By Cliff Rold

The Eight, Pt. 4

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.



numbers 11-25

were unveiled as:

25) Shane Mosley (1993-Present)

24) Willie Ritchie (1907-27)

23) Jack McAuliffe (1884-1897)

22) Jose Luis Castillo (1990-Present)

21) Ismael Laguna (1960-71)

20) Ad Wolgast (1906-20)

19) Ken Buchanan (1965-1982)

18) Bob Montgomery (1938-50)

17) George Lavigne (1897-1909)

16) Joe Brown (1941-70)

15) Lou Ambers (1932-41)

14) Battling Nelson (1896-1917)

13) Sammy Angott (1935-50)

12) Barney Ross (1929-38)

11) Beau Jack (1939-55)

Today, the list moves to the top ten

10) Packey McFarland (1904-15)

Record: 64-1-5, 47 KO, 43 No Decisions

Lightweight Champions/Titlists Faced – 2: (Freddie Welsh, Jimmy Britt)

Chicago has produced many a great fighter.  McFarland was as good as any of them.  Also known as the “Pride of the Stockyards” and the “Chicago Flash,” McFarland displayed grit, skill, and serious power to go along with an anvil chin.  Turned pro at 16, McFarland rose through the ranks and by age twenty was beginning to face the world’s best.  In a three fight stretch from February to July 1908, he won a points verdict over future World Champion Freddie Welsh in ten, stopped former Lightweight king Jimmy Britt in six, and then battled Welsh again to a 25-round draw.  The following year, he’d add a win over future Middleweight titlist Johnny Thompson and, in 1910, go even again with Welsh over 20 frames.  His competition remained high in 1911 and 12 with a draw against future Welterweight great Jack Britton and news wins over Hall of Famer Owen Moran and another future Welterweight champion, Matt Wells.  As his career neared its end, McFarland grew into a Welterweight and even Middleweight.  When it was over, he’d lost only once and it took a while for the loss, a short decision in his first ten fights, to be recognized.

Why He’s Here: McFarland was in a bit of a quandary in his time.  Lightweight title contests in the U.S. in the first decade of the 20th century were fought at 133 lbs.  McFarland was fine at the modern limit of 135 and would have been comfortable had there been a Jr. Welterweight division.  Neither were the case.  However, for the early bouts with Welsh and Britt, he was below 133 and probably could have made it to the line with the right opportunity.  An absolute lack of interest from then champion Battling Nelson was an obstacle he could not overcome.  There have been contenders ducked by champions in every era.  McFarland was among the most notable in his.  In over 100 fights, he proved himself the better of great fighters from below and above him in the scale and, while adding L’s to other men’s ledgers, was not accepting them back in return.  McFarland was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF) in 1992.

9) Freddie Welsh (1905-22)

Record: 76-4-6, 32 KO, 82 No Decisions

World Champion 1914-17, 2 Defenses

Lightweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 5: (Willie Ritchie, Ad Wolgast, Benny Leonard, Battling Nelson, Rocky Kansas)

Born in Wales and reared in Philadelphia, Welsh combined the best of both nations fighting traditions with speed, toughness and remarkable defense in over 150 fights.  He suffered a knockout end only once.  By 1911, traveling between the U.S. and the U.K., Welsh had already engaged in well over fifty fights with two of his three official losses coming to McFarland and Matt Wells and wins over Featherweight greats Abe Attell and Jim Driscoll, the latter by disqualification for the British Lightweight crown.  Three fights after the Wells loss, he bested future Ritchie on points over 20 and, in 1912, avenged the Wells loss in defense of the British crown.  In 1914, a news win over a young Johnny Dundee and points win over touch contender “Mexican” Joe Rivers set the stage for a rematch with Ritchie, this time with Ritchie entering as the World Champion.  The result was the same.  Two fights later, in a non-title affair, Welsh scored a stoppage of Wolgast but spent the bulk of his title reign competing in no contest affairs, as did most of the top names, with or without titles, in that era.  He appeared to lose verdicts to Nelson and Kansas, and Featherweight great Johnny Kilbane but notched another official win over Wolgast.  Over those years, a split pair of news verdicts brewed a rivalry between Welsh and Leonard, building finally to a World title showdown in Manhattan in 1917.  Welsh would lose the title in his only knockout defeat and fight only six more times before heading into retirement.

