By Cliff Rold

*The Eight, Pt. 2*

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.

*Bantamweight*

Yesterday, numbers 11-25 were unveiled at https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=21812 as:

*25) Rafael Marquez (1995-Present)*

*24) Jimmy Carruthers (1950-62)*

*23) Orlando Canizales (1984-99)*

*22) Rafael Herrera (1963-86)*

*21) Pete Sanstol (1926-1942)*

*20) Frankie Burns (1908-21)*

*19) Lou Salica (1932-44)*

*18) Jeff Chandler (1976-84)*

*17) Memphis Pal Moore (1913-30)*

*16) Jose Becerra (1953-62)*

*15) Jimmy Barry (1891-99)*

*14) Johnny Coulon (1905-20)*

*13) Kid Williams (1909-29)*

*12) Fighting Harada (1960-70)*

*11) George Dixon (1886-1906)*

Today, the list moves to the top ten

10) Sixto Escobar (1930-40)

*Record: 46-23-3, 22 KO*

*NBA titlist 1935; NBA/NYSAC titlist 1935*

*World Champion 1936-37, 2 Defenses; 1938-39, 1 Defense*

*Bantamweight Champions/Titlists Faced – 4: (Pete Sanstol, Lou Salica, Harry Jeffra, Tony Marino)* 

Trained by the legendary Ray Arcel, Escobar dropped seven of his first 25 bouts, including six losses in eleven starts between 1931 and 1933, before finding his footing.  A 1934 decision over future Featherweight champion Joey Archibald was followed in the year with a knockout of contender Rodolfo Casanova and decision over former title challenger Eugene Huat.  Starting his 1935 campaign with a loss to Juan Zurita, Escobar rebounded with a knockout of Archibald and then traveled to Canada, drubbing Sanstol over fifteen for recognition as champion from the NBA.  He split his next two bouts with New York State Athletic Commission titlist Lou Salica, losing and then winning distance battles.  A non-title loss to Indian Quintana in 1936 didn’t derail the popular Escobar as he secured a shot at lineal champion Tony Marino in his next fight and exited the undisputed king with a 13thround knockout.  Escobar lost two of his next three by decision to Harry Jeffra in non-title affairs, managing a first round knockout of Quintana in between.  A unanimous decision defense over Salica ended their rivalry but Jeffra still lurked and wrested the crown in 1937.  The following year, Escobar finally solved the Jeffra riddle, dropping him three times en route to a unanimous decision and his second World title.  It would be the end of Escobar’s peak as he’d manage only one successful defense before abandoning the crown amidst nine losses in the thirteen fights following the Jeffra win.  Escobar was elected to the IBHOF in 2002.

Why He’s Here:  Regularly named on lists of the greatest fighters ever produced from Puerto Rico, Escobar can be a hard fighter to figure.  He lost a third of his pro fights and, throughout his career, split time posting incredible wins against losses both acceptable and head scratching.  Still, in his peak years from 1934 to 1937, Escobar was a two-fisted terror who gave fans what they paid for and more.  And while there are plenty of losses, Escobar never found a world championship level foe he couldn’t figure out.  Sometimes a fighter can be more than the numbers and that’s the case here.

9) Charles “Bud” Taylor (1920-31)

*Record: 71-23-6, 37 KO, 63 no decisions*

*NBA titlist 1927-28*

*Bantamweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 4: (Memphis Pal Moore, Charley “Phil” Rosenberg, Abe Goldstein, Bushy Graham)*

The “Blond Terror of Terre Haute,” Indiana, turned professional as a seventeen-year old Flyweight but quickly found himself in the Bantamweight ranks.  Four no decision fights, fought to about even terns, with Memphis Pal Moore lasted the ten round limit between 1922 and 23 to announce Taylor as a true comer.  While Taylor appeared the loser in a pair of no-decision contests with Flyweight greats Frankie Genaro and Pancho Villa later in the latter year, Taylor earned the official decision over the future champion Rosenberg in their only encounter.  A news win and official loss to Villa followed in a 19 fight campaign in 1924, and in May and June of 1925 he consecutively decisioned former champion Abe Goldstein and future Welterweight king Jimmy McLarnin.  He split a pair with Bushy Graham and rebounded from a year ending DQ loss to McLarnin with a decision win to kick off 1926.  By year’s end, Taylor stood out as a leading candidate for the title which had been stripped from Rosenberg and was matched for NBA honors with a young Tony Canzoneri.  Their first contest ended in a draw in March 1927 and, before the rematch could commence, Taylor added another win over Goldstein.  Finally, in June 1927, Taylor outslugged Canzoneri in a classic.  He would never defend the crown, electing to move to Featherweight and officially relinquishing the belt at the close of his 1928 campaign.  It would be the only title Taylor ever held.

