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Analysis: the lightweight division

Lomachenko lightweight
Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images
In part nine of our weekly series, John Dennen focuses on the lightweight division, home to one of the planet’s finest fighters

10. Lee Selby (WAL)
Record: 28-2 (9) Age: 33 Height: 5ft 8½lbs
The Welshman was a huge featherweight. He won the IBF world title in that division and defended that four times before losing his crown to Josh Warrington at Elland Road in Leeds. He is a quality fighter, and was a British, Commonwealth and European champion before ascending to world level. So big he leapt up two divisions to lightweight. Beating Ricky Burns, a former three weight champion, earned him a place among the division’s leading contenders.

STRENGTHS: He has the flashy skills to throw eye-catching combinations, guts aplenty and a style that’s difficult to master.

WEAKNESSES: He was rarely a concussive puncher down at featherweight and whether his future is at lightweight remains to be seen. His loss to Josh Warrington showed he can be hurt and outworked.

BEST PERFORMANCE: He demonstrated his quality winning the IBF featherweight world title against Evgeny Gradovich.

WORST PERFORMANCE: He had an unexpectedly difficult outing against Viorel Simion in Hull.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: He finished his fight with Stephen Smith with a monstrous uppercut that underlined his potential.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Selby might not have the beating of very top lightweights, but would make a fascinating opponent for anyone in the bottom half of this list.

Lee Selby
Esther Lin/Showtime

9. Gervonta Davis (USA)
Record: 23-0 (22) Age: 25 Height: 5ft 5½ins

His record is a near flawless 23-0. He made his mark in 2017, going on a fine run that saw him defeat Jose Pedraza to win the IBF super-featherweight crown, which he defended against Liam Walsh and Francisco Fonseca. But beyond that he has not secured the significant showdowns against big name rivals he really needs.

Last year he moved up to lightweight, stopping fading Cuban Yuriorkis Gamboa to claim his place in the world top 10.

His conduct outside the ring however opens questions about whether he will have the future which his precocious talent once suggested would be his.

STRENGTHS: He has heavy hands and strong combination punching.

WEAKNESSES: He is a small lightweight and would be better served in the division below.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Blazing through Jose Pedraza, a man who would later manage to give Vasyl Lomachenko a few things to think about.

WORST PERFORMANCE: German Meraz is the only man so far to take him the distance.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: He was in imperious form when he prised Liam Walsh’s defences apart in London.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Davis needs to get a handle on his discipline if he is to avoid squandering his full potential.

Gervonta Davis lightweight
Amanda Westcott/SHOWTIME

8. Devin Haney (USA)
Record: 24-0 (15) Age: 21 Height: 5ft 8in

Matchroom have invested in Devin Haney, hoping the young fighter can become a star. It is a big vote of confidence in the 21-year-old, who has been delivering in the ring, even if he is yet to step in with the elite level of competition in this division. Nevertheless he has managed to garner a form of the WBC title. He became an Interim titlist when he beat Zaur Abdullaev before he was upgraded further by the misfiring sanctioning body. Haney now needs to live up to the belt he holds. The more he talks about fighting Lomachenko or even Ryan Garcia, the more we need to actually see those fights happen.

STRENGTHS: He has speed, a skillset worthy of respect and his punch selection builds a cumulative toll.

WEAKNESSES: He is inexperienced. The pace of his attacks can slow and lead him to becoming one dimensional.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Appearing at Madison Square Garden for the first time he stopped Zaur Abdullaev in four rounds.

WORST PERFORMANCE: His most recent outing, against Alfredo Santiago, Haney showed he still has plenty to learn.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: His impressive showing against Abdullaev is online in full.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He can certainly rise higher. He has youth on his side and vast potential.

Devin Haney lightweight
Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA

7. Rances Barthelemy (CUB)
Record:
27-1-1 (14) Age: 33 Height: 5ft 10ins

He might be nearing the twilight of his boxing days, but Rances Barthelemy has had a fine career. After defecting from Cuba to the USA before the 2008 Olympics, he held sanctioning body world titles at super-feather and lightweight. He handed Kiryl Relikh a loss in 2017, only in turn to suffer his first career loss to Relikh in a WBA title fight up at super-lightweight. His most recent victory, a stoppage over the ageing Robert Franckel, came 17 long months ago.