Why He’s Here: While he couldn’t quite figure out the man directly behind him on this list, Welsh gets credit for a deeper resume and even more impressive pool of quality wins.  News verdict or no, few Lightweights ever looked the better of Leonard even once and the wins over Ritchie, Wolgast, and smaller but still great men like Driscoll and Attell enhance the bona fides of a spectacular career.  Worth noting between the Leonard fight and his final six was a three year gap where Welsh paused his career to serve in the Armed Forces during World War I.  Later in life he would manage the Lightweight run of Jimmy Goodrich.  Welsh was voted into the IBHOF in 1997. 

8) Henry Armstrong (1931-45)

 Record: 151-21-9, 101 KO

World Champion 1938-39, 1 Defense

Lightweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 6: (Juan Zurita, Barney Ross, Lou Ambers, Lew Jenkins, Beau Jack, Sammy Angott)

Fighting the bulk of his early career closer to, and at, the Featherweight limit, Armstrong was perhaps even more lethal as a Lightweight.  Besting future Lightweight titlist Juan Zurita in four in 1936 was a hint of the champion to come.  In 1937, he defeated Petey Sarron for the Featherweight title.  Before he could get to this division’s crown, he would snare the Welterweight title in 1938 from Barney Ross while weighing only 133 ½ lbs, one fight after knocking out quality Lightweight contender Lew Feldman in five.  Ross was followed with a gripping split decision over Ambers to complete his legendary trifecta of simultaneously held crown.  In his next eight fights, Armstrong would defend the Welterweight title seven times (once in conjunction with a Lightweight defense), never exceeding the Lightweight limit of 135 lbs.  In those bouts, he bested future Middleweight titlist Ceferino Garcia while giving up twelve pounds, stopped Feldman in one, decisioned rival Baby Arizmendi and crushed perennial contender Davey Day in the 12th.  The Ambers rematch in August 1939, one year after their first bout, was a savage war marred by point deductions which ultimately cost Armstrong the Lightweight crown.  Still holding onto the Welterweight title, Armstrong would continue his sensational run often still weighing less than a modern Jr. Welterweight.  While not contested at Lightweight, before and after his Welterweight reign, he did manage wins over Jenkins and Angott higher on the scale, excellent contender Willie Joyce, and even managed another knockout of Zurita.

Why He’s Here: An argument can be made, as was the case at Featherweight, for rating Armstrong best in class.  At his peak, he was virtually unbeatable and he was at that point at Lightweight.  The problem comes from the lines crossed by other divisions, Armstrong always with a foot in Featherweight still or a foot in Welterweight.  Prior to the last twenty years or so, it was rare to see Armstrong rated at all outside the Welterweight division.  But time and reflection show Armstrong belongs with the best in all of the classes he won titles in.  Had he concentrated solely on the Lightweight title, he likely compiles title numbers the likes of which would still stand as records.  Acknowledging the more concentrated efforts of others costs him slightly here.  Armstrong was an inaugural member of the IBHOF in 1990.

