By Cliff Rold
The Eight, Pt. 2
For any new boxing fan, the time is not long before a fellow fan points out a magic number which grows more mythologized with time: eight. As in boxing’s original eight weight classes. The number represents in the mind of many a time when the sport was compressed into fields which couldn’t help but be talented, couldn’t help but draw crowds, because there were so few places on the scale to go. They were divisions marked by single champions ever challenged by a depth of contenders today’s seventeen weight classes rarely know.
Reflection and research reveals this was not always the case, but it was true often enough to bestow a mystique on boxing’s ‘original eight weight classes’ which carries through to the modern day. As good as they can be, as great as some of their competitors have been and still are, weight classes prefixed by a “Jr.” designation will always be seen some as bastard spawn which took something away from the game no matter what they added.
Even with classes taking up space in between the old markers, the eight continue to provide memories and spilled blood today. Over the course of this series, homage is paid to boxing’s original eight by identifying the best of their lot through the years.
This Thursday night, one of boxing’s most promising young stars will attempt his nineteenth straight win without a loss. Mexico’s former Olympian Abner Mares competes as a Bantamweight. One day, he might be a champion. For now he travels towards the hope of gold. Given the division he confronts, he is working one of history’s most storied roads.
Bantamweight is among the oldest of boxing’s weight classes though it took nearly a generation to settle on exactly what a Bantamweight was. In the gloved era, from the late 1880s into the early ‘teens of the 20th century, the division limit fluctuated between 105-116 lbs. before 118 lbs. became the universal standard around 1920. That limit has lasted the test of time. Which of its best fighters stand that test as well?
Since the late nineteenth century, well over 100 men have claimed some share of the world title. That doesn’t even touch on some of the great contenders over the years. It’s clearly not an easy question. Some excellent fighters, from the tough Monte Attell to the thrilling Miguel Lora, just miss the cut here. Given the depth of history in these ‘original eight,’ no fighter currently active in the division was considered. It is better to let today’s fighters complete their Bantamweight legacies to figure out exactly where they belong, if they belong. As readers will observe here, the top Bantamweights of all-time are a special group. Here now is part one, slots 25 to 11.
The Top Twenty-Five
25) Rafael Marquez (1995-Present): Mexico’s Marquez, still logging rounds today as a Featherweight, will always be remembered for his epic rivalry with Israel Vasquez at 122 lbs...It was his Bantamweight tenure which paved the way there…career mark to date of 38-5, 34 KO…IBF titlist 2003-07, 7 Defenses…the younger brother of current World Lightweight champion Juan Manuel, his career got off the a shaky start with two losses in his first fourteen bouts and another by the year 2000, all by knockout…Marquez’s career turned around in 2001 with a narrow decision over former two-division titlist Mark Johnson in a war…Marquez surpassed the feat in 2002, becoming the first to stop Johnson…In 2003, he became the first to stop or beat Tim Austin, capturing his IBF title in the process…scored five stoppages in defense of his crown, including the first over multi-division titlist Mauricio Pastrana and two against the previously undefeated Silence Mabuza…those feats give him a slight edge against long-time parallel titlist Veraphol Sahaprom who just missed consideration despite 14 defenses of the WBC belt from 1998-2005.
24) Jimmy Carruthers (1950-62): Among Australia’s finest fighters, the 1948 Olympian Carruthers streaked to the world title in two years and the southpaw almost made it out of the game without a blemish...career mark of 21-4, 13 KO…World Champion 1952-54, 3 defenses…In November 1952, in only his fifteenth pro contest, traveled to South Africa and stopped the unbeaten Vic Toweel in one for the title…four months later, Toweel lasted into the tenth round…after two more defenses, Carruthers retired as champion in 1954, unbeaten in 19 contests…returned in 1961 and lost three straight before a pair of wins and a career ending loss in 1962…Carruthers passed away in 1990 after years as an entrepreneur in Sydney.
23) Orlando Canizales (1984-99): From the Streets of Laredo, Texas, to lasting Bantamweight acclaim, Canizales was one of the best in the late 80s and 90s...career mark of 50-5-1, 37 KO…IBF titlist 1988-95, 16 defenses…Canizales was one half of a rare title tandem as brother Gaby also held gold at Bantamweight in the 80s…Canizales lost only once at Bantamweight, early in his career by decision to 1984 U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist Paul Gonzales, and later avenged the loss in a fight shortened to two frames by a cut…captured his belt in 1988, scoring two knockdowns before a fifteenth round stoppage of Kelvin Seabrooks…two fights later, he again stopped Seabrooks but earlier, in the eleventh…Canizales ran off a record setting sixteen consecutive title defenses, surpassing the great Manuel Ortiz by one…it is noted Ortiz was the lone champion in his time rather than one of a few… Canizales’s tenure lacked any attempts at unification though he did manage stoppage wins against foes who had or would hold gold in other divisions like Prudencio Cardona, Rolando Bohol, and an undefeated Bones Adams…after moving up in weight, Canizales fell short against Wilfredo Vasquez and Junior Jones, both fellow former Bantamweight titlists…Canizales was inducted to the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF) in 2009.
