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The Fifty Greatest Flyweights of All Time: Part Two 40-31

Matt McGrain

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The Fifty Greatest Flyweights of All Time: Part Two 40-31

In Part One we talked about Brian Viloria and his momentous confrontation with Juan Francisco Estrada.  Their fight denotes their relative standings. As a general rule each chapter of this series, from heavyweight to bantamweight, will produce an entry or two where two of the fighters listed have actually met in the ring.

At flyweight, every entry appraises two fighters who met in the ring.

Some huge flyweight contests have failed to materialize. We meet a fighter in this installment who made a very impressive career out of failing to fight the best. Nevertheless, I am struck by how often top fighters from this division clashed and how often those vying for spots in the Top Fifty have settled their differences in the ring. Flyweight is overlooked by boxing history but it is a fact that the very greatest flyweights had a tendency to butt heads.

Despite being faster than the denizens of every other division, despite, as a rule, being the most technically sure, flyweight is under-celebrated both in boxing’s past and in boxing’s now. What this means is there is less money to sustain mediocrity. So, the best meet the best more often.

The men listed here are some of the best.

#40 – Fighting Harada (1960-1970)

Fighting Harada represents terminal velocity for a box-swarming style. On film he only has Joe Frazier and Henry Armstrong for company and with available footage of Hank so limited, Harada comes off a little better compositely. He was elemental.

But his best work came at bantamweight. Thickening out of his youth, he had time to do only a minimum of damage to a division that breathed a sigh of relief at his passing. What gets him onto this list, though, is his best win, a title-winning effort for the ages against the champion Pone Kingpetch.

Like Rocky Marciano before him, this early iteration of Harada always had something on his opponent, his head, his wrist, the knuckle of his glove; and like Marciano before him he lived and breathed the pressure he brought with a fire unseen in the division’s filmed history. He often missed but when he missed he tended to be bringing something behind. What sets him apart – arguably – from Marciano and Frazier and Armstrong is his jab, which was as excellent and as busy as any fighter of his type from any division you care to name.

All of this can be seen in his woefully underappreciated first fight with Kingpetch who succumbed in the eleventh while propped in his own corner, alarmingly abandoned by the referee while Harada battered him. It was a brilliance.

Harada was narrowly defeated in an immediate rematch and the win over Kingpetch is far and away his best (next may be his six-round defeat of a youthful Hiroyuki Ebehara). His title reign was comprised of exactly zero successful defenses, but so wonderful was he against Kingpetch and that result was so suggestive that Harada slips in here in front of men with more concrete reasons for a higher ranking.

I suspect none of them could have defeated him in the ring.

#39 – Erbito Salavarria (1963-1978)

Erbito Salavarria, who wore the brooding good looks of a Hollywood matinee idol, held the flyweight world championship for the whole of 1971 and 1972, snatching it from no less a figure than Chartchai Chionoi in December of 1970 before losing it to the wrecking ball Venice Borkhorser early in 1973. He defended it successfully against top flyweight Susumu Hanagata, whose hopes he dashed no fewer than three times, and the near legendary Betulio Gonzalez.

So far, so good, and considering he also defeated solid contenders like Berkerk Charvanchai and Vincente Pool, he has the paper resume for a higher ranking; but the devil, as always, is in the detail.

Salavarria’s contest with Gonzalez, a desperate split draw, was a bad-tempered affair and one of the most controversial title fights in flyweight history. After the contest – marred by conflicting perspectives on the veracity of the scorecards – Salavarria had a bottle containing “honeyed water” removed from his corner by officials. This water was later reported as containing amphetamine.

It is unclear what should be made of this. On the one hand, Salavarria has maintained his innocence throughout, claiming that the amphetamine was planted by Venezuelan authorities in order to protect their beloved Gonzalez. On the other, the claim was upheld by the WBC, hardly a bastion of incorruptibility but the best we have by way of an arbiter.

That’s seen me drop Salavarria to the lowest berth his resume can stand. But Salavarria unquestionably had the goods. His second victory over Hanagata, who was absolutely legitimate, came years after his controversial draw with Gonzalez and was so close as to be scored either way; but fought in Japan it is also the case that Salavarria was almost certainly clean, thereby proving his countering abilities and late excellence born of true stamina was a valid representation of his ability.

