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Boxing Year in Review 2015: The Super Featherweights

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The 130-pound division doesn't get a lot of publicity, but the Fight of the Year and two more strong Fight of the Year candidates came from this division in 2015.

Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

Year-End Top 10

  1. Takashi Uchiyama (24-0-1, 20 KO)
  2. Francisco Vargas (23-0-1, 17 KO)
  3. Takashi Miura (29-3-2, 22 KO)
  4. Javier Fortuna (29-0-1, 21 KO)
  5. Rocky Martinez (29-2-3, 17 KO)
  6. Orlando Salido (43-13-3, 30 KO)
  7. Nicholas Walters (26-0-1, 21 KO)
  8. Bryan Vasquez (34-2, 18 KO)
  9. Jose Pedraza (21-0, 12 KO)
  10. Edner Cherry (34-7-2, 19 KO)

Uchiyama, 36, won two times this year, obliterating young Thai fighter Jomthong Chuwatana in the second round in May, and returning on New Year's Eve to steamroll past Oliver Flores in three rounds. The veteran fighter has been the top dog at 130 for years now, without much attention from the American public. He's clearly still the No. 1 man in the division. Maybe there are some other fighters, younger and on the rise, who could beat him, but until someone does, or until he actually struggles to get past someone, there's just no argument.

Vargas, 31, is older than some may realize, especially because he jumped from propsect to contender just in the last two, maybe three years, and was an "old prospect" at that. His win over Miura, 31, on November 21 not only stole the show on the Cotto-Canelo card, but is pretty much unanimously recognized as the Fight of the Year. It was a truly classic battle, with ebb and flow, shifts in momentum, some wince-inducing exchanges, and both guys taking a beating. It might seem hyperbolic or something of a knee-jerk reaction, but seriously, fights don't get much better than that one.

Fortuna, 26, still has a lot of career left. Having been known as a hyped prospect for a while, and with a couple of nights that made him seem potentially over-hyped, he's settled in a bit more. Despite being a stylish southpaw from a typically ignored country, "discovered" by Sampson Lewkowicz, no, he's not going to become a Manny Pacquiao or Sergio Martinez, or at least he probably is not going to become one of those guys. Pound-for-pound greatness may not be in Fortuna's future. But he's a good fighter, and his commanding win over Bryan Vasquez in May was a really strong win, even if it didn't snatch a ton of headlines.

Martinez, 32, and Salido, 35, are intertwined at the moment, with a pair of Fight of the Year contenders in 2015 -- Martinez winning in April, a draw in September -- leading to what appears a third straight fight with one another in early 2016. There is the sense, though, that this is the last peak for either guy. In a way, they may be propping up the relevance of one another with these great fights, but they're also beating the hell out of each other, and neither of them are young fighters. But even if that suspicion is true, who cares? They're having great fights.

Walters, 29, could rank higher, perhaps, but he just got to the 130-pound division, and was immediately and clearly robbed of a victory over Jason Sosa on December 19. I sort of hate railing on things like that, because what happens is people begin to think, like, "Jason Sosa robbed Nicholas Walters." No, he didn't. Jason Sosa showed up and fought his ass off. Most of us agreed, however, that Sosa was beaten by Walters. Tom Schreck, Don Ackerman, and Wynn Kintz robbed Nicholas Walters. Not Sosa.

Vasquez, 28, is a quality fighter who has lost to Uchiyama in 2012 and Fortuna this year. He also beat Jose Felix Jr, then an undefeated-prospect and still active and winning fights now at 135, and Sergio Thompson in 2014. Not someone to forget about in this division, even if perhaps he's not going to beat the true top flight guys.

"Sniper" Pedraza, 26, had a year of good and not-so-good. The Puerto Rican fighter beat Andrey Klimov to win the vacant IBF belt in June, and did so very convincingly, looking like he had broken the recent Puerto Rican prospect curse, which may be somewhat overstated, but superstition is fun, so why not? But in October, he seemed to be on the losing end against recharged veteran Edner Cherry. Pedraza got a split decision win, but the two cards in his favor (117-111 on both) were highly criticized. Maybe it was just an off night, maybe it was just a great night for Cherry, and ultimately most people have already forgotten about this. But it's worth remembering.

