The 130-pound division (super featherweight, junior lightweight, whichever you prefer) is undergoind massive changes. Just a couple of months ago, the top three would've been Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez and Joan Guzman, three of the most talented fighters in the sport today. Last night, Manny moved up to 135 with a successful smashing of David Diaz, and both Marquez and Guzman will make their debuts at 135 on September 13, taking on Ring champion Joel Casamayor and three-body titleholder Nate Campbell, respectively.
So how does that leave the 130-pound ranks? Somewhat desolate. What was before one of the best and most exciting divisions in the sport is now desperate for a star. Some help is on the way, as some fighters are moving up to 130 and others are simply on the rise, but right now, it's a tough division to flesh out.
Forget his "loss" last night -- Soto is the most complete fighter in this division with the departures of the big three. He's got veteran presence, but is still in his prime athletic years, as he's 28 years old.
No, Soto wouldn't beat Pacquiao or Marquez, and he failed against Guzman, frustrated by the boxing acumen of his opponent and forced to chase without finding much to hit. But he blitzed Francisco Lorenzo last night, and should have been awarded a fourth round TKO win. The DQ means nothing to me. Nothing whatsoever. And believe me, it will be Soto getting big fights next, not Lorenzo. The WBC obviously thought something was wrong with the decision, as they chose to not give Lorenzo the interim title that was up for grabs.
Soto is a workman-like fighter, but does have notable skills. While his KO rate isn't great, he has good power, and he attacks the body better than anyone in the division. He's a guy who can really tear his opponent apart from the inside out, and rarely gets overly aggressive -- though he certainly has before, such as his KO win over Bobby Pacquiao, where he was winning handily but got sloppy and rocked.
Counting last night's debacle, you can really scratch about five of Soto's losses from his record when considering how good of a fighter he really is here in the present day in 2008. He was matched up hard and fast early in his career, got into the sport out of necessity, and was a late bloomer. The comparisons to Antonio Margarito are frequent, and fairly fitting.
Soto, for my money, is the best this division currently has to offer. Maybe you take that as a sign of where the division stands right now, but Soto is a hell of a fighter regardless.
2. Edwin Valero (24-0, 24 KO)
Valero has substantially improved since the big first round knockout streak that made him a name between 2002 and 2006, but he's yet to face a truly great fighter. The lack of depth in the division makes him a clear pick for either No. 1 or No. 2, and he has held onto his WBA strap since beating Vicente Mosquera in 2006. But since then, he's faced Michael Lozada, Nobuhito Honmo, Zaid Zavaleta, and Takehiro Shimada -- hardly a who's who list.
But you can't totally blame Valero for the poor opposition. He's been banned from fighting in the U.S. for medical reasons, but now that he's re-licensed in Texas, maybe he'll be able to lock down a decent fight or two. Of course, he's due to move up to 135 to FIND that big fight, but that's a story for another day. For now, he remains where he is, near the top of his division.
3. Jorge Barrios (47-3-1, 34 KO)
It was "La Hiena" who gave Joan Guzman the toughest test of his career back in 2006, stretching Guzman out to a very tight split decision. He's fought just once since then, and it seems like every potential fight he has gets aborted. He was supposed to face Marquez last September on PPV, but an eye injury forced him out, replaced by Rocky Juarez. He was supposed to meet Juarez last month as the featured undercard bout on the scrapped Mosley-Judah card, but now that's been called off, with a slight hope that it will be revisited under Mosley-Mayorga.
So who knows? But Barrios can fight. The Argentinian circuit is much like any other international boxing circuit, with inflated records and junk fighters. Barrios is one of those rare exceptions of a guy with real ability that has stepped out of his comfort zone and beaten a few good fighters. The Guzman loss, though, was where he really proved himself. He's dangerous for anyone, assuming he's healthy.
4. Robert Guerrero (22-1-1, 15 KO)
The division is so thin that 25-year old now-ex featherweight titlist Guerrero comes in ranked in the top five, having not yet fought at 130. He's got the body to move up fairly easily, I think, and has really stepped it up a notch since losing to Orlando Salido (a result that was changed to a no contest after Salido's failed drug test). He's knocked out Spend Abazi, Martin Honorio and Jason Litzau since that fight. His only official loss on the books came in 2005 to Gamaliel Diaz, via split decision. He avenged it with a sixth round knockout in 2006.
"The Ghost" is one of those guys that just seems mean. He fights mean, he carries himself mean when it's game time, and he has a great knack for finishing. Guerrero, though, is really a pretty nice guy otherwise. He trains hard, and has earned his success. He's got a nice track record of solid wins, and seems ready to take on the best this division has to offer. Hopefully, he'll come in fast.
