Yesterday, we took a look at the super bantamweights, and Guillermo Rigondeaux is predictably winning that poll by a landslide. Today's Who's the Best? should be a little more of a debate. We'll go one division up to the featherweights, where there's talent, but no one truly seen as the king of the division. So who's the best right now at 126?
Age: 33 | Record: 57-8 (48) | Titles: WBC
For: Gonzalez holds the WBC title and got it with a first round knockout of Abner Mares. A highly-respected veteran fighter, Gonzalez has never been a pound-for-pound elite sort, but he's been a titleholder or serious contender for a decade now, going from bantamweight to featherweight over that time, facing a lot of top names along the way and always proving his talent, even in defeat.
Against: For all the guff that certain fighters take for facing mediocre opposition in title fights -- Leo Santa Cruz, GGG, even Guillermo Rigondeaux but because of different reasons -- Gonzalez has faced two pretty lousy challengers without much criticism since beating Abner Mares. Clive Atwell was a novice pro with zero decent wins who then went on to lose to Kye MacKenzie, another novice pro, in his next fight. And Jorge Arce was shot to bits, which we all knew going in. Gonzalez may not be in this discussion after his March 28 fight with Gary Russell Jr, the first decent opponent he's faced since August 2013.
Outlook: At 33 and with what we know to not be the greatest chin in the world, Gonzalez playing it safe with the WBC featherweight title makes a lot of sense. A lot of his record is fluff work, in fact, which is not to say he's got a phony record, necessarily, but that he's got a large amount of "tune-up" and "stay-busy" type wins padding the totals. He's one of the best boxer-punchers in the division even at his relatively advanced age, and has had a pretty terrific career. But he's also a guy you can easily see losing the belt against the first credible challenge he faces.
Age: 29 | Record: 25-0 (21) | Titles: WBA (Super)
For: If Guillermo Rigondeaux truly started the job, then Nicholas Walters may have finished it by dismantling former pound-for-pound contender Nonito Donaire last October. The Jamaican "Axe Man" was a relative unknown before then, with most only seeing his fight with Vic Darchinyan five months earlier in Macau. Walters smoked Darchinyan, too, knocking him out in five rounds. Donaire made it six rounds before he was chopped down. Walters boasts impressive power and a lot of energy, and that Donaire fight got everyone's attention.
Against: It wouldn't be entirely unfair to say that Walters' two best wins were against old guys on the downsides of their careers, and neither of them truly featherweights. Donaire was just shy of 32 when he fought Walters, but Nonito hadn't looked right in a few fights. Darchinyan was 38. Both of them are really blown up flyweights, and there's a reason that what Manny Pacquiao has done over his career is so incredible. It's not easy to move up in weight even a couple of divisions, let alone several.
Outlook: Walters still has some things to prove, even after a pair of really impressive performances. It's just, you know, how often does someone look like an amazing new star, only for the public to then see them look entirely mortal and far less special very quickly? Walters might be the best featherweight in the world. He might also be a powerful puncher who has been fortunate to notch wins over guys who didn't have it anymore.
Age: 28 | Record: 19-0-1 (9) | Titles: IBF
For: Gradovich, "The Russian Mexican," scored what was termed an upset of Billy Dibb in March 2013, jumping in as a title challenger on short notice and leaving with the IBF belt. Since then he's gone 3-0-1 in title defenses, beating Mauricio Munoz, Dib in a rematch, and Alexander Miskirtchian, with a draw last November against Jayson Velez. He's an easy guy to like with his volume punching style and toughness, even if he lacks big power.
Against: Dib may have held a title, but he was not a true top fighter by any means. That's not to say he sucks, which gets thrown around too often, but he was hardly a star talent. Gradovich's best win may really be over Munoz, a tough fighter he shut out over 12 rounds, and even that's not exactly a marquee win. He lacks a true signature victory, and may be a very limited guy who's just on a good and well-managed run. He could easily have been the loser against Velez in November, and there's plenty of risk in going on the road next against Lee Selby, who has been hot and beating pretty much the same level of competition as Gradovich. That's a good fight that shouldn't be slept on, as an aside.
Outlook: The Selby fight will tell us a lot about where Gradovich really is, how good he really is, and the same goes for Selby, really. But this is about Gradovich. He's probably been overrated a bit, in part because the way he won his title was such a great little story and a nice performance from a guy many had never seen or even heard of before then. Is he going to get better? Has he just been in the right place at the right time?
Age: 27 | Record: 3-1 (1) | Titles: WBO
For: Lomachenko is a terrific technical talent, a world class boxer with two Olympic gold medals, both richly deserved unlike, say, Zou Shiming, and he turned pro in his prime years, unlike, say, Zou Shiming. Lomachenko is an ambitious sort who faced a pretty solid pro fighter in his own pro debut, knocking out Jose Ramirez in the fourth round, and then went right after a world title, where he got a bit of a pro fighting lesson from the rugged Orlando Salido in defeat. But wins since then over Gary Russell Jr (for the belt Salido vacated) and Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo have been impressive displays of Lomachenko's pedigree and talent. He's got the sort of footwork that stands out even to someone who doesn't generally pay super close attention to that sort of thing. Lomachenko is one of those guys whose pure skill just leaps off the screen.
Against: Well, he's had four pro fights. And Piriyapinyo wasn't really a contender. And Russell had feasted on a buffet of scrubs for his entire career before facing Lomachenko. I mean, let's not get too insane here. Yes, he's a great talent. Yes, he holds a world title, something we prop up when it supports a case and something we ignore when it doesn't. Does Lomachenko's world title really mean anything? Or is it just another paper title in a sport filled with them? Lomachenko's power may also be a little questionable.
Outlook: If he lives up to expectations, he will be on P4P lists for a long time coming. If he doesn't, he could still have a great career. The question with Lomachenko is really not whether or not he's going to be a very good pro fighter. It's whether or not he'll truly be great. There have been a lot of fighters with great skills and great amateur credentials who don't have great pro careers. Lomachenko seems special, but we still have to find out.
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