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The Top Ten Light-Welterweights of the Decade: 2010-2019




140lbs is far and away the most difficult decadal divisional ranking I have put together. The problem was losses and how to weigh them – is it better for a fighter to meet six top men with a 50-50 return or to fight just two ranked contenders and return a 100% win ratio? I have done my best with such questions and I think it’s led to an interesting and varied list and one that is excitingly weighed towards active fighters currently in or around their primes.

Rankings are by Ring for 2010-2012 and TBRB for 2013 to 2019.

10 – Zab Judah

Peak Ranking: 3 Record for the Decade: 6-4 Ranked For: 34% of the decade

Zab Judah was the old man of the division in 2010 when he returned from 147lbs to once more ply his trade at the poundage that made him famous – and he was the old man of the division still when someone named Cletus Seldin stopped him in eleven rounds last July.

Zab was tempted back up to 147lbs in spots through the decade but it seems that at 140lbs he had a rule, and the rule was top talent. Nearly every fighter Judah met at light-welterweight during the decade was a ranked man, and usually they were favoured to beat him. 27-0 puncher Lucas Martin Matthysse was certainly an interesting choice for his first major opponent back in his home territory of 140lbs and it made for an interesting fight. Seen as somewhat controversial in some corners of the boxing world, the fight was indeed close, Judah outboxing a stubbornly shy Matthysse early, Matthysse cornering Judah and tattooing him with right hands late; any close scorecard is reasonable and certainly no robbery was perpetrated against Matthysse that night. The one-time bad boy of the division was back.

He looked great in dispatching Kaizer Mabuza (ranked seven) in early 2011 and if you have any doubts about his finding God between his light-welterweight runs, listen to his post-fight interview for this fight; still an underdog, he crushed Vernon Paris (ranked ten), winning all but the eighth before closing the blinds on him in the ninth, his speed dazzling.

Judah lost too. He was stopped by Amir Khan and despite a thrilling championship-rounds rally, was out-pointed by Danny Garcia. Despite this, and his ageing legs, the veteran Judah is good for the spot.

09 – Amir Khan

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 12-4 Ranked For: 40% of the decade

The most important fight of Amir Khan’s career was his 2010 clash with Marcos Maidana. His disastrous 2008 first round knockout loss to Breidis Prescott had loomed over every contest he had fought since, but not after this; Khan absorbed brutal shots from Maidana as he was pasted all over the ring in a dramatic tenth round but he proved himself tough enough to drag himself home for a close points victory. It was redemption and a thing of beauty, arguably the fight of the year, certainly one of the fights of the decade at 140lbs.

It was also Amir Khan painted in microcosm as all his strengths and weakness were laid glaringly bare. Fast hands and excellent punch selection were compromised by poor concentration; overall quickness was compromised by lazy footwork – poor punch resistance and some balance issues dented what should have been a glittering package. Khan made peace with these shortfalls on this night and embraced what he was, a gifted but flawed fighter.

It is hard to imagine then a more fitting passing of the torch than his 2011 fight against Zab Judah, the original brilliant but flawed light-welterweight for this timeframe. Khan’s superiority was near total but his knockout of Judah was not without controversy, a borderline low-blow bodyshot the final punch. That said, the four completed rounds were without wrinkles; Khan’s superiority was near total.

Losses followed but there were circumstances. His 2012 knockout loss to Danny Garcia was clean and there can be no complaints but his 2011 loss to Lamont Peterson was beset with controversy.  You can take your pick from Khan’s allegations of poor refereeing, incompetent judging, out-and-out corruption as film emerged of a man apparently connected with the Peterson camp interacting with one of the judges, and finally the discovery post-fight that Peterson was using synthetic testosterone, a banned substance or at the very least one that needs to be declared. The fight, which I scored 112-112, was a disaster for boxing and it is hard to hold it against Khan in the normal sense.

It also should be noted that the strangeness surrounding that fight sees Peterson falls short of the list. Unconvincing as it is, it remains by far Peterson’s best win, his second being over Dierry Jean, not a combination that sees him named as one of the ten best from this decade.

Khan makes it, balanced neatly between being the last debatable entry and the first top ten lock.

08 – Lucas Matthysse

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 14-5 Ranked For: 52% of the decade

There is little to separate Lucas Matthysse and Amir Khan but in keeping with the theme of the list, the difference was losses: more of Matthysse’s were close and debatable. Viktor Postol beat him clean in 2015, his last fight at 140lbs, as did Danny Garcia in 2013 but in earlier fights with Zab Judah and Devon Alexander, he was very unlucky. I saw him winning both fights by a single point, a point earned in each case by a knockdown and although these were certainly no robberies, that Matthysse received the nod in neither split decision loss can certainly be considered a misfortune.

At the very least, neither proved themselves a definite superior to Matthysse.

For key wins, Matthysse holds impressive stoppage victories over Ajose Olusegun and Lamont Peterson, and he was the first man to lay both low, his destruction of Peterson, who he dropped three times in three rounds, brutal.

In 2015 he ran into fellow puncher Ruslan Provodnikov and the two put on the expected fight of the year candidate.  This fight is key in Matthysse’s 140lb legacy, not for proving what he was, but for what he was not; he was not a one-dimensional pressure slugger.  He deployed boxing to edge this fight and most especially in the first and second rounds, it was superb.  More, he controlled the range almost absolutely in the first half of the fight, deploying uppercuts and a left hook to devastating effect as Provodnikov plodded into his kill-zone.

Matthysse lost a little too often to menace the top five, but it is difficult to imagine the top ten without him.

07 – Devon Alexander

Peak Ranking: 3 Record for the Decade: 24-1 Ranked For: 25% of the decade

Devon Alexander is tough to rank for the poundage and decade to hand. Never ranked higher than number three, he was also a prospective pound-for-pound number one according to HBO’s Max Kellerman. This is the kind of division of opinion Alexander prompted. On the one hand, he seemed, in the wake of his 2010 knockout of the iron-jawed Juan Urango, to have every single attribute a fighter might need for the very top, but there was an underwhelming stiffness in his work that never quite satisfied.

