By Cliff Rold
The Eight, Pt. 4
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.
Since the gloved era was ushered in largely with the reign of Jack McAuliffe, Lightweight has consistently provided boxing with some of its greatest warriors. The weight line of 135 lbs. used today has been fairly standard since London’s National Sporting Club instituted the formal limit in 1909.
Of all the lists compiled so far, this may have been the most difficult. The fighters who missed the cut represent greatness, and great memories, for many. Some, like Alexis Arguello, Julio Cesar Chavez, Oscar De La Hoya, and Floyd Mayweather Jr. can be found prominently in previous lists focused on Jr. Lightweights , Jr. Welterweights or both. They, like many of recent vintage, were hampered by the robust junior classes around them and what ended up as fairly short tenures in the actual Lightweight division. Others, like the talented Mando Ramos and Esteban De Jesus, simply missed a grueling cut. As has been the case with all of these lists, 25 names are just not enough to do justice.
The attempt is made nonetheless.
As noted in previous editions of this series, the only rule in “The Eight”’ is no one currently active in the division was considered. Given the richness and depth of history at Lightweight, it is only fitting that the best of today finish their runs to earn placement…if they can. It’s a tough list to crack as will become quickly obvious in numbers 11-25.
The Top Twenty-Five
25) Shane Mosley (1993-Present): California’s Mosley continues to thrill fans as a Welterweight champion today but it was Lightweight where he first carved his place...career mark to date of 46-5, 39 KO…IBF titlist 1997-99, 8 defenses…”Sugar” Shane displayed great talent long before his first check was cashed, winning three U.S. amateur championships and a World Jr. championship…blessed with great speed and finishing ability, Mosley toiled in relative obscurity early in his career but made the most of a big opportunity…fighting a stomach bug, Mosley outpointed then-undefeated Phillip Holiday for the IBF 135 lb. title in August 1997 to start a commanding reign…through April 1999, all of his eight defenses were stoppages…based on talent, Mosley could be higher but his overall body of work at Lightweight wasn’t as impressive as the sheer stats. There were no unification attempts with exceptional fellow titlists like Stevie Johnston or Orzubek Nazarov and his best title challengers were aged versions of former Jr. Lightweight champions Jesse James Leija and John Molina…wins higher up the scale over Oscar De La Hoya and Antonio Margarito defined what ultimately should be a Hall of Fame invitation.
24) Willie Ritchie (1907-27): The San Francisco native was one of the early greats, facing many of the best Lightweights and Welterweights of his day while displaying speed and guts which moved tickets from California to New York City…career mark of 37-8-12, 9 KO, 19 no decisions…World Lightweight champion 1912-14, 2 defenses…stopped in round two of his pro debut, Ritchie honed his craft has he navigated towards the crown, showing early promise with a points win over future Bantamweight champion Jimmy Reagan in 1908…captured a four-round decision over young future Welterweight king Jack Britton in 1911 and closed the year with a rugged twenty round loss to Freddie Welsh…one bout removed from a four round no-decision affair with World champion Ad Wolgast in 1912, Ritchie secured a title shot and left with the crown on a foul in round sixteen…both defenses came against stiff opposition in the form of Joe Rivers and Tommy Murphy with a no decision third bout against Wolgast between…Ritchie earned the news win over Wolgast, dropping him in round seven…Attempting a third defense in July 1914, Welsh again outdueled him in twenty rounds…Ritchie would get a measure of revenge in March 1915 with a news win over Welsh over ten; news wins of course were unofficial and the title did not change hands…battled on even terms in a pair of bouts with the great Johnny Dundee after the title loss but was battered in a second non-title affair with then-champion Benny Leonard in 1919, suffering his second and last stoppage loss…Ritchie was inducted to the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF) in 2004.
23) Jack McAuliffe (1884-1897): Born in Ireland, the “Napoleon of the Prize Ring” was a master boxer ahead of his time in terms of technique, quick of hand and heavy of punch…career mark of 30-0-5, 22 KO, 1 no decision...World Champion 1886-93, six defenses…fighting before film was a serious option, considerations of McAuliffe rely on accounts of the day…almost all come with glowing accolades…claimed the Lightweight title of America with a 17th round stop of Jack Hopper in 1884 and later in the year defeated Billy Frazier of Canada to lay claim to one of the first recorded world titles of the gloved era…followed with a nearly two hour contest of wills against Harry Gilmore, winning by knockout in the 28th frame…English champion Jem Carney disputed McAuliffe’s claim to the throne and traveled to America for what could be called a unification bout in November 1887…battling into the 74th round, the fight grew increasingly dirty and, following a knockdown of their man, McAuliffe’s supporters stormed the ring and the referee ruled a draw to prevent a full blown riot…not shy of lengthy contests, McAuliffe would add a 64-round draw against Billy Myer in 1889 and 47th round stoppage of Jimmy Carroll in 1890 while focusing most of the rest of his ring time on exhibitions…began flirting with retiring but made several comebacks, adding a ten round points verdict over Featherweight great Young Griffo in 1984 and holding his final official contest in 1897…one of the rare champions to retire without an official defeat…McAuliffe was elected to the IBHOF in 1995.
