Wednesday, March 22, 2023  |


State of the Game: Lightweights


This is the ninth in a series of stories from “The State of the Game,” the popular annual feature of THE RING magazine. We’re posting one weight class per day, starting with strawweight and working our way up to heavyweight. The package was featured in the July issue of the magazine. The August issue, with Floyd Mayweather Jr. as the cover story, is on newsstands now. Today: Lightweights.

It’s often been said that in boxing, the top two percent of the fighters make about 98 percent of the money. Well, we’re about to feed directly into that inequity. Not only do the top two percent get most of the money, but they get most of the attention too, and in “The State Of The Game,” we focus primarily on that top two percent – the cream of every weight class. Maybe it’s not fair to the 145th best junior featherweight in the world, but hey, there’s a reason he’s only 145th best.

Still, you have to admit, we go deeper and include more fighters in State of the Game than just about any other article you’ll read all year. Where else will you find Wladimir Klitschko, Fernando Guerrero, Alfonso Gomez and Hekkie Budler all discussed in the same story?

Basically, the State of the Game is just what it sounds like: an all-encompassing exploration of where every division in boxing stands at this particular moment. As for the state of the sport as a whole, we know the balance of power is continuing to shift away from American fighters and away from the heavyweight division, but does that mean boxing is any worse off than it was a year ago or five years ago or 10 years ago? In a global sense, and judged in relativity to the economic climate across most of the world, no. Remember, some people in both the boxing community and the mainstream media opined three years ago that Oscar De La Hoya vs. Floyd Mayweather was going to be the last megafight we’d see for years. How laughable is that now? We’ve since had four different pay-per-views cross the million-buy mark, and if Manny Pacquiao vs. Mayweather ever happens, it will crush every number Mayweather-De La Hoya posted.

Of course, all that this means is that the guys at the very top are getting exponentially richer while everyone else is struggling to make ends meet. Hey, that’s the way boxing has always been, and in a nutshell, that’s how life works. Boxing has loads of problems, no doubt, but year after year, it entertains and amazes those loyal followers who persevere through all the crap to get to the good stuff.


You know it was a weird year in the lightweight division when we saw both a talented lightweight masquerading as a welterweight and a talented welterweight masquerading as a lightweight. The former was world lightweight champ Juan Manuel Marquez, who cashed in on years of diligent service to play patsy to comebacking Floyd Mayweather in a welterweight fight he had no chance of winning. The latter was Joan Guzman, who somehow missed the 135-pound limit for his rematch with No. 2-rated Ali Funeka by nine pounds, then won a close fight largely on the basis of the fact that his opponent starved himself to make weight while Guzman ate as he pleased.

This is a division that seemed poised for excitement heading into the April 2009 “Lightweight Lightning” pay-per-view, but half of the scheduled fights fell out and the division couldn’t get back on track afterward. Champ Marquez hasn’t defended THE RING title in over a year (though he will in a rematch against Juan Diaz on July 31). Diaz hasn’t fought in the division for more than a year either, instead making a fairly unsuccessful move to junior welter to split a pair of bouts with Paulie Malignaggi. Amir Khan was becoming a major player at 135 last year but he promptly moved up to 140. The first Funeka-Guzman decision was highly controversial. Edwin Valero made noise at 135, particularly with his domination of Antonio DeMarco, prior to his shocking suicide in April.

On the plus side, No. 4 Humberto Soto and No. 8 Robert Guerrero have moved up from 130 pounds. No. 1 Michael Katsidis remains one of boxing’s most exciting performers and has won four straight since back-to-back losses to Joel Casamayor (Guerrero’s opponent on July 31) and Diaz. South Africa’s Funeka has established himself with American audiences as an awkward and honest fighter who can compete with anyone, even opponents who don’t make weight. Two under-the-radar Miguels, Vazquez and Acosta, made minor splashes with upset wins against Breidis Prescott and Urbano Antillon, respectively. Acosta took Paulus Moses’ belt in May, and Vazquez faces Ji Hoon Kim for a vacant title on Aug. 14. And Anthony Peterson still looms as promising young unbeaten.

Think About It: With Marquez and Diaz set to square off again in a rematch of the ’09 Fight of the Year, it got us wondering: How rare is a Fight of the Year that stands alone, where the two boxers involved only face each other once? Usually, a great fight leads to a sequel or is a sequel to a previous fight that was great. We looked back over the last four decades of RING Fights of the Year, and here’s what we found: In the 2000s, only two FOTYs (Somsak Sithchatchawal-Mahyar Monshipour and Micky Ward-Emanuel Augustus) were one-time-only affairs; in the 1990s, there were three; in the ’80s, there were four; and in the ’70s, there were five. Overall, 14 out of 40 (35 percent) were stand-alones. But more interesting than the total was the pattern – one fewer each decade for four decades. More and more frequently, when a fight is a classic, they do it again. Who says it was better to be a fight fan in the old days?


Best Puncher
Michael Katsidis
Best Boxer
Juan Manuel Marquez
Most Protected
Lenny Zappavigna
Most Avoided
Miguel Acosta
Is He Still Around?
Freddie Norwood
Matchmaker’s Dream
Juan Manuel Marquez-Michael Katsidis
Deserves A Title Shot
Ali Funeka
Most Fun To Watch
Michael Katsidis
On The Way Up
Adrien Broner
On The Way Down
Javier Jauregui
Best Fight In 2009
Juan Manuel Marquez KO 9 Juan Diaz

JUNIOR LIGHTWEIGHTS: blog/2061/state_of_the_game_junior_lightweights /