*Why He’s Here: * After moving up the scale, Taylor was figured out in a third and final fight with Canzoneri but found other successes, earning wins over the game Johnny Vacca and future Featherweight king Battling Battaliano.  For the most part though, Taylor found his best days behind him.  With aggression and moxy, Taylor averaged almost sixteen fights a year in his career and, including news decisions, left the game a winner around seventy percent of the time.  The defining win, versus future three division World champion Canzoneri, holds him in good stead.  Taylor was ushered into the IBHOF in 2005.

8) Joe Lynch (1915-26)

 *Record: 52-12-10, 38 KO, 83 no decisions*

*World Champion 1920-21; 22-24, 1 Defense*

*Bantamweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 6: (Monte Attell, Kid Williams, Pete Herman, Memphis Pal Moore, Abe Goldstein, Johnny Buff)*

Lanky and tall for the division at almost 5’8, New York’s Lynch had a lethal right hand and an epic chin which never saw him stopped in almost 160 contests.  He was getting the better of the likes of Abe Freidman and former  champion Monte Attell in the year and some change of his career, stopping Attell in seven.  A largely successful career hit turbulence in a 1917 campaign which saw newspaper losses Williams, Burns, and Herman along with an official points loss in a second contest with Moore.  Moore still had his number at the start of 1918 but for Lynch, losing was becoming learning and he followed the Moore loss with a fourth round knockout of Williams.  He’d face, and lose, to Flyweight immortal Jimmy Wilde on points in 1919 but managed news wins against Herman and future Jr. featherweight champion Jack Wolfe before the year was out.  In 1920, after another pair of contests with Moore which slightly favored Lynch, Lynch knocked out Goldstein and set the stage for his finest moment, topping Herman for the World title at Madison Square Garden in December.  Seven months later, Herman returned the favor at Ebbet’s Field and before Lynch could get another crack, Herman would lose the title to Johnny Buff.  Lynch challenged Buff in July 1922 and regained his title with a 14th round knockout.  Wolfe held Lynch off for the title at 122 lbs. later in the year and Lynch would make only one title defense before dropping a decision to Goldstein for the crown in 1924.  He would never challenge for the title again and retired nine fights later. 

Why He’s Here: It’s amazing to wonder what a fighter like Lynch would look like in the modern era.  It’s impossible to know how many of the old ‘no decision’ bouts were fought at full speed but Lynch’s career may provide a clue.  When official verdicts were at stake, Lynch came up with some smashing knockouts but did so less often when relying on the press at ringside to render verdicts.  We know this: from early to late in his career, Lynch was able to knock out the best his division had to answer and showed the ability to adapt to almost any challenge thrown at him.  He was only the second man ever to regain the lineal throne, after contemporary Pete Herman, and was welcomed to the IBHOF in 2005.

7) Ruben Olivares (1965-88)

*Record: 88-13-3, 78 KO*

*World Champion 1969-70, 2 Defenses; 1971-72, 2 Defenses*

*Bantamweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 3: (Lionel Rose, Chuco Castillo, Rafael Herrera)*

One of history’s greatest punchers and crowd favorites, “Rockabye” Ruben ranks with the elite Mexican prizefighters of all-time.  Winning his first 23 bouts by knockout, Olivares stormed through the class without a loss en route to a shot at Rose for the crown in 1969.  A winner by fifth-round knockout, Olivares stood atop the world having won 49 of 52 contests by knockout with a draw as his only blemish.  He was extended fifteen rounds for the first time in his second title defense by fellow Mexican Chuco Castillo in 1970, coming off the deck in the second round for the duke.  The thrilled Forum fans in Los Angeles called for a return later in the year and, after suffering a nasty cut, Olivares lost his crown and undefeated mark in the 14th.  Two fights later, Olivares would again suffer a knockdown, this time in the sixth, only to regain his title over the distance.  A non-title knockout win over former Flyweight champion Efren Torres preceded two successful defenses of the crown before a fateful first encounter with Herrera.  Known for hard partying and struggling with the weight limit, Olivares was overwhelmed in six rounds and would never return to the Bantamweight limit.

