Of all the divisions in boxing, featherweight may well have the strongest roster of titleholders -- the ultra-quick Gary Russell Jr. for the WBC, the IBF's volume-punching specialist Evgeny Gradovich, the WBO's classy Vasyl Lomachenko and the power-punching Nicholas Walters for the WBA. Walters, nicknamed "The Axe Man" for the way he chops down opponents, will face a man with an equally intimidating nickname: Miguel "The Scorpion" Marriaga. Colombia's Marriaga boasts an even higher knockout percentage than Walters' .840, for his 18 KOs in his 20-0 record translates to a .900 rate.
What boxing fan wouldn't love this fight? Power vs. power in the punch-a-thon featherweight class. Will they live up to the promise?
Statistical factors that may influence the outcome include:
Rocking Worlds: Boxing insiders already knew of Walters' swath of destruction long before he tore the WBA featherweight crown off Nonito Donaire's head but his sixth round knockout over "The Filipino Flash" drove home the point quite nicely to a much wider audience on HBO. Though stunned briefly, Walters largely dominated the contest with knockdowns in rounds three and six and connect gaps of 85-40 overall, 44-4 jabs and 41-36 power while being more accurate in all phases (30%-24% overall, 27%-7% jabs, 34%-33% power). The final punch left Donaire bloodied and flat on his face, an ending befitting his menacing moniker.
Nearly five months earlier against Vic Darchinyan the pace was modest (40.2 per round for Walters, 37.8 for Darchinyan) but the Jamaican managed to claw out advantages of 62-26 overall, 14-1 jabs and 48-25 power while landing 50% of his power shots against Darchinyan's puzzling crab-like style. Against lower level foes like Alberto Garza Walters shined statistically: 47% overall, 39% jabs and 58% power and connect leads of 91-51 overall, 41-11 jabs and 50-40 power. The gaps were fairly narrow because Garza threw more (246-192), but Walter's extraordinary jab success (10.2 connects per round, more than double the 4.5 featherweight average) accentuated by his freakishly long 73-inch reach allowed him to assert his dominance.
As good as Walters has looked, the question now is whether he can follow it up just weeks after Lomachenko's dazzling performance on the Mayweather-Pacquiao undercard.
Deceiving Numbers?: Colombian fighters are known for racking up huge numbers of knockouts during their development phases and Marriaga is no different. While some have proven to be genuine punchers once they leave home -- Rodrigo Valdes and Antonio Cervantes being two -- others haven't panned out. The jury is still out on Marriaga but if his performance against Jesus Galicia is any indicator his future KOs may well be built on attrition rather than concussive single-shot heft.
Fighting in his native Mexico, Galicia unleashed a maniacal opening assault that saw him average 133.8 punches per round and built connect leads of 141-100 overall and 126-91 power. Galicia's pace eventually slowed and his form became more ragged, allowing Marriaga's sharpness and slightly heavier hands to take over. Marriaga still maintained a heavy pace, which enabled him to finish the fight with connect leads of 330-280 overall, 33-31 jabs and 297-249 power, but Marriaga led 32%-25% overall, 13%-7% jabs and 39%-33% in a bout that saw the pair combine for 298 body connects (Marriaga 103, Galicia 193). When the narrow unanimous decision for Marriaga was announced, the Mexican fans took the news with sullen silence, not raging fury.
Prediction: This may be a short night for both men, for each has fought past the eighth round only twice. The big difference may well be shot-for-shot power; Walters proved it beyond doubt in flattening Donaire and Darchinyan while Marriaga barely fazed the 12-6-1 Galicia who had suffered three previous KO defeats, including two in the first round. The difference in punching pedigree will be graphically exposed as Walters detonates his dynamite somewhere near the fight's scheduled midway point -- if not sooner.