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Analysis: The super-featherweight division

Miguel Bercelt super-featherweight
Matt Christie examines super-featherweight, a division that has one of the sport’s best kept secrets atop it

10. Jono Carroll (IRE)
Record: 18-1-1 (4) Age: 28 Height: 5ft 7ins
The owner of one of the most impressive beards in boxing, Dubliner Carroll cemented his world class status in March when he dished out a one-sided and career-ending beating to Scott Quigg. The Matchroom-promoted southpaw, trained by Danny Vaughn and part of the MTK management stable, broke through in 2017 with a stirring victory over John Quigley in Belfast before giving then-IBF boss Tevin Farmer a taxing time in their 12-rounder, losing on points, in 2019.

STRENGTHS: His energy and accurate body-punching makes him a nightmarish proposition.

WEAKNESSES: He’s the first to admit that he lacks one-punch power.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Carroll looked superb against Quigg though the headlines were stolen by Scott’s subsequent retirement.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Guillaume Frenois was able to out-box Carroll during periods of their 12-round draw.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: Carroll twice deck Quigley only for the Scouser to get up and fight back in a rousing tussle.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Carroll has good connections and will likely get another chance at an alphabet strap. But he’ll need to fill the room he has for improvement if he’s to win.

Jono Carroll
Mark Robinson.

9. Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (RUS)
Record:
15-0 (12) Age: 25 Height: 5ft 8 1/2 ins
Born in Tajikistan, where he would win three national amateur titles, Rakhimov is a technically sound pressure fighter with heavy hands. Yet he was at the centre of a scandal in October last year when performance enhancing drugs and paraphernalia were found in his hotel room after his come-from-behind eight-round win over Azinga Fuzile in South Africa. The excuse? They belonged to his manager, Aleksy Titov, who was using them to recover from a bout of the flu. Call us cynical, but that’s far from an open-and-shut case.

STRENGTHS: His relentless forward motion, while throwing hefty hooks and uppercuts, has overwhelmed all of his professional rivals so far.

WEAKNESSES: Crude rather than cute, Rakhimov has grown too reliant on brute force.

BEST PERFORMANCE: The beatdown of durable veteran Malcolm Klassen in 2017.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Though he solved the problems presented by Fuzile last year, he was out-boxed in the early going and showed little versatility.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: Despite all of the above, Rakhimov-Azile was an entertaining scrap.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Highly ranked by the WBC and IBF. He’d start as underdog in title shots but his stamina and punch output will make him a live one.

8. Masayuki Ito (JPN)
Record: 26-2-1 (14) Age: 29 Height: 5ft 8 1/2ins
The Tokyo man turned professional in 2009 but injuries sustained in a car accident kept him out of the ring for a year after winning his debut. He partook in Japan’s Rookie of the Year tournament twice, winning the featherweight competition at the second time of asking in 2012. He furthered his education against local rivals before securing a shot at the vacant WBO super-featherweight strap in 2018. Victory over Christopher Diaz made him champion, but he lost the title to Jamel Herring the following year.

STRENGTHS: Fast hands. His lead left hook to the body – though underused – and his right cross upstairs.

WEAKNESSES: Though he’s more boxer than puncher, he can be drawn into exchanging.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Was thoroughly dominant when forcing the previously unbeaten Evgeny Chuprakov to retire on his stool after six.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Held to a 10-round draw by Rikki Naito in 2015.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The victory over Diaz was a thriller. Check out the peach of a right hand he used to deck his man in the fourth.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Remains to be seen where his future lies. He weighed 134 1/2lbs for victory over Ruben Manakane in his most recent bout.

TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP via Getty Images

7. Andrew Cancio (USA)
Record: 21-5-2 (16) Age: 31 Height: 5ft 6in
The hard-hitting Cancio, a former secondary WBA belt-holder and big ticket-seller in California, parted company with Golden Boy Promotions last year after accusing them of not getting behind him. Cancio is no stranger to disillusionment. In 2016, he retired after losing to Joseph Diaz, citing a lack of opportunities but he returned 18 months later and in 2019 he scored an upset win over Albert Machado. He repeated the victory before losing to Rene Alvarado (a fighter he knocked out in 2015) in November. In January, he was signed by Top Rank.

