Lightweight Magic: Could Be Golden Age at 135
Boxing's 135-pound division is packed with outstanding talent at the moment. Hopefully some legendary nights are ahead.
From Benny Leonard to Roberto Duran, Joe Gans to Julio Cesar Chavez, with some Pernell Whitaker thrown in for good measure, the lightweight division has been home to some of the best boxers of all time.
While today's fighters have a way to go before they can be mentioned in the same breath as the legends above, some of them might get into the conversation eventually due to the abundance of talent currently competing at 135-pounds.
In order for that to happen, fights between the very best operators of this era need to take place. Inevitably, some matchups will fall by the wayside, for one reason or another, but if all of the boxers mentioned below fight three of their contemporaries then someone may end up writing a book about a golden age of competition between this crop of 21st Century lightweights.
Let's dive in and look at the best talents, circling one another at the top of the lightweight mountain.
American Lightweights Look Formidable
Five boxers from the United States make this list. Three of them merit consideration for the current pound-for-pound lists while the other two are a little less experienced in the professional ranks, but look set for big things. Deciding who becomes the best of this bunch of lightweights might come down to how fights between the similarly aged American pugilists play out.
It makes sense to start at the top with current undisputed lightweight champion Devin Haney.
Haney (29-0, 15KOs) beat the man who beat the man. George Kambosos Jr was in possession of three of the belts having beaten Teofimo Lopez in a 2021 upset special.
Haney travelled to Melbourne, Australia in June last year to defeat Kambosos Jr by very convincing decision. This completed the set of titles required for Haney to achieve undisputed status. Haney followed up his June triumph by trekking back to Australia in October to defeat Kambosos Jr once again in a very similar contest.
The 24-year-old, known as “The Dream,” possesses lovely boxing fundamentals and boxes in a disciplined fashion behind his jab. With only 15 stoppages on his record, the one knock against Haney is that he doesn't carry elite power. That may be the case, but with his skill set it will take a top-class effort from any of his rivals to better him over twelve rounds.
The man many would pick to do just that is a new arrival to the 135-pound weight class. Shakur Stevenson (20-0, 10KOs) is a former world title holder at feather and super featherweight.
Now calling lightweight home, the 25-year-old New Jersey native looked absolutely immaculate in turning away the challenge of Japan's Shuichiro Yoshino at the beginning of this month.
As debuts in a new weight division go, Stevenson's couldn't have gone any better. Stopping his opponent in round six, southpaw Stevenson looked stronger and more spiteful than he had done at the lower weights. Perhaps lightweight is where he will get the most out of his supreme boxing abilities.
Next up is a man who fought as recently as this weekend. Gervonta “Tank” Davis (29-0, 27KOs) could be the fighter who finds himself most avoided amongst his peers. Calculating and measured in his approach, Tank delivers well placed shots with result changing power. As his record shows, the judges aren't often required to turn in their scorecards after a Gervonta Davis fight.
Saturday's body shot which re-arranged the internal organs of foe Ryan Garcia was very difficult to see at full speed with the naked eye. Thank goodness for various camera angles and slow motion in order to appreciate just how Davis knocked the challenge out of Garcia.
Having already fought twice in 2023, Davis now faces a sentencing hearing in Baltimore over a 2020 hit-and-run incident. If he is away from the ring for the rest of this year, the 28-year-old may well return to a very different looking lightweight landscape in 2024.
Rounding off American representation near the lightweight summit are two fighters who may still be considered prospects in some quarters.
Frank “The Ghost” Martin (17-0, 12KOs) is into his sixth year as a professional and is ranked in the top seven by all four of boxing's main sanctioning bodies. The southpaw from Detroit is 28-years-old and has built a solid foundation for himself. Bigger and tougher fights are on the horizon for Martin.
One of these fights might be against 24-year-old Keyshawn Davis (8-0, 6KOs). Calling himself “The Businessman,” Davis last boxed on the April 8 Stevenson-Yoshino card – stopping experienced Anthony Yigit in the ninth round of their contest. An Olympic silver medallist in Tokyo, Davis has made a fast start to his professional career after ending his amateur campaign in fine style.
The 24-year-old has looked dominant in his eight pro bouts so far. His compatriots better be ready for the day The Businessman comes looking for a meeting.
The International Challengers
While the American crew look like they will be difficult to beat, a handful of boxers from other parts of the world are worthy of mention in this celebration of current lightweights.
William Zepeda (27-0, 23KOs) is a southpaw from Mexico. The 26-year-old fights regularly by modern standards and is known as a pressure fighter. His convincing win over JoJo Diaz in November last year showed that he will present complications to any future opponent.
Former unified lightweight world champion Vasyl Lomachenko (17-2, 11KOs) is looking to once again become the main man at 135-pounds after rebuilding following defeat to Teofimo Lopez in 2020. Three victories have followed since then for the 35-year-old Ukrainian southpaw.
Having built himself back up, Lomachenko will have the chance to prove he is still up there among the best in the world in just under a month. Many observers think he is now too old to have an impact against the best in the division. We will find out in due course.
24-year-old Isaac “Pitbull” Cruz (24-2-1, 17KOs) of Mexico is highly regarded despite two career losses on his record. His most recent defeat was on points against Gervonta Davis in December 2021.
Despite the loss, Cruz saw his stock grow after that fight and may find himself being avoided unless an opponent really has to fight him. Cruz is the number six ranked lightweight by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Denys Berinchyk (17-0, 9KOs) is another boxer from Ukraine who makes the cut here. The current European champion, Berinchyk, at 34-years-old probably needs to face one of the other boxers included in this article sooner rather than later. That might just happen due to his top-15 ranking within three of the four main sanctioning organisations.
Irishman Gary Cully (16-0, 10KOs) is perhaps an outsider to make the jump to elite level but the 27-year-old is worth considering. The 6′ 2″ southpaw presents a different type of challenge to opponents. Now promoted by Matchroom, Cully will certainly be given opportunities to show just how high he can rise in the lightweight rankings.
Who's Fighting Soon and What's Maybe Around the Corner
From the selection of fighters above, three of them will be in action over the coming weeks.
First up will be William Zepeda who takes on Panamanian Jaime Arboleda (19-2, 14KOs) in Arlington, Texas on April 29. It will be a chance for fans to grade Zepeda's work against that of last weekend's winner Tank Davis, albeit against a different standard of opponent.
May 20 will be a big night for the lightweight division as two of the boxers featured here face off. Undisputed champion Devin Haney puts his crown on the line against Vasyl Lomachenko. While Haney will be expected to win by the majority of experts, Lomachenko can't be taken lightly. It should be an excellent technical boxing match. One for those fans who appreciate the sweet science aspect of our sport.
After May 20 the picture for what is to come next at lightweight should be much clearer. Although Gervonta Davis may be unavailable to box, Shakur Stevenson, Keyshawn Davis and Frank Martin will hopefully be planning their next ring outings by this point.
Isaac Cruz will need to let his Pitbull off the leash soon, having last boxed in September last year. Gary Cully and Denys Berinchyk might be on a European title collision course to see which one of those two can step up to world level.
For all of these fighters and some others, such as American Floyd Schofield, Argentina's Gustavo Daniel Lemos and Angel Fierro of Mexico, now is a good time to remain active.
Things could be about to take off within the lightweight division with a string of notable matchups possible over the coming 18 months.
Within boxing, the lightweight division has a storied history. The chapter that is about to unfold might just create plenty of its own memories. It might help the fighters who are successful become modern day legends. It should be fun to watch and report on.