Why He’s Here: Olivares was far from done of course, going on to further acclaim, and more classic encounters, at Featherweight.  Arguably the greatest puncher in the history of the class, Olivares was all but unbeatable at the peak of his powers and while he didn’t face the volume of quality some in previous generations had at the 118 lb. limit, he mastered most of what came across his path.  In terms of style points, he remains

arguably the most re-watchable of all the Bantamweight greats.  Olivares was enshrined in the IBHOF in 1991.

6) Pete Herman (1912-22)

*Record: 67-12-8, 21 KO, 57 no decisions*

*World Champion 1917-20, 1 Defense; 1921*

*Bantamweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 4: (Kid Williams, Johnny Coulon, Joe Lynch, Johnny Buff)*  

“The Golden Age of Bantamweights” didn’t get the tag for nothing.  While it’s hard to figure out just who stood as the very best of the teens and 1920s run of great champions, Herman may have the strongest claim to the mantle of best.  Rugged and defensively sound, Herman brought the wild nature of old New Orleans into the square circled with him.  Herman struggled early in his career, losing to among others Williams on decision and the tough Frankie Burns in his sole knockout loss in 1914.  Earning his first shot at the world title in 1916, Williams continued to vex, holding Herman to a draw over twenty rounds.  Slightly more than a year later, Herman would figure the great Williams out, dropping him en route to a 20-round win for his first World title.  The standards of the day often saw champions contest often in non-title affairs, rarely defending their crowns and Herman was no exception.  With a knockout of Coulon and news win and draw with Lynch and Williams, Herman built his ledger and in 1917 avenged his loss to Burns to defend his title by decision.  A sluggish 1919 campaign saw Herman compete almost exclusively in no decision bouts, rarely leaving with the look of a winner and it was no shock when Lynch managed to upend him for the crown at the end of 1920.  Herman though was not done.

Resurgent in 1921, he knocked out Flyweight immortal Jimmy Wilde in the seventeenth round on Wilde’s turf in London and bested Lynch in a summer title return in July.  Two fights later, Herman surrendered the crown to Buff and was retired six fights later.

Why He’s Here:  Herman’s career is a study in ebbs and flows but history can favor him for a couple of reasons.  He was the first man to lose and regain the lineal championship of the division and had a knack for figuring out his toughest challenges.  The unofficial winner in the overwhelming majority of his no decision bouts as well, Herman stands out as the best of what may have been the most vital, alive era in the division’s history.  The depth of talent was such that it enforced parity to a large extent but parity rarely looked as good.  Herman joined the IBHOF in 1997.

5) Panama Al Brown (1922-42)

 *Record: 123-18-10, 55 KO, 4 No Decisions*

*World Champion 1929-35, 5 Defenses*

*Bantamweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 3: (Abe Goldstein, Baltazar Sangchili, Pete Sanstol)* 

Long before Roberto Duran, the freakish 5’11 Brown was Panama’s premiere exemplar of the sweet science, compiling one of the deepest fields of top competition anyone could hope to face.  Brown was also one of history’s most notable gay prizefighters, proof that what goes on outside the ring can’t save anyone from a beating inside it.  By 1923, he was already making himself a regular in New York City as a Flyweight.  By 1926, he was a full-fledged Bantamweight and Featherweight, losing decisions to former champion Goldstein as well as Featherweight title holder Andre Routis in the years he spent working towards the title while posting wins over top Flyweights like Willie LaMorte and Pinky Silverberg.  He won the vacant Bantamweight crown in 1929 with a decision over tough Gregorio Vidal and would hold on for years.  However, his reluctance to defend the crown saw multiple sanctions from the state of New York and attempts to strip him of the crown.  Most notably, in 1931 he traveled to Canada to make clear that Sanstol’s attempts to lay claim to the throne were futile.  Notables like Eugene Huat and Emile Pladner (twice stopped) had no better luck nor did former Flyweight titlist Victor Perez (also stopped twice) in a pair of tries.  A non-title draw with Sangchili in 1935 set the stage for a title shot and Brown’s reign was ended in Paris.

Why He’s Here: Brown spent most of the last decade of his career competing in the Featherweight division, coming down only for Bantamweight title affairs which he typically dominated.  The Sangchili loss was followed by a couple farewells to New York and a tour of his native Panama where he’d become an idol.  Given his size, speed, and power, Brown could be envisioned beating anyone who came before or after him on his best day and, at his peak, it often took the very best to send him home with an “L.” Brown was an early inductee to the IBHOF, enshrined in 1992.