5. Rocky Juarez (27-4, 19 KO)
OK, so Rocky Juarez hasn't quite turned into the fighter many hoped he would be. But he's still pretty good. Juarez, who seems at his best at 126 pounds, had his unbeaten start broken by Soto at 23-0 in 2005, and since then, he's just 4-3. His four wins in that period have come against Reynaldo Hurtado, Backlin Medrano, Emmanuel Lucero and Jose Hernandez. The losses have come to Marquez and Marco Antonio Barrera (twice). You can't really argue with his losses, though it's worth noting he's lost to the three best fighters he's faced.
In a division like this, though, Juarez has a real shot at making more of his career than he did three months ago. Let's not forget that he does have a few good wins on his resume, including Zahir Raheem and Hector Velazquez. The fight with Barrios was an intriguing matchup for both, and I hope it happens.
6. Alex Arthur (26-1, 19 KO)
The man who forced Guzman to flee the division! Alright, so not really.
Arthur is the holder of the WBO's 130-pound title, and the former British and European champion of the division. He's also a likable sort who was willing to fight Joan Guzman in a bout that nobody on earth really thought he could win. He's due to return in September on a card that will also feature Amir Khan.
7. Hector Velazquez (50-11-2, 35 KO)
Tough veteran at 33 who is going to have to find a way to make some noise soon if he's ever going to. Velazquez has been knocked out five times, but all things considered, that's not THAT many. Four of those came very early in his career, one in his second fight and the latter three when he was matched up against guys he had no business fighting. A lot like Soto, really. The other KO loss came against Pacquiao in 2005, the last time he lost a fight.
He'll be fighting Elio Rojas next, as Rojas looks to rebound from his first career loss.
8. Cassius Baloyi (35-3-1, 18 KO)
South African fighter and current IBF titleholder, has fought only three times in the States, and just once since 1995. Baloyi, 33, is likely going to stay in his cocoon. He already has a fight scheduled for July 13 in his home country.
9. Mzonke Fana (27-4, 10 KO)
Fana lost the IBF title to Baloyi in April, and years ago was a foil for Marco Antonio Barrera. Barrera even discussed coming "out" of "retirement" to fight Fana again, which was about as compelling an idea as Floyd Mayweather coming back and intending to fight Carlos Baldomir again. We're in the territory of "nothing special at all" now.
10. Kevin Mitchell (27-0, 20 KO)
Mitchell is the UK's great hope in the division, if you take Arthur out. He's taken a fine route to stardom in his regional manner, and he's not a bad-looking fighter at all.
You Coulda Been a Contender...
Yuriorkis Gamboa (10-0, 8 KO) finally faced a little bit of resistance against Darling Jimenez in May, but big deal. He's still got the raw skills to be absolutely great. He has some bad habits to work past, but who doesn't after 10 pro fights? Even the best amateurs are going to make some mistakes this early in their professional careers. Gamboa will be fine.
37-year old Manuel Medina (67-15-1, 31 KO) still serves as a gatekeeper. He's been at this pro boxing thing since 1985. Hard to imagine. He's tentatively scheduled to face South African Malcolm Klassen (22-4-2, 13 KO) next.
Unbeaten Puerto Rican Roman "Rocky" Martinez (19-0-1, 11 KO) has a few nice wins in his young career, including Daniel Jimenez and Francisco Lorenzo.
Speaking of Francisco Lorenzo (33-4, 14 KO) has won his last six fights, but the one on Saturday...ugh. Enough of that for now. But he is a tough guy and came to fight, I'll give him that.
22-year old Australian Billy "The Kid" Dib (20-0, 11 KO) has made a name for himself in the land down under. Let's see if he'll expand those horizons any time soon.
Monty Meza Clay (28-1, 19 KO) has lost only to Edner Cherry, at 135 pounds back in 2006. Clay's career record is pretty much what you'd expect out of a 27-year old that has essentially fought his entire career in his backyard in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Detroit southpaw Cornelius Lock (18-3-1, 11 KO) may not have a real future, but he upset Roger Gonzalez on ESPN2 on June 18, knocking him out in the 10th and final round. It was by far the best win of his career.
33-year old Ryu Miyagi (16-1-4, 12 KO) is nobody, but what a great name. He's got Street Fighter II and The Karate Kid ties. Plus, he's gone to two straight technical draws with Jimrex Jaca.