Ranking the Lightweights: September 2008

The last time we did the lightweight division, it was March 23, on the heels of Campbell beating Diaz and Casamayor downing Katsidis. It was a different world then. It was a simpler time. A time before Pacquiao and Marquez moved up to take the top two spots. A time before Joan Guzman and Edwin Valero made similar intentions clear. Autumn is the season of change, after all.

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1. Manny Pacquiao (47-3-2, 35 KO, WBC Titleholder)
2. Juan Manuel Marquez (49-4-1, 36 KO, Ring Magazine Champion)

"Just when you think that you're in control
Just when you think that you've got a hold
Just when you get on a roll
Here it goes, here it goes, here it goes again"

In March, Manny Pacquiao defeated Juan Manuel Marquez via razor-thin decision in an instant classic fight that lived up to the memory of their epic 2004 war. In that fight, Manny won the vacant, legitimate 130-pound championship, as well as Marquez's WBC title.

In June, Pacquiao moved up to 135 and took David Diaz's WBC lightweight title, and grabbed the consensus top spot in the division. It wasn't so much that Diaz was among the division's elite, but a tough, rugged fighter, and Pacquiao looked like an elite professional fighting a 16-year old kid that just started boxing a few months ago.

Marquez has desired nothing more than a third fight with Pacquiao, as he still feels he won both of their previous battles. In order to pursue that bout, he knew that he, too, had to go up to 135. Last night, he did it, becoming the first man to ever knock out Joel Casamayor, claiming the legitimate championship of the division.

If Pacquiao thought he'd escaped any more challenges from Marquez (which I sincerely doubt is the case, but it makes for good copy, doesn't it?), he's sincerely wrong. Juan Manuel Marquez arrived at 135 pounds with a statement: he's here, he's chasing Manny Pacquiao, and come hell or high water, he'll do everything he can to land that fight.

Manny's busy with Oscar de la Hoya at welterweight, which is basically serving as a named catch-weight for the two Hall of Fame-bound living legends, and Marquez will probably hook up with Juan Diaz in 2009. But after that? Hey, if Marquez beats Diaz, Pacquiao-Marquez III will be on top of everyone's wishlists, which it actually already is.

New division, same story. These are arguably the two best boxers in the world.

3. Nate Campbell (32-5-1, 25 KO, WBA/WBO/IBF Titleholder)

Nate Campbell got screwed by Joan Guzman showing up out of shape, but that's no penalty as far as I'm concerned. I have doubts that he'd beat Juan Diaz in a rematch, but I also have doubts that Diaz could beat Campbell, a hard-punching, relentless, ever-hungry worker in the ring who nowadays seems to refuse to tire while fighting. He went hard for 12 rounds at Diaz and earned his win, bad cut man or no.

Campbell's KO rate isn't eye-popping, but he's one of the division's hardest punchers. Again, ask Joel Casamayor, who will tell you that Campbell can really thump, and Casa's fought some hitters. Campbell may not get another fight in for 2008, which is a terrible shame. He's as hot as he's ever been, is respected by everyone, and should be in line for some money fights. But with the Guzman debacle, Nate looks like odd man out. Manny's busy, Juan and Juan might hook up, and a revenge-seeking rematch with the still-dangerous Casamayor might be his best option. Could be worse, but should be better. Nate earned his position the hard way, by beating people. He deserves better.

4. Juan Diaz (34-1, 17 KO)

24-year old Diaz apparently has no plans on going out soft following his first career defeat, as he not only lined up banger Michael Katsidis for his comeback fight instead of a feather-fisted tune-up, but he went out and beat the crap out of Katsidis in Houston. The scores were criminally close, and Glen Hamada's 115-113 card for Katsidis should put him on the shelf next to Doug "120-108 Navarro" Tucker. If that's how Hamada saw the Diaz-Katsidis fight, he's unqualified to be out there, plain and simple.

Diaz answered questions about his maturity, about his regard for conditioning (he had a little baby fat still, but looked tighter than usual), and about his ability to stand up to a good puncher. Diaz never backed down Katsidis and essentially bullied him around the ring, scoring with a great jab and a lot of nice, sharp combinations. He hit accurately and played a great defense, shutting Katsidis down. I never thought he was truly out of the mix, but he's most certainly back in it with that win.

5. Joel Casamayor (36-4-1, 22 KO)

I think Casa is now the line in the division. If you can beat him, as I expect all of the top four would, you're elite. If you can't, you're not quite there. He's still got a lot of skills and he's still meaner than a junkyard dog when motivated. Had Marquez pressed any harder in certain rounds, he probably would've dropped Casamayor earlier than he did. Joel's legs aren't gone, I don't think, as some people believe, but they aren't what they were. And as I said before, he gets hit with punches he used to slip. It's age, man. What can you do?

