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Analysis: The featherweight division

Josh Warrington
Our evaluation of the weight classes continues with part 11, as Paul Wheeler inspects the lay of the land in the featherweight division

10. Jessie Magdaleno (USA)
Record: 27-1 (18) Age: 28 Height: 5ft 4ins
IN 2016, Magdaleno pulled off a fine victory by outscoring the vastly decorated Nonito Donaire. With the win, the Las Vegas left-hander claimed the WBO super-bantamweight strap. Yet a year-and-a-half later, the attack-minded Isaac Dogboe broke through him to take the crown via late KO. The loss prompted a move up to featherweight, where he won two fights out of two in 2019. He is ranked in the top 15 by the WBC, IBF and WBO.

STRENGTHS: A lively and dynamic fighter, he targets the midsection effectively and packs a decent dig in his quick fists.

WEAKNESSES: Against Dogboe, he suffered three knockdowns and eventually succumbed to the relentless pressure that was being applied to him.

BEST PERFORMANCE: His stirring success against Donaire.

WORST PERFORMANCE: He showed plenty of heart, but his defeat to Dogboe was a punishing one.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The poisonous body blow that debilitated Rey Perez.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? As the WBC’s No. 1 contender, he is in line to challenge for their belt. With current holder Gary Russell Jnr expected to depart the division, he could well receive a vacant title tilt.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

9. Eduardo Ramirez (MEX)
Record: 23-2-3 (10) 1NC Age: 27 Height: 5ft 6ins
THE Mexican southpaw fought three times last year. A competitive points defeat to the man directly above him on this list, Claudio Marrero, was sandwiched between two noteworthy stoppage triumphs over Bryan De Gracia and former foe Leduan Barthelemy. Beating Barthelemy was particularly pleasing for Ramirez, considering he felt he was unfortunate not to have picked up the verdict in their first contest in 2017, which ended in a draw.

STRENGTHS: Tough, aggressive and stubborn, Ramirez uses his long reach to shoot out straight punches.

WEAKNESSES: He missed out on the chance to compete for the IBF championship in 2017 as he came in overweight against the slippery Lee Selby, who subsequently outscored him.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Wrecking the unbeaten record of Barthelemy.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Being held to a draw in his 11th pro bout by Jesus Quintero, who now has nearly as many losses as wins on his résumé.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The perfectly executed left hand to the jaw that disposed of Barthelemy.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He is rated at No. 6 by the WBC and No. 12 by the WBA, but he would be unlikely to trouble the reigning champs.

Al Bello/Getty Images

8. Claudio Marrero (DOM)
Record: 24-4 (17) Age: 31 Height: 5ft 6 1/2ins
AFTER being outpointed by Jesus Cuellar in 2013, Marrero went on a run of eight consecutive victories, culminating in a swift KO of Carlos Zambrano in 2017. That same year, however, he was knocked out by Jesus Rojas. His form since reads win-lose-win-lose. A rapid knockout of Jorge Lara was followed by a decision defeat to Tugstsogt Nyambayar, a points success over Eduardo Ramirez and a retirement reverse against Kid Galahad.

STRENGTHS: This dangerous Dominican southpaw is a speedy starter who cuts off the ring well and picks his shots with potent precision.

WEAKNESSES: Although he is nicknamed “The Matrix”, he is not always difficult to decipher, as he can be tagged and dropped.

BEST PERFORMANCE: He made an impressive statement when wiping out the previously undefeated Lara in a mere 33 seconds.

WORST PERFORMANCE: A ferocious three-punch salvo left him unable to continue against Rojas.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: His cracking left hook that put Rico Ramos flat on his back.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He has demonstrated the ability to bounce back from setbacks in the past and he will need to do so again after his one-sided loss to Galahad last time out.