22) Jose Luis Castillo (1990-Present): Mexico’s Castillo was a lot like Heavyweight Larry Holmes, learning his craft as the sparring partner of an immortal and then carving out his own piece of greatness…career mark to date of 60-9-1, 52 KO…WBC titlist 2000-02, 3 defenses; WBC/Lineal World Champion 2004-05, 2 Defenses…after four losses in his first 37, began to turn the corner in a seven fight win streak, including a stoppage of former titlist Jorge Paez, to earn a WBC mandatory in June 2000…in the Ring’s upset of the year, outworked excellent titlist Stevie Johnston in a nationally televised affair on ABC hours before Shane Mosley-Oscar De La Hoya I…held on to the title in a taxing rematch draw later in the year and added a commanding knockout of former titlist Cesar Bazan to start off his 2001 campaign…lost the belt, and the chance at a vacant Ring Magazine title, in April 2002 in controversial fashion against Floyd Mayweather Jr.; many observers felt Castillo had done enough to retain and he remains as of this writing the only fighter with any argument for a win over Mayweather…held a lead heading into the last three rounds but was swept late and lost again to Mayweather later in the year…after Mayweather vacated the title, Castillo was matched with the man most regarded as next best in class at the time, Juan Lazcano, for the vacant Ring and WBC belts in June 2004, winning by decision…followed with a come from behind decision over future Lightweight king Joel Casamayor and a dominating knockout of former titlist Julio Diaz…became part of boxing immortality in his next bout: May 7, 2005…in what might have been the greatest fight in Lightweight history, Castillo and WBO beltholder Diego Corrales went tooth and nail for ten rounds. Castillo had Corrales down twice but controversy reigned as Corrales was allowed to spit the bit twice without the fight being called, earning precious recovery time and ultimately stopping Castillo with a storm of blows…in an immediate rematch, Castillo failed to make weight, with speculation that he hadn’t really tried, and scored a fourth round revenge knockout…missed weight again for a Corrales rubber match and has never really been the same, continuing to struggle with the scale while his reputation took a battering in the press…regardless of his late career weight issues, Castillo’s total body of Lightweight work was exemplary and should earn him a ticket to the Hall of Fame when his turn is called.
21) Ismael Laguna (1960-71): The savvy Panamanian was amongst his nation’s finest but is often overshadowed, the fate of being followed by the great Roberto Duran...career mark of 65-9-1, 37 KO…World Champion 1965; 1970, 1 Defense…turned pro just past his 18th birthday, Laguna spent the early part of his career at Bantam and Featherweight, losing a decision to the great Vicente Saldivar and tough Antonio Herrera in an otherwise flawless first 36 bouts…rose to Lightweight and, four fights after Saldivar, earned a majority decision at home over Carlos Ortiz in April 1965 to win the 135 lb. crown…the same year, drew in a non-title affair with Jr. Welterweight great Niccolino Locche before losing the title back to Ortiz in his first defense…immediately stopped reigning Jr. Welter king Carlos Hernandez and dropped a decision to all-time great Jr. Lightweight Flash Elorde…six straight wins led to the rubber match with Ortiz in 1967, dropping on points at Shea Stadium in New York…won 14 of his next 15 before challenging the talented Mando Ramos for the Lightweight crown in 1970, stopping Ramos nine to regain the title…made one defense, stopping future titlist Guts Ishimatsu, before losing the title for good on a split decision again Ken Buchanan…added a win over future titlist Chango Carmona before dropping his last two outings, his final fight a unanimous decision title shot rematch with Buchanan…Laguna was elected to the IBHOF in 2001.
