Current Top Light Heavyweight & Cruiserweight Rankings By Lee Hayes – October 20th, 2004
1. Antonio Tarver – Tarver has the great balance of a natural puncher. He puts all of his weight behind every shot he throws, and the results are devastating. His short left cross is the best punch currently in the two divisions. It is also noteworthy that the boost of confidence that Antonio has derived – from his close, somewhat controversial – points loss to Roy Jones Jr., and brutal 2nd round KO of Jones in their rematch, has risen Tarver’s game to a point it probably would not have reached on it’s own. He’s a star in every way. He’s articulate, insightful, loves being in front of the camera’s and he’s not afraid to call out the big names. As long as he stays in the light heavyweight division, his star will only rise.
2. Glencoffe Johnson – The most recent conqueror of -boxing legend on the downside fast- Roy Jones Jr, Glencoffe Johnson has been a secret so long in the division, that to most of us ‘in the in’ in the sport of boxing were not entirely surprised at the way he defeated Jones. He’s been a dedicated pro, that is always in top condition, and who has shown throw his decision to hire a new trainer, Orlando Cuellar, that he is commited. Cuellar has added punching power and commitment to punches a priority and the difference has shown in his past few fights. Johnson plays it straight and calls it like it is when he says “I’m not the best…I’m merely the man who wants to fight the best.” And in this day and age, where fighters like Jones Jr. and Dariusz Michalczewski never face each other, despite public out cry, Johnson’s refreshing to see. He could also give Tarver his greatest challenge currently at Light Heavyweight.
3. Roy Jones Jr. – He’s probably done…but something tells me, that if Roy Jones Jr. took a solid year off of boxing to get himself together, and to find out what exactly his natural body weight is at this point in his career (I still believe he’s never been the same since he put on the 20+ lbs of muscle to face John Ruiz, then subsequently dropped the weight in a rush to fight a big mouthed Antonio Tarver) that he could launch one more successful comeback at his career. It’s not unprecedented or unheard of, and if Tarver changes weight divisions, as he may (due to an uncannily large frame for a light heavyweight), it’s not necessarily out of the question. Call me sentimental if you will, the fact remains, Roy has still done fifty times more than any other current fighter on this list at light heavy, and until someone proves worthy, he*ll stay near the top as long as he is listed as ‘active’ in my books.
4. Wayne Braithwaite – This Gunyanan fighter is everything a good fighter should be. He’s in his prime, he’s eager to fight the best his division has to offer, he’s aggressive, he has some speed, he likes to punch in combination, and he possesses a few of the skills and tools required to succeed. Still, something seems missing, perhaps it’s that his skills are not quite as refined as we expect in a top champion. Personally, I like Braithwaite and I think the best is yet to come. I think he is probably currently the best cruiserweight in the division, and a few quality fights against J.M Mormeck, or O’Neil Bell will only boister his popularity.
5. Jean-Paul Mormeck – This guy may be the best fighter to come out of France since middleweight sensation Marcel Cerdan (Cerdan was born in Algeria, however he lived most of his life and fought out of France). That statement may be true only by exclusion of a truly great French fighter in some decades, but none the less, it’s noteworthy. Mormeck is also the divisions best puncher, since the departure of Vassiliv Jirov. Jean-Paul possesses power in both hands, and has a particularly deadly uppercut in close against the ropes that could have caused trouble for a fighter like James Toney, and possibly against O’Neil Bell. He has already used his formidable weapons to garner double victories against the divisions most talented ‘cutie’, Virgil Hill. Sure, Hill is ‘over the hill’, but he’s still no pushover, and yeah, if Mormeck would have just knocked him out early, you could dismiss the victories, but to out box Hill over the distance, shows that Jean-Marc has more than just primitive punching power, and he could prove to be the class of the division in time. That or, at least take us on the most exciting whirl wind in the division, since the days of Dwight Quawi. Either way, fans win, and with Don King as his promoter, we can look forward to more dates with him in the future.
6. Dariusz Michalczewski – He’s got that brutally difficult name for North American’s to pronounce, and he also has that straight-ahead, no non-sense attacking style that could easily have endured him to those same fans, had he been exposed more during his prime. In a sense, he’s sort of a ‘Polish Ricky Hatton’, in that they fight a similar style, and that they are not well receipted over on my side of the world, but fighters that I personally enjoy watching because of what they bring to the table. Dariusz gives you your moneys worth, it doesn’t really matter weather or not he could have beaten a prime Roy Jones Jr. (My guess is ‘no’.) He would have made for a great fight against Roy, and would have perhaps solidified Jones standing as “World Champion” much better with my European mates on East Side Boxing. Noteworthy regarding Michalczewski’s career: He out boxed Virgil Hill long before Mormeck, and when out boxing Hill was unheard of. He out and out destroyed formidable opponents Montell Griffin, Richard Hall (twice), and Derrick Harmon. His lone loss was to a somewhat streaking Julio Gonzalez, who really put on the performance of his life, while Michalczewski most likely had one of his worst. And even still, the decision was by no means dominant. Dariusz fought until the end and showed he was in the fight by knocking Gonzalez side to side for the last two rounds. He was a worthy number two light heavy all during Roy Jones hay day. He could still be a force in the division if he gets the right couple of fights back.