George Wood/Getty Images

7. Oscar Escandon (COL)
Record: 26-5 (18) Age: 35 Height: 5ft 1 1/2ins
A PRO for 12 years, Escandon mixed in the lower reaches of world level while campaigning as a super-bantam. The Colombian made the move up to feather in 2016 and knocked out the unpredictable Robinson Castellanos. He then had to endure three successive inside-schedule losses against WBC boss Gary Russell Jnr, Tugstsogt Nyambayar and Brandon Figueroa. He rebounded last year by tearing through the unbeaten Jhack Tepora in the opening round.

STRENGTHS: The dogged 2004 Olympian gets underneath his opponents’ jabs and hurls hurtful hooks to head and body.

WEAKNESSES: He is the shortest and oldest boxer in the top 10 by some distance. He has also hit the canvas in four of his last five appearances.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Taking Tepora’s ‘0’ in just 90 seconds, despite coming off a trio of demoralising defeats.

WORST PERFORMANCE: He was floored five times en route to suffering a third-frame KO against Nyambayar.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The lashing left hook to the liver that accounted for Tepora.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He is in the mix in the WBC and WBA ratings, but don’t expect to see him overtake any of the fighters above him on this list.

Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

6. Tugstsogt Nyambayar (MNG)
Record: 11-1 (9) Age: 27 Height: 5ft 7ins
AS an amateur, “King Tug” secured a second-place finish at the 2009 World Championships when he was only 17. He followed this up with another silver medal in 2012, this time at the Olympics. After storming past Oscar Escandon in 2018 and overcoming Claudio Marrero on points the next year, he challenged Gary Russell Jnr for the WBC crown in February. The Mongolian put forth a spirited effort but Russell received a clear and merited verdict.

STRENGTHS: The owner of the highest knockout ratio in the top 10, he comes forward with forceful, fast and accurate bursts both upstairs and down.

WEAKNESSES: He has taken part in the least number of pro rounds out of everyone on this list. He has also not been fighting as often as he should.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Escandon was up and down like a yo-yo when he took on Nyambayar, who decked him on five occasions.

WORST PERFORMANCE: He had to withstand an early trip to the mat when outscoring Harmonito Dela Torre.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: His knockdown-loaded blitz of Escandon.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? The WBC No. 3 can come again after his maiden defeat to Russell.

Gary Russell featherweight
Amanda Westcott/Showtime

5. Shakur Stevenson (USA)
Record: 13-0 (7) Age: 22 Height: 5ft 8ins
AT only 22 years old, this precocious portsider is already a world champion, having collected the WBO belt just over seven months ago following a near-shutout of Joet Gonzalez, who had never tasted defeat before. Another victim of his in 2019 was ex-world title challenger Christopher Diaz, who was also comprehensively outpointed. Touted by many as a potential future pound-for-pound king, Stevenson captured a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics.

STRENGTHS: The supremely skilled Newark native boasts exceptional movement and a rapier-like jab. His combinations are unleashed with speed, spite and accuracy.

WEAKNESSES: He was content to coast to a points victory against Diaz, which elicited a few boos from the crowd, who wanted to see him press home his advantage.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Dropping the usually durable Viorel Simion three times and winning in the opener.

WORST PERFORMANCE: The roughhousing Edgar Brito did all he could to prevent Stevenson from shining on his pro debut.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The lightning left hand that saw off Jessie Cris Rosales.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Taking into account his age and extreme talent, he has no ceiling. He should reach for the stars.

Top Rank featherweight Shakur Stevenson
Steven Ryan/Getty Images

4. Can Xu (CHN)
Record: 18-2 (3) Age: 26 Height: 5ft 9ins
A POPULAR figure in his homeland of China, Xu operated at super-lightweight, lightweight and super-featherweight before settling at feather in the latter half of 2018. Last year was a highly productive one for the East Asian, who notched a hat-trick of wins against notable opposition – all in WBA secondary title contests. Slipped between a pair of deserved decisions over Jesus Rojas and Manny Robles III was a stoppage of Shun Kubo.

STRENGTHS: The resolute Xu fires off whirlwind flurries in a machine-gun manner. As well as being the tallest fighter in the top 10, his output is immense.

WEAKNESSES: Of all the boxers listed here, he has the lowest KO percentage.

