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The Top Ten Featherweights of the Decade 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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The featherweight division of the last decade lacked focus, personified in its failure to produce a single legitimate champion. There are beltholders aplenty but no lineal kings; there are also numerous number one contenders as the torch passed from beast to beast on what was a dangerous fistic landscape.

So, several of these men crossed paths and it is well that they did. There is so little to separate the top five from one another that those meetings are woven gold in organising a very tight pack.

Rankings, as always, are by Ring Magazine from January 2010 to October 2012 and thereafter by TBRB.

10 – Nonito Donaire

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 18-5 Ranked For: 10% of the decade

Filipino legend Nonito Donaire’s featherweight decade is sheer ranking confusion.

He was chased from the super-bantamweight division by a deadly Guillermo Rigondeaux and rolled straight into a rematch with Vic Darchinyan who was slipping but still ranked. A tense, cagey squabble ensued, shaded by Darchinyan’s two-handed punch-picking pressure, most especially his left hand; Donaire was neatly bailed out by his power, a degree of which he had carried with him to 126lbs. A divisional warning had been sung.

Donaire, never shy of a meaningful challenge, next matched featherweight number one Simpiwe Vetyeka, the conqueror of Chris John who had in turn outpointed Juan Manuel Marquez. This fight was a terrific mess, including low blows, head-clashes, one of which caused a serious cut on Donaire’s left eyelid. Donaire went on to dominate despite this cut, arguably losing the second but clearly winning the third, and dropping Vetyeka in the fourth with a gorgeous counter-left.

But referee Luis Pabon repeatedly visited with the ringside physician and began the fifth round hanging over the top rope deep in conversation with the WBA (just who you want on hand in times of difficulty). The fight was called at two seconds of the fifth and Donaire was awarded a technical decision.

Donaire was then firmly out-monstered by Nicholas Walters after which he dropped back down the divisions, returning in 2017 for a pair of featherweight fights culminating in a spirited loss to Carl Frampton. All this adds up to a very mixed bag and it could be argued that Donaire should be excluded in favour of Abner Mares or Jhonny Gonzalez; but Donaire did defeat a divisional number one in the shape of Vetyeka, and despite the strangeness surrounding that fight, it’s enough to see me favour him here.

09 – Gary Russell

Peak Ranking: 3 Record for the Decade: 24-1 Ranked For: 40% of the decade

Gary Russell remains most famous for his 2014 defeat at the hands of Vasyl Lomachenko but his recovery and fistic retribution has been impressive. When Russell met Jhonny Gonzalez in 2015 it was in pursuit of the strap that Lomachenko had denied him. Gonzalez, as perennial as any featherweight contender has been, was ranked two at the time of their confrontation, but Russell dominated from the first and with ease. It may be that Russell lost in Lomachenko to the only featherweight able to outspeed him in phases. Gonzalez did not have the pressure to keep Russell from stepping into his punches nor the power to dissuade him; Russell found him with his southpaw left in the third and the fight was effectively over from that point, though it was the right hook that did the real damage. Gonzales was cracked in four.

After two softer engagements, both of which he won by knockout, Russell met with the baby-faced Joe Diaz. Diaz brought pitiless pressure in the first half of the fight, carving up rounds with Russell as an equal, neutralising his speed with brave pressure and a vintage southpaw hook to the body. Again and again he forced Russell to give ground but Russell adjusted like a veteran. Rather than boxing an endless retreat he favoured exacting the maximum toll as Diaz bored inside. Diaz rallied beautifully ten through twelve to make this fight a borderline classic, but Russell’s adjustment made him tentative in the middle rounds, and it was by bagging those that Russell made himself a clear winner.  It was the best performance of his career.

There is no shame in his single defeat and his rebuild is one of the best stories of the featherweight decade. I am glad he slips in at nine.

08 – Vasyl Lomachenko

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 14-1 Ranked For: 20% of the decade

Vasyl Lomachenko is 0-1 versus ranked featherweights where he fought the infancy of his professional career. The circumstances of that loss are well known and understood – Orlando Salido came to the ring well overweight and proceeded to foul a green Lomachenko out of his rhythm, all of which was inexplicably ignored by boxing’s worst referee. This loss, then, alights upon rather than crushes Lomachenko’s legacy.

As for wins he has a handful but nothing desperately impressive. His featherweight legacy is essentially comprised of the brilliance with which he conducted himself within the ring during that early part of his career and his victory over Gary Russell.