7) Carlos Ortiz (1955-72)

Record: 61-7-1, 30 KO

World Champion 1962-65, 4 defenses; 65-68, 5 defenses

Lightweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 2: (Joe Brown, Ismael Laguna, Carlos Cruz, Ken Buchanan)

Perhaps the greatest Puerto Rican fighter of all time, Ortiz followed a brief reign as Jr. Welterweight champion by dominating the bulk of the 1960s at Lightweight.  A slick, intelligent boxer, Ortiz was a trap setter adept at taking quality opponents into deep waters and finishing them off.  Two fights after losing to of 3 to the great Duilio Loi at 140, Ortiz got a crack at Joe Brown, winning the Lightweight crown by unanimous decision in April 1962.  He would defend only twice before a 1964 campaign which featured a knockout victory over reigning Jr. Lightweight king Flash Elorde and a second win in three tries dating back to 1958 over rival Kenny Lane.  1965 would be all Laguna, splitting a pair to lose and then regain the crown from the Panamanian with each man getting their win in their homeland.  Ortiz kicked off 1966 with a non-title draw against future Jr. Welterweight champion Niccolino Locche before three successful defenses which included knockouts of former Featherweight king Sugar Ramos and again against Elorde.  In his final title victory in August 1967, Ortiz finished his series with Laguna with a unanimous decision only to suffer a shocking split decision on hostile Dominican Republic turf to local Carlos Teo Cruz.  Ortiz walked away one fight later in 1969, but returned by 1971.  He’d win ten in a row before being retired in his only stoppage defeat against former Lightweight champ Ken Buchanan in 1972.

Why He’s Here: The only thing which separated Ortiz from an uninterrupted six year reign as king was a split decision loss on enemy turf.  The three time World champion, in two weight classes, was that tough an out at his best.  The 1960s was no easy out either at Lightweight.  Ortiz’s consistency and wins against both good and great fighters in and below his domain, add to the overall picture of greatness he earned.  Ortiz was added to the IBHOF in 1991.      

6) Tony Canzoneri (1925-39)

Record: 137-24-10, 44 KO, 4 no decisions

World Champion 1930-33, 4 defenses; 35-36, 1 Defense

Lightweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 4: (Sammy Mandell, Al Singer, Barney Ross, Lou Ambers)

After an impressive run at Featherweight, the Louisiana born Canzoneri would capture both the Lightweight and Jr. Welterweight titles simultaneously at 135.  By his early twenties, he was widely regarded as the best fighter in the world at any weight when earning such recognition meant doing it versus the best opponents to be found on a regular basis.  After an upset loss of the 126 lb. crown in 1928, Canzoneri drew with future Lightweight champion Al Singer to begin business between the two.  Before their second meeting, Canzoneri would fall short on points in an August 1929 title shot versus Mandell; it was his only loss in 14 fights that year.  He would lose two of 13 in 1930, to Jr. Welter great Jackie Berg and future Hall of Famer Billy Petrolle, while besting reigning Jr. Lightweight king Benny Bass and, in his final fight of the year, stopping Singer in the first round to capture the Lightweight honors.  In April 1931, he’d stop Berg in three to defend his Lightweight crown and wrest the 140 lb. title into his collection; by the end of the year he’d decision Berg in a rematch and reigning Jr. Lightweight champ Kid Chocolate in defense of both his crowns.  1933 was a lesser year with a pair of major upset losses to Johnny Jaddick for the Jr. Welterweight crown but a revenge win over Petrolle to keep the title at Lightweight.  His first Lightweight title reign would end in a pair of narrow decisions to Ross but Canzoneri had another run in him.  Knockouts of then-Jr. Lightweight champ Frankie Klick (whom he also decisioned) and Chocolate, along with a decision over Hall of Famer Baby Arizmendi led to Canzoneri being matched with Lou Ambers for Ross’s vacated title in May 1935; dropping Ambers twice, Canzoneri sailed to a unanimous decision and second Lightweight crown.  Two more non-title wins over Klick, a defense against Al Roth, revenge decision over Jaddick, and defeat of former Welterweight champion Jimmy McLarnin provided his last wild burst of greatness.  He’d lose the title to Ambers in September 1936 and again suffer defeat in their 1937 rubber match, never to compete for a World title again.  Canzoneri was retired in three by big punching Bummy Davis in his final fight, the only knockout loss in some 175 contests.  Canzoneri was an inaugural member of the IBHOF. 