As for Cherry, 33, he gets the No. 10 spot on our year-end list. Cherry, a native of Nassau, Bahamas, fighting out of Wauchula, Florida, hadn't lost a fight since a 2008 title shot against Timothy Bradley at 140 pounds. He moved back down in weight after that and won 10 straight fights rather quietly at 130 and 135. He looked quite good against Pedraza, even if you don't buy the robbery talk.

On the Cusp

Stephen Smith (23-1, 13 KO) has a title shot at Pedraza coming in the first part of 2016. The 30-year-old "Swifty" will be looking to become the second of the four fighting Smith brothers to win a world title. If he does, young Callum, a top super middleweight prospect and emerging contender, could make it three sometime in 2016, too.

Liam Walsh (19-0, 13 KO) went 2-0 this year, defending his British and Commonwealth belts against Joe Murray (TKO-5) in a February rematch, and returning in July to beat Brazil's Isaias Santos Sampaio (KO-6). Walsh, 29, may not be more than a domestic level super featherweight (and Santos didn't prove anything beyond that -- really, he'd probably beaten several superior fighters already), but he's on the radar.

Jason Sosa (18-1-4, 14 KO) may not have deserved the draw he got against Nicholas Walters, but even before the decision was announced, it was pretty obvious that we had someone who could fight. He battled through adversity, some wicked body shots, and what seemed a lost cause in that fight. The 27-year-old New Jersey fighter doesn't deserve to be shunned for the mistake of three judges. Hopefully he gets another shot -- he was enjoyable to watch, style-wise, and showed a lot of grit and desire.

Jomthong Chuwatana (9-1, 4 KO) is a quality fighter despite the wipeout loss to Uchiyama. Don't forget about him just because of that, because he could be in more world title fights sooner than later, and then you can be real smug and say you never doubted it.

Japan has a few fighters past their big two Takashis in this division, who are potential players: Kenichi Ogawa (17-1, 14 KO), Rikki Naito (13-1, 5 KO), and Masayuki Ito (18-1-1, 8 KO) are all in the mix.

Spain's Juli Giner (18-1-1, 8 KO) won the European title from previously unbeaten Frenchman Romain Jacob (23-1, 7 KO) by TKO-8 on November 10.

Former bantamweight and featherweight titleholder Jhonny Gonzalez (59-10, 49 KO) tried his luck at 130 this year after losing his 126-pound belt to Gary Russell Jr in March. He won a fight in August and another in December, but he was beaten by Jonathan Oquendo on September 12. Gonzalez, 34, may still have some surprises left in store, and he's always got his power, but most likely he's past it. His 2013 first round knockout of Abner Mares wasn't a fluke in the sense that it was real power that really put Mares away, but it was a fluke in terms of it making Gonzalez seem like a better fighter than he was by that point, or had been in years.

It's hard to figure out where to mention Filipino southpaw Eden Sonsona (34-6-2, 12 KO) in terms of division, but he needs to go in one of these "On the Cusp" things. Basically, the 27-year-old fights anywhere between 122 and 130 where he can find a fight. This year, that came at 130 against unbeaten Mexican slugger Adrian Estrella, and Sonsona scored a stunning upset at 0:27 of hte second round in San Luis Potosí. Sonsona is probably best suited for 126 or even 122 still, but let's mention him here, for kicks. Estrella has since taken his talents to the 135 pound division.

Rod Salka (21-4, 4 KO) is now the poster boy for "disgusting mismatch opponent," which is unfortunate, because it ignores that when he's fighting at his actual weight, he's a pretty good fighter, sort of like Mauricio Herrera. He's been a natural lightweight most of his career, but is aiming to make a run at 130. He started with a win over Noel Echevarria on May 16, his only fight this year. If you want to know what kind of guy Salka really is, in 2014 he returned to the ring just three months after being shamefully being obliterated by Danny Garcia on Showtime, to beat Monty Meza Clay over 10 rounds in Pittsburgh. He didn't sit around after that fight and feel bad about it, and he didn't just cash the check and shrug his shoulders about being set up to fail, he went back out and fought.