Gary Russell was at a strange point in his career when he ran into Lomachenko having met fighters with decent paper records but having also expressly avoided sharing the ring with anyone who might conceivably beat him, all, according to the man himself, a part of the plan. But Russell was excellent against Lomachenko, matching his speed to the blinding quick combination punching genius of Lomachenko and emerging with his pride intact. As we have seen, he emerged as a person of interest for the decade.

And Lomachenko bossed him. He boxed with the surety of an eight year veteran not the uncertainty of the two-fight novice, already moving up and down with as much fluidity as any featherweight that decade; anyone doubting the decision of trainer Lomachenko Senior to place the young Vasyl in dance lessons should look no further than his reaction to Russell’s attempt to bring volume in the eighth and ninth.

Lomachenko was a special fighter, and although on paper he has no special featherweight win, Russell probably qualifies in this context. That, and his brilliance, is enough to get him in one slot ahead of that fighter.

07 – Mikey Garcia

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 20-1 Ranked For: 17% of the decade

Mikey Garcia had an enormously impressive 2010 to 2019 and nothing illustrates it more than the number of times we have run into him on these lists. From 126lbs through to 140lbs, Garcia has made the cut.

He has never cracked the top of any divisional list though, his fleeting relationship with each a limiting factor. 126lbs is where he made his bones although he departed almost immediately, usually by design but in this case out of necessity – Garcia found making 126lbs a difficult experience as we shall see.

Before he became a victim of one of boxing’s oldest problems though, he turned in what remains my favourite Mikey Garcia performance, his January 2013 domination of Orlando Salido. Salido was then the general of the featherweight division but Garcia laid him bare, moving in and out with varied commitment, compromising Salido’s pressure and balance both while his superior footspeed made him defensively safe if not always sound. Salido, frustrated by his lack of success, repeatedly over-extended himself in search of his tormentor and Garcia repeatedly punished him, flashing him four times and breaking his eye socket. Even dominating Salido has its dangers though, and in the eighth an apparently accidental clash of heads saw Garcia emerge with a broken nose. An eight round technical decision in his favour was the result.

It was a beautiful performance and one that should be argued as the bedrock of a much higher ranking. Unfortunately, the only other relevant fight Garcia made at 126lbs was against Juan Manuel Lopez in a fight for which Garcia missed the weight. It was an impressive victory but over-the-weight matches for me only provide a sliver of the credit with which they would normally be bequeathed. Garcia could not make the 126lb limit (and he tried) so it is difficult to see the fight as a major enhancement of his 126lb standing. Garcia left his strap behind him on the scales and disembarked for super-featherweight.

06 – Carl Frampton

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 24-2 Ranked For: 31% of the decade

There is little to separate the man ranked seven from the man ranked two; small matters become pertinent. Carl Frampton’s number two victory at the poundage was over Nonito Donaire, whose career vagaries we have already explored. When he met with Frampton, Donaire was not ranked at featherweight and had not been ranked at featherweight for several years. Donaire remains a valid opponent, however, and Frampton’s clear victory over him seems even more impressive considering Donaire’s near run at Naoya Inoue last year; but the fact that the Filipino was unranked at the time of his meeting with Frampton probably makes the difference between his ranking fifth and sixth.

For obvious reasons Frampton is neck and neck with the fighter ranked one slot above him.

Frampton traveled from his native Northern Ireland to Brooklyn in July 2016 to meet that man, the Mexican Leo Santa Cruz. This, their first fight, was something rather special as Frampton shuffled into range, looked, threw if he felt it was safe to do so before moving out, sometimes in a straight line. It worked like a charm; Santa Cruz repeatedly over-extended himself allowing Frampton to do his best work – hard, consistent punching often ending in a bodyshot.

Frampton throws a single punch as beautiful as anyone on this list. The gorgeous counter left he sent Santa Cruz crashing back into the ropes with in the early going; the peachy uppercut he used to steal the third.

Frampton did not have a problem placing Santa Cruz where he wanted him for his blows for stretches of the fight and although it was close, the majority decision in Frampton’s favour felt right as a description of what occurred.

The rematch would be different.