Why He’s Here:  Like many of the greats before television revenue allowed for more relaxed schedules, Canzoneri’s career was marked by audacious matchmaking.  From 1929-37, he fought no less than one and as many as three fights a year against strong-case Hall of Famers.  That doesn’t even include all the multiple World champions from multiple weight classes or the fact that he’d won three titles in three weight classes before he was 23 years old.  If there is any knock to be made, it is in an occasional inconsistency against the very best but, given that volume of challenges, losses are to be expected.  Many modern fans can be heard to ask what made the old timers so great.  If such question exists for anyone reading here then scroll up and read it all again.  The answers are easy to find though it is still true greatness can be found in any time.  The next man on the list is evidence of as much.

5) Pernell Whitaker (1984-2001)

 Record: 40-4-1, 17 KO

Lineal World Champion 1990-91, 3 Defenses

IBF 1989, 2 Defenses; IBF/WBC 89-90, 3 Defenses; IBF/WBC/WBA, 90-91, 3 Defenses

Lightweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 6: (Jose Luis Ramirez, Greg Haugen, Freddie Pendleton, Juan Nazario, Julio Cesar Chavez, Oscar De La Hoya)

Some fighters just have it from the cradle.  Norfolk, Virginia’s “Sweet Pea” was one of them.  Arguably the greatest defensive fighter since Willie Pep, Whitaker amassed a sensational 201-14 mark before he ever got paid for his craft.  From 1982-84, he captured the U.S. AAU title, a Silver at the 1982 World Championships, Gold at the 1983 Pan-Am games and, finally a 1984 Olympic Gold in a tournament where he didn’t give up a single point.  By his ninth pro fight in 1986, he was being matched with serious contender Rafael Williams, coming off the floor in round four for an easy unanimous decision.  He’d finish the year two fights later with a lopsided win over former Jr. Lightweight champion Alfredo Layne.  While not a great fighter, Layne had won and lost the title versus Hall of Famers Wilfredo Gomez and Brian Mitchell in his previous two outings.  Whitaker blanked him on the cards.  He followed Layne with a convincing March 1987 decision over a Roger Mayweather between titles at 130 and 140 lbs. to up his record to 13-0.  One year and three fights later, Whitaker was headed to France to challenge a 100-6 WBC titlist in Jose Luis Ramirez.  After twelve, one judge had Whitaker winning nine rounds but the others did not for one of the worst decisions of the 1980s and Whitaker’s only loss at Lightweight.  Whitaker was not long deterred, bouncing back two fights later in February 1989 to blank two-time titlist Greg Haugen on two of three cards for his first belt.  After making a quick defense, Whitaker would avenge the Ramirez robbery, adding a then vacant WBC belt by again blanking his man on two of three cards.  In his next two, Whitaker would defeat game challenger and future titlist Freddie Pendleton before turning back the great Azumah Nelson by unanimous decision; Nelson entered as a reigning Jr. Lightweight titlist.  The unification of the crown would be complete in August 1990 and the judges were never a factor with Whitaker nailing WBA Juan Nazario in the first for a classic one punch knockout.  He would make three more defenses before vacating the crown to move up the scale, still the only man to unify all the available Lightweight titles since Roberto Duran.

