Boxing greats, Part II
August 27, 2002
Last week we looked at what, if anything, numbers mean in boxing when one looks at the number of consecutive title defenses, overall records, dominance of division and greatness.
Here are the other eight divisions. It is not by any means comprehensive, but it does stoke the imagination and will hopefully provoke some friendly arguments:
10) Junior Lightweight (130 pounds): Brian Mitchell (1986-91), 12 consecutive defenses of WBA title. It would have been 13, but only Tony Lopez’s IBF 130-pound title, not Mitchell’s WBC belt, was on the line. But could Mitchell have handled old-timers like Johnny Dundee, who had 334 bouts, or Sandy Saddler, owner of a 144-16-2 (103 knockouts) record and three victories via stoppage over Willie Pep? What about Gabriel (Flash) Elorde, champion from 1960-67? Toss in Alexis Arguello, Alfredo Escalera, Azumah Nelson, and today’s top boxers — Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Acelino Freitas — and you get an idea of what a deep, talent-rich division it has been.
11) Featherweight (126 pounds): Eusebio Pedroza (1978-85), 19 defenses of WBA title. A bout against Naseem Hamed, who defended his WBO bauble 15 times might be interesting, but when you add greats like Willie Pep, who finished his career with a 229-11-1 (65) record, Saddler, Abe Attell and Henry Armstrong, you just shake your head. Then there’s Marco Antonio Barrera and Eric Morales, who many argue would stand no chance against perhaps the best ever — Salvador Sanchez. Sanchez died at the age 23 before he ever fulfilled his seemingly limitless potential.
12) Junior Featherweight (122 pounds): Wilfredo Gomez (1977-83), 17 defenses of WBC crown, all by knockout. Barrera and Morales would naturally be great matches for the Puerto Rican great, but so would four-time 122-pound champ Daniel Zaragoza, who had 20 title fights at junior featherweight, as would Vuyani Bungu, who had 13 defenses of his IBF crown. Bungu, much like Gomez (who moved north to featherweight in an unsuccessful challenge of Sanchez), found out four pounds can mean a lot. Bungu got starched by Hamed in only four rounds, while Gomez was stopped in eight.
13) Bantamweight (118 pounds): Orlando Canizales (1988-94), 16 defenses of his IBF title. Purists would cite Manuel Ortiz (1942-47), whose 15 consecutive title defense came before the sanctioning bodies ruined the sport. One of the oldest weight divisions in boxing (Tommy “Spider” Kelly was the first recognized bantamweight champion in 1887), it has also been perhaps the most exciting. “Terrible” Terry McGovern, Panama Al Brown, Sixto Escobar, Masahiko “Fighting” Harada, Ruben Oilvares, Alfonzo Zamora, Carlos Zarate and “Joltin'” Jeff Chandler would all be great matches for Canizales and Ortiz, not to mention current IBF kingpin Tim Austin, whom some broadcasters have described as “great.”
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14) Junior Bantamweight (115 pounds): Khaosai Galaxy (1984-91), 19 consecutive defenses of WBA title. The division was created in 1980, and Galaxy appears to be the paragon of his division. He finished 49-1 (43), and had avenged his only loss to Sakda Sakscree with an 11-round KO. Jiro Watanabe, Johnny Tapia, Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson and Robert Quiroga would dispute Galaxy’s claim of supremacy at 115 pounds. And one wonders how great would “Kid” Akeem Anifowoshe have turned out if his career didn’t end with a brain injury against Quiroga back in 1991. Current WBA champ Alexander Munoz looks promising. Munoz is undefeated with a record of 23-0, with all 23 wins coming by knockout. Will he ever be mentioned alongside the best at his weight?
15) Flyweight (112 pounds): Miguel Canto (1975-79), 14 consecutive title defenses of his WBC crown. But if numbers mean anything, Jimmy Wilde (1916-23) may take the flyweight cake. His record of 131-3-2, 13 no-contests and 99 knockouts is amazing. He was unbeaten in over 100 fights before losing to Tancy Lee in 1915. But numbers will also show he had only one title defense. Other greats include Benny Lynch, Pascual Perez, Santos Laciar, Sot Chitalada, Yuri Arbachakov and “Too Sharp” Johnson. Another interesting champion was Pichit Sithbangprachan, who, along with Rocky Marciano, was the only boxer to retire with no losses, no ties and zero no-contests. Sithbangprachan’s record was only 20-0 (16), when he retired in 1994. He had one comeback bout in 1996 and had three more in 2000. Unless he comes back again and loses, he can-numerically speaking only-take his 24-0 (18) record into the history books with Marciano.
16) Junior Flyweight (108 pounds): Myung Woo Yuh (1985-91), 17 consecutive defenses of WBA crown. Yuh retired with a record of 38-1 (14). He avenged his only defeat to Hiroki Ioka, who ended his title reign, then beat Ioka again in the rubber match for his 18th title defense. Yuh had a total of 19 title defenses. It would be entertaining to watch Yuh box “The Korean Hawk” — Jung-Koo Chang (1985-91), 16 defenses of his WBC title, Luis Estaba (1975-78), 11 defenses of WBC strap, and Yoko Gushiken (1976-81), 13 defenses of WBA title.
Gushiken retired with a record of 23-1 (15) after his defeat to Pedro Flores. Other notables include Saman Sorjaturang, Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez and Michael Carbajal. Ricardo Lopez and Rosendo Alvarez, both former strawweight champs, round out the list.
17) Strawweight (105 pounds): Ricardo Lopez (1990-98), 21 consecutive defenses of WBC crown. His only real challenge came in his first fight against Rosendo Alvarez, a 1998 WBC-WBA unification bout, which ended in a technical draw in round seven. Lopez subsequently won the rematch, but gave up his WBC title and took the WBA strap. Lopez is the current IBF 108-pound king, and has a record of 50-0-1 (37). His numbers are perhaps the only definitive correlation between number of consecutive title defenses, overall record, dominance of a weight class, and true greatness.
Mike Houser is the Nevada Appeal boxing columnist