STRENGTHS: A fiery infighter. His left hook to the body might be his best weapon.

WEAKNESSES: Prone to cuts and not difficult to hit. Be interesting to see what new coach Joe Goossen brings.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Hard to look beyond the victory over Machado, particularly when one considers he was juggling training with his full-time job as a gas worker in the build-up.

WORST PERFORMANCE: The recent defeat to Alvarado in seven rounds.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: Under The Hand Wraps: Andrew Cancio tells the story of his bullish attitude, in and out of the ring.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He’ll start as favourite against Alvarado in their rematch but, as this division has proved recently, odds don’t count for much.

6. Leo Santa Cruz (MEX)
Record: 37-1-1 (19) Age: 31 Height: 5ft 7 1/2ins
Still regarded among the best fighters in the planet, pound for pound, Santa Cruz is yet to prove his worth at super-feather despite winning the WBA title. A fearsome force at bantam, super-bantam and feather, Santa Cruz’s lone win at 130lbs came against Miguel Flores, who was not exactly regarded as a world beater.

STRENGTHS: An accurate and high-volume puncher to head and body. Can box and bang with the best of them.

WEAKNESSES: Even in the lower weights, when he often towered over his rivals, he would get drawn into exchanges on the inside and thus sacrifice that advantage. Furthermore, in the bigger weight class, he is not always going to be the taller man.

BEST PERFORMANCE: To rebound from his only loss to Frampton in the summer of 2016 and win the immediate rematch the following January spoke volumes about Santa Cruz.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Failed to impress in his super-featherweight debut against Flores.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The first fight with Abner Mares in 2015.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Boxers who rise up through the lower weights often go too far while chasing the big money. One wonders if Santa Cruz has done exactly that.

leo santa cruz super-featherweight
Stephanie Trapp/Showtime

5. Tevin Farmer (USA)
Record: 30-5-1 (6) Age: 29 Height: 5ft 6ins
Farmer was stopped in his professional debut and won just two of his next four. But his self-belief shone through. The Philadelphian believed in himself from the start and such positivity came to fruition when he won the vacant IBF strap with victory over the fading Billy Dib in 2017. He defended four times before losing the trophy to Joseph Diaz in January.

STRENGTHS: A slick southpaw and a believer in the ‘hit and don’t get hit’ philosophy. Even so, he abandoned such tactics against Diaz.

WEAKNESSES: Not so much a weakness but a concern: In the closing stages of his loss to Diaz, Farmer seemed to be suffering from motor tics where he would blink and his head would move back sharply without taking a shot. One hopes he gets comprehensively tested before fighting again.

BEST PERFORMANCE: The 2019 points victory over Jono Carroll.

WORST PERFORMANCE: The only way was up after he lost his debut to Oscar Santana inside four rounds.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The 2017 12-rounder with Kenichi Ogawa – it is still a mystery how Farmer did not get that decision.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? It had been reported that he struggled to make weight for Diaz so a move up in weight might beckon.

Tevin Farmer super-featherweight
Ed Mullholland/Matchroom USA

4. Joseph Diaz (USA)
Record:
31-1 (15) Age: 27 Height: 5ft 6in
After reaching the last eight of the bantamweight tournament at the 2011 World amateur championships in Baku where he was beaten by Lazaro Alvarez, Diaz had the misfortune to meet the Cuban again in the second round at the Olympics the following year. His lone loss as a professional was to another amateur standout, countryman Gary Russell Jnr, who outpointed Diaz while defending the WBC featherweight title in 2018. Since then, the southpaw moved up in weight and took Tevin Farmer’s IBF 130lbs belt in January.

STRENGTHS: A very effective counter puncher who applies clever combinations to head and body.

