By Cliff Rold
The Other Nine, Pt. 3
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 and in comparison to each other.
Jr. Middleweight, like so many of the in-between division, got off to an auspicious start in 1962. Days before the WBC and WBA would crown the first widely recognized champion in class, the Austrian Board of Boxing Control elected to sanction a title bout of their own. Denny Moyer won the former, Emile Griffith the latter. Griffith and Moyer had faced off only months before with no division yet to speak of, Griffith winning by split decision.
It got better.
Jr. Middleweight over the years has featured great fights and a healthy mix of stars from below stopping by and career combatants of renown. A number of Hall of Famers made some of their strongest cases at 154 lbs. It is a testament to its depth that some of those men don’t make the list here. Wilfred Benitez and Roberto Duran both captured titles at the weight and it’s where Benitez finished his prime. Both suffered bad losses to go with great wins. So too did Fernando Vargas, a fighter who built a strong early run only to fall apart as the years went on. Altogether, some eighty fighters have made a claim to some major title at 154 lbs. to impressive result.
In determining a top twenty, this largely statistical analysis will focus on bodies of work in the Junior Middleweight division. Active fighters involved in the world title scene for more than three years are included and of course subject to change over time.
The Top Twenty
20) Emile Griffith – 5.5 Points: The first fighter to claim the World Jr. Middleweight crown, the great Griffith spent little time in the division opting instead for the then more-acclaimed Welterweight and Middleweight classes…career mark of 85-24-2, 23 KO…Recognized as champion by the Austrian Board of Boxing Control after defeating Ted Wright on October 17, 1962…Three days later Moyer laid his claim…Griffith defended only once but did face eventually more widely accepted champions in Ralph Dupas and Echkhard Daggee, defeating Dupas and losing to Dagee at the latter end of his career in 1976…also defeated Moyer under circumstances noted…an easy Hall of Famer and one of the All-Time Greats.
19) Sugar Ray Leonard – 5.5 Points: The Maryland superstar is one of the division’s great what-if’s, appearing substantively only twice, in fights against titlists Ayub Kalule and Terry Norris…Leonard also took two fights in class before winning his first Welterweight title…career mark of 36-3-1, 25 KO…stopped the underrated Kalule in nine to wrest the lineal crown and WBA belt in 1982…vacated in favor of a return to Welterweight…Leonard returned to 154 lbs. at the end of his career and lived to regret it, beaten badly by a rising Norris…Leonard gets a marginal nod over Griffin due to his stronger title claim…like Griffith, a Hall of Famer and All-Time Great.
18) John David Jackson – 6.51 Points: Los Angeles southpaw was one of the few top Jr. Middleweights of the 90s never to tangle with Terry Norris…career mark of 36-4, 20 KO…WBO titlist 1988-92…six successful defenses…Jackson would later go on to capture the WBA Middleweight crown…faced two titlists (Davey Moore, Lupe Aquino), defeating Moore on points and Aquino in eight.
17) Laurent Boudouani – 7 Points: French product made a good run in the 1990s…career mark of 38-3, 32 KO…WBA titlist 1996-99…4 successful title defenses…faced five titlists (Javier Castillejo, Julio Cesar Vasquez, Carl Daniels, Norris, David Reid), defeating all but Reid in his final fight…ended the world title days of the underrated Vasquez and sent Norris into retirement…was the first fighter to stop the tough Castillejo.
16) Ki-Soo Kim – 7 Points: South Korea’s Kim found his homeland a good place to do battle…career mark of 33-2-2, 17 KO…World champion 1966-68…two defenses…two successful defenses…Faced three other World champions (Nino Benvenuti, Freddie Little, Sandro Mazzinghi), split decisions all…captured the crown from Benvenuti and defended against Little in Korea, lost to Mazzinghi in his native land of Italy…ahead of Boudouani based on higher overall competition score.
15) Julio Cesar Vasquez – 7 Points: The Argentine has probably become more respected in the years since his reigns at 154…career mark of 68-13, 43 KO…Held WBA title twice (1992-95, 95)…ten successful title defenses…faced six fellow titlists (Verno Phillips, Castillejo, Winky Wright, Pernell Whitaker, Daniels, Boudouani), defeating Castillejo and Daniels…was the first man to defeat a young Wright, scoring five knockdowns in the process…ten title defenses separate him from Kim as both have equal competition scores.