Why He’s Here: While there is only one truly great fighter on his ledger at Lightweight (Nelson), Whitaker did the only thing any fighter can do by beating everyone he could and leaving the division cleaned out.  He never came close to being legitimately defeated at the weight and hardly ever decisively lost a round.  Ramirez typically only struggled with the better Lightweights and Haugen had lost only once to then, to Vinny Pazienza, and avenged the defeat while Nazario entered off a knockout win over Hall of Famer Edwin Rosario.  While fights above Lightweight were not factored in for these ratings, it is worth noting that Whitaker arguably didn’t outright lose a fight until the age of 35, at Welterweight, versus Felix Trinidad.  His Welterweight draw with Chavez is widely decried as among the worst decisions in history and the scoring of his 1997 Welterweight loss to De La Hoya, a fight such notables as Larry Merchant and Al Bernstein had him winning, was so absurdly wide as to indicate Whitaker needed a knockout to score a draw.  Through almost fifteen years, politics were far more dangerous to Whitaker than punches and he was recognized by the Ring Magazine family of publications as the top fighter of the 1990s.  He could easily be called, today, the best fighter of the last twenty or so years.  Whitaker was voted into the IBHOF in his first year of eligibility in 2008.   

4) Ike Williams (1940-55)

 Record: 126-24-5, 60 KO

World Champion 1947-51, 4 defenses

NBA Titlist 1945-47, 3 defenses

Lightweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 5: (Bob Montgomery, Sammy Angott, Juan Zurita, Beau Jack, Jimmy Carter)

Tall for the division at 5’9, Williams was a terror possessing tremendous speed and power and a usually solid beard.  Like many of his time, Williams learned his craft while still basically a kid, turning pro at 16 and losing four of his first fifteen before an unbeaten stretch of 33 fights ended with a stoppage loss to a Montgomery in 1944 who’d already won and lost a share of the Lightweight crown.  Williams would continue to be up and down through 1945, splitting a pair with Angott (the loss by stoppage) and dropping three of four distance contests to Willie Joyce while managing to snare the NBA Lightweight crown from Juan Zurita with a second round stop.  A non-title 1946 points verdict over future Welterweight titlist Johnny Bratton set the stage was the highlight of a year which featured two NBA defenses and then came a big 1947.  Winning nine of ten outings, Williams stopped former Jr. Welter champ Tippy Larkin and followed immediately with a unification revenge knockout of Montgomery in six rounds.  The reign would last four years though Williams fought more often in non-title affairs.  He beat Bratton twice more and the first of three against Kid Gavilan while also stopping Beau Jack to defend the crown and decisioning him in a non-title affair.  Struggling mightily to make weight, he was pummeled in his final title fight by Jimmy Carter and stopped in 14.  He would continue at Welterweight, drawing with and then stopping Jack in his final two outings.  Williams was an inaugural member of the IBHOF.

Why He’s Here: It will never be known for sure but mob influence may have stopped Williams from being even greater.  It’s a scary thought.  What was provided was often excellent…but not always.  To his credit, Williams was a gamer.  He came up big in big moments, scoring knockouts for his first title, again to unify, and in a big fight with Jack.  Did he ever throw fights?  There has always been speculation, though not as bad as that which has lurked over the career of the man who beat him for the title.  There was enough, plenty in fact including multiple Hall of Fame Lightweights, to overcome any concerns and recognize that at his best Williams was as good as anyone could be at 135 lbs. 

3) Joe Gans (1893-1909)

Record: 120-8-9, 85 KO, 18 no decisions

World Champion 1902-04; 06-08 – 14 defenses

Lightweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 4: (Frank Erne, Jimmy Britt, Battling Nelson)

While it is sometimes hard to know just what the oldest of the old timers in the gloved era brought to the table, there is just enough film of Gans to indicate what his record already tells the world.  Speed, power and greatness belonged to the Baltimore native as did a dominance of most of the early twentieth century.  A pro at 16, he lost only two of his first 32 bouts before a draw with Featherweight legend Young Griffo.  Fighting up and down the Eastern shore, he would continue to win far more than he lost on the way to a shot at Frank Erne’s Lightweight crown in March 1900; a cut held him from glory when Gans asked for the fight to be stopped after 12.  He bounced back, stopping Griffo in eight among 32 bouts on the way to a rematch with Erne in May 1902.  The only loss in the run was by second round stop versus Hall of Famer Terry McGovern in a bout long suspected of being fixed.  Nothing could fix Erne in the rematch as Gans won on a first round knockout.  He would lose only once between winning the title and May 1906, that lone defeat coming at the hands of a young and already great Sam Langford.  There is dispute over whether Gans totally vacated the title from 04-06, but history records other champions in those interim years.  One of them, Jimmy Britt, had Gans down multiple times only to be disqualified in late 1904.  One fight prior, Gans faced Welterweight champion Joe Walcott in a non-title 20 round draw.  He’d twice stop future Welterweight champ Mike Sullivan in 1906, after a draw the year before, make firm that he was still the best Lightweight with a 42nd round disqualification win over Nelson later in the year. He knocked out Britt in six to defend the crown in what would be his last great victory, ultimately being stopped by Nelson twice in 1908 to end his salad days.