#38 – Mark Johnson (1990-2006)

The disturbing truth about Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson is that he never defeated a top five opponent in his entire over-celebrated career. Johnson spent the mid-nineties waving around something called the World Boxing Board championship, thankfully now defunct, before picking up a slightly more respectable strap in 1996 which he defended seven times before departing for 115lbs.

And these are the numbers you tend to run into when you read about his career.

The number you tend not to read is “6”, which was the highest ranked opponent Johnson ever met, specifically a fighter named Arthur Johnson who he knocked out in one round in February 1998. Arthur was 17-3.

But Johnson was brilliant. There is no denying it. So, he ranks here higher than I feel he earned in the course of his career beating the likes of Alejandro Montiel (ranked seven), Alberto Jiminez (ranked ten) and Enrique Orozco (ranked seven). This was while missing out on the likes of Saen Sor Ploenchit, Miguel Martinez, Jose Bonilla, and most of all, Yuri Arbachakov.

The awful truth is, Johnson was probably good enough to beat all of these fighters and would have been embarrassed by none of them. As it is, his unbeaten status at the poundage and his brilliance on film makes him impossible to ignore.

But his is another potentially great career sacrificed to inexplicable alphabet mandatories.

That costs him a spot in the top thirty.

#37 – Emile Pladner (1926-1936)

I maintain a special admiration for boxing centurions, men who have found a way to win no fewer than 100 fights. It’s a special number and one rather understated now by boxing for one very good reason: it will never happen again.

So, men like Emile Pladner should be lauded for this special achievement.

Also special was his 1928 victory over Izzy Schwartz, who opened our own half-century at #50.  Pladner sliced him open both figuratively and literally, finding his way past his opponent’s defences in the third and thereafter abusing him so thoroughly that Schwartz left the ring a bloody mess.

He was more admirable still is his 1929 defeat of Frankie Genaro, one of history’s greatest knockouts.

Genaro, probably, had begun to slip by the time he met with Pladner, but he was already a flyweight immortal. What Pladner did to him was absurd. Reportedly always a little skittish at the first bell, he was somewhat startled by Genaro’s early two-handed charge, stepped close, rattled the American’s teeth with a right, and then landed a devastating uppercut somewhere on Genaro’s body. Some say liver, others say below the heart and maddeningly, the scraps of surviving footage do not settle the issue.

Joe Jacobs, who was managing Genaro at the time, claimed it landed considerably lower, indeed, even below Frankie’s belt, but this was dismissed outright by the Associated Press: “To ringside spectators the knockout blow appeared to land six inches above the belt.”

Whatever the specifics of the punch, Genaro dropped like a stone and writhed in agony at the feet of the referee. It was the only time anywhere near his prime that he heard “ten”.

Pladner dropped the title in the rematch with Genaro – after landing two low blows. He bid “adieu!” to flyweight, leaving behind an incomplete, perhaps even unsatisfactory legacy.

#36 – Black Bill (1920-1931)

Eladio Valdes, unfortunately renamed “Black Bill” by a promotional team in search of higher ticket sales, stuffed 160 fights into an eleven-year career. That’s an average of more than one combat every month. A cast-iron jaw and a dearth of power also sent the number of rounds he boxed through the roof.

Never a ticket-seller despite the change of name, it took a winning streak of nearly thirty fights to land him in the ring with a champion, and he was presented with a beauty: Midget Wolgast who out-pointed him over fifteen in March of 1930. His sight deteriorating, he lost four of his next five and went the way of all those who draw too much dark water from the well within. A struggling shadow of his former self, depression sent him to an early grave within three years of his retirement.

Before that: he dominated a series with Corporal Izzy Schwartz, winning four of six closely contested fights in one of the definitive flyweight series for this era; took a single victory in the losing end of another epic five-fight series with Willie Davies; and defeated contenders Phil Tobias and Johnny McCoy.

It’s good. It’s a strong resume but an ill return for a fighter who fought so many contests. In truth, his absurd and difficult schedule and his unfashionable standing – and his admitted limitations as a fighter – resulted in his suffering twenty-four losses and his being frozen out of the title picture.  Difficult patches afflicted him, especially between 1925 and 1927.

