Boxing traditionally has only eight weight classes. This is the fifth installment of my Original Eight Ratings. I have rated the Middleweights, the Welterweights the Heavyweights, the Light Heavyweights, now come the Lightweights.
For purists in recent years, one of the biggest tragedies in boxing was when the lightweight division, one of the historical Original Eight weight classes, hit rock bottom as a result of the proliferation of alphabet-created weight divisions, as boxing experts ranked it 17 out of 17 in terms of level of talent. In fact, it was then thought, probably mistakenly in hindsight, that Takashi Uchiyama was the best fighter in the world between 127-135 pounds, the traditional lightweight division. This was after the division had been able to retain much of its historic dignity through the prior three decades as Alexis Arguello, Hector Camacho, Julio Cesar Chavez, Pernell Whitaker, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather and Juan Manuel Marquez had at least stopped at the top of the division. The division also brought us Corrales-Castillo I, probably one of the ten greatest fights of all-time.
Thankfully the recent drought seems to be behind us, as Mikey Garcia has spectacularly re-entered the boxing scene at the top of this division, Vasyl Lomachenko fought at the weight during part of his amateur career and is a double cheeseburger away at 130, a meaningless difference. Solid fighters like Jorge Linares and Brits like Flanagan and Crolla will also have competition from PBC up-and-comers Robert Easter, Jr. and Gervonta (Tank) Davis, who is powerful, strong, fast, seems to have a good makeup, and proved he can handle good competition when he obliterated poor Jose Pedraza. He passes the eye test. Davis was also recently profiled by The New York Times. Not bad. A lot of tough fighters are also on the fringes of 130 pounds. Miguel Berchelt also earned a Top Ten slot in this Original Eight division with his beat down of Francisco Vargas.
Criteria: Fighters 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. 36-0 30KO)
2. Vasyl Lomachenko (Ukraine 7-1 5KO)
3. Jorge Linares (Venezuela 41-3 27KO)
4. Terry Flanagan (U.K. 31-0 12KO)
5. Robert Easter, Jr. (U.S. . 19-0 14KO)
6. Anthony Crolla (U.K. 31-5-3 13KO)
7. Denis Shafikov (Russia 38-2-1 20KO)
8. Dejan Zlaticanin (Montenegro 22-1 15KO)
9. Miguel Berchelt (Mexico 31-1 28KO)
10. Gervonta (Tank) Davis (U.S. 17-0 16KO)
Ratings Notes: Mikey Garcia made one of the most impressive comebacks from a long layoff in boxing history, putting him behind someone like Muhammad Ali but probably ahead of Andre Ward and his recent comeback. Those three comebacks rank as the best, if not among the best. Garcia was simply dynamic in obliterating Zlaticanin in the second fight since his return. He’s just what this division needs. A fight with Linares, who is the Ring champion, is not an easy feat by any means. Should Linares get by Crolla in their rematch, that would be great matchup. A fight with Lomachenko, should promotional and TV politics ever allow it, would be a classic.
Vasyl Lomachenko has looked spectacular against Martinez and Walters, but frankly, the status of those two fighters was not at such a level that he deserves to be elevated above Garcia at this point. However people forget that Lomachenko already fought as a lightweight in the amateurs, so there is no reason he shouldn’t look for fights in this traditional division, as it appears the big potential fights at featherweight aren’t going to happen for him and there is nothing dramatic at 130 pounds. He may rank above Garcia on pound-for-pound lists, but I’m giving the slight edge here to Garcia. If somehow there could be a PBC crossover between that organization and Top Rank, this would be one of the top fights we would want. Garcia was with Top Rank, but despite Bob Arum’s desire to keep things in-house, he never seems to deliver a fight like that one, so it may be just as well Garcia is with PBC.
Jorge Linares has ability and beat Crolla in a meaningful fight for the Ring’s lightweight title and he has the rematch upcoming. But he also has vulnerabilities. While he should get by Crolla, he does not have enough to get by Garcia, who I think he will fight, or with a Lomachenko, which would be a fight that wouldn’t appear likely anyway.
Terry Flanagan keeps winning against some pretty good competition and has a fight upcoming against Petr Petrov, who is competent and is on the fringe of this Top Ten. Robert Easter Jr. had been looking great and looked like a big lightweight who could throw power punches in volume but he just didn’t look as good his last two outings. It will be interesting to see what trajectory his career takes. Anthony Crolla was competitive in his first fight with Linares and got an immediate rematch, but if he loses again, he doesn’t deserve to be written off. He may end up being a stepping stone for some of the better fighters in the division. Dennis Shafikov should not be underestimated. He gave Rances Barthelemy a tough fight and to me, Barthelemy is like a 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, who had given Robert Easter some trouble. Commey himself is on the fringes of this Top Ten.
