Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someonePin on Pinterest

Super-Featherweights – Divisions that burn almost always disappoint.  At any given moment there is a “best division in the sport” but these fistic hotbeds usually fail to produce the matches necessary to clarify and the flames smolder to ashes.  Seventeen weight divisions makes for neighborhoods in close proximity that are often less dangerous than the best division in the sport and a fighter might break up the party with a move a few pounds to the north.  Rival promotions teams might cost us clarity with their ridiculous squabbling about weights and rings and money; and worst of all, the proliferation of straps and the bizarre organizations that foster them mean that most of the best fighters in a given division can have their own “world-championship” anyway.  So why take the hard fights?

I’m going to give myself a reason for regret in suggesting that super-featherweight (okay, junior-lightweight if you insist), will be an exception.  Currently without a lineal champion, this is not an unusual state for the division in an historic sense, decades having fallen by the wayside without a recognized kingpin, including most of the 1940s.  The division’s last true champ was one Manny Pacquiao, who ditched the title as soon as he won it and stepped up.  Of all the divisions, 105lbs aside, 130lbs is the one most in search of a true identity – and, since 2008, a true king.

But all that can be changed by signing the most natural re-match in the sport right now, namely a second fight between the granite-tough and divisional number one Francisco Vargas, and the back alley cutthroat and divisional number two, Orlando Salido. Salido came desperately close to mugging Vargas in their meeting earlier this month for one of the straps that litter the division in a wonderful, surging fight that seems almost stuck on for Fight of the Year.

Salido fascinated immediately after that brutal squabble naming the slugfest “complicated,” something he had expected, a wonderful insight into the twenty-year veteran’s reading of the fight.  A truly deep stylistic match-up in addition to being inevitably thrilling, Salido lost every second he tried to spend resting in that fight as Vargas, with his more correct approach, was able to pick him off with straight punches; meanwhile, on the inside, Vargas was Salido’s near equal, but not quite.  Despite a narrow guard that protected his body well and a lovely line in sneaky, chopping punches to Salido’s head, “Siri” was able to edge many exchanges on the inside.  My own sense was that Salido, with experience stretching back so far that Vargas was just a boy when he turned professional, was able to read these ebbs and flows well enough to ride the Vargas storm, which was considerable in its ferocity.  Smoother, better technically, Vargas had more and more trouble imposing the style that brought him the greatest advantage as the workrate and the savagery of exchanges between them took an inevitable toll.

However, such is the excellence of the division that it is possible that more intrigue – if not expectation of thundering violence – may lie in the spots below these two tops.  Ranked at number three (all rankings by TBRB) is “El Invisible”, Jezreel Corrales, out of Panama.

Panamanian boxing is defined by its greatest exponents as a terrifying combination of smooth and hard-nosed; Roberto Duran most famously embodied these attributes in boxing for all-time, but guys like Panama Al Brown and Ismael Laguna were almost as impressive in their way, technicians in the truest sense with a well-honed sense of machismo to draw upon when things got tough.  Corrales is a hundred miles of bad road from keeping this kind of company, but he combines excellent footwork with delightful southpaw awkwardness that’s led him to a 20-1 record and a place at the top table of the sport’s hottest division.  That single loss was an early four-rounder that saw him come off the deck to drop a decision but he hasn’t looked back and although a dearth of knockouts means his power is called into question, the frequent visits of his opposition to the canvas as he worked his way up underline his ability to suddenly and hurtfully attack.

This makes Corrales the ugly girl at the dance, easily ignored, stylistically hampered in a sport that demands knockouts.  But the most recent of the eight knockouts he has scored rings out as the most significant victory held by anyone currently boxing in the division.  Takashi Uchiyama’s status as the world’s #1 super-featherweight stretches all the way back to 2011.  A fighter seemingly perennially on the cusp of a pound-for-pound ranking, all of this was taken away from him by Corrales in two devastating rounds in April, in Uchiyama’s Tokyo fortress no less.  Giving ground in small increments, Corrales fearlessly barraged the Japanese with lead right hands as varied as they were unexpected, uppercuts to the body, tossed straight-rights from the back-foot, and, for the first knockdown, a driven, looping punch that tore straight through the target.  Staying off center, marrying head-movement to speculative attacks, it is not difficult to imagine this style giving Vargas all sorts of trouble and the power he demonstrated in dropping Uchiyama three times to hand him the first stoppage loss of his career raised some eyebrows.  While it’s hard to imagine Corrales stopping someone as flat-out hard as Salido, there is more than a suggestion here that his lightning-strike right hands might keep a normally busy opponent more honest than he is accustomed to being.

Typically, because this scintillating stoppage occurred five thousand miles from Las Vegas, it hasn’t impacted western boxing psyches in the same way it might have had it occurred in London or New York, but it still registers as the most stunning result in the division this decade.  It also leaves him in possession of one of the straps coveted by the likes of Salido, who is currently sans-bauble.

Though the meaning of El Invisible’s destruction of Uchiyama cannot be overstated, there’s no question as to the headline news at 130lbs and that is the arrival at the poundage of laser-guided wrecking-ball Vasyl Lomachenko.

More ink has been expended on Lomachenko than any other fighter who has (ostensibly) boxed less than ten professional contests than perhaps any other such fighter in history.  I will own up and say that I’ve been more impressed by Naoya Inoue, the super-flyweight Japanese who seems to have the world at his feet every bit as much as his Ukrainian counterpart, but Lomachenko’s recent detonation of Roman Martinez was incredible.