7. Paul Briggs – Sometimes you gotta take chances on Young Guns – and with the Cruiserweight division, respectively not exactly packed with talent – I have decided to take a chance on a few young 175 + fighters. Briggs fits my needs, and I’d be doing a disservice to my Aussie friends if I didn’t include . He’s got some talent, and power to compete at the top echelon of the division. He’s also shown in his second last outing against Jesus Ruiz, that he can rise from the canvas to still move on to win. I like his height advantage (although his reach isn’t remarkable for a man so tall) and he seems to have a keen knowledge of how to use his height. I’d like to see him face off against Rico Hoye in the next couple of years to see exactly where the young guys are truly at. With these two on the horizon, and Tarver, Johnson and Michalczewski for measuring sticks…the light heavyweight division is at the best it’s been since Michael Spinks began his insurgence on the 175lbers.
8. Rico Hoye – My second ‘Blue Chip Prospect entry’ in the light heavyweight division. This kid could be the class of the division. I’m not here merely to re-hash the same ratings you’ll read on every other website, or magazine, because I believe that sometimes you gotta take a chance on the young guys (and like wise be prepared to feel the backlash if they don’t pan out). My feelings here are…I won’t be disappointed. I was discussing Hoye with a good friend of mine recently, and we both agreed, that best case scenario, he gets better and better and wipes out all his competition at light heavy, then maybe moves up to cruiser. Worst case scenario, we have a “Light Heavyweight Diego Corrales” on our hands. Yeah, he*s that good. Yeah, you heard it here. This guy could turn out to be Tommy Hearns, if he were starting at Light Heavyweight! Think of the prospect. He is already being moved at an accelerated rate for a young fighter, but it seems he is mature enough to handle the increased pressure.
9. O’Neil Bell – I’m not going to insult anybody here by attempting to “yank your chains” or “take you for a ride.” Bell only makes this list by virtual lack of another more worthy fighter to seat him. It’s not that he’s untalented or unworthy of a view. He deserves his chance to show what he has, but anybody that has watched his recent outings can see that it’s plain, he’s probably not going to be much more than a test for the other top cruiserweights in the division. His high KO rating has more to do with O’Neil’s opposition than practically every other fighter in my top eight spots, so I’m not exactly holding my breath on him or going out on a limb. Still, he’s a nice guy to have a round to keep the other fighters honest.
10. Dale Brown – This guy is a fighter from my home land of Canada, and he’s made the number ten spot for two reasons. 1. He’s the best counter puncher in the division since Toney and Jirov left (yeah, he’s really that good). 2. I needed a filler, and I’m a loyal local fight fan, so…I’ve decided to give Dale the nod, all other things being equal amongst my remaining choices. He’s been stopped three times, but all of the fights were against the divisions elite, and he’s gotten better from the losses. He’s added a new trainer to supply confidence and to add a more offensive side to his natural counter punching ways. He looked superb in schooling ultra veteran Carl Daniels and he’s keeping himself busy with Jermell Barnes in a weeks time. Dale will probably not be championship quality, but he’s good enough to keep the rest of the pact honest, and cause an upset here and there. We need those types of fighters in every division.
