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The Fifty Greatest Flyweights of All Time: Part One 50-41

Matt McGrain

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The Fifty Greatest Flyweights of All Time: Part One 50-41

Research on the greatest heavyweights of all time was easy. Fire up YouTube or Dailymotion, watch the career-defining fights of a given contender, compare and contrast, order and write-up, delivered.

By lightweight, things were considerably more difficult.

This is to do with a diminishing interest in boxers by size. It is literally the case that available information is reduced coextensively with the poundage of the fighters in question. By the time I was involved with the bantamweights, things had become extremely difficult, unwholesomely greedy of my time and actually rather expensive.

Needless to say, the flyweights have been even more demanding.

The temptation to cut corners was, at times, enormous, but I allowed myself only one of meaning: this list is cognitive only of flyweights who fought from the Jimmy Wilde title reign to the present day. While every one of these projects has had a cut-off, flyweight’s is the most recent, the World War I era.  Partly, this is due to the absurd difficulty in researching 1900 contenders of this size but it is in the main due to uncertainty surrounding the poundage. Flyweight was paperweight for a long time and paperweight was never better than partially established globally. Tough on Johnny Coulon, but there it is.

Otherwise, the flyweight list has been put together under the same rules as governed the others. First and foremost, it should be stated the list considers only fights that took place at flyweight or just above.  So a 108lb fighter boxing in 2017 is a light-fly but a 108lb fighter boxing in 1925 was a flyweight, because light-fly did not then exist. This is an appraisal of flyweight in the truest sense, as it existed in boxing history.

Most important in conducting these appraisals: who a fighter beat and how he beat them. Secondarily, what was a fighter’s status in his own era? Was he a lineal champion? A belt-holder? Or just a brilliant contender who amassed a wonderful body of work in his forlorn hunt for the title?

Lastly, skillset as it appears on film and head-to-head considerations, the most speculative of criteria, are taken into account.

With that out of the way, here we go, for the last time a divisional top fifty, this one more obscure, unexpected and mysterious than any that has gone before.

The flyweights; this is how I have them:

#50 – Corporal Izzy Schwartz (1921-1932)

Izzy Schwartz lost thirty-two fights.  The good news: many of these were above flyweight.  The bad news: many of them were not and he was as likely to drop a decision to an unheard-of novice as he was an all-time great monster.

What gets Schwartz over the line despite this litany of losses is two things.  First, he took some really, really impressive names in his career; secondly, flyweight rather bizarrely drops off a cliff after #49 leaving me with about twenty good candidates for #50 and no outstanding ones.

But if you’re going to compromise on your gatekeeper to greatness, it might as well be for a fighter who defeated old-time legends like Black Bill and Willie Davies, men you have either heard of or will in the course of this series. Supplementary wins over future bantamweight beast Newsboy Brown and ranked men John McCoy and Ernie Jarvis do him absolutely no harm either.

It’s worth noting, of course, that Bill and Davies both avenged themselves on the Corporal four times over but also that he was a man who never shirked a challenge.

An air of respectability rather than true wonder purveys a career that was carried out between the two world wars and saw him share the ring with a generation of great flyweights. Noteworthy for his speed, he is also a fighter who completely lacked power, scoring a mere handful of knockouts.  A powerful Schwartz would have been a wonderful thing.

49 – Little Pancho (1927-1942)

 The younger half-brother of the immortal Pancho Villa, Eulogio Villaruel Tingson was bequeathed the catchier moniker “Little Pancho” in a nod to his much more powerful, much more brilliant relation.

But Pancho, for all that he is not the best fighter in his family, was one of the best flyweights of his era.  He lost twice to the great Midget Wolgast in 1932 and a decade later was beaten by the deadly bantamweight Manuel Ortiz. In between he drifted to and from flyweight and the poundage that would become superfly, which left a rather confounded shade to his legacy – but Pancho did good work while he flitted to and from.

He also managed to meet and defeat a boxer once in the class of Wolgast, the shadow of the fighter once known as Frankie Genaro. Pressuring, harassing, and finally cutting the old man he forced him to quit after the eighth.

Genaro makes the bedrock of a fine resume, but he was unranked and basically washed up at the time of his defeat. Pancho though, picked off several other good fighters in the course of his prolonged career, including Joe Mendiola (who he bested no fewer than three times), Jackie Jurich (who holds a precious victory over Manuel Ortiz) and the colorfully named Small Montana, also a ranked fighter.

A failed single tilt at a strap underlined his limitations, a ten-round draw with Little Dado in 1940 the closest he came to that glory.

#48 – Brian Viloria (2001-Active)

Brian Viloria (pictured above on left), now a shell of his former self, still trades on the name that once bought a sigh of contentment from your hardcore purist.

Never the lineal flyweight champion, he was nevertheless arguably the best flyweight in the world for a brief period in 2012, before Juan Francisco Estrada sent him back on his heels and Roman Gonzalez finished the job by way of ninth round stoppage.

