Floyd Mayweather Jr. and the Eight Old School Champions of Boxing

Briggs Seekins@BriggsfighttalkFeatured ColumnistJune 29, 2012

Floyd Mayweather Jr. and the Eight Old School Champions of Boxing

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    The most recent print issue of The Ring introduces a terrific new feature called "The Old School Eight." Staffers Michael Rosenthal, Doug Fischer and Lem Satterfield, along with a rotating guest (this month: Raul Marquez) list the fighter who they believe is the number one guy in each of the traditional eight weight classes.

    I assume even the youngest of boxing fans understand what I am talking about when I write "the traditional eight weight classes," just like NHL fans understand what is meant by "the original six."

    Back in the days when boxing was still truly grand, there were none of these half-weight classes every five to eight pounds (let alone catchweights). If you were 112 pounds and under, you were a flyweight; 175 and up and you were a heavy.

    In between, there were upper limits of 118 (bantamweight), 126 (featherweight), 135 (lightweight) and 147 (welterweight). Anybody between 148 and 160 was a middleweight. 

    From 161 to 175, you were a light heavyweight.

    And you have to be pretty old indeed now to remember it, but back when your gramp was shaving with a straight razor, for the most part there was only ever one man recognized at the "world champ" at any of these weights.

    Indeed, I'm 41 and I don't remember a time before there was a WBC and a WBA. Now in middle age, I am being asked to acknowledge a fifth promotional entity, the IBO. 

    Meanwhile, the various alphabet soup organizations shamelessly promote all manner of "super," "diamond," and "regular" world champions. Not to mention "interim" or "silver medal" champs. 

    At one point in time, Henry Armstrong was the recognized world champion, all at once, from 126 all the way up to 147. He came within a draw—that some called a robbery—of being the man all the way up to 160. 

    No disrespect against Pacman, but eight world title belts collected during an era when there are over 30 recognized "world champions" covering the same terrain can never hope to compare.

    It's no insult against Pacquiao's own unique talents. He just wasn't born during the right era to even compete for that kind of glory.

    The mad proliferation of belts is a direct result of trying to generate cheap promotional interest. Ironically, it does serious hard to the sport's overall health in the long term. 

    People looking to follow a sport want to get be able to get the shorthand on who is the best and who is in the position to challenge for that honor. But trying to explain something so seemingly basic when it comes to boxing becomes a kind of algebra equation.

    That's why the mythical pound-for-pound lists have become so popular in recent years. It's a quick way of saying, "These are the guys who seem to matter the most right now, based on who they have beaten."

    So think of The Ring's "Old School Eight" as a kind of more specific pound-for-pound list. It could become a valuable tool for focusing fan attention on the best possible fights to be made. 

Heavyweight: Wladimir Klitschko

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    Personally, I think Vitali Klitschko would beat his younger brother. I am pretty sure Wladimir would agree. Vitali, the supportive older brother, would likely protest "No, no...my brother Wladi is a great fighter..."

    But it's all just academic. Due to historical circumstances, Wladimir has come into possession of the lineal heavyweight championship, and Mother Klitschko made the two brothers promise a long time ago that they would never fight each other. 

    Since this list is inspired by the spirit of the "old school," boxing fans will have to concede that sometimes there is nothing more old school for a fighter than doing what his mama asks of him. "The Ghetto Wizard" Benny Leonard, perhaps the greatest lightweight of all time, retired at the height of his powers, only because it was what his mom wanted.

    So we will never see the two top heavyweights in the world fight each other.

    As it stands, Wladimir will defend his belt against American Tony Thompson on July 7. Thompson is a 40-year-old man who Wladimir has already knocked out once.  

Light Heavyweight: Andre Ward

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    Traditional light heavyweight stretches from 161 to 175 pounds. The choices for number one here are pretty clear.

    Even if they don't hold all the alphabet trinkets, super middleweight Andre Ward, 25(13)-0, and light heavyweight Chad Dawson, 31(17)-1, are more or less universally accepted as the legitimate champions in their respective divisions.

    And both of these 20-something boxers have shown a truly old-school willingness to prove themselves against the best available competition; on September 8 in Oakland, California, they will fight each other.