The Titleholders

WBC: Francisco Vargas

  • Takashi Miura def. Billy Dib (TKO-3, 5/1)
  • def. Takashi Miura (TKO-9, 11/21 - TITLE CHANGE)

WBA: Takashi Uchiyama

  • def. Jomthong Chuwatana (TKO-2, 5/6)
  • def. Oliver Flores (TKO-3, 12/31)

IBF: Jose Pedraza

  • def. Andrey Klimov (UD-12, 6/13 - WON VACANT TITLE)
  • def. Edner Cherry (SD-12, 10/3)

WBO: Rocky Martinez

  • def. Orlando Salido (UD-12, 4/11 - TITLE CHANGE)
  • draw vs Orlando Salido (9/12)

Top 5 Prospects

Boxing: Davis vs Dulay Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
  1. Gervonta Davis (14-0, 13 KO)
  2. Miguel Berchelt (28-1, 25 KO)
  3. Mario Barrios (14-0, 8 KO)
  4. Joel Diaz Jr (20-0, 16 KO)
  5. Andy Vences (14-0, 10 KO)

130 is a weird division for prospects, because it's not really where many start, it's a true bridge division between 126 and 135. That said, there are a few guys here, even if they aren't likely to stay that long.

Davis, 21, is a Floyd Mayweather-endorsed prospect from Baltimore who came from left field a bit this year, considering his connections. Davis went 5-0 in 2015, stopping everyone, from no experience club fighters to veteran Cristobal Cruz and young scrapper Luis Sanchez. Nicknamed "Tank," Davis has a powerful build, 5'6" with raw muscle, and he's got speed and developing skills. The Mayweather clan has come up with some so-so prospects in the past, but Davis looks like he might be the real deal.

Berchelt, 24, has a loss, and it was recent, coming in March 2014, but it was also a TKO-1, and the guy he was fighting can punch, too. It happens. A young Amir Khan also lost a TKO-1 to a hard punching Colombian, and I'd say he's gone on to do OK. Not that Berchelt has Khan skills, but he came back this year with some decent wins for his level, and he also has a win over the aforementioned Cristobal Cruz, also by stoppage, back in 2013. Berchelt's loss looks more like a blip than a serious setback.

Barrios, 20, is a San Antonio native and is six entire feet tall, giving him some obvious advantages at 130 pounds. This year, he went 7-0, fighting in March, May, July, September (twice), November, and December. He's got PBC backing, and could make a move sometime in late 2016 if he continues to develop.

Diaz, 23, does not have a true promotional home. He was with Lou DiBella for a while, but that has ended, and now he's, like, a freelancer. A year ago, he fought in Montreal on an Interbox/GYM co-promotion. In July, he fought on Main Events' Kovalev-Mohammedi card. In August, he fought on Shane Mosley's comeback show in Los Angeles. It's strange for a talented prospect like this to not have major backing, and it's not even like he's somebody no one has heard of coming out of nowhere. He's been on a lot of notable cards. If I were to say something negative about Diaz, it's that he fights with such reckless abandon, even if he's more refined than he used to be, that it's not hard to imagine him eventually getting smashed. If I were to say something great about Diaz, it's that he fights with such reckless abandon that he can be thrilling to watch.

Vences, whose age I do not know but looks like he could be anywhere between 22 and 39 depending on the photo and what he's done with his mustache recently, is a Top Rank prospect from San Jose who is nicknamed "El Tiburon," which translates to "The Shark," if you ever wondered about the Tiburon division of Electronic Arts. Vences turned pro in 2012 and went 5-0 this year. He's still developing, but there are high hopes for him, and he was a three-time California Golden Gloves (2010-12) winner at 141 pounds.

Other prospects of note, in alphabetical order: Evgeny Chuprakov, Carlos Diaz, Omar Douglas, Pedro Duran, Paul Fleming, Miguel Flores, Christian Gonzalez, Kevin Lavallee, Alberto Machado, Dardan Zenunaj