By Cliff Rold
The Other Nine, Pt. 1
Follow the sweet science long enough and even a passing fan will hear, with sounds of awe, about an ‘original eight,’ about a bygone era when the sport’s weight classes were limited to just that number with (usually) just that many World champions.
The era didn’t last very long.
As early as the 1920s, prizefighting saw extra prizes added by way of Jr. divisions at Featherweight, Lightweight and Welterweight. Over the course of time, the total number has grown to a modern seventeen weight classes. Sometimes derided as bastard divisions, most didn’t begin with particular esteem. As the years and indeed decades have passed, all have built their own legacies in blood and all have produced greatness in the ring.
Through the course of “The Other Nine,” the best of each of the in-between classes will be given their due, examining how the champions of each performed against each other.
With the size gap between the best Light Heavyweights and the best Heavyweights growing, and the chance for additional sanctioning fees ever enticing, the World Boxing Council (WBC) initiated a Cruiserweight division in 1979 to snickers from the establishment. On December 8, 1979, the division’s first title fight pitted Marvin Camel against Mate Parlov.
They battled to a draw.
It was a sign of things to come as Cruiserweight has battled in the years since to become respected amongst its peer groups, with its limit set variously at 190 and 195 lbs. before settling on the current 200 lb. standard. The World Boxing Association (WBA) joined the WBC with a Jr. Heavyweight title in 1982, followed by the International Boxing Federation (IBF) in 1983 and World Boxing Organization (WBO) in 1989.
While the early career of Evander Holyfield got Cruiserweight noticed, it was but a brief brush with notoriety before Holyfield was off to bigger things. In recent years, the class has forged a new image with a spate of high profile, exciting brawls between talented scrappers but greater appreciation today doesn’t mean nothing happened between Holyfield and the current championship reign of Tomasz Adamek.
From Camel-Parlov I and the successful rematch win for Camel which established the division’s original championship lineage, on through to the present, some 53 fighters have claimed shares of the Cruiserweight crown. How have those men done against, and in comparison, to each other?
In determining a top twenty, this largely statistical analysis will not include battles fought clearly in the Light Heavyweight division but, given the relatively low number of incidents, will include clashes above the Cruiserweight division. Active fighters are included and of course subject to change over time.
The Top Twenty
20) Carl Thompson – 6.75 points: The all-action, U.K.-based Thompson posted a career record of 34-6, 25 KO…WBO titlist 1995-99…three successful defenses…faced 5 titlists (Massimiliano Duran, Ralf Rocchigiani, Johnny Nelson, Uriah Grant, David Haye) six times, defeating all but Nelson and stopping Duran, Grant and Haye for Haye’s only loss to this publishing date…perhaps best remembered for two brutal wars with fellow U.K. native and former Super Middleweight stalwart Chris Eubank in 1998.
19) Ralf Rocchigiani – 7 Points: Based in Germany, was one half of a memorable family pair with brother Graciano…posted a career mark of 42-9-7, 17 KO…WBO titlist 1995-97…six successful defenses…faced four titlists (Camel, Markus Bott, Tyrone Booze, Thompson) five times, defeating Camel by decision and stopping Thompson in their first battle.
18) Nate Miller – 7.13 Points: A typically tough product of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania…posted a career mark of 31-9, 27 KO…WBA titlist 1995-97…four successful defenses…faced six titlists (Booze, James Warring, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Al Cole, Orlin Norris, Fabrice Tiozzo) eight times, decisioning Qawi and Booze along with a stoppage of Norris in their first of two bouts…lost crown to Tiozzo and followed with rematch loss to Norris and, worth noting, a one-sided loss to the great Tommy Hearns.
16-tie) Magne Havnaa – 9.5 Points: Historically obscure Norseman posted a career mark of 19-3, 11 KO…WBO titlist 1990…two successful defenses…faced four titlists (Nelson, Ratliff, Boone Pultz, Booze) posting a win over each versus a single loss to Pultz…faced Nelson in first professional bout.
