In our era of alphabet-soup shenanigans, it can sometimes be difficult to determine who the true champion is in a given weight class. Not only are there four different sanctioning bodies that are viewed as credible for recognizing world champions (the WBA, WBC, WBO and IBF) but sometimes those different organizations recognize more than one champion, in the form of “interim” champions, “super” champions and “regular” champions. I’m looking at you, WBA, you running clown show.
Throw in modern half weight classes and the situation becomes even murkier. In reality, I don’t really have a problem with half weight classes. One of the biggest dangers for fighters is receiving head trauma while not properly hydrated. So if fighting at, say, 154 instead of 147 makes the weight cut less traumatic for a fight, I don’t have a problem with it.
Still, as an exercise in thinking about boxing, it’s interesting to try to determine who is the one, true champion in each of the original eight weight classes. The Ring has run columns on their own “Old School Eight” and it provides an excellent point of reference for boxing fans to debate over.
The following are my own choices for such recognition:
Flyweight (112 pounds and below): Roman Gonzalez
This is one of the easiest selections to make. Gonzalez is an undefeated, three-division world champion with a knockout ratio of over 80 percent. The current lineal flyweight champion is one of the most exciting fighters in the sport and arguably the best, pound-for-pound.
Bantamweight (113-118 pounds): Shinsuke Yamanaka
This choice is nearly as automatic as Gonzalez for flyweight. The Japanese star has a 23-0-2 record with 17 KOs. I’d enjoy seeing him matched with Britain’s Lee Haskins, who captured the interim IBF belt last weekend by knocking out Ryosuke Iwasa. But based on resume, Yamanaka clearly deserves the top spot here. A very interesting fighter to watch in this neighborhood is Japanese phenom Naoya Inoue. At just 22 and with only eight professional fights (seven won by stoppage), Inoue is already a two-division world champion. He knocked out long-time WBO 115-pound champion Omar Narvaez last year, a feat Nonito Donaire was unable to accomplish.
Featherweight (119-126 pounds): Nicholas Walters
Featherweight is one of the hottest weight classes in the sport and one of the most wide open. There is a desperate need for some unification fights at 122 and 126 pounds. I have selected Walters based on resume, even though he lost his WBA belt on the scales last weekend when he couldn’t make weight. I’d also favor WBO featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko to beat him, though it would be one of the fights I’d most look forward to. Undefeated junior featherweight champions Guillermo Rigondeaux and Carl Frampton are extremely exciting talents, as well.
Lightweight (127-135 pounds): Takashi Uchiyama
There is no outstanding belt holder currently campaigning at 135 pounds, so I feel the distinction here deserves to go to WBA junior lightweight champion Takashi Uchiyama. Uchiyama is one of the most exciting fighters in the sport, 23-0-1 with 19 KOs. Undefeated Jose Pedraza captured the vacant IBF 130-pound title with a terrific performance against Andrey Klimov last weekend. Lightweight Felix Verdejo also looked outstanding last weekend, showing his is a potential future star.
Welterweight (136-147 pounds): Floyd Mayweather Jr.
There can be no surprise over this selection. After beating Manny Pacquiao with ease last May, the pound-for-pound king holds three of the four belts there. As always, there is no shortage of talented young stars in this weight class neighborhood, headed by IBF belt holder Kell Brook, Keith Thurman and 140-pound titlist Terrence Crawford.
Middleweight (148-160 pounds): Gennady Golovkin
Miguel Cotto is the lineal champion at middleweight, but it’s a title he won by defeating a badly faded Sergio Martinez at a catchweight. He’s been unwilling to defend the belt against Golovkin and any middleweight claim that is not defended against GGG at this point is meaningless. The WBA champion is 33-0 with 30 KOs and has knocked out 20 straight.
Light Heavyweight (161-175 pounds): Sergey Kovalev
Adonis Stevenson is the lineal champion at light heavyweight, a title he took when he knocked out Chad Dawson in sensational fashion in just one round. But he has avoided Sergey Kovalev like the plague, while Kovalev has meanwhile unified the WBA, WBO and IBF belts. Stevenson-Kovalev would be one of the most anticipated fights of the year, if Stevenson will step up and make it. The return of former super middleweight star Andre Ward and emergence of Kovalev’s former rival on the Russian amateur scene, Artur Beterbiev, make this one of boxing’s hottest weight classes.
Heavyweight (176 pounds and up): Wladimir Klitschko
Wladimir Klitschko, along with older brother Vitali, has been the man at heavyweight for most of this century. It’s hard to imagine that changing without Wladimir joining his brother in retirement. Still, boxing fans would love to see Klitschko against young giants Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury.