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Boxing’s Chaotic Weight Divisions: A Short History of How We Got to Where We Are

Arne K. Lang

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The World Boxing Council recently created a new weight division. It’s called Bridgerweight and it’s for boxers weighing not less than 201 or more than 224 pounds.

The news fomented a firestorm of criticism. There are already too many weight classes yelped the belligerents. Adding yet another compounded the insult.

WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman could have forestalled the backlash — nay, he could have actually inverted it – if he had simultaneously done away with a couple of the weight classes near the bottom end of the spectrum. That’s what the National Boxing Association did in 1921. Ah, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

In the bare-knuckle days, there were basically only three weight classes: heavyweight, middleweight, and lightweight. However, the ceilings for the two lower weight classes were not standardized, opening the door to multiple title claimants.

This situation persisted as the sport entered the modern era. Before World War I, the weight limit for featherweights in the United States was generally conceded to be 122 whereas the norm in Great Britain was 126. Likewise, the Brits defined a lightweight as 135 pounds whereas the Yanks held tight to 133. Eventually, the British nomenclature prevailed.

The original three weight classes eventually increased to seven and then to eight with the introduction of the light heavyweight division in 1903. The architect was Lou Houseman, the sporting editor of the Chicago Inter Ocean newspaper. Houseman managed Jack Root who had outgrown the middleweight class. When he matched Root against Kid McCoy, he billed it for the light heavyweight title. Fight writers were receptive and Root, who dominated McCoy en route to winning a 10-round decision, would enter the history books as the first light heavyweight champion.

An important development in the standardization of weight classes was the 1920 Antwerp Summer Olympics. Twelve nations sent boxers to these games, eight more than in 1908 when 32 of the 42 entrants — and all but one of the medal winners – were British. (There was no boxing at the 1912 games in Stockholm as the sport was outlawed in Sweden and the 1916 Olympiad was cancelled because of the war in Europe, so the 1920 games marked the return of boxing after a 12-year absence.)

The bouts at the 1920 Games were contested in eight weight divisions, up from five weight classes in 1908.

Flyweight (112)

Bantamweight (118)

Featherweight (126)

Lightweight (135)

Welterweight (147)

Middleweight (160)

Light heavyweight (175)

Heavyweight (176+)

These became the eight standard divisions, but it didn’t take long for a regulatory body to add new categories. The Walker Law of 1920, which had the effect of making New York the center of the boxing universe, included a provision for five additional weight classes: junior flyweight (109 pounds), junior bantamweight (118), junior featherweight (122), junior lightweight (130), and junior welterweight (140).

The first of these “junior” classes to make an appearance was the junior lightweight class. On Nov. 18, 1921, Tex Rickard presented a diamond-studded belt to Johnny Dundee after Dundee, the so-called Scotch Wop, defeated George “KO” Chaney at Madison Square Garden. (Chaney was disqualified in the fifth round for repeated low blows.)

On January 19, 1922, at the inaugural National Boxing Association convention in New Orleans, the junior lightweight and junior welterweight divisions were retained, but New York’s three other junior divisions were scrapped.

The sport already had a junior lightweight champion, Johnny Dundee, but New York hadn’t yet authorized a fight for the junior welterweight title so the NBA (the forerunner of the World Boxing Association, the first of the international governing bodies) got to go first. They bestowed the 140-pound title on Pinkey Mitchell, the less prominent of two fighting brothers from Milwaukee.

Strange but true. Mitchell was accorded this honor by winning an election, out-polling 19 other candidates in a survey conducted by the Boxing Blade, a Minneapolis boxing weekly. The magazine claimed that its readers returned more than 700,000 ballots. (Balderdash; boxing was big in those days, but it wasn’t quite that big.)

In due time, the junior welterweight title passed into the hands of Tod Morgan, a slick southpaw from Seattle. On Dec. 20, 1929, Morgan defended his belt against Benny Bass at Madison Square Garden. Bass knocked him out in the second round.

Benny Bass was nicknamed the “Little Fish” and this fight had the distinct aroma of rotten fish.

In the lobby of the Garden as the preliminaries were going on, bookies were quoting 6/1 odds on the challenger, a price that made no sense considering the reputations of the two fighters. The New York State Athletic Commission, which was then chaired by future U.S. Postmaster General James A. Farley, reacted by abolishing the junior welterweight division and for good measure, expunging all the other “junior” divisions as well.

