Top 10 lightweight boxers! The Greatest Boxing Lightweights of All Time

The 135-pound gap may be the widest in history. Hall of Famers are those who can't get a whiff of this top 10 list.

No other category in the sport's history has produced as many all-time greats as the heavyweight division. One of the sport's highest accolades, alongside the heavyweight and middleweight titles, is the opportunity to fight for the title of world heavyweight champion.

The result is a top 10 that is difficult to compile, with a slew of notable absences. The following are the top 10 greatest 135-pound boxers of all time:

1. Roberto Duran (1968-2001):

Ken Buchanan was brutally beaten by Duran in 1972, but his reign of terror in the lightweight division didn't come to an end until he demolished Esteban De Jesus in 1978 to reclaim his crown.

Manos de Piedra then won titles in the welterweight, super welterweight, and middleweight divisions in the following years. It was no surprise that he fought off the likes of Guts Ishimatsu, Vilomar Fernandez, and Edwin Viruet to win at 135 pounds.

top 10 lightweight boxers

2. Benny Leonard (1911-1932):

Is he even in the same league as Duran? Probably not, but it's not by much. When it came to fighting, “The Ghetto Wizard” had the greatest mind among all ring legends. The only other champion in history who was as far ahead of his peers as Leonard was is tough to come across now.

He demolished the entire division and left the throne as champion unchallenged. The early losses to Rocky Kansas and to Lightweight Champion Freddie Welsh set him back in his career, but he eventually rediscovered his footing. Leonard won the IBF Lightweight Championship with a victory over Welsh in 1917.

top 10 lightweight boxers

Ending the year on a high note were victories for the NWS over welterweight legend Jack Britton and a third-round knockout of featherweight legend Johnny Kilbane. An impressive 1918 season included another victory against Britton and a tie with Welterweight Champion Ted “Kid” Lewis.

Leonard defeated Vince Dundee in 1919 before facing and defeating the great Willie Ritchie in a tough 9-round fight. It went on to defeat Hall of Famers Johnny Dundee, Richie Mitchell, Rocky Kansas, and two times the legendary Lew Tendler in the process.

Only a four-round NWS decision and a DQ defeat scuppered a flawless streak from 1917 to 1932.

3. Pernell Whitaker (1984-2001):

The best lightweight in the previous 35 years, and possibly the best ever at the 135-pound weight class, by a wide margin.

He may not have reigned over the best era in lightweight boxing history. What if Whitaker had not been there? It's quite rare to never lose a fight. I've never seen anyone come close to beating “Sweet Pea,” notwithstanding the saga surrounding Jose Luis Ramirez.

He completely wiped out the division without facing any meaningful opposition. Whitaker's lightweight reign may not have been the most exciting, but one could not have asked for more during his time in the ring.

top 10 lightweight boxers

Whitaker's legacy may rival that of any fighter who has fought more than half as many times as he has. Four of Whitaker's lightweight opponents went on to win world championships.

Roger Mayweather, Greg Haugen, Jose Luis Ramirez, Freddie Pendleton, and Jorge Paez are some of his most impressive victories in the featherweight division, but Whitaker's best wins at the weight include victories over the likes of Whitaker. The southpaw was a master of the art of boxing.

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4. Joe Gans (1893-1909):

A master of pugilism, Gans was just 35 when he succumbed to tuberculosis at the end of a 14-year career that saw him fight 170 times.

As a result of years of racial prejudice, Gans was able to prevail in the ring despite the fact that he was forced to lose weight while wearing his boxing gear.

“The Old Master” is known for creating and popularising techniques such as the uppercut as well as blocking, footwork, and counterpunching.
top 10 lightweight boxers

5. Carlos Ortiz (1955-1972):

He was one of the division's greatest champions and fought in one of the most exciting periods of boxing history. Ortiz is one of the few boxers to successfully combine physical strength with a sharp intellect.

Ortiz has one of the best records of any lightweight, and he beat Joe Brown to win the belt. That included a successful reign as junior welterweight champion over the likes of Lou Filippo, Joey Lopes, Dave Charley, Kenny Lane, and Len Matthews.

His 14th-round stoppage of Flash Elorde was his third lightweight title defense.

top 10 lightweight boxers

Another Hall of Famer Ismael Laguna was nominated in 1965 after a victory over Kenny Lane. He reclaimed the belt from Laguna seven months later in a unanimous decision.

There were five additional victories for the defense, including rematches with Elorde and Laguna and knockouts of Sugar Ramos twice. Hardcore fans believe Ortiz should be towards the top of this list, and given his track record, they're not wrong.

6. Ike Williams (1940-1955):

If there were a fantastical fantasy tournament where you could pick one player from this top ten to represent your team, it would almost certainly be Williams.

That's how good he was. When it came to fighting power, Williams was an unstoppable force of nature with a cyclone of speed and crackling power that could suffocate and dismantle his opponents.