So never better than the third most impressive flyweight of his era, Viloria nevertheless did enough to creep in to the fifty, preferred to old timers like Sid Smith and Jackie Brown and near-peers like Donnie Nietes and Akira Yaegashi. Based upon his high level of operations in 2011-2012, this is justified.

Julio Cesar Miranda, a storm of pressure and gloves, represented the beginning of Viloria’s summit as he out-manned and out-fought his highly ranked Mexican opponent in a glorious slugfest. 108lb champion and pound-for-pounder Giovani Segura was dispatched that December by fast handed bunches of punches that cut and broke him before he was stopped in eight.

The jewel in the crown of his resume, however, is his 2012 destruction of Hernan Marquez. Marquez, himself a brief contender for this Top Fifty, was the world’s #1 contender when Viloria, one of America’s most underrated pugilists, ushered him from that spot via tenth round technical knockout.

Viloria is easy to hit for an elite flyweight and this cost him against the best but a combination of fast hands, great punch selection and unerring accuracy certainly forms an impressive first line of defence; quick feet spares his often poor spatial awareness; he could hit and he could certainly box.

Unlucky to run into two monsters in Estrada and Gonzalez, another era may have been kinder to him, and seen him earn a higher berth here.

#47 – Juan Francisco Estrada (2008-Active)

Juan Francisco Estrada nips in ahead of Brian Viloria by virtue of the most old-fashioned and perhaps best of reasons: he beat him.

The two met in April of 2013 in what was, for eight rounds, one of the great flyweight contests of this decade. Estrada, beautifully compact, the less expansive of the two despite his being the rangier, was a little spooked by Viloria’s layers early. The more experienced Hawaiian gave ground and countered to dangerous effect, rounding the relatively inexperienced Estrada up with virtual threats and feints.  Estrada screwed the nut and by the ninth, having split, on my card, the first eight with his opponent, began to dominate. It was a glorious combination of will and skill, burnished by one of the beautiful left hands of our time; a great jab and a honeyed uppercut that makes me blink every time I see it landed.

Estrada (pictured above on the right) drove Viloria to the very edge and only heart and experience got him to the final bell in a borderline great fight.

Giovani Segura and Milan Milendo were the other major scalps of a truncated flyweight career. Estrada has spent time at both 108 and 115lbs making his flyweight career too short to rank him any higher here but it should be noted that he emerged from his three year stay at flyweight undefeated.

#46 – Gabriel Bernal (1974-1992)

Gabriel Bernal, a southpaw out of Guerrero, is one of the least heralded Mexican champions and in many ways it is not difficult to see why. Bernal was something of a soft-touch as a championship opponent, having lost eight fights before getting his shot at Koji Kobayashi in 1984. He made only a single successful defense before running into the punching machine Sot Chitalada. His final paper record of 43-14-3 perhaps does not lend itself to the hero worship reserved for Mexico’s more admired kings.

Bernal did do two things so worthy of note, however, that his inclusion here cannot be seen as controversial. First, in 1981, he scraped past the immortal Miguel Canto over ten rounds to go 1-1 in a two fight series with the living legend. The truth is, I can’t tell you whether or not Canto inhabits the number one spot at this time, because I don’t know, but if he isn’t #1 he will be close. True, Canto had faded from the shining brilliance of his prime, but he was still a ranked fighter in the early 1980s and one that had only been defeated by two men, both champions, since 1970.

Secondly, when he did get that shot at Kobayashi and the title, he knocked the champion out in just two rounds. Nobody had done that to the Japanese since the wonderful Jiro Watanabe turned the trick in Kobayashi’s ninth fight. Bernal’s free-swinging, full-hearted attack prostrated him quite literally face-first into the canvas for the first knockdown before depositing him neatly into the prayer position for the stoppage. It was one of the most stunning knockouts of the eighties.

#45 – Dado Marino (1941-1952)

Dado Marino was another wonderful but flawed fighter out of Hawaii; he retired thirty years before Brian Viloria was born. He ruled as the flyweight champion of the world between 1950 and 1952.

An inconsistent and frequent visitor at bantamweight, when he showed the discipline to make the 112lb limit he morphed into a different animal, one that was impossible to stop and difficult even to dent, one who threw a confused and frothy tide of punches inside and out, as direct and aggressive a fighter who has appeared at the weight.

Nevertheless, he requires that juicy three calendar-year title reign in order to make the fifty. His legacy rests heavily upon two wins over Terry Allen, the Brit he wrenched the championship from in 1950 with some vicious right-handed punching in the middle rounds.

Apart from his two impressive defeats of Allen, his resume is underwhelming, a dubious disqualification win over Rinty Monaghan probably his next best. The loss of his title to Yoshio Shirai followed by a failed attempt to reclaim it mirrored his own conquest of Allen and sent Marino into retirement.

