Another Featherweight Golden Age for Boxing?

What seems like many years ago, the featherweight division underwent a “golden age” or what soccer/football fanatics would call a “golden generation.” The names are royalty: Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales. Then there are the boxers who are connected to them: all-action New Yorker, Kevin Kelly, the flamboyant “Prince” Nassem Hamed, United States Olympian Rocky Juarez, Mexican tough-guy Orlando Salido (whom Marquez beat) and still-undefeated Indonesian Chris John (48-0-2; who beat Marquez). They all fought each other (except for Marquez and Morales). All the fights were terrific. It was a time when no one cared that these men weighed less than a meal at Peter Luger’s Steakhouse. All that mattered was that these fighters would be in the squared circle together. If that was the case, fight fans were either going to fight or making damn sure the fight was on their television. Those were the days…

Actually, the last time one of those fighters fought at 126 pounds was when Marquez knocked out Jimrex Jaca in November, 2006. That was a little over six years ago. It is just too soon to be in the midst of another “golden generation.” Or is it?

In 2011 and 2012, Salido faced Puerto Rican star Juan Manuel Lopez (32-0) and he beat him in two hellacious slug fests. Salido followed that up a little less than a month ago by taking on Miguel Garcia (31-0) of the famed Garcia Boxing Academy of Oxnard, California. Trained by 2011 trainer of the year and his brother, Robert Garcia, Garcia is a technically sound fighter with a sharpshooting offense and good power. In the bout against Salido, he knocked down the Mexican tough-guy (who Marquez and Robert Guerrero could not drop and whom Yuriorkis Gamboa only dropped twice in the 12th round and Lopez only dropped once in two fights) four times before winning a technical decision. Stated otherwise, Garcia is the real deal.

Speaking of the Garcia Boxing Academy, Robert Garcia has a pupil called the “Mexican Russian,” Evegeny Gradovich (16-0). He is called the “Mexican Russian” because he does not fight in the stereotypical European “stand-up” style popularized by the Klitschkos, Felix Sturm and others. Rather, he is a pressure fighter who goes to the body very well. Despite being labled “green” by ESPN boxing analyst and noted trainer Teddy Atlas, Gradovich was able to pressure and punch his way to a well-deserved decision victory against Australian resident and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson promoted Billy Dib (35-2). The same Dib who, a few years ago, was an unwatchable defensive fighter but has now re-invented himself into a come-foward offensive fighter. Indeed, in losing, Dib showed heart and a willingness to mix it up. According to reports, Dib has a rematch clause but it is not immediate. The bottom line is that both fighters raised their stock in a big way. This writer and most fans who saw the fight broadcast on ESPN2 would not object to a rematch.

Also this weekend, uber-prospect Gary Russell, Jr. (22-0) defeated another Russian, Vyacheslav Gusev (20-2). While it was a little surprising that Russell did not score a knock out, he was dominant. The fight was not competitive and that’s really all that needs to be said about this fight. Russell is the total package. He has a terrific amateur pedigree (although the Showtime hype machine which said he did not compete in the 2008 Olympics because he was “sick” needs to recognize that the real reason was that he failed to make weight), he has unreal hand speed, terrific fundamental skills and good power. That said, in the professional ranks, he has fought limited opposition. While this writer feels he would be extremely competitive, if not a favorite, against the top ten of the division, he needs to to fight those guys. To his credit, Russell did call out Lopez after his victory. To criticize, Russell is with Golden Boy Promotion and Al Haymon and Lopez is with Top Rank Promotions and those factions do not make fights with each other.

That said, Garcia, Gradovich, Russell, Lopez. And while Salido is moving up in weight, Lopez may stay in the division. WBC Featherweight titlist Daniel Ponce de Leon (44-4) will face former bantamweight titlist, current WBC junior featherweight titlist, action fighter and rising attraction Abner Mares (25-0-1) on the May 4, 2013 undercard at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada featuring Floyd Mayweather and Robert Guerrero. Ponce de Leon, while awkward is a huge puncher. Mares is a young, hungry, action fighter with an outgoing personality. The man who Ponce de Leon beat for the title, Johnny Gonzalez (53-8), is also around. Finally, Mares’ “potential” rival, Nonito Donaire (31-1), who is currently the WBO titlist at junior featherweight, will soon move up to 126 pounds. Donaire faces Cuban Olympian Guillermo Rigondeaux (11-0) in April and the winner will likely move up to greener pastures.

Promotional differences aside: Donaire, Mares, Garcia, Russell, Ponce de Leon, Gonzalez, Gradovich, Lopez. Additionally, there are rising prospects such as hard punching and interim WBA titlist Javier Fortuna (21-0) and Ronny Rios (20-0). That is a great line up. John has alleged that he will only fight against limited opposition in his Indonesian homeland but if the money could lure him back to US, he would be a welcome addition to this excellent cadre of featherweights. If the fights are made, we may have another “golden generation” of featherweights.

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