16-tie) Orlin Norris – 7.5 Points: San Diego, California native and older brother of Hall of Fame Jr. Middleweight Terry Norris…career mark of 57-10-1, 30 KO…WBA titlist 1993-95…four successful defenses…faced four titlists (Arthur Williams, Adolpho Washington, Miller, Vassiliy Jirov) seven times, defeating all but Jirov with whom he drew in 2005…Second Washington and Miller bouts, along with Jirov, all took place above the Cruiserweight limit.
15) Dwight Muhammad Qawi – 7.66 Points: Member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame also won a title at Light Heavyweight…New Jersey based brawler posted a career mark of 41-11-1, 25 KO…WBA titlist 1985-85…1 successful defense…faced eight titlists (Piet Crous, Holyfield, Ossie Ocasio, Lee Roy Murphy, Robert Daniels, Rickey Parkey, Williams, Miller) nine times, defeating Crous, Murphy and Parkey via stoppage.
14) Jeff Lampkin – 7.83 Points: Youngstown, Ohio native retired at 39-19-1, 34 KO…IBF titlist 1990 with 1 successful defense before being stripped…faced three titlists (Alonzo Ratliff, Glenn McCrory, Williams), stopping former lineal champion Alonzo Ratliff and McCrory.
13) Virgil Hill – 8 Points: Probable Hall of Famer best known for two Light Heavyweight title reigns…captured Middleweight Silver Medal at 1984 Olympics…Recently retired at 50-7, 23 KO…2-time WBA titlist from 2000-02 and 06-07…never successfully defended…faced four titlists (Camel, Tiozzo, Jean Marc Mormeck, Firat Arslan), stopping Camel and Tiozzo each in the first round…not counted here, also faced then-future Cruiserweight titlists Tiozzo, Washington and Bobby Czyz in Light Heavyweight defenses, defeating all.
12) Vassiliy Jirov – 8.5 Points: Kazakhstan Tiger captured Light Heavyweight Gold at the 1996 Olympics along with the Val Barker trophy for Outstanding boxer…career mark of 37-3-1, 31 KO…IBF titlist 1999-2003…six successful defenses…faced four titlists (Williams, Washington, James Toney, Norris), stopping Williams and defeating Washington via decision just over the division limit…perhaps the most important figure in recasting the reputation of the division in the United States.
11) Jean Marc Mormeck – 9 Points: French-based brawler is only the second man to reclaim the lineal World Cruiserweight champion if counting his first Ring Magazine title…career mark of 33-4, 22 KO…faced four titlists (Hill, Wayne Braithwaite, O’Neil Bell, Haye) six times...stopped Hill for the WBA title in 2002 and posted three defenses before unifying with WBC titlist Braithwaite in 2005 via exciting decision for the Ring crown…stopped by IBF titlist Bell in 2006 classic but claimed revenge over twelve full in 2007 rematch war…dropped Haye before being stopped later the same year…it is unclear whether Mormeck will fight again.
10) James Toney – 9.75*
Record: 71-6-3, 43 KO
Titles: IBF (2003, 0 Defenses)
Titlists/Champions Faced – 3: (Washington, Jirov, Holyfield)
A certain future Hall of Fame entrant, Toney achieved success long before his Cruiserweight days with title runs at Middle and Super Middleweight. Regardless of those accomplishments, Toney’s run at Cruiserweight from the late 1990s through 2003 was exemplary. One fight after a 1997 loss to Drake Thadzi, Toney walked away from the sport for almost two years before reeling off ten in a row, seven of them below 200 lbs. In 1999 he became the first and only man to stop former titlist Adolpho Washington and, in 2003, added the first loss to Jirov’s record in the 2003 Boxing Writers Association of America choice for Fight of the Year. One fight later, albeit at heavyweight, he would stop Holyfield. Notably, he is the only man ever to hold a Cruiserweight belt to defeat Holyfield.
