By john C. Cotey | Times Staff Writer
TAMPA — In the next seven days, the five best light heavyweights in the world will fight, and another — super middleweight champ Joe Calzaghe — could win a belt in his debut in the division.
Each fighter has claimed that he is the best in the division.
But there can be only one best.
Tonight's card at the St. Pete Times Forum features four of the claimants (Antonio Tarver fights Clinton Woods; Chad Dawson meets Glen Johnson) and will be the first step into cleaning up a division that has become one of boxing's more hotly contested.
"We'll eliminate two of them here in Tampa," said Gary Shaw, who hopes the fighters he promotes, Tarver and Dawson, are the ones left standing.
"Next Saturday (when Bernard Hopkins and Calzaghe fight), another one gets eliminated. Then we'll have three left. Those three guys have to fight."
So, who is the best? Each has a case.
1. Bernard Hopkins
He has no belts, and the Ring magazine champ has fought only once at the 175-pound limit, beating Tarver in 2006. But any conversation about the best light heavyweight has to start with him, because he is technically the linear champ. Then again, the 43-year-old could retire at any time and won't be in the picture much longer. Wait. Didn't we say that like three years ago?
2. Joe Calzaghe
Sure, he hasn't even fought as a light heavyweight yet, but the super middleweight champ should have no trouble with the extra poundage, and he has the game to beat anyone in the division. The 36-year-old is 44-0 and has long mulled a move to 175, but like Hopkins, we wonder how long he'll be sticking around.
3. Chad Dawson
At 25 years old (and unbeaten in 25 fights), Dawson is 10 years younger than the next youngest guy on this list. His trainer, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, says he doesn't have "the future of the light heavyweight division. … I have the division." He may be right.
The only question left is: Can the WBC champ clean out the division before all the other guys are using walkers? "I don't want them all to move on; I want to be the one that moves them on," Dawson said.
The durable and dangerous Johnson will be the stiffest test for Dawson, who still lacks that one defining victory.
4. Antonio Tarver
The Tampa resident and IBO champ might have less of a claim than anyone to the throne — he lost his undisputed title to Hopkins in 2006 and hasn't proved he is the fighter he was before that fight. He's still regarded as a dangerous fighter with a heavy punch, but he hasn't beaten anyone of note since 2005.
If he's impressive against Woods tonight and takes the IBF title, his dream of three fights, three belts and one undisputed champion becomes one of boxing's hot story lines.
5. (tie) Clinton Woods and Glen Johnson
We couldn't rank one over the other because they have been so evenly matched, fighting three razor-close fights, going 1-1 with a draw.
Sheffield's Woods, the IBF champ, had his big chance in 2002 but was knocked out by Roy Jones Jr. "I was just a baby then," he says. He's got some good wins on his ledger but no great ones. If Woods beats a big name like Tarver, it could set up a huge fight with Calzaghe back home.
Johnson has a better resume than Woods, despite having lost 11 times. But during his resurgence, he knocked out Jones and has beaten Tarver and Woods. At 39, he is hoping to climb the list by beating the young champion Dawson, possibly setting up a third fight with Tarver.
John C. Cotey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4612.
How we see the list in a week
6. Hopkins (retired)