Dejan Zlaticanin got annihilated by Mikey Garcia, but it was his first loss and that shouldn’t immediately discount him. Miguel Berchelt bludgeoned the tough Francisco Vargas and is probably destined for more tough action fights. Should he survive them and have something left, maybe he’s a guy who can make a move here. Gervonta (Tank) Davis was spectacular in destroying Jose Pedraza, the first fight that was even close to any kind of test. 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: Orlando Salido is tough and is one of those guys who when he looks done seems to surprise you with something left. He’s still the only guy to beat Lomachenko and had a great fight against Vargas. He doesn’t have enough talent or time left to make a move, but he’s earned a mention. Petr Petrov is a solid, not spectacular fighter who will crack these rankings if he upsets Terry Flanagan. Richard Commey was good enough to be competitive with Easter and Shafikov, but I don’t know if he gets beyond the stepping-stone type level. Yet he’s proven to be competitive enough to be worthy of mention. Sharif Bogere has been good enough to enter the Ring rankings, an achievement that is enough to get a look here.
Jezreel Corrales is a Panamanian light-puncher who shocked Takashi Uchiyama by KO when most observers considered him at the top of Original Eight ratings and then came back to win a split decision in a rematch in Japan. He has a very good case to be in this Top Ten, but the Original Eight version of the lightweight division began to strengthen just as he burst on to the scene. Takashi Miura showed enough toughness in his recent come-from-behind KO of Mickey Roman that he made a case, in hindsight, that his brutal Fight of the Year with Francisco Vargas was stopped a bit too early. Francisco Vargas was a guy who I really liked to make a run at the top of these ratings. The one nagging factor being his advanced age for the weight. Then he took a hellacious beating in his win over Miura, warred with the very limited Orlando Salido and finally ran out of lives against Berchelt in taking another beating. At his age and with his tread-wear, it’s hard to picture a successful return. But the the blood and guts he gave are too great to ignore.
Takashi Uchiyama is a guy whose status dropped like an anvil falling into a river. He’s worth a mention, but is another guy who you just don’t see making another run. Jason Sosa is a very tough guy who has been performing well against some tough customers. I think he makes some kind of mark here, though fighting Lomachenko, if that happens next, probably won’t be the route for him. He’s proving to be a true fringe of the Top Ten guys. Javier Fortuna bounced back from the Sosa upset loss with a good performance against Omar Douglas in an exciting fight. Felix Verdejo has not looked great in recent fights and he hasn’t even really stepped up the competition yet. He shows great flashes. Saul Rodriguez looked like one of the best up and coming fighters in boxing but just got a decision against a journeyman he probably didn’t deserve. He had laid off for awhile and switched promoters. I don’t know if that was a reason enough for the performance. The bad outing probably cost him a Top Ten spot here. Jose Pedraza is solid, and figuring how good Gervonta Davis is going to prove to be, shouldn’t be written off. Omar Douglas is an underrated PBC guy with a fight upcoming. He dropped Fortuna and gave him a go, but seemed just a bit short on experience. He looks to be a tough guy, too. You might call him a poor man’s Gervonta Davis, but he’s a sleeper who still might have better days ahead.
Various fighters rankings in the Ring and Transnational Boxing Rankings Board’s Lightweight and Junior Lightweight rankings at the time of this compilation: (Note: The Ring recognizes Jorge Linares as a new lineal champion, Transnational has the lightweight championship as “Vacant”), Garcia (Ring Lightweight – TN Lightweight-1), Lomachenko (R JL-1 TN JL-1), Linares (R L-Champion, TN L-2), Flanagan (R L-2, TN L-3), Easter, Jr. (R L-3 TN L-5), Crolla (R L-4 TN L-6), Shafikov (R L-5 TN L-8), Zlaticanin (R L-9 TN L-7), Berchelt (R JL-4 TN JL-3), Davis (R JL-6 TN JL-8)
For Comparison look at the Ring Ratings for the end of the years 1980 and 1950:
1. Hilmer Kenty
2. Jim Watt
3. Alexis Arguello
4. Aaron Pryor
5. Howard Davis, Jr.
6. Rodolfo Gonzalez
7. Sean O’Grady
8. Vilomar Fernandez
9. Claude Noel
10. Edwin Viruet
Champion: Ike Williams
1. John L. Davis
2. Freddie Dawson
3. Tommy Campbell
4. Jimmy Carter
5. Art Aragon
6. Johnny Gonsalves
7. Eddie Chavez
8. Del Flanagan
9. Rudy Cruz
10. Arthur King
1980 has some greats and very good guys in its Top Ten. It’s better than the present day Top Ten at the moment, but the 2017 Top Ten is on the rise, not decline, so we’ll see. 1950 is primarily distinguished by Ike Williams as champion, one of the ten greatest lightweights of all-time. It reminds you how far even guys like Garcia and Lomachenko still have to go.