By Cliff Rold
The Eight, Pt. 6
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.
Pound for pound, it might just be the best weight division in the history of the sport. This weekend could give us the latest glimpse as to why.
Boxing fans everywhere are thrilled about the pending showdown between WBO titlist Miguel Cotto and Jr. Welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao at a catchweight just below the modern Welterweight limit. They have a lot to live up to.
Fighters, and Fights, of the Year from this class dot the history of the sport. One of the game’s earliest divisions of the gloved era, the weight limit has almost always been somewhere between 140-147 lbs. as it is today, with fluctuating limits in the late 19th century between 142 and 145. Between 1909-20, both sides of the Atlantic settled firmly on 147 and that has been the Welterweight limit since.
As a quick note, for champions in the no-decision era of the early 20th century, hard numbers can sometimes be hard to come by so defense numbers are culled from officially decided bouts.
Inevitably, some of the picks here will be argued as wrong; some of the omissions will as well. Excellent fighters like Donald Curry, Curtis Cokes, Oscar De La Hoya, Pipino Cuevas, Rube Ferns and Joe Dundee stand among notables who just missed this final cut. As has been the case through the series, fighters currently active in the division are not considered as they carve their place on this sacred ground.
Sacred? Indeed. The reasons why begin with number 11-25.
The Top Twenty-Five
25) Harry Lewis (1903-16): Born in New York but reared fistically in Philadelphia, Lewis was one of the best during the first decade of the 20th century…career mark of 80-16-11, 42 KO, 56 no decisions…World Champion 1908-11, 6 (or 4) defenses…Lewis battled tough contenders like Tim Callahan and Aurelio Herrera as he climbed the ladder…dropped a news decision to Lightweight great Joe Gans in 1906 but posted a points win over Mike Sullivan one fight before Sullivan won the crown in 1907…Sullivan’s claim to the title was disputed in some pockets, though he was the lineal champion…Lewis emerged as the strongest claimant when Sullivan vacated in late 1908 based on knockout wins earlier in the year over Frank Mantell and Honey Mellody, the first of which for a counter claim to the throne…vacated the throne after a defense over Johnny Summers in 1911 to compete at Middleweight, but later added a knockout win over former Welter champ Dixie Kid and managed the distance with future Light Heavyweight champion Georges Carpentier…Lewis was added to the IBHOF in 2008.
24) Young Corbett III (1919-40): Born in Italy as Raffaele Capabianca Giordano, the southpaw made his home in Fresno, California, where a statue is erected in his honor in front of the Selland Arena, and was a popular draw in San Francisco and Los Angeles…career mark of 124-12-15, 32 KO…World Champion 1933…Corbett was stopped twice in his first four fights, aged only 14, growing into the Welterweight division by his early 20s…a draw and win with future two-time champion Jack Thompson in 1927 and 28 stood out in his rise to contention…topped reigning champion Jackie Fields in non-title action in February 1930 and added another win over Thompson over the summer…twice decisioned a young Ceferino Garcia and stalwart Joe Glick in 1932 to edge towards a long sought title shot…bested Fields for the crown at Seals Stadium in San Francisco in February 1933…three months later, Corbett was stopped for the first time in almost 14 years as Jimmy McLarnin upset the favored champion in the first round for the title…Corbett would rebound with success in the Middleweight division, picking up wins over an aged Mickey Walker, Billy Conn, and Gus Lesnevich and briefly holding California recognition as champion after a win over Fred Apostoli…Corbett was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF) in 2004.
23) Lou Brouillard (1928-40): Born in Canada, Brouillard grew up in Massachusetts and became a regular star at the old Boston Garden…rose to contention in the early 1930s and topped reigning champion Jack Thompson in a July 1931 non-title fight to set up a shot at the crown…bested Thompson again over 15 to win the title four months later…lost the crown in his first defense to Jackie Fields in January 1932 but won four of his next five, the last of them a split points nod over McLarnin at Yankee Stadium in August of the same year…dropped a pair of decisions to end the year as he transitioned into the Middleweight division at a mark of 77-8-1 to then…Brouillard would briefly win recognition in New York as Middleweight champion and pick up some notable wins over the likes of Corbett III, Gustave Roth and Bob Olin…Brouillard was voted into the IBHOF in 2006.
