State of the Division: 130 Pounds

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

Francisco Vargas (left) and Orlando Salido are two of the world's top 130-pounders.

Francisco Vargas (left) and Orlando Salido are two of the world's top 130-pounders.

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

Takashi Miura (left) boasts considerable power and stamina.

Takashi Miura (left) boasts considerable power and stamina.

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

HBO Boxing Podcast Ep. 153 - Lomachenko vs. Walters Recap

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney break down Vasyl Lomachenko's dazzling performance and Nicholas Walters' surprising decision to quit during their Nov. 26 fight.

Walters Concedes After Clowning By Lomachenko

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

Professional boxers show a strength and bravery on a regular basis that few human beings can even contemplate. They will walk through punishing punches from their opponents in an effort to deliver telling blows of their own. But even these most willing of warriors almost all harbor a deep-seated internal phobia: a fear of being embarrassed in the ring, of being hit repeatedly and proving unable to hit back – of being "clowned," as they frequently describe it. It can cause even the strongest of fighters to shrink and slink away like mere mortals, on no occasion more famously than on November 25, 1980 when Panama’s Roberto Duran, one of the most unabashedly violent of pugilists, turned his back on Sugar Ray Leonard and declared “No mas.”

Thirty-six years and one day after that infamous night in New Orleans, a Panama-based Jamaican, Nicholas Walters, succumbed to the first defeat of his career when he, too, threw in the metaphorical towel after seven rounds of increasingly one-sided befuddlement against the peerless Vasyl Lomachenko. As if to underline the similarities, Walters’ trainer even uttered those same two words to referee Tony Weeks as the boxer explained his disinclination to continue.

Angry boos greeted the disappointing conclusion which had immediately become the story, distracting just a little – and unfortunately so – from what had brought it about: an extraordinary display of boxing ability from Lomachenko, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who, just eight bouts into his professional career, is displaying a mastery and degree of dominance over his opponents that few boxers could even dream of achieving after ten times as many contests.

In theory, this was a mouth-watering matchup between two former featherweight champions now both competing in the 130-pound division. The undefeated Walters had made his name obliterating veterans Vic Darchinyan and Nonito Donaire with his skill and blistering power; Lomachenko had glided effortlessly toward the top of pound-for-pound lists with his precociousness, balletic footwork and suffocating punching combinations. It promised to be an intriguing clash of styles, but by the midway point of the very first round, it was already apparent that the Ukrainian’s stylings were more likely to be in the ascendant.

After Walters (26-1-1, 21 KOs) started with a solid enough jab, Lomachenko began to judge his timing and distance. Toward the end of the opening frame Lomachenko was already displaying his famed movement, slipping to his right and outside Walters’ left hand before landing a sharp southpaw left of his own. That move would be the basis of everything that Lomachenko (7-1, 5 KOs) would do throughout the evening, moving out of range of Walters’ dangerous right hand and putting himself in position to land blows of his own. Whereas Walters, seemingly confused by his opponent’s speed, appeared hesitant to throw punches at a moving target he was afraid he would miss, Lomachenko just kept on throwing, touching Walters with southpaw jabs and unleashing straight lefts once he pivoted into place. The punches weren't yet hurting Walters, and not all of them were landing flush, but they were scoring. On top of that, they were causing the Jamaican to keep his own offense holstered, and importantly, theyenabled Lomachenko to dial in on his timing and his range.

As the rounds rolled past, Lomachenko increased his output and stepped forward to land his blows with greater venom. In the fifth, he stood in front of his foe, throwing punches to Walters’ gloves and then, when the “Axe Man” dared to wing a right hand in his direction, slipping inside it, sliding to his right and landing a quick combination of right jabs and left hands before Walters could reset.

By the seventh, the Ukrainian was in complete control, knocking Walters off balance with his movement and then chasing him across the ring with his punches. Those punches were now landing cleanly, snapping back Walters’ head, and every time Walters managed to regain his balance as if to throw back, Lomachenko had disappeared, only to pop up in a different spot and resume his assault. As the bell rang to end that round, Walters looked discouraged, and he trudged back to his corner likely wondering how he could endure five more rounds of embarrassment. By the time he sat down on his stool, he had evidently come up with his answer: he would not even try.

He stood up and sought to walk across the ring to congratulate Lomachenko, only to be intercepted by Weeks, who asked several times what was happening until he was sure. As the referee waved off the contest, Lomachenko celebrated and the crowd complained; Walters protested unconvincingly afterward that the problem was somehow related to the fact that he had not fought for almost a year while the former Olympian had been more active. He said also that the blows in that seventh round had been telling, and that his temple hurt. But he knew, and so too did the crowd, what had really happened: a very good fighter had come up against an extraordinary one, and been embarrassed. He had been fully clowned, and he wanted no mas.

