Welcome to Today’s Knockout’s “Ranks in Review,” a feature where we examine one boxing division, starting with the heavyweights and ending with the 105-pound minimumweights. Our champions will be the men who have earned it the ring, not been handed a belt by a combination of letters, and our rankings come from the computers of boxing’s most valuable website, BoxRec.
Today, we are looking at one of the great divisions in boxing history – the featherweights. Sandy Saddler and Willie Pep went to war at 126 pounds, and in more recent years, the division has been ruled by Alexis Arguello, Salvador Sanchez, Naseem Hamed, Marco Antonio Barrera and Manny Pacquiao.
CHAMPION: Nicholas Walters (26-0, Jamaica)
The “Axe Man” won the vacant title with a vicious knockout on Nonito Donaire a year ago, and coming off an equally brutal stoppage of Vic Darchinyan, it looked like he might be the next great featherweight star.
Sadly, he didn’t make the weight for his first title defense, coming in at 127 pounds against little-known Miguel Marriaga. He won an easy decision, but he’s fighting at junior lightweight in December against journeyman Jason Sosa. He’s still the champ for now – we’ll see what he does after the Sosa fight – but don’t be surprised if this title becomes vacant sooner rather than later.
No. 1 Contender: Leo Santa Cruz (31-0-1, Mexico)
Santa Cruz has been a star at bantamweight and junior featherweight, and he stamped his credentials on his third division with a thrilling majority-decision win over Abner Mares in August.
If Walters is on his way to 130 pounds, Santa Cruz will hold the future of the featherweight title in his hands, and that’s not a bad place for it to be. The only blemish on his record is a draw in the second fight of his career, eight years ago, and he and Mares proved that they can put on great fights.
No. 2 Contender: Robinson Castellanos (21-10, Mexico)
That’s not a typo, Castellanos is really the No. 2 contender at featherweight with 10 losses in 31 fights. In September 2010, he lost a split decision to Sergio Reyes to drop his career record to 8-9. He seemed destined to spend his career as an opponent in Mexican venues.
Since then, he’s gone 13-1 with wins over Celestino Caballero and, in January, a blowout decision over Rocky Juarez. That made him the mandatory challenger for Jhonny Gonzalez’s alphabet belt, but Gonzalez lost his belt to Gary Russell Jr. and Castellanos is still waiting for his shot.
(For some readers of Today’s Knockout, Jhonny Gonzalez is best known as the husband of Lucha Underground’s Sexy Star.)
No. 3 Contender: Lee Selby (22-1, England)
Selby is another in a wave of talented British fighters who are making their impact on the world scene. He won the British, Commonwealth and European titles at 126 pounds, before taking an alphabet championship away from Evgeny Gradovich with a dominating performance in May.
He looked just as good beating veteran Fernando Montiel on Oct. 14, and should have his sights set on Walters or Santa Cruz in 2016.
No. 4 Contender: Simpiwe Vetyeka (27-3, South Africa)
Vetyeka got a shot at the bantamweight championship in just his 17th pro fight, and did a nice job despite losing a unanimous decision. That was in 2007, and six years later, he had faded off everyone’s radar.
He turned himself into a 126-pound contender with a 12th-round TKO of Daud Yordan in April 2013, then stunned the world eight months later by becoming the first fighter to ever beat Chris John. His momentum was stalled by a five-round technical-decision loss to Donaire after a clash of heads, but he’s still got one or two big fights left.
No. 5 Contender: Gary Russell Jr. (26-1, United States)
Russell was 24-0 in June 2014 when he lost a majority decision to Vasyl Lomanchenko, who came into the fight with a 1-1 record. That can partially be excused by the fact that Lomanchenko is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, but it still isn’t a great loss.
He rallied in March of this year to blow out Gonazlez in four rounds, and is defending his alphabet title next month against journeyman Oscar Escandon, who “earned” the shot by losing his last fight, which was at 122 pounds. This, friends, is why alphabet belts are meaningless.
If you’ve missed out on any of our previous rankings, be sure to check them out below:
- Light Heavyweights
- Super Middleweights
- Junior Middleweights
- Junior Welterweights
- Junior Lightweights