Sammy Angott was a Hall of Famer, but despite those wins and victories against Juan Zurita and Willie Joyce, he was still losing. In 1946, he defeated future welterweight champion Johnny Bratton to win the NBA Lightweight title.

top 10 lightweight boxers

A violent 8th-round knockout of Bob Montgomery solidified Williams' world title status the following year. Defeated welterweight legend Kid Gavilan in a decision fight in 1948.

Beau Jack was brutally dispatched in six rounds in 1948, and Bratton was defeated the following year. In 1949, he successfully defended the title two more times before losing it to Jimmy Carter in 1951.

Williams' final two fights were draws and knockouts of an old opponent, Beau Jack. Even though he suffered significant setbacks, he remains the best lightweight of his time.

7. Henry Armstrong (1931-1945):

It's safe to say that he was at his best in this weight class when he was the undisputed king of all divisions. How can a top-five ranked fighter not be in the top five at the weight class where he was at his best?

To some extent, this might be attributed to the fact that Armstrong competed in three different weight classes, but there's no denying that Armstrong was a formidable opponent at 135 pounds.

top 10 lightweight boxers

Among those “Homicide Hank” defeated before claiming the title were Tony Chavez and Mike Belloise as well as Benny Bass and Baby Arizmendi. Despite four-point deductions, he won the Lightweight Championship by decision over top-ten all-timer Lou Ambers.

He was unable to withstand a 5 point deduction from Ambers in his next fight and was stripped of his title. His reign as lightweight champion was limited, but he defeated nearly every top-ranked fighter in the weight class.

When he knocked out Barney Ross and Ceferino Garcia, he was fighting at lightweight poundage. No one can argue with the fact that he was one of the best fighters ever at the weight class in which he was most effective.

8. Tony Canzoneri (1925-1939):

The former bantamweight title challenger and Featherweight Champion required more than one attempt to snag the honors at 135, but he did so emphatically as anyone on this list could have hoped.

It was harsh and typical of the great Canzoneri's style to wipe Al Singer out in 1:06 in the 1930 championship match. In a lopsided three-round title defense, he destroyed Hall of Famer and previous conqueror Jackie “Kid” Berg.

In the wake of his victory over Berg, Canzoneri defeated Kid Chocolate by a landslide. Another great win against Billy Petrolle was followed by the loss of the Junior Welterweight Championship to Barney Ross in a disputed decision.

top 10 lightweight boxers

It wasn't long before Canzoneri overcame Frankie Klick, knocked out Chocolate in two rounds, and defeated a decent set of lightweights after losing another close fight against Ross.

During the 1935 season, he recovered his 135-pound title with a victory over Lou Ambers. After nine victories in a row, including a decision over future Hall of Famer Jimmy McLarnin, Canzoneri was worn down by a hectic schedule against the finest in the industry.

However, when he was at his peak, he fought the best of the greatest and was victorious far more often than not. One of the best fighters in history.

9. Freddie Welsh (1905-1922):

Even though his name doesn't immediately spring to mind like that of some of the other men on our list, Welsh was an outstanding lightweight with a long history of success.

Early on, he made an impression with several impressive wins over notable opponents including Packey McFarland (49-0), Abe Attell (53-1-4), and Jim Driscoll (53-1-4).

He would go on to win the title in 1914. In 1911, he defeated Willie Ritchie in America before defeating Matt Wells in London to avenge a previous defeat.

Welsh defeated unbeaten Johnny Dundee and Mexican Joe Rivers to set up a rematch with Willie Richie, which he won by a unanimous decision.

top 10 lightweight boxers

Among his many victories were victories over some of the most prominent fighters of the day, including Ad Wolgast, albeit most of Welsh's matches were non-title bouts.

Having lost an NWS decision to Benny Leonard in the first round of their rematch, he went on to win his own NWS match, clearly defeating the “Ghetto Wizard.”

He defeated Battling Nelson in 1917. Welsh was finally dethroned from his title by Leonard later that year after a slew of tough matches caught up with him.

10. Lou Ambers (1932-1941):

top 10 lightweight boxers

Even while Ambers isn't frequently included in lists of the 10 greatest lightweights of all time, it's hard to ignore her greatness. Fritzie Zivic, Baby Arizmendi (twice), Tony Canzoneri (twice), Pedro Montanez, and Henry Armstrong are all Hall of Famers, so you know you're doing something right.

Though Canzoneri had seen better days by the time he fought him for the title the first time around, he was still a helluva fighter who depended on point deductions to get the victory over Armstrong.

As a result, Ambers defeated so many good lightweights that it's impossible to explain in this little space. Herkimer Hurricane was as tough and resilient as they come, losing only to Lew Jenkins by stoppage towards the end of a grueling career that had been a long one.

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