Sunday, April 02, 2023  |


State of the Game: Junior featherweights

Fighters Network

This is the sixth in a series of stories from “The State of the Game,” the popular annual feature of THE RING magazine. We’re posting one weight class per day, starting with strawweight and working our way up to heavyweight. The package was featured in the July issue of the magazine. The August issue, with Floyd Mayweather Jr. as the cover story, is on newsstands now. Today: Junior featherweights.

It’s often been said that in boxing, the top two percent of the fighters make about 98 percent of the money. Well, we’re about to feed directly into that inequity. Not only do the top two percent get most of the money, but they get most of the attention too, and in “The State Of The Game,” we focus primarily on that top two percent – the cream of every weight class. Maybe it’s not fair to the 145th best junior featherweight in the world, but hey, there’s a reason he’s only 145th best.

Still, you have to admit, we go deeper and include more fighters in State of the Game than just about any other article you’ll read all year. Where else will you find Wladimir Klitschko, Fernando Guerrero, Alfonso Gomez and Hekkie Budler all discussed in the same story?

Basically, the State of the Game is just what it sounds like: an all-encompassing exploration of where every division in boxing stands at this particular moment. As for the state of the sport as a whole, we know the balance of power is continuing to shift away from American fighters and away from the heavyweight division, but does that mean boxing is any worse off than it was a year ago or five years ago or 10 years ago? In a global sense, and judged in relativity to the economic climate across most of the world, no. Remember, some people in both the boxing community and the mainstream media opined three years ago that Oscar De La Hoya vs. Floyd Mayweather was going to be the last megafight we’d see for years. How laughable is that now? We’ve since had four different pay-per-views cross the million-buy mark, and if Manny Pacquiao vs. Mayweather ever happens, it will crush every number Mayweather-De La Hoya posted.

Of course, all that this means is that the guys at the very top are getting exponentially richer while everyone else is struggling to make ends meet. Hey, that’s the way boxing has always been, and in a nutshell, that’s how life works. Boxing has loads of problems, no doubt, but year after year, it entertains and amazes those loyal followers who persevere through all the crap to get to the good stuff.


If the featherweight division is full of intrigue thanks largely to the influx of quality junior feathers, then it follows that junior featherweight should be lacking in intrigue going forward, right? Unfortunately, yes. This is a highly international division, with contenders from nearly every continent, but there are no pound-for-pounders in the weight class anymore and no bouts that American fight fans particularly care about.

We will say this for the junior feathers: In 2009, the division that gave us four Fight of the Year winners in the 2000s again produced excellent candidates in Juan Manuel Lopez W 12 Rogers Mtagwa and Bernard Dunne KO 11 Ricardo Cordoba. Will that excitement continue with Lopez, Celestino Caballero, Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez gone? That remains to be seen.

The two top dogs in the recently diluted division are Asian beltholders Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym of Thailand and Toshiaki Nishioka of Japan, who are rated Nos. 1 and 2 by THE RING. The former claimed his belt by easily knocking out Dunne last September, and the latter tallied a sensational KO win last May over Jhonny Gonzalez. Even though Poonsawat has the much better KO percentage of the two, he’s really a busy volume puncher, whereas Nishioka is streaking with eight knockouts in his last nine fights, so we’ve named Nishioka “Best Puncher” and Poonsawat “Best Boxer” in the graphic below.

No. 3-rated Steve Molitor of Canada is probably glad the stars of the division departed; he got crushed by Caballero in ’08 but is otherwise undefeated and recently re-claimed a vacant alphabet belt. No. 4 Cordoba of Panama remains a solid, dangerous veteran despite being on the losing end of the Dunne thriller. No. 5 Jeffrey Mathebula of South Africa took Caballero to a split decision in April ’09, marking “The Mongoose” as a man nobody’s begging to fight. No. 8 Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. of Puerto Rico has followed in his old man’s footsteps and earned an alphabet strap by stopping previously undefeated Marvin Sonsona in February.

Also worth keeping an eye on: No. 7 Satoshi Hosono of Japan, whose only loss came by majority decision against Poonsawat in January; European champ and No. 6-rated Rendall Munroe of England, another once-beaten boxer; and the only American-based 122-pounder of note, El Paso’s Antonio Escalante, whose ESPN2-televised win over Miguel Roman in February was a Fight of the Year candidate.

Think About It: We’ve watched quite a few sons of famous fighters enter their father’s profession in recent years, but only a handful has panned out. When Vazquez captured the WBO 122-pound belt, assuming you recognize the WBO as a “major” title, he and his father, Wilfredo Vazquez Sr., became only the third father-son team in boxing history to claim “world” titles. The first was Guty Espadas Sr. and Jr., and the second was Leon and Cory Spinks – who remain the only tandem to both hold legitimate lineal championships. Some people might recognize Floyd Patterson and his adopted son Tracy also, but there’s no genetic link there and the adoption didn’t take place until Tracy was 14. If we recognize them, do we also recognize every boxing champ whose first trainer served as a father figure? It’s a blurry line, we admit, but in terms of biological fathers and sons, the Vazquezes are only the third ever.


Best Puncher
Toshiaki Nishioka
Best Boxer
Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym
Most Protected
Ramon Maas
Most Avoided
Jeffrey Mathebula
Is He Still Around?
Heriberto Ruiz
Matchmaker’s Dream
Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym-Toshiaki Nishioka
Deserves A Title Shot
Jeffrey Mathebula
Most Fun To Watch
Antonio Escalante
On The Way Up
Rico Ramos
On The Way Down
Al Seeger
Best Fight In 2009
Bernard Dunne KO 11 Ricardo Cordoba