Some dissatisfaction began to manifest itself as regarded the scorecards rendered in his favour, too. In his very next contest against Andriy Kotelnik, Alexander made both his own corner and the HBO commentary team very nervous, but he deserved his victory, for all that it was closer than most expected – I myself had it to Alexander by a single round, with a swing round in his favour.

His next fight, with Lucas Matthysse was legitimately debateable, and I wasn’t alone in seeing that as a win for Matthysse, although it was close, and because it was close the result is respected for the purposes of this list.

Before the Matthysse fight, Alexander posted his single loss at the weight, to Timothy Bradley.  Bradley misses out on this list because that was his single 140lbs win of note for the decade.  Alexander, meanwhile, is included, but a little lower than he might have been if not for his meeting with Bradley. Alexander was pulled late in the fight by the doctor but looked quite a lot like a man who didn’t want to be there for more than the reported reasons, specifically that his eyes were “burning” after the latest in the long line of headclashes. He dropped a technical decision.

After that it was 147lbs for Alexander and some less rewarding years; the timing of his departure limits his standing here.

06 – Mikey Garcia

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 20-1 Ranked For: 13% of the decade

Mikey Garcia sitting at six does not sit particularly well with me. Garcia fought a tiny handful of contests at the weight but in those few contests he out-performed Devon Alexander, who fought a similar number of contests, so ranks above him.

For all that it feels a little awkward it can be stated with surety that reviewing footage of 140lbs Mikey Garcia was a pleasure. There are better fighters ranked above but there are none with more technical acumen than he. Watching him box was a pleasure.

Mikey emerged as a legitimate 140lb fighter in 2017 in crushing Adrien Broner with generalship and bodywork, outwaiting him after taking an early lead. Mikey did no more than he needed to, but he consistently did enough, seizing control and only relinquishing it for spells late in the fight when it had essentially been decided.

This was also his strategy against Sergey Lipinets, the former kickboxing champion, in what was his definitive performance at the 140lb limit. Lipinets, unlike Broner, refused to go away strategically- speaking but Mikey battered him with straight punches early before out-jabbing him in the middle rounds and out-fighting him late.

Mikey was never stretched in his brief visit to light-welterweight, was unbeaten, crowned champion against Lipinets and consistently outclassed the opposition. His departure to 147lbs was a shame for his 140lb legacy but he made himself one of the key fighters of the divisional decade.

05 – Jose Carlos Ramirez

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 25-0 Ranked For: 20% of the decade

Jose Carlos Ramirez slides in ahead of Mikey Garcia based upon his divisional longevity, an entire career contested at the poundage and in the decade to hand.

Ramirez, young, American, a puncher, an action fighter, has generated heat for some time but his graduation night fight against Antonio Orozco in 2018 turned heads. Orozco, who was tough and brave and aggressive and all the things we want our prize-fighters to be, has never really recovered from the beating Ramirez put upon him. Unbeaten going in he is 1-1 since and looks a changed man.  Ramirez, who fights a little shorter than his 5’10, is an aggressive pressure boxer with little guile to his punching game but who is clever about space and time. He also has a well-made jab and although the punches he throws behind that jab sometimes look a little wild and can leave him  vulnerable to punches up the middle, they are hard and consistent.

Orozco, ranked four no less, twice climbed from the canvas, first from a right hand to the head after Ramirez swarmed him out of position and connected big, then from a left hook to the body that hurt just to look at. Ramirez won no fewer than eleven of the twelve rounds on the scorecards of all three judges. It was a massacre.

In early 2019 more was made than should have been of the trouble current number nine contender Jose Zepeda caused Ramirez in a worthy losing effort, but he did, perhaps, expose certain weaknesses in Ramirez, who it should be noted hasn’t yet reached thirty fights. Zepeda wore his right guard low to neutralise the left hook and pivoted and flicked his own jab to neutralise that of Ramirez – but he also lost eight rounds on my card, and that of one of the judges.

Ramirez summited, at least as far as the decade at hand is concerned, in his July 2019 contest with Maurice Hooker. This was always to be a defining fight for the winner, an American remaining unbeaten in a clash of beltholders.  Ramirez emerged the man in charge, dragging Hooker into a dogfight from the very first round, dropping him, hurting him, before retiring him on the ropes in the sixth.

It will be interesting to see what it takes to lay Ramirez low in the 2020s.

04 – Regis Prograis

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 24-1 Ranked For: 25% of the decade

Regis Prograis shades Ramirez by the narrowest of margins and based upon a loss. At the decade’s end he dropped a majority decision to Josh Taylor in a meeting of the division’s two top contenders; the decision was based upon geography. In America, Prograis would likely have been given the nod by the narrowest of margins, in the UK, Taylor took it. In reality the two were so evenly matched they might fight consecutive draws at a neutral venue.

As to the wins that helped him into the top five the definitive one is over Julios Indongo, who was coming off a defeat to pound-for-pounder Bud Crawford. Prograis got the job done more quickly than Crawford, dispatching Indongo in just two rounds. Hard jabs to the body and chest, fast, cornering feet and gorgeous slipping of the Indongo jab forced the taller man to let Prograis inside.  Here, he did his best work and although his performance was reckless, it was deeply impressive.  Stiffening power in the southpaw jab and obliterating power in the overhand left saw Indongo broken. The speed of the Prograis pressure was, and remains, unequalled in the division.

A year later, Prograis met with strapholder and number four contender Kiryl Relikh, the all action Belarusian who bounced back from a tough 2016 to win a rematch with Rances Barthelemy (having been very unlucky to drop the decision in their first fight) and defeat Eduard Troyanovsky in impressive back-to-back performances. Relikh, who had never been stopped, was dropped by a bodyshot in the very first round by Prograis who then set out to torture him with power-boxing two classes above anything Relikh had ever seen, prompting his corner to pull him midway through the sixth. Prograis dispatches top class opposition with ease.