There will be more of Yoshio Shirai in coming weeks.

#44 – Sid Smith (1907-1919)

Sid Smith is most famous, if he is famous at all, for being one of Jimmy Wilde’s many victims, but that is a little unfair. Smith was a centurion of pioneer boxing, taking part in more than a hundred contests and winning eighty-five of them.

Wilde crushed him three times between 1914 and 1916, but that aside, Smith’s results against the best of his era was more than respectable. First among them are his 1913 victory over French idol Eugene Criqui, who he defeated by twenty round decision in Paris in April, and his victory, less than forty days later, over Englishman Joe Symonds, who he defeated over fifteen in his hometown of Plymouth. Smith, a Londoner, reached his beautiful peak with these two fights.

“Since the Americans have not yet seen fit to recognise [a flyweight champion],” wrote Boxing of Smith’s fight victory over Criqui, “Smith now has every right to the…championship of the world.”

Wilde would have plenty to say about that, of course, but Smith scored wins over the cream of European competition, and as intimated by Boxing, Europe was then the world as far as flyweights were concerned.

Smith deserves wider recognition than as a footnote to the career of Jimmy Wilde.

#43 – Joe Symonds (1910-1924)

Joe Symonds, as detailed above, was beaten by Sid Smith, but avenged himself eighteen months later; no rubber match was made and so the head-to-head question remains unanswered.

Neither did Symonds have more meaningful success against Jimmy Wilde, the bane of a talented batch of European flyweights, although he did make the fifteen-round distance with Jimmy, something Smith never did manage.

Symonds struggled with the brutal Percy Jones, losing a series to him on the eve of World War I, but Smith never met with Jones, making any comparison impossible.

What sets Symonds apart is his 1915 victory over Tancy Lee.

Lee was the best of Wilde’s flyweight foes, but Symonds got him out of there in the first of their two contests, staged in 1915. 5’1”, Symonds was nevertheless physical enough to find himself boxing at featherweight before his career was over and it was above 120lbs that most of his 29 recorded losses were suffered, so it perhaps shouldn’t be surprising that once he got Lee on the hook he didn’t let him off. Pressure and volume brought him a priceless stoppage win over a man who had scored a stoppage against Jimmy Wilde nine months earlier.

Lee scored his revenge, but not at the flyweight limit.

It is a win that buys Symonds several spots on this list, and more importantly separates him from his old enemy Smith.

#42 – Lorenzo Parra (1999-Active)

One of the saddest sights the ring brought us in 2018 was that of Lorenzo Parra, gut spilling over his trunks, a twenty-year professional campaign behind him, seeking desperately for the spark of timing that made him memorable in the 1990s. He buckled in three rounds for a 0-0 prospect named Arsen Garibian.

Parra’s career above 112lbs has been a bad joke. When he departed the flyweight division in 2005 his record was 28-0.  His record now reads 32-18-2. He hasn’t so much tarnished his legacy as filled it with gunpowder and set it on fire.

Between 1999 and 2005, however, this was a man to be reckoned with.

Venezuelan by birth, Parra stayed home until he was 21-0, fattening his record on soft opposition, but when he landed in Puerto Rico in December of 2003, he made his mark. Eric Morel, then 33-0, himself a contender for this list, was favored to turn back the young pretender despite his burgeoning reputation as a puncher.

Parra did land a knock-down quality punch, in the third round, but through the tenth it was his boxing that marked him. Fleet and fast-handed, he out-skilled, out-moved and in the final two rounds when his engine betrayed him, out-gutted his bigger and more experienced foe.

It was a consummate strap-winning performance that marked him one of the best in the world. It was also his high-water mark. A desperately close call followed with contender Takefumi Sakata; a rematch produced an equally close result. Parra and Sakata aside, a domination of Olympian Brahim Asloum is probably his best result, another unbeaten scalp belonging to a highly ranked fighter.

After that, flyweight lost him and Parra lost the essence of what made him great. A genuinely special fighter for a two-year spell, he is neither the first nor the last to be found out by a higher weight class.

#41 – Luis Ibarra (1975-1990)

 Luis Ibarra was a rather strange and beautiful fighter, styling elements of the Panamanian but very much as a part of his own idiom. At first, his approach seems insensible; tall for a flyweight he adopted a relatively deep stance, narrowed himself over his front leg and presented his jab. He then neglected to throw his jab despite a slick moving style and instead preferred power punches to body and head, leaving himself at risk despite all that innate mobility, to the attentions of his opponent’s hook, especially to the body. His own hook was a strange punch, thrown long and short, all the while using the same fist to stir and feint and paw and prod with what surely should have been a stiff jab.