Watch Live: Lomachenko vs. Walters Undercards

Watch the Vasyl Lomachenko vs Nicholas Walters untelevised undercards live on Saturday, Nov. 26 beginning at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.

Lomachenko vs. Walters airs Saturday, Nov. 26 at 10:35 p.m. ET/PT on HBO World Championship Boxing.

Weigh-In Recap/Slideshow: Lomachenko and Walters Set to Deliver as Arum Reaches Milestone

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

Las Vegas -- Bob Arum has been here before: one-thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-nine times before, to be precise, in a career that began on March 29, 1966, with the first boxing card he even attended, let alone promoted. The headliner that day was a heavyweight of some repute by the name of Muhammad Ali; 50 years and change later, he remains the favorite charge of Arum’s career, a career that has also seen the New Yorker promote 41 Miguel Cotto bouts, 37 featuring Oscar De La Hoya, 20 with Manny Pacquiao and seven with Sugar Ray Leonard, among others.

On Saturday, his 2,000th card will be headlined by his 594th world title bout, his 127th offering on HBO and the eighth professional outing of Vasyl Lomachenko, a blue-eyed Ukrainian assassin of almost supernatural skills, whom Arum has promoted from the moment the two-time Olympic champion turned professional with a plea to be allowed to fight for a world title belt in his very first contest.

In the event, he had to endure a wait until his second pro bout; and that proved to be a half-step too soon, as Mexican brawler Orlando Salido deployed a variety of veteran tricks – from missing weight to repeatedly punching below the belt when the referee couldn’t see clearly – to build a large points lead early. By the time Lomachenko figured out his foe, his storming comeback was too little, too late. Since then, however, his ledger reads six fight, six wins and two world titles -- his first secured in his third contest and his second a few months ago in Madison Square Garden, when he moved up from featherweight to junior lightweight and rendered Rocky Martinez unsure of where, what or who he was.

If there is one element of consistency to Arum’s five decades in the business, it is his penchant for hyperbole, and so when he likens Lomachenko to Ali -- as he has done on more than one occasion over the last several months -- the natural inclination is to raise a skeptical eyebrow. Or at least it would be, were it not for the evidence inherent in the Ukrainian’s in-ring performances. While he may not possess the showmanship of “The Greatest” (and, to be fair, who has truly come close to matching it?), the effortless way in which he glides around the ring, alternately bedazzling and punishing his foes, suggests a generational talent that has to be witnessed to be believed.

In Nicholas Walters, however, the thoroughbred faces a very real challenge: a hard-punching, no-nonsense challenger who, while lacking the precociousness of his opponent, can at his best more than match him in terms of excitement. 

Two years ago, the Jamaican “Axe Man” was flying high after following up an annihilation of Vic Darchinyan with a knockout of Nonito Donaire; since then, however, a hugely promising career has looked in danger of plateauing. A matchup with Lomachenko was first mooted in 2015, when both men were campaigning at featherweight; but, in his first outing since the Donaire win, Walters was unable to make weight for an outing against Miguel Marriaga, and looked disappointingly flat while pounding his way to a unanimous decision win. Six months later, he failed to win for the first time as a professional when he was held to a draw by Jason Sosa – although that result is leavened by the fact that few if any observers outside the three official judges saw it as anything but a clear Walters win, and by Sosa subsequently going 2-0 against solid opposition and picking up a world title belt along the way.

But if Lomachenko is the prohibitive favorite, a natural consequence of his otherworldly ability, Walters is a genuinely live underdog, a man of furious focus, no lack of skills and a championship-caliber punch; if he lands flush on the Ukrainian’s jaw -- and the odds are good that at some point in the contest he will -- the way in which Lomachenko reacts will tell us a great deal about just how great he truly is. 

Arum has said it matters not one bit to him that Saturday’s card will be his 2,000th; all he cares about, he insists, is that the main event is a good one. Given the clash of styles, and the overall level of quality on display, it is hard to envisage a scenario in which that wish is not fulfilled.

Weights from Las Vegas:

Vasyl Lomachenko: 130 lbs.
Nicholas Walters: 129.5 lbs.

 

Watch Live: Lomachenko vs. Walters Official Weigh-In

Watch the official weigh-in for Vasyl Lomachenko vs Nicholas Walters live on Friday, Nov. 25 beginning at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT.

Lomachenko vs. Walters airs Saturday, Nov. 26 at 10:35 p.m. ET/PT on HBO World Championship Boxing.

CompuBox Preview: Lomachenko vs. Walters

NICHOLAS WALTERS, RIGHT, FACES THE DAUNTING TASK OF FIGHTING VASYL LOMACHENKO.

NICHOLAS WALTERS, RIGHT, FACES THE DAUNTING TASK OF FIGHTING VASYL LOMACHENKO.