STRENGTHS: Footwork and a perplexing guard are his strengths, but he can also switch stances and line up a good straight left.

WEAKNESSES: Can be too focused on defence with limited punch output, particularly as he gets older.

BEST PERFORMANCE: He won the IBF lightweight beating Denis Shafikov, who would bounce back to beat Jamel Herring in his next fight.

WORST PERFORMANCE: He drew with Robert Easter last year in a poor fight that, frankly, both deserved to lose.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: He badly shook up Argenis Mendez in their first fight, only to apply the shattering finishing blow after the bell to end the second round.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He is starting to slide and could be pushed further down the world ratings as chances become harder and harder to come by.

Rances Barthelemy lightweight

6. Yvan Mendy (FRA)
Record: 44-5-1 (22) Age: 34 Height: 5ft 8½ins

The strong Frenchman has had a long career. He’s boxed 50 times, mainly in France. He made his debut as long ago as 2006, never managed to get a win in a trilogy with little known Abdoulaye Soukouna. He lost to Viktor Postol in Ukraine, Edis Tatli in Finland and in 2015 was expected to be beaten by Luke Campbell in England. Instead he sprang a big upset. Defeating Francesco Patera the following year was another good win. But Campbell outboxed him to take a revenge win in 2016. Mendy has been unbeaten since then though and remains a contender.

STRENGTHS: He is tough. Despite five defeats he has never been stopped. Absorbing punches and maintaining a strong, tight guard, lets him time his own attacks.

WEAKNESSES: He can struggle to pin down a mobile opponent in order to apply effective aggression himself.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Toppling Campbell in 2015 was an unexpected but thoroughly deserved victory on away turf.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Losing to a 12-10-6 Abdoulaye Soukouna in 2011.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: Watch him halt Samir Kasmir with a savage knockout blow.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He can remain a factor in the division but it would take another upset to see him rise substantially.

5. Javier Fortuna (DOM)
Record:
35-2-1 (24) Age: 31 Height: 5ft 6½ins

Fortuna had been expecting to fight for the WBC lightweight title this year. With Devin Haney injured and Vasyl Lomachenko made ‘Franchise’ champion (for some reason), Fortuna as number one contender was in pole position. Until the pandemic delayed all fights, Haney recovered and came out of his ‘in recess’ status. He acquitted himself well at super-featherweight until he lost inside the distance to Jason Sosa. At lightweight he boxed Robert Easter when he was the IBF champion, although Fortuna failed to make weight. Last year he beat Sharif Bogere and Jesus Cuellar, knocking out the latter in two rounds.

STRENGTHS: Throws salvoes of busy punches, with heavy hooks that can hurt.

WEAKNESSES: He rears back with his hands low, leaving himself open. The aggressive southpaw can also get himself too square on.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Can consider himself unlucky that the decision went against him in his fight with Robert Easter.

WORST PERFORMANCE: He spoiled horribly against Bogere, discouraging anyone from getting too excited about seeing him in with the top level lightweights.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: He went down fighting in a battle with Jason Sosa.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? The top fighters should beat him.

Al Bello/Getty Images

4. Richard Commey (GHA)
Record: 29-3 (26) Age: 33 Height: 5ft 8ins

Commey has the aura of an old school pro. Tough, strong and unheralded, he rose up the ranks the hard way. Boxing in Ghana, Bethnal Green and even Denmark. His first shot at a world title ended in a bitter split decision loss to Robert Easter. Ultimately he would come back to win the IBF crown from Isa Chaniev and even beat Raymundo Beltran.

But Teofimo Lopez spotted the opening in his defences to drop and stop Commey with a tremendous powershot. So far however his losses don’t seem to have diminished him.

STRENGTHS: Works well behind the jab, has a hard right cross that he sets up with skill, as well as being a diligent and determined worker.