Still, that hot-streak, for all that it ended in defeat at the hands of the genius Wolgast, cements his place here among some great contenders and the lesser champions.

#35 – Johnny Buff (1917-1926)

Johnny Buff, the one-time world bantamweight champion out of New Jersey, has proven something of a difficulty for me. He inexplicably pops up in the IBRO all-time great top twenty, at the #14 spot no less; suffice  to say here that there is no possible reason for his ranking so highly under my criteria and it is difficult to imagine any system that would make such a lofty position justifiable.

Buff did do some interesting work at fly before and after winning his bantamweight title, however, and it certainly deserves a second glance.

He turned professional at bantamweight in 1917 and did most of his best work at that poundage into the early 1920s culminating perhaps in a very good draw against Pete Herman. He then seems to have spent some months sitting down on the flyweight limit in order to generate some title tractions. This is the key in appraising his flyweight legacy.

In a final eliminator for the  American flyweight title, a title that carried much more weight then than now, he defeated the favored Frankie Mason over fifteen rounds in New York City, clambering from the canvas after an  early knockdown to out-fight an opponent who managed to win as few as two rounds according to some ringside reports. It was a savage, vicious performance, and perhaps Buff’s best. He then took the vacant title against Abe Goldstein, a capable and storied fighter but another one who would make his true championship bones up at bantamweight; solid defenses against Young Zulu Kid and Eddie O’Dowd followed before Pancho Villa battered the title out of him in 1922.

By that time, Buff was once again campaigning at bantamweight, where victories over Pete Herman and Jackie Sharkey made him a fighter of real note – but he never again won a meaningful combat at 112lbs where he lost crossroads fights to Frank Ash and Joe Lynch.

All of this adds up to enough to scrape him into the top forty, but arguments for a higher berth seem reliant upon bantamweight honors.

#34 – Venice Borkhorsor (1968-1980)

Venice Borkhorser is perhaps more famous for the thumping damage he did with his menacing punches and his menacing presence up at bantamweight, not least because he spent most of his career fighting above 112lbs; big even at 118lbs, he was huge for a flyweight and would remain so even today.

This in part brought him the championship of his native Thailand and in late 1972 and early 1973 brought him pre-eminence in a division he would leave forever just months later.

His clash with the excellent Mexican Betulio Gonzalez in September 1972 was probably his peak. He stalked, battered and eventually broke the proud champion, leaving him stricken to the body and bleeding from the face. Gonzalez quit. Borkhorsor, though he could not sustain his career at 112lbs, was a steam-fired engine running on hatred for the days he managed to crush his musculature into a weight division that stretched at the seams to contain him.

Just a few months later (and time was of the essence), Borkhorsor was matched with Erbito Salavarria with lineage on the line. Salvarria did not quit, but he was harassed, harried, cut, pushed back and according to the Thai officials, did not win a single round against a Borkhorsor who battered a second world class fly into non-resistance.

Gonzalez ranks above Borkhorsor but the details of their contests suggest that he could never have beaten him in a dozen efforts. But Borkhorsor never fought at the poundage again, departing for bantamweight where he continued to box with the same menace though with less devastating results.

#33 – Salvatore Burruni (1957-1969)

Salvatore Burruni was the idol of Italy for a short spell in the 1960s, demonstrating the art of the most direct form of boxing in out-thugging champion Pone Kingpetch in 1965, backed by a rampant Roman crowd. Burruni gambled it all on a violent frontal assault, eschewing the jab in favor of an absurd smorgasbord of leads that included a trailing uppercut and numerous over-the-top hooks.  But Burruni’s fight-plan was more detailed and nuanced than just that. He squatted in the attack, extenuating his height deficiency and opening up Kingpetch’s heart for a reverse one-two finishing in a straight left. He racked up the early rounds to make himself unassailable late in the fight when he inevitably began to tire. Kingpetch, at that point in his career, was there to be taken, and indeed had been taken before – but he had always won a return. Burruni had beaten him so thoroughly that a rematch seemed redundant.

