As two title fights take place this weekend at Featherweight between Mauricio Lara and Leigh Wood, and Luis Alberto Lopez and Michael Conlan, I take an in-depth look at one of the sports’ more intriguing divisions.
The Featherweight Titles
WBC Champion Rey Vargas won the title in July 2021, after getting off the canvas to defeat former champion Ray Magsayo via Split Decision. Vargas, a former super bantamweight champion, then moved up yet another weight to challenge O’Shaquie Foster for the vacant super featherweight crown in February. Foster would defeat Vargas by a wide Unanimous Decision.
Despite Vargas still holding the title, the WBC ordered a fight for the interim title between Brandon Figueroa and former Vargas foe Mark Magsayo. Figueroa would go on to win this bout via UD. Vargas will now be ordered to fight Figueroa or be forced to give up his title to him.
WBO champion and former Olympic gold medalist Robeisy Ramirez may be the most talented fighter in the division. Having destroyed Abraham Nova, and Jose Romero in 2022, the Cuban southpaw got his shot at championship gold, facing off against former Super Bantamweight Titleist Isaac Dogboe for the vacant belt in April this year.
Ramirez had a calamitous start to his professional career, losing on debut over 4 rounds to Adan Gonzales. This perhaps was the best thing to happen to ‘El Tren,’ as it inspired a move to trainer Ismael Salas. Since this move the pair have been flying, beating Gonzales in a rematch, and surging up the featherweight ranks. Ramirez will defend his title for the first time against Satoshi Shimizu in Japan in July as chief support to Stephen Fulton vs Naoya Inoue. Should Ramirez get through this, it should set up a potential unification match with the winner of one of this Saturday’s title bouts.
IBF Champion Luis Alberto Lopez shot from obscurity to world champion in lightning-quick time. Being summoned by Top Rank as an opponent for Andy Vences (who was rebuilding after a loss to Albert Bell), Lopez flipped the script, and sprung the upset, winning by split decision. Just over a year after this in September 2021, he was again called by Top Rank to face highly-rated prospect Gabe Flores. Lopez absolutely battered Flores, winning every round clearly and snatching his unbeaten record.
The unbeaten Isaac Lowe was next for Lopez, whom he put down 3 times on the way to a 7th-round KO victory in London. This run of 3 big wins secured Lopez the number 1 position with the IBF. He waited for his opportunity against champion Josh Warrington, traveling to Leeds in December. He returned from the UK as the new world champion, walking away with a majority decision victory.
Lopez faces another tough fight on the road this Saturday, as he travels to Belfast to face hometown favorite and former amateur world champion Michael Conlan. In an extremely tough contest for both me, Lopez will hope to come away victorious, then face WBO Champion Robeisy Ramirez in a unification bout. However Japanese starlight Reiya Abe is a mandatory challenger for the belt so that could be a stumbling block.
WBA Champion Mauricio Lara has a similar story to his fellow countryman Luis Alberto Lopez, having suffered early career defeats, he traveled to London in February 2021 to take on former IBF champion Josh Warrington (who had just vacated the title to pursue a fight with WBA Regular Champion Can Xu). Lara sprung a huge upset. Dropping Warrington multiple times on the way to a 9th-round stoppage win. Seven months later the rematch was made for Headingley Stadium in Leeds. The fight was over inside 2 rounds due to a horrific cut caused by a Warrington headbutt and declared a technical draw.
Lara has since gone on a three-fight KO streak, winning the WBA title in the process. He faces Leigh Wood in a rematch on Saturday and will look to defeat the Nottingham man for the 2nd time in 3 months.
The Featherweight Contenders
Mick Conlan challenges for the IBF title this weekend. The former world gold medalist and Olympic bronze medalist came up short last year in his challenge for the WBA Regular title against Leigh Wood. The Irishman dominated the early rounds of the fight, putting Wood down extremely heavily in the first. However Wood managed to pull victory out of the jaws of defeat with one of the most memorable Knockout wins of recent years. Conlan has since bounced back with an impressive UD win against Miguel Marriaga and a first-round demolition of Karim Guerfi.