But whatever the detail, Ibarra came together in the ring as a strange and frightening proposition for some excellent fighters. Lacking power, he nevertheless threw with absolute commitment leading to a split pair with feared puncher and future world champion Prudencio Cardona when both were still serving their respective apprenticeships. Clearly, his eventual victory over Cardona seemed something of a graduation for Ibarra, for later that same year, 1979, he took to the ring with the superb Betulio Gonzalez (more of whom in part three) and over fifteen sizzling rounds he dominated the little Venezuelan and lifted an alphabet strap in the process. It was a masterful performance.

It was inevitable a fighter of his type would be found out but when the limited Tae-Shik Kim obliterated him in just two rounds in his very next defense, it was seen as something of a shock. Ibarra, too, believed there was more, and he proved it when he battled back to edge out a fighter even more special than Gonzalez when he sprang another surprise, this time over the Argentine legend Santos Laciar in Argentina. It made him a strapholder for a second time, and although the true title evaded him, Gonzalez and Laciar are two wins special enough to hang a strong top fifty ranking upon.

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The Top Ten Lightweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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The lightweight decade 2010-2019 was a disaster. Far and away the weakest list I have compiled so far; it was also far and away the most difficult to compile. Two excellent fighters, fit to grace any list, open at nine and ten but they made the tiniest handful of appearances at the poundage in the decade. Eight to four are populated by interchangeable lightweights whose ordering is confused by a 2012 robbery that has seen the “loser” of that contest edge in front of the “winner” adding to an already confused picture. The result is our seeing fighters who engender a sense of “what’s he doing there?” as high as number four.

Towering over this hot mess are the top two for the decadal division, two giants of the sport about whom it is a pleasure to write, and a clear number three.

Despite the foibles of lightweight there were also some excellent fights to run the ruler across on the way to ordering them. So, without further apologies here are the top ten lightweights for the last decade.

Ratings are by Ring between 2010 and 2012 and TBRB from 2013 to 2019.

10 – Juan Manuel Marquez

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 6-2 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

I am arguably reaching in placing Juan Manuel Marquez at ten given the limited contribution he made to the lightweight decade, but it must be borne in mind that Marquez was the decade’s first legitimate, lineal lightweight champion. Lightweight gave us but three champions in the decade and certainly room can be made for all of them here.

Marquez had previously stopped the younger, fresher, purportedly stronger Juan Diaz in nine rounds in 2009 in what I rate his career’s best performance until that time but nominated to re-match him in July of 2010, probably unnecessarily. Marquez was once more brilliant, his jab never better, Diaz clearly wary of the uppercut that had hurt him so in their first fight.

Marquez mopped up his lightweight title run against Michael Katsidis in November of that same year. Marquez didn’t just beat the younger, stronger Katsidis, he became just the second man to stop the Australian, the quickest ever to do so.

This fight was also noteworthy as being veteran broadcaster Jim Lampley’s finest moment and we will give him the final word on Marquez at lightweight, and as we won’t be seeing him again in this series, Marquez generally (my italics):

“If it comes down to the question of whether you can courageously apply your technique…bet on Juan Manuel Marquez. He knows how to do that better than anyone in boxing.”

09 – Mikey Garcia

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 22-1 Ranked For: 27% of the decade

Mikey Garcia is a splendid fighter but one who seems to have spread himself a little thin divisionally speaking. He swept into lightweight, established himself as the number one contender, remained divisionally ranked until the end of 2019 but fought hardly a contest within 135lbs.

The work he did do there though, was significant, two fights enough to establish him as one of the pre-eminent lightweights of the timeframe.

Most impressive was his January 2017 knockout victory over Dejan Zlaticanin. Zlaticanin, himself coming off impressive back-to-back stoppages of Franklin Mamani and Ivan Redkach, was an undefeated strapholder; Mikey established his world class jab within seconds and lost not a minute of the eight they completed. The uppercut and hook combination for the knockout made for the best stoppage of the lightweight decade.

Robert Easter, himself a contender for the number ten spot, was a second undefeated fighter who was ranked in the top five laid low by Garcia. Easter though, offered stiffer resistance, doing well with his own jab and even winning a few rounds on the way to a lop-sided decision loss. Garcia fought an aggressive, disciplined fight against a much taller and longer opponent leaving no doubt as to the winner, dropping Easter with a gorgeous, penetrating right hand in the third.

Lightweight certainly would have benefited from more Garcia but what he gave was good enough to see him creep in at nine.

08 – Ricky Burns

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 16-6-1 Ranked For: 32% of the decade

Ricky Burns traded on heart and durability but the thrashing that the great Terence Crawford handed him in March 2014 is not one he recovered from. Dejan Zlaticanin sent him scurrying from the division in his very next fight.

