By Cliff Rold
It’s the weight class where Joe Gans, Barney Ross, Roberto Duran, and Pernell Whitaker were at their very best. That’s boxing immortality.
History can be experienced any time we want on YouTube. Duran’s epic series with Esteban DeJesus is there in all three installments. Whitaker’s unification of the crown? One (well, three) clicks away.
Boxing history is great. Like a favorite movie, it’s there to be treasured and returned to when we want to remember. The only problem with watching the greats of 135 lbs. is we already know the end of every story. Gans will always outlast Battling Nelson in their 42 round marathon. Lou Ambers will always benefit from point deductions to regain the crown from Henry Armstrong. Julio Cesar Chavez will always digest the soul of Edwin Rosario.
The greatest part of those moments is lost to time. One can appreciate, even by thrilled, by looking back in time. Only those who saw it live will ever truly have experienced the rush of the unknown as those events unfolded.
There is no Gans, no Whitaker, no Duran at Lightweight in 2015. With Terrence Crawford off already to 140 lbs., the division again finds itself where it has been for much of the time since Juan Manuel Marquez left the division for good.
Lightweight is looking for an identity.
This Saturday, we’ll see two fighters who can hope to provide it one. Online at ESPN3.com (6:30 PM EST/3:30 PM PST), Jorge Linares (39-3, 26 KO) will attempt his second defense of the WBC title against Ivan Cano (23-6-2, 15 KO). Via tape delay on BeIn Sports Espanol, Terry Flanagan (28-0, 11 KO) will make his first defense of the WBO belt against Diego Magdaleno (28-1, 12 KO).
Of the two, Flanagan has the tougher assignment on paper. Neither match has a ton of buzz outside their localized circles. Can either man, or anyone else in the division, give it the pulse it deserves?
Boxing is better when its most classic divisions are vibrant. No matter that they’ve become a fixture, the jr. classes…well, they’ll always have jr. affixed to their label (or ‘super’ see class below as some of the sanctioning bodies call them). Being the king of one of boxing’s so-called original eight just always seems to carry a little extra cache.
There are some fine princes to be found, but it’s hard to see a king in the mix right now. That doesn’t mean the fights aren’t still good. Linares’ defense against Kevin Mitchell in May was excellent stuff. The December match between Denis Shafikov (36-1-1, 19 KO) and Rances Barthelemy (23-0, 13 KO) looks interesting. Flanagan-Magdaleno might see a lot of leather thrown and landed.
It’s up to the fighters to change the perception. That makes this weekend a great opportunity. Linares, a mercurial talent whose vulnerabilities undercut his acumen, is on an eight-fight win streak. Cano isn’t likely to test him, but he hasn’t always won when he’s supposed to. A highlight reel win would go a long way to keeping his momentum going.
Flanagan isn’t widely known outside the UK. He won his title on an early shoulder injury to opponent Jose Zepeda earlier this year before a fight could break out. Magdaleno may be his toughest assignment to date. An impressive win could stamp him the one to watch in the field.
Then there is Dejan Zlaticanin (21-0, 14 KO). Already with wins over Petr Petrov, Ricky Burns, and Ivan Redkach, he may be the force waiting to emerge. Short for the class, The 31-year old from Montenegro looms as the potential mandatory for Linares. It might be one of the best fights boxing fans don’t know they’re looking forward to yet.
It might even be argued that the best fighter in the division is a guy who would need to move up to debut there. Japan’s WBA 130 lb. titlist Takashi Uchiyama (23-0-1, 19 KO) is already 35 but might be favored over anyone five pounds higher. It would be nice to see him risk the move before it’s too late.
Since Marquez left the class, we’ve had brief spots of action with fighters like Burns, Crawford, and Broner but no one has really stuck around to make Lightweight a genuine destination class again. In 2015, we wait to see who will emerge to lead that charge.
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 [email protected]