By Cliff Rold
For those who argue Boxing has too many weight divisions (which it really doesn’t…c’mon, like Americans would pay to see Flyweight is one class versus three), Featherweight is case in point. One of Boxing’s hot spots in recent years, global cooling has all but settled in. Arguments against seventeen weight classes are best made in regards to the depth they eradicate in most classes.
At Featherweight, the removal of superstars Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao not only removed the identity of the division but also almost all of the battlers regarded as elite at 126 lbs. Without those names to grow old and be sacrificed to the young, a new crop awaits a chance to shine. Departures this year by titlists Jorge Linares and Robert Guerrero removed perhaps the two brightest rising stars, but Steven Luevano is filling their void.
In 2009, the world can look forward to seeing whether the best of the Featherweights can face each other and give one of Boxing’s most storied classes new chapters to brag about. For now…
Featherweight Fighter of the Year: Chris John (42-0-1, 22 KO)
After a pedestrian 2007, John stepped up his game again this year with a pair of top-ten wins. One came against fringe player Roinet Caballero; the challenge from Hiroyuki Enoki was deadly serious. Both men fought like it waging a tough twelve round war.
Even with the wins, John remains an enigma to much of the world. A star in his native Indonesia, he’s notched ten WBA title defenses and many curious observers waiting to get a real look in the States.
While controversy reigned in his 2006 victory over Juan Manuel Marquez, it harmed him more to have it go dark in much of the world. This year, he had quality competition but still lacked the moneyed audience. There is no doubt John has earned the right to be called the World’s best Featherweight for now, but let’s hope 2009 leads to his being able to play on the world stage. A bout with the winner of the proposed Luevano-Rocky-Juarez fight would be the perfect start.
Featherweight Fight of the Year: Rogers Mtgawa TKO10 Tomas Villa
In a blah year, it’s less than shocking that the best fight of the year at 126 lbs. would take place between obscure talents wishing for a way towards the best. As reported by Jake Donovan https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=16836:
Both fighters came out swinging from the opening bell. Mtwaga got the party started, courtesy of a series of overhand rights that had Villa momentarily shook. An upset appeared to be in the works for much of the first round, only Mtwaga went to the well once too often with what he believed was his money punch.
Villa caught on, and figured how to time and counter. The result was a well-placed right hand that drove Mtwaga to the ropes. As the round wore on, it was clear to see who had the better game plan - or so the first nine rounds would suggest. Villa remained focus on his target, dodging Mtwaga’s wide punches and landing crisp, compact shots on the inside.
Sound advice came out of Mtwaga’s corner in between rounds, as they urged their fighter to work behind the jab rather than constantly swinging for the fences. It didn’t work out too well; Villa spent much of the second round picking apart Mtwaga, observing every punch while constantly moving into position to counter and maintain control of the tempo.
Mtwaga was already unraveling by the third round, as the Philly-based featherweight simply couldn’t adjust his style to get back into the fight. There wasn’t a punch Villa didn’t land in the round – uppercuts, left hooks, straight rights; all of them eventually found their way to Mtwaga’s chin or body. It’s not to say that there was nothing coming back in return, just that none of it was disrupting Villa’s attack.
That momentarily changed in the fourth; Mtwaga slowed the bum rush with a straight right that drew a reaction from the crowd. Villa recovered well enough to eventually come back with a left hook that appeared to cause a knockdown, only for referee Rocky Burke to rule it a slip. Mtwaga took advantage of the non-call, holding his own with, and often gaining the upper hand on, Villa for the remainder of the round.
A left hook early in the fifth swung the momentum back in favor of the adopted crowd favorite. Not that it lasted very long – pretty much, the theme of the night. Mtwaga came roaring back, cracking Villa with right hands to force Villa into reactionary mode. The two kept the action in a phone booth, Villa hooking to the body while Mtwaga was landing upstairs.
Villa’s straight punches allowed him to control the temp for most of the sixth round. A right cross to the body sent Mtwaga to the ropes early in the round, a left hook driving him across the other side of the ring moments later. As Villa went in stalker mode, Mtwaga attempted to set traps, resulting in several chopping right hands finding their way to his opponent’s chin.
The punches kept flying in the seventh and eighth rounds, though Villa made it a habit of keeping his chin tucked in while picking his shots. Mtwaga was the busier fighter throughout both rounds, but Villa managed to slip or pick off most of the incoming, coming back with straight right hands. A corker of a right by Villa punctuated a frenetic eighth, prompting Mtwaga to respond even though the bell already sounded.
If the fight was any sort of close to this point, Villa attempted to remove all doubt in the ninth. A straight right hand forced Mtwaga to lean back midway through the round for the bout’s first official knockdown. Villa spent most of the rest of the round trying to finish the job.
He failed… in a big way.
Mtwaga survived the onslaught and offered a round-ending flurry to send the message that he was far from out of it.
Villa received it loud and clear in the final round. What was thought to be the final stretch of an apparent points win instead produced the end of his 12-fight unbeaten streak.
Mtwaga fought like a man possessed, landing a massive overhand right to send Villa to the canvas. The Mexican beat the count, but never truly recovered. Two more knockdowns would follow, the last of which forced referee Rocky Burke to intervene without offering a final count.
The official time was 1:20 of the tenth and final round.
Featherweight: The Year in Results
Since last January, BoxingScene has produced quarterly ratings for each of Boxing’s seventeen weight classes. Ratings for the first quarter of 2009 should be available at the New Year; for now, here’s a look back at the critical Jr. Flyweight results of 2008.
01/26: #1 Chris John (41-0-1, 22 KO, WBA) TKO7 #10 Roinet Caballero (27-8-1, 16 KO)
02/29: #2 Robert Guerrero (22-1-1, 15 KO, IBF) KO8 Jason Litzau (23-2, 19 KO)
03/15: #4 Steven Luevano (35-1, 15 KO, WBO) UD12 Terdsak Jaendaeng (29-3, 19 KO)
04/05: #8 Hiroyuki Enoki (27-0-2, 19 KO) D12 Takahiro Aoh (16-0-1, 8 KO)
04/26: #6 Orlando Salido (30-9-2, 20 KO) TKO4 Renan Acosta (21-6, 6 KO)
05/17: #5 Jorge Solis (35-1-2, 25 KO) UD10 Miguel Roman (25-3, 17 KO)
06/28: #3 Steven Luevano (35-1-1, 15 KO, WBO) D12 Mario Santiago (19-1-1, 14 KO)
09/13: Elio Rojas (20-1, 13 KO) UD12 #6 Hector Velasquez (50-12-2, 35 KO)
09/15: #4 Jorge Solis (36-1-2, 25 KO) TKO4 Jorge Samudio (17-4-1, 7 KO)
10/4: #5 Yuriorkis Gamboa (12-0, 10 KO) KO2 Marcos Ramirez (25-1, 16 KO)
10/16: #3 Oscar Larios (63-6-1, 39 KO, WBC) SD12 Takahiro Aoh (16-1-1, 8 KO)
10/18: #2 Steven Luevano (36-1-1, 15 KO, WBO) UD12 Billy Dib (21-1, 11 KO)
10/23: Cristobal Cruz (37-11-1, 23 KO) SD12 #4 Orlando Salido (31-10-2, 20 KO); vacant IBF belt
10/24: #1 Chris John (42-0-1, 22 KO, WBA) UD12 #10 Hiroyuki Enoki (27-1-2, 19 KO)
Other divisions in 2008 reviewed:
Check in tomorrow for more of BoxingScene’s 2008 Year in Review.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com