Welcome to “Road To Undisputed,” a series where I look at every weight class in boxing, look at the champions and contenders and map out a road to crowning an undisputed champion and the chances of it happening anytime soon.
This week, we’ll take a look at the lightweights, which is experiencing a changing of the guard of sorts with several elite boxers just entering their prime.
Here are the divisions covered so far:
- WBA “Super,” WBO, IBF: Teofimo Lopez
- WBA “Regular:” Gervonta Davis
- WBC: Devin Haney
- Vasiliy Lomachenko
- Ryan Garcia
- Luke Campbell
- Masayoshi Nakatani
- Javier Fortuna
- Jorge Linares
- Yvan Mendi
- Rolando Romero (WBA Interim)
- Jackson Marinez
- George Kambosos Jr.
- Isaac Cruz
- Denys Berinchyk
The lightweight division may not necessarily carry the sexiness that the heavyweight and welterweight divisions have today, but has been an integral part of the sport for years.
The current crop of fighters at the top of the division is arguably among the best in the sport. What is most impressive about lightweight is that there aren’t one or two fighters that are being looked at as future major stars for years to come. There are actually four.
Leading the young pack of lightweights today is unified champion Teofimo Lopez who is coming off a career-defining victory over Vasiliy Lomachenko in October. With the win and three of the four major sanctioning body titles under his belt, Lopez is already making waves in the pound-for-pound rankings as a big fighter for his weight with show-stopping power and a vastly underrated ring IQ. All that arrived in full force when he faced Lomachenko, disrupting the former pound-for-pound king from doing much in the first half of the fight. That was enough to give Lopez a win on the scorecards as well as the No. 1 position at lightweight.
Even without any titles, Lomachenko is still one of the sport’s best fighters, but his future is uncertain. The double gold medalist is currently recovering from surgery and there’s no official word on what weight he’ll fight next. Lomachenko can still fight at lightweight and would be favored against 99 percent of fighters at 135 pounds today. However, he can easily move back down to super featherweight with a number of great fighters also primed to face him.
As for the other champions at lightweight, there really are only two more belt holders. Devin Haney possesses the WBC title, but some choose to not fully recognize him as champion. After all, he was elevated to full champion after he won the interim belt as a result of the ever-lasting confusion that is the WBC Franchise title. Even when Haney was moved to Champion In Recess due to injury in late 2019, he was given back the title once there was no immediate fight to create a new champion. Technically speaking, Haney is a two-time WBC champion without ever actually winning the world title as it is.
Still, it should not detract from the fact that Haney is among the most skillful young boxers today. Haney has deceptively solid punching power, but focuses more on boxing acumen and defensive ability which is arguably one of the best at lightweight today.
The other titleholder lightweight has to offer is Gervonta Davis, who holds the WBA’s “World” (or “Regular” depending on the verbiage) title at lightweight. Mentored by Floyd Mayweather Jr., Davis has a star-like quality to him with speed and aggression that will give everyone in the division plenty of trouble. Davis is coming off the biggest win of his career when he knocked out Leo Santa Cruz on Halloween with arguably the year’s best KO punch.
While Davis seemed destined to spend time at lightweight, even that is uncertain. Davis also possesses the WBA super featherweight title and after his win against Santa Cruz, Davis told Fight Game Media that his path at 130 and 135 is not set in stone. His fight could very well take place outside of lightweight.
Lastly, there is the budding social media star Ryan Garcia. Out of the four young stars at lightweight (Lopez, Haney, Davis and Garcia), Garcia is the only one who has no claims to a world title. In addition, Garcia is the one with the most amount of questions surrounding his potential that has yet to be answered. While all three of them have been able to showcase their talents or win a title, Garcia is the last one to still have the “prospect” label on them.
From a boxing standpoint, there is plenty to like about Garcia. His punching speed is one of the best in the sport today and has plenty of power in both hands. However, one aspect of Garcia’s game that has vastly improved is in-ring maturity and poise. It’s no coincidence that he has gotten better on that part at the same time he started training under Eddy Reynoso and had Canelo Alvarez as a big brother/mentor. Garcia will have a chance to showcase his true talents on January 2, 2021 when he faces Luke Campbell for the interim WBC title.
Campbell is one of several contenders who have the potential to fight for a world title in 2021. Despite never winning the big one, Campbell (a former Olympic gold medalist) is still one of the most talented fighters at 135 today and is someone more than capable of giving Garcia his first loss. There’s also the likes of Masayoshi Nakatani, who is coming off a brilliant comeback against Felix Verdejo. Nakatani not only has an underrated amount of punching power, but has a tremendous amount of resiliency. Nakatani’s win over Verdejo came after Nakatani was floored multiple times by the Puerto Rican fighter and is the first man to push Lopez to 12 rounds.
There are others, such as George Kambosos Jr., Isaac Cruz and Javier Fortuna who have either won title eliminators or are in line to eventually have a title shot down the road. Regardless of what happens, there are no shortage of opponents for the current lightweight champions at 135 pounds.
What will it take to get an undisputed champion?
This author does not mean any disrespect to Davis, but the only thing needed to create an undisputed champion is a fight between Lopez and Haney.
In theory, this is the simplest and most direct way to an undisputed champion covered in this series. Just one fight is all that’s needed. However, the road to that one fight is a very tricky one.
As mentioned in past excerpts of this series, unification fights are a little harder to make when the option (and often times, obligation) of fighting a mandatory is there. Lopez has multiple fighters quickly making a push to fight for his titles. Kambosos and Cruz won IBF title eliminators and could soon be in a final eliminator to be Lopez’s IBF mandatory. Not to mention, a rematch against Lomachenko will always be up in the air after he fully recovers.
For Haney, he also has two future title challengers waiting in the wings. There’s already Fortuna, who is eagerly awaiting his shot. The other future challenger will be determined in early January when Garcia and Campbell face off. There’s also Davis, but as previously mentioned, it’s hard to really tell what his future will entail given that he has belts in two weight classes.
Next year will be a very tough one to make the undisputed champion mainly due to mandatories. There’s also the potential of Lopez moving up to junior welterweight and making a run at those titles. At this point, it’s a matter of when, not if, Lopez moves up to 140 pounds. If he does that, all of his lightweight titles would be vacated. Once that happens, getting an undisputed champion within 18 months would be close to zero percent.
Could we see Lopez a mandatory title defense and then close out his run at 135 with a fight against Haney for all four belts? Sure, but time is that fight’s biggest enemy. It’s now or never and if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t feel too great about betting on that fight being made next year.
Chances of there being an undisputed champion in the next 18 months: 25%