A special fighter then, just one who ran into another one in the shape of Josh Taylor. That fight was close enough that Prograis deserves a rematch; if he gets one, it will be in the next decade.

03 – Josh Taylor

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 16-0 Ranked For: 23% of the decade

Josh Taylor’s career trajectory has been sensational. He has arguably been the story of the 140lb decade, and he could be found duking it out with number three contender Viktor Postol in just his thirteenth fight.

Taylor looked to have got past that challenge by the barest of margins that 2018 night in Glasgow despite the ludicrously wide official scorecards, but he was enormously impressive none-the-less.  Counter-surging throughout he never let Postol get away from him and take control of the ring and the glorious knockdown he scored in the tenth made him a winner as I saw it.

A year later Taylor, now 14-0, found himself in the ring with Ivan Baranchyk, the number seven contender and a legitimate strongman puncher, a serious challenge for the young Taylor. Taylor dropped Baranchyk twice in the seventh to take a clear unanimous decision win.

This led, in October of 2019, to the already legendary night in London when Taylor met Prograis in the unarguable 140lb fight of the decade. This is a fight of which it might be said that neither competitor deserved to lose but it felt more than that: both competitors deserved to win. This was reflected in the draw I scored, and one of the judges scored, the other two officials seeing it for Taylor.

What was most impressive on the night was seeing Taylor adjust to the early running, using the learning from his more recent fights to show Prograis different looks, moving, countering, and most of all butting up on the inside for exchanges. Taylor never dominated the fight but he outfought Prograis for stretches enough that he was the likeliest winner. That superb result has made him the #3 for the old decade and the de facto number one going into the new.

02 – Danny Garcia

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 21-2 Ranked For: 34% of the decade

I suspect there will be some who respond to Danny Garcia ranking at number two with surprise and even horror. I sympathise.

There was something underwhelming about Danny when he broke onto the world scene in 2012 against an ancient Erik Morales and his performance, too, in that fight was underwhelming. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t winning, that he did win, and by my eye quite comfortably. What I did not know about Danny then was that these were typical operations. He missed, yes, but he deployed controlled boxing nonetheless and with technical surety. Combined with his natural size and swiftness, this made him a formidable fighting machine at the poundage, and one that could afford to wait.

So, he did wait, boxing at a single sure pace until it was time to go through the gears, like he did late in that first Morales fight.

Danny redrew the way he was viewed by boxing in his very next fight against number one contender Amir Khan. An underdog who did not excite as an opponent, Danny was expected to be out-sped and outhit and probably stopped. He turned those tables after two tough rounds but in truth, he made no magic; he just bet on himself as better, then calmly, economically deployed himself and waited. A huge counter left hook had Khan down and in serious trouble; he never recovered and was brutally dispatched in the fourth much to the chagrin of the HBO commentary team. It was an easy night’s work.

Whispers had somehow emerged that Danny had been a little lucky against Morales, so Danny rematched him and blasted him out, then he matched Zab Judah, the number four contender, dropped and decisioned him and then he matched a second number one contender in Lucas Matthysse, who he outpointed in a thriller.

He had exclusively matched and beaten ranked opposition for five consecutive fights, outpointing veterans Kendall Holt and Nate Campbell before he had even begun that run. There is no more impressive sequence in the light-welterweight decade.

The bottom line then: Danny went 5-0 against top ten opposition, which is better than our number three, Josh Taylor; he beat up two #1 contenders whereas Taylor has defeated just one, in a life and death struggle; and he spent longer ranked in the decadal divisional top ten. As a Scotsman I would love to rank Taylor above Danny, but how can it possibly be justified?

01 – Terence Crawford

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 26-0 Ranked For: 24% of the decade

There was never even a question of some another fighter claiming the number one spot. Terence Crawford is as locked in as almost any number one has been in this series.

Although 140lbs was just a stopover on the way to 147lbs and from 135lbs where he reigned as champion, Crawford made maximum impact during a relatively short stay. He avoided alphabet ordained soft-touches in favour of legitimately excellent fighters with whom he could make legitimately excellent fights.

This, at least, was the theory. In reality Crawford knocked out every man he met at the weight with but a single exception in Viktor Postol. Postol was the first number one contender Crawford out-classed at 140lbs, but wouldn’t be the last. Crawford took his time in that fight and in others, boxing what tends to be labeled a “slow start” by television commentary teams but is in fact him taking a long hard look at his opponent.  After three rounds, Postol was 2-1 up but who could doubt after watching Crawford land his dialed in southpaw left in the fourth and drop Postol twice in the fifth that he had been measuring Postol? He did not lose another round and Postol, a world class fighter, looked a novice next to him.

This is the affect giants have on their opponents.

Still, Postol did better than Thomas Dulorme, measured through five then ruthlessly dispatched in six; John Molina, battered out in three; Felix Diaz, the ranked welterweight who dropped down to take an awful beating at the hands of Crawford – Diaz has never been the same; others. This brought him to his second number one contender at the weight, Julius Indongo.

Lithe and long, Indongo, out of Namibia, had previously stopped number four contender Eduard Troyanovsky, and was the first man to do so. Indongo looks too relaxed to be really explosive but he has torque on his trailing left hand, especially on his uppercut. Himself a contender for this list, he met Crawford in his last fight at 140lbs in August of 2018. Their fight was not competitive. Crawford dispatched him in three rounds, brutalising him to the body.

Sometimes when a dominant fighter moves up in weight, there is a sense of disappointment but not when Crawford left for 147lbs. There was no point in his remaining at 140lbs. There was nobody there to test him.

The other lists:








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U.K. Boxing Montage: Conlan KOed; Wood Regains Title; Billam-Smith Upsets Okolie




British fight fabs had plenty of options last night. Important events were staged in Manchester, in Bournemouth, and in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The locals were delighted in Manchester and Bournemouth, but fans in Belfast were left crestfallen when their hometown hero Michael Conlan, the former two-time Olympian, was on the wrong end of a vicious KO.