Why He’s Here: Gans is commonly credited with 14 title defenses spread over two reigns where he never lost the crown in the ring.  It is a record for consecutive, successful lineal defenses at 135 lbs. without a loss and not even Gans greatest statistic.  If a fighter with 60 fights retires with 8 official losses, it’s a good career.  Gans?  He had eight in almost 200 and against great fighters from divisions above and below him.  It might be hard to know, with our eyes, just how great he was.  The advantages of extensive film are obvious and they don’t exist here.  But even on paper, it doesn’t get much better than “The Old Master.”  Gans was, of course, an inaugural member of the IBHOF.   

2) Benny Leonard (1911-32)

Record: 85-5-1, 69 KO, 121 no decisions

World Champion 1917-25, 8 defenses

Lightweight Titlists/Champions Faced – 3: (Rocky Kansas, Freddie Welsh, Willie Ritchie)

A professional at age 15, New York’s Leonard lost three of his first 14 bouts by stoppage.  It would take about twenty years to happen again.  A technical marvel who could punch when it counted, Leonard was one of the dominant figures ever to lace gloves.  He didn’t really hit his stride until 1915 when he began multiple series’ of bouts with the likes of Johnny Dundee, Rocky Kansas, and Freddie Welsh.  Most of them were news verdict bouts but the accounts of the time usually favored Leonard.  By 1917, he was ready for the throne, dropping Welsh three times en route to a ninth round knockout.  Three fights later, he’d add a knockout of reigning Featherweight champion Johnny Kilbane.  Keeping an active schedule, Leonard fought as often as three times a month because selling tickets was how food got on the table.  Two months after a four round news loss to Ritchie in 1919, Leonard scored an eighth round knockout as official as it gets.  In defense of the crown over the years, he turned back Rocky Kansas by decision and knockout and bested rival Lew Tendler in a superfight of the time.  Leonard even made a go at the Welterweight title in 1922, losing on a foul to Jack Britton in a call fraught with controversy.  He’d retire as champion in January 1925 but Depression losses forced a 1931 comeback.  Leonard never regained his form.  A lengthy winning streak fooled some but a crushing knockout in a big step up against future Welterweight champ Jimmy McLarnin in 1932 ended Leonard’s time.  Leonard was an inaugural Hall of Famer. 

Why He’s Here: Someone had to be number two, and Leonard gets the nod because the man in front of him was just a little bit better.  Or maybe not.  If it seems this summary doesn’t do justice to Leonard, well, it doesn’t.  All of the old news fights might not have been full speed affairs, but Leonard was remarkable in that he was able to look a winner more often than not under any circumstances.  Leonard is easily, and often, cited as the best that ever did it at Lightweight.  Given the man he most often competes with for the top spot, it might be the most compelling 1-2 debate in any division historically.  The choice for number one here?     

