Boxing traditionally has only eight weight classes. The recent drought in the traditional lightweight division seems to potentially be behind us, as Mikey Garcia has spectacularly reentered the boxing scene at the top of this division in 2017 and Vasyl Lomachenko fought at the weight during part of his amateur career, and spent 2017 only a double cheeseburger away at 130, a meaningless difference. He scored three knockouts in 2017 against Jason Sosa, Miguel Marriaga and Guillermo Rigondeaux, with two of the three broadcast nationally on ESPN in the U.S. Solid fighters like Jorge Linares, Terry Flanagan and PBC up-and-comers Robert Easter, Jr. and Gervonta (Tank) Davis add to the potential. A lot of tough fighters are also on the fringes of this division at 130 pounds.
Miguel Berchelt also earned a Top Ten slot in this Original Eight division with his beatdown of Francisco Vargas. He followed it with a domination of Miura, sending him into retirement. One big problem, like a lot of divisions in boxing, is that TV and promotional divisions will likely keep Garcia and Lomachenko from engaging in one of the best fights that can be made in boxing, especially if Garcia’s move up from 135 pounds is permanent, as it probably will be if he looks sharp in beating Sergey Lipinets in February of 2018. This will make the Garcia-Lomachenko “who is number 1” debate at lightweight moot and Lomachenko will then ascend to the number one position.
Criteria: A fighter’s overall record, perceived talent level, quality of opposition, quality wins and level of performance in wins and losses, where the fighter is ranked in the Transnational Boxing Ranking Board’s Lightweight and Junior Lightweight Rankings and The Ring’s Lightweight and Junior Lightweight Rankings. Also strongly considered would be who would beat who and who and by how much one fighter would be favored over the other by odds makers were the fight to be signed tomorrow. The traditional standard of one year of inactivity will drop a fighter from the rankings will be taken into consideration but the fighter is eligible to re-enter as soon as he fights again. Champions will primarily be the recognized lineal champions, with consideration also given to champions recognized by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and The Ring. This is how the traditional lightweight division looks today:
1. Mikey Garcia (U.S. 37-0 30KO)
2. Vasyl Lomachenko (Ukraine 10-1 8KO)
3. Jorge Linares (Venezuela 43-3 27KO)
4. Terry Flanagan (U.K. 33-0 13KO)
5. Robert Easter, Jr. (U.S. 20-0 14KO)
6. Raymundo Beltran (U.S. 34-7-1 21KO )
7. Anthony Crolla (U.K. 32-6-3 13KO)
8. Dejan Zlaticanin (Montenegro 23-1 15KO)
9. Miguel Berchelt (Mexico 32-1 28KO)
10. Gervonta (Tank) Davis (U.S. 19-0 18KO)
Ratings Notes: Mikey Garcia made one of the most impressive comebacks from a long layoff in boxing history when he scored a Knockout of the Year-level win over Zlaticanin in January 2017. Garcia was simply dynamic in obliterating Zlaticanin in the second fight since his return. He’s just what this division needs. The problem is he followed the Zlaticanin victory with a move into the welterweight division with an impressive decision over former welterweight contender Adrien Broner. He will now take on a welterweight in my Original Eight Top Ten in Sergey Lipinets, a fight he will be a solid favorite in and should win. If that’s the case, I’m guessing it’s the last we see of him as a lightweight. Promotional and TV issues seemed to make a fight with Linares something that was out of the question. A fight with Lomachenko, should promotional and TV politics ever allow it, would be a classic. Vasyl Lomachenko has looked spectacular in racking up KOs against Martinez, Walters, Sosa and Marriaga, and was able to continue that streak against the more credible Guillermo Rigondeaux, all at 130 pounds. Size is often overrated in boxing today, but those were all smaller fighters compared with some of the tougher lightweights and I didn’t even consider Rigondeaux to be on the level of Garcia. So I still give Garcia a slight edge, but again, the point may be moot if Garcia permanently vacates the division after the Lipinets fight. But credit Lomachenko for improving greatly as a finisher and having one of the better 2017’s in boxing. He also had 2 million viewers in the U.S. watch his embarrassment of Rigondeaux. That’s an impressive number of viewers. The problem is, it’s just as likely to have Top Rank have him make 130-pound alphabet defenses on ESPN as it is for them to use that leverage to get Lomachenko a big fight.
Jorge Linares is The Ring’s lightweight champion, I just felt his fight with Anthony Crolla was a little short of being worthy of the distinction of filling a vacant Original Eight Lightweight title. He has ability and beat Crolla by unanimous decision for a second time in March 2017. At the time, Crolla was a legit Top Ten lightweight. He then had more trouble than expected in defeating another Brit in Luke Campbell by split decision is September. He has Mercito Gesta set for January 2018 and it’s time to stiffen the opposition to a higher level than Gesta. Terry Flanagan has been on a nice run but wasn’t overly impressive against Petr Petrov, and really needs to be tested with a truly big Top Ten level guy. Robert Easter Jr. had a tough time in decisioning Denis Shafikov and Javier Fortuna. It’s now hard to see if he needs to have a big challenge to take him to the next level or that he has stagnated. Javier Fortuna should not be much of a test. Really, it’s a perfect matchup for Easter.
