With the welterweight division bolstered by a new wave of stars including Jaron Ennis, Vergil Ortiz and Conor Benn, IBHOF inductee Graham Houston breaks down the deepest and arguably best weight class in boxing with his Top 10 rundown.
Impressive wins last weekend by Jaron “Boots” Ennis, Eimantas Stanionis and Conor Benn had me thinking that maybe the welterweight division is the most exciting in boxing.
Here’s a personal welterweight Top 10 plus a few observations.
1: Terence “Bud” Crawford (37-0, 28 KOs), for me, is the No. 1 welterweight. He switches seamlessly between the southpaw and orthodox stances. Crawford is unbeaten and has never really been tested — at least, not to the point where one felt he was in any real danger of losing. And he looked devastating in his last fight when destroying Kell Brook in four rounds.
2: Errol Spence Jr (27-0, 21 KOs) is right behind Crawford as my No. 2 at 147 pounds. The smooth southpaw from Dallas can box and punch. He did what was expected when outpointing Danny Garcia in his last fight. However, one wonders if Spence will ever be quite the superb fighting machine he was before his injuries in a car crash in 2019.
3: Jaron “Boots” Ennis (27-0, 25 KOs, 1 no decision): Philadelphia’s Ennis is my No. 3. A southpaw who switches to the orthodox stance at times during his bouts, Ennis has speed, power and he’s big for the weight. He was on his way to stopping Chris Van Heerden when the bout was stopped due to Van Heerden getting cut in a clash of heads, entering the records as an ND. (I much prefer the term “no decision” to “no contest”; in Britain years ago a “no contest” was when two boxers were both ejected for either not giving of their best or failing to follow the referee’s instructions). We can’t be sure about Ennis’ chin, but he did take some right hands from Sergey Lipinets without too much inconvenience last weekend.
4: Shawn Porter (31-3-1, 17 KOs) is my No. 4. Now 33 but still in his physical prime, Porter isn’t the biggest puncher out there but he can give anyone at 147 pounds a rough night with his pressure and volume, and he has one of the best chins in boxing.
5: Manny Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 KOs) hasn’t boxed since outpointing Keith Thurman almost two years ago. The senator from the Philippines is now 42 and we don’t know if he’ll box again. But if Senator Manny does come back it would be a huge event.
6: Mikey Garcia (40-1, 30 KOs) was frankly outclassed when he challenged Errol Spence Jr for the welter title, but he essentially moved up two weight divisions for that fight. Garcia looked much more settled as a 147-pounder when he outboxed Jessie Vargas in his last fight. At the age of 33, Garcia can still be a player at the top level of the 147-pound division. He isn’t a big welterweight, though — Garcia was featherweight champion eight years ago. And. although he’s seasoned and skilled, one wonders if Garcia could hold off young lions at 147 such as Vergil Ortiz Jr and Eimantas Stanionis.
7: Vergil Ortiz Jr (17-0, 17 KOs) has done everything asked of him. He’s a machine, a power-and-pressure fighter. But it’s smart pressure. And while the tendency today seems to be for boxers (or many of them) to use the jab just to set up their heavier punches, Ortiz uses the jab as a thudding weapon.
8: Eimantas Stanionis (13-0, 9 KOs) was European championships gold medallist in the amateurs and he’s been dominant in each of his bouts as a professional. He’s a mature fighter at the age of 26 due to his deep experience on the international amateur circuit. Very strong, Stanionis advances, tank-like, behind a closed-door defence, and shows nice hand speed when he lets his punches flow. He has one of the best left jabs in boxing — like Vergil Ortiz, the Lithuanian Stanionis really puts some weight behind the left-hand stabs. He’s insistent, hard to discourage and seems genuinely to like to fight.
9: David Avanesyan (27-3-1, 15 KOs) has come back strongly from his TKO loss against Egidijus Kavaliauskas three years ago, with four successive KO wins. He simply broke the will of the flashier Josh Kelly in his last fight. At 32, the Russian who trains in Nottinghamshire, in the English midlands, is exceptionally strong, solid fundamentally and heavy handed. He just looks a different fighter today to the one who lost to Kavaliauskas.
10: Yordenis Ugas (26-4, 12 KOs) was Olympic lightweight bronze medallist for Cuba in 2008 and at the age of 34 he’s showing some signs of wear and tear. Ugas barely got past competent Abel Ramos in his last fight. Strong and workmanlike, Ugas remains what the American fight trade would call a “tough out” but he could be starting to fade.
Honourable mention: Jamal James (27-1, 12 KOs) lost a unanimous decision to Yordenis Ugas five years ago but he’s won his last seven bouts and now looks a more mature, improved fighter. A tall, rangy boxer at 6ft 2ins, Minnesota’s James can move and box but he will also stand inside with an opponent and rip punches to the body. He went 12 rounds without too much trouble when outscoring capable Thomas Dulorme in his last fight. James comes into the “hard to beat” category.
Coming up fast: Conor Benn (18-0, 12 KOs) looked sensational when stopping veteran Samuel Vargas in the opening round last weekend. The son of “Dark Destroyer” Nigel Benn has made almost unbelievable progress since his desperately hard-fought win over Cedrick Peynaud in December 2017. Conor is fast, explosive and has shown dedication to his craft.
Coming back?: Keith Thurman (29-1, 22 KOs) hasn’t boxed since losing to Manny Pacquiao in July 2019. A former unified welter champion, he’s only 32 and obviously could figure in big fights at 147. This year Thurman has been sporting a new, close-cropped haircut and says he has regained his enthusiasm for boxing. We’ll see.
Main image: Amanda Westcott/Showtime.