14) Felix Trinidad – 7.5 Points: No one will ever know for sure, but the idea of the Puerto Rican great moving to this division when his body told him to in the mid-1990s, rather than for only the memorable campaign of 2000, is tantalizing…Trinidad was simply devastating at 154...Captured first the WBA and then IBF titles with a unanimous decision over David Reid and then a stoppage of Fernando Vargas…both had been members of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team, both undefeated, both Fight of the Year candidates…squeezed in one WBA defense between unifiers and then was off to Middleweight…knocked out former Welterweight champion and future Jr. Middleweight titlist Ricardo Mayorga just above the division limit in 2004…career mark to date of 42-3, 35 KO and may yet return at Middle or Super Middleweight.
13) Julian Jackson – 9.04 Points: The Virgin Islands banger may have been, pound for pound, one of the hardest punchers in the history of the sport…career mark of 55-6, 49 KO…WBC titlist 1987-90…3 successful title defenses…Faced five fellow titlists (Eddie Gazo, Mike McCallum, Buster Drayton, Norris, Phillips) once each…stoppage losses to McCallum and Phillips bookend his championship days…stopped Gazo, Drayton and Norris and also gets credit for an excellent knockout defense against fellow banger and future lineal Super Middleweight king In-Chul Baek…went to on to become a similarly devastating titlist at Middleweight.
12) Gianfranco Rosi – 9.47 Points: One of a strong handful of Italy’s son’s on the list, Rosi built a solid resume in the 1990’s...career mark of 62-6-1, 18 KO…WBC titlist (1987-88)…one defense…IBF titlist (1989-95)…11 defenses…Rosi faced eight titlists (Aquino, Duane Thomas, Donald Curry, Darrin Van Horn, Rene Jacquot, Gilbert Dele, Vincent Pettway, Verno Phillips) twelve times, suffering stoppage losses to Curry and Pettway to end each of his respective reigns…Initially defeated Phillips in first of two bouts but decision was changed to a No Contest after Rosi failed a drug test and the rematch went to Phillips on a majority decision…Rosi continued at Middleweight off and on through 2006.
11) Koichi Wajima – 10 Points: Three-time World champion from Japan was undisputed in his first two reigns and a thriller during the early 1970s…World champion (1971-74, 75, 76)…six successful defenses…faced six titlists (Carmelo Bossi, Miguel de Oliveira, Oscar Albarado, Jae-Doo Yuh, Jose Duran, Gazo) nine times…stopped by Albarado in their first bout, one of the best ever at 154…avenged by decision…split knockouts with Yuh and finished career with consecutive early exits against Duran and Gazo.
10) Shane Mosley – 10.25 Points*
Record: 46-5, 39 KO, 1 No Contest
Lineal World Champion 2003-04, 0 Defenses
Titles: WBC/WBA (2003-04, 0 Defenses)
Titlists/Champions Faced – 5: (Raul Marquez, Oscar De La Hoya, Wright, Vargas, Mayorga)
Mosley isn’t thought of as being at his best at Jr. Middleweight but he’s had his successes in the tradition of former Welterweights who have done so. After bad losses to Vernon Forrest at Welterweight, he moved up to chase an Oscar rematch and secured it by not losing to Raul Marquez in early 2003. Their aborted No Contest ended on a clash of heads and cut to Marquez and Mosley went on to a second victory over De La Hoya. The victory is marred by Mosley’s involvement with the BALCO labs controversy but in-ring evidence makes evaluating the positive effects of performance enhancers on fighters difficult to determine. The cycle off might be weighed in Mosley’s first defense, a tri-belt unification clash with Wright where Mosley looked flat en route to a decisive decision loss. Mosley performed much better, and presumably clean, in the rematch earning a draw on one judge’s card but losing by 7-5 scores on the other two. Mosley has since bounced between 154 and 147 lbs., journeying up for clashes with former titlists Vargas and Mayorga, all stoppage wins.
