Latterly there has been a very welcome trend for the planet’s premier fighters to engage against each other and nowhere is this more evident that in the white-hot Featherweight class.
Over the next seven weeks, eight of the 126lb elite collide to sort out the contenders from the pretenders in battle to ultimately establish a clear ‘top dog’ in the division.
Kicking off the carnage at Belfast’s SSE Arena this weekend, local icon Carl Frampton bumps beaks with ‘Filipino Flash’ Nonito Donaire in an unmissable clash of multi-weight former World Champions. BoxNation screen the WBO Interim clash live.
During a stellar 17-year career, Donaire has collected seven World Titles between 112-126lbs and has owned belts with all four major sanctioning bodies. The heavy-hooking California-based BWAA Fighter of the Year for 2012 has already scalped a dozen World Champions and is undefeated in 10 starts outside the US. Obliging Frampton at a ‘bouncing’ Belfast will hold no fear for the seasoned 35-year-old who knows that clattering Carl will provide his ticket back to the major belts and mega bucks.
Nevertheless, the 31-year-old ‘Jackal’ – seemingly re-energised under new coach Jamie Moore after conceding his WBA 9st belt in January 2017 – enters as a 6-1 on bookies’ pick. Already ranked in the top four with the WBC, WBO and IBF, the tungsten tough Ulsterman has the pedigree and profile to pick a Champion of his choice to challenge later this year, if he emerges victorious.
Initially, that seemed destined to be the victor of the stadium showdown between feuding Brits Lee Selby and Josh Warrington who collide at Elland Road, Leeds on May 19th. The genuine animosity between the principals, and their contrasting (yet complimentary) ring styles, makes this another must see affair and, again, BoxNation deliver for those who are unable to secure a golden ticket.
‘Slinky’ Selby from Barry, south Wales, is probably the most undervalued Champion in the talent dense division having successfully retained four times against very credible contenders following his coronation in May 2015.
Silky, smart and highly skilled, the 5ft 9in Welshman, now 31, fully utilises his physical advantages. Others offer more thrills, but the 31-year-old’s composure and discipline in rigidly following the strategies of coach Tony Borg make him exceptionally difficult to conquer.
However, challenger Warrington has served a quality apprenticeship, hoovering up English, British, Commonwealth, European and International belts whilst racking up an unblemished 26 fight CV. The turbo-charged Tyke is expected to be bolstered by somewhere in the region of 25,000 of the most fanatical fans on the planet and, at 27, he will enter bristling with confidence and ambition. There won’t be a better atmosphere at any fight anywhere in the globe this year and there’s a strong probability that we’ll get a fight to match the occasion.
Later that evening, almost 6000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, the division’s longest serving Champion Gary Russell Jr makes a mandatory defence of his WBC belt against fellow southpaw Joseph ‘Jo Jo’ Diaz at the MGM National Harbor in his home state of Maryland.
The supremely gifted champion, 29, was a multiple national amateur champion at just 17 and qualified (but didn’t compete) for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Advised by Al Haymon, ‘Mr’ Russell, is blessed with blistering fists but has been severely undercooked of late, defending just twice – both stoppage wins – in the 38 months he has been nestled on his throne.
He can expect a serious examination from the touted 25-year-old Californian, a 2012 US Olympian who has won 26 straight (14 quick) and mastered a fistful of fringe contenders over the past two years. It seems destined for the cards. Expect it to be tight.
Presently, most neutrals pick for pole position at 9st would go to Leo Santa Cruz, after he suffocated Frampton to regain his WBA Super belt in a sizzler last year. On June 9th at the Staples Center in LA, ‘El Terremoto’ endeavours to clean up the chaotic WBA situation by cleaning out the sanctioning body’s ‘Regular’ ruler Abner Mares.
Both were born in Mexico but are now based in California and, between them, the three-weight World Champions boast eight World Titles and just three defeats in 70 fights combined. High quality, keenly contested fare is guaranteed, with Santa Cruz, three years younger and marginally fresher, the narrow nap to get his arm lifted.
With all the leading lights so close to their fighting primes, it is imperative that the victors from these four salivating ‘eliminators’ show the fortitude required to challenge one another and satisfy the fans thirst for an undisputed leader.
Watching ominously from the wings, is formidable WBO boss Oscar Valdez, presently recuperating from a snapped jaw inflicted by Bury’s Scott Quigg following their 12 round barn burner in March. 19 stoppage wins in 24 gigs cement the hombre from Sonora, Mexico as a serious striker. However, the dual Olympian and former World Youth gold medallist gave evidence against Quigg that he also has the technical tools and tactical nous required to ultimately dominate the division when the dust has settled.
Buy BoxNation to watch Carl Frampton v Nonito Donaire on Saturday 21st April. Sky TV customers can use code CHAMPIONS for free registration (saving £8).