9) Al Cole – 9.75 Points
Record: 35-14-3, 16 KO
Titles: IBF (1992-95, 5 Defenses)
Titlists/Champions Faced – 5: (Warring, Grant, McCrory, Miller, Juan Carlos Gomez)
Part of the memorable Triple Threat of the early 90s which also included Ray Mercer and Charles Murray, Cole put together an outstanding resume before finding himself outsized and outmuscled at Heavyweight. Of his 14 losses, 13 took place above a Cruiserweight class where he was 27-1 and his relative lack of power could be overcome with an athletic combination of skill and height (6’4). He defeated James Warring for the IBF World title before adding Grant (twice), McCrory, and Miller to his ledger in defense of his crown. All of them were downed by unanimous decision. Late in his career, he became the first heavyweight stop for Gomez after the Cuban’s own notable Cruiserweight reign, knocked out in six rounds. Cole places ahead of Toney based on his having faced more total titlists.
8) Guillermo Jones – 11.5 Points*
Record: 36-3-2, 28 KO
Titles: WBA (2008-Present, 0 Defenses to Date)
Titlists/Champions Faced – 5: (Nelson, Steve Cunningham, Kelvin Davis, Braithwaite, Arlsan)
The currently ongoing title run of Jones is one of Boxing’s better recent stories. A Jr. Middleweight from 1993-1999, Jones joined the Cruiserweights in 2002. He established himself as a force in only his third divisional bout that year, battling to a highly disputed draw against the long-reigning WBO titlist Nelson. Undeterred by the frustrating ‘moral victory,’ Jones would drop a competitive decision to future titlist Cunningham three fights later in 2005 and then post major victories by stopping both Davis and Braithwaite in four rounds the same year. The Braithwaite win was supposed to secure a mandatory shot at the WBA title but the opportunity would not come until three fights and almost three years later when, on September 27, 2008, Jones traveled to hostile turf in Germany and stopped titlist Firat Arslan in ten. Whether Jones rises or falls in terms of this sort of comparative analysis is a story still being told and one well worth following.
7) O’Neil Bell – 11.75 Points*
Record: 26-3-1, 24 KO
Lineal World Champion 2006-07, 0 Defenses
Titles: IBF (2005-06, 2 Defenses); Ring/WBC/WBA (2006-07, 0 Defenses)
Titlists/Champions Faced – 4: (Williams, Davis, Mormeck, Adamek)
While stories of erratic behavior and a bizarre quit job against Adamek in 2007 have done harm to Bell’s reputation, he has gotten a lot done at Cruiserweight in the first decade of the 2000s. A pair of stoppages over Williams, and another stoppage of Davis, from 2001-03 got him into position to challenge for the vacant IBF belt against Dale Brown in 2005. A disputed decision victory would be all but forgotten one fight later when, as the underdog, he wrested the Ring crown from Mormeck in ten and became the first man since Holyfield to unify the WBC, WBA and IBF belts. Both battles with Mormeck stand out as among the best ever waged at Cruiserweight even if their dramatic rematch was slightly marred by Mormeck running out the clock, under the umbrella of open scoring, while Bell came on strong late en route to a narrow decision loss. The wars with Mormeck, the guts and character they displayed, only make the decision to sit out after seven against Adamek more difficult to fathom.
6) Juan Carlos Gomez – 12.25 Points*
Record: 44-1, 35 KO
Titles: WBC (1998-2000, 9 Defenses)
Titlists/Champions Faced – 3: (Marcelo Dominguez, Imamu Mayfield, Cole)
Currently preparing for a March 21, 2009, WBC mandatory shot at Heavyweight titlist Vitali Klitschko, there were some during his reign who thought Gomez the best Cruiserweight since Holyfield. A product of the Cuban amateur program, Gomez based his professional career from Germany and wrested the WBC crown from Dominguez by unanimous decision in 1998. A repeat victory in 1999 and third round stoppage of former titlist Mayfield in 2000 highlighted a dominant championship run. Gomez added the scalp of Cole in his 2001 Heavyweight debut and looked well on his way to contention before a lazy outing in 2004 against journeyman Yanqui Diaz left him vulnerable and ultimately out on his feet, stopped against the ropes in the first round. Gomez has rebounded in eight bouts since, posting seven wins and a no contest, defeating top ten contender Vladimir Virchis in 2007 to secure his shot at Klitschko.
