The lightweight division is one of the most open weight classes in boxing right now. There’s no lineal champion and no clear-cut No. 1 fighter or major star. The Ring has WBC champion Jorge Linares at the top of their 135-pound rankings. The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board has Linares No. 2, in back of undefeated Dejan Zlaticanin. In my own rankings, I put undefeated IBF champion Rances Barthelemy at the top of the 135-pound division.
But these are all opinions. Nobody at lightweight has won the kind of fights that would give him a claim to top status that is tough to argue with. And while undefeated WBO champion Terry Flanagan has not defeated quite the same quality of opponent as Linares, Zlaticanin and Barthelemy, he’s got a respectable resume and his partisans can hardly be faulted for raising his banner.
He’ll be in action defending his belt this Saturday night at the Echo Arena in Liverpool against Merseyside native Derry Mathews. It’s a fight Flanagan should be able to win, but certainly not one he can look beyond. Mathews is one of the better fighters on the British domestic scene and a long-time tough customer in the lightweight division.
Mathews beat a very good fighter in Tony Luis last April. He beat the very tough Tommy Coyle in July 2013. He’s 1-0-1 against current WBA champion Anthony Crolla, stopping him in six in April 2012 and drawing with him in March 2013.
Flanagan already has a victory over Mathews, but that was a three-round decision as part of the “Prizefighter” television series in October 2012. It was a professional fight, but it was still closer to an exhibition than it was to a 12-round championship bout.
Mathews has held a raft full of minor belts, but he’s never been a world champion. Fighting against his hometown crowd this weekend, he should be a dangerous opponent for the undefeated champ.