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The Top Ten Super Featherweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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Super-featherweight has been refreshing after the minefield that was 140lbs and has contained the best fights I have reviewed during this series. There was a complication in that many of the top fighters of the decade only came to the dance once with an equal; there was far too much dusting of unranked fighters, journeymen and alphabet mandatories unqualified for the shot.

This has made the weighing of individual wins more pertinent than in other weight classes and you may find more words about given fights than is normal. Hunt some of those fights down if you missed them; I named this the most exciting division in boxing in 2016 and it certainly delivered.

Rankings are by Ring from January 2010 until October 2012 and thereafter by TBRB.

10 – Orlando Salido

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 10-4-2 Ranked For: 25% of the decade

We have run into some strange and interesting number tens during this series, but perhaps none more so than Orlando Salido. Siri, the veteran, the great survivor of the sub 135lb decade, makes the list essentially on the strength of two draws.

In April of 2014 Salido was spanked, fair and square, by Roman Martinez, the Puerto Rican, who used his equalising straight right hand to drop Salido and secured the decision over twelve. This was a punch Salido remained unable to neutralise even in their rematch fought five months later,  Martinez managing to drop him once more, but in truth, Salido bossed their second encounter, ceaseless, blank-faced pressure catching up to the younger man who was lucky to escape with the draw. Salido, if not quite robbed, had been pick-pocketed.

The judging was perfectly reasonable in his next fight, a June 2016 draw fought with the mighty Francisco Vargas in one of the better fights of the decade. I scored it a draw, two of the judges scored it a draw, and while talk that Salido had the better of this fight too is overstated, he did not have the look or feel of a man defeated.

Salido won fights at the poundage, but nothing that meaningful. It is these drawn performances that put him in contention but the real reason he slips in are the shortcomings of his rivals for the spot.  Albert Merchado defeated Jezzrel Corrales who was butchered by Andrew Cancio who was ripped up by Rene Alvarado. Juan Carlos Salgado and Argenis Mendez cancelled one another out and offered little besides, Gervonta Davis’s best win is number eight contender Jose Pedraza and the excellent Takashi Miura defeated the similarly ranked Gamaliel Diaz on his best night. In the end, by a process of painful elimination it became clear that the most reasoned argument was Salido, who probably should have been awarded a victory over Martinez (ranked 9 here) and who fought Vargas (ranked six) to a standstill.

09 – Roman Martinez

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 7-4-2 Ranked For: 68% of the decade

Roman Martinez had a strange and troubling super-featherweight career defined by oddities and questionable draws. He was lucky to get away with the share against Juan Carlos Burgos in 2013 and equally so against Orlando Salido in their 2015 rematch and had either of these fights been scored against him he likely would have had to make way for his conqueror. Draws are what came back though so he pitches up here ahead of both in the number nine spot.

Key to his placement is his performance in his first fight with Salido. Martinez boxed with the cooler head of a more experienced fighter that night, staying organised despite being subjected to ceaseless pressure, moving laterally at speed and countering Salido with consistent, clean punches.

Martinez also turned in a spirited, clever performance against number ten contender Diego Magdaleno two years prior to his meeting with Salido, taking an earned split decision. This second win over a made man threatens to propel him up a list comprised in part of one-hit wonders but those draws, and his being on the fortunate end of them, pin him back.

Unexceptional, that right hand excepted, Martinez has remained a figure of significance within the super-featherweight division for nearly 70% of the decade; this, in tandem with the Salido victory makes him difficult to exclude.

08 – Ricky Burns

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 16-6-1 Ranked For: 11% of the decade

Ricky Burns is another reason for Martinez ranking no higher than nine.  In short, it is difficult to rank Burns any higher and more difficult still to rank Martinez ahead of Burns, for the best of reasons: Burns beat him.

It remains the most outstanding performance of Ricky’s career, a performance of great competence over a fighter who echoed his best attributes. Both these men were superbly conditioned and capable of performances of real courage but were limited in both power and speed. Burns, far and away the lesser of the two punchers and with no equivalent of the Martinez right hand, was firmly outgunned. Technical surety and superb temperament brought him the clean win. Burns was hurt badly in the first round by one of those Martinez right hands; by the end of the sixth he all but had the fight wrapped up having won every round since.

Martinez wasn’t for quitting of course, and he damaged Burns with surging, wild attacks through the middle rounds to narrow the fight up but Burns closed like a champion, winning the eleventh and twelfth with room to spare. It was a rousing performance that demonstrated everything Burns did well.  One of his generation’s underrated jabbers, he was cool under the most vicious of fire and brave to a fault.

Burns exited 130lbs the following year, unbeaten at the poundage that decade, 5-0, having mastered, in Martinez, a fighter of worth.

07 – Rances Barthelemy

Peak Ranking: 3 Record for the Decade: 25-1-1-1 Ranked For: 14% of the decade

The Cuban Rances Barthelemy may seem a rather perverse choice at number seven given that he was never ranked higher than three divisionally, but he had Mikey Garcia and Takashi Uchiyama to contend with. He met neither man in the ring, but his performances in his two fight series with Agenis Mendez are more than enough to justify his placement on this particular list.