Conlan, who was 18-1 heading in, had a four-inch height advantage and three-inch reach advantage over Mexican spoiler Luis Alberto Lopez. The Irishman attracted late money and went to post a small favorite. But Lopez (28-2, 16 KOs) emerged victorious, successfully defending his IBF world featherweight title which he won in British soil over Josh Warrington.

Although Conlan had a rough patch in the second round, he was seemingly in a good position heading into round five when the Mexican invader brought a swift conclusion to the contest, discombobulating Conlan (pictured) with a right uppercut that prompted his trainer Adam Booth to throw in the towel. It was the second time that Conlan came up short in a bid for a world title. He challenged for the WBA version of this belt in March of last year, losing on a spectacular last round knockout to Leigh Wood in a fight that he was winning until the final 90 seconds.


In a scheduled 12-rounder for a WBC featherweight trinket, five-foot-three Liverpool buzzsaw Nick “Wrecking” Ball advanced to 18-0, (11 KOs) with a 12th-round stoppage of South Africa’s previously undefeated Ludumo Lamati (21-1-1, 11 KOs). Lamati’s corner tossed in the towel after Ball landed a series of hard punches in the final frame.

Lamati was on his feet when the bout was stopped but was in dire straits and was removed from the ring on a stretcher. There was no update on his condition as this story was going to press.

In a companion 12-rounder, Belfast’s Anthony “Apache” Cacace (21-1, 7 KOs) successfully defended his fringe 130-pound title with a wide decision over Damian Wrzesinski (26-3-2). The judges had 118-111, 117-111, and 116-112.

Wrzesinski, a 38-year-old Pole, fought with a brace on his right knee. This was the first fight for “Apache” in his hometown in eight years. The win may have set him up for a match with Welshman Joe Cordina, the IBF junior lightweight title-holder, or Shavkat Rakhimov who lost a close decision to Cordina in a bruising tiff last month.


Mauricio Lara didn’t bring his “A” game to England. That became apparent at the weigh-in when he failed to make weight, losing his WBA world featherweight title on the scales. By rule, only Leigh Wood could win it or it would become vacant.

This was a rematch. Fourteen weeks ago, Lara went into Wood’s backyard in Nottingham and stopped him in the seventh round. Lara was behind on the cards when he felled Wood with a crunching left hook. Wood beat the count but his trainer Ben Davison tossed in the towel which struck many, especially Wood, as premature as less than 10 seconds remained in the round.

In a previous trip to England, Lara had broken hearts in Leeds, stopping native son Josh Warrington. The Mexican invader, younger than Leigh Wood by 10 years, was expected to win again, but Wood, 34, simply out-worked him. He knocked Lara down in the second round with an uppercut and methodically kept him at bay, winning by scores of 116-111 and 118-109 twice.


In his first appearance since his controversial defeat to Josh Taylor in Glasgow in February of last year, Jack Catterall improved to 27-1 (15) with a wide decision over Irish-Australian southpaw Darragh Foley (22-5-1).

The Sportsman called the Catterall-Taylor fight, a split decision win for Taylor, the most controversial fight in British boxing history and Catterall became a more sympathetic figure when Taylor, after several postponements, reneged on his promise to give Catterall a rematch, opting instead for a date with Teofimo Lopez.

Although Foley was in action 10 weeks ago, scoring his signature win with a third-round stoppage of favored Robbie Davies Jr., and Catterall was making his first start in 15 months, this was a one-sided fray in Catterall’s favor. He had Foley on the canvas twice en route to winning by scores of 99-88, 98-89, and 97-90.

Eddie Hearn has expressed an interest in matching Catterall with Regis Prograis assuming that Prograis gets past Arnold Barboza on June 17.


England’s Terri Harper (14-1-1), who jumped up three weight classes last year, successfully defended her WBA 154-pound diadem with a unanimous but unimpressive 10-round decision over perennial title challenger Ivana Habazin. The judges had it 98-92 and 99-93 twice.

Harper was slated to fight former pound-for-pound queen Cecilia Braekhus last Saturday in the co-feature to Taylor vs. Cameron in Dublin, but hat match fell out when Braekhus came down with a bad cold following the weight-in.

Harper is seeking a unification fight with countrywoman Natasha Jonas. Habazin, a 33-year-old Croat, fell to 21-5.


In his fourth defense of his WBO world cruiserweight title, previously undefeated Lawrence Okolie was soundly defeated by former sparring partner Chris Billam.-Smith The match was contested in Billam-Smith’s  hometown before a raucous crowd at sold-out Vitality Stadium.

A 3/1 underdog, Billam-Smith, who was 17-1 heading in, proved clearly superior He knocked Okolie down in the fourth round and again in rounds 10 and 11 en route to winning by scores of 116-107, 115-108, and 112-112.

About that curious 112-112 card. It was turned in by U.S. judge  Benjamin Rodriguez who had been working the Illinois-Wisconsin circuit. On social media, his tally is being called the worst scorecard of all time.

Did Billam-Smith’s fans leave happy? The correspondent for British Boxing News called the event “a night of breathtaking boxing action that will never be forgotten.”

The six-foot-five Okolie may have made his last start as a cruiserweight. He aspires to fight Oleksandr Usyk.

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The Sweet Science Rankings: Week of May 22nd, 2023




The Sweet Science Rankings: Week of May 22nd, 2023

Hiroto Kyoguchi departs 108lbs for 112lbs so there’s a reorganisation at the bottom of the 108lbs division.  Fellow Japanese Junto Nakatani’s breathtaking destruction of Andrew Maloney sees him rise to #6 at 115lbs with Maloney dropping to #10; Kosei Tanaki who was also out at the weekend climbs to #9.  Raymond Muratalla is the last mover this week, eliminating Jamaine Ortiz and debuting at #9 at 135lbs.  There are no further changes at lightweight where Lomachenko maintains his ranking at #3.

*Please note that when the fighter’s name appears with an asterisk it represents a movement in ranking from the previous week.