Instead he fought the Australian prospect Rocky Gattellari, an understandable decision from a monetary perspective and a reasonable one from the fistic perspective. Gattellari, though inexperienced, was ranked at #5 by The Ring magazine.  This wasn’t good enough for the alphabet organizations who immediately stripped him.

Burruni then defended his lineal title against former victim Walter McGowan and was summarily defeated by decision in London in 1966. He continued to explore bantamweight, where he was never a serious force.

He leaves behind a decent resume made up of McGowan, Gattellari and Mimoun Ben Ali, the perennial fly and bantamweight contender, who he defeated for the European title in 1962. His victory over Kingpetch, however, is the jewel in his crown. It remains perhaps the most perfect example of a face-first, bet-it-all assault on a champion that resulted in the passing of the torch, echoed by, among others, Ricky Hatton’s 2005 defeat of Kostya Tszyu.

#32 – Chan-Hee Park (1977-1982)

Those paying close attention and of a certain type of mind may have noticed that there is a pattern emerging in the low forties and high thirties, specifically a clutch of fighters who have one very significant divisional win backed by another good victory in the flyweight division. This description fits Chan-Hee Park, the Korean world flyweight champion in 1979 and 1980, like a glove.

Park’s marquee win was over all-time great and contender for the #1 spot, Miguel Canto. Nor was Park fighting some busted version of Canto but rather he was the man who unseated the then champion from the throne, breaking a streak which was arguably the most impressive in the history of the division.

On paper it’s a stuck-on nomination for one of the greatest wins in the history of the sport. In reality, Canto was far from the Rolls Royce that used to glide around the ring dictating pace with one of the greatest of left hands. Still, Park beat him out of sight, an impressive achievement.

Three months later he became the first man to stop the formidable Mexican contender Guty Espadas in a short and brutal encounter; two more defenses against limited opposition stiffened his championship reign a little and then Park ran into a roadblock named Shoji Oguma.

#31 – Shoji Oguma (1970-1982)

Shoji Oguma’s paper record of 38-10-1 is less than overwhelming but he must be included, and must be included above Park, for no better reason than he defeated the Korean no fewer than three times.

The result of their first fight, fought in Seoul, Korea, was indisputable, as Oguma began throwing left-hand leads from his southpaw stance to dent Park’s great chin and finally take him out in nine hard rounds. An ultra-aggressive fighter, Park began an inevitable wind-down in a long fight, a factor that Oguma exploited mercilessly in their second and third contests, the second a desperately close split decision that could have gone either way, the third, total carnage, both fighters finishing smothered in blood, Oguma taking another disputed, narrow decision.

Defeating Park the first time made Oguma the world’s champion and the second and third were primo defenses; Sung Jun Kim, ranked five, made for a quality third defense before Oguma shipped the title to Antonio Avelar, who knocked him out in heartbreaking circumstances.

What makes Oguma a little special is that this was actually his second run at the problem. He had been a major force in the division once before, in the early seventies. There lies the beginning of another extraordinary series in which Oguma met Betulio Gonzalez, another excellent flyweight and one we will be hearing from soon. Oguma went around with him four times. His reward was two losses, a draw and a single victory over fifteen rounds in October of 1974. That brought Oguma a strap and although it was immediately scooped up by Miguel Canto, it makes him some sort of champion in two different decades. Worthy, perhaps, of a higher spot; those losses peg him back a bit.

But it takes a special legacy to demote Oguma from the top thirty. We will be meeting some of the men that keep him out next week.

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Matchroom Boxing USA Returns in August with a Big Outdoor Show in Tulsa

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PRESS RELEASE — Julio Cesar Martinez will defend his WBC World Flyweight title against #1 ranked McWilliams Arroyo as Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing USA return to action in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Saturday August 15, exclusively live on DAZN in the US.

Martinez (16-1 12 KOs) makes the second defense of his crown against Arroyo, in a main event brought to you in association with Canelo Promotions, Golden Boy Promotions and Miguel Cotto Promotions, having thrilled Texas with his first defense of the belt in Matchroom Boxing’s last show before the COVID-19 pandemic in February, coming out on top of an enthralling 12 round battle with Welshman Jay Harris.

