If anyone thought Terence Crawford departing the 140-pound class to fight as a full-fledged welterweight was going to hurt the division, it might have been a premature notion. Crawford held all four of the major belts and his departure left all four up for grabs. At the time most thought of the division as being not much more than Crawford and company, but oh how things have become interesting in just the last month with the names Taylor, Garcia, Relikh, Progais and Ramirez jockeying for the various belts and the top spot .
The spirited action at 140 has percolated since March 3rd, starting with former Olympian Josh Taylor (pictured) taking apart Winston Campos in three rounds to win the WBC silver super lightweight title, dropping Campos twice in the second round and once in the third.
Taylor 12-0 (11) may well turn out to be the biggest Scottish star since Ken Buchanan; maybe even bigger! He’s a very strong kid, technically sound. His best attribute is his body punching and he’s already one of the best body punchers in boxing. He never lets you rest and just digs and digs to the body as he moves you constantly to the ropes. He’s got legit kayo power in either hand and he mixes up his combinations. He’s also got tons of confidence. He hasn’t been hit hard yet, but my gut instinct is that he’d hold up.
Six days later on March 9th, the most colorful fighter in the division, southpaw Regis Prograis 21-0 (18), fought former IBF/WBA champ Julius Indongo for the WBC interim title. Prograis, starting about mid-way through the first round, imposed himself physically and mentally on Indongo, who he sensed might not have fully recovered after being knocked out by Crawford in a devastating manner in his previous bout in August of last year, losing his titles and undefeated record in the process.
Prograis got the job done a round faster than Crawford, but Regis needed to drop Indongo four times — once in the first round and three times in the second – to finish him off, whereas Crawford finished him with one punch in the third round after registering an earlier knockdown. Prograis was walking Indongo down and had the fight going his way by the end of the first round and due to his non-stop aggression Indongo was forced to rush his punches and was a little wide with them and that was all Progais needed. In Prograis you have a fighter that assumes he’s the alpha regardless of who is in the other corner. Add to that he has fight altering power in both hands and isn’t afraid to let them go and he just may be the most dangerous fighter in the division.
Prograis vs. Taylor is a genuine pick-’em fight.
March 10th was a busy day for a few of the other elites campaigning at 140. Kiryl Relikh 22-2 (19) fought a rematch with Rances Barthelemy for the WBA vacant super-lightweight title. The first time they met Barthelemy won a highly controversial unanimous decision with both fighters going down once. This time there was no disputing the outcome. The judges saw it the same way as everyone else, awarding Relikh the decision by scores of 118-109 twice and 117-110. Barthelemy was wary of Relikh’s power and usually only let his hands go when he felt it was safe and in position to get out without having to engage or exchange. The fight had some back and forth moments, but it was Relikh who set the pace and distance at which they fought and left no doubt that he was the rightful fighter to claim the title.
Later that night WBC lightweight title holder Mikey Garcia 38-0 (30) won a lopsided decision over IBF super lightweight champ Sergey Lipinets. Garcia’s full arsenal was on display against the bigger and stronger Lipinets. Forced to fight mostly as the counter puncher on his back foot, Garcia mixed his offense and ability to block and counter beautifully. And when Lipinets was looking for a breather, Mikey exploded offensively with some great lead one-twos finding the mark with his normal regularity.
Mikey Garcia isn’t the most athletic fighter in boxing but he’s virtually faultless fundamentally and isn’t a limited fighter depending solely on speed, power or athleticism to win. Garcia has a great boxing IQ and knows when to throw the right punch at the most opportune time, which he does consistently. In the seventh round, Mikey dropped Lipinets with a perfect counter left hook that would’ve finished most other fighters. Shortly before scoring the knockdown, Garcia was caught by a monumental right on the chin and didn’t flinch. More than that, he didn’t lose his foot positioning as he maintained his balance, remaining in position to counter and finish the exchange, further illustrating a dependable chin and applicable ring strength at 140.
This past weekend 2012 Olympian Jose Ramirez 22-0 (16) met Amir Imam 21-2 (18) for the vacant WBC 140-pound title in The Theater at Madison Square Garden. On display was Ramirez’s hunger and determination as he won a 12-round unanimous decision (115-113, 117-111, and 120-108).
The bout wasn’t totally one sided. In the early going Imam was having success landing his long stinging jab, but he lacked the needed corresponding finishing shots behind it. As the fight progressed, Ramirez found his rhythm and fought his fight, crowding Imam and forcing him to rush his shots. At the start of the 12th round, Imam was slowed to a walk and looked to be in trouble. In an attempt to seize on that and win by stoppage, Ramirez emptied the wagon but Imam summoned great reserve, clinching and tying up Ramirez and managing to fight back enough to survive the round, leaving the outcome in the hands of the judges.
It was a very good showing by Ramirez but I came away thinking he was less of a puncher than what I had figured him to be. He clearly won the fight — his overall strength and physicality proved to be the difference — but it took everything he had to separate himself from a fighter in Imam who on this night had nothing but a jab to offer in return.
On April 14 at the O2 arena in London former WBO lightweight title holder Terry Flanagan 33-0 (13) will fight Maurice Hooker 23-0-3 for the vacant WBO title. This will be the southpaw Flanagan’s maiden fight at 140 after making five defenses of his lightweight title. (As this fight gets closer, I will provide a detailed breakdown with host Miguel Iturrate on The Boxing Channel.)
As it stands now at 140, Jose Ramirez holds the WBC title, Kiryl Relikh the WBA and Mikey Garcia the IBF with the WBO being sorted out next month. Nipping at their heels are Regis Prograis and Josh Taylor who I believe will turn out to be the biggest threats to all the belt holders.
I would designate Mikey Garcia as the fighter at the top the food chain, but Prograis is a threat to him right now and when Taylor gets a little more experience he’ll be right there as well. Garcia being the most experienced with the best overall game has the tools and strength to outbox Prograis and Taylor, but it certainly isn’t a given. Ramirez is seen as a big time player at the weight but based off his showing against Imam I believe his lack of single shot altering power would really be an issue against the three I just named. Also, Sergey Lipinets cannot be ruled out as a threat just because Garcia beat him. Four or five of the 12 rounds they fought were in question until Garcia opened up with about a minute remaining in the round to seal if for him.
Assuming Flanagan, who is a very well rounded boxer who knows his way around the ring, beats Hooker, it’s plausible his lack of a big punch will be his stumbling block against Garcia, Prograis and Taylor when the time arrives for them to meet. And in spite of his high knockout percentage I see the same issue being the bridge too far for Relikh. And maybe it’s not so much his power shortage against Garcia, Prograis and Taylor as it is those three are really strong at 140 and they all have skill along with power which to date they’ve shown the capacity to deliver.
Had Terence Crawford remained at 140 he’d be the greatest fighter in the division as long as he could continue to make weight without taxing his body too much. And if that were the case we would be seeing mostly one-sided title bouts against the current lot of title holders and contenders because he’s just better than any of them. However, in his absence we’ll get to see highly competitive fights at the top of the division with not one single fighter being automatic over everybody else, including Mikey Garcia.
If the welterweight division is boxing’s deepest weight class, stacked with outstanding fighters and a couple of near greats, the junior welterweight is making a strong case that it, and not the light heavyweight division, is the second baddest block in boxing.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
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