01 – Naoya Inoue

02 – Oleksandr Usyk

03 – Juan Francisco Estrada

04 – Dmitry Bivol

05 – Terence Crawford

06 – Errol Spence Jnr.

07 – Tyson Fury

08 – Saul Alvarez

09 – Artur Beterbiev

10 – Shakur Stevenson



1            Knockout CP Freshmart (Thailand)

2            Petchmanee CP Freshmart (Thailand)

3            Melvin Jerusalem (Philippines)

4            Ginjiro Shigeoka (Japan)

5            Wanheng Menayothin (Thailand)

6            Daniel Valladares (Mexico)

7            Yudai Shigeoka (Japan)

8            Oscar Collazo (USA)

9            Masataka Taniguchi (Japan)

10          Rene Mark Cuarto (Philippines)



1            Kenshiro Teraji (Japan)

2            Jonathan Gonzalez (Puerto Rico)

3            Masamichi Yabuki (Japan)

4            Hekkie Budler (South Africa)

5            Sivenathi Nontshinga (South Africa)

6            Elwin Soto (Mexico)

7            Daniel Matellon (Cuba)

8            Reggie Suganob (Philippines)

9            Shokichi Iwata (Japan)*

10          Esteban Bermudez (Mexico)*



1            Sunny Edwards (England)

2            Artem Dalakian (Ukraine)

3            Julio Cesar Martinez (Mexico)

4            Angel Ayala Lardizabal (Mexico)

5            David Jimenez (Costa Rica)

6            Jesse Rodriguez (USA)

7            Ricardo Sandoval (USA)

8            Felix Alvarado (Nicaragua)

9            Seigo Yuri Akui (Japan)

10          Cristofer Rosales (Nicaragua)



1            Juan Francisco Estrada (Mexico)

2            Roman Gonzalez (Nicaragua)

3            Jesse Rodriguez (USA)

4            Kazuto Ioka (Japan)

5            Joshua Franco (USA)

6            Junto Nakatani (Japan)*

7            Fernando Martinez (Argentina)

8            Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (Thailand)

9            Kosei Tanaka (Japan)*

10          Andrew Moloney (Australia)



1            Emmanuel Rodriguez (Puerto Rico)

2            Jason Moloney (Australia)

3            Nonito Donaire (Philippines)

4            Vincent Astrolabio (Philippines)

5            Gary Antonio Russell (USA)

6            Takuma Inoue (Japan)

7            Alexandro Santiago (Mexico)

8           Ryosuke Nishida (Japan)

9            Keita Kurihara (Japan)

10          Paul Butler (England)



1            Stephen Fulton (USA)

2            Marlo Tapales (Philippines)

3            Luis Nery (Mexico)

4            Murodjon Akhmadaliev (Uzbekistan)

5            Ra’eese Aleem (USA)

6            Azat Hovhannisyan (Armenia)

7            Kevin Gonzalez (Mexico)

8            Takuma Inoue (Japan)

9            John Riel Casimero (Philippines)

10          Fillipus Nghitumbwa (Namibia)



1            Mauricio Lara (Mexico)

2           Brandon Figueroa (USA)

3            Rey Vargas (Mexico)

4            Luis Alberto Lopez (Mexico)

5            Mark Magsayo (Philippines)

6            Leigh Wood (England)

7            Josh Warrington (England)

8            Robeisy Ramirez (Cuba)

9            Reiya Abe (Japan)

10          Otabek Kholmatov (Uzbekistan)



1            Joe Cordina (Wales)

2            Oscar Valdez (Mexico)

3            Hector Garcia (Dominican Republic)

4            O’Shaquie Foster (USA)

5            Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (Tajikistan)

