Youth is king: The youngest men to win world titles
Highly talented Devin Haney was named a WBC lightweight titleholder last October when then-beltholder Vasiliy Lomachenko was promoted to something known as the sanctioning body’s “franchise champion.”
Haney, who is rated No. 2 by The Ring at 135 pounds, claimed the title at just 20 years old, 11 months and six days to become the youngest active titleholder in boxing.
However, Haney is still considerably older than the precociously gifted Wilfred Benitez, who, at just 17-and-a-half years old is the youngest fighter to ever win a world title.
Records are made to be broken but that one is one going to be incredibly difficult to beat.
Benitez wasn’t the only talented teen. Many others have achieved great things at such a young age.
Here we examine the 10 youngest fighters to win world titles.
Wilfred Benitez, junior welterweight
(17 years, five months and 24 days)
The otherworldly gifted Puerto Rican phenom turned professional at 15 and, after 25 fights, outboxed future Hall-of-Famer Antonio Cervantes by 15-round split decision to claim the WBA 140-pound title in March 1976. He later won welterweight and junior middleweight titles but was already past his prime by the time he was 25 years old. Sadly, since retiring, he has been affected by a degenerative brain condition caused by taking blows to the head.
Cesar Polanco, junior bantamweight
(18 years, two months and 18 days)
The unknown Dominican Republic-born fighter traveled to Indonesia and wrested the IBF crown from Elly Pical by 15-round split decision in February 1986. His glory was fleeting and he lost a direct rematch to Pical three months later and fought with mixed success at a lower level until fighting for the final time at 26.
Ratanapol Sor Vorapin, strawweight
(18 years, six months and five days)
The teenage terror won the IBF strawweight title by unseating Manny Melchor in December 1992. Sor Vorapin made 12 successful defenses before missing weight, forfeiting the title on the scales. He returned a few months later to win the IBF belt a second time and made six defenses before surprisingly losing to Zolani Petelo. Although he tried to win another title, he was beaten by Will Grigsby and Ricardo Lopez up at junior flyweight.
Pipino Cuevas, welterweight
(18 years, six months and 21 days)
Cuevas didn’t have the best start to his career going (15-6) but showed his vaunted power, stopping Angel Estrada in two rounds to become WBA welterweight beltholder in July 1976. He went on to make 11 successful defenses before being stopped by Thomas Hearns in two rounds. The Mexico City native’s form again became patchy and he didn’t challenge for another world title.
Hiroki Ioka, strawweight
(18 years, nine months and 11 days)
Ioka thrilled his hometown fans in Osaka widely outboxing Mai Thomburifarm to win the vacant WBC strawweight belt in October 1987. After two defenses, he lost to Napa Kiatwanchai. Ioka stepped up to junior flyweight and shocked long-reigning Myung Woo Yuh to become WBA titleholder, though lost the rematch. Ioka continued his career and made four more unsuccessful title bids.
Tony Canzoneri, featherweight
(18 years, 11 months and 19 days)
Almost a century on and Canzoneri is still the youngest American to win a world title. He won the vacant NYSAC 126-pound strap by unanimous decision against Johnny Dundee in October 1927. Interestingly this was his third attempt at a title. Canzoneri had drawn against and lost to Bud Taylor (for the vacant NBA bantamweight belt) earlier in the year. Canzoneri went on to a Hall-of-Fame career, winning world titles up at lightweight and junior welterweight while facing the best fighters of his era.
Netrnoi Sor Vorasingh, junior flyweight
(19 years and 15 days)
The diminutive Thai lost a WBC title fight against Luis Estaba before rebounding to edge a 15-round split decision over WBC beltholder Freddy Castillo in May 1978. He knocked out Estaba in his lone title defense before losing his belt and lost to Hilario Zapata in one final title attempt. Sor Vorasingh died after a motorcycle accident at age 23.
Morris East, junior welterweight
(19 years, one month and two days)
East traveled to Japan to face Akinobu Hiranaka for the WBA title and was down on all three scorecards entering the penultimate round, only to score The Ring Magazine “Knockout of the Year” in September 1992. The Filipino lost his title in his first defense against Juan Coggi and after a handful of bouts at a lower level, East fought for the last time at age 21.
Marvin Sonsona, junior bantamweight
(19 years, one month and 11 days)
Sonsona dropped Jose Lopez in the fourth round en route to unanimous decision in September 2009. Ill discipline saw him forfeit his title on the scale before attempting to win the vacant WBO junior featherweight title against Wilfredo Vazquez Jr., who stopped him in four rounds. The Filipino has continued his career, fighting sparingly, most recently at welterweight in May 2018.
Al McCoy, middleweight
(19 years, five months and 16 days)
McCoy stopped George Chip in one round to become middleweight champion in April 1914. He held the title for over three years before losing to Mike O’Dowd in November 1917. He fought on until retiring at age 30.
Click here for the oldest fighters to win world titles
Bob Yalen assisted with the information in this article. The Ring appreciates his contribution.
Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter @AnsonWainwright.
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