The super-featherweight division takes centre stage this weekend with major fights going on across the United States, but who is leading the way and where does Britain’s Stephen Smith fit in?
Smith goes from Liverpool to Las Vegas on Sunday morning to take on Mexican and former WBC world champion Francisco Vargas, live on Sky Sports, as he looks to push himself back into the world title picture.
‘Swifty’ has previously conceded that “he probably has just one more chance at achieving his dream, and he knowingly has to make it count”. But in ‘El Bandito’ he faces the toughest of tasks, a man who defines the Mexican warrior architype and a fighter whose last three appearances have been gruelling, punishing, action-packed and as thrilling as can be.
Vargas lost the coveted green and gold belt in his most recent outing, a fiery national showdown with Miguel Berchelt, the former champion’s face bloodied, swollen and cut, the 32-year-old left visually impaired and by the 11th round unable to continue.
Berchelt’s so far short reign as WBC king is a common theme in the 130lb ranks, in fact Vasyl Lomachenko‘s year-and-a-half long stranglehold of the WBO strap, with three successive title defences to his name, defiantly stands out.
The pound-for-pound rated Ukrainian is, of course, the standout name, an exceptional boxer who has looked imperious in his 10-fight career, dazzling on almost every occasion behind a remarkable southpaw stance, his movement alone something the sport has perhaps never seen before.
Since he stopped Roman Martinez in 2016 to become a two-weight world champion, the 26-year-old has totally outclassed those in his way, such as in his victory over Nicholas Walters, making former champions look remarkably bewildered and ordinary.
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Now though, he has his toughest test to date, taking on another boxing great in Guillermo Rigondeaux at Madison Square Garden this Sunday morning, a supreme Cuban boxer whose stunning defensive skills have left him severely avoided and hampered him from becoming the pound-for-pound sensation many thought he was destined to become.
‘El Chacal’ is jumping up two weight classes to battle Lomachenko as boxing stages perhaps its purest matchup in history, two of the greatest-ever amateurs meeting under the iconic Garden lights. Can Rigondeaux finally make his desired mark?
Away from that and the action continues, as Philadelphia’s Tevin Farmer joins Smith in Vegas as he looks to lay claim to the vacant IBF world title, Japan’s Kenichi Ogawa the man who stands in his way.
Despite four early career losses, the American has since been unbeaten in 18 contests and has patiently bided his time. Now that time has come. Farmer has a long-running rivalry with the IBF’s former titleholder, Gervonta Davis, another super-featherweight who has dazzled since arriving on the world scene.
Gervonta Davis, a star in the making?
The unbeaten Baltimore native was hugely impressive in stopping Jose Pedraza for the title in January but a heavy weight misjudgement in his last fight meant the Floyd Mayweather protégé was stripped of his title. Davis still stopped Francisco Fonseca when the scheduled contest finally went ahead and his promotional team have recently confirmed that ‘Tank’ will be staying at the weight for the foreseeable future.
Watch Gervonta Davis' stunning 7th round stoppage against Jose Pedraza to win the IBF super-featherweight title
Then there is the WBA situation and when Panama’s Jezreel Corrales twice defeated Japan’s long-reigning champion Takashi Uchiyama, the 26-year-old was earmarked as the new kid on the block, a champion set to dominate.
But in the ever-changing landscape of the 130lb division, one should never be so assured and up stepped hard-hitting Puerto Rican Alberto Machado in October to stun the champion with a brutal eighth-round knockout, yet another young gun adding his name to the star-studded cast.
Of course away from the champions, the old familiar guard remains a firm force, the likes of Smith and Vargas two of those determined to make the most of their time in the sport. Elsewhere, Orlando Salido takes on fellow Mexican Miguel Roman in another featured bout to hit Sky Sports’ screens this weekend and a gritty all-action affair is almost a certainty, the two veterans rarely leave anything outside of the ring.
Then other former elite champions are refusing to go away, Cuba’s Yuriorkis Gamboa recently reignited his career with a narrow victory over Jason Sosa, while Jhonny Gonzalez, remember him, well the hard-hitting Mexican has notched up seven victories in a row and sits on the brink of yet another world title conquest.
It is a division perhaps not etched in the shining limelight of perhaps some of boxing’s more distinctive weight classes, but when it comes to talent, competition and entertainment, there are few that rank so high.
Victory for Liverpool’s Smith this Sunday morning will certainly open doors and the options from there are endless, but even in defeat, there may be a sense that it could be far from the end of the road for ‘Swifty’, one victory in this division changes everything.
Watch Tevin Farmer versus Kenichi Ogawa, Stephen Smith against Francisco Vargas and Orlando Salido against Miguel Roman in Las Vegas from 3.20am this Sunday on Sky Sports Action.