Home Columns Why the featherweight division is boxing’s best

Why the featherweight division is boxing’s best

Credit: Chris Farina - Top Rank

Defending the featherweight division as the best in boxing today:

Not so long ago, featherweight was arguably boxing’s premier weight class. Prince Nasim Hamed gave the division glamor; the trilogy of Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales duking it out to lay claim to the crown of Mexico’s King of Boxing made it hot; the arrival of Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao stoked those fires even hotter.

Since then, interest in the division has flagged, and in my opinion that decline is entirely wrong-headed. Clearly, the 126 pounders are not really making their weight class the best in the sport, but they have kept it in the running and put it among the best.

See the full seriesWhich weight division is the best in boxing today?

1. Excitement

Some of the most electrifying fights in the sport’s recent memory had a 126-pound weight limit, so how is that for excitement? Getting to my feet is a regular feature of watching an Orlando Salido fight. Jhonny Gonzalez is P4P one of the hardest hitters in the game, and has proven himself able to end fights shockingly early against even world class opponents. Nonito Donaire, one-time and possibly still-future heir to Pacquiao’s rabid fanbase, is out there too, along with plenty of fighters who know how to deliver fast-paced, exciting fights.

Points: 4/5

2. Star Power

Here is where the division has slumped in recent years. Featherweight’s long reigning, undefeated kingpin is Chris John, who makes a point of fighting only in Asia, thereby guaranteeing his mainstream obscurity. The division has names, but all of them have dings in their reputation: Gonzalez, Salido, Mares, de Leon, Donaire. In terms of star power, the featherweights are merely average. Much of the best talent has moved up to 130 or beyond.

Points: 3/5

3. Depth

Check that list of names I just rattled off. The division might not have anyone in it who is a star outside of hardcore boxing circles, but there are plenty of them and they all have real talent.

Points: 5/5

4. Potential and Influence

In the current featherweight division, the only way to make serious money is to fight other ranked guys (unless your name is Chris John, and then you can bottom-feed in Asia for several years). That gives the division plenty of potential for little action, but unless one of these contenders has a good, dominant run and decides not to move up to 130 (ala Mikey Garcia), it won’t have much influence.

Points: 3/5

5. Pound for Pound

Ironically, Abner Mares is ranked #4 within the division, but is the highest P4P entrant at #10. Thankfully for the division’s standing, Nontio Donaire is right behind him at #11. Alas, Mikey Garcia moved up to super featherweight, while in the #21-50 zone, Chris John, Jhonny Gonzalez, and Orlando Salido have little potential for moving up past the #25 notch.

3 Points

18 Total

Although a strong division, featherweight is hurt by the lack of glamor attached to its clear ruler, Chris John, and by the departure of Mikey Garcia and others for higher weights and bigger career opportunities.

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Richard Thomas has been in and out of boxing gyms in Kentucky, Ohio, the District of Columbia and Thailand and for a quarter century, and writing about boxing since 1997. A passionate devotee of the sport, he is as keenly interested in boxing history as he is in the latest bout. He currently lives in Europe, and is also the owner and Managing Editor of The Whiskey Reviewer.