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The Best Lightweight Boxers in the History of Prizefighting

In the world of professional boxing, the lightweight division is an arena where champions are made, legends are born, and the toughest pugilists battle it out. Weighing in at 130 to 135 pounds, the lightweight division has seen some of the most iconic fighters in the history of prizefighting.

From brutal knockout artists to masterful technicians, these warriors have left an indelible mark on the sport. In this article, we’ll delve into the careers of the best lightweight boxers to ever grace the ring.

Roberto Duran: The Hands of Stone

Pro Career: 1968–2001 Pro Record: 103–16 with 70 knockouts Titles: WBA lightweight champion, WBC lightweight champion, and The Ring lightweight champion

Roberto Duran, a legend hailing from El Chorrillo, Panama, burst onto the boxing scene at just 16 years old, leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. His relentless pressure style, coupled with devastating hooks to the head and body, earned him the moniker “Hands of Stone.” Duran’s career in the lightweight division was nothing short of spectacular.

He secured his lightweight world title by battering the reigning champ, Ken Buchanan, into submission with a 13th-round stoppage. Duran defended his championship an astounding 12 times, decimating contenders like Esteban de Jesus and Edwin Viruet. His speed, power, and heart made him a force to be reckoned with, solidifying his legendary status in the lightweight category.

Roberto Duran’s Scorecard

  • Jab: B
  • Left Hook: A
  • Uppercut: A-
  • Right Hand: A+
  • Body Work: A
  • Speed: B
  • Reflexes: B+
  • Footwork: B
  • Chin: A
  • Heart: A
  • Defense: B
  • Power: A+

Benny Leonard: The Ghetto Wizard

Pro Career: 1911–1932 Pro Record: 89–6–1 with 70 knockouts Titles: NYSAC lightweight champion and NBA lightweight champion

Benny Leonard, hailing from New York City, took the boxing world by storm with his exceptional skills. Despite limited amateur experience, Leonard’s natural talent and incredible speed, reflexes, and footwork made him a force to be reckoned with. His jab, often described as ‘educated,’ dictated the pace of his bouts.

Leonard’s rise through the lightweight ranks was seamless, defeating contenders like Rocky Kansas and Shamus O’Brien. He secured the world title by stopping Fredie Welsh in the ninth round and defended it eight times. Leonard’s use of power, skill, and precise jab dismantled opponents like Jimmy Duffy and Ritchie Mitchell, making him a true legend in the lightweight division.

Benny Leonard’s Scorecard

  • Jab: A+
  • Left Hook: A
  • Uppercut: B
  • Right Hand: A+
  • Body Work: B-
  • Speed: A+
  • Reflexes: A+
  • Footwork: A+
  • Chin: C+
  • Heart: B
  • Defense: A-
  • Power: A+

Pernell Whitaker: Sweet Pea’s Defensive Mastery

Pro Career: 1984–2001 Pro Record: 40–4–1 with 17 knockouts Titles: WBA lightweight champion, WBC lightweight champion, IBF lightweight champion, and The Ring lightweight champion

Pernell Whitaker, born in Norfolk, Virginia, was not only one of the best southpaw boxers in history but also a defensive maestro. While lacking one-punch power, Whitaker compensated with a beautiful jab, excellent footwork, and remarkable defensive skills, making him a slippery target for his opponents.

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Whitaker’s dominance in the lightweight division was evident from the start. He outclassed top contenders like Roger Mayweather and Alfredo Layne with textbook offense and impervious defense. His victory against Greg Haugen for the world title showcased his boxing prowess. Whitaker made eight title defenses against formidable opponents like Jose Luis Ramirez and Azumah Nelson.

Pernell Whitaker’s Scorecard

  • Jab: A+
  • Left Hook: B-
  • Uppercut: B-
  • Right Hand: B
  • Body Work: A
  • Speed: A+
  • Reflexes: A+
  • Footwork: A+
  • Chin: B
  • Heart: A
  • Defense: A+
  • Power: C

Carlos Ortiz: The Puerto Rican Champion

Pro Career: 1955–1972 Pro Record: 61–7–1 with 30 knockouts Titles: Two-time The Ring lightweight champion, WBA lightweight champion, and WBC lightweight champion

Carlos Ortiz, hailing from Ponce, Puerto Rico, was a skillful fighter with a diverse arsenal. His jab, right hand, and footwork dominated opponents, and his remarkable speed and reflexes added to his finesse in the ring. Ortiz’s transition to the lightweight division was marked by his swift rise to the top.

Ortiz’s domination began with a victory over hall of famer Joe Brown, where he secured the 135-pound crown. He defended it four times, and his wins included bouts against Flash Elorde, Kenny Lane, and Sugar Ramos. Ortiz’s versatile skill set and technical prowess made him a formidable lightweight champion.

