Rising Boxing Stars Who Should Start Climbing Weight Classes
Mikey Garcia has been viewed as a potential star since he was a developing prospect. As he has reached the championship level, he's seemed to turn it up a notch and now has to be considered a potential pound-for-pound threat.
But to establish that kind of reputation, he'll likely have to move up another weight class or two from super featherweight, where he has campaigned of late.
In the modern era, climbing weight classes has become a status symbol for elite fighters. The proliferation of alphabet-soup titles makes it tougher to lock down a single division, and advances in sports medicine and the existence of so many half weight classes make it easier to climb.
The fighters on this list are all talented young stars. Their careers will be well-served by moving up.
Naoya Inoue from Light Flyweight
Naoya Inoue has just six professional fights, but he already looks like a developing phenom. Just days before turning 21 last April he collected the WBC light flyweight title from veteran champion Adrian Hernandez, via Round 6 TKO.
Inoue's punching power troubled Hernandez in the very first round. If a fighter had won a title in this manner in a heavier weight class, he would already be among the hottest fighters in the sport.
It's tough for a fighter to get attention when he can double as a jockey. But Inoue could be a smaller fighter who earns attention from the mainstream boxing fans.
He'll have to start climbing divisions to do it. It's hard to know if he has anything left to accomplish at 108 pounds, and he'll likely outgrow that weight soon anyway.
It would be interesting to see how his power carried up to bantamweight. Ten pounds doesn't sound like a ton of weight, but it's a good percentage of body mass for a guy who started at 108.
Carlos Cuadras from Super Flyweight
Carlos Cuadras has already split time between super flyweight and bantamweight during his career, so it's probably inevitable that he'll move up again after capturing the WBC super flyweight title from Srisaket Sor Rungvisai by technical decision last May. Fighting Rungvisai at 115 pounds was probably a matter of taking the best opportunity available at the time.
A move to 118 and eventually 122 or 126 should give the young rising star a lot of great exposure during his career. Already 30-0 with 24 KOs, Cuadras is an aggressive and free-swinging counterpuncher who can pick himself up from the canvas and come back strong.
He's an exciting, action fighter, and his career should take off as he climbs up the divisions.
Tomoki Kameda from Bantamweight
Tomoki Kameda of Japan is undefeated at 29-0 with 18 KOs. Only 22 years old, he is already the WBO bantamweight champ.
He's also spent his entire career training and fighting in Mexico, where he has already built a strong fan following. He could be on the verge of serious stardom.
The fights that could really raise his profile are all at 122 pounds and above. I could see him and Leo Santa Cruz putting on a Fight of the Year. Kameda would also provide one of the more interesting matchups for Guillermo Rigondeaux.
With his youth and frame, it's not hard to imagine Kameda being successful up to 130 pounds. Along the way he could collect the kind of fights that might get him into the Hall of Fame.
Nicholas Walters from Featherweight
Nicholas "Axe Man" Walters is 24-0 with 20 KOs. He's recognized as the WBA featherweight champion, but that's a division where the WBA has three world champions, with Nonito Donaire holding the "super" championship and Jesus Marcelo Andres Cuellar holding the "interim" belt.
As murky as the WBA title picture might be, it's clear that Walters is a rising star. In May the Jamaican stopped Vic Darchinyan by Round 5 KO.
Darchinyan is a bit past his prime and was at his best at 115 pounds. But he's still a dangerous veteran, and Walters handled him in a more impressive fashion than Donaire did.
Walters might want to hang around 126 long enough for a unification fight with either Donaire or Cuellar, but he's big for the division at 5'7" and has the power and strength to move up.
Vasyl Lomachenko from Featherweight
Earlier this month, two-time Olympic gold medalist Vasyl Lomachenko from the Ukraine captured the vacant WBO featherweight title when he dominated previously unbeaten contender Gary Russell Jr. for a decision victory. In his third professional fight, Lomachenko tied the record for winning a title the quickest.
As an amateur, he might have been the best ever, going 396-1. But boxing fans wondered if he wasn't attempting too much, too soon, as a professional. He struggled against wily veteran Orlando Salido in his second fight, losing and dropping to 1-1.
But he came back strong against Russell, who has long been considered a future star. Few still doubt at this point that Lomachenko is a special fighter.
It may be worthwhile for him to consolidate his base at 126 pounds for another fight or two, but he has shown no inclination to move forward at a slow pace. When Salido beat Lomachenko, the former featherweight champion didn't even try to make the 126-pound limit and had a weight advantage of close to 15 pounds the night of the fight.
Lomachenko actually adjusted well during that fight, despite Salido's rough-house tactics and heavier weight. The Ukrainian came on strong in the second half, and I'd like his chances in a rematch. I can see him developing the ability to beat top-rated fighters at 135 and 140 pounds.
Mikey Garcia from Super Featherweight
At 34-0 with 28 KOs, Mikey Garcia looks like as good a bet as anybody to become the sport's next pound-for-pound star. He's already a two-division world champion at just 26.
And those world titles were not engineered in the boardroom, like so many others in this era. Garcia beat top fighters in each division to collect his belts.
Now the reigning WBO super featherweight champion, it's time for him to start thinking about another move up. When I interviewed Yuriorkis Gamboa this week, he was very open about his desire to fight Garcia at 135 pounds in the future.
When I spoke with Garcia last year, he was hesitant to make bold predictions about how far he could climb up the weight classes. "I might be able to fight well at 140," he conceded.
He isn't really much of a bragger. But he has to know that if he can keep winning as he climbs up into the welterweight neighborhood, he'll have the chance to go down as one of the best of his generation.
Terence Crawford from Lightweight
Last March Terence Crawford traveled to Scotland and captured the WBO lightweight title from Ricky Burn, improving his record to 23-0 with 16 KOs in the process. This weekend he defends his belt against undefeated Cuban star Yuriorkis Gamboa.
If Crawford can manage to beat the dangerous Gamboa, it will make him one of the hottest stars in the sport. Either way, expect to see him climb in weight following this bout.
I spoke to Crawford earlier this week, and he told me this would probably be his last time fighting at lightweight. He cited both the grind of making the weight and the chance for more lucrative fights as his reasons for moving up.
He has the height (5'8") and length (70" reach) to compete at 140 and 147, and his speed and skill should allow him to excel, even if he can't bring all of his power up with him. Crawford looks like the kind of fighter who will be a star for years to come.
And he'll probably be doing it in the welterweight neighborhood.
Edwin Rodriguez from Super Middleweight
This selection is unlikely to come as a surprise to anybody who remembers Edwin Rodriguez's utter failure to make weight for his world-title shot against Andre Ward last November. Rodriguez was always big as a super middleweight, and now that he's in his late 20s, it's clearly time for him to move up to light heavyweight.
He should find some success there. Last July "La Bomba" recorded a stunning Round 1 TKO against light heavyweight contender Denis Grachev at a 171.5-pound catchweight.
Rodriguez was thoroughly beaten by Andre Ward, but so is almost everybody. He still showed impressive durability against the pound-for-pound star and even managed to catch Ward with a few decent punches.
Rodriguez should still have a bright future in the sport. But that future is definitely at light heavyweight.