9) Oscar De La Hoya – 10.25 Points*
Record: 38-6, 30 KO
Lineal World Champion 2001-03, 1 Defense
Titles: WBC (2001-02, 0 Defenses); WBC/WBA (2002-03, 1 Defense); WBC (2006-07, 0 Defenses)
Titlists/Champions Faced – 6 (Castillejo, Vargas, Yori Boy Campas, Mosley, Mayorga, Floyd Mayweather)
Odd as it seems, Oscar spent as many years of his career, if not actual fights, at Jr. Middleweight as he did at Welterweight. The work he got done there wasn’t bad. After electing not to pursue a rematch with Welterweight conqueror Shane Mosley, De La Hoya moved up in June 2001 to whitewash reigning lineal and WBC titlist Castillejo, scoring a knockdown late in the fight. Over a year would pass before Oscar returned to the ring but when he did he may well have picked up his greatest victory. Long discussed, the trash talk ceased and a classic ensued as De La Hoya stopped a juiced Fernando Vargas in eleven. A stay busy win in the first half of 2003 over a faded Campas added Oscar to the list of men who made Yori Boy quit in his career. Then juice cropped up again in September of that year. A performance enhanced Shane Mosley picked off Oscar’s crown with a narrow and heavily debated split decision in a rematch woefully inferior to their original clean classic. De La Hoya was off to Middleweight for 2004 to bad results and took 2005 off before returning to bludgeon Mayorga for the WBC crown over six rounds in May of 2006. Another year off led to a showdown down with then-lineal Welterweight king Floyd Mayweather in an interesting if unmemorable Superfight lost by split decision. Oscar has competed twice since, once in a win over Steve Forbes at Jr. Middleweight and then in his disastrous return to Welterweight against Manny Pacquiao. Oscar finishes ahead of Mosley even with a slightly lower competition score due to the steroid controversy.
8) Freddie Little – 10.5 Points
Record: 51-6, 32 KO
World Champion 1969-70, 2 Defenses
Titlists/Champions Faced – 4: (Moyer, Kim, Mazzinghi, Bossi)
Without the wheels of fistic oddity rolling, Italy’s Mazzinghi would be lower on this list and Little higher. Their 1968 “No Contest,” in Italy, was anything but. Little worked him over, cut him, and won the fight. Politics saw the bout ruled a No Contest where “TKO 8” should have prevailed in the record books. Embarrassed, the WBA ordered a rematch but Mazzinghi refused and was stripped of the crown. It wasn’t the only time his passport weighed against him. A largely forgotten fighter, Little left behind an admirable career. Contesting between junior and regular Middleweight, Little stopped Moyer in the smaller class in 1966 and dropped Kim en route to a split decision loss in his first crack at the title in South Korea. The Mazzinghi fight was his next crack and when Mazzinghi refused to rematch the WBC and WBA put Little with Stanley Hayward in 1969 for the vacant crown. Little defended twice and posted a non-title stoppage of Bossi only to lose to the Italian, in Italy again, by decision in 1970.
7) Sandro Mazzinghi – 11 Points
Record: 64-3, 42 KO, 2 No Contests
World Champion 1963-65, 68, 3 Defenses
Titlists/Champions Faced – 4: (Dupas, Benvenuti, Kim, Little)
Little was a bad end to Mazzinghi’s title days. It did not obscure quality work done in the years prior. Mazzinghi stopped the tough Ralph Dupas to capture and then defend the crown in 1963. He might well have stayed champion longer than his initial two years but for the roadblock of future Hall of Famer Nino Benvenuti. Benvenuti nearly took Mazzinghi’s head off in their first clash, a knockout win, but Mazzinghi got off the floor in the second to go the distance in losing their rematch. It would be almost three years before a bout with Korea’s Ki-Soo Kim saw championship laurels returned. Mazzinghi petered out after the Kim and Little affairs, leaving the sport in 1970 before making a brief, successful return in 1977.
6) Nino Benvenuti – 11 Points
Record: 82-7-1, 35 KO
World Champion 1965-66, 1 Defense
Titlists/Champions Faced – 3: (Moyer, Mazzinghi, Kim)
Benvenuti was arguably Italy’s greatest fighter, an Olympic Gold Medalist who would strike Gold not just in the then-young Jr. Middleweight division but twice at Middleweight. On his way up the ladder he faced tough outs like Gaspar Ortega and former champion Denny Moyer before landing a lightning bolt on the chin of Mazzinghi, impressive considering Benvenuti wasn’t a knockout artist. He didn’t hold the title long, traveling to South Korea dropping Ki-Soo Kim only to get a split decision in a controversial hometown loss. It would be his only loss through 73 fights before dropping the second go in a memorable trilogy with Emile Griffith at Middleweight. Benvenuti also had two remembered losses, one competitive and one not, against the great Carlos Monzon at 160. He edges Mazzinghi here based on their head to head results. Benvenuti was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992.