The ruling did not impact any of the NYSAC-certified title-holders other than Bass as the commission hadn’t yet authorized any title fights in the three lowest junior classes and the junior lightweight title was vacant, having been abandoned by Johnny Dundee who went to win the more prestigious featherweight belt.

So, now we were back to only “8’ weight classes in New York whose boxing commission exerted considerable sway on the national scene when Massachusetts and Pennsylvania became aligned with it.

The junior lightweight class became dormant during the early years of the Depression and wasn’t revived until 1949 when the NBA sanctioned a match between Sandy Saddler and Orlando Zulueta for the vacant belt. Saddler, who had lost the featherweight title in his second meeting with Willie Pep, outpointed Zulueta in a dull 10-round fight at Cleveland to claim the vacant title.

The NBA junior welterweight class went dormant in 1946 when Tippy Larkin abandoned the belt because he could no longer make the weight. It was revived in 1959. Carlos Ortiz began a new line of junior welterweight title-holders when he stopped Kenny Lane on cuts. By then the NBA had morphed into the World Boxing Association.

The New York commission refused to sanction the Ortiz-Lane match as a world title fight although the bout was held at Madison Square Garden, but eventually relented. It mattered greatly that Carlos Ortiz was a New Yorker. A Puerto Rican by birth, he resided in the Bronx. But by then it really made no difference whether New York recognized the junior welterweight division or not. In terms of national influence, the Empire State no longer had much clout.

Over the years, there has been pressure to raise the weight limits of the standard weight classes. This was considered preferable to cluttering up the landscape with more divisions.

In 1946, the NBA, at their annual convention, considered a motion to raise the limit of each weight class from 3-5 pounds. The flyweight division, for example, would go from 112 to 115; the middleweight division from 160 to 165. The motion was prodded by a Harvard study that showed that the school’s freshmen, on average, weighed 10 pounds more than their counterparts in 1892.

The motion never advanced to the voting stage, and this would be true again in 1953 after a government study revealed that the average American man of draft age was 10 pounds heavier than the average American soldier in World War I.

Prior to this, there was talk of raising the light heavyweight limit from 175 to 185 pounds. The impetus was Billy Conn’s feeble effort in his highly-anticipated rematch with Joe Louis. Conn came in at 182, twenty-five pounds less than the Brown Bomber. In theory, the match would not have been approved if the ceiling for light heavyweights had been set at 185 pounds.

Needless to say, none of these campaigns to raise the limits of the various weight classes succeeded. The weights of the eight classic divisions haven’t been disturbed in well over 100 years, notwithstanding the fact that people in most parts of the world and particularly in the Westernized world have, on average, become bigger, both taller and heavier.

Amateur boxing hasn’t been as hidebound. That’s a story for another day.

To be continued…….

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Fulton Wins Inside War to Win WBO Title and Other Results from Connecticut

David A. Avila

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This time Stephen Fulton passed the Covid-19 test and then out-worked Angelo Leo in a brutal inside war to take the WBO super bantamweight world title by unanimous decision on Saturday.

Philadelphia’s Fulton (19-0, 8 KOs) was supposed to box and move against the body puncher Leo (20-1, 9 KOs) of Las Vegas but instead banged his way to victory with an artful display of inside fighting at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn.

When Leo won the world title during this past summer, he was supposed to fight Fulton, but Fulton showed positive on a Covid-19 test and was forced out of the fight. Not this time. Instead, the Philly fighter would not be denied.

Fulton planted his feet and banged to the body against body shot artist Leo and kept it going toe-to-toe for most of the 12 rounds.

Leo had his moments and was able to start slightly quicker, but by the sixth round it seemed Fulton was the stronger fighter down the stretch.

“He started breathing a little harder,” said Fulton. “I pushed myself to the limit in training.”

It showed.

Fulton took control for the last four rounds and just seemed fresher and more active to win by unanimous decision. Despite fighting primarily inside, the Philly fighter seemed comfortable.

“The game plan was to box at first. But I had to get a little dirty,” Fulton said. “I made it a dog fight.”

All three judges scored it for Fulton: 118-110 and 119-109 twice. TheSweetscience.com scored it 115-113 for Fulton who now holds the WBO super bantamweight world title.

