Monday, December 05, 2022  |


State of the Game: Junior lightweights


This is the eighth 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: Jr. lightweights.

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.


What’s the weakest division in boxing? If you were forced to answer without any time to think about it, you might blurt out, “heavyweight.” But we took our time. We did the research. And junior lightweight is worse than heavyweight and has a heckuva case for being the least talented, least interesting division in all of boxing.

That’s not to say nothing interesting happened in the past year. We got 2009’s Upset of the Year, Jorge Linares losing in one round to Juan Carlos Salgado. (Downside: The 130-pounder with seemingly the highest ceiling, Linares, lost his luster.) Then we got Takashi Uchiyama scoring a memorable upset KO over Salgado. (Downside: Another intriguing unbeaten lost his zero.) And we witnessed the continued development of Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero. (Downside: Guerrero moved up to lightweight.)

Without Guerrero, you could argue nobody in this division is in the pound-for-pound Top 50. Uchiyama might emerge as the division’s best fighter, but will American audiences ever get to see the Tokyo-based boxer compete? Titleholder and Olympic bronze medalist Vitali Tajbert is a light puncher who isn’t all that intriguing. There are South African alphabet title traders Mzonke Fana, Malcolm Klassen, and Cassius Baloyi, who remain contenders. Fana and Baloyi fight for a vacant title on Aug. 6. Puerto Rico’s Roman Martinez is exciting but hasn’t yet faced an elite opponent. We’ve seen what Jorge Solis can do. And while Jason Litzau is a fun American TV fighter and he is coming off a victory over Rocky Juarez, his flaws tend to hold him back at the elite level.

There’s not much else to say about this division, so let’s just close with a couple of clarifications regarding our picks for the accompanying sidebar. We went with Linares for “Deserves A Title Shot” for two reasons: First, no other non-titlist really deserves one either, and second, his lone loss, the quickie KO against Salgado, has a hint of flukiness about it. And our pick for “Is He Still Around?”, Cesar Soto, deserves at least a sentence or two. Would you believe he turned pro in 1986, making the Mexican almost a 25-year veteran of the sport? And even more incredible, he’s only 38 years old!

Think About It: French 130-pound prospect Guillaume Frenois (which translates into English as “Willie Featherfists”) has a record of 19-0 with just two knockouts. So we were curious: How pathetic are the two boxers who got knocked out by a fighter who can barely KO anyone? Frenois’ first knockout victim was Nicolae Mitica, whom Frenois starched in three rounds in his pro debut before rattling off 16-straight point wins. But here’s the weird thing: Mitica, who never fought again, finished his career with a record of 0-4, with three losses over the distance and only one (against Frenois) inside the distance. So the guy who got knocked out by the guy who doesn’t knock anybody out was never knocked out otherwise! Frenois has since stopped Yordan Vasilev in two rounds, and the interesting thing about Vasilev is that he has only one knockout win in 25 fights. Who would have guessed that one was going to end inside the distance?


Best Puncher
Takashi Uchiyama
Best Boxer
Jorge Linares
Most Protected
Alejandro Sanabria
Most Avoided
Malcolm Klassen
Is He Still Around?
Cesar Soto
Matchmaker’s Dream
Takashi Uchiyama -Roman Martinez
Deserves A Title Shot
Jorge Linares
Most Fun To Watch
Roman Martinez
On The Way Up
Eloy Perez
On The Way Down
Tyrone Harris
Best Fight In 2009
Roman Martinez KO 4 Nicky Cook