In their first fight, in January of 2014, Barthelemy seemed a fighter unassailable.  His left hook seemed ear-drum shattering; his body-punches drew air in through the collective teeth of those who witnessed them; his jab put commentary in mind of George Foreman. Mendez landed as few as three punches in the first. The left uppercut, left jab and left hook Rances landed in combination to drop Mendez in the second was a thing of absolute beauty; the two wide hooks he landed from square shortly thereafter to knock Mendez out, less so, not least because they came after the bell.

Barthelemy’s knockout victory was changed to a no-decision, the correct decision, and a rematch was ordered.

Barthelemy was not the fighter he appeared to be in that first astonishing fight with Mendez, but he looked the clear superior of Mendez once more, taking a clear decision win despite dropping points for clumsy low blows in both the ninth and tenth round. Mendez, it should be remembered, was no joke. The world’s number two contender, he had split a series with the excellent Juan Carlos Salgado, winning their second fight by way of fourth round knockout and rendering himself one of the best super-featherweights in the world. Barthelemy usurped him, then defeated Argentine tough Fernando David Saucedo and departed for lightweight.

That makes him undefeated at the poundage and in combination with those two superb wins, he’s earned the number seven spot.

06 – Francisco Vargas

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 26-2-2 Ranked For: 43% of the decade

Japanese puncher Takashi Miura, ranked two, is the key fight of Francisco Vargas’s career, the totality of which was boxed between January 2010 and December of 2019, almost all of it at the 130lb limit, no small matter in rating him here.

Miura, an onslaught southpaw who traded on thudding punches and sheer aggression had put away a series of good opponents in the course of raising and defending his strap, key among them Gamaliel Diaz, who he had dispatched in nine in 2013; Vargas met him in 2015 and in a thrilling first round took his legs and challenged his heart with a zinging right-hand wedded to some exceptional short-arm work behind. Takashi, too hard to succumb, battled back and a superb fight was sparked, dominated early by Vargas to the point of one-sidedness. Takashi though seemed wrought of iron, insidiously fighting back before dropping Vargas with a stunning one-two behind a delightful uppercut.

This was a nice wrinkle to the fight, Takashi suddenly producing superb, technically adept punches to swing it into his lane, but it was Vargas now who took a turn in proving his heart and guts. Cut, bruised, Vargas rallied thrillingly in the sixth round as the two exchanged vicious body shots and opposed straights. Behind on the cards, hurt and then punished at the end of the eighth, Vargas sent Takashi scrambling to and then from the canvas in the first seconds of the ninth before blasting him out to win perhaps the best fight of the super-featherweight decade by way of stoppage. It was an exceptional performance.

Almost as astonishing was Vargas’s first fight of the following year, against Orlando Salido. A wonderful ebb and flow war, savage in culture, the official scorecards read 115-113 to Vargas and 114-114 twice, which echoed my own.

Worn by these battles, Vargas was eventually chased from the division by Miguel Berchelt. As we shall see, there is no shame in that.

05 – Mikey Garcia

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 22-1 Ranked For: 11% of the decade

Mikey Garcia, fleeting as always, spent a short spell in the rankings at 130lbs but also served a modicum of his apprenticeship there, putting meat on the bones of his 2013/14 campaign. In these years, Garcia bought the number five spot on this list.

In 2013 he met Roman Martinez, no slouch as we have seen, and who had a good first round; but in the second Garcia established that glorious left-handed jab as Martinez, content to wait outside, seemed lost. Then Martinez sprang his trap, the same trap he sprung against Salido, that wrought straight right and Garcia was on the seat of his trunks looking up.

He was also calm personified, reassuring his corner, making eye contact with the referee then up at six and took control of the fight. That left jab made way for the straight right which in turn made way for the left hook, a staged attack any general would be proud of. Martinez was finished in eight, struggling desperately for breath behind a superb left hook to the body.

Three months later, Garcia met Juan Carlos Burgos who was coming off the rough end of two split draws. Burgos made it difficult for Garcia early with his range but once Garcia found him, he won every remaining round.

Garcia dashes through divisions so quickly it is hard for him to make a meaningful impact and he was not helped at 130lbs by contractual disputes which kept him out of the ring for some months; when he returned it was as a lightweight. Here, there are enough shallow but exciting legacies to see him into the top five. Garcia’s style may not inspire passion, but it is to be admired.

04 – Jezzrel Corrales

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 22-2 Ranked For: 23% of the decade

Jezzrel Corrales missed weight in October of 2017 for his match with Alberto Machado and was promptly stopped in the eighth round of a lacklustre performance. At the 130lb limit, he was never beaten.

It is fitting, too that he is the only member of the one-hit wonder club that makes the top five. His one hit is actually two, and far and away the best of the bunch.

In 2016, Takashi Uchiyama was the undisputed number one super-featherweight on the planet and remained in the habit of importing and dominating quality fighters from outside his native Japan.  Corrales, a Panamanian stylist, seemed just the latest in a long line to leave Japan with nothing but wounds and Yen.