5) Anaclet Wamba – 12.53 Points
Record: 46-2-1, 23 KO
Titles: WBC (1991-94, 7 Defenses)
Titlists/Champions Faced – 4: (Duran, Parkey, Washington, Dominguez)
This French-based warrior of the Congo came close to never officially losing a fight. A narrow decision loss in his 14th bout and heavily officiated disqualification in his first title shot against Duran, in Duran’s native Italy, made the difference. Wamba made up for the minor setbacks. He avenged the Duran loss with twin 11th round stoppages in 1991, first in Italy and then on his own turf in France. He followed by stopping a well-faded Parkey in a non-title affair before returning to steady defense of his throne. Home cooking may have been an aid in a 1994 draw in Monaco against America’s Washington and his final title defense against Dominguez was a close majority decision. Still, Wamba never lost his title in the ring and retired in 1994 as one of the more accomplished Cruiserweights.
4) David Haye – 14.5 Points*
Record: 22-1, 21 KO
Lineal World Champion 2006-07, 1 Defense
Titles: Ring/WBC/WBA (2006-07, 1 Defense); WBO (2007, 0 Defenses)
Titlists/Champions Faced – 5: (Williams, Thompson, Giacobbe Fragomeni, Mormeck, Maccarinelli)
While the fistic world waits to see if Haye gets to swap leather with Wladimir Klitschko in 2009, this corner remembers his thrilling Cruiserweight ride as the catalyst for all his still building fame. The Sheffield, England power puncher has and is a combination of athleticism and personality the sport can never get enough of. Opening his career with ten straight knockouts, including a third round stoppage of former titlist Arthur Williams, Haye found the floor himself in his eleventh bout, stopped in a five-round war with the veteran Thompson in 2004. Undeterred, Haye dusted himself off with nine more victories, eight inside the distance to include a ninth round stoppage for current WBC titlist Fragomeni, and earned a shot at Mormeck for the World title in November 2007. Dropped briefly in the fourth round, Haye showed he’d learned lessons since the Thompson bout and turned matters in the seventh for a dramatic knockout win. Already calling for big names and money a division higher, Haye opted for an all-U.K. showdown with WBO titlist Enzo Maccarinelli in March 2008. Before a packed house at the O2 Arena, Haye would add another name and trophy to a growing collection in only two rounds.
3) Johnny Nelson – 14.5 Points
Record: 45-12-2, 29 KO
Titles: WBO (1999-2005, 14 Defenses)
Titlists/Champions Faced – 7: (Havnaa, Carlos De Leon, Bott, Warring, Thompson, Dominguez, Jones)
Whether he was lucky to skate past Jones or not, six-years and fourteen defenses are hard to ignore from another Sheffield product. While scoring the same as Haye, his higher volume of champions faced nets him the tie-breaker here. Nelson was not, to say the least, everyone’s cup of tea. With an awkward style learned from the king of teaching them, the same Brendan Ingle who schooled Herol Graham, Nassem Hamed, and Junior Witter, Nelson alternated between exciting and sleep inducing for years. Whatever the effect on the audience, for the last nine years of his career he never saw the losers circle in stark contrast to a career which began 0-3 in 1986. Nelson began to show serious development in 1990 with a draw against then-WBC champion De Leon and a final round stoppage of a then-undefeated Bott. Three straight losses, including a decision against Warring, seemed to derail his progress and a Heavyweight experiment from 1993-95 was fraught with disaster. Showing instead that defeat can be education, Nelson’s return to Cruiserweight in 1996 marked a turn to lasting triumphs. A fifth-round stoppage of Thompson for the WBO belt in 1999 led to his noted and impressive title-reign statistics and included a unanimous decision over Dominguez. Altogether, it adds up to one of the best of all Cruiserweight resumes.