In the months before his brave decision to match Crawford, however, Burns turned in one of the more impressive runs of the lightweight decade between 2011 and the summer of 2013. It began with Michael Katsidis, the former lightweight titleholder who had been laid low by Juan Manuel Marquez one year earlier. Katsidis never recovered from the beating Marquez laid upon him, but descriptions of him as shot proved as wide of the mark as those who installed Katsidis as a favourite.  Katsidis turned in a fine pressure performance and Burns needed the combination of jab and body attack he deployed to win a much, much closer fight than the judges saw. Ricky’s remains one of the most underrated jabs of the decade at lightweight or elsewhere.

Ranked contender Moses Paulus went next and here Burns turned in perhaps his best defensive performance. A victim of the fashionable “earmuffs” approach to defence, Burns showed himself here capable of parrying and blocking as well as shutting the shop and waiting. He arguably put these two strata of his skillset – the careful offence, the dynamic defence – together just once in his career, against Kevin Mitchell, then still ranked among the world’s ten best lightweights.  Burns countered well that night and although far from difficult to hit he made himself hard to hit clean. It was probably the difference-maker as he drew Mitchell into a war he could not hope to win, dusting him off in four exciting rounds.

Finally, he stopped Jose Gonzalez in nine before going off a cliff in a fashion more familiar in speedsters than technically adept workhorses.

07 – Antonio DeMarco

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 10-7 Ranked For: 28% of the decade

Antonio DeMarco fights on and in fact has two fights planned this year. This has been to the great detriment of his paper record.

In the early part of the decade, the part which he fought at lightweight, he lost just twice, once to the doomed figure of Edwin Valero and once to Adrien Broner, both of whom beat him clean but DeMarco is in possession of a pair of wins that make Broner’s ranking above him questionable still.  Key among them is his 2011 stoppage of Jorge Linares.

On the surface, this is the type of win to rappel into the farthest reaches of this list. Linares would become one of the finest lightweights of the decade and his name carries meaning whatever the context; but it is the context of this fight that prevents DeMarco climbing much farther.

Linares had never boxed twelve rounds when he met DeMarco and despite dominating early, he was cut up badly by DeMarco’s clean punching born of consistent pressure. Suffering the attentions of a faster, more talented fighter, DeMarco did the only thing he could, stepping in the fire zone and pressing; eventually Linares began to give ground. When a lacerating straight broke his nose in the sixth, the whole fight changed and when DeMarco cut him over the right eye in the seventh, his night became desperate. Suffused with blood, Linares was compromised in the eleventh from footwork to defence to his beautiful, gliding offence; the referee, perhaps prompted in part by the blood pouring from the face of Linares, stopped the fight.

It needs to be remembered who Linares was at this point of his career. He had been stopped in a round in 2009 and would be stopped in two with facial damage in his very next fight. This was the Linares that DeMarco broke down, not the storied veteran that Vasily Lomachenko would face years later. It is an impressive win, but DeMarco needs more for the spot.

Fortunately, he has it. After taking out gatekeeper Miguel Roman in five, DeMarco was matched with John Molina in a fight billed as an exciting shootout between evenly matched and exciting fighters. DeMarco blasted him out in a round. His power-punches were booming equalisers that laid more talented fighters low.

06 – Adrien Broner

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 20-4 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

It is unpleasant to see Adrien Broner, a serial failure at the highest level and seemingly a horror of a human being ranked above the likes of Garcia and Marquez, but assessing legacy must be blind.  Broner is well into double figures for contests at lightweight and picked up the same number of ranked contenders as the two part-time decadal lightweights ranked at nine and ten – so he belongs, there is no debate to be had about that.

And, to be fair to him, his biggest win is a beauty, being his 2012 victory over Antonio DeMarco.  DeMarco may have been on the slide but marginally. He remained a cagey, balanced, firmly planted southpaw, difficult to fight and harder to beat. Broner out-waited DeMarco and countered him, took a narrow lead in the early rounds before throwing more heavy punches the later the fight went. It became a beatdown, DeMarco failing to find the timing that would counter his opponent’s speed earlier in his career.

Three months later, Broner was nearly as impressive blasting out number eight contender Gavin Rees in just five rounds. In the aftermath Rees called him the best fighter he had ever met and predicted he would go all the way to the top. That hasn’t happened – for reasons too many to cogitate here – but he did enough to rank among the ten most accomplished lightweights of the decade.

05 – Brandon Rios

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 12-5 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

Things have been messy and difficult up until this point – now that get very messy and very difficult.  Brandon Rios was awarded an official decision over Richar Abril in 2012 but he did not beat him; this was an outright robbery. Rios is not credited for that win here.

That fight is dealt with in detail in the entry below; for the moment, take my word for it and we will look at why it is reasonable for Rios to rank top five despite the Abril fight being treated here as a loss.

First and foremost is his defeat of the excellent Miguel Costa, world’s number one contender in February of 2011, lain low by a career’s best performance from Rios. Costa bossed Rios early, moving off him and tattooing him with power punches; Rios followed stoically but lost every one of the first five rounds. Focused and prepared, Rios seemed merely inconvenienced by the powerful punches of a world class competitor and there was something inevitable about what remains a dramatic collapse from Costa in the mid-rounds; in the tenth, battered and unresponsive, he was rescued by the referee as Rios clubbed him into submission with meathook shots.

