criminally underrated.
But in general, the lowest weight classes tend to be underrated as a group. So, too, for some reason, is the cruiserweight class.
Other fighters end up underrated due to style or lack of presence in the U.S. media. Sometimes it's not even easy to tell why a fighter is underrated.
And ultimately, whether a fighter is underrated or not is always a subjective call.
10. Paulie Malignaggi
I anticipate this entry on the list receiving some of the most negative feedback in my comment selection below. There's never a shortage of fans waiting to pile on Paulie Malignaggi.
Some of this is his own fault. Malignaggi has never really lived up to the Brooklyn swagger that was always on display when he was an up-and-coming prospect.
His relative lack of punching power also causes fans to be dismissive of him. But I'd argue that his inability to end fights actually underscores how good he is in other areas.
Malignaggi is a two-division world champion. It takes a smart, cagey fighter to do that without a serious punching threat.
Malignaggi is probably not a future Hall of Famer. But he's been a successful, world-class quality fighter for years now. And that's the sort of achievement that deserves respect.
9. Robert Guerrero
I can understand why fans were less-than-enthusiastic when Robert Guerrero was named as an opponent for Floyd Mayweather in May 2013. And, indeed, the fight was not exactly compelling as it played out in ring.
But I routinely see and hear fans dismissing "the Ghost" as a second-rate fighter. And that's just not accurate.
Guerrero has been a world champion at featherweight, lightweight and welterweight, a rare trifecta to accomplish even in this era of diminished value for belts. Throughout his career he has shown himself to be a smart ring general, able to win fights boxing on the outside and also brawling in the trenches, depending upon what is required against a specific opponent.
At just 30, Guerrero likely has another big run left in him.
8. Chad Dawson
Chad Dawson's style of fighting is not always exciting, and fans are always ready to dismiss a fighter when that is the case. I think fans often underrated Dawson even before he lost back-to-back fights by stoppage to Andre Ward and Adonis Stevenson.
Not that he's hit that two-fight skid, you'd think he had never ruled the light heavyweight division for most of the last seven years.
The 175-pound division has gotten hot in the past year, so it's not entirely surprising that Dawson has been a forgotten man. I wouldn't pick him to beat Sergey Kovalev, and I think he'd have his work cut out for him in a rematch with Stevenson.
But Dawson is just 31 and has far too much skill to completely write off just yet. He's beaten Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson twice each. He was the only man to beat Tomasz Adamek prior to Vitali Klitschko.
Back-to-back knockouts like Dawson suffered can be impossible to come back from. But even if he really is done, Dawson deserves credit for having been a very good champion in his day.
7. Carlos Molina
Carlos Molina is another example of a fighter who gets underrated due to his style. Without a lot of punching power or elite athleticism, Molina is forced to rely on movement and craft to win fights.
He is a master of controlling tempo, but sometimes that means smothering or slowing down action. If you are a fan of tactical boxing, he can be extremely interesting to watch.
But for the sort of fan who just wants to watch nonstop exchanges, Molina's approach is boring.
Molina has also received more bad breaks from judges and referees than nearly any other fighter in the sport. In 2005 and 2006, I think he was robbed in back-to-back fights against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. I also had him winning against Erislandy Lara in 2011.
In 2012 Molina was the victim of a bizarre stoppage in a fight he was winning against ferocious James Kirkland.
6. Yoan Pablo Hernandez
Yoan Pablo Hernandez is a former Cuban amateur, which means he has all the elite boxing skills that go along with that pedigree. But he fights in the cruiserweight division, which seems destined to never get much significant notice in the United States.
Still, Hernandez is arguably the best fighter in the world at 200 pounds. He makes his home in Germany, a country where the fans appreciate his weight class.
Unification fights between Hernandez and either Marco Huck or Guillermo Jones would be major international fights, though probably not broadcast in the United States. A more likely candidate for a televised fight for Hernandez in the United States might be Thabiso Mchunu of South Africa.
Hernandez's length and movement against Mchunu's explosive power and athleticism could make for a very interesting clash.
5. Evgeny Gradovich
Evgeny Gradovich almost seemed to come out of nowhere in 2013, which does account for what I would classify as a lack of enthusiasm for the undefeated IBF featherweight champion. In February of last year, he accepted a short-notice fight with champion Billy Dib, and on March 1 he won by split decision to become a world champion in just his 16th professional fight.
Gradovich won a November rematch against Dib by Round 9 TKO, so he seems to be getting better as he gains experience in the professional ranks. He's got a pressure style and his nickname, "The Mexican Russian" is one of the most colorful in the sport, so I think fans will start to catch up with him.
But for now I still don't hear his name getting mentioned for the sort of big fights I think his record and talent deserve.
4. Juan Francisco Estrada
Like cruiserweight, the smallest weight classes just don't get as much attention as they deserve in the United States. So most of the time, the best fighters at flyweight are going to by definition be among the sport's most underrated fighters.
I'd offer Juan Fancisco Estrada as a good current example of this trend. Estrada is the WBO and WBA flyweight champion, having won the belts off from experienced veteran Brian Viloria last April. He finished last year by handing unbeaten Milan Melindo his first loss.
Estada's only two losses have come at 115 pounds against former champion Juan Carlos Sanchez and at 108 against superstar Roman Gonzalez.
3. Takashi Uchiyama
Takashi Uchiyama is ranked first at super featherweight by The Ring, so it's not as if serious watchers of the sport are sleeping on the Japanese knockout artist. But the sheer fact of him fighting in Asia has him much further off the radar in North America than his record and exciting style deserve.
Uchiyama has stoppage victories over Juan Carlos Salgado, Bryan Vasquez and Jorge Solis. The only mark on his 20-0-1 record (17 KOs) was a technical draw against Michael Farenas because the fight was stopped in the third round, with Uchiyama already up 20-18 on two cards.
Eventually Uchiyama will start to gain wider attention with North American fans. But for now he continues to be widely overlooked and underrated.
2. Luis Carlos Abregu
I tend to think that, perhaps, Luis Carlos Abregu is being overshadowed a little bit by his fellow countrymen and welterweights Marcos Maidana and Lucas Matthysse. Because as packed as the 147-pound division is, Abregu is yet another Argentinian who deserves consideration for meaningful fights.
Abregu's only loss to date came against Timothy Bradley. He is 35-1 with 28 KOs. He does lack any truly major wins, but it's tough to see how somebody like Kell Brook deserves to ranks so far above him.
Abregu is a smart, tactical fighter who mixes it up and brawls when the situation is right. He completely exposed previously unbeaten Thomas Dullorme in October 2012.
Abregu is the WBC silver medalist, but in the difficult position of offering too tough of a fight for what he currently brings to the table in terms of name recognition. As a result, it's been hard for him to get the sort of bout that could really showcase him.
1. Roman Gonzalez
Among people who follow the lowest weight classes, Roman Gonzalez is not underrated. At 38-0 with 32 KOs, he has established himself as one of the sport's most exciting boxer-punchers.
But given how much the action below bantamweight gets overlooked, I would maintain Gonzalez remains very underrated. I'll believe that until I see him consistently included in top-10 pound-for-pound rankings.
There have been fighters in the past like Humberto Gonzalez, Michael Carbajal and Ricardo Lopez who have brought to lowest weight classes to prominence. Roman Gonzalez is a fighter who should be able to do the same.