Photo: Will Hart

By CompuBox

Vasyl Lomachenko may stand only 5-foot-6, but he dreams like a giant. While still an amateur he talked about becoming the first man to win four Olympic gold medals in boxing and turned pro with Top Rank only after they promised to put him on the fast track to a title shot, which he got in his second non-WSB fight and won in his third. By stopping Roman Martinez in June, he broke Naoya Inoue's record by becoming a two-division champion in just his seventh non-WSB fight. 

Now, in his first title defense, he's not facing an obscure mandatory but one of the most dangerous fighters on the planet in Nicholas Walters, a willowy Jamaican with a huge punch but who also is coming off a horrifically judged draw against future titlist Jason Sosa as well as a career-long 343-day layoff. 

Next-Level Fighter: Along with Roman Gonzalez, Naoya Inoue and Oscar Valdez, Lomachenko has a skill set so breathtaking that it leaves even veteran observers in awe. His dazzling combination punching, off-the-charts ring IQ and otherworldly footwork has only gotten better with time, and his title-winning effort against then-WBO super featherweight titlist Roman Martinez affixed a picturesque exclamation point to his pound-for-pound ascension. 

Lomachenko (who threw an unusually low 46.1 punches per round) held Martinez to 40.6, out-landed him 87 vs. 34 overall, 32 vs. 6 jabs and 55 vs. 28 power, created monstrous percentage gaps -- 43% vs. 19% overall, 30% vs. 7% jabs and 58% vs. 29% power -- and ended the night with a savage left uppercut-right hook combo that produced a rare 10-count knockout. Lomachenko's efficiency was extraordinary: He exceeded 50% power accuracy in every round, including a 4-for-4 effort in the fifth and final round. 

Here’s a snapshot of Lomachenko's last six fights: Working behind an effective jab (8.1 landed per round), Lomachenko landed 50.7% of his power punches, while dazzled opponents landed just 8.1 total punches per round and 16.1% of their total punches (half the weight class average) and just 22.3% of their power shots. Lomachenko landed as many jabs per round (8.1) in his last six fights as his opponents landed total punches per round (8.1). 

A Bitter Pill: Statistically speaking, Walters should have scored a lopsided points win over Sosa last December because he prevailed 281 vs. 168 overall and 225 vs. 121 power, out-landed Sosa in every round overall and achieved a 30-4-2 lead in the 36-round CompuBox round-by-round breakdown. Plus, he was far more precise in every phase (45% vs. 19% overall, 30% vs. 18% jabs, 52% vs. 20% power). Sosa was the markedly busier fighter (87.3 per round to Walters' 62.2), which may have swung enough rounds his way. 

This was on the heels of a deserved, but disappointing, 12-round points win over Miguel Marriaga, a fight in which Walters missed weight and was forced to give up his WBA featherweight title. Yes, Walters scored a ninth-round knockdown, jabbed tremendously (43.6 thrown/10.9 connects per round) and rolled up big numbers -- 279 vs. 165 overall, 131 vs. 52 jabs, 148 vs. 113 power as well as 35% vs. 27% overall and 52% vs. 38% power -- but he wasn't the same force that decimated Nonito Donaire in October 2014. With a variety of issues stymieing his pound-for-pound rise, can the "Axe Man" revive his star by chopping down a most "high-tech" champion?  

Here’s a snapshot of Walters’ last five fights: Walters matched Lomachenko's offensive numbers, landing 7.7 jabs per round and 49.8% of his power punches. Further, opponents landed just 21.6% of their total punches and 26.3% of their power shots.

Prediction: Walters can win, but he won't. While Walters presents a formidable physical, stylistic and attitudinal package, Lomachenko has seen every conceivable style and is able to decipher and then disassemble before decimating. If Walters can't bomb out Lomachenko in the first six rounds, the Ukrainian should box his way to an exciting points win.

Lomachenko Faces Stiff Test Versus Walters in Buzz-Worthy Title Bout

Photo: Will Hart

By Nat Gottlieb

Following Andre Ward’s exciting victory over Sergey Kovalev last weekend, Saturday night’s fight between Vasyl Lomachenko and unbeaten power puncher Nicholas Walters on HBO World Championship Boxing (10:35 ET/PT), promises to offer the same sort of thrills.

Lomachenko (6-1, 4 KOs) is as close to a perfect boxer-puncher as there is in the sport. He’s a brilliant technician who can also rattle your brains with blistering combos, sometimes as many as four or five punches at a time. Although the Ukrainian goes by the alias “High-Tech,” a more apt description would be “Energizer Bunny.” Lomachenko keeps going and going with such a seemingly endless supply of energy that it’s almost exhausting for a fan to watch him, let alone for an opponent to keep up with him.