WEAKNESSES: Top fighters can find openings in his defence.

BEST PERFORMANCE: He became a world titlist with his victory over Isa Chaniev.

WORST PERFORMANCE: He followed his loss to Easter with a defeat to Denis Shafikov.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: Knocking out Raymundo Beltran was another fine performance from Commey.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Learning from defeat, he can come again and challenge for another world title. However, at 33, vast improvement seems unlikely and he would start as underdog against all above him.

Richard Commey
Mikey Williams/Top Rank

3. Luke Campbell (ENG)
Record: 20-3 (16) Age: 32 Height: 5ft 9ins

An excellent London 2012 Olympic gold medallist, Luke Campbell has not had an easy path as a professional. He was caught out by Yvan Mendy to take his first loss in 2015, which he would avenge three years later. He has had two world title shots, losing a close challenge to Jorge Linares in California, and then had to take on none other than Vasyl Lomachenko in London last year. He could not defeat Lomachenko but contested their 12-rounder with moments of real quality.

STRENGTHS: The tall southpaw possesses slick speed and quality counter-punching.

WEAKNESSES: His defensive skills can lapse. Lomachenko, Linares and Mendy dropped him.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Campbell lost but raised his game over the course of his title fight with Lomachenko, putting in a competitive showing in many of the rounds.

WORST PERFORMANCE: In his first fight with Yvan Mendy, Campbell was oddly out of sorts.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: Luke Campbell and Tommy Coyle filled a stadium in Hull in 2015. Rewatch the cruel finish Campbell applied.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Highly rated now, he will be a candidate for another world title shot and it might well be third time lucky.

Luke Campbell

2. Teofimo Lopez (USA)
Record: 15-0 (12) Age: 22 Height: 5ft 8ins

A fighter who oozes confidence. He can punch hard, he delivers in the ring and throws in some flair and backflips when he dances to celebrate. He demonstrated star quality with electric outings on the way up but ultimately proved himself when toppling Richard Commey, a good champion in his own right.

Lopez was on course for a unification clash with Vasyl Lomachenko, though of course the coronavirus lockdown has postponed that indefinitely. When it does happen, it is will be unmissable. While the Ukrainian rules the division imperiously, Lopez might have the best chance of posing a threat.

STRENGTHS: Explosive power and good instincts.

WEAKNESSES: He has shown signs that he can be outboxed from range.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Icing Richard Commey inside two rounds to win the IBF lightweight world title was sensational.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Japan’s Masayoshi Nakatani extended Lopez 12 rounds for the first time in his career.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: He delivered a chilling first round knockout when he savaged Mason Menard.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Already a champion, there is more to come from Lopez, though he might need to move up a division.

Teofimo Lopez lightweight
Mikey Williams/Top Rank

1. Vasyl Lomachenko (UKR)
Record: 14-1 (10) Age: 32 Height: 5ft 7ins

Lomachenko is an extraordinary fighter. Already a two-weight Olympic gold medallist, and the finest performer at Beijing 2008, he became a rapid three-weight professional world titlist. At 135lbs he unified the WBA, WBO and WBC world titles. Lomachenko has a unique style. He solves problems in the ring, quickly working out his opponents. A master of feints, counter-punching and control, he is arguably the best boxer in the world today.

STRENGTHS: Where do you start, Lomachenko can do it all? He is most impressive for peerless movement and his virtually unrivalled in-ring intelligence.

WEAKNESSES: Orlando Salido nullified the Ukrainian, back in 2014, by manhandling him. He is a small(ish) lightweight. That’s as close to weakness as he gets.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Befuddling, outboxing and ultimately obliging Nicholas Walters to quit.

WORST PERFORMANCE: He got Gamalier Rodriguez out of there eventually.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: His fight with Jorge Linares was thrilling. Linares put him down, but Lomachenko rose to take Linares out himself.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? It’s hard to see any lightweight overturning him. Lomachenko can continue to burnish his legacy.

Vasyl Lomachenko lightweight
Mikey Williams/Top Rank

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