(Re-written June 2010 by MJ Law)
In 1909, the National Sporting Club in the UK established the limits for the original eight weight divisions, which still stand to this day (flyweight @ 112 lbs, bantamweight @ 118 lbs, featherweight @ 126 lbs, lightweight @ 135 lbs, welterweight @ 147 lbs, middleweight @ 160 lbs, light heavyweight @ 175 lbs, and heavyweight unlimited). Prior to the Second World War, a junior lightweight and a junior welterweight division briefly surfaced. However, neither of them gained much acceptance or were taken seriously, and they ultimately fizzled out. In essence, the “in-between” divisions only really began to materialize in the 1960’s, after the formation of the WBA in 1962 and the WBC in 1963. Is this a coincidence? The proliferation continued throughout the 1970’s with the introduction of classes such as cruiserweight and junior flyweight. But they weren’t done yet. The 1980’s offered super middleweight and strawweight (or mini-flyweight or minimumweight, depending on which alphabet group's title is at stake). As most boxing fans know, the alphabet groups make money by charging a sanctioning fee every time a title fight takes place. Therefore, the more titles there are, the more sanctioning fees they collect. Is this the reason for having so many divisions? Is it also the reason why there are so many more titles (international, interim, intercontinental etc.)? Are any of these “in-between” divisions really necessary? Sugar Ray Robinson was world champion at welterweight in 1946 and middleweight (for the first time) in 1951; he did not need a junior middleweight division to compete successfully and defeat quality opposition above welterweight. Dick Tiger was world champion at middleweight (for the first time) in 1963 and light heavyweight in 1966; he did not need a super middleweight division. Harry Jeffra was world champion at bantamweight in 1937 and featherweight in 1940; he did not need a junior featherweight division. There are many more examples of two-division world champions who have campaigned only in the original eight divisions.
Terry McGovern was world champion at bantamweight in 1899 and featherweight in 1900 without the need for a junior featherweight division
With the current tally of an incredible seventeen weight classes, winning a world title in more than one division is much easier, especially given the large number of alphabet belts that are available. Joey Gamache won WBA titles at junior lightweight (in 1991) and lightweight (in 1992), but is he a genuine two-division world champion? Does his accomplishment match that of other genuine two-division world champions, like Fighting Harada (flyweight in 1962 and bantamweight in 1965) or Carmen Basilio (welterweight (for the first time) in 1955 and middleweight in 1957)? Regardless of the fact that Gamache was not universally recognized as an undisputed world champion in either division (unlike Harada and Basilio), he never defeated any credible, notable world-class opponents and the first time he did face one (Tony Lopez in 1992) he was beaten. At best, Gamache won only a pair of alphabet belts. Prior to the introduction of the “in-between” classes, becoming a two-division champion was a remarkable achievement, but now undistinguished fighters like Gamache can make such claims and it’s no big deal. It should take a special champion to do what Harada and Basilio did, and of course, they were special champions.
In 1997, the situation regarding the weight divisions was further affected by the introduction of day-before-the-fight weigh-ins. Basically, this means that a welterweight has to scale the 147 lb limit at the weigh-in, then has at least twenty-four hours to gain as much weight as he wishes, meaning he could be a middleweight by the time he steps through the ropes. Arguments over health issues have supposedly backed up this process for weigh-ins, in that boxers can be forced to starve themselves in order to make a particular limit and then step into the ring later that same day in a weakened condition, whereas this method allows a whole day to put weight back on. It may be a case of stating the obvious, but if a boxer does struggle to make a weight limit, why not just move up to the next division? Weighing in a day before makes a mockery of the existence of weight divisions when a match-up that's supposed to be in the welterweight class is actually between a pair of fighters who are above the welterweight limit. It also allows for a fighter to put on more weight than his opponent. As an example, let's say that Carl Contender faces Pete Prospect in a lightweight showdown. At the day-before-the fight weigh-in, both hit the 135 lb limit exactly. Afterwards, Carl heads off to MacDonalds and Pete guns for the nearest branch of Johnny Rockets. However, Carl has a bigger appetite and by the time they step into the ring 24 hours later he weights 148 lbs, whereas Pete now scales 139 lbs. Of course, neither of them are lightweights anymore, but even so, Carl has a significant weight advantage. This is a highly plausible scenario and occurs regularly in this era. It also ridicules the argument that seventeen weight divisions are necessary. If a fighter's natural fighting weight is 140 lbs (the junior welterweight limit) he could realistically never face an opponent who also weighs 140 lbs because of day-before-the-fight weigh-ins; he will face opponents who weigh whatever the hell they like as long as they hit 140 lbs a day in advance of the fight. Thus, he could be facing opponents who outweigh him by 5 lbs, 10 lbs or even more. So what's the point of a junior welterweight class?