05 – Leo Santa Cruz

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 24-1-1 Ranked For: 40% of the decade

The rematch was different in that Leo Santa Cruz absolutely refused to become overextended physically or strategically. He consistently boxed within a more natural scope of influence, forcing Frampton to work harder for the range and when they exchanged he relied upon his quickness to allow him to dominate and to smother Frampton’s work with volume. In this, he was successful often enough that his revenge victory over Frampton felt more complete than Frampton’s victory over him. Reason enough to rank Santa Cruz ahead of Frampton perhaps but Santa Cruz has more, being ranked as a featherweight for a longer stretch of the decade and having twice overcome the ranked Abner Mares.

Mares, himself a contender for the number ten spot, first ran across a fresh-faced Santa Cruz in 2015 and Santa Cruz delivered a fine advertisement for superior footwork as key in placing a swarming opponent under control. Mares had an early plan that looked menacing, placing his head not just on Santa Cruz’s shoulder but behind it while working away to body and head against a smothered opponent. It worked in the first round; Santa Cruz turned him beautifully in the second and outfought him in the pocket, seemingly discouraging Mares. The rest of the fight was a canter home for a fighter clearly in the mood, entering a prime that stretches to this day. In the rematch he was almost as dominant, Mares finding an extra round on my scorecard but at no point threatening a win. Santa Cruz essentially excluded Mares from the divisional decadal top ten that night and did much to propel himself into the top five.

04 – Josh Warrington

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 28-0 Ranked For: 20% of the decade

Josh Warrington, it is said, gets by on workrate and fitness; he would have to overpower the “slick” Lee Selby to beat him for his big 2018 step up. That was not what happened. Rather, Warrington overcame the beltholder and favourite as much by giving ground and bringing Selby onto his counter-rushes and by out-jabbing “The White Mayweather” for key spells of the fight. Selby, who finished the fight dripping in blood and gore, was soundly thrashed down the straight by the much vaunted Warrington workrate but it was the intelligence with which he boxed early that kept the fight close and made that rush decisive.

Still, against the more storied Carl Frampton a similar story was told. Warrington’s best chance was to weather the storm early because Frampton was sure to place him under control with his superior jab and then use his superior boxing to make use of his superior power. Instead, Warrington rocketed out of the blocks, hurt Frampton repeatedly during the early rounds, before romping home to a clear unanimous decision.

These were Warrington’s marquee wins and they lock him into the top five, but he fell short with his last significant performance of the decade, his June 2019 split decision victory over Kid Galahad. In a close fight that I scored a draw, Warrington was seen by many as lucky to get the nod as Galahad pivoted, held and potshotted his way to a near shock. Ranked number nine in the world it was he rather than the more accomplished Selby or Frampton who made him look like the limited fighter some still name him.

Either way, Warrington got the nod and it was no robbery. These wins combined with his unbeaten status puts him on the shortlist for the number one spot; that his half of the decade was less dramatic and danger-filled explains his ranking behind the standouts from the first.

03 – Juan Manuel Lopez

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 10-6-1 Ranked For: 27% of the decade

Seen retrospectively, the destruction of wrecking machine Juan Manuel Lopez by Orlando Salido makes sense, but in real time it was almost impossible to understand. All but brand new to featherweight at the dawn of the decade, Lopez spent 2010 ravaging the 126lb ranks before running into his nemesis and certainly did enough in that time to be included in the top five.

First up was the capable number two contender Steve Luevano. Luevana was stopped just once and it was on the night of January twenty-third, 2010 when he took on Lopez. Limber on his feet, Lopez boxed with a low chin and an exploratory southpaw jab that was deceptively heavy. His other punches booked no deceit and were clearly killing blows. Long on the outside, compact on the inside, Lopez was technically sure at all ranges; swift; powerful and as he proved in a minor disaster at 122lbs against Rogers Mtagwa, tough, Lopez was grinding down Luevana in big chunks from at least the third and probably before. Unearthed by hooks in the seventh, Luevana was stopped on his feet.

Next up was the number six contender Bernabe Concepcion. Concepcion was basically finished as an elite fighter against Lopez, but their first round was perhaps the best featherweight round of the decade, both men hitting the deck during a three minute war Lopez dominated but seemed never fully in control of; Lopez emerged in the second the cooler man and stopped Concepcion, the first man to do so, the only man to do so this quickly.

That fight was a graduation night for Lopez’s straight right having previously relied primarily upon the hook. He was absolutely primed then for Rafael Marquez, emerging from his epic four-fight series with Israel Vazquez and vulnerable to a fighter of Lopez’s machinations. Marquez fought bravely, and had his moments, but was broken in eight rounds.