He's still got plenty to offer as a step above a gatekeeper, but if he can't secure money fights, I wouldn't be surprised to see him retire and actually mean it.

6. Joan Guzman (28-0, 17 KO)

Tough to talk about Guzman right now, because I suspect the majority of the boxing world is disgusted with him. I'll just say this: he's a hell of a fighter and I'm hoping he comes back strong from this screw-up. I would never pick anyone ranked under him to beat him, so I can't justify dropping him lower than this.

7. Anthony Peterson (28-0, 19 KO)

With a 28-0 (19) record at age 23, Anthony Peterson is sitting pretty. The disappointments have come as he's banged out routine, easy decision wins against Fernando Trejo and Javier Jauregui in June and August, but he's also barely losing rounds in these fights, if losing rounds at all. He's dominated both fights, even though he hasn't been electric.

The kid can box, and the disappointments have been overstated. Yeah, we'd all love to see him knock those guys out, but he smoked both opponents while failing to impress us, too. Maybe we've been too hard on the boy. Looking at the division from this point on, there's nobody I see that I'd make a big favorite against him, and he's only going to get smarter and better over the next few years, too.

8. Michael Katsidis (23-2, 20 KO)

What in the hell was Katsidis thinking in that fight against Diaz? I'll let he and cornerman/manager Brendon Smith whine about the decision all they want, because they're blatantly wrong and anyone but those guys and Glen Hamada could see that. I also don't want to hold it against Katsidis for being proud of implementing a gameplan to his liking, no matter how piss poor a gameplan it was in the first place.

Taking away Katsidis' aggressiveness is pretty much assuring the young man that he never makes it over the hump and never beats a top fighter. His rough-and-tumble slugging is his calling card -- it's who he is. It's what defines him as a fighter. Making him box is going to kill him, because he doesn't have good hand speed, doesn't have good footwork, isn't naturally inclined to defend, and will be fighting against his own cuts in every bout. The guy's a bleeder, he can't be trying to impress people with a jab. Plus, he's just not good enough at it to begin with.

Some re-thinking needs to be done for his future. I admire his guts and I think he's a class act. But I'd heartily recommend that he consider a new trainer and some training that isn't standing in a parking lot and hitting a tire with a hammer. It's good for dramatic videos, but he's now lost two in a row and doesn't appear to be any threat to the top fighters as far as I can see.

That said, I'd watch him fight anyone. A rematch with Casamayor would be most welcome. Or how about a fight with...

9. Edwin Valero (24-0, 24 KO)

Huh? Like that idea? Valero hasn't fought at 135 yet, but he's not going to lose any of what makes him an undefeated knockout artist of the first order with the five-pound gain. When folks talk about Pacquiao-Valero, all I see is Pacquiao beating the crap out of Valero. But there are interesting fights for Edwin out there, and one I'd love to see is Valero-Katsidis. Who drops first? Who can stand the biggest beating? That sounds like serious fun to me. Someone make that happen. C'mon, guys.

10. Jose Armando Santa Cruz (26-3,15 KO)

Ah, Santa Cruz. Yeah, he lost to David Diaz, but I don't think it'd happen again. He was also winning that fight at the time of stoppage. Yeah, he beat Casamayor and the judges gave Casamayor one of the biggest gift baskets in boxing history. There's no "but" there -- he did that.

Santa Cruz is an unexceptional, lanky fighter with good skills. He's not hard to figure out. He does nothing great, and isn't weak in any particular area. He's fought just once since Casamayor, knocking out a can on ESPN2, and is schedule to face 38-year old Colombian-born puncher Antonio Pitalua on September 20th in a WBC eliminator. When the WBC tried to order a Casamayor-Santa Cruz rematch, there was so little interest that Golden Boy, promoters of both men, didn't even send a representative to the purse bidding. Santa Cruz will have to become a better fighter to get any more attention than he has so far. I don't see that happening, but he's good enough to surprise people on the right nights.

You Coulda Been a Contender...

Box_barrera_275_medium Marco Antonio Barrera (63-6, 42 KO) is back on the scene, and intends to return to the game at lightweight. Given that he's been out of action for less than a year and his retirement now seems as though it didn't happen, period, I think you could make a case to give MAB the benefit of the doubt and throw him into the top ten. I'd pick him over Santa Cruz if they fought tomorrow, for sure. But I have legitimate questions about Barrera's legs and even moreso his desire to fight for real. Against Pacquiao last October, he fought only to get knocked out and cash his check. We'll see what he's got left in the tank soon.