6            Roger Gutierrez (Venezuela)

7            Lamont Roach (USA)

8            Eduardo Ramirez (Mexico)

9            Kenichi Ogawa (Japan)

10          Robson Conceicao (Brazil)



1            Devin Haney (USA)

2            Gervonta Davis (USA)

3            Vasily Lomachenko (Ukraine)

4            Isaac Cruz (Mexico)

5            William Zepeda Segura (Mexico)

6            Frank Martin (USA)

7            George Kambosos Jnr (Australia)

8            Shakur Stevenson (USA)

9            Raymond Muratalla (USA)*

10          Keyshawn Davis (USA)



1            Josh Taylor (Scotland)

2            Regis Prograis (USA)

3            Jose Ramirez (USA)

4            Jose Zepeda (USA)

5            Jack Catterall (England)

6            Subriel Matias (Puerto Rico)

7            Arnold Barboza Jr. (USA)

8            Gary Antuanne Russell (USA)

9            Zhankosh Turarov (Kazakhstan)

10          Shohjahon Ergashev (Uzbekistan)



1            Errol Spence (USA)

2            Terence Crawford (USA)

3            Yordenis Ugas (Cuba)

4            Vergil Ortiz Jr. (USA)

5            Jaron Ennis (USA)

6            Eimantas Stanionis (Lithuania)

7            David Avanesyan (Russia)

8            Cody Crowley (Canada)

9            Roiman Villa (Columbia)

10          Alexis Rocha (USA)



1            Jermell Charlo (USA)

2           Tim Tszyu (Australia)

3            Brian Castano (Argentina)

4            Brian Mendoza (USA)

5            Liam Smith (England)

6            Jesus Alejandro Ramos (USA)

7            Sebastian Fundora (USA)

8            Michel Soro (Ivory Coast)

9            Erickson Lubin (USA)

10          Magomed Kurbanov (Russia)



1            Gennady Golovkin (Kazakhstan)

2            Jaime Munguia (Mexico)

3            Carlos Adames (Dominican Republic)

4            Janibek Alimkhanuly (Kazakhstan)

5            Liam Smith (England)

6            Erislandy Lara (USA)

7            Sergiy Derevyanchenko (Ukraine)

8            Felix Cash (England)

9            Esquiva Falcao (Brazil)

10          Chris Eubank Jnr. (Poland)



1            Canelo Alvarez (Mexico)

2            David Benavidez (USA)

3            Caleb Plant (USA)

4            Christian Mbilli (France)

5            David Morrell (Cuba)

6            John Ryder (England)

7            Pavel Silyagin (Russia)

8            Vladimir Shishkin (Russia)

9            Carlos Gongora (Ecuador)

10          Demetrius Andrade (USA)



1            Dmitry Bivol (Russia)

2            Artur Beterbiev (Canada)

3            Joshua Buatsi (England)

4            Callum Smith (England)

5            Joe Smith Jr. (USA)

6            Gilberto Ramirez (Mexico)

7            Anthony Yarde (England)

8           Dan Azeez (England)

9            Craig Richards (England)

10          Michael Eifert (Germany)



1            Jai Opetaia (Australia)

2            Mairis Breidis (Latvia)

3            Lawrence Okolie (England)

4            Richard Riakporhe (England)

5            Aleksei Papin (Russia)

6            Badou Jack (Sweden)

7            Chris Billam-Smith (England)

8            Arsen Goulamirian (France)

9            Yuniel Dorticos (Cuba)

10          Mateusz Masternak (Poland)



1            Tyson Fury (England)

2            Oleksandr Usyk (Ukraine)

3            Zhilei Zhang (China)

4            Deontay Wilder (USA)

5            Anthony Joshua (England)

6            Andy Ruiz (USA)

7            Filip Hrgovic (Croatia)

8            Joe Joyce (England)

9            Dillian Whyte (England)

10          Frank Sanchez (Cuba)

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‘How To Box’ by Joe Louis: Part 6 of a 6-Part Series – Putting It All Together




‘How To Box’ by Joe Louis: Part 6 of a 6-Part Series – Putting It All Together

“You got to be a killer, otherwise I’m getting too old to waste time on you.”—Jack Blackburn

Much has been said concerning the Joe Louis duels with Max Schmeling. It was proof that Louis was vulnerable to right hands. It was proof that Louis wasn’t vulnerable to right hands. It was a victory for America over the Nazis. But Schmeling wasn’t a Nazi. It was boxing’s biggest fight. But it wasn’t about boxing. It was what made Louis a hero. But he was already a hero.

One of Abraham Lincoln’s most successful biographers, Roy Basler, wrote that “to know the truth of history is to realize its ultimate myth and its inevitable ambiguity.” Is there a more telling example of this truth in sports than Louis-Schmeling II? Sometimes the tale can obscure the truth. To put it another way: when was the last time you just wondered at it? Wondered at what Joe Louis did to Max Schmeling on a night when, admittedly, the world was on the brink of war and the African-American was on the road to reclaiming himself from the white power structure in the USA? When was the last time you ignored all those very important things and just marvelled at that fight, the recording of which reporter Henry McLemore called “the most faithful recording ever made of human savagery”?

I’m going to invite you here, please, to wonder at it again.

In one moment.

First, we must take a look at Joe’s best performance.

Buddy Baer

The bigger, less celebrated of the Baer brothers had his own rematch with Joe Louis at the beginning of 1942. The first fight had ended in the controversy of a DQ win for Louis and, as he always did when there was the merest hint of scepticism after a title fight, Joe arranged to meet the Giant Californian once again.

A huge man in any era, Buddy tipped the scales at 250 and scraped the ceiling at a little more than 6’6. As noted by the St.Petersburg Times, “a fellow of Baer’s size in good condition, and equipped with the usual quota of arms, legs and eyes must be conceded a chance in any bout, particularly if he has courage and a punch.”

Buddy had both in abundance, but he was not a natural fighter. “We have the feeling he would rather be out picking violets,” is how the Times chose to illustrate the point. While this is a bit much we all know what he means. Louis, who would famously be fighting for free that night in support of the Navy Relief Fund, was a natural gladiator. Buddy Baer was not.

If Max Schmeling is clearly the tougher of the two opponents and Louis wreaked similar havoc on each of them, what is it that makes this Joe’s greatest performance? Baer’s size? Might it be suggested that herein lies the key to arguing Louis the master of all modern super-heavies as he destroys one in this encounter? It’s a reasonable point, but no, it is not that. It was my own favourite line from How to Box by Joe Louis that brought me to this conclusion.

“There are two basic methods of attack,” the1948 manual tells us, “either by force or by skill. The attack by force is used only by the slugger who depends only upon hitting power. The attack by skill is used by the boxer who relies upon his cleverness in feinting, correct leading, drawing and in-fighting.”

This is a fine division, at once elegant and incomplete, of the boxer’s physical abilities versus his technical ability, his gifts as an athlete as weighed against his skill as a boxer. While Joe’s destruction of Schmeling is his most devastating display, he relies often in that short fight upon his natural gifts, his speed, his power. Joe fights ugly for short, vicious stretches against Baer, too, but not before he has demonstrated for us the height of his art.

Louis and his ghostwriter, Edward J. Mallory, describe the various feints Louis employed in his championship years and most interesting among them is the left jab to the body, the lie, and then the right uppercut to the head, the truth. It is a difficult move from a technical perspective, calling upon the weight to be transferred from the left foot to the right and for the fighter to move from long distance to the inside, downstairs to up, all without getting caught. Louis pulls this move off against a fresh Baer, twenty-five seconds into the fight.

Baer came out aggressively and Louis was momentarily crowded out of the fight, driven and harried back to his own corner first by Baer’s length, then his size. Buddy’s physical advantages overcame Joe’s technical superiority, for just a moment. They circle, and Louis takes a short step back, employing the draw, before throwing a nothing left hook. Louis notices that the challenger’s tactic upon being jabbed are to dip, then make a grab and try to tie the champion up on the inside, allowing him to use his size and weight to bear down on him. A fine plan for a big man, but in fact the fight is now lost.

