Arguably one of the most exciting weight classes to watch in the World right now is the lightweight division, with 4 young fighters in particular leading the way, alongside a man who over the last few months seems to have been pushed slightly to the side and knocked from his perch at the top of the tree.
A Rich History
Back in 1738 Jack Broughton introduced the lightweight division – during this era, it meant that any fighter weighing less than 160lbs (11 stone 6lbs) was considered to be a lightweight.
Later on; in 1889, the ABA adjusted the limit to 140lbs (10 stone), however, it was finally established at the current weight limit of 135 lbs (9 stone 9lbs) by the NSC in 1909.
This makes the lightweight division one of the original eight weight classes and the division has always been host to some incredible fighters, such as: Henry Armstrong, Barney Ross, Roberto Duran, Pernell Whittaker, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jnr and Manny Pacquiao, just to name a few.
The longest title reign of the modern era is held by the Panamanian legend Roberto Duran, known as “Hands of Stone”, who made 12 lightweight title defences.
NOTE: (There is a fighter named Artur Grigorian who actually made 17 successful title defences, but this was with the WBO title which at the time was not looked upon as a serious World title.)
The Current Crop
Currently, sitting amongst the top of the Lightweight division are: Teofimo Lopez, Vasily Lomachenko, Gervonta Davis, Ryan Garcia and Devin Haney. These are arguably the top 5 lightweights at this moment in time, with Gervonta Davis coming up from the Super-Featherweight division.
Below these guys in the rankings, we have the former Olympic Gold Medallist and 3 time World title challenger, Luke Campbell, despite his recent stoppage loss to Ryan Garcia. We also have George Kambosos Jnr from Australia who recently beat Lee Selby via a points decision.
There is still opportunities for former Lightweight World Champion Jorge Linares, as well as Belfast’s own James Tennyson who is creeping up the rankings after stepping up from the Super-Featherweight division.
Shakur Stevenson could also move up to the lightweight division in the near future which could make for interesting viewing giving his amateur pedigree and positive start of his career thus far.
For now however, let’s focus on the top 5 in the division, because this is where the excitement really lies and is the reason why people are so interested in the lightweights at this moment in time!
The Current Top 5
Previously, the main talking point in the division was all around “The Matrix” of Lomachenko and whether or not he could unify the division. The young and determined Teofimo Lopez however, dismantled the hype-train and beat the former Champion on points back at the end of 2020.
This shook the balance, disrupted the division and suddenly opened things up a little more. With Lopez beating one of the P4P greats, he effectively asserted himself as King of the lightweight division – holding the WBA Super, WBO, IBF & Ring Magazine lightweight titles… Let’s not forget he is also now the WBC “Franchise” Champion (whatever that means!)
A week or so after Lopez’s victory, Gervonta Davis made a statement with his ‘Knockout of the Year’ over the former multiple time World Champion -Leo Santa Cruz. This devastating left uppercut which knocked Cruz out before he hit the deck, earned Davis both the WBA Regular Lightweight World title and also the WBA Super Super-Featherweight title (confusing right!).
Although it looks like Davis’ making his mind up about what weight class he wants to compete in, the possibility of him seriously competing at the Lightweight limit is clearly more certain now as he owns one of the many World titles on offer.
Shortly after Gervonta Davis’ huge win over Santa Cruz, the WBC Champion Devin Haney, took on Yuriorkis Gamboa – a fighter who is now a veteran of the sport, but always comes to fight and remains a dangerous opponent. Haney put in a very impressive and skilled performance to beat Gamboa, winning every single round on two of the three scorecards.
Most recently, “King” Ryan Garcia proved his doubters wrong and showed his worth when he stopped Britain’s Luke Campbell with a tremendous left hook to the body. Garcia got up from an early knockdown and recovered well, proving his mettle and showing that although many consider him to be an “Instagram Boxer” he’s far from it and he is the real deal…
Amongst all of these big wins for 4 of the top 5, Lomachenko’s been left feeling very hard done by as the judges gave him no favours in that fight, with one judge only scoring one round in favour of Lomachenko. He has also been completely overlooked and somewhat forgotten about, perhaps in people’s excitement regarding the other 4 fighters who are all younger and hopefully willing to compete against one another in the very near future.
With all of that said and done, Lomachenko remains one of the top contenders in the division, if he wishes to remain up at 135lbs which is considerably further away from his natural weight class.
Teofimo Lopez – Key Attributes
Teofimo Lopez is naturally the biggest physically out of the top 5 lightweights, not in terms of height but in his overall physique. This affords him a lot of strength; alongside this strength he boasts tremendous power and explosiveness, which can be seen in his highlight reels.
His left hook to the head and his straight right hand down the middle are responsible for most of his knockdowns and knockouts and are perfect examples of how much power Lopez possesses.
Alongside his power and explosive punches, he also proved in his fight with Lomachenko that he has great boxing IQ, he can make necessary adjustments and he is also accurate which makes his punches sting even more-so.
Vasily Lomachenko – Key Attributes
Lomachenko is naturally the opposite of Lopez; being the smallest of the lightweights in the top 5. However, he makes this work for him with his athleticism and agility.
“Loma”, once he gets going, lets a lot of punches go as could be seen from some of the later rounds against Lopez, where he started to have success. As well as this, Lomachenko has a fantastic jab and the ability to change angles, utilise feints and set traps, makes him so hard to beat.
His movement and evasive capabilities alongside his boxing IQ are Lomachenko’s greatest strengths, let’s just hope that recent shoulder surgery doesn’t hinder him when he gets back in the squared circle.
Ryan Garcia – Key Attributes
Ryan Garcia is one of the youngest of the bunch. Despite his youth and his slightly child-like demeanour, he clearly punches hard and does so with frightening speed, meaning that anyone he comes up against is going to have a hard time.
Even if technically Garcia isn’t as well rounded as some of his peers yet, his marketability and social media influence will put him in probably the better position when it comes to fight negotiations.
However, that’s not to say he isn’t a skilled fighter, as clearly he is. Garcia’s left hook is his best weapon and I also think that his jab and cross are dangerous and they will continue to become even more so as he continues his work with the Reynoso’s and Canelo.
Garcia’s ability to recover from Campbell’s knockdown (which was the first time he’s been knocked down) was impressive and although Campbell’s not a formidable puncher, to get up and take it to someone after they’ve dropped you, particularly in your biggest fight to date, shows signs of a fighter with a bright future.
As well as Garcia’s natural ability in regards to his speed and explosive power, another key attribute for him is his team and the people he’s surrounded by. Being in camp with the best fighter in the World Pound-for-Pound has only got to add to him…
Devin Haney – Key Attributes
The same age as Garcia, Devin Haney is the joint youngest fighter out of the top 5, however, his skillset doesn’t suggest that in the slightest. Haney’s all-round skill and boxing ability is top tier; his most recent performance against Yuriorkis Gamboa was a complete shut out and he handled the former Olympic Gold medallist and World Champion with ease, barely being caught cleanly in the process.
Haney is supposedly the least marketable of the top 5, however, his boxing ability and ownership of one of the 135lb titles means he’s in a position of some influence and should be able to get involved in fights amongst the other top 4.
Devin Haney’s best shot is undoubtedly his jab; the speed and precision of it help to set up other follow up shots and combinations. Alongside this jab, Haney has a lot of variety in his work and is very measured for a fighter so young. Of course, we cannot forget his hand speed which will cause any of the other top fighters in the division problems…
Having started off his Pro career in Mexico at the age of 16, Haney has worked his way up the pecking order and although he’s not currently the most marketable, hardcore boxing fans and purists alike will really appreciate the style and ability that Devin Haney possesses.
Gervonta Davis – Key Attributes
Aptly named “Tank”, Gervonta Davis is strong, stocky and solid. Despite being the shortest out of the top 5, Davis’ future looks to lie at the lightweight limit, despite having campaigned mostly at Super-Featherweight.
His shorter stature however doesn’t seem like it will hinder his success, as Davis’ explosive speed and power and boxing ability will likely take his lack of height out of the equation.