Enter Orlando Salido, stage left.

02 – Orlando Salido

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 10-4-2 Ranked For: 44% of the decade

A mugger, a bandit, Orlando Salido waited in the wings throughout the decade ready to spoil in a manner utterly unlike a spoiler, the rise of the Next Big Thing. Twice between 2010 and the end of 2019 he brutally sabotaged what seemed an inevitable crowning. His first victim was Juan Manuel Lopez and it is his two-time destruction of Lopez that locks him into the top five.

Lopez, 30-0 and a marked favourite as well as a crowd favourite in their first contest fought in early in 2011 in Lopez’s Puerto Rico stronghold, started well, boxing within himself, seemingly aware of Salido’s danger punch, the overhand right. But Salido is Salido. He deploys himself and turns the screw; he waits, he takes his lumps and patiently sets out to see if he can find his man along whatever strategic line has been identified. A lost first round matters no more to him than a mine to a mountain. As early as the second he was closer; Lopez reigned down punishment, worked to maintain the distance. The gift of the pressure fighter is his momentum and his control of the real estate. He can, at the very least, choose when and where he will be hit. Even if he is losing badly, if he can persist, the fight, suddenly, can be changed; this was the case in the fourth, which was the first round Salido won and the first in which the controlled retreat of Lopez began to look disorganised.

Drawn into a firefight he was dropped and hurt in the fifth, dominated by a merciless Salido in the sixth, rallied in the seventh and was changed forever as a fighter by Salido’s ceaseless attack in the eighth.

Lopez was subject to divorce proceedings at the time and stopped prematurely while standing, so received a rematch. Salido, who knew and understood how Lopez moved now, dominated him even more completely though Lopez managed to last until the tenth.

In 2014 Salido performed a similar mugging against Vasyl Lomachenko although it was comprised of a cooperative referee and numerous low blows; more than that, a weight advantage in that he did not appear to try that hard to make the 126lb limit and missed it by distance; the credit bequeathed here for such a victory is very limited – but those two glorious nights on which he mastered Lopez and longevity at the weight qualify him for the spot.

01 – Yuriorkis Gamboa

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 14-3 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

It is possible that the memory is fading now, but there was a short spell in the early part of the decade where Cuban Yuriorkis Gamboa was rated the next big thing. Watching him now, it isn’t hard to see why. His offence was gorgeous. A stocky, muscular fighter, he nevertheless moved beautifully; capable of brutal yet compact hooks from a deep stance he was also delightfully mobile; a gunslinger, hands low, often eschewing the jab for leading power punches which sometimes qualified as monstrous.

But he was flawed. Questionable temperament and a propensity for being hit even while winning were always going to prevent him reaching the Pacquiao-like heights some predicted for him. Little of this manifested itself at featherweight, however, and it is featherweight that interests us here.  Between 2008 and his leaving the division in 2012, Gamboa was at his glittering best.

This included his very best years, 2010 and 2011, during which he began to meet ranked men. In his first and in what remains for me his most sparkling performance, he clearly out-pointed the world’s number one featherweight Orlando Salido. Gamboa was never more explosive in punching, favouring a lead left-hook/short-right combination and for a while, Salido seemed outclassed and in imminent danger of being stopped, but being Salido he refused to go away and even flashed an overeager Gamboa with a right in the eighth; but that and the ninth were the only rounds I could find for Siri. Gamboa dominated Salido and dropped him in the twelfth, not once but twice, was docked two points for hitting his man when he was down, flashing that temper even as he seemed imperious. A typical Gamboa Saturday night.

He was nearly as good months later against the number five contender, the puncher Daniel Ponce de Leon. Again, Gamboa hardly dropped a round against highly ranked opposition.

Supplementary wins over a slipping Jorge Solis and Jonathan Victor Barros bolster his standing but I am not overjoyed with Gamboa as a number one. He barely passes in terms of the time he spent in the rankings, and although his resume is good it is not special. He is the least qualified decadal divisional number one we have seen, I think, but Gamboa was unbeaten and really the only other contender for the #1 spot is Warrington. His domination over Salido and Salido’s domination of Juan Manuel Lopez all but ties these three in this order, and Warrington, for all his excellence, hasn’t met with the same level of fighter and nor was he ranked in the featherweight division much longer (just 2% more).