Carlos Ortiz’s Scorecard

  • Jab: A
  • Left Hook: A-
  • Uppercut: B-
  • Right Hand: A
  • Body Work: B-
  • Speed: A
  • Reflexes: A
  • Footwork: A-
  • Chin: A
  • Heart: A
  • Defense: B
  • Power: B

Ike Williams: The Hurricane from Brunswick

Pro Career: 1940–1955 Pro Record: 128–24–4 with 61 knockouts

Ike Williams, born in Brunswick, Georgia, was a versatile boxer who excelled in multiple facets of the sport. Known for his lightning-quick reflexes, excellent footwork, and incredible hand speed, Williams was a fighter who could figure out his opponents and gradually break them down.

Williams’s journey to the lightweight championship included wins over Sammy Angott and Willie Joyce. He won the title by knocking out Juan Zurita in just two rounds and defended it successfully eight times. His remarkable wins against fighters like Kid Gavilan and Beau Jack showcased his incredible skills and ability to adapt during bouts.

Ike Williams’ Scorecard

  • Jab: B
  • Left Hook: B
  • Uppercut: C
  • Right Hand: A+
  • Body Work: B
  • Speed: A-
  • Reflexes: A
  • Footwork: A-
  • Chin: C
  • Heart: A
  • Defense: B
  • Power: B+

Joe Gans: The Baltimore Master

Pro Career: 1893–1909 Pro Record: 160–12–21 with 101 knockouts Titles: World lightweight champion

Joe Gans, hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, was a natural talent who introduced innovative techniques to the sport. Known for his slick footwork, educated jab, and potent uppercut, Gans was a boxer with top-rated power in his hands. Despite a somewhat shaky chin, he revolutionized the sport with his mastery.

Gans took the lightweight championship by defeating Frank Erne with a first-round knockout. He went on to defend his title an incredible 15 times, showcasing his boxing skills against fighters like Gus Gardner and Willie Fitzgerald. Gans was a true pioneer in the lightweight division, leaving an indelible mark in the history of prizefighting.

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Joe Gans’ Scorecard

  • Jab: A
  • Left Hook: B
  • Uppercut: A
  • Right Hand: A
  • Body Work: B-
  • Speed: A
  • Reflexes: A-
  • Footwork: A
  • Chin: C-
  • Heart: B
  • Defense: A
  • Power: A

Tony Canzoneri: The Heart and Will of a Champion

Pro Career: 1925–1939 Pro Record: 137–24–10 with 44 knockouts Titles: Two-time The Ring lightweight champion

Tony Canzoneri, born in Slidell, Louisiana, was a fighter with incredible heart, will, and stamina. Despite his somewhat neglected jab, he possessed a beautiful left hook and a penchant for mixing it up on the inside. His relentless body work and unyielding spirit made him a formidable opponent.

Canzoneri’s path to the lightweight championship included a bout with Sammy Mandell, which he lost by a razor-close decision. He earned another title shot by defeating Al Singer in a single round. Canzoneri successfully defended his title four times, showcasing his indomitable heart and the power of his left hook. His wins against fighters like Benny Bass and Kid Chocolate solidified his legacy in the lightweight division.

Tony Canzoneri’s Scorecard

  • Jab: B
  • Left Hook: A+
  • Uppercut: B
  • Right Hand: B
  • Body Work: A-
  • Speed: A
  • Reflexes: B+
  • Footwork: B
  • Chin: A+
  • Heart: A+
  • Defense: B-
  • Power: B-

Julio Cesar Chavez: The Mexican Warrior

Pro Career: 1980–2005 Pro Record: 107–6–2 with 86 knockouts Titles: WBA lightweight champion, WBC lightweight champion, and The Ring lightweight champion

Julio Cesar Chavez, a native of Obregon, Sonora, Mexico, is synonymous with the term “Mexican warrior.” His relentless body punching, legendary left hook to the head and body, and steel chin made him an iconic figure in the lightweight division. Chavez’s counter-punching and combination skills were unparalleled.

Chavez’s foray into the lightweight category included a memorable bout against Edwin Rosario for the WBA title, which he won by a sixth-round stoppage. After unifying the titles by defeating Jose Luis Ramirez, Chavez left an indelible mark. Although his reign was relatively short, he showcased immense speed and power, making him a dominant force in the lightweight division during his prime.

Julio Cesar Chavez’s Scorecard

  • Jab: B
  • Left Hook: A+
  • Uppercut: A-
  • Right Hand: A
  • Body Work: A+
  • Speed: B-
  • Reflexes: B
  • Footwork: B
  • Chin: A+
  • Heart: A
  • Defense: B-
  • Power: A-

Sugar Shane Mosley: The Power Puncher

Pro Career: 1993–2016 Pro Record: 49–10–1 with 41 knockouts Titles: IBF lightweight champion

Sugar Shane Mosley, hailing from Lynwood, California, was known for his incredible hand speed, power in both fists, and impressive body punching. With tremendous heart and a great chin, Mosley was always willing to leave it all in the ring. His remarkable will to win and relentless fighting style set him apart.