2) Carlos De Leon – 16.66 Points
Record: 52-8-1, 32 KO
3-Time Lineal World Champion 1980-82 (1 Defense); 1983-85 (3 Defenses); 1986-88 (4 Defenses)
Titles: WBC (1980-82; 83-85; 86-88; 89-90, 9 Defenses)
Titlists/Champions Faced – 7: (Camel, ST Gordon, Ratliff, Bernard Benton, Holyfield, Nelson, Duran)
One of the more underrated Puerto Rican notables in Boxing history, De Leon was in some sense the foundation of the Cruiserweight division. Streaky and occasionally chinny, he fell short of broader greatness while still building a career of accomplishment. Defeating Camel by eighth-round stoppage in 1980 gave him the only existing claim to Cruiserweight supremacy and he made it a professional roller coaster for the rest of the decade. A shocking second-round loss to Gordon in 1982 was avenged by easy decision a year later, a knockout of former Heavyweight champion Leon Spinks sandwiched between. A split decision loss to Ratliff in 1985 was avenged by proxy when he reclaimed the crown from Ratliff’s conqueror, Benton, in 1986. A 1988 showdown for all the titular marbles with Holyfield ran De Leon up against the greatest opponent of his career and he took the worst beating of his tenure because of it, downed in eight. Still, De Leon had one more big title win left, stopping Sammy Reeson in 1989 for the vacant WBC belt and defending via the aforementioned Nelson draw before a late disqualification against Duran, in Italy, ended his title days on July 27, 1990. It was an ignominious end but De Leon had done his part and earned his place.
1) Evander Holyfield – 21.56*
Record: 42-10-2, 27 KO
World Champion 1988, 0 Defenses
Titles: WBA (1986-88, 5 Defenses); IBF (1987-88, 3 Defenses); WBC (1988, 0 Defenses)
Titlists/Champions Faced – 7: (Booze, Qawi, Parkey, Ocasio, De Leon, Czyz, Toney)
Was there ever any doubt who would assume this spot? For years, Cruiserweight was the Holyfield weight class, all others a distant second. Twenty years after he became the only man to unify all existing claims to the crown, despite improved reputations for the class, Holyfield remains the standard and always will.
Remarkable when one considers the 1984 Olympic Bronze Medalist at Light Heavyweight posted all of his Cruiserweight accomplishment before his 20th professional bout. In only his fifth pro fight, he easily defeated future titlist Booze. That was nothing compared to what he did for bout number twelve. Never having been past the eighth, Holyfield won an epic 15-round war versus Qawi to capture the WBA crown in a fight recognized as the greatest Cruiserweight fight of all-time by Ring Magazine in 2002 (though surprisingly edged out for 1986 Fight of the Year by Steve Cruz-Barry McGuigan).
Holyfield was just getting started.
A first defense knockout of Olympic teammate Henry Tillman in 1987 was followed by knockout unification against Parkey, a stoppage of former titlist Ocasio, and a virtually one-punch fourth-round rematch knockout of Qawi. Those four victories made him Ring’s Fighter of the Year and the April 1988 knockout of De Leon finished a dramatic cleaning out of the division not seen before or since.
At Heavyweight, Holyfield would add bouts against former Cruiserweight titlists Czyz and Toney, the first by fifth-round stoppage and the other by ninth-round stoppage loss. Include them or not; it wouldn’t change the order here at all. The numbers verify the obvious.
The Greatest Cruiserweight of All-Time.
The results here are based on a numerical comparison which assigns points based on:
1. Number of fellow champions faced (1 Point each)
2. Lineal World Titles (1 Point each)
3. Sanctioning Body Titles (Points Assigned based on number of bodies; i.e. .5 pre-IBF; .25 post-WBO)
4. Title Defenses (Points assigned in correlation to title points)
5. 2 Points per KO; -2 per KOBY; 1 per UD against fellow titlists
6. Quality Wins (Points Assigned based on opponent accomplishments; i.e. lineal champions count for 1, a single sanctioning body champion based on their sanctioning body total)
7. Quality Losses (all losses to fellow champions -1 point)
8. Draws (.5 points)
*Still an active professional
Coming Soon: “The Other Nine, Pt. 2: The Super Middleweights”
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]