So, it’s Gamboa – a thrilling but flawed king for a thrilling but flawed featherweight decade.

The other lists:

Heavyweight

Cruiserweight

Light-Heavyweight

Super-Middleweight

Middleweight

Light-Middleweight

Welterweight

Light-Welterweight

Lightweight

Super-Featherweight

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland

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Late-Bloomer Jersey Joe Walcott Goes the Distance Again With Statue in Camden

Bernard Fernandez

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It may not always be apparent to those with untrained eyes, but there is genuine art in boxing for those who understand the beauty and majesty of a perfectly timed left hook. Just such a masterful moment of the sweet science was authored by Jersey Joe Walcott on July 18, 1951, in the seventh round of his fifth and likely final shot at the heavyweight championship he had been clawing and scratching his way toward since he turned pro at 16 in 1930.

Again a longshot against the great Ezzard Charles, against whom he already was 0-2 in title bouts, a frozen moment in time that fateful night at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field transformed Walcott from a symbol of his sport’s relentless but mostly unrewarded grinders to instant-legend status. At 37, he not only had become the oldest man to that point ever to win boxing’s most prestigious prize (a distinction he would hold for 43 years, until 45-year-old George Foreman dethroned WBA/IBF champ Michael Moorer on another incredible, bolt-from-the-blue knockout, on Nov. 5, 1994, in Las Vegas), but the patron saint of fighters with iron wills and vision quests they would see through to completion or die trying.

In a story that appeared on this site on July 16, 2018, I ranked Walcott’s blasting of Charles No. 1 on my personal list of all-time one-punch knockouts, which I described thusly:

Entering the seventh round, Walcott led the scoring, in rounds, by 5-1, 4-1-1 and 3-3. Moving forward while rocking side to side, the 9-1 underdog dipped to his left and exploded upward with a thunderous left hook that caught Charles flush on the jaw. The semi-conscious champion pitched forward onto his face.

It is difficult to encapsulate the full scope of such a historically significant and aesthetically flawless a punch into any inanimate object, like a statue, but sculptor Carl LeVotch perhaps came as close as is humanly possible with his eight-foot bronze of Walcott, which was unveiled this past Saturday during a celebratory day of festivities in Camden, N.J., the hometown of the beloved fighter whose real name was Arnold Cream. The unveiling took place along the Camden waterfront, at the Wiggins Park Promenade, following a 3½-mile parade that featured marching bands and other attractions.

For medical reasons I was unable to attend an event I had very much been looking forward to, but the spirit of the occasion – and the 20-year march from concept to completion for those who wanted the Walcott/Cream statue to be more than just another item on someone’s wish list – closely mirrored the ring career of an inspirational figure who fueled the imaginations of so many attendees. Chief among those is Vincent Cream, 61, the grandson of Jersey Joe who spearheaded the drawn-out efforts to raise the $185,000 required to fund the project, which is still not entirely paid for.

“It was an overwhelming moment,” Vincent Cream told Boxing Writers Association of America president Joseph Santoliquito, who covered the event for another media outlet. “Everyone who never met my grandfather met him today.

“No one ever dies. He’s here with us. When I look at his statue, and you see who’s gathered here – white, black, old, young, everyone coming together – his timelessness has come. To persevere for 23 years, it represents who my grandfather was as a man and his fortitude as a person. When you have a dream, it’s important to set goals between the dream and the achievement. Every time I brought up the idea of a statue, people would tell me, `Good luck with that.’ That was 10 years ago. We achieved it, a little at a time – like my grandfather.”

LeVotch, with whom I have long been acquainted, has nearly as long a track record in his boxing-related field as did Walcott, who took his ring nom de guerre in tribute to Joe “The Barbados Demon” Walcott, a welterweight champion whose career ended in 1911. The original fighting Walcott was a hero to young Arnold Cream’s father, Joseph Cream, who came to New Jersey from the British Virgin Islands. I first met LeVotch for a story I did on him that appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News editions of July 2, 2003, when he took me through the process of his creation of a 17-inch cold-cast bronze statuette he called The Spirit of Boxing, reproductions of which are owned by any number of boxing notables. His goal, he told me, was to create something more meaningful than the statue of the fictional heavyweight champion Rocky Balboa that was used as a movie prop for 1982’s Rocky III.