5) Winky Wright – 11.25 Points*
Record: 51-4, 25 KO
Lineal World Champion 2004-05, 1 Defense
Titles: WBO (1996-98, 3 Defenses); IBF (2001-04, 5 Defenses); Ring/WBC/WBA/IBF (2004-05, 1 Defense)
Titlists/Champions Faced – 6: (Vasquez, Bronco McKart, Harry Simon, Vargas, Keith Mullings, Mosley)
Wright’s story is still being told in the Middleweight division, an April 2009 return from almost two years off against Paul Williams. The bulk of his story is told already and at 154. A road warrior of the highest order over the years, the tricky southpaw’s first attempt at a title resulted in regular acquaintance with the floor against Vasquez but his prospects improved in challenging WBO titlist Bronco McKart, their first of three Wright favoring affairs. Wright traveled to Africa for a lost classic and lost title against Harry Simon. His next title try has been mythologized as a much worse decision than it was as Wright was narrowly outpointed by a rising Fernando Vargas for the IBF strap in 1999. Wright’s next title try would begin his ultimate ascent to the top of class. With a unanimous decision over Robert Frazier, he picked up the IBF belt and ran off four defenses before claiming undisputable coronation as king against Mosley. In his first fight out of the division, he faced former titlist Felix Trinidad at Middleweight and won in such one-sided fashion it’s hard to imagine a different result one division lower. He’s also since gone on to draw with then-Middleweight champion Jermain Taylor and defeat against Bernard Hopkins at Light Heavyweight.
4) Ayub Kalule – 13 Points
Record: 46-4, 24 KO
Lineal World Champion 1979-81, 4 Defenses
Titles: WBA (1979-81, 4 Defenses)
Titlists/Champions Faced – 8: (Jose Duran, Elisha Obed, Miguel Castellini, Masashi Kudo, Leonard, Albarado, McCallum, Davey Moore)
The Denmark-based Ugandan Kalule is largely recalled as a stat on Ray Leonard’s record. It’s too bad. For an extended time at 154, Kalule was more than that. On his way up the ladder, he defeated former titlists Duran, Obed, and Castellini with only Obed lasting the distance. He also decisioned former Olympian Ray Seales before garnering a unanimous decision over fifteen to pick up the lineal and WBA claim to the World title in 1979. Four defenses ensued and then Kalule got the financial call everyone in the early 1980s wanted. He got some sugar in his bowl and a knockout loss in nine rounds of what had been a close, exciting fight. Kalule was up and down from there, suffering consecutive knockout losses to McCallum and Moore in 1982 after his own knockout win of a faded Albarado. Thought done, Kaule had one more major win after those defeats saw him leave the division, capturing a debatable nod over future Middleweight titlist Sumbu Kalambay. It was at 160 that he would end his career with a knockout loss to a rising Herol Graham.
3) Mike McCallum – 13.48
Record: 49-5-1, 36 KO
Titles: WBA (1984-88, 6 Defenses)
Titlists/Champions Faced – 3: (Kalule, Jackson, Curry)
The Hall of Fame enshrined “Bodysnatcher” from Jamaica followed a lengthy amateur career with a long, successful run at 154. Often the subject of conversation because of fights he didn’t get, McCallum built a strong resume without some of the biggest names of his time. When Roberto Duran opted wisely for the much bigger money of a Tommy Hearns fight, the WBA stripped him and McCallum picked up the crown over fifteen dull rounds against Sean Mannion in 1984. McCallum would leave greater impressions in his six title defenses. He stopped the rugged David Braxton in eight and stopped an undefeated Julian Jackson in two. Credited here, he also beat a one-loss former Welterweight titlist in Milton McCrory before what would be his breakthrough win, a fifth-round single shot knockout of Donald Curry in 1987 which shattered hopes of a return to pound-for-pound form for the Texan. McCallum would go on to title winning runs at Middleweight and Light Heavyweight in memorable bouts against the likes of Kalambay and James Toney.