22) Rafael Herrera (1963-86): One of the best in a fantastic pool of talent in the 1960s and 70s…Mexico’s Herrera posted a career mark of 48-9-4, 19 KO…World Champion 1972 and WBA titlist 1973-74 with three defenses…Herrera honed his craft in the ring, building on a 10-3 start to reel off almost five years unbeaten before a knockout loss to Chuco Castillo…He would lose once more before a decision over undefeated future titlist Rodolfo Martinez and revenge win over Castillo set him on a course to the crown…dominated Ruben Olivares en route to an eighth round stoppage win for the title but lost it in his first defense by decision to Enrique Pinder…defeated Olivares again, by decision, before winning the vacant WBC belt with a knockout of Martinez…added two defenses against former Flyweight king Venice Borkhorsor and by knockout against future champion Romeo Anaya…controversially stopped in third bout with Martinez in the fourth round and would not become a champion again…Of the six champions he faced, only Pinder escaped without a loss…Herrera made a one fight comeback after a decade away in 1986, winning a four round decision.
21) Pete Sanstol (1926-1942): Born in Norway, Sanstol fought all over the world, becoming an attraction in New York and Quebec by thrilling fans with a whirlwind of activity…career mark of 98-6-8, 27 KO…politics allowed for Sanstol to lay a soft claim to the World title in 1931 only to lose three fights, and three months, later to the real World champion of the time, Panama Al Brown…came up short again for the title in 1935, losing by decision to Sixto Escobar…despite those frustrations, Sanstol stood out in a great era…handled Flyweight titlists Pinky Silverberg and Victor Perez along with wins over the tough Eugene Huat…managed a revenge win against Brown in his 1935 farewell though he did make two appearances in 1942 to aid the war effort.
20) Frankie Burns (1908-21): The Jersey City craftsman fell short of the title in three official tries but managed more than his share of wins over the best of his day…career mark of 102-14-21, 24 KO, including unofficial news verdicts, at boxrec.com…Burns truly announced his presence with a split of news verdicts against the great Johnny Coulon in 1910…held his own in a no decision bout with Featherweight immortal Abe Attell and appeared the winner against former champion Monte Attell in 1911…Coulon held him off for the World title in 1912 but was extended the 20-round limit…scored a rare knockout against Pete Herman in 1914…in 1915, again went the 20-round limit for the title but secured only a draw versus Kid Williams…His final tile shot came in 1917 as Herman gained revenge, winning a decision in, yes, 20 rounds…Burns held the edge over four fight rival Memphis Pal Moore, winning three and drawing in a fourth…Burns was stopped only once, by Featherweight great Johnny Kilbane, and that in the waning years of his career.
19) Lou Salica (1932-44): Part of the rich tapestry of Brooklyn boxing lore, Salica was a craftsman whose guile got him through without a serious knockout punch…career mark 62-17-12, 13 KO…World Champion 1940-42, 3 Defenses; NBA/NYSAC titlist 1935; NYSAC 1939…Salica won his first sixteen before running into the great Midget Wolgast, dropping an eight round decision…a quick study, Salica held Wolgast to a draw two fights later and by 1935 was able to defeat Wolgast on points for a share of the Bantamweight crown…three fights later, he added recognition from the NBA and New York State Athletic Commission, decisioning Sixto Escobar in fifteen…the reign lasted only until the immediate rematch…Salica went 6-3-2 before he could land the rubber match, defeating Small Montana and losing to former Bantamweight champ Tony Marino, ultimately losing on points to Escobar again in 1937…a 1939 win over Manuel Ortiz began another rivalry and led to a fight with Tony Oliveira for another turn with NYSAC recognition…it would take two unification contests with NBA titlist Georgie Pace, a draw and decision win, for Salica to finally claim full credit as champion…losses in 1942 and 43 to Manuel Ortiz, on points and by knockout for the only time in his career, signaled the beginning of the end as Salica would fight only five more times, finishing with a loss to former Featherweight king Harry Jeffra.