Corrales claimed ring centre, unafraid, rearing and ducking the worst of Uchiyama’s attentions, punching at every opportunity. This is hardly a layered plan but Corrales has an equaliser as good as a poison-speared punch: he is among the fastest-handed fighters on this list. In the second, he moved off before bringing Uchiyama back to ring centre and pot-shotted, especially with his left.  Repeatedly feinting with a southpaw jab to the body, he bought an Uchiyama counter then blasted over a lighting quick straight that dropped Uchiyama and heavily. The Japanese’s reign was essentially over, although he was able to stagger his way through to the final seconds of the round before succumbing.

Jezzrel Corrales owns the single best win of any fighter on this list.

He arguably owns the second best, too, returning to Japan for a rematch eight months later, once again triumphing, this time on the cards. Flashed off balance in the fifth, Corrales nevertheless earned a decision, the fact that it only came on two of the three cards probably flattering Uchiyama.

A strange, pawing, dipping fighter, Corrales interested me from the start with that low lead, varied feints and riffing style. He achieved little else of note divisionally but undoing the clear divisional number one on two separate occasions is more than enough to earn him a top five spot.

03 – Vasyl Lomachenko

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 14-1 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

Too low?

Arguably, but for anyone who has been tuning in regularly, it’s clear that these lists are driven not by the how but the who; Vasyl Lomachenko receives maximum points for the how, but in terms of the who, he really does come up short. Clearly better than the one-hit wonders that populate much of the rest of the list, he is clearly worse off than the men ranked above him. Lomachenko’s assault on lightweight was all conquering and saw him outwit and outhit the best the division had to offer, at 130lbs he never faced a man in the top five.

The highest ranked fighter Lomachenko met at 130lbs was Roman Martinez, number six. Martinez, a fighter we have run into over and again, finally reaches the end of his super-featherweight journey.  Lomachenko tore him apart like a wolfpack before dispatching him with an uppercut/hook combination as astonishing as anything I have seen. In his next three fights, Lomachenko forced the retirements of three different men, most impressively Nicholas Walters, then met with the man that makes his ranking so malleable: Guillermo Rigondeaux. Lomachenko beat Rigondeaux clean and clear; it was not a close fight. Rigondeaux retired in his corner with an injury but did so after being outclassed by the better man. The problem is that Rigondeaux, a genuine pound-for-pound force moved two weight classes north to make the contest happen. So how much meaning should be allowed? The final word, perhaps, should belong to Lomachenko himself:

“This is not his weight, so it’s not a big win for me.”

Rigondeaux achieved nothing at 130lbs, before or since. That is weighted here – Lomachenko ranks three.

02 – Takashi Uchiyama

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 11-2-1 Ranked For: 61% of the decade

Takashi Uchiyama was the darling of the hardcore boxing fan in the early part of the decade. When he met Juan Carlos Salgado in the first month of 2010 it was not the slipping version that would go 1-1 with Argenis Mendez in coming years, but rather the monster that had knocked out no less a figure than Jorge Linares the year before – in one round.

Uchiyama met Salgado ring centre and established himself as the more accurate and heavier puncher then went to work breaking him down. A technically superb performance, it was capped by a savage assault in the eleventh which culminated in a hooking clinic in the twelfth, for all that it was a tiring one, followed by a vicious stoppage with just seconds remaining. The purists were hooked.

In truth, this was something of a summit for Uchiyama, which was a shame because the feeling was he might make pound-for-pound. He never left his Japanese stronghold and the invitees were of middling quality. Still, he inflicted an impressive number of first defeats and in 2011 imported a slipping Jorge Solis, against whom he perpetrated an astonishing one-punch knockout in the eleventh having arguably won every single round up to that point.

There were quick knockouts, too, like the one he scored against the prodigy Jomthong Chwatana and when he needed the cards they were usually wide. His shocking defeat at the hands of Corrales and his insistence upon remaining home keep him from the top spot here, but that’s a judgment call.  Placing him at the top would be valid.

01 – Miguel Berchelt

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 37-1 Ranked For: 27% of the decade

I suspect that this is my first genuinely controversial placement of the series but justifying heralding Miguel Berchelt as the most accomplished super-featherweight of the decade will be easy. That is because he is the right choice.

First, there is his paper record, which is one of the best on the list. Berchelt (pictured) suffered a single loss in 2014 and since then has smeared a series of ranked men all over the ring, mostly by way of knockout. He has fewer losses than Uchiyama, more wins, and more wins against ranked opposition. Although Lomachenko has no losses at the weight, he has significantly fewer wins and fewer wins against top men.

Most of all, what impresses about Berchelt is that he has been doing his business among the top five. While Lomachenko was matched exclusively outside the absolute best of the best, Berchelt has operated frequently in such company.

Most of all, it his domination over that company that has impressed.

Berchelt took the step up against Francisco Vargas in 2017 and handed the superb Vargas a vicious beating. Vargas out-sped Berchelt by a margin which was a problem for him for perhaps four minutes. Berchelt’s greatest strength is his ring-awareness; he knows where he is at all times and he knows where his opponent is at all times. This perennially puts him in position, or something like it; Vargas meanwhile was relying on technical ability and speed to keep him in control. He was repeatedly hurt in the second in what looks in retrospect to be the beginning of the end. After losing most of the intervening rounds in a fight that mounted in intensity and savagery as it progressed, Vargas was stopped in the eleventh, his face coming apart.

