Boxing's lightweight division is one of the sport's deepest and most exciting. It has also, in recent years, become one of the most unpredictable, rocked by massive upsets and plans dashed by war.
Still, the division is loaded with stars and the potential for some of the biggest potential clashes in the sport. Boxing's structural complexities throw into question how likely those fights are to come together. But Saturday's clash for the undisputed lightweight championship between George Kambosos Jr. and Devin Haney, along with Gervonta "Tank" Davis' win over Rolando Romero mark two good starting points to look at how the division could develop in the coming year.
It starts with Kambosos vs. Haney
No one expected Kambosos to play a role in the future of the championship picture, but he turned the boxing world on its head with his. Of course, there's some minor debate over whether Kambosos is truly undisputed given Haney holds the WBC championship, but Kambosos won the WBC's franchise title and the WBC said he should be considered undisputed. Either way, all the belts are on the line when the two meet on Saturday.
Haney is a slight favorite heading into the bout and should the odds prove predictive, his next fight will be a rematch with Kambosos, again in Australia. Those terms, set by Kambosos while fully understanding his power as champion, could lead to every world title in the division being tied up between the two for the better part of the next year. And, should Haney win the first fight and Kambosos the rematch, it's hard to imagine a rubber match not being the next step for both men.
A Kambosos win on Saturday may provide the most wide-open scenario for the division as he's maybe the easiest fighter with whom to make fights, opening up the potential for a number of other top stars in the division, including Vasiliy Lomachenko, who was supposed to be facing Kambosos instead of Haney before war broke out in Lomachenko's native Ukraine.
'Tank' Davis' future will be determined by his promoter
Leading to the fight with Romero, Davis repeatedly said he was breaking away from Mayweather Promotions and possibly even Premier Boxing Champions. Davis has become one of the biggest stars in the sport, drawing huge crowds and big interest every time he steps in the ring. For all the fame and explosive knockout power, the big knock on Davis has been his level of opposition. Theoretically, stepping away from both Mayweather and PBC would change that, with promotional concerns no longer centered around fighting opponents from "within the stable."
Despite saying it was time to control his own career and saying he would be leaving Mayweather Promotions following the Romero fight, Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe said after the fight that Davis was still promoted by them. That would severely limit who Davis can fight, including almost certainly shooting down a fight with Ryan Garcia, a fellow young lightweight star who again recently called for a fight with Davis.
Davis vs. Garcia would be the biggest fight in the lightweight division in terms of mainstream attention, bigger than any potential undisputed title fight. That's simply a fact. But if Davis is still with Mayweather Promotions and PBC, the fight becomes nearly impossible to make. DAZN recently signed a new deal with Golden Boy Promotions and Garcia is a key part of that deal, so they're not going to have Garcia fight off the DAZN platform and PBC/Mayweather Promotions aren't going to send Davis to fight on DAZN.
If Davis sticks with his current situation, his choices at lightweight are thin. Davis already shot down the idea of a rematch with Romero, which may leave a rematch with Isaac Cruz as the likely option for Davis at lightweight, or he could test the waters at a different division once again.
What happens with Garcia?
We do know that first for Garcia is. That fight was supposed to happen last year as a WBC-ordered fight to determine a mandatory challenger for the world title, but Garcia withdrew to attend to his mental health. At the time, both men had already won fights that made them mandatory challengers in the WBC's ever-confusing title picture.
A win over Fortuna puts Garcia into a position where he needs a big challenge as it is past time to see him step up his level of competition. We've already established a fight with Davis is likely off the table, but a fight for the undisputed championship is not, though that may be one or two fights away depending on how Kambosos vs. Haney plays out.
Garcia is a big-money fighter and has talked about wanting to fight Haney and certainly would see Kambosos as a solid option as well. Of course, Garcia has talked about a lot of big fights and they've failed to materialize. Time will tell.
After I beat Javier Fortuna, I’m willing to have 24-7 coverage of the negotiations to fight Tank Davis. Is he willing to do that tho? Cmon Ellerbe hahahah let’s see who’s really ducking… 🤷♂️— RYAN GARCIA (@RyanGarcia) June 1, 2022
What about the division's other big names?
Just one year ago, Teofimo Lopez was in charge of the division. He held all the belts -- except for Haney's kind-of-sort-of world title -- and had seemingly all the talent to hold onto them until he outgrew the division, a day that seemed to be approaching fast. Then came Kambosos and Lopez putting on a career-worst performance. He has now moved up to 140 pounds, abandoning lightweight as he looks to inject some new life into his career. Interestingly, Lopez recently called for a fight with Davis at the new weight.
Vasiliy Lomachenko is not one of the division's young stars, but he may well still be the best lightweight on the planet. He suffered a disappointing loss to Lopez in October 2020 in a fight where Lomachenko did very little in the opening rounds. He's since come back with resounding victories over Masayoshi Nakatani and Richard Commey, proving he's still among the elite of the elite in boxing. Lomachenko's future is something of a mystery due to the ongoing war in Ukraine.
One future name that immediately adds another elite contender is Shakur Stevenson, the unified WBO and WBC super featherweight champion. Stevenson has said he's torn between attempting to unify all four world titles at 130 pounds or moving up to 135 in pursuit of the biggest fights possible. Stevenson has expressed a desire to fight the likes of Davis and Lomachenko while claiming he's taken bigger risks in his career than anyone in the lightweight division.
Options abound in a division loaded with talent but the politics, timing and every fighter's willingness to make the big fights have to align to make the future as bright as it possibly could be.