A few seconds later Louis is shuffling back and away from Baer once more and as Baer moves forwards Louis throws another jab. Again, Baer dips and tries to crowd but Louis has no intention of landing the jab. Instead, he holsters his left, takes a step to the outside with his left foot and even as Baer draws himself into his shell and prepares his grab, Louis uncorks his right uppercut, slipping his weight across his body as a part of the natural movement of the punch, the absolute perfection of this skill. The punch is not a finisher but note Baer’s reaction when Louis jabs at him once more, moments later. Instead of trying to menace the champion with his size or a counter, he backs up directly; shy of the uppercut that the jab disguised last time around. This is the ultimate realisation of the feint—to imbue in the jab, a hammer blow at the best of times the virtual attributes of the uppercut. Baer has now to abandon his pre-fight plan for Joe’s most important punch, that jab.

Skill has determined that his superior size is now worthless.

Paraffin to the wound seconds later as Louis pulls the trick off once more, this time after following through on the jab. A right-handed uppercut to the jaw—the hardest punch to land from a technical perspective—turns the trick again and now Baer is hurt. Louis plants a left hook behind the glove just above the ear and then he is ready to unleash the combinations that made him famous.

People say Joe Louis has slow feet. There is something to this, although hopefully it has been explained in the proper context in Part 1—The Foundation of Skill. Even then, however, we discuss his speed relative to those opponents who run. Well footwork is not merely a byword for a foot race. I defy anyone who takes the time to pay close enough attention to the speed at which Louis adjusts his feet now as Baer retreats across the ring to name him slow.

Out of position for a left hook as Baer is going away slightly outside his right foot, Louis shimmies—there is no other word for it—a quick step forwards, channelling all his power through his left leg and hips. This allows him to land that deadly, rare, straight right and behind it, even though he each time has to shimmy and hop forwards, he lands a left hook and then that rolling right cross. With each punch he is covering ground and with each punch he touches down long enough to get the torque through his hips and crack home hard punches, knockout punches. Perhaps the most startling thing about this sequence is that if you press pause at the moment these blows are landing, they look as though Louis were punching from a stationary position. His balance is perfect, his rushing attack is in no way affecting the value of his punches, yet he takes literally no time to get set. He is a cobra packing a shotgun.

“Use the weight of the body in every punch,” (my italics) advises How to Box and it is a tenet Louis is married to. My expectation upon placing it under the microscope was that I would have to issue a warning similar to the one I described when analysing Joe’s straight right hand—that it bore sweet fruit when it worked but that it was too detail-specific to be really viable in the ring, and that countermeasures must be employed. To my astonishment I found that Louis threw power punches (if not always his jab) in this fashion without compromising his balance on offense. It is my suspicion that this is a unique skillset above 200 lbs. and that you would have to work to find fighters who can fight like this in even the smallest divisions.

Though the fight is only a minute old, referee Frank Fullam takes his first close look at Baer as he wobbles back to Joe’s short rope behind a left-right combination to the jaw and a right to the body that Louis lands after ducking into a clinch as Baer tried to throw his first punches in some seconds. Louis is made to miss in turn as Baer bores him back and away from the ropes, missing first with the right uppercut and then the left hook. These are the most difficult punches to remain composed behind, but Louis does so, remaining in punching position.

Head-to-head in a maul, Louis appears the loser as he slowly gives ground during an exchange of meaningless shots, but a split second later, he has moved out of the maul that Baer remains bowed solemnly into, and Louis begins the assault again. A bobbing top caught in two opposing tides—his, and the punches Joe is driving home—Baer’s size is now nothing less than a handicap in the face of the genius of Joe’s box-punching.

For the first knockdown Louis slips the non-existent jab he expects when he is on his way in, jabs to the stomach and bombs a right cross over his defence. Watch carefully and you will see Baer’s high guard rappelled right and down by the famous Louis follow-through before snapping back into place as Baer collapses in an enormous heap on the canvas, forty-pound weight advantage and all, the first time he has looked big since that first uppercut landed.

It’s hard to admire a man shooting fish in a barrel but take a moment to appreciate the blinds being drawn and the man Leroy Simerly (Herald-Journal) called “strictly a sixteen-inch gunner” in full flow.

Baer was magnanimous in defeat clutching Joe’s head in his oversized paws, almost comically huge next to the man labelled in newspapers the following morning as “the most destructive puncher the fight game has ever seen.”

Baer figured Louis to be champion for some time to come.

“Maybe my next child will be a son and I can raise him up to do the job.”

Three days later, Louis would pass his army physical. He would never reach the heights of the Buddy Baer fight again. It is a frightening thought, but it is possible that boxing never saw the very best of its greatest champion.

Max Schmeling

“Ain’t no sense foolin’ around like I did last time.”

Louis said more than once in the run up to the fight that he would end Max Schmeling in a single round. For the most part this was dismissed as hyperbole by a press which did not break ranks to predict anything earlier than a third-round knockout. Hyperbole was the furthest thing from the minds of Louis and Blackburn, however. This was a plan with its foundation built firmly upon the scientific reasoning that Schmeling had become so famous for.

When Joe Louis attended the welterweight title fight between Henry Armstrong and Barney Ross, it was not as a fan, although he was one, but as a disciple. It is possible that Armstrong was the only man in the history of the fight game capable of teaching Louis about controlled destructive violence in the ring, but the story goes that he did—and that along with handler Eddie Mead, he convinced Louis and Blackburn that a direct, rushing assault was the best strategy.

And the story had more than just a hint of truth to it. First Joe was seen at Henry’s training camp and then Henry was seen at Joe’s. Louis did not speak of it directly, but Blackburn was less equivocal:

“Last time Chappie fought just the way Schmeling wanted him to. This time it’ll be different. Chappie’s going to learn from Armstrong. He’s going to set a fast pace right from the start.”

Max Machon, trainer to Schmeling, did not see the danger, encouraging Louis to do just that:

“He would be as awkward as a school girl on her first pair of ice skates!”

Schmeling, meanwhile, wasn’t paying attention or had seen a bluff where there was none:

“I think in the first round we will just feel each other out.”

