In today’s world of alphabet-soup madness, there are more “world champions” than any boxing fan could reasonably be expected to keep track of. But for most of the history of the gloved era, there were only eight champions, with no competing alphabet claims and no half weight classes.
For most of the history of the sport, the weight classes were flyweight (112 pounds), bantamweight (118 pounds), featherweight (126 pounds), lightweight (135 pounds) welterweight (147 pounds) middleweight (160 pounds), light heavyweight (175 pounds) and heavyweight. I’m not actually against the modern half classes, which allow for even more physically competitive matchups. But there was definitely a certain elegance to the old system.
It’s no surprise that fans wax nostalgic for those days. The Ring has even run a great feature called “The Old School Eight,” with a panel selecting their various choices for the best fighter at each of the traditional weight classes.
My own “Old School” or “Elite” Eight are as follows:
Flyweight: Roman Martinez The undefeated Nicaraguan is the sport’s top pound-for-pound competitor, so it’s no surprise he holds down the fort here, at his actual weight.
Bantamweight: Shinsuke Yamanaka The undefeated WBC champion from Japan is head-and-shoulders above other belt holders like Lee Haskins and Rau’Shee Warren.
Featherweight: Leo Santa Cruz Nobody clearly stands out at this division. I was tempted to name Guillermo Rigondeaux, who has never actually fought above 122 pounds. Gary Russell Jr. also deserves consideration, as does Santa Cruz’s next opponent, unified bantamweight champion Carl Frampton.
Lightweight: Vasyl Lomachenko The most exciting fighters in the world right now between 126 and 135 pounds are all fighting at 130. Lomachenko might be just 6-1 in his professional career, but his win over Gary Russel Jr. and his complete dismantling of Roman Martinez put him at the top of a crowded field for me.
Welterweight: Terence Crawford There’s always a loaded field of talent at 140 and 147 pounds. But in my opinion, the WBO junior welterweight champion is the class of the group.
Middleweight: Gennady Golovkin Golovkin is one of the most methodically destructive punchers in the history of the division. He hasn’t fought the same resume as greats like Hagler, Hopkins or Monzon, but he’s marched through everybody placed in his path.
Light Heavyweight: Sergey Kovalev Perhaps the single most dangerous puncher int he sport, he’s also a patient tactical fighter. His showdown slated for later this year with Andre Ward is the best fight the sport can offer right now.
Heavyweight: Tyson Fury My own opinion is that Cuban Luis Ortiz is currently the best big man in the world and that England’s Anthony Joshua is the division’s future. But Fury in boxing, you get to be the man when you beat the man, and Fury did just that last year against long-time champion Wladimir Klitschko.