Similarly to Garcia with Canelo, Gervonta Davis is and has been Floyd Mayweather Jr’s prodigy for many, many years now and that will’ve boosted and aided the young superstar in both his confidence and also his abilities.
This association with one of the best fighters ever is something that could make all the difference…
Going off of some of “Tank”s most recent performances, you have to say that his left uppercut is his best shot. He demonstrated just how lethal of a shot it is when he knocked out Leo Santa Cruz last year.
A 96% KO ratio implies that Davis has power in either hand and that he carries that power through with any punch, which alongside his fantastic counter punching capabilities makes him a serious threat to any of the other top fighters in the division.
The only question is that’s yet to be answered, is how does Davis hold up at lightweight and will his power carry through? I have a feeling he’ll be absolutely fine…
Before we conclude, let’s have a quick look at some of the other guys sitting just outside or around the top 5…
The first name on the list is George Kambosos Jr. who has earned a shot at Teofimo Lopez’s IBF title after he beat Lee Selby on points last year. The Australian fighter is full of confidence and self-belief and there’s no doubt that he works hard and is an explosive; skilled fighter, but can he truly challenge any of the top 5?
Luke Campbell still ranks highly in the lightweight World rankings, after 3 unsuccessful attempts at World honours though he might just be one of those fighters who should’ve and could’ve been a World Champion, but for him the timing might just be wrong. Saying that, Campbell has the skillset and scored an early knockdown over Garcia in their recent clash; so Campbell can’t be written off just yet.
Jorge Linares sits highly in most of the governing bodies World rankings and the former World Champion is still a dangerous fighter, despite being 35 years of age now. A good test for both Linares would be to pit him against Kambosos Jr…
This way we could see exactly what Kambosos is made of and we could see if Linares still has that fire inside of him against a hungry; young fighter!
Shakur Stevenson could soon be a potential candidate to throw into the mix against the current top 5, despite currently campaigning at Super-Featherweight. Stevenson won the WBO title in the Featherweight division and once he wins a title at Super-Feather logically his next move would be up to the Lightweight division. However, timing may not be on the fans side with this one, as he could decide to move up just as the current top 5 are going up in weight too.
Another fighter who could potentially move up and into the lightweight division to challenge the top 5 is Miguel Berchelt, the current WBC Super-Featherweight Champion boasts a record of 37-1 and has an 84% KO ratio.
The Mexican fighter has some good names on his resume and however just lost in a brutal match up with Oscar Valdez, could he potentially move up to 135lbs?
Finally a few names worth mentioning are: Richard Commey, Masayoshi Nakatani and James Tennyson.
Commey’s lost his IBF crown in a devastating KO defeat to current King-pin of the division, Teofimo Lopez. However, the Ghana born fighter is a big puncher and could potentially come again, and provided a chilling statement last time out by knocking out Jackson Martines inside six rounds. But at 33 how much does he have left when compared to the other guys at the top of the division? Either way, expect him to be in the opposite corner to any of the top 5 in 2021.
Japanese fighter – Masayoshi Nakatani – gave a real good account of himself when he lost to Lopez on points back in 2019 and most recently he stopped Felix Verdejo in an impressive turnaround. He’s certainly a name to watch out for with a fan-friendly style.
Last but not least, let’s mention James Tennyson as another British fighter who potentially could get another crack at the World title. After his defeat to Tevin Farmer in the Super-Featherweight division, there are hopes still for Tennyson that he can earn World honours. His recent wins have put him inside the top 10 WBO rankings at the #6 spot; so never say never, especially not with Eddie Hearn at your side!
Battle for Supremacy
Let’s just hope that promotional disputes and the marketability of having an undefeated record doesn’t hold this division back from potentially being one of the most exciting divisions we’ve seen in a long time.
It would be great to see all of these young and hungry fighters trade-off against one another, putting their titles and records on the line, just like greats of the past.
But before we start comparing these guys to “The Four Kings” like some people have a bit prematurely, let’s see if they can continue their current successes and let’s see if they’re willing to risk it all in an effort to define their careers and determine their legacies.