Catching Greatness

The inception of narrowed weight classes, stemming from the 1960’s, has long since occupied the list of accusations that in some peoples eyes have diluted big time boxing and the achievements of its best fighters.

The list is long and arduous, with some of its entries more valid than others and a discussion for another time. However, when it comes to weight classes, the debate is best kept to the era in which it belongs.

The simple reason being if the playing field isn’t level, it’s unfair to compare the achievements of two men who belong to different eras. We will never know if Sugar Ray Robinson would have matched the achievements of Floyd Mayweather in the modern era and visa versa, it’s a matter of opinion and as such is immeasurable – too many variables exist.

The modern day weight classes – although not traditional – are a useful barometer for measuring the achievements of the worlds greatest fighters in their own era – or so you would think.

There will always be an argument as to when the notion of catch weight boxing was established. To this writer at least it was before the term was commonly used and openly utilised as a legitimate method of making dream ‘big money’ fights, which would have otherwise never happened.

That night was 7th November 1988, when Sugar Ray Leonard stopped reigning light-heavyweight champion Donny Lalonde in 9 rounds.

The fight took place at newly established super middleweight limit of 168lbs for the recently inaugurated WBC version of the title, alongside the WBC light heavyweight crown held by Lalonde – despite him having to shed 7 pounds to meet the challenger defined weight limit.

Sugar Ray Leonard’s achievements in the boxing ring are beyond question and only a fool would have backed against him beating Lalonde at 175lbs. The cold fact is, he didn’t and yet he is considered a 5-weight World champion, which ultimately he is not.

It was a business decision driven at building momentum ahead of a huge return with Thomas Hearns, who had captured the first WBO super middleweight title 3 nights earlier – defeating James Kinchen by majority decision over 12 rounds.

Since then, the manipulation of the weight classes has become common place, with fighters and promoters utilising what could be perceived as a loophole for personal gains, be that winning titles, retaining fiscal potential or building future fights.

We have seen all varieties of this in the recent past.