Sunday, December 03, 2023  |



Dougie’s Friday Mailbag (Ranking WBC lightweight titleholders, Bert Sugar’s Greatest Fighters)

Alexis Arguello won the WBC lightweight title with a unanimous decision over Jim Watt in June 1981. He defended it four times over the next 11 months.
Fighters Network


Hello Doug,

I hope you and your family are well.

A lot of talk recently has been about Lightweights. Especially with Ryan Garcia being very active on his social media! But, you recently mentioned that Loma is the outright number one and that Teofimo and Tank are more advanced compared to the other “young guns”. With Haney and Ryan potentially one fight away (Haney v Campbell; Garcia v Linares) from being in the mix. Needless to say, I agree with you.

It got me thinking about past Lightweight fighters. And I recently posted this picture on Instagram (apologies for the shameless plug!) of former WBC Lightweight champions and I was wondering: How do you rank these great fighters?

The selected former champs are: Duran, Arguello, Chavez, Whitaker, Mayweather, Pacquiao, Valero, Mikey Garcia and Lomachenko.

So, how do you rank these nine champions? I’m assuming Duran is numero uno and Mikey is number nine? Take care. Kind regards. –  Instagram: @Boxing.Force, England, UK

It’s an interesting question and task. Of course, Hands of Stone is No. 1, but don’t assume that Garcia is in last place. It all depends on the ranking criteria. If you’re talking about talent, form and potential, the lightweight version of Manny Pacquiao is right up there with Duran and Whitaker at their 135-pound best. I was ringside (doing the international broadcast alongside Alan Massangale and Wally Matthews) for his lightweight debut and challenge to defending WBC beltholder David Diaz and the Filipino Icon was downright fearsome in the hyper-technical manner in which he dismantled the Chicago-tough U.S. Olympian over nine rounds. But in terms of accomplishments at the weight, the Pac-Monster’s resume is ridiculously thin. The Diaz bout was his only fight at 135 pounds. And because I don’t want to rank these guys based on how I THINK they might have fared vs. each other (for instance, as awesome as Pacquiao looked at 135, my hunch is that the lesser-experienced and technically raw Edwin Valero would have KO’d the hero of the Philippines had they met at lightweight), I’m gonna rank them based on their accomplishments and quality of opposition.  

Gotta go with Duran at No. 1, unlike the majority of the names you listed, he didn’t just make a pitstop at 135 pounds, he had a near six-year title reign (June 1972-to-early 1978), most of which was as the WBA titleholder, but he unified WBA and WBC belts for undisputed world champ recognition when he stopped his rival Esteban DeJesus in their 1978 rubbermatch. Duran beat a hall of famer in Ken Buchanan, plus Ring-rated contenders DeJesus, Hiroshi Kobayashi (non-title bout), Hector Thompson, Leoncio Ortiz, Ray Lampkin, Lou Bizzarro, Vilomar Fernandez and Edwin Viruet. 

Pernell Whitaker unified IBF and WBC lightweight titles with a unanimous decision over Jose Luis Ramirez on August 20, 1989 in Norfolk, Virginia. (Photo by: The Ring Magazine via Getty Images)

No. 2 is Pernell Whitaker. He was a lightweight for the first seven years of his pro career and he had an accomplished two-year title reign that included unifying the WBC, IBF and WBA titles (for “undisputed champ” status), and defending two belts vs. hall of famer Azumah Nelson. Sweet Pea was robbed of a victory in his first title bout vs. borderline hall of famer Jose Luis Ramirez, but he dominated the rematch. He defeated the following Ring-rated contenders: Greg Haugen, Juan Nazario, Roger Mayweather (non-title bout), Freddie Pendleton, Jorge Paez, Anthony Jones, Louie Lomeli, Alfredo Layne (non-title) and Poli Diaz.  

No. 3 is Alexis Arguello. I think he peaked at junior lightweight, and he appeared to struggle at times at 135 pounds (he was outpointed by Vilomar Fernandez in a 1978 non-title bout during his 130-pound reign, and he barely got by Jose Luis Ramirez in another non-title bout in 1980), but his one-year lightweight reign was solid: Jim Watt, Ray Mancini (who’s in the hall of fame), Roberto Elizondo and Andy Ganigan were all Ring-rated contenders.

No. 4 (barely) is Julio Cesar Chavez, who may have been at his best at 135 pounds, but he was only there for one year and only had two title bouts. However, he stopped a hall of famer in Edwin Rosario (for the WBA belt) and outpointed a borderline HOFer in his buddy Ramirez (who probably deserved to be among your nine selections more than Pacquiao, Valero and Garcia) to unify WBA and WBC titles (and earn Ring champ recognition).

