It can be exciting to see a fighter collect all the belts in a single class. How they lose those belts is another matter. Sometimes, they lose them in pieces. Josh Taylor and Jermell Charlo are recent examples. Both assembled all the {hardware} at junior welterweight and junior middleweight respectively. Taylor defended all his straps once before inactivity and injury saw his waist whittle down from four belts to one. Eventually he lost the lineal throne, and his lone remaining belt, to Teofimo Lopez.
Charlo never managed an undisputed defense. Injury killed a defense against Tim Tszyu before an ill-fated move to challenge super middleweight champion Saul Alvarez last year. In recent days, Charlo was named champion in recess by the WBC, a marker to note his absence from the division and the possibility he might not be back soon. Only the WBA still recognizes Charlo. In both cases, it was a slow receding. In other cases, fighters who have conquered a piece of the scale simply move on to conquer somewhere new. Naoya Inoue exited bantamweight, vacating all titles, and within two fights was undisputed again at junior featherweight. He will defend his honors in May versus Luis Nery and is expected to stay in the division for at least another fight or two. He will have a reign in the class. Devin Haney defended his undisputed lightweight crown twice versus George Kambosos and Vasyl Lomachenko before moving up to win a belt from Regis Prograis at junior welterweight. Like Inoue, he was just gone somewhere else. Unlike Taylor and Charlo, there is nothing holding the lightweight division in stasis with a question of what the champ will do next. The field is wide open and there are some real possibilities for new excitement. First, the division has to shuffle and resort. Two belts have already been reset.
One settles on the biggest box-office attraction in the division and one of the biggest in the sport. 29-year old Gervonta Davis (29-0, 27 KO) is no longer the sub-titlist for the WBA, assuming the only champion’s status in the division. Davis has been inactive since winning his superfight with Ryan Garcia last April, in part for a jail sentence related to a hit-and-run conviction. Davis is expected back in the first half of 2024. The WBC belt was won by 26-year old former featherweight titlist and lineal junior lightweight champion Shakur Stevenson (21-0, 10 KO) in a dreary, but still successful outing versus Edwin De Los Santos in November. Stevenson has made clear he wants big fights. No one seems in a hurry to make one with him, including under the Top Rank promotional umbrella where three of four belts will soon reside. Stevenson announced a retirement this week on social media. Yeah…sure. That leaves two vacancies to be filled. We already knew before this week that 35-year old former three-division titlist Vasyl Lomachenko (17-3, 11 KO) and 30-year old former lineal and unified lightweight king George Kambosos (21-2, 10 KO) would lock horns in May. The winner will hold the IBF belt. If there is to be a fresh round of unification in the class, the winner of Lomachenko-Kambosos and Stevenson will probably see the man who holds the WBO belt as a point of great interest. On Monday, Jake Donovan reported the WBO title will be filled through a showdown between 29-year old three-division titlist, and current WBO junior lightweight champ, Emanuel Navarrette (38-1-1, 31 KO) and 35-year old Denys Berinchyk (18-0, 9 KO).
With Stevenson and Davis both currently without official dance partners, and the two title fights to come, right now the lightweight reshuffle is less than engaging. It doesn’t have to stay that way. Rope in 27-year old William Zepeda (29-0, 25 KO) and 29-year old Frank Martin (18-0, 12 KO) and the pieces are all there. With Issac Cruz headed to junior welterweight to challenge beltholder Rolly Romero, Zepeda could even soon be in position to be mandatory to Davis. The second half of 2024 will say much about whether lightweight will be something to get excited about in the ring this year. Davis versus Martin or Zepeda would be good television. While politics and alignments remain an obstacle, Davis versus Lomachenko is a fight that has been realistic based on where both men fight for years. It’s also a fight that is running out of time as Lomachenko ages. Stevenson-Navarrette or Berinchyk, or Lomachenko against any of those men, would all be solid fights. For now, the lightweight division reshuffle is set and we will all wait for this round of the dance to finish before there is anything to be genuinely excited about. Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at [email protected]