22) Roberto Duran (1968-2001): Arguably the greatest Lightweight of all time, Panama’s “Manos de Piedra” put together a strong, if brief run, to capture the throne at Welterweight only to leave the division in disgrace…career mark of 103-16, 70 KO…Lineal/WBC World Champion 1980…after unifying the Lightweight division in the third and final battle with Esteban DeJesus in 1978, Duran picked up wins over quality battlers Adolpho Viruet and Monroe Brooks at 147 lbs., leading to a showdown with recently deposed World Champion Carlos Palomino at Madison Square Garden in June 1979…on the undercard of Larry Holmes-Mike Weaver, Duran won a unanimous nine of ten rounds in one of his most underrated wins…three fights later, forced the hand of Sugar Ray Leonard as his mandatory challenger…in a classic, Duran gave Leonard his first loss over fifteen at Olympic Stadium in Montreal in June 1980…embarrassed himself in November of the same year, quitting against Leonard in the eighth round; the reasons why continue to be debated today…would redeem himself over the years that followed with belts at 154 and 160 lbs…Duran might have rated much higher without “No Mas” and with a deeper body of work in class; he would have been competitive with almost any of the great Welterweights…Duran was elected to the IBHOF in 2007, his first year of eligibility.
21) Felix Trinidad (1990-2008): One of the most popular Puerto Rican stars of the late twentieth century, Trinidad battered opponents in the ring while often having his bigger dreams battered outside it…career mark of 42-3, 35 KO…IBF titlist 1993-1999, 15 defenses; Lineal World Champion 1999-2000…Trinidad showed early promise, and early trends, coming off the floor twice in the second to stop Alberto Cortes in three in 1992…bested former lineal champion Maurice Blocker for the IBF crown four fights later with a second round flaming…came off the floor to stop Anthony Stephens in his second defense and last bout of 1993…had a banner year in 1994, besting veteran Hector Camacho and stopping undefeated contenders Oba Carr and Yori Boy Campas…Trinidad’s career would largely stall over the next four years as he sought bigger fights and fought to get out of his promotional contract with Don King; ultimately, he would see unification bouts with Pernell Whitaker and Ike Quartey escape him while facing fairly porous opposition…surged again in 1999 when he and King resolved differences, besting an aged Whitaker in February to set up a September mega-fight with Oscar De La Hoya…came from behind on the cards late to win a still hotly debated majority decision in his final bout in the division, a major gate attraction but an entertainment bust…might have rated higher with opportunities sooner in his tenure and probably stayed in the division too long, but 15 defenses over six years was nothing to sneeze at…would go on to a memorable run at 154 lbs. before finally finding defeat at Middleweight…Trinidad may or may not be retired, competing most recently around Light Heavyweight.
20) Fritzie Zivic (1931-49): Rules were merely suggestions for the rough battler from Pittsburgh, considered one of the dirtiest in history...career mark of 159-65-9, 81 KO, 1 no decision…World Champion 1940-41, 1 defense…turned pro as a teenager not much bigger than a Featherweight, Zivic could run hot and cold for lengthy stretches, once losing seven in a row between 1935-36…dropped a split decision to Billy Conn in the last of 19 bouts in the latter year…opened 1937 with a knockout win over former Jr. Welterweight champion Johnny Jaddick, avenging a precious loss…earned a split nod in March 1938 over Hall of Famer Charley Burley; it was their first of three bouts and Zivic’s lone win in the series…Burley would be the only man to beat Zivic in a 22-bout campaign in 1938…notched the first win over quality contender Eddie Booker the following year…decisioned future Lightweight king Sammy Angott in August 1940 to set up his first shot at the title…on October 4, Zivic pulled the huge upset in outpointing the great Henry Armstrong over fifteen for the crown…followed with a famous DQ win over Bummy Davis before the year was out…stopped Armstrong in 14 in their January 1941 rematch…lost the title in July in another big upset to “Red” Cochrane…would lose twice to a young Ray Robinson, by decision and 10th round stop, between late 1941 and early ’42…would avenge the Cochrane loss on points later in 1942 before losing a third bout with Armstrong…Zivic continued on through the decade, facing losing to elite talents like Beau Jack, Jake LaMotta and losing more than he won…Zivic was elected to the IBHOF in 1993.
