Thursday, July 25, 2024

Boxing Pound-for-Pound Rankings: Jesse Rodriguez makes his debut after another thumping of former champion

In the two years since 24-year-old southpaw Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez first arrived on the title scene at 115 pounds, the native of San Antonio has done nothing but scream with his performances that boxing has a future superstar on its hands. 

Just six fights later, the assumption has all but been confirmed as fact after Rodriguez (20-0, 13 KOs) continues to not just add elite names to his growing legend at such a young age, but the manner in which he surgically brutalizes them that has been most startling. 

In 2022, Rodriguez nearly stumbled into the fighter of the year honors after outpointing veteran champion Carlos Cuadras for the WBC super flyweight title before knocking out division king Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in just eight rounds (and later adding a third win over former title challenger Israel Gonzalez). Last year, Rodriguez moved back down in weight to 112 pounds where he dominated Cristian Gonzalez Hernandez for the vacant WBO flyweight title before unifying eight months later with IBF champion Sunny Edwards in a ninth-round stoppage. 

But it was this past Saturday in Phoenix where Rodriguez took his star to an all-new level when he moved back up to 115 pounds to take the WBC title from pound-for-pound stalwart Juan Francisco Estrada by rising from the canvas himself before brutally finishing the future Hall of Famer via body shot in Round 7. 

Placing Rodriguez under the eye test alone shows how exciting and dynamic a young fighter he truly is as an accurate yet powerful combination puncher with deceivingly quick feet who can pivot in the pocket like a prime Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez to switch stances and angles before unloading huge shots. But it’s a statistical look at Rodriguez, thanks to the folks at CompuBox, where “Bam” starts to look even more like a world-class practitioner.

Rodriguez currently ranks first among all elite boxers in a trio of important CompuBox categories: power connect percentage (49.1%, edging out Gervonta “Tank” Davis and Shakur Stevenson), jab connect percentage (28.7%, besting Deontay Wilder and Naoya Inoue) and total connect percentage (39.7%, beating David Benavidez, Davis and Canelo Alvarez). Considering that Estrada had historically limited his opponents to just over 29% of power punches landed throughout his career, the fact that Rodriguez landed just shy of 50% is the most insane stat of all. 

Had Rodriguez been simply a slick boxer, it’s not as likely he would have ended up this high on the P4P list. The same can be said, of course, if “Bam” had fought exclusively in a more stereotypical Mexican style of eschewing defense in order to get inside and land huge shots.

Instead, Rodriguez has found a way to master all facets of his game without taking away from what makes him so dangerous as a natural finisher. And the potential for him only to continue to climb the P4P top 10 remains high, not just because of his tendency to seek out the most difficult names, but because Rodriguez’s promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport, has been talking publicly about the idea of matching him against the Japanese star Inoue, himself a former P4P king who remains in contention for the top spot. 

Rodriguez would need to move up two more divisions, most likely, for the fight to take place. Inoue would also need to hang around 122 pounds, which is the fourth division in which he has won a world title, long enough for the fight to become a reality. 

Either way, the path has been set toward greatness for Rodrigutez who deserves every single accolade coming his way after an incredible leap into boxing’s true elite circle of fighters.

Using a criteria that takes into account everything from accomplishments to current form, let’s take a closer look at the top fighters inside the ring. Below is the latest Pound for Pound rankings update after Rodriguez’s win in June.

Pound-for-Pound Rankings

1. Oleksandr Usyk

Undisputed heavyweight champion (22-0, 14 KOs) | Previous ranking: No. 1

Usyk’s professional run has been as decorated as it has been perfect. The former undisputed cruiserweight champ scored a pair of resounding victories over Anthony Joshua to unify a trio of heavyweight titles before finally getting his undisputed clash against WBC champion Tyson Fury in May. An exciting, split-decision victory made Usyk just the third male boxer to become undisputed champion in two divisions during the four-belt era. 