18) Jeff Chandler (1976-84): Philadelphia’s Chandler was, at the peak of his speed and power, considered one of the best in the world pound for pound…career mark of 33-2-2, 18 KO…lineal World champion 1980-84, 9 defenses…standing a tall for the division 5’7, Chandler turned pro with a four round draw and would receive no further blemishes on his way to a shot at lineal and WBA champion Julian Solis in 1980, winning the title with a 14th round knockout…in his first defense, he held off former champion Jorge Lujan by decision and stopped Solis in seven rounds of a rematch…in three defenses against an Eijiro Murata who started undefeated, Chandler went 2-0-1 with two stoppages…held off future champion Gaby Canizales by decision in 1983…Chandler showed some signs of wear in losing for the first time in a 1983 non-title decision fight versus Oscar Muniz…Chandler avenged the slight with a seventh round knockout for the crown later in the year but lost the title, and ended his career, in his very next fight, a fifteenth round knockout loss to Richie Sandoval…Chandler was elected to the IBHOF in 2000.
17) Memphis Pal Moore (1913-30): Tennessee’s Moore fought a who’s who of the best from Flyweight to Lightweight in his time with great success, but never got a shot at the real brass ring…career mark of 162-53-39, 11 KO, including unofficial news verdicts at boxrec.com…with over 200 fights logged, it’s hard to cover the full scope of Moore’s career, but consider he fought some fifteen world champions over thirty times and left looking the winner officially or by news verdict some twenty times…among the champions Moore defeated or received news verdicts over were Young Zulu Kid, Joe Lynch, Jack Wolfe, Pete Herman, Kid Williams, Johnny Buff, Sammy Mandell, Eugene Criqui, Bud Taylor, and Harry Forbes…Moore defeated Johnny Ertle for a minor claim to the World title in 1918…couldn’t manage a win in four tries against Frankie Burns but his depth of success against top competition was ultimately too superior to overlook.
16) Jose Becerra (1953-62): One of the first of the great Mexican Bantamweights, Becerra was an expert boxer-puncher with a sturdy chin (stopped only twice) who just missed crossing paths with the great Eder Jofre…career mark of 72-5-2, 43 KO…World Champion 1959-60, 2 defenses…Becerra came of fistic age in a wave of excellent Mexicans which included Raul Macias and German Ohm, the latter of which he split a pair of battles with…like so many of his time, Becerra had to get through perennial bridesmaid Jose Medel on the way to the throne, defeating him three times on points from 1957-58…between those wins, Becerra suffered his first stoppage loss at the hands of Dwight Hawkins in November 1957, avenged just four months later by the same route…in 1959, Becerra stopped former champion Mario D’Agata, the thirteenth of fifteen straight victories which led to a shot at the title…in 1959, at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles, Becerra would knockout out Alphonse Halimi in eight to snare the honors…it would take one round longer in their 1960 rematch…four fights later, in the same year, a knockout at the hands of the tough Eloy Sanchez led to retirement, interrupted only once in 1962 for a farewell win.
15) Jimmy Barry (1891-99): Chicago’s diminutive Barry was a two-fisted banger from until tragedy found the end of his fists even if defeat never did…career mark of 59-0-9, 39 KO…Barry was one of a select club of champions to retire without a loss and can be a difficult fighter to categorize. Fighting at a time when Bantamweight was closer to the Flyweight line, Barry regularly weighed in at what today would be Strawweight (105) or Jr. Flyweight (108)…replaced George Dixon as the leading Bantamweight in 1894 with a 28th round knockout of career-best rival Casper Leon…crossed the pond to London to put his claim to the crown past dispute, stopping Walter Croot in twenty rounds…Croot died from injuries sustained in the contest and Barry would never score another stoppage…Barry drew with Leon in the last three of their seven contests in 1897 and drew with future champion Harry Harris to end his career still officially unbeaten…Barry was elected to the IBHOF in 2000.
14) Johnny Coulon (1905-20): Born in Toronto and reared on the mean streets of Chicago, Coulon thrilled fans with heavy hands and heavier action in the early twentieth century…career mark of 52-6-4, 30 KO, 30 no decisions, 1 No Contest…World Champion 1911-14, 4 defenses…Coulon often weighed less than 112 lbs. is regarded, fairly, as one of the Flyweight greats as well, having captured claims to Flyweight and Paperweight (105 lb.) titles and winning three of four against early rival Kid Murphy…a pair of no-decision contests with Frankie Burns in 1910 settled nothing between two but helped Coulon move forward…Coulon captured recognition as Bantamweight champion in 1911 with a 20-round decision over Frankie Conley and appeared the winner later in the year, over ten rounds, against former World champ Harry Forbes…in 1912, Coulon would settle matters with Burns in defense of the crown…the title would change hands in 1914 on a third round knockout to Kid Williams, the first such end for Coulon…Coulon would never regain the crown and temporarily retired after a knockout loss to Pete Herman in 1917…a brief comeback in 1920 resulted in another knockout loss before a knockout win saw him to his farewell…Coulon would pass his knowledge on for many years as a gym owner and even managed the career of Jr. Welterweight great Eddie Perkins…Coulon was inducted to the IBHOF in 1999.
