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Ranking the Lightweights: July 2007

Heavyweights (04/20/07) :: Junior Welterweights (07/12/07) :: Middleweights (07/14/07)
Welterweights (07/15/07) :: Junior Middleweights (07/18/07)

The lightweight division is one of boxing's most exciting historically, and has been in recent years. But with the late Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo no longer in the mix, there's been a changing of the guard at 135. Let's take a look at the top ten.

No. 1: I'm going with Joel Casamayor's quality wins over Juan Diaz's undefeated record, but it's close.
1. Joel Casamayor (34-3-1)
Lots of quality wins, including two out of three bouts against Corrales. He was stripped of the WBC title after beating Corrales last October, for no real reason. That joke of a sanctioning body will tell you there was one, but my gut says to side with Casamayor and, oh, everyone else in the world except for the WBC and David Diaz on this issue. He's a hell of a boxer, and it's really too damn bad he's being left in the lurch. I don't see anyone rushing to fight Casamayor, despite that a victory over him is about as good as anyone in the division could do. He is reportedly awaiting the winner of Diaz/Morales for now. His inactivity is not something entirely of his own design, and I see no reason for HBO and Showtime to not have worked to get him a fight sometime in the last nine months.

2. Juan Diaz (32-0)
Basically a 135-pound Miguel Cotto. He stays active and doesn't have one-punch power, but his nickname is perfect: "The Baby Bull" overwhelms opponents with piles and piles of digging punches that add up hard over a fight. Ask Freitas or anyone else he's fought about Diaz's style-based power. At just 23 years of age, it's hard to believe he's already as accomplished as he is. There doesn't look like there will be a letdown fight for him, because I don't know if anyone in the division can truly handle him over 12 rounds, though Casamayor's probably smart enough to give him fits. Diaz is the future of the division unless he bolts to 140, but with the state the junior welters are in, why bother right now? He's a tough kid and there's a lot to like about him.

3. Julio Diaz (34-3)
Julio Diaz will unify his IBF title with Juan Diaz's WBA and WBO straps in October, reportedly, which should be a fair enough fight, although I don't think Julio has the skills to beat Juan. His last loss came to Jose Luis Castillo in 2005, but his last win over Jesus Chavez was sort of fluky. He controlled the opening two rounds, but then an injury ended it. I'm not entirely sold on him yet, but he's among the division's best.

4. Nate Campbell (31-5-1)
One of the toughest guys in boxing to figure out, and has been for a long time. There are nights when Nate Campbell looks like he could be the undisputed champion in the division, but when he's been given big chances, he's come up short. He lost to Robbie Peden twice by KO, to Casamayor by unanimous decision, and he dropped split decisions to Isaac Hlatshwayo and Francisco Lorenzo. His last three fights have shown Campbell at his best: He destroyed Wilson Alcorro, Ricky Quiles and Matt Zegan. Julio Diaz doesn't want to fight him; that much we know for sure. I wouldn't, either. There's not a lot of money to be made fighting Campbell (at least as compared to Juan Diaz, who could be a new HBO golden boy), and the risk is still high. It's sad to say, but I think it'll still be a while before we see him get a title shot, which he has more than earned.

5. Michael Katsidis (23-0)
The unfortunate after-effects of his win over Czar Amonsot sometimes just can't be avoided in boxing. But what we learned about Katsidis is that he can punch, and he can survive a war, too. Everyone knew that the 26-year old Aussie could hurl a bomb with the best of them, but he hadn't really been taken too deeply into a fight yet, the longest he'd ever gone being an easy, 10-round domination of a nobody fighter in 2004. He still doesn't have the big win. What he does have is solid potential and perhaps the most punishing power in the division.

6. Yuri Romanov (19-2)
European champion Romanov has beaten some OK fighters, lost to Graham Earl (in England, so, you know) and Krzysztof Bienias, and beaten a lot of guys who didn't belong in the same ring with him. Another in a long line of European fighters that might be pretty good, but it's kind of hard to tell. It's an insulated circuit where fighters pad their records. But he has real power, and it's something of a shallow division past the top five (or maybe the top four).

7. Stevie Johnston (41-4-1)
8. Rolando Reyes (28-4-2)
Let's just talk about these guys together. Stevie Johnston is a great guy and a damn good fighter, and now that he's back at 135, he seems to be experiencing a bit of a career rebirth. Reyes, 28, lost a couple of times early in his career, and since then has only been stopped by Castillo and Miguel Huerta. The two were scheduled to fight in Denver, but that card has been postponed. I'd love to see Stevie Johnston make one more title run, and I don't think it's beyond his abilities.

9. Zahir Raheem (28-2)
Like Cory Spinks, if I never saw Raheem fight again, I'd be more than OK with that. But he exists, and he wins, and you can't just disregard him. He's shit to watch, though.

10. Erik Morales (48-5)
I rank Morales both cautiously and optimistically. Sure, El Terrible hasn't won since 2005, but he hasn't gone out of his way to make sure he was taking fights where he could pad his record. Like a true warrior, Morales took on Raheem (who no one wants to fight, because you can barely win even if you come out the victor) and Pacquiao two times, the second of which was one of the great bad ideas of 2006. Erik simply had no shot that night, and it showed from the get-go. At his age, making weight at 130 was becoming a serious burden; it was obvious by his body for the third fight with Pacquiao. Hopefully a move to 135 can prolong his career, and it's not like David Diaz is much to be concerned about. Then again, Alfonso Gomez wasn't supposed to be more than a nice comeback for Arturo Gatti, who was fighting in a weight class where he just didn't belong. Guys like Corrales, Castillo and Gatti have shown their age. Morales is part of that, one of the legendary blood-and-guts guys of the modern era. I do know that he'll come swinging against Diaz. I don't know if he has anything left.

Other Guys:

Acelino Freitas hasn't won anything of substance since 2004, and in his 3-2 stretch since beating Artur Grigorian, he's quit twice, against Diego Corrales and Juan Diaz, and he's struggled badly against Zahir Raheem, a fight I think it can be argued he lost, even given Raheem being what he is. Last report I've heard is that Freitas will fight on; after watching his jubilant celebration following his decision to give up against Diaz, I have to kind of wonder why.

Jesus Chavez may box again, he may not. It's too bad his knee gave out on him in February. He was a hell of a fighter for a good period of time.

David Diaz is one of the most laughable major champions in boxing. I don't dislike him or anything, but give me a break.

Kid Diamond has proven nothing in his last two fights. Kid Diamond, frankly, has proven nothing since drawing with Casamayor and being knocked out by Campbell. You might say I'm not much of a fan.

British champ Jonathan Thaxton (32-7) is another guy with an unimpressive-looking record, but he hasn't lost in five years. There aren't a lot of big wins in those five years, but he has been winning.

Fellow Brit Amir Khan might be being rushed a little, but at least he probably learned something in his very exciting but very close call-ish win over Willie Limond. Fighting the tomato cans wasn't going to help him anymore.

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