by Cliff Rold
It’s a division overtaken by action, youth, and quality in a hurry.
Since April 2016, Jr. lightweight has seen each of the four main sanctioning body titles change hands. The oldest, and perceived best, of the new crew is 29-year old WBO titlist Vasyl Lomachenko (8-1, 6 KO). Of the four, he is the elder statesman. The youngest is IBF titlist Gervonta Davis (18-0, 17 KO), all of 22.
The other pair of beltholders will be on display Saturday night (HBO, 9:50 PM EST/PST). 26-year old WBA titlist Jezreel Corrales (21-1, 8 KO), who knocked off longtime division leader Takashi Uchiyama twice, has spent all but those two fights in his native Panama. He makes his US debut underneath what could be a blazing main event.
25-year old Miguel Berchelt defends his WBC belt for the first time after battering the thrilling Francisco Vargas in January. He will be challenged by the man who stood across from Vargas in the 2015 Fight of the Year, former titlist Takashi Miura.
Fans of leather flying, and landing, have much to look forward to. Will the division continue its youth movement or can Miura out the old hands back in the game?
Let’s go the report card.
Title: WBC super featherweight (2017-Present, 1st Attempted Defense)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 129 ¼ lbs.
Hails from: Merida, Yucatán, Mexico
Record: 31-1, 28 KO, 1 KOBY
Record in Major Title Fights: 1-0, 1 KO
Rankings: #2 (BoxRec), #3 (BoxingScene, TBRB, ESPN, Boxing Monthly), #4 (Ring)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Cristobal Cruz TKO5; Francisco Vargas KO11
Previous Titles: WBC super featherweight (2013-15, 4 Defenses)
Height: 5’6 ½
Weight: 129 ¼ lbs.
Hails from: Tokyo, Japan
Record: 31-3-2, 24 KO, 2 KOBY
Record in Major Title Fights: 5-2, 4 KO, 2 KOBY
Rankings: #4 (TBRB, BoxRec, ESPN), #5 (Ring), #7 (Boxing Monthly), #8 (BoxingScene)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Takashi Uchiyama TKO by 8; Gamaliel Diaz TKO9; Billy Dib TKO3; Francisco Vargas TKO by 9
Pre-Fight: Speed – Berchelt B; Miura B
Pre-Fight: Power – Berchelt B+; Miura B
Pre-Fight: Defense – Berchelt C+; Miura C
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Berchelt B+; Miura B+
In winning his title earlier this year, Berchelt was able to exploit the willingness of Vargas. He couldn’t miss for most of the fight. Vargas rallied in moments if not many whole rounds until he ran out of brave stands. The best stands Vargas made came early in rounds.
It’s where Miura will have chances. Berchelt is a steady hand. Miura would be well suited to attack early in each round and hope to sustain his offense. Miura is an excellent body puncher and the southpaw puts everything he’s got behind winging shots to the head. If Berchelt stays in the pocket, he’s going to absorb some heavy fire.
Berchelt can contain some of that with his jab. Slightly taller, and with longer arms, Berchelt would be wise to use his legs and make Miura work to get to him as often as he can. It will give him the opportunity to catch Miura as he presses forward.
And Miura will press. The Japanese battler lets everyone know they’ve been in a fight. He’s not the fastest fighter, and has slowed down in recent years, but he fights with a purpose. The price for that is he takes plenty of shots. When his offense is working for him, he keeps fighters from punching back as much as they’d like but he can be wide open for return fire. His lack of head movement is a liability and could make him a target for Berchelt.
In terms of intangibles, both men have been stopped and rebounded in their careers to keep winning. Their chins aren’t steel but their resolve often is. If there is an edge for Berchelt to overcome Miura’s will, it comes in the form of what appears to be slightly more power and several fewer miles on him to date.
This should be a good fight. Miura is coming off a grueling war with Roman, yet another hard fight in a career with more than its share. Both fighters can be hit but Berchelt showed against Vargas he can be a bit more defensively responsible. His long jab and feet allow him to box as well as brawl. Miura really only has one gear and it works going forward. The challenger’s body attack is going to force Berchelt to stand his ground but the return fire will make the difference. As the fight wears on, Miura will be taking more and it’s going to tell. The pick here is for Berchelt to win a crowd pleaser, stopping Miura in the second half of the bout.
Report Card Picks 2017: 18-11
Berchelt-Miura is one of three fights on the HBO show…Corrales makes his defense against a Robinson Castellanos (24-12, 14 KO) who is better than his record and coming off a career best win against Yuriorkis Gamboa. Castellanos will give a game effort but Corrales will be too quick and too awkward. Unafraid to slow a fight down with clinches, Corrales should win a decision here with fairly decisive margins…Rounding out the televised card, Joe Smith Jr. (23-1, 19 KO) will try to let his heavy hands work their magic again after knockouts of Andrzej Fonfara and Bernard Hopkins. He faces a Sullivan Barrera (19-1, 14 KO) who has won two since a loss to Andre Ward. Smith has good hand speed and can crack but he’s also often wide open. Barrera is a more complete fighter and should be able to exploit Smith’s aggression. The pick is Barrera in a fun fight…This isn’t the only boxing on Saturday. To quiet fanfare, Fox will have boxing in prime time PBC on Saturday (8 PM EST/5 PM PST)…In the main event, Robert Guerrero (33-5-1, 18 KO) is fighting for a future after losses in three of his last four. He faces an undefeated Omar Figueroa (26-0-1, 18 KO) making his first start since 2015. Guerrero is more experienced and technically sound but Figueroa is six years younger and should be refocused. The pick is Figueroa in a fight too many are sleeping on in terms of action potential…Also notable on the card, former Olympian Marcus Browne (19-0, 14 KO) faces Seanie Monaghan (28-0, 17 KO) in a battle of New York light heavyweights. Browne has shown some vulnerability but this could be a coming out party as he inches towards title contention…Rounding out the day, in London Chris Eubank Jr. (24-1, 19 KO) is the pick to defeat, and perhaps even end the career of, former middleweight and super middleweight titlist Arthur Abraham (46-5, 30 KO).
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]