19) Jackie Fields (1925-33): Born Jacob Finkelstein in Chicago, and a 1924 Featherweight Olympic Gold Medalist at age 16, Fields was a slick boxer/puncher who held his own with the best of a deep era…career mark of 72-9-2, 31 KO, 2 no decisions, 1 no contest…World Champion 1929-30; 32-33…Fields was matched tough early, losing a seventh round knockout to the more professionally experienced Jimmy McLarnin in only his seventh bout…took no steps backwards and by 1927 was facing and mostly beating championship level foes like Sammy Mandell, Louis Kaplan, and Mushy Callahan…bested future Middleweight champ Vince Dundee twice in 1928, suffered a revenge loss to Mandell, and outpointed future Welter king Jack Thompson before the year was out…in March 1929, bested Thompson again for the NBA’s Welterweight crown and won the lineal crown from Joe Dundee on a second round foul in July while posting another win over Vince Dundee and another future Middle champ, Gorilla Jones, within the year…in 1930, yet another outpointing of Vince Dundee was followed by a loss to Corbett III on points, a knockout of future champ Tommy Freeman in five and, finally, a first title defense to Thompson all by May…would go 8-1-1 to set up a chance to regain the throne in 1932, outpointing Brouillard in January….Corbett III outpointed Fields 13 months later in his penultimate contest…Fields was elected to the IBHOF in 2004.
18) Pernell Whitaker (1984-2001): Norfolk, Virginia’s “Sweet Pea” was a defensive genius, 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist, and one of the great Lightweights of all time before a memorable run at 147…career mark of 40-4-1, 17 KO…Lineal/WBC World Champion 1993-97, 8 defenses...after unifying the Lightweight class and briefly stopping off for a belt at 140, Whitaker wrested the Welterweight crown from Buddy McGirt at Madison Square Garden in an excellent March 1993 contest…followed with his greatest victory only to see it stolen in a political draw verdict, undressing undefeated Mexican great and Jr. Welterweight king Julio Cesar Chavez at the Alamdome in Texas in September 1993…when Chavez elected to return to 140 and avoid future contact with Whitaker, Pernell granted a rematch to McGirt in October 1994, coming off the floor twice to thrash McGirt down the stretch for a unanimous nod…after a short jump to Jr. Middleweight where Whitaker outpointed the rugged Julio Cesar Vasquez, returned to Welterweight and continued to defend…won a debated nod over Wilfredo Rivera in early 1996 but made victory clear in a rematch later in the year…in his final official win, came off the floor and from well behind on the cards to stop Diobelys Hurtado in 11…lost his title in April 1997 in a controversial decision to Oscar De La Hoya…lost valuable time to a drug suspension and was past his peak but still game in losing a decision to Trinidad in February 1999…Whitaker was elected to the IBHOF in his first year of eligibility in 2008.
17) Charley Burley (1936-50): Legendary trainer Eddie Futch once opined that the Pittsburgh slickster was the best he ever saw…career mark of 83-12-2, 50 KO…Burley never fought for a World title despite substantive contention at Welterweight and Middleweight…he spent most of his first three pro years in the smaller class…faced the vastly more experienced Cocoa Kid for the “Colored” Welterweight title in August 1938, winning a 15 round unanimous decision…bested young future Middleweight champ Billy Soose on points later in the year…avenged two of his three losses in the class, twice topping Fritzie Zivic in 1938 and 39 after a split points nod in the earlier year…Zivic famously purchased Burley’s contract to avoid facing him again…lost a split nod to Jimmy Leto in 1939 but avenged it on points later in the year…was competing largely at Middleweight by the end of 1939 where he would begin his long time rivalry with Holman Williams along with contests against Archie Moore and Ezzard Charles…turned pro at 19, Williams run at Welterweight was short but wins over Zivic, Cocoa, and Soose spoke volumes about the fighter Burley already was in his early 20s…Burley was elected to the IBHOF in 1992.
16) Luis Rodriguez (1956-72): Cuba’s Rodriguez was often brilliant, a fluid combination puncher who stood as Emile Griffith’s finest rival at 147 and a few points on the cards from even higher stature...career mark of 107-13, 49 KO, 1 no contest…World Champion 1963…Rodriguez would rise through the ranks, twice over besting both future champion Benny Paret and former champ Virgil Akins before suffering his first loss to Griffith in 1960, a split on points…it took only five more contests for loss number two, a split nod versus a young Curtis Cokes in August 1961; Rodriguez would avenge the slight four months later by unanimous verdict…bested Joey Giambra one fight prior to facing Griffith for the Welterweight crown, winning the crown by unanimous decision at Dodger Stadium in March 1963…three months later, the split verdict would end Rodriguez’s brief run as king…Rodriguez followed with a knockout of reigning Jr. Middleweight champ Denny Moyer in non-title action, working towards a fourth a final fight with Griffith in June 1964…for the third time, Rodriguez would lose a narrow split decision…Rodriguez continued on largely at Middleweight with wins over Rubin Carter and George Benton…returned to face Curtis Cokes in an eliminator for the vacant Welterweight crown in July 1966 and was stopped in the 15th and final round…continued into the next decade with wins over Bennie Briscoe and future Light Heavyweight titlist Vicente Rondon along with a Middleweight title shot loss to the outstanding Nino Benvenuti in 1969…Rodriguez was voted to the IBHOF in 1997.
15) Tommy Ryan (1887-1907): Fighting out of Van Nuys, California, Ryan was one of the early gloved greats and a true pioneer of the sweet science...career mark of 86-3-6, 22 KO, 4 no decisions, 6 no contests…World Champion 1894-98, 6 defenses…Ryan possessed incredible stamina, engaging in battles which went as far as the 57th round in his first two years as a pro…twice drew with reigning Welterweight champion “Mysterious” Billy Smith before surging to a title shot and winning on points in 20 rounds in July 1894…he would never lose the title in the ring…he would defend the following year with a third round knockout of the “Nonpareil” Jack Dempsey, the former Middleweight king…lost a Middleweight contest on a 15th round knockout versus Hall of Famer Kid McCoy in March 1896, the lone knockout loss of Ryan’s career…would vacate the Welterweight crown in 1898 when he capture the vacant Middleweight throne, holding that title until 1906…Ryan was elected to the IBHOF in 1991.
14) Ted Lewis (1909-29): One of England’s greatest fighters, “Kid” will forever be linked to a lengthy rivalry with Jack Britton...career mark of 173-30-14, 71 KO, 65 no decisions…World Champion 1915-16, 3 defenses; 17-19, 1 defense…Lewis was already a veteran of 140-plus fights when he made his U.S. debut at Madison Square Garden in late 1914…in March of the following year, he’s drop a news verdict to Britton in their first of 20 contests…a win over former champion Mike Glover in early August set the stage for a shot at Britton for the World title, besting him over 12 in Boston later in the month…he’d successfully defend the crown against Britton a month later…he would defend the title in three official verdict bouts total while losing a non-title affair with Glover before the year was out…Britton would reclaim the title in 20 in April 1916 and successfully defend against Lewis in October…June of the following year saw Lewis win his second crown from Britton over the same distance…while battling the likes of Mike O’Dowd and Benny Leonard, the rivalry continued with Britton scoring a ninth round stop to win the title again in March 1919…Lewis would never regain the crown and was stopped in one of a Light Heavyweight title bid versus Georges Carpentier in 1922…Lewis had much more on his resume than what can fit in this space and was a genuine great, elected to the IBHOF in 1992.
