The future is bright for US boxing with several young stars well positioned to light up the sport in America for years to come.
Talents such as David Benavidez, 24, Shakur Stevenson, 23, Jaron Ennis, 23 and Vergil Ortiz Jr, 22 all have opportunities dominate in the next decade.
However, it is at lightweight (135lbs) where a generational uprising appears to be getting underway.
The next generation of American boxing stars are coming through after Floyd Mayweather’s era of dominanceSports Illustrated – Getty
A truly special dynamic is emerging in which Gervonta Davis, 26, Teofimo Lopez, 23, Ryan Garcia, 22 and Devin Haney, 22 could face each other in super fights not too long from now.
It was Davis who first burst onto the world stage back in 2017.
The Floyd Mayweather protégé showed devastating punch power as he knocked out Jose Pedraza to claim the IBF super-featherweight (130lbs) world title.
It was a performance that left an indelible impression in the minds of all who witnessed it.
With Mayweather as his promoter, Gervonta Davis got a head startGetty Images – Getty
Davis’ star grew as he hit the road for a knockout UK defence against Liam Walsh and then appeared on the undercard of Mayweather’s mega fight with Conor McGregor.
Some issues outside the ring saw ‘Tank’ fight just once in 2018, but he returned with three KOs in 2019 and got back on track.
By this time, three other young fighters were arriving to crash the party.
The masterfully talented Devin Haney inked a deal with Eddie Hearn and began to pursue the man who many felt Davis’ team had swerved – Vasyl Lomachenko.
The ringside angle of @RealDevinHaney’s vicious KO vs. Moran will never get old. pic.twitter.com/ZsPCrv9QIr
— DAZN Boxing (@DAZNBoxing) October 3, 2020
A highlight reel KO of Antonio Moran travelled around the world and the WBC sanctioned Haney to take on Zaur Abdullaev for their ‘interim’ belt, meaning the winner would become Lomachenko’s mandatory.
Abdullaev was dispatched within four rounds, but Haney’s shot at glory was robbed from him.
The WBC elevated Loma to become ‘franchise’ champion and upgraded Haney to be the standard lightweight champion by default.
Through no wrongdoing of his own, his detractors and rivals began to label him an ’email champion’ as he had not fought to win his title.
Haney has been criticised as a result of the WBC’s nonsenseEd Mulholland/Matchroom
At the exact same point, Teofimo Lopez was ready to take on world level, however he decided to opt for a different route.
Lopez pursued his takeover by defeating Masayoshi Nakatani to become the IBF mandatory for champion Richard Commey.
As he’d underwhelmed in the Nakatani win, questions were asked as to whether Lopez could handle Commey at his young age.
He silenced all the doubters with a blistering right hand which sent the Ghanaian spinning across the ring in round two.
The fight was over not long later and a new king was crowned.
Lopez marked his arrival on the world stage in styleMikey Williams/Top Rank
“What a big shot by Lopez and Commey is on spaghetti legs.”
One year ago today, @TeofimoLopez won his first lightweight world title with this highlight reel knockout #TheTakeover pic.twitter.com/YNT0BeP8Iq
— ESPN Ringside (@ESPNRingside) December 14, 2020
Although slightly behind Lopez and Haney on the road to world level, Ryan Garcia also picked up momentum at this point.
The social media sensation had already built a gigantic profile for himself with more than seven million Instagram followers, but needed to prove he was a top level fighter.
Consecutive first-round KOs over Romero Duno in late 2019 and Francisco Fonseca in early 2020 forced people to sit up and take notice.
Then the pandemic hit.
Garcia trains alongside pound-for-pound king Canelo AlvarezTom Hogan – Hogan Photos/Golden Boy
With boxing ground to a halt, the momentum of all four young fighters was stunted for several months.
Eventually towards the back end of last year, major fights resumed and it was Lopez who moved first.
Following the delay, he courageously agreed to jump straight in with the lightweight division’s ruler Lomachenko in his first fight since becoming champion.
While all the young Americans found their feet, the 32-year-old Ukrainian had been dominating the division and collected the WBA, WBC ‘franchise’ and WBO titles.
Lomachenko was king at lightweight… until he met LopezMark Robinson/Matchroom
Haney had been unsuccessful in his quest to get to Loma, but as they shared the same promoter, Lopez secured the fight in October 2020.
Most felt the young champion was in too deep, he would get a lot of credit from challenging the great Lomachenko, but surely could not actually dethrone him.
Lopez and his equally brash father/trainer insisted, however, that they would triumph and, against the odds, they proved themselves right.
Lopez provided a constant deterrent as he utilised his reach and power advantages to frustrate Loma early on.
Although the Ukrainian battled back in the second half, Teofimo dominated the final round to seal a stunning upset points win.
Teofimo rules the lightweight division having conquered LomachenkoMikey Williams/Top Rank
Lopez now holds the WBA, WBC ‘franchise’, IBF and WBO lightweight titles and is irrefutably the main man in the division.
Davis picked up the WBA’s lesser ‘regular’ lightweight belt in 2019, but made his move post-pandemic by going back down to super-featherweight.
If there was one main criticism of Davis in his title reign thus far, it was that he had not yet faced an opponent better than Pedraza, who he initially beat to become champion in 2017.
As a result, he took on four-weight champion Leo Santa Cruz at the end of October and made a statement with a ruthless uppercut KO which sent shockwaves around the world.
Davis flattened Santa Cruz in dramatic fashionEsther Lin/Showtime
Sooo…. KO Of The Year?#DavisSantaCruz pic.twitter.com/I4R0hYciHL
— Premier Boxing Champions (@premierboxing) November 1, 2020
Next up was Haney, who defended his WBC lightweight belt with a comfortable points win over Yuriorkis Gamboa in November.
And then came Garcia’s time to step up to the big stage.
The social media starlet’s opportunity to prove he was far more than just an ‘Instagram boxer’ came when the WBC and WBO both offered him final eliminators.
The WBC presented former two-time title challenger and Olympic gold medallist Luke Campbell as the potential opponent, while the WBO put forward the lesser-proven Emmanuel Tagoe.
Campbell was a serious test for GarciaTom Hogan – Hogan Photos/Golden Boy
Garcia accepted the perceived tougher challenge and chose to face Campbell at the start of 2021 – a sizeable step up in class from his level of competition faced before this point.
In round two, he was made to question his decision as a left hand from the Brit sent him flying down to the canvas.
Garcia proved all of his critics wrong by recovering to his feet, recomposing himself and scoring a brutal body shot KO to finish Campbell in round seven.
Now Ryan Garcia, Gervonta Davis, Teofimo Lopez and Devin Haney are all established as top names around the lightweight division.
But what happens next?
Garcia showed true toughness and grit to overcome CampbellTom Hogan – Hogan Photos/Golden Boy
RYAN GARCIA KO’S LUKE CAMPBELL #GarciaCampbell
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 3, 2021
Some are already beginning to liken this era to that of iconic ‘Four Kings’ from the 1980s.
Between them, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran all fought each other and produced some of the greatest battles in the sport’s history.
This is what made them great and, as a result, they are still fondly remembered to this day.
Although it is of course premature at this stage to liken Garcia, Davis, Lopez and Haney to the ‘Four Kings’, this can be an achievable comparison if they follow the legends’ blueprint.
Fight each other, swerve no challenges, deliver the match-ups that fans want to see and, win or lose, your legacies will be glorious.
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