With so many belts around, the idea of champions can get watered down and not just by the WBA. It’s almost certainly one of the reasons pound-for-pound ratings gained so much more heft in the marketplace in the last two generations.
It was a way to cut through the chaff.
That doesn’t mean there still aren’t men who exemplify what a champion should be. They are the men who face the best available in their class more often than others who share their place as beltholders. In anticipation of the return of all the men who call themselves champions, let’s take a look at each of the seventeen weight classes in the game, identifying the most impressive champion in each division, ending with the top ten title reigns in the sport.
For the purpose of comparison (and with a full disclosure of personal involvement), this comparison will use the current and archived Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ratings as a reasonable gauge to identify the rated contenders defeated during each current title reign for the primary titlist of each sanctioning body or, where applicable, reigning lineal kings. WBA sub-titlists can be found on the BoxingScene Championship stats page but won’t be included for this evaluation.
The first installment featured a look at the champions and titlists from heavyweight to super middleweight followed by an examination of middleweight through Jr. welterweight. Let’s continue in this installment with...
WBA (Super): V. Lomachenko (3 Defenses); won 05/12/2018, TKO10 Jorge Linares
WBC: Devin Haney (24-0, 15 KO, 1 Defense); won interim 09/13/2019, RTD4 Z. Abdullaev; elevated when WBC designated V. Lomachenko “Franchise”
IBF: Teofimo Lopez (15-0, 12 KO, 0 Defenses); won 12/14/2019, TKO2 R. Commey
WBO: V. Lomachenko (2 Defenses); won 12/08/2018, UD12 J. Pedraza
Lomachenko easily stands out as the premiere champion in the class and is still expected to face Lopez before the year is out. Recognized as the Ring but not TBRB champion in the division currently, Lomachenko-Lopez in the wake of Lopez’s win over Commey will pretty firmly establish a new lineage at 135 lbs. In four fights in the division since rising from Jr. lightweight, beginning with his victory over Jorge Linares, every Lomachenko opponent has been rated in the TBRB top ten. Haney has yet to face a serious contender but his talent will make that a formality sooner than later. Haney had to wrestle with the WBC to keep his titlist status current but was ultimately successful.
WBA (Super): Leo Santa Cruz (37-1-1, 19 KO, 0 Defenses); won vacant 11/23/2019, UD12 M. Flores
WBC: Miguel Berchelt (37-1, 33 KO, 6 Defenses); won 01/28/2017, KO11 F. Vargas
IBF: Joseph Diaz Jr. (31-1, 15 KO, 0 Defenses); won 01/30/2020, UD12 T. Farmer
WBO: Jamel Herring (21-2, 10 KO, 1 Defense); won 05/25/2019, UD12 M Ito
Berchelt’s longer tenure with a major belt is a big advantage in comparison to his peers. His level of competition has been well solid enough to expand his lead on the field. In seven title fights, including his first fiery win over Vargas and their rematch, he has four wins against foes who were rated top ten when he defeated them. Also credited to Berchelt are Takashi Miura and Miguel Roman. Santa Cruz is the latest case of the WBA skipping over their own rightful title lineage, dating to the “super” designation of Takashi Uchiyama. Santa Cruz’s belt win came against an unrated Miguel Flores. The man who beat the WBA man going back to that reign is veteran Rene Alvarado. Diaz impressed in defeating highly rated Tevin Farmer but has not yet had the chance to make a defense of his crown. Ito was rated fourth when Herring unseated him and his reign is developing. To Herring’s credit, he’s expressed willingness to unify and would make an intriguing matchup with any of the other beltholders.
WBA (Super): Leo Santa Cruz (37-1-1, 19 KO, 3 Defenses); won 01/28/2017, MD12 C. Frampton
WBC: Gary Russell Jr. (31-1, 18 KO, 5 Defenses); won 03/28/2015, TKO4 J. Gonzalez
IBF: Josh Warrington (30-0, 7 KO, 3 Defenses); won 05/19/2018, SD12 L. Selby
WBO: Shakur Stevenson (13-0, 7 KO, 0 Defenses); won vacant 10/26/2019, UD12 J. Gonzalez
While Santa Cruz remains officially as the WBA “super” titlist at 126 lbs., it is unlikely he will be back in the division anytime soon if at all. On the strength of his rematch victories over Carl Frampton and Abner Mares, his present reign compares well with Russell and Warrington though Santa Cruz hasn’t defeated a TBRB-rated fighter in any division since that mid-2018 Mares victory. That will change in the fall with a gutsy showdown against the bigger Gervonta Davis. Both Warrington and Russell have three top ten wins apiece in their current reigns. Russell has Jhonny Gonzalez, Joseph Diaz, and Tugstsogt Nyambyar. Warrington has Lee Selby, Carl Frampton, and Kid Galahad. Based on where each man’s foes were rated heading into the fights, Warrington has a slight edge and he’s done it in a far shorter span. Russell’s win over Diaz is aging well and Nyambyar likely will as well even if his activity continues to be subject to criticism. There really isn’t much to choose between the two in terms of accomplishment and we wait to see who might separate from the pack. Stevenson has just arrived on the title scene and may not be long for featherweight.
WBA (Unified): Murodjon Akhmadaliev (8-0, 6 KO, 0 Defenses); won 01/30/2020, SD12 D. Roman
WBC: Rey Vargas (34-0, 22 KO, 5 Defenses); won vacant 02/25/2017, MD12 G. McDonnell
IBF: M. Akhmadaliev (0 Defenses); won 01/30/2020, SD12 D. Roman
WBO: Emanuel Navarrete (31-1, 27 KO, 5 Defenses); won 12/08/2018, UD12 I. Dogboe
Unlike the case of Miguel Berchelt, the longest reigning titlist at 122 lbs. comes up shortest in comparison to the other men with belts around him. In six title fights, Vargas’s only wins over fighters rated in the TBRB top ten came against men rated tenth (Manzanilla) and ninth (Kameda). Navarette started strong with a pair of wins over Dogboe, rated first when Navarrete initially beat him and fifth in the rematch, but lacks any notable opposition in four defenses since. Akhmadaliev, still a relative novice as a professional, impressed in winning a pair of belts against Danny Roman in one of 2020s better fights before the shutdown. Jr. featherweight for now doesn’t really have a single standout champion.
To Be Concluded with Bantam-Strawweight and the Top Ten Current Title Reigns in Boxing
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org