Conlan will look to neutralize the unorthodox style of Lopez on Saturday, to finally fulfil his early career promise of being a world champion. Should Conlan win on Saturday, a bout with Liverpool man Nick Ball could be an option as both teams would be keen on taking the fight, however a mandatory defense against Reiya Abe could get in the way. Another option is Robeisy Ramirez in a unification bout.
The other challenger for the featherweight world title on Saturday is Leigh Wood. The Nottingham native will look to reclaim the belt he lost earlier this year. At 34 years of age, and having already been stopped by Gavin McDonnell, and Lara previously, as well as an extremely taxing fight with Conlan. Leigh Wood simply must win on Saturday if he wants to keep his career at the top level. Whether he will or not is the question.
‘Leighthal’ was boxing well in the first fight against Lara, winning the majority of the rounds, he will need to replicate this to have any chance on Saturday, Should Wood win, the riches of a potential stadium fight with domestic rival Josh Warrington could await. However, he will probably need to vacate the title, as the WBA has mandated Otabek Kholmatov as the winner.
Another featherweight contender who fights on Saturday is Liverpools’sNick Ball, who faces Ludumo Lamati in Belfast as chief support to Lopez vs Conlan. Ball burst onto the scene last year with a 6 round destruction of Isaac Lowe on the undercard of Fury vs Whyte, and hasn’t looked back since.
He followed this up with two more knockout victories last year and hopes a win over Lamati will take him closer to world honors. The scouser is diminutive in stature for 126lbs, being significantly shorter than all his rivals, this could potentially hold him back when it comes to the elite level.
One name that will always be linked to Nick Ball is that of current British and Commonwealth champion Nathaniel Collins. The pair were scheduled to fight last year, but the bout failed to materialize. The slick Southpaw recently inked a deal with Queensberry so is well placed to move up the ranks at 126lbs.
Brandon Figueroa is perhaps the best fighter at 126 lbs who isn’t currently holding a world title. The WBC interim champion is due to face Rey Vargas and has come back from a razor-close defeat to Stephen Fulton in a unification at 122lbs well. Figueroa looked extremely impressive last time out against Mark Magsayo, beating the former champion via UD. With his high output and extremely aggressive style, Figueroua is not only extremely effective but is also must-see TV. With the possibility of Fulton moving up in weight after his bout with Naoya Inoue in July, the rematch between him and Figueroa looks possible for later this year.
Although quite clearly on the slide, Josh Warrington will always be a big-money fight at featherweight. The former champion seems long gone from the run of Selby, Frampton, and Galahad in 2018/19, however, the allure of a stadium fight with ‘The Leeds Warrior’ will still bring champions. With the winner of Lara vs Wood 2 a huge possibility for the early autumn, Warrington is still very relevant at 126lbs
Reiya Abe the IBF mandatory challenger is one of the dark horses of the division, completely dismantling former champion Kiko Martinez earlier this year to secure his position as the number one contender. However, perhaps the biggest dark horse at 126 lbs is Otabek Khomaltov. The WBA mandatory challenger, who recently dispatched of Thomas Patrick Ward in a final eliminator, has been ordered to face the winner of Lara vs Wood. However, whether this fight will materialize for the Uzbek remains to be seen. With a perfect record of 11 wins in 11 fights with 10 stoppage victories, Kholmatov will presumably be avoided due to his extremely high level of ability, but extremely low commercial value, placing him firmly in the ‘who needs him club’.
Featherweight is a division at a crossroads, if fights are made consistently we could be on the brink of a golden era at 126 lbs. With 4 very good, but vulnerable world champions, all with exciting styles, as well as top contenders who will push them all the way, we could see the belts being passed around for the next few years. With the potential additions of Stephen Fulton, MJ Akhmadaliev, and P4P superstar Naoya Inoue in the next few years, the division will be red hot. The big fights need to be made as quickly as possible, however, because the vast majority of the elite at featherweight are in their prime years, and it will not be long until they are in decline.