No. 5 is Vasiliy Lomachenko, who’s only had four bouts at lightweight, but he unified three major belts (WBA, WBO and WBC – although the WBC’s “Franchise” thing has technically dropped it down to two sanctioning organization belts) and earned Ring champ recognition with those four victories. Jorge Linares, Jose Pedraza, Anthony Crolla and Luke Campbell were all Ring-rated contenders when Loma faced them.

Floyd Mayweather Jr digs a hook to Jose Luis Castillo during their hotly contested, controversial first bout, which had the WBC and Ring Magazine 135-pound titles on the line.

No. 6 is Floyd Mayweather Jr. He only had five lightweight bouts, but he earned the WBC and Ring titles with his controversial victory over Jose Luis Castillo (who, like the “other Jose Luis,” probably deserved to be on this list over some of your other choices). The disputed nod over Castillo and his struggle with journeyman Emanuel Augustus in his non-title lightweight debut allowed Loma to edge him for the No. 5 spot, but his rematch victory over Castillo was solid. Victoriano Sosa and Phillip Ndou, who he defended WBC and Ring titles against in 2003, were not Ring-ranked at the time he faced them.

No. 7 is Mikey Garcia, who only had TWO bouts at lightweight. However, both were title bouts and he unified the WBC and IBF belts by brutally knocking out Dejan Zlaticanin and outpointing Robert Easter Jr. Both victims were Ring-ranked when Mikey got ’em.

No. 8 is Edwin Valero, who only had three bouts at lightweight. Valero’s stoppages of Antonio Pitalua (for the vacant WBC title) and Antonio DeMarco were against Ring-ranked contenders. The defense against journeyman Hector Velazquez probably shouldn’t have been sanctioned by the WBC.

No. 9 is Manny Pacquiao. No disrespect to the Senator. He’s up there with Duran in a pound-for-pound sense (as Massengale predicted he would one day be when trying to cheer up Diaz’s disconsolate publicist Bernie Bahrmasel after Pacquiao’s June 2008 title victory), but one fight is one fight. A victory over Diaz, respected and Ring-ranked as he was, isn’t enough to trump what the others accomplished at lightweight.



What’s Up Doug,

Hope you are well and keeping sane in these crazy times.

I’ve been a fan of Ring Mag for what seems like forever and particularly enjoy your mailbag. Nearly enjoyable as reading your thoughts are reading the comments section below. Some of these dudes get real mad at each other, which is hilarious to read.

Anyways, on to my question. I have a copy of Bert Sugar’s Boxing’s Greatest Fighters, which I’ve read cover to cover several times. I’ve loved boxing since I was around 10 years old after watching Nigel Benn vs Gerald McClellan, which I’m sure you’ll agree was a brutal way to be introduced to the sport we love. Since then we’ve had the privilege of seeing some truly amazing fighters step between the ropes to show us what they are about. RJJ, Pacquiao, Naz, Floyd, ODLH, Tyson, Lomachenko, Canelo, Monster, to name but a few.

Something which struck me since first reading Mr Sugar’s book was the lack of modern era fighters (which I’m defining as post 2000) that made the cut for the top 100. Now, knowing Bert has immense knowledge of the history of boxing, and my relative lack of familiarity of boxing before 1995, I thought I should educate myself and do some research. This has led me to watch several historic fights (the wonders of Youtube), and I have to say, I can see why people such as Bert and yourself believe that, on the whole, modern fighters just don’t match up. My particular favourites have been the fights between the Fab 4, all of which made Bert’s top 100 inside the top 50 (Hearn’s was actually no 50), and rightly so.

My gripe here is that although I completely get how Bert could argue some of today’s greats wouldn’t be in the top 20, or even in the top 50, I really don’t get how he can exclude the likes of Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jnr and Oscar de la Hoya from the top 100, even RJJ only made it to no. 88. I appreciate that I am slightly biased having not witnessed first-hand the giants of old, but I’m sure they should be in there somewhere.

I would loved to have been able to ask this question to the man himself, but alas it’s not to be. I’m sure he would have had a solid argument for excluding the above-mentioned fighters, but in his absence I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Cheers Doug and stay safe. – KC in LDN

Thanks for the kind words, KC, and for reminding me about this book penned by the late, great Sugar. I’ve seen it and read it, but I need to add it to my collection.

You would have enjoyed chatting with Sugar. He knew the history of the sport, but he didn’t take himself too seriously. He had fun with boxing debates, and he liked to engage with budding fans. Sugar could hold court, especially in a bar or lounge during the week of a big boxing event in Las Vegas, New York City, Los Angeles or Atlantic City. I’m sure he would have gotten a kick out of a young fan getting more into the sport as the result of reading his book.