2) Thomas Hearns – 15.16 Points
Record: 61-5-1, 48 KO
Lineal World Champion 1983-85, 4 Defenses
Titles: WBC (1982-85, 4 Defenses)
Titlists/Champions Faced – 4: (Gazo, Benitez, Roberto Duran, Mark Medal)
Based on what was witnessed in the ring, it would be hard to argue against anyone who rates Detroit’s Hearns the best ever at Jr. Middleweight. He was perfect in the class, boxing and punching masterfully to topple two other Hall of Famers. His claim to the outright World championship can begin in one of two places, either via comparison after Duran defeated Davey Moore as was the case for Ring Magazine or just plain after he defeated Duran. Either way, in the years he reigned there was no dispute about Hearns’ hold on the top. Three wins removed from his legendary loss to Ray Leonard at Welterweight, Hearns tackled Benitez and earned a unanimous decision in fifteen. Of four defenses, it was the second which produced the most dramatic result, a second round obliteration of Duran sandwiched between each man’s unsuccessful challenges of Marvin Hagler at Middleweight. Had he focused solely on Jr. Middleweight, Hearns may have stood on top for years but bigger challenges and bigger men awaited. As is, it can be said this Hearns, the prime Hearns, would likely be favored over any other Jr. Middleweight in history.
1) Terry Norris – 17.15 Points
Record: 47-9, 31 KO
Lineal World Champion 1995-97, 4 defenses
Titles: WBC (1990-93, 10 Defenses); WBC (1994, 0 Defenses); WBC (1995 2 Defenses); WBC/IBF (1995-97, 4 Defenses
Titlists/Champions Faced – 13: (Drayton, Jackson, John Mugabi, Jacquot, Leonard, Curry, Carl Daniels, Brown, Luis Santana, Paul Vaden, Vincent Pettway, Mullings, Boudouani)
On his best days, Terry Norris looked almost Ray Robinson good, able to box masterfully or end a fight in short order with unreal speed. On his bad days, he got hit on a less than concrete chin or teed off on opponents already well seated on the floor. Already inducted into the Hall of Fame, it is the chin and temper which keep Norris out of discussion about broader pound for pound greatness. He was disqualified three times for hitting men already floored and flirted with it numerous other times, including in his star making turn against Ray Leonard. It was a career long foul habit. And, oh, that chin. Norris was stopped four times and floored badly on other occasions. If the old maxim that the first knockout loss makes a fighter susceptible to more holds true, Jackson can get a lot of credit. Norris took shots fine before the second round blow from Jackson, the echo of which can still be faintly heard. Later knockout losses were added by Brown and, at the end, Mullings and Boudouani. The good outweighs at Jr. Middleweight though, even if some of the biggest names were past their sell-by date. His titled days started in a second shot at glory after the Jackson nuking with a one-round explosion of John Mugabi and tough outs like Daniels and Pettway would later miss the final bell. Also notable, he stopped reigning Welterweight titlists Meldrick Taylor and Maurice Blocker, future Super Middleweight king Steve Little, and outpointed future Middleweight titlists Quincy Taylor and Jorge Castro throughout his Jr. Middleweight career. The Taylor win gets extra credit, coming at a time when Taylor was recognized by many as the best Welterweight in the world. He ended the serious careers of Leonard and Curry even if both continued sporadically. Norris ended badly with losses to the ordinary Mullings and Dana Rosenblatt along with a loss to Boudouani in his farewell, the first of them costing him what could have been a career defining fight with De La Hoya in 1997. Yes, it’s hard to imagine Norris beating Hearns or McCallum given their power, but no one ever dominated the scene quite as long at Jr. Middleweight or built as deep a resume. In a comparison based on bodies of work, it counts for a lot.
The results here are based on a numerical comparison, adjusted slightly from the previous weeks, which assigns points based on:
1. Number of fellow champions faced (total) then divided into a competition score to flatten the field due to the fluctuation in titles recognized.
2. Lineal World Titles (Noted; 1 Point)
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, discretionary points for established champions from other weight classes)
7. Divisional Losses (all losses in division -1 point)
8. Draws (.5 points)
*Still an active professional
Coming Soon: “The Other Nine, Pt. 4: The Junior Welterweights”
Pt. 1 – Cruiserweight: http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=18179
Pt. 2 – Super Middleweight: http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=18376
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@example.com