WEAKNESSES: He can get marked up quickly in fights and is prone to getting cut.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Though Farmer’s decision to trade was an unexpected gift, Diaz highlighted his versatility while convincingly defeating the Philadelphian.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Did not impress while labouring to victory over Jesus Cuadro in September 2019.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The body shot that folded up Victor Terrazas in 2013.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? “JoJo” can blow hot and cold but has skills to trouble all above him. There are doubts about his mindset at top level, though.

Joseph Diaz
Lina Baker/Instant Boxing

3. Jamel Herring (USA)
Record
: 21-2 (10) Age: 34 Height: 5ft 10ins
The 2012 Olympian seemed to lose his way as a professional after suffering defeat to Denis Shafikov in 2016 and Ladarius Miller 13 months later. However, Herring is starting to fulfil his potential after dropping down from lightweight (even though he’s only two inches shy of 6ft) to super-featherweight in 2018. The portsider outscored Masayuki Ito for the WBO title last May and defended it successfully when he beat Lamont Roach in November.

STRENGTHS: Elusive and tall, he makes good use of his wingspan when boxing from distance. He possesses tremendous heart, also.

WEAKNESSES: The southpaw can leave his long right arm hanging for too long – he’s susceptible to the left counter. At 34, it’s a stretch to suggest he’s going to improve.

BEST PERFORMANCE: The Marine veteran, who served two tours of duty in Iraq, defeated Ito and then paid tribute to his late daughter, who should have been 10 years old on the day of his coronation.

WORST PERFORMANCE: When he was dropped and stopped by Shafikov.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The ESPN short that documents Herring’s inspirational tale.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He’s beatable, no question, but the courage and desire he has makes him a danger to all.

Jamel Herring
Mikey Williams/Top Rank

2. Rene Alvarado (NIC)
Record:
32-8 (21) Age: 31 Height: 5ft 7ins
Considered little more than a gatekeeper, Alvarado turned his fortunes around when he surprised Denis Shafikov in 2017 but it was his most recent showing – breaking down Andrew Cancio in seven six months ago – that really surprised. Don’t be fooled by the WBA belt he wears (it’s one of those spurious secondary baubles) but the robust Nicaraguan can earn well from it. A rematch with the popular Cancio awaits later in the year.

STRENGTHS: He’s exceptionally durable and taking backward steps is an alien notion to him.

WEAKNESSES: Not exactly elusive, Alvarado can be hit and outboxed. His skin, which stretches over his jagged features, rarely ends a bout without tearing.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Unquestionably the rags to riches win over fan-favourite Cancio.

WORST PERFORMANCE: He lost to Cancio in 2015 in his only stoppage loss when he was dropped before a cut ruled him out of action.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: His 2017 tangle with Yuriorkis Gamboa. Though beaten over 10 rounds, he showed his spirit by decking the Cuban in the last.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? This is as high as it gets, one suspects. He should be complimented for getting this far and enjoy it while he can.

1. Miguel Berchelt (MEX)
Record:
37-1 (33) Age: 28 Height: 5ft 7ins
Berchelt is on the cusp of the pound for pound top 10 after a ferocious few years. In truth, he might already be worthy of a spot. A sublime fighter, Berchelt is highly skilled, versatile and oozes intelligence inside the ring. Outside the ring, a 2012 arrest for domestic abuse blots his copybook. At just 28, he appears to be reaching his peak. He has been WBC super-featherweight champion since 2017.

STRENGTHS: Where to start? Perhaps his best attribute is his ability to close the distance and craft astonishingly accurate combinations.

WEAKNESSES: He was caught cold by Luis Florez in 2014 though few question marks have arisen over his chin since.

BEST PERFORMANCE: The manner in which he broke down a peak Francisco Vargas in 2017.

WORST PERFORMANCE: That aforementioned first round loss to Florez.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: Take your pick. Wins over Vargas and Takashi Miura highlight his attacking capabilities and his most recent triumph – over Jason Sosa – showcase his continued improvement.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Head and shoulders above the rest – or so it seems. A showdown with Leo Santa Cruz would be a must-see.

Miguel Berchelt
Tom Hogan/Hogan Photography/Golden Boy Promotions

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