4) Manuel Ortiz (1938-55)

 *Record: 97-28-3, 49 KO*

*World Champion 1942-47, 15 Defenses; 1947-50, 4 Defenses*

*Bantamweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 3: (Lou Salica, Harold Dade, Vic Toweel)*

While the California native could be streaky, the boxer-puncher was a master on his best days and dominated the title scene of the 1940s like few have ever done in any class.  As was the case with so many in older eras, Ortiz learned his craft in the ring, losing along the way but collecting needed lessons against the likes of Jackie Jurich and longtime rival Salica.  By 1942, it was enough to upend Salica for the World title, kicking off the most prolific reign of them all statistically.  Including a rematch knockout of Salica, Ortiz would make a record 15 consecutive defenses of the lineal crown, adding non-title wins against the tough of Enrique Bolanos and Carlos Chavez along the way along with a Featherweight loss to the great Willie Pep.  As was the case with Salica, Ortiz solved Jurich with the title on the line, stopping him in 11 in 1946.  A 1947 upset loss to the relatively inexperienced Harold Dade was reversed just two months later, kicking off another three-plus years as champion, a time in which he again beat Dade and future Lightweight champion Lauro Salas.  It was finally Vic Toweel, on the challengers turf in South Africa, who would halt Ortiz’s monopoly on the title and Ortiz would retire in 1955, never a champion again.

Why He’s Here: Beyond the phenomenal title numbers or the duration of his title dominance, Ortiz showed a great ability to adapt in rematches all the way to the cradle of his career.  Ortiz lost his very first bout to Benny Goldberg in 1938 and in 1943 found Goldberg still without a loss on his ledger in 33 contests.  Ortiz added one in defense of his crown.  There were bantamweights who fought in better eras, some who fought better fighters, but none can say they were a greater champion than Ortiz.  There has never been anyone who can say that.  Ortiz was added to the IBHOF in 1996.

3) Terry McGovern (1897-1908)

*Record: 60-4-4, 42 KO, 10 no decisions*

*World Champion 1899*

*Bantamweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 3: (Harry Forbes, Pedlar Palmer, George Dixon)*

The original “Terrible Terry,”  McGovern wreaked havoc from Bantam to Lightweight in his legendary ring tenure.  Possessing two-fisted power and a mean streak, McGovern lost only twice in his first 62 fights, both of them via disqualification.  The first of those losses came in pro debut and the man who benefited, Johnny Snee, never had to face McGovern again.  The same fortune would not fall on Tim Callhan, who would win the first of three bouts when McGovern was disqualified in the eleventh.  McGovern was held to a draw in the rematch but exacted devastating revenge with a tenth round knockout to settle matters in 1898.  The Callahan win came on the heels of a 15th round knockout of future champion Harry Forbes and was followed shortly with a 12th round stoppage of standout little man Casper Leon.  Following the retirement of Jimmy Barry, McGovern was matched with undefeated title claimant Pedlar Palmer for the undisputed Bantamweight crown.  It took only a round for McGovern to claim the throne, a title first in the gloved era. McGovern would rematch Forbes, stopping him in two frames, before electing to move to Featherweight where he would capture the title from fellow former

Bantamweight king George Dixon.

Why He’s Here: In just three years, McGovern amassed a Bantamweight run which still elicits awe.  Going into his challenge of Dixon, for which both men weighed in for below 118 lbs., McGovern was 40-2-4 with 27 knockouts.

Stopped in eight, Dixon was the 14th of eighteen straight wins by knockout and one of the longest bouts of a run which averaged just over three rounds a contest.  It is easy to look at pioneers from the earliest stages of the gloved career and wonder how they would have fared in the modern age, but power is always power and McGovern was devastating.  McGovern was a member of the 1990 inaugural class of the IBHOF.

