Tomorrow night, at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, Mexico’s Leo Santa Cruz and Belfast’s Carl Frampton will thump each other’s beak to establish the world’s premier fighter at nine stone.
Glynn Evans trawled through the annuls to determine the finest champions – minimum criteria three title wins at 126 – in one of boxing’s original eight weight classes.
7. Naseem Hamed
Patriotism aside, in his prime during the second half of the 1990s, the Yemeni prince by way of the Ingle gym in Wincobank, Sheffield was possibly Britain’s greatest post-war ring talent at any weight.
Flash, brash and bombastic, Naz courted love and hate in equal measure and completely revolutionised the commercial side of the sport with his antics, acrobatics, attire and arrivals. Nevertheless, once the bell tolled, boy, could he rumble.
Aged just 21, he snared the WBO crown with a virtuoso stoppage of local hero Steve Robinson in a vitriolic cauldron at Cardiff Arms Park and successfully retained 15 times, with 13 explosive stoppages and nine world champions vanquished.
Alas, his gargantuan ego finally overtook him and he was still only 26 when, in April 2001, Marco Antonio Barrera relieved him of his unbeaten tag and taught him who the ‘Daddy’ was!
6. Eusebio Pedroza
The lithe, sinewy Panamanian (right) suffered three comprehensive stoppage defeats in his first 17 pro fights as a weight weakened bantam but ‘El Alacran (The Scorpion)’ subsequently proved invincible for nine years after crashing the 126lb division.
Though he captured the WBA crown with a July 1978 stoppage of Cecilio Lastra in Panama City, just six of his 19 successful defences took place in his homeland where he struggled for recognition in the shadow of Roberto Duran.
Pedroza’s world tour took in nine countries and five continents before he finally succumbed to Barry McGuigan before 26,000 at Loftus Road, London.
At 5ft 9in tall and blessed with a telescopic reach, Pedroza knew how to best utilise his routine physical advantages but was also a fabulous infighter and well versed in the sport’s darker arts. His most productive shots frequently landed below the belt!
5. Salvador Sanchez
Thrill merchant Sal from Tianguistenco might possibly have been the finest ever had he not surrendered his life during a high speed car crash in 1982, aged just 23.
Already ‘Chava’ had captured the WBC title from fellow Hall of Famer Danny ‘Little Red’ Lopez and successfully retained it on nine occasions against competition from the very highest tier. He saw off the Native American in a return then bashed up the likes of Juan LaPorte, Wilfredo Gomez, our own Pat Cowdell and the great Azumah Nelson before The Man Above retired him.
Sanchez’s only reverse in 46 came by split decision to the Mexican bantamweight champ, when he was just a skinny teenager. He was blessed with a surfeit of every attribute; a quick and fluid counter-puncher with a kayo kick in both mitts plus a chin cast from concrete.
Despite his brief innings, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991 and listed as the third greatest featherweight of the twentieth century by the Associated Press.
4. Abe Attell
‘The Little Hebrew’ learned to rumble for self preservation as a rare Jew in a predominantly Irish neighbourhood on San Francisco’s south side, before evolving into a real handful on both sides of the ropes.
He claimed the title with a decision over Johnny Reagan in 1903 and, save for a brief interruption – a knockout loss to Tommy Sullivan that was later avenged with interest – he reigned for nine years and made somewhere in the region of 20 defences (official records differ).
During his prime, able Abe was slick, explosive, cunning and shifty. There were allegations of throwing and fixing fights and, when he finally conceded his crown in 1912, conqueror Johnny Kilbane accused him of putting chloroform on his gloves in an attempt to blind him!
In retirement, the incorrigible rascal was charged as a ‘bagman’ for gangster Arnold Rothstein in baseball’s 1919 Black Sox betting sting but the rap never stuck.
3. George Dixon
Boxing has much to honour ‘Little Chocolate’ for. The ebony waif from Nova Scotia, Canada was the first black man to win a boxing world crown, the first of any ethnicity to bag global titles in separate weight divisions, and also credited with inventing ‘shadow boxing’ plus pioneering the use of a suspended punch bag.
He acquired universal recognition as champion by icing Fred Johnson in 14 in 1892 and – save for a 13 month interlude – reigned for eight years , retaining somewhere in the region of 25 times.
Graceful, evasive and two fisted, fable has it that, including exhibitions, Dixon dipped between the ropes over 800 times – including twice in one day.
He accrued a $250,000 fortune from the ring but hit the bottle as often as he hit opponents and died penniless before his 40th birthday.
2. Willie Pep
The ex shoeshine boy from Hartford, Connecticut couldn’t bruise a grape in a fruit fight but might just have been the best defensive boxer ever. Ring lore has it that the elusive pimpernel once won a round without throwing a punch.
Dubbed ‘Will o’ the Wisp’, Pep won 11 of 14 world title fights at 9st during two reigns that spanned eight years. A tap dancer in gloves, he was first coronated after bamboozling Chalky Wright at Madison Square Garden in 1942. He then regained his claim with a career best display against Sandy Saddler – who’d knocked him out in four – at the same hall seven years later.
Super slick and blessed with balletic footwork, Pep boxed 1956 pro rounds in 242 fights and didn’t concede many of them. He lost just one of his first 136 scraps but was almost fatally injured in a 1947 air crash, aged just 24, and several respected contemporaries claim he was never quite the same thereafter.
1. Sandy Saddler
Boston born but Harlem raised, the bamboo thin but teak tough Saddler conquered nemesis Pep in three of their four world title clashes – each time by stoppage – so therefore, for me, has to be considered the superior fighter.
Both of his reigns between 1948-56 commenced with early wins over ‘The Wisp’ and he later retained with a third triumph over his rival in a foul fest so brutal that both had their licences revoked by the New York State Athletic Commission!
Saddler lost two prime years – title frozen – when inducted into the military and retired, just 30, due to retina problems. Nevertheless, his 103 knockout wins in a 162 fight career remains a record for the division and Ring magazine assessed that the 5ft 8in stick of black dynamite ‘had the height and reach of a lightweight and the power of a welterweight.’
In addition to a stone crunching right hand and savage left hook – up or down – spiteful Sandy was prone to violent strikes with his head and elbows!