“I’m the only champion Philadelphia has,” said Fulton.

Aleem KOs Pasillas

A battle between undefeated power-hitting super bantamweights saw Ra’eese Aleem (18-0, 12 KOs) knock down East L.A.’s Vic Pasillas (16-1, 9 KOs) multiple times before ending the fight in the 11th round.

“I believe I put an exclamation point in my victory,” said Aleem who trains in Las Vegas but is a native of Michigan.

Aleem showed off his quickness and power in both hands that resulted in knock downs of Pasillas in the second, sixth, ninth and 11th rounds. It seemed that Pasillas never could figure out how to combat the awkward looping blows and quickness of Aleem.

Pasillas had a few moments with his ability to score with counter lefts and right hooks from his southpaw stance. But every time he scored big Aleem would rally back with even more explosive blows.

As Aleem mounted a large lead, Pasillas looked to set up a needed knockout blow but was instead caught with an overhand right to the chin and a finishing left that forced the referee to stop the fight at 1:00 of the 11th round.

Aleem picks up the interim WBA super bantamweight title. It’s basically a title that signifies he is the number one contender.

Lightweights

Rolando Romero (13-0, 11 KOs) floored Avery Sparrow (10-3, 3 KOs) in the first round and then exhibited his boxing skills to win by technical knockout.

It looked like the fight was going to end early when Romero caught Sparrow with a left hook. But Philadelphia’s Sparrow survived the first round and the next few rounds to slow down the attacking Romero. Things settled down but Romero kept winning the rounds.

Sparrow dropped to the floor during an exchange of blows in the sixth round which the referee quickly ruled “no knockdown.” Noticeably in pain Sparrow was under full assault from Romero and resorted to firing low blows. The referee deducted two points from Sparrow for the infraction.

The Philadelphia fighter limped out with a still gimpy knee to compete in the seventh round but within a minute Sparrow’s corner signaled to the referee to stop the fight. The stoppage gave Romero the win by technical knockout at 43 seconds into the round.

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Boxers Fighting the Best and Doing It Again for the First Time: Part Two

Ted Sares

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Boxers Fighting the Best and Doing It Again for the First Time: Part Two

As mentioned in Part One, the phrase “cherry picking” gained meaningful traction during the time “Money” Mayweather was making his run. A new and very simple business model seemed to fuel it; namely, make the most money the quickest way with the least amount of risk and that translated into fewer fights. The change was almost imperceptible.

WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. (31-1) has fought once a year sine 2014. WBO middleweight king Demetrius Andrade (39-0) started out fast but then fell into a less active mode. Wlad Klitschko began to pick his spots with more caution as he met the likes of Francesco Pianeta and Alex Leapai. Shane Mosley slowed down towards the end and even Guillermo Rigondeaux (20-1) has faded from the headlines after being stopped by Vasyl Lomachenko.

Back to the Future

Suddenly, however, a twist has emerged that suggests a new model may well be in the offing; to wit: make the most money the quickest way but with lesser regard to risk. Perhaps Daniel Dubois fighting Joe Joyce last November was an example. Translated, it could mean that the best will fight the best as they did in days of yore. If so, Mega- possibilities await.

“I Want All The Belts, No Easy Fights, I Want To Face The Best.” –Virgil Ortiz

Ryan “King Ry” Garcia (21-0) has called out everyone and anybody and it appears he might get his wish in Devin “The Dream” Haney (25-0) or maybe the exciting Gervonta “Tank” Davis (24-0).

The new breed of Davis, Garcia, Haney and Teofimo “The Takeover” Lopez is being is being compared to the “Four Kings” (Leonard, Hearns, Hagler, Duran) but a flattered Devin Haney wisely notes “those guys fought each other.”

In this connection, writer James Slater nails it as follows: “Right now, in today’s boxing world, Haney, Lopez, Davis and Garcia could all do well, they could win a title or two and they could pick up some huge paydays, without fighting each other. This is the state the sport is in these days. It’s up to the fighters to really WANT to take take the risks, to take on their most dangerous rivals. The ‘Four Kings’ did it, time and again, and this is what added enormously to their greatness.”

Teofimo Lopez did it. After shocking Richard Commey, he beat Vasyl Lomachenko in an even more shocking outcome and now wants George Kambosos, Jr. to step aside for a Devin Haney fight.