Mosley’s journey to lightweight supremacy was swift, defeating fighters like Elias Quiroz and Michael Smith to earn a shot at the IBF champion, Phillip Holiday. Mosley secured the title with a 12-round unanimous decision and defended it eight times, all by knockout. His victories over John John Molina, Manuel Gomez, and Jesse James Leija demonstrated his explosive speed and power.

Shane Mosley’s Scorecard

  • Jab: B
  • Left Hook: A
  • Uppercut: B-
  • Right Hand: A-
  • Body Work: A
  • Speed: A+
  • Reflexes: A+
  • Footwork: B
  • Chin: A+
  • Heart: A+
  • Defense: B
  • Power: A+

Henry Armstrong: The Unprecedented Three-Division Champion

Pro Career: 1931–1945 Pro Record: 152–22–9 with 100 knockouts Titles: The Ring lightweight champion

Henry Armstrong, born in Columbus, Mississippi, was a knockout artist with both fists. His incredible footwork allowed him to control the distance in his fights, cornering his opponents and launching relentless combinations. Armstrong was the only boxer in history to hold titles in three different divisions simultaneously.

Armstrong’s path to the lightweight championship included a close 15-round decision win against Lou Ambers. His victories over Lew Feldman and Baby Arizmendi demonstrated his formidable power and speed. Armstrong’s ability to maintain a relentless pace throughout his bouts made him a unique and dominant presence in the lightweight division.

Henry Armstrong’s Scorecard

  • Jab: B-
  • Left Hook: A
  • Uppercut: B
  • Right Hand: A
  • Body Work: A
  • Speed: A
  • Reflexes: A
  • Footwork: B+
  • Chin: A
  • Heart: A
  • Defense: C+
  • Power: A

The Runner-Ups

While these ten legends have etched their names into the annals of lightweight boxing history, it’s essential to acknowledge the notable runners-up who made significant contributions to the sport:

Freddie Welsh: The Welsh Wizard held the lightweight world title from 1914–1917.

Lou Ambers: The Herkimer Hurricane held the lightweight world championship twice between 1936–1940.

Packey McFarland: He was one of the best prizefighters to have never

Packey McFarland: He was one of the best prizefighters to have never won a world championship. McFarland, known for his exceptional boxing skills and endurance, faced many great fighters during his career. His fights against opponents like Leach Cross and Freddie Welsh were legendary and contributed to the rich history of the lightweight division.

Barney Ross: The Pride of the Ghetto was the lightweight champion from 1933–1934. Barney Ross, hailing from New York City, was an inspirational figure both inside and outside the ring. His incredible journey from a tough neighborhood to becoming a world champion served as an example of courage and determination. Ross’s achievements in the lightweight division, including his victory over Tony Canzoneri, are part of boxing folklore.

Joe Brown: Old Bones was the lightweight king from 1956–1962. Joe Brown’s remarkable career in the lightweight division showcased his incredible skill set. Brown’s defensive prowess, crafty ring tactics, and ability to adapt to different opponents made him a formidable champion. His title defenses against fighters like Carlos Ortiz and Flash Elorde are remembered as classic bouts in the history of the division.

In the world of lightweight boxing, these names, including the top ten legends, have left an indelible mark. Their incredible talent, fierce determination, and unwavering dedication to the sport have enriched the history of prizefighting. Each boxer brought something unique to the ring, making the lightweight division one of the most storied and competitive in the world of boxing.

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Conclusion

The lightweight division has witnessed some of the most extraordinary talents in the history of prizefighting. From Roberto Duran’s incredible power to Benny Leonard’s impeccable boxing skills, these legends have set a standard that continues to inspire aspiring boxers.

Pernell Whitaker’s defensive mastery, Carlos Ortiz’s skillful ring presence, and Ike Williams’ relentless pressure have all added to the division’s allure. Joe Gans, Tony Canzoneri, Julio Cesar Chavez, Sugar Shane Mosley, and Henry Armstrong elevated the lightweight division to new heights with their incredible performances.

While these ten legends rightfully take the spotlight, it’s crucial to recognize the contributions of the runner-ups, who, in their own right, were outstanding fighters and crucial pieces of the lightweight division’s rich tapestry.

The history of lightweight boxing is a tapestry woven with sweat, blood, and glory. It’s a history that continues to be written by the champions of today, each one aspiring to follow in the footsteps of these remarkable legends.

The legacy of these boxers lives on, and their stories continue to inspire generations of fighters, ensuring that the lightweight division remains one of the most respected and admired weight classes in the world of boxing.

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