Either side, Rios turned in impressive stoppage victories over ranked men Anthony Peterson and John Murray. Best-for-best, this adds up to near parity between Rios and Broner, but Rios claimed more quality names at the poundage; it edges Rios in front of his fellow American despite the Abril fight.

04 – Richar Abril

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 8-2-1 Ranked For: 44% of the decade

If you scour the internet, you might be able to find the single ringside scorecard that had Richar Abril’s 2012 fight with Brandon Rios a draw; every other scorecard by ringsiders had the fight for Abril, some of them by margins as wide as 120-108.

Every ringsider, that is, outside of two of the officials paid to score the fights.

What we can only hope was the abject stupidity of Glenn Trowbridge and the infamous Adalaide Byrd (both still judging fights today folks) cost Abril the win that night but here, I am taking the rare step of ignoring the official decision, something I have only done on one other occasion in the course of this series. Almost all ringsiders agree, and the film demonstrably shows, this was an Abril win.

It was not an exciting fight, partly due to its one-sidedness. Abril shelled up in close and Rios, who failed to make weight, threw cuffing shots apparently incapable of penetrating. In the second half of the fight, Abril closed with great awareness, carefully to consistently outland Rios in every round, defensively sound, offensively alive to opportunity.

Either side of his defeat of Rios, Abril defeated the same man who defined Brandon’s lightweight run, Miguel Acosta, and contender Sharif Bogere in a filthy, badly refereed contest. In essence, his legacy at the weight echoes that of Rios almost exactly, with one exception: he beat Rios.

Abril is not an inspiring figure. He boxed in a dry, careful fashion that did not endear him to fans but he excelled at controlling his opponents and there is no way to rank him below Rios given how dominant he was over him in their fight. That puts him in the top four.

03 – Jorge Linares

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 20-4 Ranked For: 35% of the decade

Jorge Linares was “one for the most fantastic boxers I have ever saw in my life” according to the great Emanuel Steward and you can see what he means. Linares is as beautifully balanced, as well co-ordinated as any lightweight seen this decade, outside of the top two. Lithe, quick-handed, and a fine selector of punches, he began the decade anointed by the then pre-eminent Freddie Roach, spending his spare time sparring with the legendary Manny Pacquiao.

Then it went wildly wrong. Linares had his faced ripped apart by the punches of Antonio DeMarco in 2011 and then Sergio Thompson in 2012. It was a long way from these losses back to the top but Linares made it, in the main by travelling to the UK and battering her best lightweights. His winning streak ran to thirteen fights.

Key among them was his 2015 victory over Kevin Mitchell. Mitchell, who had restored himself from both personal and professional strife with a quite remarkable performance against Daniel Estrada, was once again ranked among the world’s top ten. Linares has struggled when hurt throughout his career, but when dropped by Mitchell in the fifth, Linares, who had been struggling a little in the third and fourth, remained concentrated. He didn’t enjoy the rest of that fifth round, but he escaped it and instead of crumbling he crumbled Mitchell, cutting him up and stepping in to take over in the eighth then patiently closing the blinds in the tenth.

It was a fine turning of the corner by a fighter who would go on to deliver on some of his seemingly limitless potential, firstly against an inspired Anthony Crolla, once more in the UK, who he beat close then, re-matched and dropped on the way to a wide decision victory. Finally, Linares, a road-warrior if ever there was one, invited Luke Campbell over to the USA and squeaked past him in a brilliant strategic joust.

Linares was a real enigma. Skin so thin it might as well be used to pack the meat that constitutes his face, he has literally fallen apart in the ring; soft of chin, he has been blown out. The fighter that Manny Steward saw all those years before probably never emerged, but he still appears special enough to edge out Abril.

Take note though, he is not a “natural” divisional decadal number three and there is real distance between Linares and the fighter that ranks number two.

02 – Terence Crawford

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 26-0 Ranked For: 15% of the decade

Terence Crawford is a genius in the ring, and we watched the emergence of that genius at lightweight. 2014 was the year and almost all the meaningful damage that the Nebraskan did to the 135lb division was done in that year.

I was glued to his March dissection of Scotsman Ricky Burns and it was painful to watch my countryman dismantled so completely, Burns complaining about Crawford’s control of distance and angles in a gracious post-fight interview. In truth, Burns had boxed beautifully to make so many of the rounds in what was a clear, wide victory for Crawford so close, but we did not know then what we know now: Crawford is one of the best fighters in the world.