Yuri Romanov (21-2, 14 KO) has won four in a row since a 116-114 points loss to Graham Earl in 2006. He's still the only loss on the record of Spaniard Juan Carlos Diaz Melero (36-1, 19 KO), who will be fighting Jonathan Thaxton (33-8, 18 KO) in October for the vacant European lightweight title, or at least so says BoxRec, most reliable of all sources. Romanov won that title from Melero, and recently outclassed Thaxton. I guess he's vacated. Nobody ever tells me nothin'.

Part of me wanted to put Julio Diaz (35-4, 26 KO) back into the top ten, but in his first fight since being embarrassed by Juan Diaz last year, Diaz showed up at 139 1/2 points to destroy previously unbeaten David Torres in June.

David Diaz (34-2-1, 17 KO) is a fighter anyone could like. He's honest, he's funny, he's respectful -- he's a class guy and a humble SOB. He's so nice and so easy to enjoy that you wish he was a better fighter than he is. But he's just a knockaround guy, a gatekeeper-level fighter with who happened to "win a world title" because the horrible WBC screwed around needlessly with Joel Casamayor in 2006. He's a footnote in the careers of Erik Morales (Morales' final fight, for now), Manny Pacquiao (the guy Manny beat to go to 135), and Zab Judah (the young man that stopped Judah from making the '96 Olympic team). Someday, Diaz might have a hell of a set of memoirs on his hands. Here's rooting for him to land another nice fight soon.

On September 5, 2008, people the world over still wondered exactly who Breidis Prescott (20-0, 18 KO) was, besides the Colombian fighting in Manchester the next night. On September 6, 2008, after 54 seconds of a main event against the most hyped British fighter since Naseem Hamed, the world found out exactly who he is.

Amir Khan (18-1, 14 KO) is never going to make it. I think that's sad to say because offensively, he's superb. For a 21-year old fighter, he has all the offensive tools down. He's also really not a dumb fighter at all. He just has no chin. No chin. We're not talking about a suspect chin. We're talking about a guy that gets dropped by pillow-punchin' Willie Limond and beaten up, 31-year old Michael Gomez. Facing a power puncher in Prescott, Khan got hit and dropped. He got hit again and that was it. He didn't stand a chance. Anyone that can punch will knock Khan out. They can talk all they want about "coming back strong," and blaming the trainer, and Khan saying it was a little mistake he made. He can't take a punch. That's a bad trait to have in professional boxing. If he wants to spend his life fighting guys like Steffy Bull and Graham Earl and Limond and Gomez, he'll have a nice living as a regional star. But he hasn't reached the world level yet and the problem has already hurt him badly. He's not going to become what they thought he could. I liked him a lot, and I still do. Seems like a nice kid. But any idea of him as a world star is foolish.

35-year old Jesus Chavez (44-4, 30 KO) has returned this year to win a couple of fights that the younger Chavez would have breezed past. In April, he took a fairly tight ten-round decision over Daniel Jimenez, and on the Diaz-Katsidis off-TV undercard, he took nine rounds to knock out total tomato can Andres Ledesma. Chavez was a hell of a fighter in his day, but his day is over. It's only a matter of time before his knee betrays him again, and you can't ignore the fact that he's always going to have serious trouble getting past the Leavander Johnson fight. I wish him nothing but the best, though. I've always liked Jesus as a fighter.

Rolando Reyes (30-4-2, 19 KO) will never graduate past Wednesday/Friday Night Fights. The clock is probably ticking on his current four-fight win streak, which was extended recently with a win over rough and tough Ivan Valle, a fight I think you could argue Valle won.

WBA "regular" titlist (ugh) Yusuke Kobori (23-2-1, 12 KO) is rumored to be the next opponent for Marco Antonio Barrera. Though the 26-year old Kobori hasn't lost a fight since 2003, his status as a regional guy and little more has me figuring that Barrera will probably beat him. He doesn't look to have enough power to scare Barrera into backing off, and Marco can still box brilliantly, too. Or at least he could in March '07, I should say.

Super-tall Ali Funeka (30-1-2, 25 KO) came out of nowhere in July to knock out Zahir Raheem (29-3, 17 KO). The boxing world thanks him so long as this means less Raheem fights on television.

Edner Cherry (24-6-2, 12 KO) should come back down to 135 and stick with it. Wide losses to 140-pounders Timothy Bradley and Paulie Malignaggi show that he's no 140-pounder. He's a game fighter that has beaten some talented boxers along the way, and is still better than his record suggests. He could grab a title at 135 if the division clears out and he gets the right opportunity.

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