Photos: Will Hart
By Eric Raskin
There are divisions in boxing that are currently more loaded with big names, such as welterweight. There are divisions in boxing that currently have higher visibility and can attract bigger crowds, such as heavyweight. But there are no divisions in boxing that are currently more exciting, fight in and fight out, than 130 pounds.
This class was home to the Fight of the Year in both 2015 and 2016, and you could do a lot worse than to predict that the 2017 Fight of the Year will take place in this “junior” division between featherweight and lightweight. With just the right mix of rising prospects and not-ready-to-fall-yet veterans, 130 is highly talented at the top but also some 15 fighters deep in terms of names you should know.
So here’s a look at who’s who in this division, on the eve of this Saturday’s Boxing After Dark doubleheader featuring four world-class 130-pounders:
The Pound-For-Pound Talent: Vasyl Lomachenko
As good as the rest of the division is, is there a single fighter who would be better than a 5-1 underdog right now against Lomachenko? The two-time Olympic gold medalist is frequently referred to as the most skilled pure boxer in the sport and occasionally even labeled as the current pound-for-pound best. A southpaw with near-flawless technique, elite defensive radar, the versatility to fight inside or at range and enough power to keep opponents honest, Lomachenko (7-1, 5 KOs) is regarded as highly as any pugilist with eight pro fights in history. Since losing a split decision to an over-the-weight-limit Orlando Salido in Lomachenko’s second professional bout, the Ukrainian has schooled Gary Russell Jr., knocked Roman Martinez silly and convinced Nicholas Walters to quit. Lomachenko is only 28 years old, and good luck to anyone trying to guess what his ceiling looks like.
The Action Hero: Francisco Vargas
Vargas is the reason the Fight of the Year has involved 130-pounders the last two years running. He’s the common denominator. The Mexican warrior got off the floor to KO Takashi Miura in a ridiculous 2015 slugfest, and he battled to a brutal 12-round draw with Orlando Salido in 2016. Can he make it three straight? On Saturday, Vargas (23-0-2, 17 KOs) takes on fast-rising countryman Miguel Berchelt in a near-even-money bout. Cut prone, defensively mediocre and 32 years old, Vargas might not be around long enough to make the “new Gatti” buzz take hold. So enjoy him while you can.
The Other Action Hero: Orlando Salido
It takes two to make a Fight of the Year, and grizzled 36-year-old veteran Salido actually boasts a much more impressive history of spectacular ring wars than his 2016 FOY co-conspirator Vargas does. Lomachenko, Vargas, Rocky Martinez (twice), Juan Manuel Lopez (twice), Terdsak Kokietgym – Salido has produced time-capsule violence with all of them. The record (43-13-4, 30 KOs) isn’t pretty, nor is his current 0-1-2 streak, but being the only man to hand Lomachenko a defeat is a résumé bullet point that goes a long way. Salido, perhaps more than anyone else in the division, seems to have his pick of any opponent he wants next, as there would be an audience for rematches with Lomachenko or Vargas, a throwdown with Miura or a test of his gatekeeping ability against any of the division’s numerous young lions.
The Other Other Action Hero: Takashi Miura
The iron-willed Japanese southpaw, who takes on streaking veteran Miguel “Mickey” Roman this Saturday on B.A.D., is best known to American audiences for his losing effort vs. Vargas in the wildest rumble of 2015. Miura (30-3-2, 23 KOs) has only fought one round since, but his pre-Vargas run gives you a sense of the 32-year-old’s level: His most significant results were knockout wins over Gamaliel Diaz and Billy Dib and a 2011 loss to then-unbeaten Takashi Uchiyama. The bout with Roman will only be his second in the States and an important opportunity to remind audiences that (a) Vargas didn’t entertain them all by himself, and (b) Miura was just a punch or two away from getting his hand raised that night.
The Under-The-Radar Outsider: Jezreel Corrales
There’s talk of Corrales getting a crack at Lomachenko in April, and the Panamanian southpaw might be dismissed in some quarters as a no-hoper if that happens, but that would speak more to his exposure level than his ability level. Corrales (21-1, 8 KOs, 1 no-contest) starched long-reigning titlist Uchiyama last April, then won a decision on Uchiyama’s home turf in the rematch. The 25-year-old has excellent movement and better power than his KO rate would suggest (he started his career with just two knockouts in his first 16 fights), plus a slick, slashing style that could cause even Lomachenko problems. They call him “El Invisible,” but Corrales is someone American audiences need to see.
The Up-And-Coming American: Gervonta Davis
Promoted by Floyd Mayweather, the 22-year-old Davis, yet another southpaw filling the upper ranks of this division, announced his arrival in January with a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Pedraza. Sure, Pedraza was a belt-holder largely by virtue of how watered down the title picture has become, but the style with which Davis (17-0, 16 KOs) took care of business was eye-opening just the same. The Baltimore bomber is quick, slick, explosive and flashy, and he’s on his way to making a name for himself as something more than just “Mayweather’s prospect with the big neck tattoo.”
The Up-And-Coming Mexican: Miguel Berchelt
Vargas’ opponent in the main event this Saturday night is relatively untested, but his offensive upside is undeniable. The 25-year-old Berchelt (30-1, 27 KOs) seems as if he never stops moving his hands. He’ll bang the body as required by Mexican law, he’ll mix in looping shots upstairs and he’ll do it all in combination. Was his one-round KO loss three years ago a fluke? Or is the real story that modest opposition so far has allowed him to run up 30 wins? Most of our questions will be answered in the all-Mexico showdown with “El Bandido.”
Also In The Conversation: Jason Sosa, Miguel Roman, Nicholas Walters, Takashi Uchiyama, Roman Martinez, Jhonny Gonzalez, Jose Pedraza and Tevin Farmer