At the end of 2014 when he welcomed number two contender Ray Beltran to his native Omaha, this was clear. Beltran had outfought and arguably been robbed of a victory over Ricky Burns when he visited Scotland for what was a hotly disputed draw but there were multiple classes between he and Crawford when they met that November. Crawford did mostly what he liked, and what he liked, from round two, was to box as a southpaw, jabbing with impunity, bringing Beltran forwards onto punches and in doing so shutting his opponent’s offence down almost completely. In the final round Beltran, who had not won a single round on my scorecard, threw around twenty punches, even though his only route to victory was by knockout.

In between his wide defeats of Burns and Beltran, he dispatched Yuriokis Gamboa in the ninth.  These were three technical mis-matches in one year against quality opposition after which he departed for 140lbs.

This is enough to make him a clear number two, but in all honesty were his numbers and opposition not enough to get him over that line, it would still be difficult to see him lower. Crawford was imperious.

01 – Vasily Lomachenko

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 14-1 Ranked For: 15% of the decade

Ranked for almost an identical number of weeks throughout the 2010s, Vasily Lomachenko was also given, like Terrence Crawford, to taking a close look at his opposition in the opening round.

Another thing these two have in common is that their visitations to 135lbs were relatively brief. We will meet no other divisional decadal number one with so few fights at the poundage – having only met legitimately ranked men at the poundage however, Lomachenko has done enough to clearly seal up the number one spot. He has but one peer and has clearly edged that peer out.

Gatecrashing the division meeting none other than Jorge Linares helped. This had the appearance of rash, even careless matchmaking, a duel, essentially, to determine the finest lightweight of the decade. It appeared careless matchmaking, certainly, when Lomachenko was dropped in the sixth walking carelessly onto a straight punch that clearly hurt him.

But Lomachenko isn’t like other fighters. He had learned over the course of a monumental amateur career that he had the innate toughness to support his genius; Lomachenko re-took his feet and blasted Linares out in the tenth.

He certainly hasn’t looked back. Jose Pedraza, the world’s number three lightweight at that time, made it through a nightmarish eleventh to take Lomachenko the distance in 2018 but it was a wide, hurtful loss for the brave, world class Puerto Rican. Anthony Crolla went next and was stopped in just four rounds, his first stoppage loss since 2012. Luke Campbell, ranked number seven just as Crolla had been, seemed to be having a better evening but he won just two rounds and was on the receiving end of some savage combinations in making it to the final bell.

Lomachenko learns his man’s range then abuses it, hovering just within or just outside it, using his quick reflexes and beautiful, consistent slipping to keep him safe while he deploys what has become one of the best body-attacks in the sport. Predicting him is impossible, which forces fighters to try to take the play away from him, which leaves them open for the widest variety of counters in boxing this century.

It is mildly frustrating then that he and Crawford never met in the ring. Had it happened, that ring would have contained as much skill as any since Roberto Duran defeated Ray Leonard.

The other lists:

Heavyweight

Cruiserweight

Light-Heavyweight

Super-Middleweight

Middleweight

Light-Middleweight

Welterweight

Light-Welterweight

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Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt hammered his way to a decisive knockout victory over fellow Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela in a non-title light fight on Saturday.

After nearly nine months off, WBC super featherweight titlist Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) unraveled a withering body attack including numerous low blows but Valenzuela remained upright in front of a sparse TV studio audience until he could take it no longer.

Berchelt used a seven-punch combination to knock the senses out of the very tough Valenzuela who hails from Sinaloa. The referee saw enough and stopped the fight with Valenzuela leaning against the ropes with a dazed look.

The champion from Cancun used a triple left hook in the first round to floor Valenzuela and it looked like the fight would not last more than two rounds. But Valenzuela, a sturdy veteran, bored into Berchelt to keep him off balance and was able to stop the momentum.

It did not last.

A vicious attack to the body sapped the energy from Valenzuela who has fought many elite fighters in the past, but none like Berchelt. He was able to batter the veteran round after round.

Valenzuela sought to reverse the momentum with some combinations of his own. Berchelt opened up with some combinations from the outside and cracked his foe with some skull-numbing blows that clearly affected Valenzuela’s senses. The referee wisely stopped the fight at 1:03 of the sixth round to give the win to Berchelt by knockout.

The victory opens the door to a potential clash with featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez of Nogales, Mexico who has a fight of his own planned next month. Both champions are promoted by Top Rank.

Other Bouts       

Omar Aguilar (18-0, 17 KOs) bushwacked veteran Dante Jardon (32-7, 23 KOs) within a minute of the first round to win by technical knockout. A barrage of blows by Ensenada’s Aguilar opened up the fight and a four-punch combination forced the referee to stop the super lightweight fight with Mexico City’s Jardon against the ropes.

A battle between super bantamweights saw the taller Alan Picasso (14-1) out-hustle Florentino Perez (14-6-2) in an eight round clash between Mexican fighters. Mexico City’s Picasso fought effectively inside against the shorter Perez of Monterrey and was able to maintain a consistent pace. Neither fighter approved the use of a jab but Picasso was more effective inside with body shots and uppercuts and dominated the last half of the fight.  The six judges scored in favor of Picasso.

