1. Mikey Garcia (37-0, 30 KO)
Garcia, 29, still holds the WBC lightweight title, so I’ll rank him in this division, though his last fight was a move up to 140, where he pretty much owned the ring against Adrien Broner on July 29.
Garcia has pound-for-pound level skills. He’s a fantastic boxer-puncher, technically sound, doesn’t make bad mistakes. The fight I most want to see him get is a battle at 140 with Terence Crawford, but I certainly wouldn’t shake my head at him going back to 135 to face Jorge Linares, either. That one could be tremendous fun and a great chess match.
2. Jorge Linares (43-3, 27 KO)
Linares, 32, has shaken off the losses from earlier in his career and become the fighter he was once thought destined. He’s still got vulnerabilities and flaws, but goddamn can he box, and he clearly took Luke Campbell seriously, even though a lot of people thought it’d be a fairly easy night for Linares.
The fact that it was a tough fight and that Linares still came through as the winner says a lot about where he’s at. He’s gotten all the confidence he needs to go along with his plus-plus ability. He wants the Garcia fight, and even said he’ll go up to 140 to make it happen.
3. Robert Easter Jr (20-0, 14 KO)
Easter’s buzz has cooled a bit as he’s faced tougher competition and been in tougher fights, particularly with Richard Commey in 2016 and Denis Shafikov earlier this year, but he’s still a really good fighter who has time to get even better.
Easter, 26, holds the IBF title, and with his 5’11” frame and 76-inch reach, he’s got the dimensions to be a nightmare for anyone in the division. I do worry about him fighting his last three bouts in Toledo, his hometown, and Reading, Pennsylvania, because while it’s nice he can draw crowds in those places, it gives me the concern that he’s going to turn into a home fighter who gets too complacent. Maybe that won’t be the case, but it gives me pause. Otherwise, I think there’s a lot to like with Easter, and that he is still on the rise while also being one of the top fighters in the division.
4. Luke Campbell (17-2, 14 KO)
Campbell, 29, acquitted himself nicely as a world level fighter on Saturday, dropping a split decision to Linares in California, and showing how far he’s come since his upset loss to Yvan Mendy in 2015. (Side note: how much does it stink that Mendy has never capitalized on that win, really?)
I’ve been a big fan of Campbell’s for the last couple of years. I really thought he had a shot against Linares going in, and he proved that he had that sort of ability. But I was first impressed by the way he bounced back from the loss to Mendy. Here we had an Olympic gold medalist, lots of hype behind him, people trying to make The Right Fights for him, and he lost. He just got beaten one night in London, in a fight he was supposed to win.
A lot of people in that position might have crumbled. Might never have bounced back. He did. He accepted the loss, accepted that he made mistakes, and learned from it. He came back strong, got his first world title shot, and proved he can hang with the best in the division. I think the future is bright for Luke Campbell. He’s got a great attitude and approach, and the skills to back his play.
5. Terry Flanagan (33-0, 13 KO)
28-year-old Flanagan is, to be entirely fair and honest, something of a paper champion with the WBO belt. He won it over Jose Zepeda in 2015, when Zepeda got injured, and his title defenses have been Diego Magdaleno, Derry Mathews, Mzonke Fana, Orlando Cruz, and Petr Petrov. Not exactly a list of top contenders, but he’s done his job in those fights, mostly.
That said, he’s a good fighter, really no question about that. I think he’s a clear level below the guys I have ahead of him here, but he’s a good fighter. I don’t think we’re going to see him go any higher than he has, though, but then he’s a world champion, so how much higher can one really go from some perspectives?
6. Denis Shafikov (38-3-1, 20 KO)
7. Richard Commey (25-2, 22 KO)
I have kind of the same thoughts about both of these guys, so I’ll put their comment together. Both are really tough fighters, guys who could absolutely win a world title. There are world titleholders out there, and plenty of them, who aren’t as good as Commey, 30, or Shafikov, 32.
Shafikov has had three shots at world titles. In 2014, he lost to Miguel Vazquez. In 2015, he lost to Rances Barthelemy. In 2017, he lost to Robert Easter Jr. None were bad losses. Commey’s loss to Easter in 2016, his one world title fight, was a split decision. And the two of them fought each other last December, with Shafikov winning a split decision.
These are good fighters. If they’d been given the relatively easy tasks that a lot of fighters get in world title fights — especially when vacant belts are all but gifted to some “star” or other — they’d be world champions. And I think all things being fair, I’d favor either man to beat Flanagan if given the shot.
8. Anthony Crolla (31-6-3, 13 KO)
Crolla, 30, is never going to be an elite fighter or anything, but he hung tough with Linares for 24 rounds, beat Darleys Perez and Ismael Barroso with very nice performances in 2015-16, and is still a player at the weight for the time being. He’s got Ricky Burns next on October 7 in Manchester, which is really a make-or-break fight for both, especially in the short term. Burns will move back down to lightweight for the contest.
9. Felix Verdejo (23-0, 15 KO)
No question his career has stalled a bit due to injuries, and he hasn’t progressed to the point anyone expected of him by now. But “El Diamante” is a terrific boxer when healthy, and at 24 still has a ton of upside. I could have kept him out — he was a borderline pick at this stage, and I went with the fact that on the right day, I think his talent trumps a lot of fighters, including a few ahead of him here.
10. Ray Beltran (34-7-1, 21 KO)
Veteran scrapper who, at 36, has won five straight since his 2014 loss to Terence Crawford, which was followed by a win over Takahiro Ao where Beltran first missed weight and then failed a drug test, so the result was changed to a no decision. His last three victories over Mason Menard, Jonathan Maicelo, and Bryan Vasquez has made for a decent run, and kept him in the mix.