“It doesn’t move me,” LeVotch said. “A true piece of art is capable of moving the man on the street. It is an instrument to inspire. It’s been that way since antiquity. I have a great affinity for Rodin (that would be Auguste Rodin, the French sculptor, not Rodan, the Japanese movie monster). His The Thinker is a sacrament, if you will, of an inner grace.

“I’m one of those guys who believe boxing is a metaphor for life. I also think of it as an art form. Those who do it well are, in their own way, artists.”

In addition to his sculpted improvements of several awards the BWAA presents as its annual dinner, LeVotch’s other life-sized commemoration of a boxing life, that of former middleweight champion Joey Giardello (real name: Carmine Tilelli), was unveiled on May 21, 2011, in Giardelli’s old South Philadelphia neighborhood. Like Walcott, Giardelli – father of four sons, one of whom was born with Down Syndrome – was more than just a fighter, something LeVotch sought to convey through his art.

“I saw Joey not only as a terrific fighter, but as a father who cared deeply for his disabled son,” Carl told me a decade ago. “How do you convey all these different sides of a man in coagulated metal? My challenge was to capture the essence of the man as well as a physical likeness.”

Brought to tears by LeVotch’s artistic interpretation of who her husband was and what he represented in meaningful ways that extended beyond the ring, Rosalie Tilelli said, “I’m overwhelmed. I call Carl LeVotch my Michelangelo.”

Jersey Joe Walcott was demonstrably statue-worthy even if he hadn’t moved on from boxing to a full and rich later phase of his life in which he served as the first African-American elected sheriff of Camden County, serving from 1971 to ’74, and chairman of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board until 1984. His wife, Riletta Cream, also was committed to public service as a city educator and county freeholder from 1994 to 2011.

But it is Walcott the boxer who set records inside the ropes that almost certainly will never be matched, much less surpassed. Fighting in an era when there was just one heavyweight champion, not a bunch of alphabet title-holders, he fought eight times for boxing’s grandest prize, going 2-6 with two losses apiece to Joe Louis and Charles before he broke through against Charles with that museum-quality left hook in Pittsburgh. Five of those title bouts, incredibly, were in succession. There are more than a few historians who believe Jersey Joe should have won on points in his first go at Louis, in which he floored the “Brown Bomber” in the first and fourth rounds. No wonder Walcott’s most ardent fans, even those in his own family, were hesitant to risk seeing him come up short again when he again squared off against Charles in the home stadium of baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates.

“I was 12 when my dad won the heavyweight title and there he is, so real,” Ruth Cream, now 82, told Santoliquito at the unveiling. “I remember that night like it happened clearly. I was the only one downstairs at our house with reporters in our living room watching the fight on TV. Everyone else was upstairs in bed because they didn’t want to watch it.

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“After my father won, I remember running up the stairs to tell my family, `Daddy won!’”

After a successful defense on points against familiar foe Charles, Walcott, well ahead on points through 12 of the scheduled 15 rounds, was dethroned by Rocky Marciano on a 13th-round knockout on Sept. 23, 1952, in Philadelphia. He fought just once more, this time being stopped in one round by Marciano, before hanging up his gloves with a 51-18-2 (32) record. He was part of the 1990 charter class of inductees into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Camden officials are hoping their hometown hero’s statue becomes something of a tourist attraction, as is the case with the Rocky statue at the base of the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum and the 12-foot Joe Frazier statue, created by sculptor Stephen Layne and located outside the Xfinity Live! bar/restaurant in the South Philly sports complex. As splendid as it is, the Giardello statue draws fewer eyes given its location in a less-bustling and attraction-loaded neighborhood.

But in a metropolitan area where bronze tributes to sports stars of the four local professional franchises (Eagles, Phillies, 76ers and Flyers) are fairly commonplace, the statues of Frazier, Giardello, Walcott and, yes, Stallone are at least a signal that boxing, for so long Philadelphia’s fifth pro sport and a veritable cradle of champions, is recognizing a part of its past that is worthy of being preserved and treasured.

Editor’s Note: Bernard Fernandez, named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Observer category with the class of 2020, was the recipient of numerous awards for writing excellence during his 28-year career as a sportswriter for the Philadelphia Daily News. Fernandez’s first book, “Championship Rounds,” a compendium of previously published material, was released in May of last year. The sequel, “Championship Rounds, Vol. 2,” with a foreword by Jim Lampley, arrives this fall. The book can be ordered through Amazon.com, in hard or soft cover, and other book-selling websites and outlets.

