We continue our periodic series ranking the all-time best boxers in the original eight weight classes by today casting our discerning eye on the lightweights. For simplicity’s sake, and to spread the glory around, we list fighters in one division only, so you won’t find Henry Armstrong or Barney Ross here as we rank “Homicide Hank” at featherweight, while Ross is in our pantheon of all-time greatest welterweights. Click the links to see our lists for flyweight, bantamweight, middleweight and light heavyweight. So without further ado, the greatest lightweights of all-time, complete with ‘Honorable Mentions.’ Disagree with our picks? Leave your comments and give your own take on the best to ever lace up the gloves at 135.
12. Jack Blackburn: The man they called “Chappie” never won the world title, but he faced a long list of all-time greats and has the distinction of giving tough battles to three bona fide legends: Sam Langford, Harry Greb and Joe Gans. Blackburn claimed to have answered the bell more than 400 times in his long career.
11. Battling Nelson: A rough and incredibly tough brawler with amazing stamina, “The Durable Dane” holds wins over Joe Gans, Young Corbett II, Artie Sims and Aurelio Herrera.
10. Carlos Ortiz: Perhaps the greatest of all the great Puerto Rican champions and arguably the best lightweight of the 1960’s, Ortiz bested Joe Brown, Duilio Loi, Flash Elorde, Ismael Laguna and Sugar Ramos.
9. Julio Cesar Chavez: Without question, the iron-chinned Chavez is an all-time great, his fists leaving a trail of destruction from 130 up to welterweight. One of the greatest body punchers of all-time, at 135 and 140 he defeated the likes of Edwin Rosario, Greg Haugen, Jose Luis Ramirez, Hector Camacho, Meldrick Taylor and Roger Mayweather.
8. Lou Ambers: The fighter known as “The Herkimer Hurricane” was at or near the top of the division for the better part of a decade, scoring big wins over Tony Canzoneri, Baby Arizmendi, Frankie Klick, Fritzie Zivic, Al Davis and (albeit, in rather dubious fashion) the great Henry Armstrong.
7. Freddie Welsh: A clever defensive boxer, “The Welsh Wizard” was the British and European lightweight king before he won the world title in 1914. He competed in arguably the greatest 135 pound division in boxing history and holds wins over such luminaries as Benny Leonard, Willie Ritchie, Ad Wolgast, Abe Attell, “Peerless” Jim Driscoll, Battling Nelson, “Mexican” Joe Rivers, and he twice drew with the clever Packey McFarland.
6. Pernell Whitaker: The man they called “Sweet Pea” is arguably the greatest fighter pound-for-pound of the 1990’s, and one of the best defensive boxers of all-time. For a full decade, 1987 to ’97, he was untouchable, his only setbacks blatant robberies by the judges in bouts with Jose Luis Ramirez and Julio Cesar Chavez. In addition to besting those two champs, Whitaker boasts official wins over Roger Mayweather, Greg Haugen, Freddie Pendleton, Jorge Paez and Azumah Nelson, before moving up to defeat James McGirt and Julio Cesar Vasquez.
5. Ike Williams: Fast, powerful and ruthless, Williams was at the top of the division for almost a full decade and scored wins over a long list of Hall of Famers including Beau Jack, Bob Montgomery, Tippy Larkin, Sammy Angott, Jimmy Carter, Johnny Bratton, and Kid Gavilan.
4. Roberto Duran: Duran’s reign of terror in the lightweight division began even before he dealt a vicious battering to gifted champion Ken Buchanan in 1972 and it didn’t end until he unified the title with an awesome demolition of the equally gifted Esteban De Jesus in 1978. “Manos de Piedra” then moved up to win titles at welterweight, super welterweight and middleweight. At 135, he bested such premier talents as Hector Thompson, Guts Ishimatsu, Vilomar Fernandez and Edwin Viruet.
3. Tony Canzoneri: In the late 1920’s the young Canzoneri was so good and so dominant that he was recognized as not just the best lightweight in the world, but the best boxer in the game, bar none. Clever, versatile and heavy-handed, he scored victories over such greats as Johnny Dundee, Charles “Bud” Taylor, Benny Bass, Sammy Mandell, Al Singer, Billy Petrolle, Frankie Klick, Jimmy McLarnin, Jackie “Kid” Berg, Lou Ambers, and Kid Chocolate.
2. Joe Gans: Only 35 when he died from tuberculosis, Gans packed some 170 bouts into 14 years and thus etched his name forever into the history books as one of pugilism’s first and greatest maestros. Clever, tough and technically sophisticated, Gans triumphed despite years of ill treatment due to his race as he endured biased officiating or being forced to make weight while wearing his boxing gear. He is credited with inventing the uppercut and popularizing the basic techniques of blocking, footwork and counter-punching and his prodigious skills earned him the nickname “The Old Master.”
He defeated a long list of great fighters including Lew Tendler, Johnny Dundee, Rocky Kansas, Richie Mitchell, Johnny Kilbane, Freddie Welsh, and Willie Ritchie. In the 20 year span from May 1912 to October 1932 he suffered only a single defeat. Skill, smarts, power, longevity, toughness and unparalleled ring wisdom, “The Ghetto Wizard” could do it all and will forever be the ultimate king at 135.
Honorable Mentions: Packy McFarland, Beau Jack, Wesley Ramey, Ismael Laguna, Aaron Pryor, Joe Brown, Esteban De Jesus, Lew Tendler, Ad Wolgast, Bob Montgomery, Pedro Montanez, Sammy Mandell, Kid Lavigne, Shane Mosley, Jack McAuliffe, Ken Buchanan.