According to the World Telegram, “Schmeling will make no mistake in strategy. Louis doesn’t know what the word means.” This was the prevailing attitude at the time, but in fact a reversal of this equation was happening right under the noses of the dismissive newspapermen. Even those that sniffed out a possible tactical dimension to the Louis battle plan were disdainful of it. Perhaps they were right, and perhaps Blackburn and Mead were the masterminds behind the directness of the violence about to erupt in Yankee Stadium. But the fact is that Louis had been obsessively watching the first Schmeling fight, originally with a journalist (who could not believe that Blackburn had never shown it to the champion and had in fact discouraged him from seeing it), then with his trainer and finally alone.

Over and over again.

“I know how to fight Max now.”

Louis was to fight Schmeling in the opposite style, as far as How to Box is concerned, to the one he would use to destroy Buddy Baer. There, he fought by skill, here it was to be by force—speed, power.

Louis doesn’t stalk or attempt to draw a lead from Schmeling. At the first bell, he is after him straight away and when Schmeling tries to move, Joe moves with him, still in the small steps and still behind that ramrod jab but with more urgency than is normal. The hard jab and a closet left hook are landed before Max moves out of range, but the leaping left hook he uses to drive Max before him is a new flavor of Louis, especially against an unharmed world-class opponent. Louis had reportedly shadowboxed for forty to fifty minutes before emerging from his dressing room wearing two gowns to keep his body warm. Now he was making both Schmeling and Machon foolish in their pre-fight predictions. Not only was Louis wasting absolutely no time in feeling Schmeling out, but he also bore very little resemblance to a schoolgirl on ice skates. He looked more like coiled galvanized steel brought miraculously and terrifyingly to life.

Referee Arthur Donovan would later claim that this left hook caused Max’s face to swell and changed his pallor to a “faint bluish green.”

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The hook also carried him inside, but rather than moving for space Louis dug his heels in and pushed against Schmeling, denying him room, landing three hard uppercuts, pulling out and then stabbing back in with the one-two. When Schmeling puts his left glove over Joe’s right, cupping his own body protectively with his free arm, Louis reverted to his old habits, making room for himself as he punched, adjusting tactically to Schmeling’s increasingly desperate defensive manoeuvres.

After the German lands his only significant punch of the fight—a right hand as the champion moved away—Louis stalked a rattled Schmeling to the far rope and drew the inevitable pressure lead, before going to work with both hands to the midsection and switching upstairs. When Schmeling tries to hide up close after another one-two, Louis pushes him back and away, giving himself room for his aggressive rushes. Here, then, was the culmination of the tactical switch as he drove Schmeling back with the uppercut then invoked the most famous fistic assault between Dempsey and Tyson, hammering Schmeling back with both fists, the German catapulting away but seemingly caught in the Bomber’s horrifying gravity as he catches the rope for support with his right glove and catapults himself right back into the kill zone. Louis is swarming all over him and Schmeling, now half turned away, is nothing more than a slab of meat and one that the champion goes to work upon in earnest, a butcher wielding two cleavers, finally landing perhaps his most famous punch, a right hand just above the kidney that fractured the transverse process of the third and fourth lumbar vertebrae, tearing the muscles surrounding it in the process. The scream that erupted from Schmeling was “half animal, half human” and according to David Margolick author of Beyond Glory: Max Schmeling and Joe Louis was so bloodcurdling that many patrons on that side of the ring reached for their hats as though compelled to retreat. If it occurred, this was a primal reaction but Louis, for me, was not giving the primal showing of legend.

“He is a jungle man,” wrote journalist Henry McLenmore. “As completely primitive as any savage out to destroy the thing he hates. He fought instinctively and not by any man-made pattern.”

This is not true. Louis had re-armed himself with some new tools for this fight and had shown a strategic surety the German came nowhere near matching—Schmeling was outthought for all that he was also slaughtered. When necessary, Louis switched between pure aggression and his drawing, counterpunching style with seamless ease and although he used his physical rather than his technical brilliance to master Schmeling, I would argue that “the hand of man” is more apparent in this performance than any other one of his fights.

“I thought in my mind, “How’s that Mr. Super-race? I was glad he was hurt,” said Louis in response to questions about his thoughts on the punch that had broken Schmeling’s back. Now he did cut loose, battering Max like he was a heavy bag and indeed from this point on the challenger put up about as much resistance. The final punch, when it came, had the same affect upon Schmeling’s face as a baseball bat would an apple, according to the Herald Tribune. The fight ended in confusion and uproar as first the towel, then Max Machon himself stormed the ring but Schmeling was as knocked out as any fighter had ever been. Louis had wiped the floor with him.

His reward, outside of the $400,000 he had just banked, was to be compared in the next few days in the press to every dangerous animal that walked the earth. Lions, tigers, bears, snakes, hawks and most of all panthers were what the champion was like and the racial climate in which he fought makes us look back and shake our heads at the casual racism. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and John F. Kennedy were all in America’s glittering future. But I do not think it was a matter of race—or not only of race.

It is a fact, however, that some of the pressmen that talked about Louis in these terms were black.

Louis himself, by virtue of his skill in the ring would take a hand in steering his race toward calmer waters.

It’s us.

We all look at Louis and see something primal because there is something primal within all of us. He speaks to it.

And that’s fine. Boxing needs its violence every bit as much as it needs its heroes. If this series of articles was about anything it was about stripping away that projection, that stardust, that lie and looking at the fighter underneath, because that is a beautiful thing that all too often is overlooked. Louis had one of the best jabs, one of the best skillsets, was one of the best counterpunchers, one of the best boxers at any weight, ever—and I hope I have shown that his supposed tactical rigidity and strategic naivety is something we have projected onto this “animal” this “killer” this “bomber,” too, for all that these were not his greatest strengths. He had help and Blackburn was an important part of arguably the greatest story our sport has ever known but as Joe Louis said, “Once that bell rings, you are on your own.

“It’s just you and the other guy.”

And I sure wouldn’t want to be the other guy.

For those of you who have taken the considerable time to read these articles on Joe Louis from the first word to the last—thank you.

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