(Honorable Mention : Zsolt Erdei, Stipe Drews & Virgil Hill)
Division’s ‘Best Puncher’ : Antonio Tarver – As I’ve previously stated, Tarver is built for punching. Everything, from the width of his shoulders, to the size of his calves and feet, the mans body was built to throw knock out blows and he has really just been coming in to his own as a puncher since he KO’d Eric Harding. He also seems to get better in rematches and that’s always a plus. I chose Tarver over my runner up, Jean-Marc Mormeck in the cruiserweight division, because I honestly feel that if Tarver moved up one weight class tomorrow, he’d be the best puncher north of 175 as well. Having Buddy McGirt has only helped Tarver perfect the accuracy and timing of those shots. It’s also remarkable to think that Tarver is already 35. He’s an anomaly, and his career is really just entering his prime, which is not normal, but not unprecedented either. He’s never really been beat up in the ring, and that’s added to his longevity. My feeling is, he’s the man at Light Heavy and/or Cruiserweight as long as he choses to be. His power is what gives him that edge. (Honourable Mention: Jean-Marc Mormeck)
Division’s ‘Best Hand Speed’: Roy Jones Jr. – Even in his losses, Jones still proved that he has the fastest hands in the division. It wasn’t his speed that led to his last few disastrous outings. He probably has one of the top three pound for pound sets of fastest hands to ever grace the sport, and even though he*s lost a step, or a step and a half, it doesn’t matter. Roy was always three steps ahead of everybody else in the speed catagory. (Honourable Mention: Virgil Hill)
Division’s ‘Best Boxer’ : Virgil Hill – Yeah, I know, this one is pretty sad. That doesn’t make it any less true though. Ten years ago, this one would have been true for better reasons, but now, it’s only honest by default. We can’t rank Roy Jones as the divisions best boxer any longer, because when everything else fails, his unorthodox style is no longer able to save him to eek out decisions. His lack of jab is no longer amazing, it is now clearly a fault that becomes more of a problem with time. The fact that I’ve talked more about what Jones has lost, than what Hill still contains tells you all you need to know about this category. Hill can still box, and even at the end of his career, he has better fundamentals than the other 175-200 lbs fighters out there. (Honourable Mention: Glencoffe Johnson)
Division’s ‘Best Jab’ : Antonio Tarver – Power isn’t Tarver’s only asset, and he has enough decision victories to prove that he’s more than just a slugger. His jab sets up everything else in his arsenal, and he uses it often. It’s not always a battering ram, but when he remembers to use it properly, and listens to McGirt’s advice, Tarver’s jab is tops. It’s probably his most under rated weapon. (Honourable Mention: Virgil Hill)
Division’s ‘Best Hook’ – Roy Jones Jr. – Give Roy some credit. He was in over his head against a prime conditioned Glencoffe Johnson, and it showed that Roy knew it on his face from the first round on. Still, he never gave up trying, even until the end, and some of those vicious left hook combinations shots to the body would have crumbled lesser men. Johnson was on a mission, and Jones got in it’s way. Plain and simple. Jones probably has the best left hook this side of Bob Foster that the light heavies have ever witnessed. Jones was just as dominant as Fosters, ions faster, but not quite as deadly. (Honourable Mention: Dariusz Michalczewski)
Division’s ‘Best Uppercut’ – Antonio Tarver – He displayed it plenty in his rematch against Eric Harding, and in his first bout with Roy Jones Jr., and Antonio Tarver has a world class uppercut. He usually throws it short, where it has it’s most chance for destructive results, and it’s thrown in a chopping fashion. The kind of shot that may not knock a man cold, but even if it misses, the follow up through the chest/heart area can wear a man down over time. (Honourable Mention: Dariusz Michalczewski)
Division’s ‘Best Chin’ – Antonio Tarver – Tarver gets the nod here again, because outside of a flash knockdown against Eric Harding, not only has Tarver never been down, he’s rarely even shown that he was hurt (outside of a vicious body shot he suffered in his first fight with Roy Jones, during the middle rounds, where an audible “oooaf” could be heard from Tarver’s revealing lips.) Until someone proves they can bomb with him, and shows that his beard is anything else than granite, he gets the nod. It’s notable that Tarver’s chin has been consistently reliable through not only his pro career, but a lengthy amateur one, as well. (Honourable Mention: Dariusz Michalczewski)
Division’s ‘Best Defence’ – Wayne Braithwaite – I know I’m going to hear some feedback on this selection, but I’m going with Braithwaite here. He’s shown that when he wants to, he can be an effective boxer and counter puncher, while avoiding shots. The problem isn’t “can he”, it’s always “will he” with Braithwaite, and he tends to make fights more difficult than he really needs to, probably out of boredom. That can be good from a fan’s point of view, but it probably won*t bode well for Braithwaite’s longevity, unless he learns to use his skills the fullest, and resists slug outs. (Honourable Mention: Clinton Woods)
Division’s ‘Best Combination Puncher’ : Glencoffe Johnson – You all saw the Jones Jr. fight. It says it all. Sometimes volume out does substance when it comes to combination punching (just ask Henry Armstrong or Joe Frazier). No, Johnson is no Armstrong of Frazier, but he’s the best volumes puncher in either of these two weight classes, and with the decline of Roy Jones (the usual shoe in for this category), things have opened up for a feel good story like Glencoffe to move on in. (Honourable Mention: Tie: Dariusz Michalczewski/Roy Jones Jr. It’s hard to analyze, who’s lost more in the way of combination punching, so until further evidence, they are a tie.)
Division’s ‘Best Stamina’ – Dariusz Michalczewski – It’s funny that Dariusz has ranked so well in this many categories, the truth is, I’ve probably under-rated him somewhat through out his career, and it seems that in his loss to Gonzalez, I found myself giving him a new look over and like a lot of what I see. Particularly since Jones is gone, and Dariusz would probably beat Gonzalez in a rematch. I don’t think he can beat Tarver, but it would be one hell of an interesting fight, since both men have oodles of stamina in their list of talents. (Honourable Mention: Antonio Tarver)