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Weekend Boxing Recap: The Mikey Garcia Stunner and More

Arne K. Lang

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Weekend Boxing Recap: The Mikey Garcia Stunner and More

Boxing was all over the map on the third Saturday of October with many of the shows pulled together on short notice as promoters took advantage of relaxed COVID constraints to return to business as usual. When the smoke cleared, a monster upset in Fresno overshadowed the other events.

Mikey Garcia, a shoo-in to make the Hall of Fame, was on the wrong side of it. Spain’s Sandor Martin, in his USA debut, won a well-deserved decision over Garcia at a Triple-A baseball park in Fresno.

Garcia, a former four-division belt-holder, was 40-1 coming in with his only loss coming at the hands of Errol Spence. Martin, a 28-year-old southpaw, brought a nice record with him from Europe (38-2) but with only 13 wins coming by way of stoppage it was plain that he wasn’t a heavy hitter. His only chance was to out-box Garcia and that seemed far-fetched.

But Martin did exactly that, counter-punching effectively to win a 10-round majority decision. Two judges had it 97-93 with the third turning in a 95-95 tally.

Neither Garcia nor Martin were natural welterweights. The bout was fought at a catch-weight of 145 pounds. After the bout, the Spaniard indicated a preference for dropping back to 140 where enticing opportunities await.

There was another upset, albeit a much milder one, in the co-feature where Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Gonzalez improved to 25-3-1 (14) while shearing the WBO world flyweight title from the shoulders of Mexicali’s Elwin Soto (19-2).

Soto was making his fourth defense of the title and rode into the match with a 17-fight winning streak. Gonzalez, a southpaw, had formerly fought for the WBO world flyweight title, getting stopped in seven rounds by Kosei Tanaka in Nagoya, Japan.

One of the judges favored Soto 116-112, but he was properly out-voted by his colleagues who had it 116-112 the other way.

Riga, Latvia

The first major fight on Saturday took place in Riga, Latvia, where hometown hero Mairis Briedis successfully defended his IBF cruiserweight title with a third-round stoppage of Germany’s Artur Mann who was on the deck three times before the match was halted at the 1:54 mark.

Briedis (28-1, 20 KOs) was making his first start since dismantling KO artist Yuniel Dorticos in the finals of season two of the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament. He scored the first of his three knockdowns in the waning seconds of round two when he deposited Mann (17-2) on the canvas with a straight right hand.

Although boosters of fast-rising WBO champ Lawrence Okolie would disagree, the Latvian is widely regarded as the best cruiserweight in the world. His only setback came when he lost a narrow decision to current WBA/IBF/WBO heavyweight champ Oleksandr Usyk in this ring in January of 2018. Now 36 years old, Briedis has yet to appear in a main event outside Europe. That’s undoubtedly about to change and a rematch with Usyk is well within the realm of possibility.

Newcastle, England

Chris Eubank Jr, whose fight two weeks ago in London with late sub Anati Muratov was cancelled at the 11th hour when Muratov failed his medical exam, was added to this Matchroom card and his bout with Wanik Awdijan became the de facto main event. A 26-year-old German, born in Armenia, Awdijan was 28-1 and had won 21 straight (against very limited opposition), but he was no match for Eubank Jr who broke him down with body shots, likely breaking his ribs and forcing him to quit on his stool after five frames.

Eubank Jr, 32, improved to 31-2 (23) His only defeats came at the hands of former world title-holder George Groves and BJ Saunders. He dedicated this fight to his late brother Sebastian Eubank who died in July while swimming in the Persian Gulf.

In other bouts, Hughie Fury, the cousin of Tyson Fury, stayed relevant in the heavyweight division with a stoppage of well-traveled German Christian Hammer and Savannah Marshall successfully defended her WBO world middleweight title with a second-round TKO of Lolita Muzeya.

Akin to Eubank-Awdijan, the Fury-Hammer fight also ended with the loser bowing out after five frames. A biceps injury allegedly caused Hammer to say “no mas,” but Fury, in what was arguably his career-best performance, was well ahead on the cards.

The Marshall-Muzeya fight was a battle of unbeatens, but Muzeya’s 16-0 record was suspicious as the Zambian had never fought outside the continent of Africa. She came out blazing, but Marshall, who improved to 11-0 (9) had her number and retained her title.