In his next fight Berchelt, not one for resting upon laurels, matched number four contender Takashi Miura unveiling a new horror at championship level. Berchelt, who is the best puncher in the super-featherweight division, is also the best mover. He circled Miura as mercilessly as he beat him, bringing the brave Japanese onto a series of stiffening punches. By the fifth, Miura had given up boxing and pressure both in favour of single-shot hail-Mary left hands, some of which landed but never in quantities high enough to win him a single round on my card, or the card of judge Max DeLuca.

The following year, 2018, Berchelt thrashed mortal enemy and number five contender Miguel Roman in nine then rematched Vargas. By now he was peaking. Compact shots follow each other quickly to the target, his hand speed maximised on combination punching, but it is his accuracy during clutch exchanges that sets him aside. Berchelt cracked Vargas in just six rounds and exited the decade the unequivocal number one active super-featherweight. Uchiyama was ranked number one in January of 2010, and it is fitting that these two duke it out for the decadal top spot.

Berchelt is my choice based upon his having more wins, fewer losses and his having beaten more highly ranked fighters.

 

The other lists:

Heavyweight

Cruiserweight

Light-Heavyweight

Super-Middleweight

Middleweight

Light-Middleweight

Welterweight

Light-Welterweight

Lightweights

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The Top Ten Super Bantamweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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It has been interesting to see how transient fighters are when they inhabit the smaller divisions. Up at cruiserweight, fighters spent on average 50% of the decade in their division to earn their spot among the top ten; here at 122lbs it is nearer 30%.

This results in a list of fighters with less purchase on the list, generally. Occasionally though, even at the smaller weights, a fighter will rack up a list of serious victories in a short space of time and hit the heights – and the divisional stalwart is also not unheard of. Here, one of each of these type towers over the rest of the decadal division but the numbers ten through three kick up a lot of interesting fights, and some very interesting fighters.

In accounting for these fighters, the term “one hit wonder” is used liberally. Here I am not seeking to denigrate either the fighter or his wider opposition; it merely denotes a fighter who has one win of real significance which is often accounted for in some detail.

This is another symptom of a generation of fighters happy to put on a mere four pounds to visit the next division up for their next big test.

10 – Rico Ramos

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 16-6 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

The tenth slot was a shootout between Kiko Martinez, who did a little more at the weight, and Rico Ramos, who did a little less, but who was defeated at the poundage only by Guillermo Rigondeaux; Martinez, meanwhile, was thrashed twice by Carl Frampton and once by Scott Quigg. The Scott Quigg tilts me towards Ramos, whose purple patch of 7-1 gets him over the line.

The jewel in his super-bantamweight crown for the period January 2010 until December 2019 was his come-from-behind knockout victory over Akifumi Shimoda, one of the top contenders of 2010 and 2011. Shimoda himself has a claim to the number ten spot based primarily upon his superb victory over Ryol Li Lee, but Ramos eliminated him when they clashed in Atlantic City in July of 2011.

Ramos, an American of Puerto Rican descent, had been boxing since he was eight years old but seemingly had no answer to the Shimoda jab which was opening up other opportunities for the Japanese; Ramos, circling to his right at the beginning of the seventh, brought Shimoda onto a left hand, but it was unheeded and Shimoda continued to boss the real-estate and find a home for his bodypunches. A right hand from Rico seemed to gather his attention though and having landed yet another left Rico finally had his man rooted to the spot, and circling, he landed a left hand as beautiful as any thrown in the 122lb decade. Shimoda was up at nine but immediately took a second header to the canvas.

Ramos was chased from the division by Rigondeaux, as noted, but certainly there is no shame there.

09 – Rey Vargas

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 34-0 Ranked For: 42% of the decade

Rey Vargas has traced an old-fashioned career arc, occupying a spot at super-bantamweight since 2015 and slowly creeping his way up the ranks to inhabit the number one spot, without, really, meeting anyone to justify that ranking. Sometimes longevity is its own reward.

His highest-ranking victim was Tomoki Kameda, and it showed when they met in July of last year; Tomoki had real success early and took a handy lead out of the first third of the fight. Vargas though is a freakishly tall superbantam at near 5’11 and he has the reach to match. From the fifth on, he deployed a controlling jab birthed by a pedigree amateur career that has been augmented by some serious professional experience. The double-uppercut right hand he landed in that round set him apart; the cards may have been a little wide but clearly Vargas was the right man.

He was the right man too five months previously when he was faced with another tough assignment in Franklin Manzanilla. Manzanilla, out of Venezuela, had scored an impressive victory over Julio Ceja in just four rounds in his previous fight and set some problems for Vargas with his rushes and fouling. Vargas found himself with cuts over both brows from “accidental” head-clashes as early as the eighth and Manzanilla had two points docked for hitting on the break and pushing. But Vargas showed some of his best boxing, dominating at distance with the jab and outlanding Manzanilla with fluid combination punching when they met at mid-range.

