The Ring Ratings Reviewed 2022: Junior Featherweight
The Ring first introduced its divisional ratings in 1925. Almost a century later, it’s no exaggeration to claim that these independent rankings are the most respected and accurate in world boxing.
The ratings panel is made up of a dozen experts from around the world. Opinions are shared, debate takes place, and the final decision on who should be ranked where is decided democratically every week. It sounds easy, but this can be an arduous and time-consuming process.
A couple of years ago, during the pandemic, we reviewed and broke down each division in full. In a two-pronged approach, we looked back at the respective achievements of the finest fighters in the world and analyzed what lay ahead.
Now, with enough time having elapsed, and with a busy final quarter to 2022 ahead of us, we’ve decided to compile another divisional breakdown.
Next up is junior featherweight. As always, please enjoy the debate and respect other people’s opinions.
No. 1 STEPHEN FULTON
RECORD: 21-0 (8 KOs)
THE PAST: Fulton worked his way into title contention by besting former titleholder Paulus Ambunda (UD 12). He also stopped previously unbeaten Mexican Isaac Avelar (KO 6) and used his skills to tame another unbeaten opponent in Arnold Khegai (UD 12). The smooth boxing skills of the Philadelphia native help him beat Angelo Leo (UD 12) to claim the WBO title, and he added the WBC title by edging Brandon Figueroa (MD 12) in a unification bout. Most recently, he sparkled against Daniel Roman (UD 12).
THE FUTURE: Nothing scheduled at time of writing, but you’d imagine Fulton will return before the end of the year. He’s then likely to target Murodjon Akhmadaliev, in an undisputed title fight, or Naoya Inoue, should the Japanese star moves up from 118.
No. 2 MURODJON AKHMADALIEV
RECORD: 11-0 (8 KOs)
THE PAST: Won bronze at the 2016 Olympics before seamlessly transitioning into the pros. The dynamic Uzbekistan southpaw edged the more experienced Daniel Roman (SD 12) in early 2020 to become the IBF/WBA 122-pound titleholder. Akhmadaliev has made three successful defenses including a homecoming against former IBF titlist Ryosuke Iwasa (TKO 5) and, more recently, a stoppage over Ronny Rios (TKO 12).
THE FUTURE: The 27-year-old southpaw broke his hand against Rios and will be sidelined for a few months. When he returns, we’d love to see him face Fulton for all the marbles. However, we may have to settle for him facing a mandatory challenger.
No. 3 DANIEL ROMAN
RECORD: 29-4-1 (10 KOs)
THE PAST: Roman came good after learning on the job. After stopping Adam Lopez (TKO 9) on ShoBox, he ventured to Japan and upset Shun Kubo (TKO 9) to become the WBA titleholder. He made four defenses including a unification win over IBF counterpart TJ Doheny (MD 12) before losing his titles to Akhmadaliev (SD 12). Came back with two wins before dropping a lopsided decision to Fulton (UD 12).
THE FUTURE: Nothing scheduled but he may try to work his way back into the world title picture again.
No. 4 RA’EESE ALEEM
RECORD: 19-0 (10 KOs)
THE PAST: The Michigan native has moved slowly as a professional but he’s still unbeaten. The 32-year-old scored an impressive win over fellow-unbeaten fighter Vic Pasillas (TKO 11) in early 2021, then closed the year by beating Eduardo Baez (MD 12).
THE FUTURE: Will face Mike Plania on September 4. A win will likely see him earn a world title shot.
No. 5 AZAT HOVHANNISYAN
RECORD: 21-3 (17 KOs)
THE PAST: Hovhannisyan lost his debut and looked destined or a low-key future in the sport. However, after teaming up with Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach, he has improved immeasurably. The 34-year-old puncher stopped Rios (TKO 6) to earn himself a shot at WBC beltholder Rey Vargas (L UD 12). Has since rebounded with seven inside-the-distance wins.
THE FUTURE: The California-based Armenian is Akhmadaliev’s WBA mandatory and is ranked in the top 5 by three of the four sanctioning bodies. As long as he stays in the win column, you’d figure his opportunity will come. In the meantime, he’ll continue to mark time.