The 25 year old Mexican landed the title with a ninth round KO win in a ferocious clash with former champion Cristofer Rosales, and the champion is honored to be topping the return of Hearn’s outfit in the States as he looks to cement his place in the division and move towards unification battles.

“I am so happy to be back in the ring again and I promise you another war on August 15,” said Martinez. “With the unification fights ahead of me, it is important to take care of my mandatory challengers and I expect a tough fight with Arroyo. I believe 2020 and 2021 will see me unify and become undisputed and I can’t wait put a smile back on boxing fans faces.”

Arroyo (20-4 15 KOs) challenges for a 112lb World title for the third time in his career as he looks to finally get a World strap around his waist. The decorated Puerto Rican amateur was edged out via split decision by IBF champion Amnat Ruenroeng in September 2014 and then fell to pound-for -pound star Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez in April 2016 for the WBC and Ring Magazine crowns in California.

The 34 year old ranked at number one in the WBC enters the bout on the back of three wins in 2019 having returned to Flyweight from a brief stint at Super-Fly, and the former World Amateur Champion is determined to end the talented Mexican’s reign in Tulsa.

“I am very happy with this opportunity that my promoters Miguel Cotto Promotions, H2 Entertainment and Golden Boy Promotions have given me since I am ranked number #1 in the WBC and I am following my dream of becoming a World champion,” said Arroyo.

“I think Julio Cesar Martinez is a great champion the fans will see a fight full of action due to the styles of both of us. It is very good for boxing Puerto Rico vs. Mexico and I am eager to take the belt”

Prior to the lockdown, Cecilia Baekhus was set to defend her undisputed Welterweight championship in Maryland against Jessica McCaskill, and that fight is the co-main feature in Tulsa.

Braekhus (36-0 9 KOs) has dominated the Welterweight division for 11 years and victory over McCaskill would see the Norwegian sensation break Joe Louis’ record of 25 consecutive World title defenses, with the 38 year old’s record stretching back to her first World title fight in her 11thpro outing in March 2009.

‘The First Lady’ still holds the same ambitions from when she first became a World ruler, and with a long camp behind her in Big Bear, California with new trainer Abel Sanchez, Braekhus is itching to get back into action and defend her belts in style.

“Finally we have a new fight date and I cannot wait to return to battle,” said Braekhus. “It’s been an extended camp in Big Bear with my new trainer Abel Sanchez and I’m very excited to defend my world titles against Jessica on August 15. I know how tough of a fight this is and will be well prepared for victory.

“Thanks very much to Abel, the Matchroom Boxing Team and Tom Loeffler for all of their support during these unique times. And to my fans in Norway, the United States and all over the world, thanks so much for continuing to inspire me, I hear you loud and clear.”

It’s fitting that McCaskill (8-2 3 KOs) marks the return of Matchroom Boxing USA on DAZN from the lockdown as the Chicago ace won her WBC World Super-Lightweight title in Hearn’s first ever show on the groundbreaking streaming network in America in her hometown in October 2018 against Erica Farias.

‘CasKILLA’ went on to unify the division by taking the WBA crown from Farias fellow Argentine Anahi Sanchez in May 2019 in Maryland before putting both belts on the line in a rematch with Farias in her Windy City home, edging out her old foe via majority decision.

The 35 year old now meets the Norwegian superstar for the undisputed title in just her 11th fight, and McCaskill is determined to keep her fairytale story going and end Braekhus supremacy.

“I’m just looking to make history and shock the world as I usually do every time,” said McCaskill. “I’m expecting to knock out Cecilia. I don’t know what round, but this extra time we’ve got to train before the fight is definitely going to make us a lot sharper and a lot stronger and smarter overall.

I’ve been in the gym every day for multiple workouts and I can’t wait to show what we’ve been working on.”

Shakhram Giyasov continues to rise up the Super-Lightweight rankings and the Uzbekistan talent – one of three from the emerging boxing powerhouse under the spotlight in Matchroom Boxing’s latest YouTube feature– defends his WBA International Super-Lightweight title against Francisco Rojo.

