By Jose Corpas
Size does matter to some boxers. Even with seventeen weight classes some are reluctant to move up a division to take on bigger opponents. When they do, they insist on catch-weights like the 157 and 155 Miguel Cotto set for Daniel Geale and Saul Alvarez. There’s good reason to insist on a weight that might weaken an opponent. Weight is one of the hardest advantages to overcome, especially in the late rounds when the bigger guy doesn’t seem as tired or worn as the smaller guy. While some may excuse a fighter like Cotto, who started out under 140, they are less forgiving to fighters who scrutinize every pound.
One fighter taking a lot of criticism recently is Alvarez. While he had no issue with defending his 160-pound crown against welterweight Amir Khan, he suddenly wanted no part of the division when it came to facing Gennady Golovkin. Golovkin himself has fielded some critique for not stepping up to face Andre Ward though it has been considerably less rabid than the darts aimed at Alvarez. Whether or not Alvarez and Golovkin have a change of heart – and weight – and decide to test their skills against bigger opponents remains to be seen. But if they don’t move up at all or do and don’t succeed, it shouldn’t be held against them since very few boxers have excelled in multiple divisions.
Boxers as skilled as Wilfredo Gomez, Bob Foster, and Flash Elorde went from Hall of Famers to contenders when they moved up. A four pound jump completely transformed Gomez. Unbeatable at 122 pounds, with numbing punching power, he became comparatively ordinary after moving up, the knockouts ceasing. Flash Elorde was dominant at 130 pounds but he couldn’t handle the elite boxers who weighed 135 pounds. Moving up is not easy but there is a breed of men who climbed to the top of several weight divisions without caring what their opponents weighed.
Fighters like Sam Langford, James Toney, Roy Jones Jr., and Mickey Walker took on all comers from lightweight all the way up to heavyweight. A glance at Langford’s record sees him having squared off against lightweight great Joe Gans, welterweight great Joe Walcott, all the way up to heavyweight Jack Johnson. Toney started out at 160 and faced boxers like Michael Nunn, Evander Holyfield, and just about everyone in between. Jones, who cracked the rankings at 154, started out beating welterweights like Stephan Johnson and Jorge Vaca, did most of his work at light heavyweight, then ventured up for a night against the 226-pound John Ruiz. Walker started out at welterweight against fighters like Lew Tendler and Dave Shade before moving up to heavyweight and trading against 188-pound Max Schmeling and 198-pound Jack Sharkey.
Other boxers who climbed through the divisions without missing a beat were Archie Moore, Jimmy Ellis, Bob Fitzsimmons, Iran Barkley (who beat Gerrie Coetzee), Bobby Czyz and Tami Mauriello. They each were successful everywhere from middleweight to heavyweight.
The still active Guillermo Jones competed successfully among world class cruiserweights, middleweights, and junior middleweights.
Spanning about 40 pounds in their careers were Ezzard Charles, Jack Dillon, Young Stribling, Jimmy Bivins, Luis Logan and Sugar Ray Robinson. Robinson was ranked at lightweight before moving up to welterweight and middleweight. He also challenged Joey Maxim for the light heavyweight title. Dillon was an amazing fighter who stands out from many in this group since his weight didn’t fluctuate as much as others in this group. He boxed most of his career within a 15 pound range regardless of his opponent’s weight. Logan was Oriental champion of both the welterweight and heavyweight divisions. He boxed Ceferino Garcia and former heavyweight title challenger Jack Roper.
The next group of boxers succeeded in making a 30+ pound jump. Henry Armstrong, Roberto Duran, Manny Pacquiao, Georges Carpentier, Harry Greb, Charlie Burley, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, and Len Harvey had no trouble movin’ on up. Armstrong was featherweight, lightweight, and welterweight champion at the same time. He tried to make it four divisions but the judges scored his middleweight title challenge a draw. Burley competed regularly between welterweight and light heavyweight and even scored a win over unranked heavyweight journeyman JD Turner. Harvey was only twelve when he started out as a featherweight. He reached top form first as a welterweight and stayed world class all the way up to light heavyweight, where he held a claim to the championship. Eddie Mustafa, as a ranked middleweight, scored wins over Cyclone Hart and Willie Classen. He had several bouts as a cruiserweight and even boxed once as a heavyweight, losing to Renaldo Snipes.
Also around the 30 to 35-pound mark are Cocoa Kid, Holman Williams, Jimmy McLarnin, Thomas Hearns, Oscar De La Hoya, Ambrose Palmer, Jorge Castro, Eddie Booker, Ted “Kid” Lewis, and Floyd Patterson who moved up in weight with ease. Several light heavyweights who jumped up to heavyweight deserve mention as well. Among the most successful were Michael Spinks, Michael Moorer, Billy Conn, and Doug Jones. Harry “Kid” Matthews broke into the ratings as a middleweight and made a run at the heavyweight championship. Floyd Mayweather Jr. still gets a lot of flak for not moving up and squaring off against Golovkin. Some of it is his own fault since, to this day, he still calls out the middleweight and brags about what he “would have done” to him. But Floyd started out at 128 pounds and moved through approximately 25 pounds of world class opponents with ease.
An honorable mention goes out to the many heavyweights who fight in a division where there might as well not be any weigh-ins. They often find themselves staring across the ring at adversaries who can outweigh them by as much as 50, 60, or even 100 pounds. For references, just ask any of Nicolay Valuev’s opponents. In the lighter classes, a handful of boxers jumped enough divisions that they too deserve a mention. While the total poundage wasn’t as great, percentage wise they stack up too. Jim Barry, George Dixon, Terry McGovern, Fidel LaBarba, Tony Canzoneri, Fighting Harada, Ismael Laguna, Jeff Fenech, and Panama Al Brown stand out among them.
Keep these fighters in mind next time you hear of a fight with a catch-weight. While the negotiations over grams and ounces plays out publicly, hold in your chuckles when you remember that Henry Armstrong weighed only 142 pounds when he challenged for the 160-pound title and that he fought most of his welterweight fights weighing less than 140. And try not to hold too much against today’s fighters when they negotiate over who comes into the ring first and who gets to wear what color. And give them a pass when contract signings are delayed over a pound…because not all boxers are cut from the cloth that those on this list were cut from. For these fighters and maybe a few not mentioned, size didn’t matter.
Editor’s note: Jose Corpas’ second book, a biography of Panama Al Brown, titled “BLACK INK: A Story of Boxing, Betrayal, Homophobia, and the First Latino Champion,” is available now via Amazon and other leading online booksellers.