With Terence Crawford vacating his WBO and RING Magazine championships and heading north to 140 pounds, the lightweight division is currently in a historically weak period, realistically, with a lot of decent or good fighters, but nobody who appears to be great. Add in that Omar Figueroa, another titleholder, is also moving up in weight, and you've got even more of a wide open scene.
This is not an easy division to pick a No. 1 guy in right now. Who do you go with? A titleholder? Someone who has no belt but you think is the best?
Age: 31 | Record: 21-1-1 (10) | Titles: IBF
For: He's with Mayweather Promotions and Al Haymon, which afforded him a title shot he didn't really earn, and a title win he definitely didn't earn. So Bey holds the IBF title following a robbery of Miguel Vasquez last year, one that not too many people got up in arms about because Vasquez is considered a boring fighter and doesn't have many fans. I mean, people called it what it was, but I wouldn't say there was outrage. Bey has some talent, though is far from an elite fighter.
Against: He really, really, really didn't beat Miguel Vasquez, and as such stands as one of the sport's worst paper champions. Bey is far from an elite fighter, though he has some talent.
Outlook: Bey has yet to defend the title he stole from Vasquez last September, and doesn't have anything scheduled right now. He's essentially running out the clock on a situation he doesn't deserve.
Age: 28 | Record: 35-4 (13) | Titles: None
For: With Terence Crawford gone, Vazquez jumps out as probably the best of the lightweights. Nobody likes watching him fight, unless they're the sort of people who either truly appreciate watching a craftsman do his work effectively, even if it isn't pretty, or they're so desperate to be a true boxing head that they pretend that Vasquez is in any way pleasant to watch. He clearly beat Bey but was shafted, and other than that, he hasn't lost a fight since 2008, and he's never lost as a lightweight. In fact, his only career losses are to Canelo Alvarez (twice, once in Vazquez's pro debut) and Tim Bradley. Not bad.
Against: Nobody likes him so he doesn't get a lot of support or hype. And really, his skills don't stand out. He's a top tier fighter of a weak division and his best win came against Denis Shafikov in Macau. Three of his better looking wins were Vazquez exposing one-dimensional fighters in Breidis Prescott, Lenny Zappa, and Mercito Gesta.
Outlook: He fights like an old guy but is in fact pretty young, and is in what should be his prime. If he gets a fair shake, there's no one in the division he doesn't seem like he'd beat. Maybe someone has the answers to Vazquez's style, but it needs to be proven. The closest he's come to a legitimate loss since 2008 was probably against Marvin Quintero in 2012, a miserable viewing experience.
Age: 32 | Record: 19-3-1 (8) | Titles: WBA
For: Crafty and savvy, the Cuban burst onto the scene when replacing his countryman Yuriorkis Gamboa in 2012 against Brandon Rios, only to be brutally jobbed by the Las Vegas judges who inexplicably gave the decision to Rios, who was outboxed for the majority of the fight. That was a fun night where only one of three judges -- Adalaide Byrd, who had it 117-111 Abril -- saw what everyone else did. Abril has solid wins over Miguel Acosta, Sharif Bogere, and Edis Tatli, and his other two losses (to Hank Lundy and Breidis Prescott) were also debatable split decisions.
Against: When a past-prime Acosta and unknown Tatli are two of your better wins, your resumé is probably lacking a bit, and Abril's is. That said, nobody else's is really any better. Another thing he has in common with everyone else here (save for perhaps one guy): he's never stood out as special. His shoulda-been win over Brandon Rios was a lot about styles, and also plenty about Rios not being in shape.
Outlook: Abril faces Derry Mathews on April 18 in the United Kingdom, and could be setting himself up for a loss if the fight is remotely competitive.
Who's the Best: Featherweights
The featherweights don't have a true ruler at the moment, but who do you think is the best in the world at 126 pounds?
Age: 29 | Record: 38-3 (25) | Titles: WBC
For: One of the best boxer-punchers in the world when he's on his game. The late, great Emanuel Steward used to describe Linares as a "beautiful" boxer, and when you see Jorge at his best, confident and with a rhythm, you understand why Emanuel thought so highly of his skills. Linares has great footwork and is an excellent technician at his best. He also holds the WBC title, if that matters.
Against: We all know Linares' weakness, and it's a fatal flaw. His punch resistance isn't great, and what's worse is he cuts very easily on top of that. He's been stopped in all of his losses, against Juan Carlos Salgado, Antonio DeMarco, and Sergio Thompson. Salgado caught him cold and stopped him in 73 seconds, DeMarco rallied from a huge deficit to slice up Linares and stop him in the 11th, and Thompson won on a cut in round two, five months after the DeMarco loss. With the losses, Linares does seem to have lost some confidence as well, and understandably so. He's a bit more cautious than he used to be, which might help him not get bloodied so easily, but also sort of robs him of his natural gifts. And really, for all his talent, Linares has never scored a true signature win.
Outlook: Linares' title win was a bit of a joke, as he beat non-contender Javier Prieto for the belt that Omar Figueroa vacated. He's now a three-division "world champion," as hard as that is to believe. It's tough to imagine Linares really finding the groove that had him once hailed as a potential pound-for-pound type, but it's not impossible.
Age: 33 | Record: 29-7-1 (17) | Titles: None
For: Before his loss to Crawford in November, Beltran was considered by many to be the second-best lightweight in the world. That's where the RING had him ranked, and that's why the fight was for the vacant RING title. Crawford soundly beat Beltran, but did that prove that Beltran is not a top lightweight? No, it just proved that Crawford was indeed the top lightweight. Beltran has a hard-luck record with notable questionable losses to Sharif Bogere and Luis Ramos Jr, as well as a total screwing in Glasgow against Ricky Burns in 2013. He's a tough, gritty veteran, a well-rounded fighter who makes the most out of his talents through hard work and perseverance.
Against: Beltran's best win -- other than Burns -- was against Hank Lundy in 2012, a majority decision in an exciting brawl, and past that there are the likes of Arash Usmanee and David Torres. Beltran has no A-grade skill and is as such a bit limited in what he can do when faced with difficult style matchups.
Outlook: Ray has a chance to stake a claim when he faces Takahiro Ao for the vacant WBO title, which Crawford leaves behind as he moves up to 140. If Beltran wins that fight, he probably has as good an argument as anyone.