The WBC instituted the extra judges as a means of tabulating score cards efficiently. Three judges scored from the television studios and another three judges scored from the USA. It was the second time WBC judges officiated remotely and all six scorecards were official.

Photo credit: Zanfer Promotions

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Big Baby Miller, Roberto Duran and More

Arne K. Lang

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Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller just can’t keep his hands out of the cookie jar. It was announced today (Saturday, June 27) that the jumbo-sized heavyweight from Brooklyn tested positive for a banned substance, forcing him out of a July 9 fight at the MGM Grand “Bubble” against Jerry Forrest. The story was broken by Mike Coppinger of The Athletic who breaks more hard news stories than any other boxing writer.

Miller, needless to say is a repeat offender. He failed three different PED tests in a span of three days for three different banned substances leading into his planned June 2019 match at Madison Square Garden with WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. That cost him the fight and a reported $5 million-plus payday. Andy Ruiz filled the void and scored an historic upset.

When the first test came back positive, Miller wailed that he was the victim of a faulty test. “My team and I stand for integrity, decency and honesty and will fight this with everything we have,” he said in a prepared statement. He later changed his tune. “I messed up,” he said.

In a story that appeared on these pages, Thomas Hauser noted that Big Baby had a history of PED use dating to 2014. In that year, he was slapped with a nine-month suspension by the California Athletic Commission following a kickboxing event in Los Angeles.

Counting this latest revelation, it’s five strikes for Big Baby. He’s taking quite a roasting right now on social media. Some of the harshest criticism is coming from his fellow boxers.

Assuming that Top Rank can’t find a replacement for Miller, this is another tough break for Jerry Forrest, a 32-year-old southpaw from Virginia with a 26-3 (20) record. Forrest was scheduled to fight hot prospect Filip Hrgovic on April 17 on a card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a show swept away by the coronavirus outbreak. Forrest has been matched very soft throughout his career, but he acquitted himself well in his lone previous TV appearance, losing a split decision to undefeated Jermaine Franklin on “Showtime: The New Generation.” The decision was controversial.

There’s talk now that Carlos Takam is angling to replace Big Baby. The French-Cameroonian, a former world title challenger who turns 40 in December, was billed out of Henderson, Nevada, in his last ring appearance that saw him winning a unanimous decision over fellow greybeard Fabio Maldonado in Huntington, NY.

—-

When it comes to Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”), there’s no sport quite like boxing. Just ask Bob Arum. The most mouth-watering matchup in his ESPN “summer series” fell out this week when Eleider Alvarez suffered a shoulder injury in training, forcing a postponement of his July 16 date with Joe Smith Jr. The match between Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) would have been a 12-rounder with the winner guaranteed a shot at the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, a diadem that Alvarez previously owned.

Joe Smith Jr, a Long Island construction worker once dismissed as nothing more than a club fighter, won legions of new fans in his last start, a one-sided (to everyone except one myopic judge) win over Jesse Hart in Atlantic City.

Cancelled matches have become a recurrent theme in ESPN’s semi-weekly boxing series. The very first card in the series lost what shaped up as its most competitive fight when Mikaela Mayer tested positive for COVID-19, scuttling her bout with Helen Joseph. In subsequent weeks, the manager of Mikkel Les Pierre tested positive for COVID-19 as did WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring. Those bad test results forced the postponement of two main events. Then earlier this week, hot lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno was lopped off Tuesday’s card after feeling sick after coming in overweight at the previous day’s weigh-in.

The undercards of the Tuesday/Thursday ESPN fights have left something to be desired, but that’s understandable. As Bob Arum noted in a conversation with veteran boxing scribe Keith Idec, Top Rank’s matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad “Abdul” Goodman have had a hard time fleshing out the cards because with so many gyms closed there’s a shortage of boxers who are in shape to fight on short notice. Then there are the COVID-19 travel restrictions and (something Arum did not acknowledge) budgetary restrictions more severe than an ordinary Top Rank card. Most of the undercard fighters have come from neighboring states such as Utah, saving Top Rank the cost of air fare. Fighters from faraway places, with some exceptions, were already training in Las Vegas.

Kudos to the entire Top Rank staff for keeping boxing alive during these challenging times.

It’s old news now, but Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, 69, tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized in Panama City with a viral infection. There’s been no update on his condition but his son Robin Duran wrote on Instagram that his father is not having any symptoms beyond those associated with a common cold. We will update you when new details become available.

Duran’s hospitalization came just a few days after the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in what would say was Duran’s finest hour. They met on June 20, 1980 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Duran won a unanimous decision. Converting the “10-point must” system into rounds, Duran prevailed by scores of 3-2-10, 6-5-4, and 6-4-5. As Yogi would have said, you could look it up.

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