Assessment Of Today’s Lightweight Division
By Sina Latif
Today’s lightweight division is one of the most exciting divisions in boxing, if not the most captivating.
Aside from a 32-year-old Vasiliy Lomachenko, all of the other major players in the 135 lbs division are in their early 20’s, all immensely talented with magnificent potential.
It will be no easy task to take the title of best lightweight in the world away from Lomachenko, but there are a few fighters who have youth on their side and the capability to do so.
I will be looking at the fighters that have the potential to make it a golden age for this talent-rich lightweight division.
Ryan Garcia is one of boxing’s most talented young fighters and has years of big fights ahead of him. The 2017 prospect of the year appears to be on the verge of big things.
Since moving up from super-featherweight to lightweight, the 21-year-old has had five fights, scoring four stoppages while gradually increasing the level of opposition, beating Carlos Morales and scoring back-to-back crushing first round KO’s against Romero Duno and Francisco Fonseca.
With such ascension, a title shot in the near future seems inevitable. However, there is no rush for the young fighter to get in with the top dogs of the division, which his trainer Eddy Reynoso has confirmed.
Garcia still has improvements to make to ensure that once he gets in the ring with his hard-hitting rivals, he has the best chance of victory.
Garcia is fast becoming a superstar and once the Covid-19 pandemic is over, he will be looking to continue establishing himself as more than just a a social media star with 6.3 million followers on Instagram.
At 21, with his whole future ahead of him and already increasing his level of opposition, the sky’s the limit for the young American.
Gervonta Davis is one of the best young fighters in boxing despite currently having some legal woes. That is an issue with Davis, discipline, both in boxing and away from boxing.
He has struggled to make weight on more than one occasion in the past, resulting in being stripped of a title, and although he has tremendous talent, in order to beat the likes of Lomachenko, Devin Haney and Teofimo Lopez, he needs to show the same level of consistency in commitment as his rivals.
Davis vacated his WBA super-featherweight title in order to move up and become a two-weight division champion. This can be a real possibility for the immensely talented 25-year-old. Whether he fulfils this dream is entirely up to him.
The Baltimore native is consistently attracting huge crowds to his fights for them to witness great knockouts. Whether it be in his hometown, Atlanta, Los Angeles or London, Davis obviously has undeniable star power. People like to witness Davis’ brutal power, speed and ferocity somewhat reminiscent of a young Mike Tyson.
However, it is time for the young American star to face a higher level of opposition.
After defeating Jose Pedraza to become a super-featherweight world champion in 2017, the then-22 year old was the youngest American world titlist at the time and declared to be ‘the future of boxing’. However, his career has stagnated with no improvements in the quality of his opposition since and no true signature win to his name yet.
Questions still remain about the power-punching southpaw’s capabilities once he truly steps up the competition.
Ultimately, his success will boil down to dedication and maturity, or lack thereof.
Haney saw his star rise significantly in 2019. He went from prospect to contender to interim WBC lightweight champion to full titlist with each appearance.
After an easy stoppage win over Zaur Abdullaev to initially win the interim title, after unified champion Lomachenko was elevated from the full WBC champ to the newly-created ‘Franchise’ champion, a move which many still do not understand, Haney was awarded the WBC belt and made his first successful defence against Alfredo Santiago.
Some will not view Haney as a credible world champion at this point, having not won the title in the ring. Lopez recently referred to Haney as the ‘email World champion.’
These digs will continue to be aimed towards Haney by rivals and doubts will continue to linger until he proves his credibility as a champion by defending his belt against respectable opposition.
In 1992, Lennox Lewis did not fight for his WBC belt, but was awarded it after Riddick Bowe literally threw the belt in the trash. Later in his career, Lewis became undisputed champion and one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time.
Similarly, Haney is widely viewed as the future of boxing and a potential future universal superstar. Comparisons between the 21-year-old and a young Floyd Mayweather Jr. ‘Pretty Boy Floyd’, are constantly increasing. With a record of 24-0 and time on his side, Haney can become something really special.
Of all the fighters mentioned, the one best equipped to challenge Lomachenko and the one seemingly on the verge of doing so, is Lopez.
The 22-year-old had the best year of his career in 2019 with his second-round annihilation of IBF champ Richard Commey, proving that he is the real deal and justifying the hype around his career. Commey was a normally tough fighter, Lopez’s most significant opponent and supposedly his most difficult fight thus far, and Lopez overwhelmed the Ghanaian.
Always the showman with his dancing and back flips after victories, at 15-0 with 12 KO’s, he has proven to not only be a showman, but also a showstopper even at world-level too following his statement against Commey. He has already become one of the most exciting fighters in the world with the showboating and devastating knockouts to match.
Lopez is a really exciting talent with world-beater potential. He has a unique blend of athleticism and speed coupled with sublime skills and power. If not for the Covid-19 pandemic, Lopez will have already had a unification showdown with Lomachenko.
Promoter Bob Arum has claimed the fight is being planned to be re-scheduled for September, when we will see whether dreams of ‘The Takeover’ of the lightweight division will materialise or not. Beating Lomachenko would result in Lopez’s stature and market value skyrocketing. At 22, defeating one of boxing’s greatest tacticians would result in Lopez being a major player in pound-for-pound lists for a long, long while.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist with an amateur record of 396-1, arguably the greatest amateur boxer of all time, and three-weight division champion in just 12 professional fights, the first man in history to accomplish this feat so early in his career.
In 15 pro fights, he has beaten Gary Russell Jr, Nicholas Walters, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Jorge Linares, Jose Pedraza and Luke Campbell. Is there much else to say to sum up this man’s quick-fire quest for greatness?
The Ukrainian has been fighting in world championship fights since his second fight in the pro ranks. He lost this fight to an overweight Orlando Salido who forfeited his belt on the scales after missing weight and then gave Lomachenko a rude awakening to the shady side of the ‘sweet science’ with his rough and dirty tactics en route to a controversial first pro loss for the Ukrainian.
However, in his next fight Lomachenko won that vacant WBO featherweight title stripped of Salido, and the rest as the cliche goes, really was history.
Lomachenko has carved a Hall of Fame career, that’s for certain. He is now at the stage of his career in which he must put together the building blocks to cement a legacy of ‘greatness.’ With Lopez’s obvious talent, a victory over the Honduran-American would be such a building block in putting together that legacy. Fights against the likes of Davis and Haney would cement that legacy.
At 32, time is slowly running out for Lomachenko, and just like with previous fighters such as Muhammad Ali and Roy Jones Jr, once his lightning-quick reflexes disappear, which he relies on so heavily, he will have problems.
The Ukrainian is in a different position to his 135 lbs rivals. Lomachenko is a sure-fire Hall of Famer looking to cement a legacy deserving of being mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Sugar Ray Robinson, Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard.
The other aforementioned fighters on the list still have much to prove, but the talent and potential in this division seems limitless.
Consider the likes of Campbell, Linares, Robert Easter, Lee Selby, Javier Fortuna, and Commey also plying their trade at 135 lbs, and the competition is very healthy in this potential golden age of the lightweight division!