20) Ad Wolgast (1906-20): With unreal stamina, a big punch, and a crowd pleasing style, “The Michigan Wildcat” earned his place in the Lightweight annals...career mark of 60-12-13, 40 KO, 49 no decisions…World Champion 1910-12, 5 defenses…officially lost only one of his first 51 fights though a news verdict went against him against future Hall of Famer Owen Moran in 1908 and fought to even terms with Featherweight champion Abe Attell…picked up a ten-round news win over reigning Lightweight champ Battling Nelson in 1909 to set the stage for a title shot the following year…came off the floor in the 22nd round to stop Nelson in round 40 for the title…among his title defenses, earned a 13th round stop of perennial contender “Mexican” Joe Rivers…lost the title on a foul to Willie Ritchie in 1912 for only his second official loss but things didn’t get much better from there with losses in two of his next three…never got an official title rematch with Ritchie though they did square off again in 1914…continued on well past his peak to the detriment of his lasting life…suffering what today would likely be called severe pugilistica dementia, Wolgast was institutionalized by 1927 and remained so until his death in 1955…Wolgast was voted into the IBHOF in 2000.
19) Ken Buchanan (1965-1982): Using a beautiful left jab, granite chin and steady fundamentals, Scotland’s Buchanan emerged as arguably his nation’s greatest fighter...career mark of 61-8, 27 KO…World champion 1970-72, 2 defenses…ended his amateur career with an ABA title before turning pro at age 20…lost only one of his first 37 before challenging and besting Ismael Laguna for the crown…defended successfully against the tough Ruben Navarro and Laguna with a stoppage of former Jr. Welterweight champion Carlos Hernandez amongst six wins leading to the end of his reign…became part of a legend at Madison Square Garden on June 26, 1972 when matched with a 28-0 Roberto Duran…behind on points but still competing, Buchanan was caught with a ball piercing shot to the cup at the bell ending round thirteen; unable to continue, it would be his only stoppage loss…Duran refused to ever give Buchanan a rematch though the Scotsman remained a prominent figure in the division…retired the great Carlos Ortiz in his first bout after Duran and placed an early points loss on the ledger of future titlist Jim Watt for the British title in 1973…lost a close decision on the titlist’s home turf in a 1975 challenge of WBC beltholder Guts Ishimatsu…fought once more and took off until 1979, picking up five of his career losses in a nine bout return…Buchanan was enshrined in the IBHOF in 2000.
18) Bob Montgomery (1938-50): Philly’s “Bobcat” was part of a thrilling Lightweight core in the 1940s which packed the rafters throughout the Northeast and Midwest, displaying great speed and a willingness to war...career mark of 75-19-3, 37 KO…NYSAC Lightweight titlist 1943; 1944-47, 2 defenses…undefeated in his first 23 affairs, winning the Pennsylvania Lightweight title along the way before dropping a points nod to the tough Tommy Spiegal…lost close nods to champions Lew Jenkins and Sammy Angott in 1940 but solved Jenkins the following year while dropping two more to Angott in 1942…earned a crack at New York’s version of the World Lightweight crown in May 1943, winning a wide points verdict to kick off his defining rivalry…bested former Welterweight king Fritzie Zivic on points and former Feather king Petey Scalzo by knockout before a rematch with Jack at the end of the year, surrendering the title back to Jack on a 15-round unanimous decision…two fights later, faced the great Ike Williams for the first time, stopping the future champion in 12 to begin a wild 1944 campaign…in his next bout, suffered a shocking first knockout loss, trounced in 63 seconds by hammer fisted Bummy Davis only to bounce back three weeks later to recapture the New York title from Jack in a grueling split decision…would lose the final fight versus Jack in an August non-title affair famed for a World War II bond drive which yielded a gate in excess of $35 million…was up and down from there, defeating former Featherweight titlist Leo Rodak while splitting knockouts with Wesley Mouzon, the win in defense of the title…faced Williams in a 1947 unification bout and was stopped in six, the first of seven straight losses to end Montgomery’s career…Montgomery joined the IBHOF in 1995.
17) George Lavigne (1897-1909): The Saginaw “Kid” turned pro at only 16 years of age and would last almost 13 years before an official loss hit his ledger…career mark of 35-6-10, 19 KO, 5 no decisions...World Champion 1896-99, 7 Defenses…Lavigne had a banner, breakout year in 1894, battling Featherweight great Young Griffo to a draw and besting future Feather champion Solly Smith on points…followed in 1895 with an even twenty rounds against Griffo and 15 round win over future Welterweight great Joe Walcott, laying claim to the American Lightweight title…faced British champion Dick Burge to resolve the issue of World champ, stopping Burge in 17…faced Walcott in defense of the crown in 1897, handing “Barbados” Joe his first knockout loss in almost 60 affairs…drew in twenty with Frank Erne in 1898 and then moved up for an unsuccessful challenge of Welter champ “Mysterious” Billy Smith in 1899, stopped for the first time in round 14…two fights later in the year, dropped the Lightweight crown in a 20-round decision to Erne…there would be no rematch with only sporadic appearances over the next decade, losing four of his final six and three of them inside the route…Lavigne was added to the IBHOF in 1998.