2. Naoya Inoue

Undisputed junior featherweight champion (24-0, 22 KOs) | Previous ranking: No. 2

The four-division champion who has reached undisputed status in at two different weight classes only continued his legendary takeover of the sport by rising from the canvas to finish Luis Nery in their May title bout at the Tokyo Dome. “The Monster” may have endured a brief misstep but he made up for the error by scoring three thrilling knockdowns en route to a sixth-round knockout. Unbeaten mandatory challenger Sam Goodman looks to be next.

3. Terence Crawford

Undisputed welterweight champion (39-0, 29 KOs) | Previous ranking: No. 3

If you wondered how great Crawford truly was, his dismantling of Spence in their undisputed title bout provided those answers. Crawford, who proved he would be a handful for any welterweight in history will move up to 154 pounds in August when he challenges WBA champion Israil Madrimov.

4. Artur Beterbiev

Unified light heavyweight champion (20-0, 20 KOs) | Previous ranking: 5

Beterbiev turned away any whispers that he was getting old by dismantling former 168-pound champion Callum Smith in January. With his mandatories out of the way, an undisputed showdown against WBA champion Dmitry Bivol was scheduled for June 1. But the 39-year-old Beterbiev pulled out in May with a ruptured meniscus, which moved the fight to October.

5. Dmitry Bivol

WBA light heavyweight champion (23-0, 12 KOs) | Previous ranking: No. 6

Following an incredible 2022, which included a victory over Canelo Alvarez and almost universal acclaim as the fighter of the year, Bivol sat out most of 2023 in hopes of facing unified champion Artur Beterbiev. Their undisputed title clash was set for June 1 until Beterbiev suffered a major injury, forcing Bivol to face replacement Malik Zinad, which he handled with ease.

6. Canelo Alvarez

Undisputed super middleweight champion (61-2-2, 38 KOs) | Previous ranking: No. 4

The former P4P king is still the undisputed champion of one of the sport’s hottest divisions and he proved just that by brilliantly outdueling countryman Jaime Munguia in May. That doesn’t mean the Mexican icon stands alone without criticism, however, as the boxing world continues to push for a superfight against two-time champion David Benavidez that Alvarez is outright avoiding.

7. Gervonta Davis

WBA lightweight champion (30-0, 28 KOs) | Previous ranking: 7

Davis’ body-shot knockout of Ryan Garcia in their superfight last April looks even better now that “King Ryan” became the first boxer to drop and defeat former undisputed lightweight king Devin Haney. With a 2023 jail sentence behind him, “Tank” returned in June to obliterate unbeaten Frank Martin. Davis wants champions from here on out, which could mean unification fights against Shakur Stevenson or Vasiliy Lomachenko.

8. Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez

Flyweight, junior bantamweight titleholder (20-0, 13 KOs) | Previous ranking: NR

The 24-year-old phenom from San Antonio landed just shy of 50 percent of his power shots to dismantle 115-pound titleholder Juan Francisco Estrada in July. Rodriguez added the name of Estrada, a future Hall of Famer, to the list of great fighters he has toppled, which include 115-pound stalwarts Carlos Cuadras and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, and super flyweight standout Sunny Edwards.

9. Shakur Stevenson

WBC lightweight champion (21-0, 10 KOs) | Previous ranking: No. 8

Although Stevenson limited the hard-punching Edwin De Los Santos to a CompuBox-record over 12 rounds of just 40 punches landed, he was widely criticized for how boring his November victory was in their vacant 135-pound title bout. Stevenson, who turns 27 in June, won a title in a third weight division and will defend it in July at home in Newark, New Jersey, against Artem Harutyunyan. 

10. David Benavidez

Interim light heavyweight titleholder (29-0, 24 KOs) | Previous ranking: No. 9

Frustrated with waiting around for his shot at undisputed 168-pound king Canelo Alvarez, “El Monstro” moved up in weight to outclass former champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk in June. Benavidez, who later revealed injuries to both hands during training camp (which may have prevented him from scoring a stoppage), said he’s open to big fights in either division moving forward.

Dropped out: Tyson Fury
Honorable mention: Teofimo Lopez Jr., Vasiliy Lomachenko, Fury, Devin Haney, Junto Nakatani

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