Certain classes, for example bantamweight and junior bantamweight, are separated by a mere 3 lbs! Does that mean that a junior bantamweight has a cheeseburger and fries for lunch and suddenly he’s a bantamweight? And by that rationale, should there not be another division between junior middleweight and middleweight if a difference of a paltry 3 lbs is acceptable, and another one between super middleweight and light heavyweight, and so on? It would also mean that heavyweight Sultan Ibragimov should never have been allowed to take on Wladimir Klitschko on 23rd February 2008 due to their difference in weight, which was 19 lbs (Klitschko was 238 lbs and Ibragimov was 219 lbs). The difference between junior bantamweight and bantamweight is equivalent to only a small bag of sugar. Is this really a factor between winning and losing? And why is a huge weight discrepancy tolerable between heavyweights but not fighters from the lighter divisions?
Julio Cesar Chavez was a great fighter but not a true three-division world champion (the only genuine world title he held was at lightweight)
If a fighter is good enough he will beat an opponent who is a few pounds heavier. It’s that simple. It is why Michael Spinks (weighing 208) beat Gerry Cooney (weighing 238) in 1987, and why Roy Jones (193) beat John Ruiz (226) in 2003, and why Henry Armstrong (133) beat Barney Ross (142) in 1938, all illustrations of a “smaller” fighter defeating a “larger” opponent. In 2006, Ricky Hatton, a so-called junior welterweight, did not struggle in his win over welterweight Luis Collazo because he was naturally a few pounds lighter, he struggled because Collazo was a tricky southpaw whose style presented big problems for him. Just as in 1985, Thomas Hearns, a so-called junior middleweight, did not lose to world middleweight champion Marvin Hagler because he was naturally a few pounds lighter. He lost because he defiantly locked horns in a slugging match against a more durable opponent who was better at slugging. Furthermore, Hearns went on to score wins over full-blown middleweights James Shuler, Doug DeWitt and Juan Roldan, revealing that he was good enough to beat most middleweights but not a great one like Marvin. If Marvin had not been around, Hearns would very likely have dominated the middleweight division in the mid-1980's.
Mickey Walker won world championships at welterweight and middleweight without needing a junior middleweight division
Supporters of the “in-between” classes may highlight the fact that a significant number of quality fighters have campaigned in them. While that is true, would it not ensure a talent-packed top ten across the board if there were only the original eight divisions? Let’s take the welterweight and junior welterweight divisions at the end of 2007. At welterweight, amongst the top contenders were Miguel Cotto, Paul Williams, Kermit Cintron and Shane Mosley, who make an impressive quartet. At junior welterweight, amongst the top contenders were Junior Witter, Paulie Malignaggi, Gavin Rees and Juan Lazcano, also an impressive quartet. Imagine if every boxer weighing between 135 lbs and 147 lbs was a welterweight; it would guarantee that both aforementioned quartets would mix and make for a much improved division, prompting the best to face the best to make it to the top.
Has more divisions made boxing a safer sport? Nobody wants any boxer to suffer a fatality in the ring, but sadly it happens. It always has and everything should be done to prevent such a terrible tragedy. For the last decade, the average number of fatalities in a boxing ring per year was ten. In 1950, the number of fatalities was eleven. In 1960, it was ten. And in 1970, it was seven. These figures show that there has been no major difference regardless of how many weight divisions have been in existence. The “in-between” classes are, in general, needless, with their conception seemingly motivated by money-making opportunities more than anything else. And with the weight limits often being just a few pounds apart, it’s not unusual to have an alphabet group rate a certain fighter in one division and a different alphabet group rate the same fighter in another. By and large, boxing survived its first sixty years with eight divisions, and this website honours that tradition.