A total of 32 football teams took part in the Qatar World Cup – but who would win if these nations were judged on their elite boxers instead, from English heavyweight giants to multi-weight champion Mexico?
No room for squads of 26 here. The rules are simple: the best active boxer in each country, rated on their pound-for-pound ability, creating an undeniable ranking from #32 to #1: the undisputed winners of the Boxing World Cup.
Like football, boxing is a global sport present in almost every country. However, as in the World Cup, unfortunately there must be failures in the first round: 16 in fact.
So let’s first review the group stage exits, which feature a few countries with only one registered professional boxer (Saudi Arabia, Qatar) and a few surprises. Nations that have produced great world champions in the past but are currently going through a lean period (Germany, Denmark, Poland). Goodbye to these 16 nations before counting down the knockout contenders.
32: Tunisia: Akrem Ben Haj Aouina (4-1)
31. Iran: Pouriya Rokhneh (8-1)
30. Qatar: Fahad Al-Thani (13-0)
29. Saudi Arabia: Zuhayr Al-Qahtani (9-0)
28. Portugal: Celso Neves (9-2-2)
27. Serbia: Marko Nikolic (30-2)
26. South Korea: Jong Seon Kang (15-1-2)
25. Switzerland: Faton Vukshinaj (14-0-2)
24. Denmark: Enock Poulsen (12-0)
23. Belgium: Francesco Patera (26-3)
22. Morocco: Moussa Gholam (19-0)
21. Netherlands: Nieky Holzken (14-1)
20. Senegal: Boubacar Sylla (12-0)
19. Germany: Jack Culcay (32-4)
18. Poland: Krzysztof Glowacki (32-3)
17. Ecuador: Carlos Gongora (21-1).
The knockout stage
16. Ghana: Richard Commey (30-4-1)
Former world lightweight champion Commey is a little past his prime and recently lost to elite competition from Teofimo Lopez and Vasyl Lomachenko (whom he bravely took the 12 round distance). But Accra-born Commey is still tough, playful and clumsy at 35.
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15. Uruguay: Amilcar Vidal (16-0)
Uruguay’s World Cup squad may contain former players like Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, but middleweight Vidal is fresh blood on the boxing scene. The 26-year-old prospect has 12 knockouts in 16 fights. Can he become Uruguay’s first men’s boxing world champion?
14. Brazil: Robson Conceicao (17-2)
Not quite ‘joga bonito’, but the plucky Brazilian proved himself on the world stage by losing a close and controversial decision to Oscar Valdez in 2021. Has since lost to one of the sport’s best – Shakur Stevenson – but Olympic gold medalist Conceicao is a surefire top 10 at 130 pounds.
13. Spain: Kiko Martinez (44-11-2)
The ageless, endless, hairless warrior who just keeps coming. Two-weight world champion, five-time European champion, Kiko has 11 defeats to his name but the 36-year-old is still bouncing back, most recently stopping Jordan Gill in four sets. A true boxing cult hero.
12. France: Arsen Goulamirian (27-0)
A perfect record and a brilliant world heavyweight title, but – unlike the star-studded French team in Qatar – Goulamirian’s quality is unproven. The 35-year-old fighter has feasted on domestic enemies, but how will he fare against, say, Lawrence Okolie or Jai Opetaia?
11. Croatia: Filip Hrgovic (15-0)
Undefeated heavyweight Hrgovic’s stock fell with his odd, listless display beating China’s Zhang Zhilei. However, the 6ft 6in ‘El Animal’ was struggling after a family bereavement and remains one of the division’s rising stars, certainly above fellow Croatian Alen Babic.
10. Cameroon: Christian M’billi (22-0)
Francis Ngannou would be the most famous Cameroonian boxer if the UFC heavyweight champion, idolizer of Mike Tyson, ever left MMA. Until then, M’billi, born in Yaoundé, is the pride of the Indomitable Lions: the 168-pound puncher rightly slips into the world top 10.
9. Costa Rica: David Jiménez (12-0)
Costa Rica probably won’t win the World Cup (spoiler alert), but Los Ticos have a great boxer in Jimenez. The southpaw flyweight burst onto the scene with his United States debut in July, upsetting Ricardo Sandoval. The world titlists at 112 pounds will rightly be looking over their shoulders.
8. Wales: Joe Cordina (15-0)
A place in the quarter-finals for Wales thanks to a man who should be world champion at 130 pounds. Joe Cordina produced a knockout contender of the year when he knocked out Kenichi Ogawa – but the IBF ridiculously stripped him after injury delayed his first defense. Still a champion in our eyes.
7. Australia: Jai Opetaia (22-0)
Lots of contenders for Australia’s nomination – George Kambosos Jr thanks to this win over Teo Lopez, while Tim Tszyu will grab the spot if he can upset Jermell Charlo in 2023. But for now it’s Opetaia, the recognized No. 1 cruiserweight after knocking out Mairis Briedis in July.
6. Argentina: Brian Castano (17-1-2)
No Lionel Messi-level talent in Argentine boxing right now, but Castano is a top and tough contender. The high-octane fighter drew 154-pound division No. 1 Jermell Charlo in 2021 before suffering his first loss in the rematch. Still among the best in light middle.
5. Canada: Artur Beterbiev (18-0)
Russian-born ‘King Artur’ has been based in Montreal for a decade and is now a Canadian citizen – and we don’t discuss nationality with him. The fearsome light heavyweight is 18-0 (18 KOs), holds three world titles and next faces Britain’s Anthony Yarde. Good luck, Ant.
4. Mexico: Canelo Alvarez (58-2-2)
The semi-final spots and if this World Cup was a year ago, this fiery-haired warrior could have led Mexico all the way to No. 1. Canelo’s upset loss to Dmitry Bivol hurt his stock , but he remains one of the sport’s elite, a Mexican legend and owner of an incredible line of silk pajamas.
3. England: Tyson Fury (32-0-1)
So close to bringing it home, but Tyson has to settle for third place. The 6ft 9in heavyweight king carves out a legacy between his 400 retirements/non-retirements. Beat Oleksandr Usyk next year and Fury cements his place among the great big men of all time.
2. Japan: Naoya Inoue (23-0)
A bizarre knockout puncher (much like Deontay Wilder) and a master boxer (much different from Deontay Wilder), the 118-pound “Monster” is one of the best fighters in the sport. A three-weight world champion, Inoue has jaw-dropping power for his size. Aims to unify his division against Paul Butler next.
1. United States: Terence Crawford (38-0)
UNITED STATES! UNITED STATES! Lots of contenders to represent the United States, from Devin Haney to Shakur Stevenson, Errol Spence to Jake Paul (OK, maybe not). Yet even at 35, Crawford remains a generational talent – a boxer-puncher who never came close to losing and riding a nine-fight knockout streak. Enough to win the American Boxing World Cup. But we could really be waging a civil – or uncivil – war against fellow American Spence next year.