My gripe here is that although I completely get how Bert could argue some of today’s greats wouldn’t be in the top 20, or even in the top 50, I really don’t get how he can exclude the likes of Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jnr and Oscar de la Hoya from the top 100, even RJJ only made it to no. 88. Well, I can’t speak for Sugar, but I’ll try to put his rankings into some kind of context before I share my thoughts on why he might have left out some of “today’s greats.” Keep in mind that Sugar was born in the 1930s. His childhood was during the 1940s, the pre-TV era that spawned so many Mount Olympus-level legends of the sport, such as Sugar Ray Robinson, Willie Pep, Jake LaMotta, Archie Moore, and Ezzard Charles. Joe Louis was champ for most of the decade. Henry Armstrong was still around. And the greats of the 1910s and 1920s were still being talked and written about by adults and sports journalists. Sugar was an adolescent during the 1950s, the start of the TV-era, which produced blue-collar stars and standouts like Rocky Marciano and Carmen Basilio. Sugar was an adult by the time the fabulous 1960s, which featured too many boxing greats to list out, were in full swing and he was covering the sport by the end of the decade (as owner and editor of Boxing Illustrated). So, he witnessed boxing’s second Golden Age of the 1970s from the front lines. Carlos Ortiz, Emile Griffith, Jose Napoles, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, George Foreman, Ruben Olivares, Alexis Arguello, Wilfred Benitez and The Four Kings, he saw them fight and chronicled their exploits. Also, coming from a scholarly background with an interest in history, I’m sure he made full use of The Ring’s archives while editor and publisher from 1979-1983, learning more about the legendary boxers who fought well before the TV age. So, given the vast amount of boxing history in Sugar’s head and experience by the time the 1990s were unfolding, I can see how it would be difficult for the special talents of that decade and the early 2000s to make it into his top 100.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the book was published in 2006, which means he was probably researching, compiling information and writing it in 2004 and 2005. So, we’re talking about a time when Floyd Mayweather Jr. either had yet to move up to welterweight or had just done so. Floyd won the IBF welterweight belt by outpointing Zab Judah in April 2006 (and I’m pretty sure the book was already in production by then) and he annexed the WBC/Ring welterweight titles by outclassing Carlos Baldomir in November 2006. So, all of his accomplishments post-Judah/Baldomir – beating Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto, Canelo Alvarez, Manny Pacquiao – had yet to happen. It’s also worth noting that none of the fighters that Mayweather defeated – before or after the book was published – were in Sugar’s top 100. I can hear Pacquiao’s fans holler: “What!? No, Manny? That’s crazy!” But it’s a fair bet that the book was finished before Pac-Man avenged his loss to Erik Morales (January 2006). He was still two years away from starting that amazing run from junior lightweight to junior middleweight that included victories over Marquez, De La Hoya, Hatton, Cotto, Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito.

You noted how all The Four Kings were in the top 50. I’m sure their round robin enhanced their status in Sugar’s eyes. Roy Jones Jr. only faced one fighter that made Sugar’s list, Bernard Hopkins, who was ranked at 91. Now, De La Hoya might have a case for a gripe. He defeated two men who are in Sugar’s top 50: Julio Cesar Chavez (No. 17) and Pernell Whitaker (No. 48). All I can say is that Sugar must have viewed Chavez as far past his prime when De La Hoya beat him, and he either viewed Whitaker as a faded veteran when The Golden Boy outpointed him (even though Sweet Pea was atop most pound-for-pound lists at the time) or he thought the southpaw deserved the nod. Personally, I think De La Hoya gets overlooked a lot when it comes to “all-time great” or “best of” lists.

Benny Leonard

Having said that, I love Sugar’s 100 Greatest Fighters list. I like that his top 20 includes fighters from the 1900s, 1910s and 1920s of whom there is limited, little-or-no film footage of, such as Harry Greb (No. 5), Benny Leonard (No. 6), Jack Johnson (No. 10), Gene Tunney (No. 13), Joe Gans (No. 15), Jimmy Wilde (No. 18) and Stanley Ketchel (No. 19). And I like that his top 50 includes forgotten or overlooked greats, such as Jimmy McLarnin (No. 21), Eder Jofre (No. 28), Johnny Dundee (No. 32), Pascual Perez (No. 34), Tommy Loughran (No. 38), Kid Chocolate (No. 40), Abe Attell (No. 41), George Dixon (No. 41), Maxie Rosenbloom (No. 44) and Ted “Kid” Lewis (No. 46).



Email Fischer at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter and IG at @dougiefischer, and join him, Tom Loeffler and Coach Schwartz on Periscope every Sunday.