    So come the end of the summer, there really will be a true number one guy at the top of the entire traditional light heavyweight division.

    All four members of The Ring panel chose Andre Ward as their champion for this division as of right now.

    I agree. I think Ward has the better resume and a more well-rounded game. I expect him to win a competitive but decisive decision over "Bad Chad."

    But this is a case where, for once, we will see it decided in the ring.

Middleweight: Sergio Martinez

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    Sergio Martinez, 49(28)-2(1)-2, is another fighter who deserves undisputed, old-school championship status, regardless of ever-proliferating promotional trinkets. 

    But with Floyd Mayweather, 43(26)-0, routing Miguel Cotto and capturing number one status at 154, the selection here is no longer as clean-cut as it might have seemed prior to May 5. On The Ring panel, Raul Marquez actually did pick Mayweather as his middleweight champ. 

    I have to go with Martinez. Now that he's made his big splash at 154, the prospect of a Floyd Mayweather-Sergio Martinez matchup is tantalizing. 

    But until it happens, Martinez is the guy who has put together a much more solid resume within the 147 to 160 range. 

    Besides, for now I still have to regard Mayweather's foray north of 147 as a one-time thing. He only came in at 151 for the fight. 

    In my mind, he's still a welterweight. 

Welterweight: Floyd Mayweather Jr.

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    Since I am still going to regard Floyd Mayweather as a welterweight at least until he fights again over the 147-pound limit, to my mind he deserves to be regarded as the true, old-school welterweight champ. 

    Mayweather is 9-0 fighting above the 135-pound lightweight limit (stretching back to 2004) and 2-0 when he has fought above the welterweight limit, with both victories coming over fellow future Hall of Famers (Oscar De La Hoya and Miguel Cotto). 

    Fighting between the traditional welterweight class of 136-147, he has consistently outclassed the very best available talent, with the notable exception of Manny Pacquiao. 

    Pacquiao is 6-1 at welterweight going back to 2008, and 1-0 fighting above 147, having destroyed Antonio Margarito after making him suck down to a 150-pound catchweight. Pac came in that night at 144-and-one-half. 

    Marquez, Fischer and Rosenthal all picked Pacquiao as their welterweight champ, perhaps because they now regard Mayweather as a middleweight. Marquez actually did have Mayweather as his middleweight champ, over Martinez.

    Lem Satterfield agreed with me, picking Mayweather. 

    Of course, The Ring panel made their picks prior to Pacquiao's shocking split-decision loss to Tim Bradley. I doubt it would have affected their opinions; It didn't affect mine. 

    I was more than impressed enough with Bradley's effort to elevate him to fourth in this rock star weight class, in back of Juan Manuel Marquez.

    After Bradley, I would rate Devon Alexander number five, based on what he did to Marcos Maidana, something nobody else has ever done to the man north of 135, including the man who I would rank six in this old-school division, Amir Khan.

    After Khan, I would rank Lucas Matthysse seventh for the way he handled Devon Alexander when Alexander was still drying himself out to make 140. 

    I would fill out the top 10 with Lamont Peterson at No. 8, England's Kell Brook at No. 9 and old favorite Paulie Malignaggi, fresh off an impressive TKO of Freddy Roach-trained Ukranian Vyacheslav Senchencko, at the 10 spot.

    But like I just wrote, this is the rock star division for boxing. You've got Victor Ortiz and Jose Lopez, who just broke Victor Ortiz's jaw. There's the previously mentioned terror Marcos Maidana, and Andre Berto will come back at some point.

    You've got the Knockout King, Randall Bailey, fresh off one of the biggest knockouts of his career over previously undefeated Mike Jones, a very talented Phili-fighter who could come back and still give people some tough fights.

    There are undefeated prospects Danny Garcia and Mike Alvarado and old veterans Zab Judah and the legendary Erik Morales hanging around. 

    An outstanding young athlete who is going to mature to a 5'8", 150-pound adult is still the kind of kid who can get channeled early into the Sweet Science. It's the same kind of natural talent that often get directed into wrestling, and maybe later on, MMA. 

    Most of the top-five pound-for-pound all-time lists I've read or heard have included a good percentage of guys who were at their best as welterweights, even if they won belts at middle and above. 