16) Joe Brown (1941-70): Baton Rouge, Louisiana gave birth to “Old Bones,” a fine example of a warrior the title makes better…career mark of 113-47-13, 47 KO…World Champion 1956-62, 11 Defenses…turning pro at 16, Brown learned his craft in the ring, stopped in the first round of his first fight toiling methodically up the ratings for almost fifteen years…developed enough by 1947 to score an upset of future Lightweight champion Jimmy Carter only to follow with a second round flameout versus the great Sandy Saddler…continued to win some and lose some, including a 1948 knockout loss to future Welterweight champ Johnny Bratton and a decision loss to future Welterweight champ Virgil Akins in 1951…a huge change of fortune came in May 1956 with a non-title points win over Lightweight champion Bud Smith…it was enough to earn a title shot two fights later and Brown emerged a split decision winner in August…February 1957 saw Brown make it three straight over Smith with a 11th round TKO victory in his first defense…over a lengthy title reign, Brown would go 17-3-2, all of his losses in non-title bouts, while stopping future Jr. Middleweight champ Ralph Dupas in a defense and twice besting tough Dave Charnley, the second time in Ring’s 1961 Fight of the Year…finally lost the title to Carlos Ortiz in 1962, three consecutive defenses short of Joe Gans lineal record of 14…would lose more than he won through the remainder of his career, never to regain his championship form…Brown was inducted to the IBHOF in 1996.
15) Lou Ambers (1932-41): New York’s “Herkimer Hurricane” was a rugged thriller who made up for a slight in power with sheer aggression and a chin which failed him only at the very end...career mark of 91-8-7, 28 KO…World Champion 1936-38, 3 defenses; 1939-40…bested only once in his first 51 bouts, including wins over the excellent Cocoa Kid and former Jr. Welterweight champ Johnny Jaddick, to get a crack at Tony Canzoneri’s Lightweight crown…Ambers would fall short on points in May 1935…bounced right back with 14 straight wins to earn a rematch, defeating former or future champions from a range of weight classes like Fritzie Zivic, Frankie Klick, and Baby Arizmendi before entering Madison Square Garden and leaving with the title on a unanimous decision in September 1936…promptly dropped two straight non-title points nods to Eddie Cool and Jimmy McLarnin before the year was out and lost another non-title affair to future Hall of Famer Pedro Montanez in 1937 while also dominating Canzoneri in their rubber match and avenging the Montanez loss with the title on the line…lost the crown to Henry Armstrong in August 1938 and then won ten straight to position himself for a rematch one year later…in one of the greatest of all Lightweight battles, Ambers benefited from point deductions against Armstrong to narrowly regain the title; it was Armstrong’s only loss in over fifty fights between 1937 and 1940…Ambers would lose the title in 1940, stopped for the first time in three by Lew Jenkins…a 1941 rematch lasted longer, into round seven, but with the same result and Ambers retired…Ambers was elected to the IBHOF in 1992.
14) Battling Nelson (1896-1917): Born in Copenhagen, the “Durable Dane” was notable for marathon contests and savage will...career mark of 59-19-19, 38 KO, 29 no decisions…World Champion 1905-06; 08-10, 3 defenses…a professional at age 14, Nelson emerged as a contender in 1904 with a 20-round win over big punching Aurelio Herrera and a tenth round stoppage of former Featherweight champion Young Corbett II…lost to Jimmy Britt for the vacant World title to end his ’04 campaign…In September of the following year, stopped Britt in 18 to win his first of two World titles…won a news decision over Bantam and Featherweight great Terry McGovern but lost the title one year later on a foul in the 42nd round of a brutal affair with the great Joe Gans…was off until July 1907, returning to lose on points in 20 to Britt…1908 would be better with a news win over Britt, draw with Featherweight champ Abe Attell, and 17th round rematch stoppage of Gans to regain the title in July…Gans took him into the 21st in their third fight two months later only to be stopped again…Nelson would finally be outlasted for the crown by Ad Wolgast in 1910, stopped for only the second time in the 40th frame…Nelson would continue with mixed success for years, ending his career in a news loss to then Lightweight champion Freddie Welsh in a reasonable twelve rounds…Nelson was voted into the IBHOF in 1992.
