Flight of the Featherweights

By Boxing News - 12/15/2022 - Comments

By Eoin Kennedy: While conversations in certain weight classes in boxing have been dominated by speculation surrounding big fights happening, the men in the sport’s most exciting division have been getting down to business and actually fighting one another.

Last Saturday night in Leeds, England, once again showed that the featherweight division is stacked deep with talent and the fact that none of the champions nor contenders are cross-over stars in the mold of Tyson Fury or Canelo Alvarez (or believe that they are like Errol Spence and Terence Crawford) lends itself to some terrific, fan-friendly fights.

Last Saturday was no exception, as there was another highly competitive fight served up, and once again, the IBF title got the hot potato treatment. Josh Warrington relinquished the IBF strap last year in pursuit of bigger fights in the US, but that didn’t transpire for Leeds’s own cult hero, but eventually, the red belt made a curious journey back into his possession.

Former foe Kid Galahad picked up the vacant title left behind by Warrington in a one-sided affair against Jazza Dickens and proceeded to his first defense in hometown Sheffield, expecting old war horse Kiko Martinez merely to play a supporting role on a night that was all about the champion parading his new hardware in front of him home town fans. The Spaniard forgot to read the script, however, and knocked out Galahad in devasting fashion, banishing him from the division in the process.

The unlikely champion had only one fight on his wish list, Josh Warrington in Leeds. So after dreaming of big world title fights in New York or Las Vegas, Warrington found himself back in his home city challenging for the title he had voluntarily vacated against an opponent he had beaten on home soil five years earlier. Funny old game.

Warrington duly took care of business and was once more the IBF featherweight champion of the world, but obligations to face the mandatory challenger meant that the American odyssey would have to wait for Warrington and his legion of Leeds supporters.

Last Saturday’s opponent, Luis Alberto Lopez, was not likely deemed commercially valuable enough to fix the fight in the US so promoter Eddie Hearn opted for the security of Leeds, and the old mantra “Warrington’s next fight will definitely be the US” was recycled. Well, if the IBF title was the stumbling block to the adventure across the Atlantic, that is no longer the case as the game Mexican edged the hometown hero and assumed possession of the red belt. Just like compatriot Mauricio Lara last year, Lopez went to Leeds and defeated Warrington.

Lara himself can probably count himself unlucky not to be a world champion given that he was Warrington’s first opponent after he’d dropped the IBF title and unfortunately for the Mexican, his explosive knockout win came in a fight with no championship at stake. But despite that fact, Lara’s stock has skyrocketed since, and he is slated to challenge for the WBA version of the world title against another Englishman, Leigh Wood, early next year.

The fight is an odd choice for Wood (who has recently been upgraded to full champion after Leo Santa Cruz finally vacated the belt he was holding hostage) as Lara is a big puncher with a ferocious style but doesn’t bring a title or big commercial appeal to the table. Essentially this fight offers far more risk than reward for the Nottingham fighter, and what makes it more bizarre again is that Eddie Hearn is also Wood’s promoter, and he has seen firsthand the devasting Mexican go into an English fighter’s backyard and destroy his man. Will lightning strike twice for the Matchroom stable?

In Hearn’s defense, he did allude to the fact this week that he had suggested the rematch with Michael Conlan as an option for Wood, but his team management team wasn’t interested. One can see why Wood may opt to stay clear of the slick Irishman for now. Despite knocking Conlan out of the ring and into his father and brother’s arms back in March in a fight that must be awarded fight of the year, it can’t be ignored that Conlan did control the vast majority of proceedings, boxing circles around Wood. Wood is right in his declarations that a fight is thirty-six minutes long, and he was ultimately the last man standing in that epic battle, but most observers would agree that if Conlan can preserve his energy more efficiently than in the first fight, he would be the favorite to triumph should the two dance again.

Interestingly since that fight back in March, Wood is yet to fight, while Conlan has already chalked up two victories. The most recent of those coming last Saturday night in Belfast, where the former Olympic bronze medalist blasted Karim Guerfi out in the very first round. Knockouts, especially that early, are not what the stylist Conlan is typically known for, but his adoring Belfast fans weren’t the slightest bit upset with the haste at which the hometown hero dispatched of his opponent.

In a division where the best are regularly fighting the best, the landscape once again shifted last Saturday. Warrington has some soul-searching to do. No doubt the former two-time world champion still has lucrative fights ahead but are his best days behind him? Days that saw him defeat Carl Frampton and Lee Selby. Or does he hang around to get the big derby fight with Leigh Wood? For that fight to carry at least some of the spice that it had before Warrington’s loss, Wood will need to come through his massive test against Lara, and that’s far from a foregone conclusion.

Michael Conlan, the man that was going through his own period of soul searching last March, now is sitting pretty with plenty of momentum, and the good news for him is that the newly crowned IBF world champion, Lopez, is also under Bob Arum’s Top Rank promotional banner, so the only real question that looms in relation to that match up is do they get on in the hallowed Madison Square Garden, New York or add another chapter to the storied fight city of Belfast, Ireland where Conlan is following in the footsteps of local legends like Frampton and Barry McGuigan. Whatever happens, there’s no sign that the action is about to dry up in boxing’s most entertaining division.