Raymundo Beltran was on a tremendous run since coming back from a PED suspension, stopping Mason Menard and Jonathan Maicelo along the way before he ran into a surprisingly tough and talented Bryan Vasquez, hanging on for a majority decision. His late-career resurgence still has him looking dangerous to some top ten level fighters. Anthony Crolla was competitive in his first fight with Linares and got an immediate rematch, but he again lost by unanimous decision. He then appeared to vacate the division when he moved up to 140 pounds to score a decision over Ricky Burns in October 2017. I’ll leave him at lightweight until we see for sure what his plans are. However, if he stays at lightweight, he may end up being a stepping stone for some of the better fighters in the division. Dejan Zlaticanin got annihilated by Mikey Garcia, but it was his first loss and that shouldn’t immediately discount him. He returned in December 2017 with a first round KO over Hevinson Herrera.
Miguel Berchelt bludgeoned the tough Francisco Vargas and then followed it up with a shutout over Takashi Miura in a fight he probably should’ve pressed for the knockout. Still, his stock is rising. Gervonta (Tank) Davis was dreadful in plodding to a late stoppage over unknown Francisco Fonseca on the Mayweather-McGregor PPV undercard. Davis was obviously unprepared and out-of-shape and at least temporarily squandered all the positive enthusiasm for him by blowing such an opportunity. However, he is very young, and it is still possible for him to have a three-to-four-year dominant run. But he will disappear if he comes into fights like he did against Fonseca. He was spectacular in destroying Jose Pedraza in the first fight and that was the closest to any kind of test. However that fight was in January of 2017. His style relies on explosiveness, so I anticipate a run to the top of this division and maybe even the sport quickly, but he might be like a shooting star, as that style does not have a long shelf life.
Fighters not in the Top Ten but worthy of mention and watching include: Petr Petrov is a solid, not spectacular fighter who got a shot at a legit Top Ten guy in Terry Flanagan. He was very competitive in losing a unanimous decision where I feel he deserved a bit better on the scorecards. Richard Commey picked up one win in 2017 and has a very interesting fight scheduled in February 2018 against good-looking, undefeated PBC prospect Alejandro Luna. Sharif Bogere he finally got active in October with a decision win over lower-level opposition.
Yvan Mendy, the French veteran, did score four wins in 2017, a somewhat impressive feat, and he has not been stopped in any of his four loses. Alberto Machado is undefeated and stopped Jezreel Corrales. It will be interesting to see what kind of opponent he gets next. Luke Campbell showed signs of living up to his amateur pedigree in getting off the canvas to give Jorge Linares a surprisingly tough fight. The performance moves him to the fringes of the Top Ten.
Francisco Vargas elected to continue and got a stoppage over Brit Stephen Smith when Smith suffered a hideously lacerated left ear. Vargas has a lot of heart, but his best days are already behind him and unfortunately, if he continues to fight it will result in a beating by a Top Ten fighter. Miguel Roman scored a very entertaining stoppage over veteran Orlando Salido, but Roman is too limited to be a threat to the top fighters in this division. Jason Sosa is a very tough guy who tried but was overmatched against Vasyl Lomachenko. Then he dropped Yuriorkis Gamboa and appeared to clearly win a decision victory after a slow start but was inexplicably denied the verdict. He should still make some good action fights on HBO against some of the tough 130 pound guys. But he’s proving to be a true fringe of the Top Ten guy.
Javier Fortuna bounced back from the Sosa upset loss with a good performance against Omar Douglas in an exciting fight. He followed that fight with two wins against non-descript opposition before suddenly being chosen as Robert Easter’s first opponent for 2018. The fight appears to be a mismatch despite the fact Fortuna has proven to be a solid fighter. Felix Verdejo has not looked great in recent fights and he hasn’t even really stepped up the competition yet. He shows great flashes. He was in a motorcycle accident and only fought once in 2017, decisioning Omar Flores. There is talk of him returning in March of 2018. Saul Rodriguez looked like one of the best up-and-coming fighters in boxing but in February 2017 got a decision against journeyman Oscar Bravo he probably didn’t deserve. He had laid off for a while and switched promoters. I don’t know if that was reason enough for the performance. The bad outing probably cost him a Top Ten spot here. He hasn’t fought since. Let’s hope he gets back on track and lives up to his potential in 2018.
Jose Pedraza is solid, yet he chose to sit the rest of 2017 out after being blown out by Gervonta Davis in January 2017. Edner Cherry the veteran surprisingly showed he had something left with a nice win over Omar Douglas. Yuriorkis Gamboa came to fight and showed he wasn’t quite as done as he had looked in his fight against the tough Jason Sosa, but considering he was knocked down, kept holding and had a point taken away, there wasn’t any real justification for him being awarded the decision. Still, he showed enough life to be worthy of another decent fight. Dennis Shafikov somewhat inexplicably dropped down to 130 pounds after losing a competitive bout to the undefeated Robert Easter Jr. but then was upset by Rene Alvarado in a fight that could’ve gone either way. The drop in weight coupled by the official loss to a journeyman dropped the tough Shafikov out of this Top Ten, but he has the type of mentality that I wouldn’t count out despite his lack of height and big power. He should not be underestimated. He gave Rances Barthelemy a tough fight and to me, Barthelemy is like an Esrilandy Lara who throws more power shots. He followed that up with a dominant victory over undefeated former U.S. Olympian Jamal Herring and a clear win over Richard Commey.