Vargas has a little more depth than these two fights – Azat Hovhannisyan and Ronny Rios have both made waves since he beat them – but they remain his fistic cornerstones, and despite some impressive boxing this makes him borderline for inclusion. His paper record and longevity in the ratings at 122lbs has seen me favour him over one-hit wonders like Jeffrey Mathebula and Akifumi Shimoda.

08 – Isaac Dogboe

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 21-2 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

Isaac Dogboe’s pressure appeared functional rather than thrilling before his big step up against Jessie Magdaleno in 2018. Magdaleno had been inactive but had also defeated no less a figure than Nonito Donaire in 2016 and was heavily favoured.

In the first round Dogboe was dropped while pressing Magdaleno too hard and he lost the third too, to a gorgeous Magdaleno counter left. But all the while his pressure was beginning to look a little more than workmanlike. He was adept at keeping Magdaleno moving and again and again Dogboe, out of London via Ghana, would fetch his man up against the ropes and let go. Still very much in touch on the scorecards after four, Magdaleno was being aggressively outgeneralled and was steadily losing touch with the fight. His solution was to come out at the opening of the fifth and attack; Dogboe promptly dropped him with a single left hook.

Dogboe so dominated Magdelano that night that the favourite found himself in need of a knockout by the ninth. The then world’s number one super-bantamweight showed no sign he might achieve it and in fact slipped further and further from his technical best, eventually reduced to sagging on the ropes and beckoning Dogboe in. It was a sorry sight and one the referee interrupted in the eleventh after Dogboe perpetrated the second knockdown of the round over his withering opponent.

It was an impressive and rather unexpected performance, albeit against an opponent who seemed to struggle a little with rust after a year out of the sport and it set Dogboe up as the world’s number one super-bantamweight.

Dogboe never added to his 122lb legacy though; his own nemesis was lurking in the wings.

07 – Emanuel Navarrete

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 31-1 Ranked For: 26% of the decade

Like Dogboe, Emanuel Navarrete fought the usual learning fights, stepped up to take on some journeymen and was then launched right into the deep end to face off with the world’s number one super-bantam. Dogboe-Navarrete was a fascinating contest in that it pitted a Johnny-come-lately against an even more recently arrived contender. Dogboe, as the man with the pedigree opponent on his ledger, was favoured.

Navarrete, who is tall with a reach that seems planetary, allowed Dogboe inside to do his work. It felt wrong and even dangerous until Navarrete landed a triple left hook, up and down, on the inside, to win the second round. From here he controlled the fight, impressive and dominant in out-fighting the smaller pressure fighter whose nightmare had come to visit him in the ring: a fighter he could not push back but rather who was pushing him back. The ninth through twelfth were a parade, the bigger man marching down the smaller pressure fighter in what amounts to the most disheartening position a pugilist of any kind can find himself.

Unfortunately for Dogboe he had a rematch clause. Navarrete, who now knew how Dogboe moved, thought and fought, beat him mercilessly in that rematch. The fight becomes difficult to watch around the eighth; Dogboe’s corner, brave to the near last, finally pulled him as he was blasted to the canvas in the twelfth and final round.

It seemed to me that something special had emerged in that fight, but the truth is we don’t yet know. Navarrete has fallen afoul of the ABC strap he wears in defending against underqualified challengers whose selection for their “title shot” is based upon matters other than fistic. So, the jury remains out on Navarrete, who nevertheless was impressive enough in his twin maulings of Dogboe to comfortably make the list.

06 – Jessie Magdaleno

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 27-1 Ranked For: 22% of the decade

Here, we meet the last of the one-hit-wonders on the list but Magdaleno possesses the finest of all of them: Nonito Donaire. Donaire, it is true, had had some of the glitter removed by Guillermo Rigondeaux, but in November of 2016 he remained the top contender to the legitimate title he had once held. Then Magdaleno came calling.

What most impressed me was Donaire’s near abandonment of his left hook. It was oft repeated that he had one of the “best left hooks in the sport” and if Bernard Hopkins had established the removal of such a potent weapon much ink would have been spent on his exaltation. Magdaleno was less fashionable and has remained so, but it was a wonderful technical achievement. Moving unhurriedly, seeking for single shots, he countered beautifully throughout with the right jab and right hook of his own, taking every opportunity to strike without – shades of Hopkins again – ever over-extending himself. The result was Donaire sheathing his own hook in obedience of the rule that you don’t hook with a hooker, while Magdaleno freely threw his own; to the body, especially, he was prestigious.

Donaire went to the straight right and a fascinating tussle ensued, summed up perfectly in the ninth where Donaire hurt Magdaleno on the ropes, only for Magdaleno to charge him and dominate the remainder of the round, putting him out of sight on the cards; Donaire closed with real strength as Magdaleno’s energy waned.

But the decision clearly belonged to Magdaleno.

It was not too long after this that Magdaleno ran into Dogboe. The reasonable question would be, if Dogboe beat Magdaleno how does Magdaleno come to be ranked above him here? It’s a fair question. The mathematics, for me, says that Magdelano’s defeat of Donaire is more impressive than Dogboe’s defeat of a rusty Magdaleno; I accept that this is arguable but balk at Magdaleno as low as eight given his wonderful performance against Donaire.

