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Boxing Ranks in Review: Lightweights

Jorge Linares, Nihito Arakawa boxing
Photo Courtesy of AP

Welcome to Today’s Knockout’s “Ranks in Review,” a feature where we examine one boxing division, starting with the heavyweights and ending with the 105-pound minimumweights. Our champions will be the men who have earned it the ring, not been handed a belt by a combination of letters, and our rankings come from the computers of boxing’s most valuable website, BoxRec.

This week, we’ll be looking at one of the great divisions in boxing history: the lightweights. From Joe Gans, who held the belt at the beginning of the 20th century, through Benny Leonard, Roberto Duran, Julio Cesar Chavez and Floyd Mayweather Jr., the 135-pound class has been represented by many first-ballot Hall of Famers.

Terence Crawford, now the No. 1 contender at junior welterweight, vacated the title this spring. But for once, it was filled very quickly.

CHAMPION: Jorge Linares (39-3, Japan)

The “Golden Boy” was born in Venezuela, but now fights out of Japan and won the vacated title in May by rallying to knock out No. 5 Kevin Mitchell in the 10th round. Linares held alphabet titles at 126 and 130 pounds during the 27-0 start to his career. In fight 28, though, he was knocked out in the first round by Juan Carlos Salgado.

He lost back-to-back fights early in his lightweight days, being badly beaten by Antonio DeMarco and stopped on cuts by Sergio Thompson, but has won his last eight fights, six by knockout. He’s scheduled to defend the title this weekend against Ivan Cano, who has gone 2-2-2 in his last six fights and doesn’t belong anywhere near a championship bout.

No. 1 Contender: Rances Barthelemy (23-0-1, Cuba)

Barthelemy would have been favored to win gold in Beijing in 2008, but defected to the United States before the Olympics. The only blemish came in a 130-pound alphabet-title fight in 2014 when he knocked out Argenis Mendez at the end of the second round. Mendez’s management team appealed the decision, and it was changed to a no decision on the basis that Barthelemy’s knockout punch was after the bell.

The Cuban won a rematch, but moved up in weight and won a lopsided decision over DeMarco. He’s scheduled to fight Denis Shafikov in December in a battle between the No. 1 and No. 2 contenders.

No. 2 Contender: Denis Shafikov (36-1-1, Russia)

Shafikov spent most of his early career fighting in Russia and Finland, building up an impressive record without fighting anyone with much talent. He drew with Cuban defector Brunet Zamora in 2010, but won a unanimous decision in a rematch in 2012.

That, plus a win over Albert Mensah later in 2012, earned him a shot at Miguel Vazquez, the talented but dull Mexican. Shafikov lost a decision, but beat Rustam Nugaev in his next fight to earn a bout with Barthelemy.

No. 3 Contender: Terry Flanagan (28-0, England)

Flanagan has a gaudy record, and impressed the BoxRec computers with a third-round TKO over highly rated Jose Zepeda in July. However, Zepeda dislocated his left shoulder in the second round, and couldn’t continue.

We should find out more about him this weekend, when he fights Los Angeles native Diego Magdaleno in England.

No. 4 Contender: Algenis Mendez (23-3-1, Dominican Republic)

Mendez has some very nice wins on his record – he knocked out Salgado in a rematch after losing a unanimous decision, and upset Vazquez Monday night – but needs a third fight with Barthelemy to overcome the draw and loss.

No. 5 Contender: Miguel Roman (52-11, Mexico)

After 63 fights, you would think Roman would be at the end of his career, but he’s only 29. It helps when you make your debut at 17. He won his first 22 fights, and then hit a rough patch between 2007 and 2010 where he only won six of 13 matches.

Since then, he has put together a few nice winning streaks, which inevitably end with a bad loss against a good fighter. However, after losing to Dante Jardon in late 2012, he’s run off 14 straight wins, including beating Salgado. He fights little-known Mexican Emanuel Lopez later this month, and will bide his time until he gets one more shot at a top fighter.

If you’ve missed out on any of our previous rankings, be sure to check them out below:

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