13) Sammy Angott (1935-50): It is always an overstatement to say anyone fought everyone who mattered in their time, but Cleveland’s Angott came awful close...career mark of 99-28-8, 23 KO...World Champion 1941-42, 1 Defense; NBA titlist 1943-44…Angott lost ten of his first 33 before really finding his footing…won two of three versus future Featherweight titlist Leo Rodak and outpointed former Featherweight king Freddie Miller in 1938…bested former Featherweight titlists Petey Sarron and Baby Arizmendi in 1939…in 1940, avenged a loss to Davey Day with a win for the vacant NBA belt, lost a non-title bout to Fritzie Zivic on points and finished the year edging Bob Montgomery…In July 1941, faced a young Ray Robinson and was soundly defeated but won four straight and ended the year defeating the recognized Lightweight king, Lew Jenkins, on points…picked up two more wins over Montgomery in 1942 and lost a rematch to Robinson…briefly retired and vacated the crown only to return right away…became the first man to beat Willie Pep in 1943 only to drop a points nod to an aged Henry Armstrong in his next outing; before the year was out, he’d regain the NBA share of the Lightweight title with a points win over Slugger White…drew with Beau Jack to open 1944, lost his belt to Juan Zurita on points, and twice was decisioned by Ike Williams before the year was out…in a shocker, knocked out Williams in six in September 1945 in what would be his last great win…again decisioned by Robinson in 1946 and elected not to go on after seven bruising rounds with Jack in his next fight…won 12 straight before dropping five of his last ten to end a stiff tenure…Angott entered the IBHOF in 1998.
12) Barney Ross (1929-38): Chicago’s Ross was a craftsman who ultimately held World titles in three divisions (Lightweight, Jr. Welterweight, Welterweight)…career mark of 72-4-3, 22 KO…World Champion 1933, 1 defense…after a couple short points losses in his first two years, Ross would run off a 27-fight win streak to earn a crack at Lightweight champion Tony Canzoneri in June 1933…before he got there, Ross would outpoint former Featherweight champ Battling Battalino and future Hall of Famer Billy Petrolle…in a heavily debated decision, lifted both the Lightweight and Jr. Welter crowns in the first contest with Canzoneri by ten round majority decision…a rematch three months later was also heavily debated, Ross exiting a split verdict winner in his only Lightweight title defense…Ross continued to defend the Jr. Welterweight crown and was off to the Welterweight title the following year with a mark of 46-2-2 following the second Canzoneri bout…Ross was an inaugural member of the IBHOF in 1990.
11) Beau Jack (1939-55): One of the biggest draws, and most exciting fighters, ever to lace gloves, Augusta, Georgia’s Jack made many a man rich only to end his life working as a shoe shine man…career mark of 83-24-5, 40 KO…NYSAC titlist 1942-43; 1943-44…born Sidney Walker, Jack’s first lessons in fisticuffs came in the cruel world of ‘battle royales,’ wild free for alls which influenced the man he’d become in the ring…Jack lost six of his first 43 bouts while already building a rep as a thriller in New York…twelve straight wins in a row led to Jack being matched in December 1942 with future Jr. Welterweight champion Tippy Larkin for the vacant New York version of the Lightweight title; Jack crushed Larkin in three…in his next three bouts, would outpoint former Welterweight champion Fritzie Zivic twice and outpoint Henry Armstrong…lost his first title defense attempt to Montgomery in May 1943 but regained it in November before drawing with Sammy Angott and losing to Montgomery in early 1944…in consecutive bouts spanning from March 1944-December 1945, won points nods over Bummy Davis, then reigning NBA titlist Juan Zurita, Montgomery and the excellent (and too often forgotten) contender of the day Willie Joyce…competed mostly as a small Welterweight from 1946 forward, stopping Angott in 1946 and Johnny Bratton in 1948 before a July 1948 shot at Ike Williams for the Lightweight title; Jack was stopped in six…Jack would continue for years, splitting with Welterweight contender Tony Janiro, lasting the route with Kid Gavilan, beating Lew Jenkins in an old timers showdown and losing twice more to Williams, the latter of which would be his final contest…Jack was voted into the IBHOF in 1991.
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]