05 – Toshiaki Nishioka

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 4-1 Ranked For: 19% of the decade

Toshiaki Nishioka was the number one super-bantamweight coming into the decade and remained so until he was removed by the sumptuous power-punching of Nonito Donaire (and an over-excited referee).

How you feel about his overall standing here will depend upon how you feel about Rafael Marquez and his standing in October of 2011. Having lost three of his last six, including two of those wars with Israel Vazquez, Rafael was ostensibly on the slide, but the fight itself shows a fighter that, while no longer at his withering best, remained stoic and technically brilliant, very much a fighter that had to be mastered.

This, Nishioka did. To this day he maintains that Rafael is his most skilled opponent and he boxed with great care to control him, refusing to contest the inside and avoiding any over-commitment with the jab. Meanwhile he drilled Marquez with his trailing left, a wonderful punch that he throws with as much variety as anyone this century. Flying it quickly to the body was his stock in trade in the early going but he began to risk a wilder, wider, harder punch when he realised how wary Rafael had become. Rafael had success, not least in the second half of the eighth round where it seemed he might actually assume control of the fight, but Nishioka out-fought and out-worked the former lineal champion in the tenth and eleventh to put the decision to bed. It was a deeply impressive performance that cemented his status as the first number one super-bantam of the decade.

Nishioka’s other wins do little other than demonstrate his superiority over the field, especially his October 2010 contest with Rendall Munroe. Munroe brought guts but little else as the fight turned into something of a parade down the stretch; still, re-watching it was worth it for the feinted straight and uppercut through the middle that Nishioka used to tilt Munroe’s head back in the third.

Placing him at number five is a borderline call, but Nishioka was a clearer number one than anyone running eight through six. I am happy that should see him placed above, rather than below, the one-hit wonders.

04 – Leo Santa Cruz

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 24-1-1 Ranked For: 27% of the decade

Leo Santa Cruz departed 122lbs in 2015 with his undefeated record intact having made his impact on the first half of the super-bantamweight decade. His meaningful arrival at the poundage, the equivalent of a Mack truck pulling up inside a jewellery store, came in August of 2013 against Victor Terrazas. Terrazas, a tough, dangerous fighter was unsupported by the type of chin that would have made him genuinely world class. Nevertheless, the world’s number two contender was a serious proposition for Santa Cruz, and was coming off a nerveless, brutal battle with Cristian Mijares which he won by the narrowest of margins.

Terrazas started aggressively as Santa Cruz brought pressure, all high guard and work-rate. But, as we saw while looking at featherweight, Santa Cruz is much more than that. His punch selection is excellent, his sense for the backfoot superb for a front-foot fighter, his jab is thudding and accurate but he can box squarely enough – weight generally over his back leg, when he does so – to lead with the right without courting disaster. Terrazas was complimented during fight commentary for “making this an inside fight” – but an inside fight suits Santa Cruz just fine. He has reach and the technique to use it but is comfortable trying to land punches behind the elbows.

The two fought on even terms until they didn’t, when towards the end of the second Santa Cruz, tougher and better, opened up while the two stood head to head at the ropes. Terrazas emerged wounded and in the third, emerged giving ground. Dropped twice, he seemed broken in part by the psychological pressure, although it was the consistent, severe punching that did the damage.

Santa Cruz’s number two win was over Mijares, undoubtedly damaged goods, but still ranked. Santa Cruz couldn’t stop him, but what he did was in many ways worse: in a fight as different as that with Terrazas as could be imagined, he thrashed Mijares and rendered him a fistic irrelevance.

Santa Cruz was a very dangerous super-bantamweight.

03 – Carl Frampton

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 24-2 Ranked For: 35% of the decade

Carl Frampton slotted in right behind Santa Cruz at featherweight, but here he nips in just ahead of his great rival. A clash at 122lbs would have been helpful though – there is very little to separate them.

What does separate them is the additional work Frampton did at the very top of the division. He met no fewer than three top five contenders during his time fighting as Guillermo Rigondeaux’s understudy – the Cuban was champion throughout Frampton’s stay at the poundage – and soundly defeated all of them.

First up was Kiko Martinez, who Frampton had already defeated in a European title tussle but met again in 2014. Frampton, who probably entered his peak that night, couldn’t put the more experienced Martinez away as he had in their first fight but he did dominate almost completely with a healthy mix of jabs and bodyshots. Chris Avalos, who failed miserably when he moved up to featherweight but was a serious super-bantamweight, visited Frampton’s Belfast stronghold in 2015.  This was Frampton’s finest performance at the weight, his right hand excellent, despite the scruffy squabbling in the second his dominance near-complete.

Frampton’s final fight at 122lbs showed the toll weight-making was taking upon him. He was dominant over the first six against a reticent Scott Quigg, even breaking his jaw in the fourth, but the Englishman came on in the second half of the fight which was, in the end, very close.

Santa Cruz was more impressive in the victories he did have at 122lbs but it was Frampton, in the end, who scored the more numerous and more impressive victories.

02 – Nonito Donaire

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 18-5 Ranked For: 25% of the decade

The decade 2010-2019 produced two legitimate super-bantamweight champions and it is fitting that these two lead the pack. Nor is it close – there is so much clear blue water between Nonito Donaire at #2 and Carl Frampton at #3 that they may as well be on different lists.