Walters (26-0-1, 21 KOs) is a fearsome puncher with dazzling hand speed and a very high motor. He has superstar potential, but first he’ll have to step up in class and defeat Lomachenko. The Jamaican junior lightweight has defeated high-quality opponents such as Nonito Donaire and Vic Darchinyan, but Lomachenko is a whole different breed of boxer.

“Whatever Nicholas did in the past doesn’t compare to this,” said Howard Grant, a former professional fighter from Jamaica who has followed his fellow countryman’s career closely. “Moving up to fight Lomachenko is like changing from a Toyota to a Rolls Royce. Lomachenko is a once-in-a-lifetime fighter.”

It’s highly doubtful that Walters can outbox the masterful Lomachenko, and the Jamaican fighter seems aware of this. He has said repeatedly in the lead-up to this bout that he’s approaching it with one strategy in mind: to knock out the Ukrainian and not let the fight go to the scorecards.

“Any fighter can be knocked out, no matter who he is,” Walters said. “I’m going for the knockout and he won’t last. Just like I did to Nonito, that’s how I’m going to defeat him.”

Walters faced Donaire two years ago and scored a stunning sixth-round TKO upset. It was the first time the former four-division champion had ever been stopped, and the victory vaulted the Jamaican from prospect to serious contender.

While there’s no question Walters has the power to KO virtually anybody in the 130-pound division, Lomachenko poses a unique challenge in that he’s very difficult to hit.

The Ukrainian uses incredible foot work and body movement to prevent his opponent from finding a clear opening. He can be in front one moment, and then in a blink of an eye will spin around behind him, forcing the opponent to turn in order to find him. But in that instant, Lomachenko will tag his opponent with a stinging combo before the fighter has his feet set and balanced.

“Lomachenko is like a ballerina,” said Grant, who along with his brother, Otis, a former middleweight champion, trains fighters at Grant Brothers Boxing in Montreal. “You can’t teach what he does. He’s like a work of art in the way he moves, and he’s very tough to hit.”

Grant sees only one way for Walters to beat Lomachenko, and that’s for the Jamaican to put his power on display as soon as possible. “The key for Nicholas is to hurt Lomachenko early, get his respect, and don’t let him settle into a rhythm and his comfort zone. I don’t think Lomachenko has ever been hit solid or clean. He never puts himself in a difficult position. He’s so elusive, so fast and so unorthodox.”

Walters has nearly an eight-inch reach advantage over Lomachenko, but Grant doesn’t see him trying to box on the outside if he wants to win. “If I was training Nick, I’d tell him not to go to the guy’s head. The way Loma moves his head and body makes him very hard to hit. Nick has got to get to Lomachenko’s body.”

It’s a sound strategy -- provided Walters can execute it. Despite possessing the 73-inch reach of a welterweight, Walters is at his best fighting inside, where he throws short, precise shots upstairs and downstairs with a higher accuracy that he does from a distance. On the flip side of that strategy, Grant said, "Lomachenko is a tremendous inside fighter, the way he maneuvers you and hits you.”

Both Lomachenko and Walters moved up from featherweight to junior lightweight in their last fights, with differing results.

Lomachenko took on reigning junior lightweight champion Roman Martinez and boxed circles around the Puerto Rican for four rounds before connecting on a Knockout of the Year candidate in the fifth.  A minute into the round, the Ukrainian fired off a blistering left-uppercut and right-hook combo that sent Martinez sprawling to the canvas. Such was the power of those shots that it took Martinez well over a minute before he could be helped to his feet. After the fight, Martinez would say that Lomachenko was so fast that “I couldn’t see his hands.”

One doesn’t normally think of Lomachenko as a power puncher, but the only other fighter to knock out Martinez in 34 previous fights was the undefeated Mikey Garcia. By beating Martinez, Lomachenko earned his second division title in just his seventh pro fight, an unprecedented accomplishment even for a boxer who lost just once in 397 amateur fights and won two Olympic gold medals.

Walters, on the other hand, didn’t have the same kind of statement-making debut at junior lightweight. Taking on once-defeated junior lightweight Jason Sosa, Walters fought to a majority draw, although many believed the Jamaican had won by a comfortable margin. Harold Lederman, HBO’s unofficial judge, gave the victory to Walters, 99-91. But even that disputed draw would later raise Walters’ stock when Sosa in his next fight defeated then unbeaten 130-pound champion Javier Fortuna. Sosa followed that victory up with an impressive successful defense of his title against Stephen Smith.

Lomachenko’s bout with Walters has generated an enormous amount of interest among boxing fans and writers. So much so that Bob Arum of Top Rank, who'll be promoting his 2,000th fight, tweeted the following on Nov. 18: "Media covering other fights this week calling me with only one question, 'Who wins the Nov. 26 @VasylLomachenko-@AxeManWalters fight?'"

The answer to that question should make for great boxing theater.