Lightweight: Ricky Burns

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    This was the toughest weight class for me to pick, given that Brandon Rios has thoroughly proven that he is not able to make weight here. And let's be real the way Teddy Atlas would: Even when Rios came in heavy, he was thoroughly beaten by Richard Abril, 17(8)-3-1, regardless of what the score cards read. 

    The Ring panel was split between Miguel Vazquez (Satterfield and Fischer), 30(13)-3, my No. 2, and Antonio Demarco (Marquez and Rosenthal), 27(20)-2-1, who I have at No. 3.

    Vazquez has a compelling case: He is undefeated at lightweight. His three losses are to Saul Alvarez—in his pro debut and in a rematch at the top of the welterweight limit—and to Timothy Bradley at 140. 

    I give the nod to Burns, 34(9)-2, due to the fact that he beat Michael Katsidis, a very tough nut, by a wide margin for the WBO crown. He hasn't lost since moving up to lightweight in 2007.

    I was very tempted to pick WBO 130-pound champ Adrien Broner, 23(19)-0, because I do believe he is the most talented fighter within the old-school lightweight limit of 126-135.

    If I were a betting man, I'd be inclined to take him against either of the three fighters I've ranked above him based on resume. 

Featherweight: Yuriorkis Gamboa

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    For right now, this one is obvious. Until he officially moves up, Yuri Gamboa, 21(16)-0, is still clearly the man in the traditional featherweight division. 

    But this weight class is nearly as loaded as welterweight. Top pound-for-pound entrant Nonito Donaire recently moved up from bantamweight. I have heard "The Filipino Flash" on media calls proclaiming that he wants to "show [he's] got some old school in [him]."

    So maybe he'll make a push to fight at the upper limit of the featherweight division now that he's moved up.

    Showtime bantamweight tournament winner Abner Mares also moved into this division during the first part of 2012. 

    Gamboa's former Cuban teammate, Guillermo Rigondeaux, 10(8)-0, has already proven in his short career that he is an elite talent between 119 and 126. 

    Other top fighters in this division include Orlando Salido, undefeated Indonesian legend Chris John, Japanese standout Toshiaki Nishioka, undefeated prospect Mikey Garcia and tough veteran Jhonny Gonzalez. 

Bantamweight: Anselmo Moreno

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    Panamanian Anselmo Moreno, 33(12)-1-1, has to be regarded as the champion at bantamweight. His No. 1 contender would have to be Joseph Agbeko, 28(22)-4, a finalist in the Showtime bantamweight tournament.  

    Agbeko demonstrated that he is a very game fighter in his first bout with Abner Mares, notable for being one of the worst officiated fights in recent memory. Referee Russell Mora was flagrantly unwilling to enforce the beltline against Mares' brutal body attack, at one point awarding Mares a knockdown on what should have been a flagrant foul, causing a potential three-point scoring swing for the round.

    Mares won the rematch more decisively. But now that he has moved up in weight, Agbeko remains one of the two top bantamweights, along with Moreno.

    A showdown between these two would be an excellent technical fight with plenty of excitement. It could be a co-feature, or even headline, for a premium cable card.

Flyweight: Brian Viloria

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    Veteran Brian Viloria, 30(17)-3, had a terrific 2011. In July he won the WBO belt by unanimous decision over Julio Cesar Miranda. In December, he TKO'd then-top-10 pound-for-pound Giovanni Segura in his first defense.

    Considering that Segura had previously KO'd Sonny Boy Jaro, the man who knocked off the other top-10 pound-for-pound flyweight, Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, last year, the win for Viloria is enough for me to give him the nod here over Hernan Marquez, 33(25)-2.

    But Viloria-Marquez would be a perfect high-profile fight to bring some glory to the smallest old-school divison.

    Satterfield and Rosenthal both have Viloria for their flyweight selection, while Marquez and Fischer went with undefeated Roman Gonzalez, 32(27)-0.

    I see Gonzalez as a case similar to Adrian Broner at lightweight. He may very well be the most talented and exciting fighter in the division, but the biggest opponent he has fought has been 108, and more often he has campaigned at 105.

    Until he records a couple of big wins against full-sized flyweights, I can't see ranking him over Viloria or Hernandez, who have fought there for years.