The Greatest Lightweight Of All-Time

Earlier this month fight fans from around the world were focused on what everyone agreed was a highly significant showdown for the lightweight division as Vasiliy Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez represented almost everyone’s top two boxers at 135 pounds. Throw in the fact that most of the major belts were on the line and we had that rarer-than-it-should-be phenomenon of the very best facing the very best in a given weight class. In fact, the match-up was so exceptional that it attracted a huge audience and inspired various pundits and commentators to draw comparisons between the principals and lightweight greats of the past.

Lomachenko vs Lopez
Loma and Lopez inspired comparisons to greats of yesteryear.

Which in turn has inspired us to revisit the division and decide to remind everyone of who really deserves to be hailed as the greatest lightweight of all-time. And yes, of course, Ike Williams, Freddie Welsh, Carlos Ortiz and Pernell Whitaker, among others, all merit consideration. But really, the Mount Rushmore of the division is pretty easy to figure out. Roberto Duran, Joe Gans and Tony Canzoneri all deserve to be there. But the man who joins that formidable threesome is also the man at the very top of the lightweight mountain, that being the-one-and-only Benny Leonard.

Simply put, “The Ghetto Wizard,” remains, without a doubt, one of the greatest boxers, pound-for-pound, to ever enter a ring. Arguably the most cerebral pugilist in boxing history, Leonard reigned as the undisputed lightweight champion of the world when the division was at its absolute strongest.

Benny Leonard
The great Benny Leonard. Drawing by Damien Burton.

He defeated a long list of great fighters including Lew Tendler, Rocky Kansas, Johnny Dundee, Richie Mitchell, Johnny Kilbane, Freddie Welsh, and Willie Ritchie. Skill, smarts, power, longevity, toughness and unparalleled ring wisdom, “The Ghetto Wizard” could do it all and he will forever be the ultimate king at 135.

“He was the fastest thinking fighter I ever saw. Having been around Benny, if anyone was ever close to him it was Sugar Ray Robinson. When people ask me who was the greatest boxer I ever saw, I hesitate to say either one. But Leonard’s mental energy surpassed everyone else’s. He was a picture, the one fighter who I felt could name the round with anyone.”       — Hall of Fame trainer Ray Arcel       

“[Benny Leonard] took the science of pugilism to another level entirely. He fought as if playing a physical game of chess in which the object was always to be mentally and physically one step ahead of an opponent. Fighting on his toes, he jabbed, circled and sidestepped. He ducked, rolled, slid in, slid out and feinted – all the while looking to create openings for a variety of punches.”      — Mike Silver from The Arc Of Boxing

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