2) Carlos Zarate (1970-88)

*Record: 66-4, 63 KO *

*WBC Titlist 1976-79, 9 Defenses*

*Bantamweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 6: (Rodolfo Martinez, Alfonso Zamora, Alberto Davila, Lupe Pintor, Jeff Fenech, Daniel Zaragoza)*

Rating alongside Julio Cesar Chavez as arguably the greatest of Mexico’s pool of prizefighting royalty, Zarate was among the most devastating punchers to ever lace gloves.  Like fellow Mexican Olivares, he won his first 23 in a row by knockout.  Unlike Olivares, he can hold his head with pride and shake it with a twinge of disgust, knowing he never "really" lost in the division.  Making good on his first title shot in 1976, Zarate knocked out Martinez in nine and made three title defenses before one of his defining moments.  Matched at the legendary Forum with fellow undefeated Mexican champion (Alfonso Zamora, WBA), it was decided to wage the contest above the 118 lb. limit to save money on sanctioning fees.  It kept Zarate from the lineal crown but not victory as he mastered Zamora in four thrilling rounds.  A knockout of future titlist Alberto Davila stood out on the way to another defining moment and Zarate’s first defeat.  Moving up to 122 lbs., Zarate faced the undefeated and steel-fisted Wilfredo Gomez for his World title and was stopped in five classic rounds.  Two fights later, in defense of his Bantamweight belt, Zarate would be the victim of one of the sports worst decisions ever, dropping a split decision in Las Vegas to Lupe Pintor.  Disgusted, Zarate walked away from the game until a brief comeback began in 1986.

Why He’s Here: What might have been had Zarate elected to force a rematch with Pintor?  What might a showdown with Jeff Chandler have looked like for instance?  We’ll never know but what is known is enough. In his time, there wasn’t a single Bantamweight who could beat Zarate straight up and only one ever lasted the distance.  It is a remarkable run and his comeback wasn’t as bad as some other former champions have experienced.  Zarate came back at Jr. Featherweight and Featherweight, winning 12 straight and lasting the distance in a loss to future Hall of Famer Jeff Fenech.  Rightfully, it was a Mexican (Zaragoza), at the Forum, who sent him into final retirement in 1988.  Zarate was elected to the IBHOF in 1994.

1) Eder Jofre (1957-76)

*Record: 72-2-4, 50 KO*

*World Champion 1960-65, 8 Defenses*

*Batamweight Titlists/Champions Faced - 2: (Johnny Caldwell, Fighting Harada)*

Comparing a fighter’s skill level to Sugar Ray Robinson is usually a great way to start an argument…or get a laugh.  No one laughs when the comparison is made to Jofre.  The greatest fighter ever produced by Brazil by a stretch, Jofre dominated the Bantamweight division with precision, technique, and power.  Outside a pair of draws in his first ten fights with the more experienced Ernesto Miranda, and another in 1958 versus Ruben Caceres, Jofre’s march to the title was clean.  In 1960, he decisioned and stopped Miranda to erase both draws and then knocked out veteran Jose Medel in a title eliminator.  Two fights later, Eloy Sanchez was knocked out in six and the reign was on.  Johnny Caldwell was the British-recognized champion, coming off a pair of wins over former world champ Alphonse Halimi; Jofre dismissed him in ten.  Medel attempted revenge and got only to round six.  Katsutoshi Aoki had lost only one 35 contests and was carted out in three while a 39-0-1 Bernard Caraballo was dusted in seven.  It took hostile turf, a body struggling with the weight limit, and a genuine all-time great to knock Jofre off the throne, all of those things coming together in a title defense versus Fighting Harada in 1965.  A split decision begat an obvious rematch, Jofre again finding defeat in May 1966.  It would be his end…for a time. 

Why He’s Here: Jofre of course would return for a jaw dropping run at Featherweight in 1969, winning another World title and stamping his legacy complete.  Few fighters ever truly have an aura of invincibility.  Mike Tyson had it for a while in recent years; Roy Jones did as well.  Such was the case with Jofre.  He looked unbeatable at his best, by and large because he was.  While he didn’t face the deep pool of former champions others on this list did, or post the title numbers of others, his title challengers were by and large excellent and excellently vanquished and his reign was just shy of double digit defenses.  Jofre is the sum of his parts and the sum of a boxing knowledge which had frightening consequences for the Bantamweights of his time.  Jofre was inducted to the IBHOF in 1992.

He was and is the greatest the Bantamweights ever produced.

*Previous Installments of “The Eight”:*

*Top 25 Flyweights*

Pt. 1:  https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=21492

Pt. 2:  https://www.boxingscene.com/?=show&id=21528

*Semantics*

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.

  - Lineal World Titles

  - Sanctioning Body Titles

  - Title Defenses

  - 2 Points per KO; -2 per KOBY; 1 per UD against fellow titlists

  - 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)

  - 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 fighters 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.

*Coming Soon: The Top 25 Super Bantamweights of All Time*

Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the

Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at roldboxing@hotmail.com