Donaire stepped up to 122lbs in 2012 and immediately tackled a divisional strapholder, the number eight contender, Wilfredo Vazquez; after taking a decision form him over the twelve, it was Jeffrey Mathebula, the number six contender who towered over Donaire but nevertheless gave up a similar decision. This second fight is crucial because against both he and Vazquez it is possible to see Donaire over-reaching, under-boxing, pushing far too hard for the knockout which he openly demanded of himself in the press. In the tenth round of his fight with Mathebula, Donaire was so completely out-boxed that in the eleventh and twelfth he limited himself to his more direct sphere of influence and in doing so dominated Mathebula completely, cracking one of his teeth in the process. You could almost hear the penny drop.

I consider that Donaire found himself at 122lbs that night and the result was Donaire’s 118lb form suddenly materialising in the super-bantamweight division. His next fight was against no less a figure than Toshiaki Nishioka, the most accomplished fighter in the division, a meeting between the two best super-bantams in the world and so the beginning of a new lineage at the weight. Donaire was the absolute pinnacle of cool as far as his inherent aggression would allow; he won every round and devastated Nishioka in the ninth round of a non-competitive rout propelled by his right hand rather than left hook. When he butchered Jorge Arce two months later, in December of 2012, he had completed the single best unbroken run of the decade at 122lbs and one of the better runs at any weight.

This being boxing, the end of that run was just around the corner.

01 – Guillermo Rigondeaux

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 15-1 Ranked For: 92% of the decade

Donaire met with Cuban amateur legend Guillermo Rigondeaux in April of 2013 in a huge fight between the two best super-bantamweights in the world. It was also as one-sided as any top tier match of the decade as Rigondeaux, in absolute control for ten of the twelve rounds, picked Donaire’s wings off in a study of lethal economy.

Rigondeaux breaks rhythm. A combination of feints, very astute defensive dips and slips and single power-punches make establishment of offense against him agonising. Donaire, a fluid fighter who counter-pressures his opponents to the canvas, was particularly afflicted by the Rigondeaux malaise.  Rigondeaux threw infrequently; still he out-landed Donaire in every round but one.

The Cuban spent the years in which Donaire was tying together his superb 122lb run emerging from the pack and was just 6-0 when he tangled with number five contender Ricardo Cordoba. Rigondeaux dominated with ease until Cordoba snapped his head back with a jab, flashing him.  Rigondeaux responded in away entirely unacceptable to the American fight fraternity: he ran away.

Rigondeaux took a split decision and learned his final lesson: professional fighting in America calls for more fighting than amateur boxing does anywhere. Rico Ramos, then still unbeaten at 20-0, was the man to bear the brunt of this newly learned lesson as he was blasted to the canvas in the first round and tormented through the sixth when a body punch – and the better part of valour – kept him on the canvas.

So Rigondeaux was primed when he stepped into the ring with Donaire, for all that he was professionally inexperienced. Donaire was made to understand it and the litany of excuses he laid out after the fight – his shoulder was bad, he didn’t study his opponent, his was distracted by his wife’s pregnancy – could not disguise his out-and-out inferiority to Rigondeaux.

The argument as to who would be the decadal number one at 122lbs ended there, but there is more to recommend Rigondeaux as one of the longest serving lineal champions in boxing. In a division that sees fleeting commitment, even by its most prominent fighters, Rigondeaux’s devotion to super-bantamweight has been unusual.

He never became the superstar his management wanted to make him – too technical, too careful, too defensive – but there is no questioning his status as the best of the decade.

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Remembering “Doin’ Damage”

Ted Sares

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Remembering-Doin'-Damage

On June 3, 1997, Darroll “Doin’ Damage” Wilson met Courage “No Limit” Tshabalala at Philadelphia’s legendary Blue Horizon where no seat was a bad seat. The fight was a true Philly Classic, one of the most exciting fights of the year. The result was a surprise, but not as surprising as the upset that Darroll Wilson pulled off in March of the previous year when he fought the much bigger Shannon Briggs at the Convention Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Wilson vs. Briggs

Brooklynite Shannon Briggs (25-0) had achieved a reputation for being a guy who ended his fights early, as in first-round KO’s, but on this occasion, things kind of reversed themselves, as the gutsy Wilson (15-0-2 going in) survived a furious first round and then used his superior skills to shockingly take out “The Cannon” with a sharp left hook two rounds later.

Wilson, who lived close to Atlantic City in Mays Landing, N.J., had done considerable damage to his opponents until he met David Tua (24-0) in Miami and was KOd in the last second of an otherwise even first round by the streaking “Tuaman.” But losing to the short but super-powerful Tua was no disgrace. In fact, for Darroll, the best was yet to come.

 After beating limited Ron McCarthy, Darroll met the highly-touted Tshabalala (20-1). “Courage” had previously been shocked by Brian “Bam Bam” Scott (21-3) in the late Scott’s career definer in 1996, shattering the myth of the South African’s extraordinary power and alleged 72-1 amateur record (with 71 knockouts). Scott won using a fast and sharp combo, stopping him in the second round. Most of the 270-pound native of Kansas’s opponents had losing records which further amplified the shock factor– though Courage’s level of opposition was equally suspect.

