|1||Chris John||43-0-2 (22)
|3||Juan Manuel Lopez
|10||Daniel Ponce de Leon
Arguably no division has had its top-line ranks bumped up as much so far in 2010 as the featherweight class, as the two best fighters at 122 pounds (Juan Manuel Lopez and Celestino Caballero) have both moved up to 126 and made big first impressions at their new digs.
I've said before that my rankings are not "traditional," in that I don't just sit on a ranking forever until something forcibly changes that ranking. If, for instance, Bernard Hopkins looks lukewarm in two straight fights against inferior competition, he slips at 175 pounds if there are guys who have done more lately that deserve the bump. Or, if someone has a great win, they can leapfrog someone else who didn't lose or look bad or anything. I think boxing rankings deserve to be constantly re-evaluated after every fight.
That said, I have trouble looking at my featherweight rankings, because if Chris John fought any of the next three guys on the list, I would pick him to lose, and I wouldn't have a second thought about it.
So why keep him ranked No. 1?
Despite my attempts to be a bit more progressive in the silly and overall pointless attempt to rank the world's best boxers, there is that sense in me to do it at least sort of the way it's usually done, and Chris John has not lost a fight. He beat Rocky Juarez twice last year (though once he was given a draw in Houston), and Juarez was until recently ranked in this top ten. (He falls out in part for losing to Jason Litzau, in part for moving up to 130, which may not stick, and in part because even if he'd gotten a one-point win over Litzau or something, he looked pretty bad in that fight anyway.)
John last year made some new fans with his first two fights on American soil. Since then, guys like Gamboa, Lopez and Caballero have risen to new heights, or at least to new weights. Lopez's TKO win over Steven Luevano in January was no joke -- Luevano is a solid fighter and was a long-time top guy at 126. Gamboa bashed Rogers Mtagwa and then cruised through a win over Jonathan Victor Barros in Germany. Caballero last night owned Daud Yordan, a guy many felt would give him some trouble as he stepped up in weight.
I think Gamboa would completely overwhelm John and, if he felt like it, would get rid of him pretty fast. John's really nothing special physically in any way, but he's a very smart boxer most of the time. Gamboa has the type of ability to make smart guys fight and look stupid. I think Lopez would eventually overpower John and stop him. Juarez managed to get John in trouble both times, though the first fight much more than the second. Caballero's size and awkwardness would give John fits, expect.
But Chris John has had a terrific career in this division, and honestly, the other guys just don't quite have the resume to jump him in my rankings yet. Maybe it's undue respect (John has, after all, spent a lot of time fighting mediocre challengers while greater tests were available), maybe it's due respect, maybe it's just arbitrary nonsense.
With John going back to Indonesia for his next defense and possibly unlikely to ever come back out, though, the clear future of the division is these 2-3-4 spots, and the future is here. Everyone wants Lopez-Gamboa, and Bob Arum has this crazy vision of the BIGGEST FEATHERWEIGHT FIGHT OF ALL-TIME, if we just let it simmer some! I don't know how he thinks he's going to make Lopez or Gamboa bigger stars with fights like Lopez-Bernabe Concepcion coming in July, but that's the idea, anyway.
There has been talk of Gamboa-Caballero. I think Arum and Top Rank may hesitate on that one after seeing Caballero last night. Celestino was as good as ever in that fight, and when he's sharp, man, he's a handful. Gamboa can do a lot of great things with his athleticism, speed and power, but Caballero hits guys from all over the place. I'll dare to say that Gamboa has never, even in his long and decorated amateur career, had to deal with anyone quite like Caballero. Those windmill-like body shots could be a real deterrent, and you can see Gamboa getting caught recklessly coming in the way he often does. Put simply, Caballero is not Rogers Mtagwa or Whyber Garcia or Jose Rojas or Walter Estrada or Al Seeger. There's a lot more to him than those guys could bring to the table.
Caballero, of course, would probably fight either of them as soon as possible, because it would be great money for him, probably a career-best payday. He's called out Lopez over and over, and that fight was allegedly almost made for January, but people were saying that way back when Top Rank had sent out press materials clearly scheduling Lopez-Luevano for January. I think that was even before the Lopez-Mtagwa fight last October. Lopez-Caballero is not going to happen.
Then there's the rest of the field. Rafael Marquez I keep giving the benefit of the doubt because last year in his comeback, he looked rustier than he did irrevocably damaged. I cannot say the same for Israel Vazquez's comeback fight in the fall, so despite my well-known love of Izzy Vazquez, I don't have him ranked. I just don't see it happening for him, and a look at his eyes in any recent photo will give you a big reason why.
Cristobal Cruz is a journeyman-made-good, sort of like Carlos Baldomir but with the added wrinkle that he fights like a crazy person. Cruz's December trilogy fight with Ricardo Castillo was stopped in the third after a bad cut to Cruz from an accidental headbutt in the first. Right now, Cruz is tentatively set to fight Orlando Salido on May 15, which is a rematch of Cruz's SD-12 win over Salido in October 2008.
Luevano is at No. 7, but he's about as interesting to talk about as hay, so I'll pass on that. He has no plans right now. Elio Rojas won a title last July over Takahiro Aoh, and made his first defense in February, blasting out Guty Espadas Jr. with ease. Rojas is promoted by Don King, if you're wondering why he waited seven months to defend his belt and why he's not really in the discussions for bigger fights.
Concepcion will face Lopez in July, and then there's Daniel Ponce de Leon, who is now slated for the Mosley-Mayweather undercard, facing Cornelius Lock. It's a should-win for DPDL, and hopefully after that he'll start looking to make bigger fights again. He's been playing it very safe since getting blitzed by Lopez back in 2008.
Honorable Mentions: Israel Vazquez, Jhonny Gonzalez, Fernando Beltran Jr., Ryol Li Lee, Orlando Salido, Martin Lindsay