Martinez, currently ranked number nine in the division, bounced back from losses to Ricky Burns in 2010 and Mikey Garcia in 2013 with two wonderful performances against Salido in 2015.  Both were Fight of the Year contenders.

In the first, Martinez seemed at first a little shrill, expending nervous energy while keeping Salido at bay with quick feet and hard, straight punches; all the while, menacing and feinting Martinez back and then digging for his guts, Salido sought to wear him down.

This is not just a cliché.  Clearly the better of the two when both men were fresh, Martinez fought dual missions.  First, he needed to keep Salido off for as long as possible.  Second, he needed to inflict maximum damage while on top in order to make up for the inevitability of Salido usurping him.  Salido works a slow poison, and if you can’t control him, it reaches your blood.  As his bodywork took a toll on Martinez’s legs, so their fights changed, and Martinez went from fast-moving and quick-punching, to static and fighting the gutter war Salido lives for.

In their first fight, Martinez was lucky and brilliant.  He was lucky because his nervous style worked as the perfect rhythm-breaker and prevented any pattern emerging early.  He was brilliant because he twice dropped Salido, and hurt him, with surging, surgical right-hands in the first half of the fight.  These were the key points, bagged while he was on top and the difference makers in what, on paper, looked a comfortable UD.

The second fight was far tougher for Martinez.  He boxed in a calmer fashion but this allowed Salido, who reportedly trained like an animal for this contest, to sink his teeth into the gristle early.  He took some brutal shots as they shared the spoils in a fight that I scored clearly for Salido.

Martinez, then, is seasoned, capable, and proven under fire.  This all counted for naught against Lomachenko who toyed with Martinez, out-classed him, flat-out bullied him in what was his first contest at the weight.  The finishing right hook was a hideous punch and as Martinez lay prone on the canvas he wore the expression of an atheist who had been spoken to by God.  Lomachenko had lost not a moment, nor a step, in moving up a weight and I was reminded of nobody so much as Roy Jones – not specifically in terms of style, but in the sense that I was watching someone unbound by the gravity that holds the rest of us to the canvas.

Consider that Lomachenko is only the divisional number four, and consider the fascinating backstory he shares with Salido.  The anointed world-class amateur and the scar-faced Mexican bandit have met before, in one of the most controversial fights of 2014, a fight that Salido won, and in winning, performed his job, but a fight in which the deeply challenged Laurence Cole failed pitifully to do his.  “Referee” Cole missed, by some counts, around three low blows per round making the decision that Lomachenko dropped to the savage Salido questionable to many.  Lomachenko seems keen to make Salido’s re-acquaintance at the new poundage.  Salido is willing.

And the fun doesn’t stop there.  Rounding out the top five is Takashi Miura, “a much more powerful puncher” than Salido according to Vargas.  Vargas should know.  In November last year, Miura turned Vargas’s face into liver after dropping him to the canvas with the kind of body shots that make those in the expensive seats shift uncomfortably.  Vargas battled back, and stopped Miura in nine, but the Japanese remains perhaps the second best puncher (after, perhaps, Lomachenko) in a division stacked with hitters and chins.

Lower down, Uchiyama remains a factor and shouldn’t be ruled out; an all Japanese clash between he and Miura is mouth-watering.  The unbeaten Javier Fortuna ranks just behind him at number seven with Jose Pedroza, also unbeaten, ranked at number eight.  Martinez is at nine, and remember veteran Edner Cherry?  Pedroza does, having recently defeated Cherry in a twelve round split.

Potential rematches: Lomachenko-Salido II, Vargas-Salido II, Salido-Martinez III, Uchiyama-Corrales II and Vargas-Miura II, all fascinating. Veterans Vargas and Salido sharing space with prospects Fortuna and Pedroza and perhaps the world’s most exciting prospect, Lomachenko.  Awkward and potentially deadly, Corrales may be impossible to ignore and the toppled Martinez, divisional legend Uchiyama and even Cherry perhaps all still have something to offer.

It is true that Vargas is nursing huge swathes of stitches after his gruelling war with Salido, just as it is true that Salido has flirted with retirement, Miura with lightweight; but it is a stacked division of evenly matched fighters with a big bright shining star nestled right in the middle of them.

One-hundred and thirty pounds is known best as a way-station for great fighters departing featherweight for lightweight, but if it delivers even a third of the potentially thrilling contests that lie in the center of its galaxy it may forge a new identity – namely the most exciting division in the sport and a worthy birthplace for Lomachenko’s greatness.

Rank

Name

Record – W-L-D (KO)

Nationality

Last Week

OPEN

1

Francisco Vargas

23-0-2 (17)

MEX

1

2

Orlando Salido

42-13-4 (30)

MEX

2

3

Jezreel Corrales

20-1-0 (8)

PAN

3

4

Vasyl Lomachenko

6-1-0 (4)

UKR

4

5

Takashi Miura

30-3-2 (23)

JPN

5

6

Takashi Uchiyama

24-1-1 (20)

JPN

6

7

Javier Fortuna

29-0-1 (21)

DR

7

8

Jose Pedraza

22-0-0 (12)

PR

8

9

Roman Martinez

29-3-3 (17)

PR

9

10

Edner Cherry

34-7-2 (19)

BAH

10

Check out the complete Boxing rankings at TBRB.org.

 

Comment on this article

Facebook Comments