13) Kid Williams (1909-29): The Danish-born Williams immigrated to Baltimore with his family in the early 20th century and was waging paid wars by the age of 16…career mark of 104-17-9, 55 KO, 71 no decisions, 1 no contest…World Champion 1914-17, 3 defenses…still a novice, Williams was stopped in four in 1911 by heavy handed George Chaney but improved enough to last 20 rounds later in the year…still a relative kid, Williams held his own in a no-decision contest with Coulon in 1912…topped the performance with a title winning knockout in 1914 and followed with a decision over a developing future champion in Pete Herman…was spared an official loss when he came off the floor twice to last the eight-round distance with Memphis Pal Moore in a no decision bout…bounced back with a consecutive pair of impressive 20-round title defense draws against Frankie Burns and Herman…Herman would finally wrest the crown away in 1917 by decision…suffered a knockout at the hands of Joe Lynch in 1918 and later in the year would begin almost two years away from the ring…Williams returned in 1920 and continued through the decade to mixed results, never again challenging for a World title while competing between Bantamweight and Lightweight…Williams was inducted to the IBHOF in 1996.
12) Fighting Harada (1960-70): For the second ‘original eight’ division in a row, Japan’s great Harada just misses the top ten...career mark of 55-7, 22 KO…World Champion 1965-68, 4 defenses…also the World Flyweight champion from 1962-63, Harada lost the belt in a debated split decision to the man he’d taken it from one fight prior, Pone Kingpetch…Flyweight would be only a beginning for Harada, as his defining moments would come at 118, but the road to accomplishment was not without bumps…after winning four straight following the Kingpetch loss, Harada was stopped for one of only two times in his career by Jose Medel…undeterred, Harada ran off eight straight wins, including a knockout of former title challenger Katsutoshi Aoki, and lured champion Eder Jofre to his turf for a shot at the crown…the home field worked to his advantage in a hotly contested, and still debated, split decision win over the undefeated great…in 1966, Jofre returned to Japan with vengeance on his mind only to leave with a unanimous decision weighed against him…Harada would avenge his loss to Medel in defense of his title in 1967 and added the scalp of the talented Bernardo Caraballo later the same year…In his first start of 1968, Lionel Rose would enter Japan and leave with the title, taking it as Harada did via split decision…As noted in the Flyweight piece, Harada should have beaten today’s Manny Pacquiao to the feat of being the first to win both the Flyweight and Featherweight crowns but suffered from a criminal robbery on champion Johnny Famechon’s Australian home turf in 1969…his career ended in a stoppage defeat to Famechon two fights later…Harada was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF) in 1995.
11) George Dixon (1886-1906): Canada’s Dixon will always be remembered as the first Black World Champion…it was not the only place where he stood out as a true pioneer, flashing speed and craft ahead of his time…career mark of 50-26-44, 27 KO, 7 no decisions, 3 no contests…Whether Dixon was first a world champion at Bantamweight or Featherweight can be argued, though many historians recognize him as a former Bantamweight king based on an 18th round knockout of British Bantamweight champion Nunc Wallace in 1890, though some accounts note the fight as for a claim to Featherweight recognition…regardless, Dixon regularly weighed in for the first decade of his career, even as the undisputed Featherweight king from 1891-97, within the Bantamweight limit…outside of a first-round disqualification and a four-round affair, Dixon would suffer no serious defeat until 1896…while he could be rated higher here, his lengthy tenure as champion further up the scale makes him an easier fit for examinations of the Featherweight greats to come...Dixon’s finest work will hold until then…Dixon was inducted into the IBHOF in the inaugural class of 1990.
To Be Continued with the Top Ten
Previous Installments of “The Eight”:
The results here are compiled in two parts which tweaks the format used for the review of the nine Jr. Divisions conducted earlier this year.
First, a points-based comparison assigns points in part 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
3. Sanctioning Body Titles
4. Title Defenses
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 can count for 1, a single sanctioning body champion based on their sanctioning body total, discretionary points for established champions from other weight classes)
7. Quality Losses (Losses to champion opponents -1 point; selective non-title losses)
Draws (.5 points)
From this, a baseline is established and the top fifty fighters are identified. Further analysis focuses on the context of wins and losses, the relative dominance displayed in a fighter’s prime, and the strength of one’s era versus the competition faced, to get to a final top twenty-five.
Note: The websites of the IBHOF, Cyber Boxing Zone, International Boxing Research Organization, and BoxRec.com were all heavily consulted in compiling this effort.
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]