Brooklyn

In the featured bout of a TrillerVerz show at Barclays Center, Long Island’s Cletus Seldin, the Hebrew Hammer, knocked out William Silva in the seventh round. It was the fifth-straight win for the 35-year-old Seldin, a junior welterweight who was making his first start in 20 months.

Silva, a 34-year-old Brazilian who fights out of Florida, brought a 28-3 record. His previous losses had come at the hands of Felix Verdejo, Teofimo Lopez, and Arnold Barboza Jr. Seldin improved to 26-1 (22 KOs).

In other bouts, junior welterweight Petros Ananyan, a Brooklyn-based Armenian, improved to 16-2-2 (7) with a 10-round majority decision over local fighter Daniel Gonzalez (20-3-1) and Will Madera of Albany, NY, scored a mild upset when he stopped Jamshidbek Najmitdinov who was pulled out after five rounds with an apparent shoulder injury.

Najmitdinov, from Uzbekistan, was making his U.S. debut but he brought a 17-1 record blemished only by former world title-holder Viktor Postol. Madera improved to 17-1-3.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholand / Matchroom

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Featured Articles

Emanuel Navarrete Retains WBO Featherweight Title in a San Diego Firefight

David A. Avila

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Emanuel-Navarrete-Retains-WBO-Featherweight-Title-in-a-San-Diego-Firefight

SAN DIEGO-WBO featherweight titlist Emanuel Navarrete won by unanimous decision over Joet Gonzalez in a slugfest that had fans cheering nonstop on Friday night. Fans were mesmerized by the savagery.

More than 2,000 fans saw Mexico City’s Navarrete (35-1, 29 KOs) and Southern California’s Gonzalez (24-2, 14 KOs) bounce brutal shots off each other for 12 successive rounds at Pechanga Sports Arena.

Both Navarrete and Gonzalez were about equal in height with the champion maybe a slight taller, but not by much. As soon as the first bell rang the two featherweights opened up in furious fashion.

Gonzalez was making his second attempt to grab a world title. His first attempt fell short a year ago. He was eager to atone for the defeat by clobbering Navarrete. Body shots were the weapon of choice.

The Mexican fighter Navarrete was accustomed to battling shorter fighters, this time the two were equal in size and in fury. Blows were flying in bunches and by the third round Gonzalez suffered a cut on his right cheek.

At several points Navarrete would connect with a solid blow and eagerly seek to finish the fight. Each time it happened Gonzalez would fight back even more furiously and beat back the champions attacks.

Gonzalez also connected with big shots and moved in for the kill only find Navarrete take a stand and fire back. Neither was able to truly gain a significant edge. After 12 rounds of nonstop action the decision was given to the judges. One scored it 118-110, two others saw it 116-112 all for Navarrete.

Fans were pleased by the decision and even more pleased by the breath-taking action they had witnessed.

Welterweights

Local fighter Giovani Santillan (28-0, 15 KOs) remained undefeated by unanimous decision after 10 rounds versus Tijuana’s Angel Ruiz (17-2, 12 KOs). The two southpaws were evenly matched.

San Diego’s Santillan was able to outwork Ruiz in almost every round. Though Ruiz has heavy hands he was not able to hurt Santillan even with uppercuts. It was clear very early in the fight that Santillan was the more technical and busier of the two. No knockdowns were scored.

After 10 rounds two judges scored it 100-90 for Santillan and a third saw it 99-91.

Other Results

Lindolfo Delgado (14-0, 12 KOs) battered and knocked down fellow Mexican Juan Garcia Mendez (21-5-2) in the last round of an 8-round super lightweight bout, but could not score the knockout win.

Delgado, a Mexican Olympian, was the quicker and stronger fighter yet discovered Garcia Mendez has a solid chin. All three judges scored it 80-71 for Delgado.

Puerto Rico’s Henry Lebron (14-0, 9 KOs) defeated Manuel Rey Rojas (21-6) by decision after eight rounds in a lightweight match.

Javier Martinez (5-0, 2 KOs) soundly defeated Darryl Jones (4-3-1) by decision after six rounds in a middleweight clash. Jones was tough.

Las Vegas bantamweight Floyd Diaz (3-0) knocked down Tucson’s Jose Ramirez (1-1) in the first round but was unable to end the fight early. Diaz won by decision.

Heavyweight Antonio Mireles (1-0) knocked out Demonte Randle (2-2) at 2:07 of the first round.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank for Getty Images

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