Now that 2009 is getting close to wrapping up, it means this decade is almost over. Before the end of the year, I hope to get through all the weight classes, presenting to you some choices for the best fighter in a given weight class in the decade. I'm not going in any particular order here, but we'll get through all 17 weight classes.
When voting, please only consider the time that the fighter was in the specified weight class during this decade. Also, I'm not going to count obvious ballot stuffing when I tally these up at the end of the year.
Lightweight has been an on and off weight class through the decade. Early in the decade, it was relatively strong, although many of the best never fought each other. In the middle, there were a few guys who stepped up, but there was little depth. As the decade wore on, with fighters moving up and titlists unifying, the weight class again became much stronger, leading to the list below.
Joel Casamayor - In the decade, El Cepillo went 9-2-1, generally fighting at or near the top level of competition, and holding the Ring title for a period of time. Wins include Michael Katsidis, a contested decision over Jose Armando Santa Cruz, Chico Corrales and Nate Campbell. He also had a draw with Kid Diamond. The losses include a split decision to Jose Luis Castillo and a knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez in a bout that was close until the end, and that came well past Casamayor's best.
Jose Luis Castillo - Castillo went 7-3-1 at lightweight during the 2000's, but that included a run as the Ring Magazine champion and two runs as a titleholder. Wins included Stevie Johnston (with whom he also drew), Cesar Bazan, Steve Quinonez, Juan Lazcano, Joel Casamayor and Julio DIaz. One of those losses was to Mayweather, in the closest fight he's had in his career, and the only fight that people can legitimately argue that Mayweather lost. One of the losses was a fight of the year against Chico Corrales, where he was winning until Corrales took it by come from behind knockout. The third was a Mayweather rematch with a more decisive conclusion.
Juan Diaz - Baby Bull went 23-2 in the weight, including seven defenses of his WBA title and unification of three of the belts. Key victories include Popo Freitas, Julio Diaz, Lakva Sim, Randy Suico, Francisco Lorenzo and Jose Cotto. The two losses came in bloody battles to Nate Campbell and Juan Manuel Marquez.
Artur Grigorian - King Artur went 8-1 at the weight, all in defenses of his WBO title. In fairness to others, he won the title when it was not considered a major belt, and it just kind of grew into one as he held it. Of those eight wins, the most prominent were Matt Zegan, Rocky Martinez, Antonio Pitalua and Stefano Zoff. His lone loss came to Acelino Freitas, which ended a string of 18 consecutive defenses for Grigorian.
Juan Lazcano - The Hispanic Causing Panic went 12-1 at the weight in the 2000's, and may have been the best fighter of the four-belt era to never have won a title. Marquee wins included John John Molina, Stevie Johnston, Jesse James Leija, Dorin Spivey and Wilfredo Vasquez. By going after the big names much more than he went after the actual belt, it turns out that despite having a lot of great names on the resume, he still couldn't grab a belt. He went 0-1 in title fights at the weight, losing a close but clear decision to Jose Luis Castillo for the Ring Magazine title.
Juan Manuel Marquez - Marquez is to lightweight what Joe Calzaghe is to heavyweight. He's fought all of two fights in the weight class, but there's a pretty good argument that he was still the best lightweight of the decade due to who he beat. First, he beat lineal champion Joel Casamayor by 11th round technical knockout; then, he beat Juan Diaz by 9th round technical knockout. By the time Marquez got to them, both men had lost some of their luster (most thought Casamayor lost to Jose Armando Santa Cruz, and Diaz had recently lost his belts to Nate Campbell), and both fights were close and competitive before the knockouts, but in each case, Marquez found a way to win, despite the fact that he probably still could have been fighting at featherweight.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. - Mayweather didn't spend much time at lightweight, only going 5-0 at the weight, with two wins over Jose Luis Castillo, and wins over Emmanuel Augustus, Phillip N'Dou and Victoriano Sosa. Castillo was one of the top dogs at the time, and one of the decisions was highly controversial.
Paul Spadafora - Spadafora went 6-0-1 at the weight, all in defenses of his IBF title, and the one draw coming in a unification fight with Leonard Dorin. The names of the fighters he beat aren't overwhelming - probably the most recognizable are Angel Manfredy and Victoriano Sosa. But he did become somewhat notorious for being the guy Mayweather never faced. Real standup guy too. He still has never lost, in part because he lost a few years of his career to prison after shooting his pregnant girlfriend.
Other shout outs: Nate Campbell, Diego Corrales, Leonard Dorin, Popo Freitas, Zahir Raheem, Kid Diamond