No. 6 MARLON TAPALES
RECORD: 36-3 (19 KOs)
THE PAST: Tapales worked his way up through the ranks in the Philippines and scored wins over countrymen Randy Petalcorin (TKO 2) and Warlito Parrenas (TKO 7). Narrowly lost to David Sanchez (MD 12) in Mexico, but upset unbeaten Shohei Omari (TKO 2) in a WBO bantamweight title eliminator in Japan. Headed to Thailand and twice got off the canvas to stop Pungluang Sor Singyu (TKO 11) to pick up the WBO 118-pound title. In his first defense, Tapales headed back to Japan to face Omari in a rematch. Although he missed weight and was stripped of his title, he was able to stop Omari in the 11th round. Over a year of inactivity followed, but Tapales returned with two wins before losing to Ryosuke Iwasa (TKO 11) in an IBF 122-pound title eliminator. He’s back on track with three wins including an impressive stoppage over Hiroaki Teshigawara (TKO 2).
THE FUTURE: Tapales is the IBF mandatory for Akhmadaliev. He’ll stay active in the U.S. on PBC shows for now.
No. 7 LUIS NERY
RECORD: 32-1 (24 KOs)
THE PAST: Nery moved through the bantamweight ranks and became the WBC mandatory challenger to Shinsuke Yamanaka. The Mexican puncher traveled to Japan and shocked the long-reigning champ via brutal fourth-round stoppage. However, in the aftermath, Nery was stripped of The Ring championship he’d won for taking a banned substance (zilpaterol). The WBC continued to recognize Nery, but then stripped him for failing to make weight for the rematch. Very much the pariah, Nery defeated Yamanaka by second-round stoppage but received little in the way of credit. The 27-year-old eventually moved up to claim the vacant WBC 122-pound title by defeating Aaron Alameda (UD 12), but lost it in his first defense to Brandon Figueroa (KO 7). Nery has since beaten Carlos Castro (SD 10).
THE FUTURE: Will return on October 1 against an as yet unknown opponent in Mexico.
No. 8 RONNY RIOS
RECORD: 33-4 (16 KOs)
THE PAST: Rios won his first 23 fights before coming unstuck against Robinson Castellanos (TKO 5). He bounced back with five wins to earn a shot at then-WBC titlist Rey Vargas, but lost a 12-round unanimous decision. Soon afterwards, he was derailed by Hovhannisyan (KO 6) and that appeared to be the end. However, Rios duly upset the previously unbeaten Diego De La Hoya (KO 6), then defeated Oscar Negrete (UD 10). Those wins helped him earn him a second world title fight against Akhmadaliev. Rios was game but ultimately stopped in the 12th round.
THE FUTURE: Taking some time off to recover from the beating he took against Akhmadaliev before getting back to action on Golden Boy undercards.
No. 9 ZOLANI TETE
RECORD: 30-4 (23 KOs)
THE PAST: Tete bounced back from a trio of heartbreaking losses at world level to claim the IBF junior bantamweight when he beat Teiru Kinoshita (UD 12) in 2014. Following one defense, the South African lefty stepped up to bantamweight and became a two-weight world titleholder at the expense of then-WBO belt holder Paul Butler (TKO 8). Tete made three successful defenses before losing to John Riel Casimero (TKO 3). Extremely inactive, he fought just once in two-and-a-half year period, but looked devastating in a recent win over Jason Cunningham (KO 4).
THE FUTURE: Tete has said he wants to fight for the title but that probably won’t be next. More likely to consolidate his position at 122 pounds.
No. 10 MIKE PLANIA
RECORD: 26-1 (13 KOs)
THE PAST: Plania won his first 15 fights, with all but one taking place in the Philippines, before losing to the more experienced former WBA 118-pound titleholder Juan Carlos Payano (UD 10). “Magic” Mike returned to his homeland and got back to winning ways before again going stateside. The 25-year-old upset Joshua Greer (MD 10) and has marked time since.
THE FUTURE: Scheduled to face Ra-eese Aleem on September 4.
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