It doesn’t get any better than the specter of Errol Spence Jr. (27-0) fighting “Bud” Crawford (37-0) unless it’s Tyson Fury (30-0-1) meeting Anthony Joshua (24-1.) If Covid 19 is under control, they could do this one in front of 100,000 fans.

Josh Taylor has talked about challenging Lopez even if it means dropping down to lightweight, and then moving up to 147 to challenge Crawford or Spence.

Dillian Whyte rematching with Alexander Povetkin is another highly anticipated fray and has the added dimension of being a crossroads affair. Oleksandr Usyk will likely face off with Joe Joyce in Usyk’s first real test as a heavyweight.

In late February there’s a big domestic showdown in New Zealand between heavyweights Joseph Parker and Junior Fa. On that same date In London, Carl Frampton squares off with slick WBO 130-pound champion Jamel Herring.

And Juan Francisco Estrada rematching with a rejuvenated Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez has everyone’s attention.

Super exciting Joe Smith Jr. meets Russia’s Maxim Vlasov for the vacant WBA light heavyweight belt. What’s not to like?

The showdown between Miguel Berchelt (38-1) and Oscar Valdez (28-0) is the best on the February docket and could end up being a FOTY.

Speaking of FOTY’s, the prospect of Naoya “Monster” Inoue vs. Kazuto Ioka is as mouthwatering as it can get and has global appeal.

Meanwhile, Artur Beterbiev looms and it’s not a question of opponents as much as it’s a question of who wants to contend with his bludgeoning style of destruction.

Claressa Shields, Marie Eve Dicaire, Katie Taylor, Amanda Serrano, Delfine Persoon, Jessica McCaskill, and Layla McCarter are prepared to make female boxing sizzle. In the final analysis,  when Vasyl Lomachenko becomes an opponent, you know something is very different.

You can read Part One HERE

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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Vic Pasillas: An East L.A. Fighter

David A. Avila

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When East L.A.’s Vic Pasillas enters the prize ring this weekend he follows a path that many from his area have trod before. Not all were successful, but those that succeed become near legendary.

But it’s definitely not easy being from East L.A.

Pasillas (16-0, 9 KOs) meets Michigan’s Raeese Aleem (17-0, 11 KOs) for the vacant interim WBA featherweight title on Saturday Jan. 23, at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. Showtime will televise live.

Once again, a fighter from East L.A. stands pivoted for greatness. Can Pasillas go all the way?

For the past 130 years, prizefighters from East Los Angeles have developed into some of the best in the world if you can get them into the prize ring. Oscar De La Hoya and Leo Santa Cruz are two who were able to duck drugs, crime, street gangs and longtime allegiances that can often mislead aspiring boxers toward deadly endings.

One of the first featherweight champions in history lived in East L.A. Solly Garcia Smith won the world championship in 1893. He was the first Latino to ever win a world title.

There are many others from “East Los” who were talented prizefighters that were sidetracked into oblivion. Talented pugilists like brothers Panchito Bojado and Angel Bojado were derailed by mysterious obstacles that East Los Angeles presents. Others like Frankie Gomez and Julian Rodriguez showed dazzling promise but disappeared.

It’s almost as if a curse hangs over East L.A. area like a blanket of smog.

Many were surefire champions. But for some reason East L.A. or East Los as it’s called by those living in the 20 square mile radius, seems to have a dark lingering spell that makes it extra difficult for prizefighters to succeed.

Back in the 1950s a supremely talented fighter named Keeny Teran was skyrocketing to fame when heroin dropped him like an invisible left hook. Celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Danny Kaye were his biggest backers. Yet, not even they could help Teran.

Drugs almost took Pasillas too.

The fighter known as “Vicious” Vic Pasillas could have tripped into one of those sad stories from East L.A. you often hear about from your abuelitas. The streets can easily claim you if you let your guard down. Who is a friend and who is a foe are not often clear as the colors brown or white. It’s a potholed journey to navigate the barrio streets that look tame during the day, but ominous when the darkness arrives.

Barrio Life

Growing up with parents who were incarcerated led Pasillas to find loyalty from the vatos on the street. They treated him well and gave him protection and a sense of family, but often led to being involved in petty and major crimes.

