In the golden days of boxing, there were only eight weight classes–flyweight (112 pounds), bantamweight (118 pounds), featherweight (126 pounds), lightweight (135 pounds), welterweight (147 pounds), middleweight (160 pounds), light heavyweight (175 pounds) and heavyweight (everybody 176 pounds and up).
I do not have anything against half weight classes in principle. With modern strength and conditioning, a few pounds either way can be extremely significant. Still, a fighter who wants to be truly great should be willing to take an old-school approach and go after any competitor in his general neighborhood.
These five matchups could be particularly compelling:
Naoya Inoue (super flyweight) vs. Shinsuke Yamanaka (bantamweight)
At 24, Inoue is one of the sport’s great phenoms, already earning pound-for-pound notice with less than 15 professional bouts. Yamanaka is tens years his senior and hands-down the top rated fighter in the world at bantamweight. Both men are undefeated. The only thing not to like about this matchup is that it would happen in Japan and U.S. fans would be left to track down internet feeds in the middle of the day.
Vasyl Lomachenko (super featherweight) vs. Mikey Garcia (lightweight)
Lomachenko is the greatest amateur fighter of all time and is already viewed by many as the best professional fighter in the world, despite having less than 10 bouts. Mikey Garcia is a patient technician with a shark’s instinct for finishing a fight. He’s put beatings on top fighters in three different divisions.
Terence Crawford (super lightweight) vs. Manny Pacquiao (welterweight)
Crawford has demolished top fighters at 135 and 140 pounds, demonstrating that he is an elite talent. Pacquiao stands alongside the sport’s all-time greats, but is now 38 years old. This could be a last chance to prove his greatness, if the Filipino Senator feels that it is worth the risk.
Erislandy Lara (super welterweight) vs. Daniel Jacobs (middleweight)
I thought Lara deserved the decision against Canelo Alvarez and that Jacobs did vs. Gennady Golovkin. But the judges disagreed with me and now Canelo and GGG will face off in the year’s biggest bout this September. Lara vs. Jacobs would draw none of the same casual-fan interest, but true boxing fans would be lining up to weigh in on it.
Oleksandr Usyk (cruiserweight) vs. Deontay Wilder (heavyweight)
Usyk has put a pulse in the cruiserweight division for what seems like the first time since Evander Holyfield fought there. But it’s clear the Ukrainian phenom’s future is at heavyweight. Wilder is the best hope the U.S. has at the present time for a top heavyweight talent.