13) Carmen Basilio (1948-61): Canastota, New York’s “Onion Farmer” was among the greatest action fighters boxing ever produced...career mark of 56-16-7, 27 KO…World Champion 1955-56, 1 defense; 56-57, 1 defense…Basilio, a rugged brawler, struggled in spots as he worked his way up the ranks but gained valuable experience in distance setbacks with men like Billy Graham and came close to spoiling the unbeaten mark of matinee idol Chuck Davey…scored a breakthrough points win over former Lightweight king Ike Williams in January 1953 and added a win and draw over Hall of Famer Graham over the summer…scored a shot at Kid Gavilan for the crown in September and had him down early before being outboxed to a split points loss…wouldn’t lose again on the road to a shot at then-champ Tony DeMarco in June 1955, rallying for a knockout in the 12th…five months later, they’d do it again with the same result in a savage affair which won Fight of the Year; it was the first of four straight such honors featuring Basilio…Basilio opened his 1956 campaign with a controversial points loss of the title to Johnny Saxton in March but, in September, a ninth round knockout produced another Fight of the Year and a second World title…thrashed Saxton in two in February 1957 before vacating the crown and heading to Middleweight where he would split bouts with the great Ray Robinson…fell short of a second Middleweight title reign when stopped by NBA titlist Gene Fullmer in consecutive fights in 1959 and 60…bested former Welterweight champion Don Jordan before retiring after a points loss to lineal Middleweight champ Paul Pender in 1961…Basilio was an inaugural member of the IBHOF in 1990.
12) Mickey Walker (1919-35): New Jersey’s “Toy Bulldog” was a fearless warrior willing to battle men much larger without a backwards step…career mark of 93-19-4, 60 KO, 46 no decisions, 1 no contest...World Champion 1922-26, 5 defenses…was stopped twice early on in his way up the ranks but built a following with his action style, earning a shot at the great but aging Jack Britton for the World title and scoring what was then an upset over fifteen rounds in November 1922…Walker was a fighter who dramatically improved with the title around his waist, undefeated through 26 fights until a 1925 Middleweight title loss to Harry Greb…through the streak, he’d pick up a news verdict over reigning Light Heavyweight king Mike McTigue along with a successful defense over Lightweight great Lew Tendler…Walker would lose the crown to the tough Pete Latzo on points in May 1926, followed with a stoppage on cuts to future champion Joe Dundee before embarking on a run as Middleweight champion, a division where he was arguably even better than he was at Welterweight, and attempts at the Light Heavyweight crown…Walker was an inaugural member of the IBHOF in 1990.
11) Tommy Hearns (1977-2006): Call him Hit Man or the Motor City Cobra. Either way, the 6’1 Detroit native was a frightening combination of height, speed, and power…career mark 61-5-1, 48 KO…WBA titlist 1980-81, 3 defenses…Hearns fought his first 33 bouts competing at Welterweight, scoring 30 knockouts and it took a genuine great to stop his reign of terror…among his victims as he worked up the ranks were quality contenders Harold Weston and Bruce Curry along with a second round obliteration of excellent former Jr. Welterweight titlist Saensak Muangsurin in two rounds in October 1979…toppled former WBA champ Angel Espada in four in March 1980 and former Jr. Middle champ Eddie Gazo in one two months later to close in on the title…ended the thrilling title reign of Pipino Cuevas in two rounds in August 1980, drilling the Mexican warrior with a right hand which all but ruined him…three knockout defenses, including a 12th round stop of the game Randy Shields, set the stage for a showdown with Sugar Ray Leonard in September 1981…ahead on the cards through 12, Hearns would succumb in a classic showdown, stopped in 14…Hearns would go on to title reigns at 154, 160, 168 and twice at 175 lbs...Hearns is a shoo-in Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible.
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:
Number of fellow champions faced (total) then divided into a competition score to flatten the field due to the fluctuation in titles recognized.
1. Lineal World Titles
2. Sanctioning Body Titles
3. Title Defenses
4. 2 Points per KO; -2 per KOBY; 1 per UD against fellow titlists
5. 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)
6. Quality Losses (Losses to champion opponents -1 point; selective non-title losses)
7. 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]