Giyasov (9-0 7 KOs) picked up the strap he defends in Tulsa in April 2019 with victory over Emanuel Taylor in California, and in his first defense certainly saw the boxing world stand up and take notice as he obliterated former World champion Darleys Perez inside 30 seconds of the fight.

The highly decorated amateur is ranked at number seven in the WBA and a second successful defense of his belt would move him into a great position to land a shot at the World title in the future.

“I’m very excited to defend my title on August 15 against Francisco Rojo,” said Giyasov. “I know how tough of a fight this is and have already started training with Coach Diaz in Southern California to prepare for victory.

“Huge thanks to my team at World of Boxing and Vadim Kornilov along with Matchroom Boxing and DAZN for this tremendous opportunity.”

Rojo (22-3 15 KOs) returns to action following a brief spell on the sidelines and looking to spoil Giyasov’s rise. The Mexican has a wealth of experience from his 25 fight pro career, and the 29 year old is confident of causing an upset against the 26 year old.

“What a wonderful opportunity,” said Rojo. “My gym is now open and I will be well prepared. I showed American fans I could fight when I fought Ryan Martin in Las Vegas and I’ll remind them again when I beat Giyasov.”

Three of Hearn’s talented youngster’s complete the line-up, and it promises to be a memorable night for amateur standout Marc Castro as he makes his pro debut alongside rising starlets Nikita Ababiy and Raymond Ford.

Hearn beat off fierce competition to ink a deal with Castro, with the 20 year old turning over with an amateur record of 177 wins and 7 losses with a stellar 48-1 record in international and national competition, and in addition to being a two-time Amateur World Champion, Castro is a 16-time National Champion, three-time National Silver Gloves champion, and two-time National Junior Olympics Champion.

I’m excited so start my professional journey to becoming a World champion,” said Castro. “The extra time has just made me even hungrier to get my career going and I cannot wait to showcase what I will bring to the pro game.”

Ababiy (8-0 6 KOs) fights for the ninth time in the paid ranks and for the first time since a controversial DQ win over Jonathan Batista at the Staples Center in Los Angeles gave ‘White Chocolate’ a sixth win inside the distance since turning pro as one of Hearn’s first US signings in October 2018.

“I’m excited to light up that ring, it’s been way too long,” said Ababiy. “I’ve been working hard behind the scenes and I will be looking to steal the show on August 16 – White Chocolate is back!”

Ford (5-0 2 KOs) will taste his sixth action as a pro and for the ‘Savage’, it’s a chance to unleash the frustrations of two-thirds of a year on the sidelines since the 21 year old from Camden, New Jersey recorded his second win inside the distance from his five pro fights to date in Phoenix in December 2019.

Due to injuries and this pandemic it will be eight months before I fight again,” said Ford. “It feels great to finally get back in the ring. It’s been hard during the pandemic, but I used this time to work on my craft and it made me go harder in the gym. On August 15 I will show the world why I’m the BEST prospect in boxing.”

The announcement of Hearn’s return to boxing in the States comes hot on the heels of the promoter releasing details of four stacked and ultra-competitive fight cards in Britain over four weeks in the unique setting of the grounds of the company’s Essex headquarters.

Hearn is following that bold move with more ambitious plans for his American return, with the elite-level bill set to have a unique setting in Tulsa unveiled soon.

“We are ready to return in the States and just like Fight Camp in the UK, we plan to do things differently,” said Hearn. “We are heading outdoors in Tulsa, Oklahoma and we’re planning something unique and special for this double World championship header that should both thrill in the ring.

“Julio Cesar Martinez is a beast and one of the most exciting World champions in boxing. It’s Mexico v Puerto Rico as he faces mandatory challenger McWilliams Arroyo in a guaranteed thriller. In the co-main event, we stage the Undisputed Welterweight championship between Cecilia and Jessica which promises to be an electric pace between two great champions.

“Beneath them, ‘Wonder Boy’ Shakhram Giyasov steps up the gears as he homes in on a 140lbs World title shot and US amateur sensation Marc Castro makes his professional debut. Rising US stars Nikita Ababiy and Raymond Ford step up the opposition as they continue their rise to the top.”

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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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Featured Articles

Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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Berchelt-TKOs-Valenzuela-in-Mexico-City

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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