By Cliff Rold
A cerebral Jr. Featherweight division just feels wrong.
A drought of classics at Jr. Featherweight just feels like a vile black hole in the space/time continuum.
Jr. Featherweight isn’t the oldest of weight divisions (at least not in terms of continuous existence) but in its shorter existence it has become one of the most storied. From the reign of Wilfredo Gomez to very recently, Jr. Featherweight has been one of the great action sources for the sport.
It was so good from the mid-90s t the mid-2000s one could almost be spoiled. With four ‘Fight of the Year’ winners in the 2000s alone, names like Barrera, Morales, McKinney, Vazquez, Marquez (Rafael), and Monshipour were a standard for violence.
Since the end of the three-fight series between Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez (not including their Featherweight epilogue), it’s been a littler quiet. Oh, there have been good nights, but recently there has been a little too much boxing going on in the beast class.
The Cult of Rigo might want to skip down a bit.
Current champion Guillermo Rigondeaux is almost the anti-Jr. Featherweight. As sublime as his skills are, he is an anomaly in class. The expectations the division has built over the years are in stark contrast to the cerebral king of now and that may explain some of the box office results. The brief run of Nonito Donaire in the division prior to his loss to Rigondeaux didn’t really set things ablaze either.
When the weekend of the year…and Showtime…arrives just more than seven days from now, we might get a taste of the old stuff again.
To be sure, the weekend of the year took a hit this week. While it wasn’t expected to be a barnburner, a clash between the two best Heavyweights on the current scene added extra scope to the still full slate of September 5th and 6th. Wladimir Klitschko-Kubrat Pulev is postponed due to a Klitschko injury and now the Showtime show, on paper, is elevated from fifth best to fourth.
That means the weekend is still loaded. Jr. Featherweight is a big part of the equation.
Below Rigondueax, the core is more in line with tradition, an explosion of action waiting to happen. We started to see some of it last year. Current IBF titlist Kiko Martinez (31-4, 23 KO) turned heads with with a knockout upset of undefeated Jhonatan Romero and followed with knockouts of Jeffrey Mathebula and Hozumi Hasegawa. It was a remarkable turnaround considering one fight prior to Romero, he was stopped on a right hand by Carl Frampton.
On September 6th, it’s Frampton (18-0, 13 KO) again.
As was the case the first time, Martinez will travel to Frampton’s turf in Northern Ireland. Considering the roll he’s on, and that the first fight was competitive, there is reason to think Martinez is capable of turning the tables.
Frampton, still getting better and flush with confidence from their first encounter, provides reason to think he can’t.
Now with AWE set to broadcast in the US on TV and via webstream (3:30 PM EST/12:30 PM PST), the tapestry of the weekend is almost complete. There still isn’t any US outlet providing Friday’s Flyweight title fight (Akira Yaegashi-Roman Martinez) but hope spring eternal.
The Martinez-Frampton rematch is just a hint of what might be bubbling at 122 lbs. Much could depend on how long everyone sticks around. All-action WBC titlist Leo Santa Cruz (27-0, 15 KO) may move up before it all comes together. WBA ‘regular’ titlist Scott Quigg (28-0, 21 KO) is tall for the division and may as well.
Should they stay awhile, the boxing gods could do worse than to match them with the winner of Frampton-Martinez and let the fireworks commence. Even if none of them ever reach the heights of the Barrera’s and Gomez’s in the eyes of history, they can keep with their tradition in the ring together.
And, along the way, if Rigondeaux manages to get a couple of them and box them silly, the wars around him can keep the meter running. There’s room in boxing for blood and science.
For now, we anticipate the former.
When two fighters who have already made a fine encounter meet again, both seemingly red hot, with the stakes raised, that’s a fight.
And fighting is what the best of Jr. Featherweight has always been about.
Next week: FlyWars…It’s hard to imagine anything could sound as exciting on paper as the upcoming slate at 112 lbs. but an announcement for the undercard of Gennady Golovkin-Marcio Antonio Rubio might fit the bill. Nonito Donaire-Nicholas Walters is a puncher’s duel with speed to go with it…As a Fresno State fan, I wasn’t the least bit disappointed that the kid at USC was fibbing…Has anyone asked Marcos Maidana if he wants to fight for a Jr. Middleweight title…The Leftovers flashback episode might have been their best yet, though Nora’s episode is right there…It all pales in comparison to The Strain.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]