The greatest welterweight boxers of the past 50 years: Where do Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao rank?

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While heavyweight may be the glamour division in boxing, almost always able to grab attention through big men throwing power punches, the lighter weight classes are where you'll find the true depth of talent in any era. Welterweight is a division that has always struck a fine balance of power and technique, and has produced some of the most elite fighters to ever step into the ring.

Recent years were dominated by a welterweight "will they, won't they" between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. As the two staked their claim as legends, they became all-time elites in the welterweight division before finally meeting in a legacy-defining fight in May 2015.

Mayweather and Pacquiao are two of the men who made it onto the CBS Sports rankings of the best welterweight boxers since 1970, coming in at No. 2 and 3, respectively. But, after CBS Sports boxing experts Brent Brookhouse and Brian Campbell debated and voted, it was Sugar Ray Leonard who took the top spot on the strength of his dominant run in the late 70s and early 80s.

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Let's take a look at the full top 10 rankings since 1970 to see what other fighters ended up on our list.

Greatest Welterweight Boxers

10. Errol Spence Jr.: Errol Spence or Bud Crawford. It's the welterweight debate of the modern era, but we gave Spence the nod simply by way of better "strength of schedule." Spence is currently 26-0 and has only truly been tested by Shawn Porter in his last fight, a fight of the year contender. Spence picked up the IBF welterweight championship by knocking out Kell Brook in May 2017 and has defended the belt against Lamont Peterson, Carlos Ocampo, Mikey Garcia before adding the WBC title to his collection with the win over Porter. -- Brookhouse

9. Donald Curry: The Hall of Famer seemed to pick up where Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns left off after exiting the division in the second half of the 1980s. A native of Texas who was dubbed "The Lone Star Cobra," Curry was an incredible knockout threat who became the division's undisputed champion in 1985. It was the same year Curry captured The Ring's fighter of the year honors at a point where he held a strong argument for acclaim as the pound-for-pound best in the sport. His 11-year career produced three welterweight title reigns and memorable knockouts of Marlon Starling and Milton McCrory. -- Campbell

8. Miguel Cotto: Cotto is, as many of the men on this list, a tough case at welterweight. Many of his best accomplishments came in "tweener" divisions, especially at junior welterweight. However, his nine-fight run at welterweight was impressive enough to land him on the list. After a 27-0 start to his career, Cotto jumped up to welterweight and beat Carlos Quintana to win the WBA title in his first fight in the division. His biggest win came in a war with Shane Mosley in November 2007, his third defense of the WBA title. During his welterweight stint, Cotto only lost to Antonio Margarito and Manny Pacquiao. -- Brookhouse

7. Oscar De La Hoya: "The Golden Boy" wasn't just the biggest pay-per-view stars of his era, he was a damn good fighter at welterweight thanks to his hand speed and lethal left hook. De La Hoya's prime welterweight run lasted just four years, yet he recorded a memorable string of huge wins against Pernell Whitaker, Hector Camacho, Julio Cesar Chavez, Ike Quartey and Arturo Gatti. His best performance from a boxing standpoint may have come in defeat when he received the short end of a highly controversial decision against fellow unbeaten Felix Trinidad in their 1999 unification bout. -- Campbell

6. Felix Trinidad: Trinidad started his career 40-0 before finally losing a fight against Bernard Hopkins. Of course, the Hopkins fight came at middleweight, after he'd already moved up from welterweight to junior middleweight. In June 1993, Trinidad beat Maurice Blocker to win the IBF welterweight title and successfully defended it 15 times, culminating in his controversial decision victory over Oscar De La Hoya. Trinidad holds welterweight wins over Hector Camacho, Pernell Whitaker and was the first man to defeat Yori Boy Campas. -- Brookhouse

5. Thomas Hearns: His freak-like frame of 6-foot-1 and a 78-inch reach meant "The Hitman" was never going to be long for the 147-pound division. But what a memorable run he had as a welterweight destroyer with speed, size and the mindset of a finisher to go with his crushing power. Hearns recorded a run of eight consecutive knockouts at welterweight, including Hall of Famer Pipino Cuevas to capture the WBA title before losing to Sugar Ray Leonard in their epic unification bout in 1981. From there, Hearns moved up in weight and never looked back, claiming titles in four more divisions. -- Campbell

4. Pernell Whitaker: "Sweet Pea" won titles over four weight classes with his most notable stints being at lightweight and welterweight. At 147, Whitaker beat James McGirt to capture the WBC and lineal titles in March 1993 and would hold those titles until losing to Oscar De La Hoya in April 1997. Known as one of the best defensive fighters in boxing history, Whitaker slickly moved his way through the welterweight division until age allowed the next generation to catch up to him. -- Brookhouse

3. Manny Pacquiao: The sport's only eight-division champion could make a case for inclusion on a few of these lists thanks to his steady rise in weight over a legendary 25-year career. It turns out the Filipino icon measures up just fine at 147 pounds historically, even if his power seemed to level off just a bit. Welterweight victories over Oscar De La Hoya in 2008 and Miguel Cotto in 2009 saw Pacquiao at his very best. The fact that he would drop and outpoint unbeaten Keith Thurman 10 years later at the age of 40 to reclaim a title just speaks to his overall greatness. Pacquiao added welterweight wins over Josh Clottey, Shane Mosley, Juan Manuel Marquez, Timothy Bradley Jr. (twice), Brandon Rios, Jessie Vargas, Lucas Matthysse and Adrien Broner. -- Campbell 

2. Floyd Mayweather Jr.: A five-weight champion with four lineal championship stints to his name, Mayweather's place in boxing history is secure. Mayweather retired at 49-0 only to come back and fight UFC star Conor McGregor and capture win No. 50. At welterweight, Mayweather defeated  Zab Judah, Carlos Baldomir, Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez (144-pound catchweight), Shane Mosley, Robert Guerrero, Marcos Maidana, Manny Pacquiao and Andre Berto. And he did all of that while being one of the biggest draws in boxing history. -- Brookhouse

1. Sugar Ray Leonard: The 1976 Olympic gold medalist doesn't top this list because he accomplished the most as a welterweight during a career that saw him step away from the sport (and the division for good) at 26 due to an eye injury before launching multiple comebacks. Leonard gets the nod because he was the perfect combination of speed, power, IQ, stardom and an uncanny ability to rise to the occasion when it mattered most. From winning his first title by stopping unbeaten Wilfred Benitez in 1979 to his dramatic exit three years later, Leonard owned both the division and the sport. He rebounded from defeat against Roberto Duran by forcing his heated rival to quit five months later. Leonard also rallied on the scorecards to stop unbeaten Thomas Hearns in their 1981 unification fight. -- Campbell

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