BEST PERFORMANCE: His unrelenting attacks impelled the referee to step in and save Kubo from further punishment in the sixth round.

WORST PERFORMANCE: In his fifth pro outing, Xu lost out on a majority verdict to the debuting Bao Dong, who has not competed since.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: Try counting each of the astonishing 1,562 punches that he threw against Robles.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He has prominent backers in Golden Boy Promotions and trainer Pedro Diaz, but his lack of power could hinder him.

Can Xu featherweight

3. Kid Galahad (ENG)
Record: 27-1 (16) Age: 30 Height: 5ft 6 1/2ins
IN the space of just eight months from 2013 to 2014, Galahad garnered British, Commonwealth and European super-bantamweight belts across three bouts. However, his momentum was broken when a failed drug test kept him out for over a year-and-a-half. Since returning in 2016, he has established himself as a leading contender at featherweight. Twelve months ago, he was edged out by IBF titlist Josh Warrington in a closely contested encounter.

STRENGTHS: The Sheffield switch-hitter thrusts out stiff jabs and sharp straights. A quick and precise puncher who is difficult to pin down, he knits together clever combos.

WEAKNESSES: His spoiling tactics are effective but they do not please the fans.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Claudio Marrero was clearly second best when he came up against Galahad four months ago.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Although he was a wide winner over Jason Booth, the veteran did force him to take an early count.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The inch-perfect left hand that deposited Irving Berry onto the deck and out of the fight.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? In addition to being the WBC No. 2 and WBO No. 7, Galahad is the IBF’s mandatory challenger. He would give anyone an awkward night.

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

2. Josh Warrington (ENG)
Record: 30-0 (7) Age: 29 Height: 5ft 7ins
A BIG fan favourite in his hometown of Leeds, Warrington took the traditional route to world honours by gathering English, British, Commonwealth and European belts beforehand. After upsetting Lee Selby via split decision to become IBF champion in 2018, he defied the oddsmakers again that year by unanimously outpointing Carl Frampton. In 2019, he got past Kid Galahad on a split vote and made short work of the outgunned Sofiane Takoucht.

STRENGTHS: Tenacious and tireless, Warrington sets a torrid pace with his controlled aggression and smart pressure fighting behind a tight, high guard.

WEAKNESSES: He hits harder than his record suggests, yet his knockout ratio is still modest at best.

BEST PERFORMANCE: He simply refused to be denied against the classy Frampton.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Kiko Martinez was not on a good run of form but managed to push Warrington, losing only on a majority verdict.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The captivating Frampton fight.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Can Xu is being talked of as a likely opponent, potentially with the full WBA title on the line (if Leo Santa Cruz vacates to remain at super-feather). You would not bet against Warrington becoming a unified champ in this instance.

Josh Warrington

1. Gary Russell Jnr (USA)
Record: 31-1 (18) Age: 31 Height: 5ft 4 1/2ins
LIKE Tugstsogt Nyambayar, whom he beat unanimously four months ago, Russell medalled at the World Championships when he was just 17. Following this bronze in 2005, he qualified for the 2008 Olympics. Unfortunately, he had to withdraw from the Games after fainting prior to the weigh-in. A WBC title-holder since March 2015, he has vanquished the likes of Oscar Escandon and current IBF 130lb ruler Joseph Diaz in defence of his crown.

STRENGTHS: Possessing perhaps the fastest hands in boxing, the southpaw speedster’s flashing jabs are supplemented by crisp counters and nimble head movement.

WEAKNESSES: The Marylander has been criticised for his inactivity, having had only one fight per year since 2015.

BEST PERFORMANCE: He ascended the WBC throne by dismantling the seasoned Jhonny Gonzalez.

WORST PERFORMANCE: There is no shame in losing to the masterful Vasyl Lomachenko, especially on points, but Russell landed only 10 per cent of his attempted shots.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: His wipeout of Roberto Castaneda.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? After struggling to tempt his fellow champions into the ring at featherweight, Russell has stated his intention to jump up two divisions to lightweight.

Gary Russell

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