The lightweight division, one of the 17 boxing categories in boxing today, will have a big party this Saturday, although restricted -because of the pandemic affecting the world- to no more than 250 special guests, as announced by Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, at The Bubble at the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, for the fight between the Ukrainian Vasyl Lomachenko and the undefeated Honduran-American Teófimo López for the WBA, WBC and WBO belts in the hands of the former, and the opponent’s IBF belt.
The division, known as such since the beginning of the 19th century, groups boxers who weigh more than 130 pounds (58,970 kg) and less than 140 pounds (63,500 kg). Its limit is 135 pounds (61,230 kg), and it is a category where great fighters have paraded through the years.
Among those great lightweights of the remote and recent past we can name some of those illustrious fighters. Obviously, the first one to mention must be the Panamanian Roberto “Mano ‘e Piedra” Durán, the best Latin American gladiator of all times and the most outstanding 135-pounder in history.
To that name we can add some more like Benny Leonard (“The Ghetto Wizard”), only second to Durán in fame and glories, in addition to Ike Williams, Joe Gans, Tony Canzoneri, Itshimasu Suzuki, Shane Mosley, Oscar de la Hoya, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Maywheater, Ken Buchanan, Artur Gregorian, Armando “Mando” Ramos, Pedro Carrasco, Alexis Argüello, Julio César Chávez, Juan Carlos Márquez, Carlos Ortiz, Ismael Laguna and the Venezuelans Ernesto “Gato” España and Edwin “Inca” Valero, among many others who gave luster to the division, described as deluxe by us in the title of this article.
Let’s talk about Durán and Leonard, the two best in history.
The fighter from El Chorrillo neighborhood, now 69 years old, is the only one who has covered 5 decades and 2 centuries (XX and XXI) of bustling around a ring between 1968 and 2001, the year in which he closed the door after losing by points with Puerto Rican Héctor “Macho” Camacho. After fighting in the bantamweight and the featherweight divisions, “El Cholo” made his debut in the lightweight division against Venezuelan José Acosta, whom he defeated in one round in his 21st professional fight, a field in which he only earned $25 in his successful debut against “Chicano” Carlos Mendoza. With 27-0 and as the first challenger, on 6/26/72 he knocked out and dethroned Scotsman Ken Buchanan in 13 rounds, at the Madison Square Garden, with the WBA title at stake. Two fights later, in a fight at 10 rounds, Puerto Rican Esteban de Jesús snatched his undefeated record, by points, at the MSG, on 11/17/72.
However, and despite the stumble, his victory against Buchanan was the beginning of a “dictatorship” of 6 years and 7 months between 1972 and 1978 in which he defeated Jimmy Robertson (KO5), Hector Thompson (KOT8 and KOT10), Itshimatsu Suzuki (KOT10), De Jesus (KO11 and KOT12), Masataka Takayama (KOT1), Ray Lampkin (KO14), Lou Bizzarro (KO14), Alvaro Rojas (KO1), Vilomar Fernandez (KO13), Edwin Viruet (DU15). Total count: 12 defenses – 11 KOs and one decision-. He left the throne vacant after crushing De Jesus for the second time on January 21st, 1978 and announced his farewell to the crown in January of the following year. He was later crowned in the welterweight, super welterweight, middleweight , and he could have also been Super Middleweight King but was stripped of a clear victory over American Vinny Pazienzia, in 12 episodes.
As a lightweight, he fought 41 fights with 33 KOs and one loss, against De Jesús. For this performance, the AP and ESPN distinguished him as the Best Lightweight of the 20th Century in 1999 and 2003, and Sport Illustrated named him the Best Lightweight of All Time.
“The Ghetto Wizard”
As for the Jewish-American Benny Leonard, known as Benjamin Leiner (NY, 1896 – NY, 1947) who fought between 1911-1932, it is enough to say that The Ring placed him 8th among the best 80 of all times while ESPN placed him among the best 50. He became lightweight champion when he defeated Freddy Welsh on May 28, 1917. He remained on the throne for 7 years and 252 days between 1917-25, more than anyone else at the time, and successfully defended 8 times. He never lost the belt. He combined the speed of his hands with a prodigious skill on the ring, besides having a strong punch that allowed him to win 70 out of 89 official fights, although others give him 220 fights with 186 hits, 70 by KO, 22 losses, only 4 KOs against, 9 draws and 3 without decision. Before Duran’s appearance, nobody doubted in placing the “Wizard of the Ghetto” as the best lightweight of any era. He died from a heart attack while refereeing a fight in New York on April 18, 1947.
For now, let’s wait that on Saturday, the Ukrainian Lomachenko, 32 years old, double world and Olympic champion, former WBO featherweight and super featherweight champion, with 14 (10 KOs) and 1 defeat, and López, 23 years old, of Honduran descent, with 12 KOs in 15, no setbacks, reissue those old and fiery battles in the division, in what is presumed (and is desired) to be a furious fight between the two best of the weight, universally.