“I moved out of the neighborhood. I had to get away from my friends. No disrespect to them but I knew that I would end up in jail,” said Pasillas who moved to Riverside, Calif. which is 60 miles east of East L.A. “Nobody knew where I was.”

One thing certain: prizefighting was his gift. All that he encountered recognized his boxing ability.

“He was always a gifted fighter,” said Joe Estrada, who would often take him to tournaments around California or in other states. “Every tournament he entered he won. He has always had speed, power, and defense. He’s always been a great boxer, but trouble was always around him.”

Gangs had always been a part of Pasillas life. He was born into gangs in South El Monte and even after moving to East L.A. it was not an escape. It was vatos locos that took him under their wing and showed him love and respect. They took care of him; some were also boxers.

East L.A. is an area much like a spider web. You can travel a quarter mile in one direction and suddenly you are in enemy turf. Gangs are everywhere. If you are an adult male you can’t simply walk outside a door without looking in all directions. It makes you razor sharp in recognizing danger. You always look out for danger.

Pasillas loved boxing and loved his friends, the big homies, but cutting off one for the other was the most difficult decision. He would train, fight, and win but then hang with the homies and end up being arrested with the rest of them.

“The cops would come and everybody would run so I would run,” said Pasillas. “I didn’t do anything, but I would get busted with everybody else for trying to evade the police.”

Things remained the same until he met his wife. The streets never had a chance. Once married he moved to the Riverside area. It was 2011 and newly married he needed to make a decision on whether to try and make the Olympic team or turn professional.

“I was ready to go to the Olympics. First, I was going to smash everybody but my wife got pregnant at 2011. It forced me to get a job at a warehouse. I was making 50 dollars a week. Pennies,” said Pasillas. “I got a call from Cameron Dunkin and Top Rank. They offered me a fight on the third Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez fight. That was my pro debut.”

Sadly, the streets reclaimed him again.

Reckoning

A move to northern California seemed to change things but the struggle to stay outside the grasp of the streets remained real even hundreds of miles away. Despite the dark times Pasillas still had friends and admirers.

Seniesa Estrada, who holds the interim WBA flyweight title and is poised to fight for a world title in March, remembers sparring with Pasillas when she could not find girls to spar.

“Vic was always very good. He would take it easy on me, of course, but I would learn so much from sparring with guys like him and Jojo Diaz and Frankie Gomez,” said Estrada, who grew up and still lives in East L.A.

Pasillas, 28, had more than 300 amateur fights. He lost only eight times. Anyone who ever saw him fight immediately recognized his immense talent.

“Vic is one of the best fighters I ever saw,” said Joe Estrada. “Everyone knew that when he’s in shape he can’t be beat. Just so much talent.”

That talent will be tested on Saturday when he meets Michigan’s undefeated Aleem. Whoever wins their battle will meet the winner between Angelo Leo and Stephen Fulton who fight for the WBO super bantamweight title.

“I want to fight the best now, and Pasillas is one of the best fighters in the division. I’m not ducking or dodging anyone. I’m going to be a world champion by all means necessary,” said Aleem who now fights out of Las Vegas.

Pasillas doesn’t doubt that Aleem has talent.

“I don’t want to give up my game plan but best believe I’m going to do whatever it takes to win this fight. If he wants to bang, then we’ll bang, if he wants to box, we’ll box. I’ve seen so many different styles in the amateurs, there is nothing that he brings that I haven’t seen. My power is what he’s going to have to deal with,” Pasillas said.

It’s been an incredible up and down journey so far for Pasillas; a lifetime of dealing with hidden traps on East L.A. streets that have toppled many previous fighters now long forgotten.

Or will those same streets show the way to glittering success as former champions De La Hoya, Santa Cruz, Joey Olivo, Richie Lemos, Newsboy Brown and Solly Garcia Smith discovered.

One thing Pasillas already discovered was his own family.

“People invite me all the time to events and parties but I tell them I already have plans with my family,” said Pasillas who has a wife and two elementary age children. “I never really had a family like other people.”

Now he has his own family. Something he didn’t have during his youth due to drugs and the streets.

“It’s just a domino effect. I’m making sure I’m going to stop that s—t,” says Pasillas. “It’s going to be good for East Los. I’m a born and bred fighter from East Los.”

Sometimes the streets can break you or make you.

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