1) Roberto Duran (1968-2001)

Record: 103-16, 70 KO

World Champion 1972-79, 12 Defenses

Lightweight Titlists/Champions Faced - 5: (Ken Buchanan, Esteban DeJesus, Guts Ishimatsu, Hector Camacho, Vinny Pazienza)

Panama’s “Manos De Piedra” was not just a great Lightweight...he was high in the race for greatest fighter period over the second half of the twentieth century.   A pro at 16, Duran grew quickly from just above the Bantamweight limit to a full fledged Lightweight by 1971.  Before he got there, he scored a knockout over future Featherweight titlist Ernest Marcel May 1970.  His breakthrough in the States came at Madison Square Garden with a first round knockout of tough Benny Huertas on the undercard of Ken Buchanan’s rematch defense of the Lightweight crown over Ismael Laguna.  He couldn’t know yet just what was coming in less than a year.  With a title shot in sight, Duran stopped former Jr. Lightweight king Hiroshi Kobayashi to end his ’71 campaign and got Buchanan, the lineal and WBA champion, in June 1972.  After a controlling his competitive 13 rounds, Duran ended matters with a vicious low blow at the bell.  Buchanan could not continue and Duran would hold the belt with an iron grip.  He would not, however, remain undefeated as, five months later, Duran was dropped in the first and lost a ten round non-title affair to DeJesus.  It was Duran’s last and only loss at Lightweight.  A 1973 knockout defense against Ishismatsu came in ten rounds; Ishimatsu would go on to win the WBC title.  DeJesus would as well but not until after a March 1974 rematch with DeJesus.  With the title on the line, DeJesus dropped Duran again in the first but found the land beyond the tenth frame unforgiving and was felled in eleven.  More quality challengers would follow like Ray Lampkin, Lou Bizzaro, Vilomar Fernandez.  More knockouts followed with them.  Decisions against the skilled Edwin Viruet in a title defense, and future Jr. Welterweight titlist Saoul Mamby in non-title action, also buffered the resume.  Finally, on January 21, 1978, it was Dejesus one more time.  The Puerto Rican entered with the WBC title for a unification affair but Duran would stay off the floor and savage his rival en route to a twelfth round stoppage in his final Lightweight affair.  Duran would vacate the title and later add the Welterweight title and belts at Jr. Middleweight and Middleweight.  He was inducted to the IBHOF in his first year of eligibility in 2003.

Why He’s Here: Duran had it all.  Speed, defense, power, a great chin and, most importantly to viewers, as crowd pleasing a style as one could ever ask for.  There aren’t a lot of immortal names on his Lightweight ledger but a lot of that had to do with Duran.  Consider how close he came to never losing through the first 64 bouts of his career, ending with DeJesus III: at the end of DeJesus I, it was Duran coming on strong.  Both of their other fights ended past the tenth.  Had the title been on the line, would there be a loss at Lightweight?  Be glad the answer is lost to time for the sum of the trilogy is a nice piece of history.  Consider also that, while he held only the WBA belt through most of his reign, five other men would trade the WBC belt and he thrashed two of them before they got to it.  Even decades past his best, well into the Middleweight old timer’s circuit, younger men who followed him at Lightweight like Camacho and Pazienza had their hands full with Duran’s shadow.  His accomplishments above Lightweight, and even his failings, make up a large piece of his legend but even without them, his Lightweight run was greatness all its own.  No one ever so violently ruled the class and, in a violent sport, that counts. 

Roberto Duran. 


Previous Installments of “The Eight”:

Top 25 Flyweights

Pt. 1:

Pt. 2:

Top 25 Bantamweights

Pt. 1:

Pt. 2:

Top 25 Featherweights

Pt. 1:

Pt. 2:


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:

1. Number of fellow champions faced (total) then divided into a competition score to flatten the field due to the fluctuation in titles recognized.

2. Lineal World Titles

3. Sanctioning Body Titles

4. Title Defenses

5. 2 Points per KO; -2 per KOBY; 1 per UD against fellow titlists

6. 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)

7. Quality Losses (Losses to champion opponents -1 point; selective non-title losses)

8. 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 were all heavily consulted in compiling this effort.

Coming Soon: The Top 25 Welterweights 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