by Cliff Rold
It’s not (usually) fair to call them down times. Let them instead be called the spaces between.
Weight divisions in boxing have their runs of unbelievable greatness, the right combination of talent and matches to indelibly mark an era as ‘special.’ Between those runs, there are the spaces between. Often they too are full of fantastic fights, enthusiastic fans, and they can even produce a great fighter or two, but there is just something a little…
We are in one of those times at Lightweight right now.
Arguably the biggest draw remaining in the division, Scotland’s Ricky Burns (36-2, 11 KO), defends his WBO Lightweight belt for the fourth time against game veteran Raymundo Beltran (28-6, 17 KO) this Saturday on Wealth TV (3 PM EST/12 PM PST). Beltran is a good story. This is a good fight.
And that’s good enough.
Good fights are the salve while awaiting the reloading of a Lightweight division experiencing its first real space between in over a decade.
It hasn’t been that long ago but it already feels that way. Lightweight from 2000-10 was one of the special times. As the decade dawned, Floyd Mayweather was yet to move up five pounds from Jr. Lightweight. It would be an upset on the same day, if not same card, as Shane Mosley-Oscar De La Hoya I, that kicked the era off.
In the final live fight aired on ABC to date, Jose Luis Castillo bested the excellent Stevie Johnston to capture the WBC Lightweight belt. Gradually the pieces came together. Mayweather rose, defeating Castillo, in 2002. Jr. Lightweight titlists Acelino Freitas, Diego Corrales, and Joel Casamayor would arrive after Floyd had moved up the scale again. With Castillo they formed a superb round robin of sorts, only Freitas and Castillo failing to clash.
Sure, some of the best-remembered clashes of the time, like the first two Casamayor-Corrales fights and Mayweather-Corrales, happened at 130 but they sort of fold in mind’s eye into the same pocket. The height of it all came in 2005 when arguably the greatest Lightweight title fight ever recorded, Corrales-Castillo I, left fans breathless and still talking.
Rather than any remarkable space between when that group faded, it instead organically folded into a next gust of awesome action. Manny Pacquiao made a brief appearance, neither adding not detracting from the class. Juan Diaz, Nate Campbell, Michael Katsidis, and Juan Manuel Marquez arrived to extend the drama. Marquez won a too little seen clash with Casamayor, a Fight of the Year versus Diaz, and a war with Katsidis with various clashes amongst other players standing out as well.
It was a genuinely great time.
There have been moments since the peak period died down. Brandon Rios had some thrillers in 2011 with Miguel Acosta and Urbano Antillon. Antonio DeMarco-Jorge Linares was bloody good in the same year.
But that’s been about it: occasional firefights that never really light a full on blaze.
Burns stands out for now at Lightweight as something to look forward to. That’s not the same as saying he’s on the verge of any historical greatness. He doesn’t appear to have that level of talent. Maybe he’ll prove that thinking wrong. Maybe not.
He’s still providing entertainment in spades. The crowds he brings in are an expression of palpable passion from ringside to the cheap seats. The emotion in the ring and around it oozes through the screen.
The cast of title characters doesn’t provide as much around him for the moment. With Adrien Broner off to Welterweight, likely for good, the division is otherwise uninspired. Miguel Vazquez is sound but not thrilling. Richar Abril is tough to watch sometimes. Yuriorkis Gamboa doesn’t fight enough.
And in Burns case, we are still looking at a largely regional draw. There isn’t a great deal of market overlap right now to generate demand for fights between the best fighters in class. Burns almost faced Vazquez in unification earlier this year. It fell apart and there hasn’t been any great hue and cry to see it put back together. It’s a sign of how the division is presently divided.
As is almost always the case, youth likely provides the answer to what comes next after a space between. There is certainly life in the ranks of the rising. Terrence Crawford looks like a comer, if not yet quite up to the strength of superlatives being given him on HBO. Omar Figueroa just won a barnburner against Nihito Arakawa. Denis Shafikov is making his bones.
None have arrived yet and the division is still not much for depth; still more a core of solid hands and retreads.
It might be like that for a long time.
Or the right chips could fall into place to ignite the next great run in a matter of months.
We won’t know until we know. For now, all that can be done is to make fights where the styles clash well and the end result leaves greater interest than when they came in the door. Burns-Beltran might turn out to be one of those fights.
It’s a good enough time until the great times come around again.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org