Wilson vs Tshabalala (June 1997)

After Ed Darian Derian announced the fighters, the bell rang and Courage quickly decked Wilson with a power jab and then dictated matters for the rest of the round as he went on the stalk. The second round was uneventful until the last 15 seconds when Tshabalala opened up with a number of power shots. Wilson answered, but his answer came after the bell for which he received a firm warning.

Late in the third round, Wilson was hit clean by a perfect Courage right cross. He went down hard, got up, and then fell back down on Queer Street. Just as Referee Rudy Battle was about to signal the end of the fight, the round ended and Wilson was allowed to continue. Lou Duva, Courage’s manager, protested the call in his usual hyper/hysterical fashion but to no avail. Lou’s signature protests had acquired the feel of the little boy who cried wolf too often and this one was no exception.

Tshabalala came out fast in the next round trying to put away a still stunned Wilson, but the muscular Darroll did what he did against Briggs and, weathering the fierce storm, began to connect with his own shots. Both men went at it full-tilt boogie until the South African, exposing a stamina issue, finally went down, spit out his mouthpiece, and was counted out. He had nothing left. The Blue Horizon went bonkers.

Tshabalala had now participated in one of the upsets of the year and one of the most exciting fights of the year. Though a loser in both, he was nevertheless on everybody’s radar.

Bert Cooper (September 2002)

Darroll would go on to win some and lose some but against the very best opposition including David Izon, Frankie Swindell, Mike Rouse, Tim Witherspoon, Ray Mercer, and Oliver McCall. He ended his career in 2006 with a 27-10-2 slate and– before he took three years off–he scored another big win by stopping Bert Cooper (36-21) at the Blue Horizon in 2002. After this loss, Bert himself would take an eight-year hiatus from boxing, but for all practical purposes, he was done. (Cooper was a tragic figure with a deceptive record—a quintessentially sad boxing story– and the ups and downs of his life beg for a telling.)

As for Darroll Wilson, he always gave his best and on at least three occasions, he did some remarkable damage.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com or on Facebook.

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Leo Upends Williams as Boxing Returns to ‘Showtime’

Arne K. Lang

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Leo-Upends-Williams-as-Boxing-Returns-to-Showtime

Showtime Boxing kicked off their late summer/fall season tonight with a three-fight card behind closed doors at the Mohegan Sun Casino Resort in Uncasville, CT. Tonight’s show is the first of nine live boxing events that the cable TV giant announced on July 22. The season will run through Dec. 12 with the concluding match a WBC bantamweight title bout between defending title-holder Nordine Oubaali and ageless showstopper Nonito Donaire.

Unfortunately for Showtime, there was a COVID-19 complication right out of the box. Philadelphia bantamweight Stephen Fulton, who would have been the “A” side in tonight’s main event, tested positive on Wednesday, forcing some shuffling. Tramaine Williams was bumped up from the co-feature to challenge Angelo Leo for the WBO world super bantamweight title vacated by Emanuel Navarette.

Angelo Leo hadn’t prepared for a southpaw and it took him a bit find his groove, but he found it and won a fairly lopsided decision over a previously undefeated opponent who was fighting in his home state. The scores were 117-111 and 118-110 twice.

Leo, 26, worked the body well and had more fuel in his tank as the bout progressed into the late rounds. In winning, Leo became the first world title-holder from Albuquerque since Johnny Tapia. Promoted by Floyd Mayweather’s “Money Team”, he advanced his record to 20-0. It was the first pro loss for New Haven’s Williams who fell to 19-1.

It figures that Leo will make his first defense against Stephen Fulton.

Other Bouts

In another 122-pound match that was also penciled in for 12 rounds, Ra’eese Aleem thoroughly outclassed late sub Marcus Bates en route to a 10th round stoppage. This was their second meeting and Bates, who entered the contest 11-1-1, was looking to avenge his lone defeat. In their initial go in Philadelphia in April of 2018, Aleem won comfortably on the scorecards. Bates recently explained that loss away by saying that he believed that someone tampered with his water bottle, giving Aleem an advantage.

Aleem, 30, steadily broke Bates down. The referee halted the one-sided match when Bates, who appeared to have sprained his right wrist, turned his back on Aleem after absorbing a hard left hook. Aleem, the pride of Muskegon, Michigan, improved to 17-0 with his 12th knockout.

In the opener, a light heavyweight match slated for 10 rounds, Houston’s Joseph George (11-0, 7 KOs) landed a bombshell of a left uppercut in the ninth frame to put away Marcos Escudero (10-2) who was well ahead on the scorecards when lightning struck.

This was a rematch. When they fought last November on ShoBox, Escudero outworked George, but George landed the crisper punches and prevailed on a split decision. Escudero, who is from Argentina but had his early pro fights in Florida, outworked George again (George likes to fight with his back against the ropes, a strategy he needs to reconsider) but as they say, it only takes one punch in this business, and Joseph George, who is managed by NFL all-pro tackle Trent Williams, brought the howitzer.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / Showtime

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