Junior Featherweight World Champions & Their Championship Fights (122lbs)
Although the weight division had been up and running since 1976, my first 'world' champion would come from a match made between the top-ranked Wifredo Gomez, the WBC champion, and Nicky Perez, the division’s number three man. Gomez, a gold medallist from the 1974 World Championships before turning pro at the end of that year, had put together 26 inside-the-distance wins from 27 contests after starting with a draw. Nicknamed ‘Bazooka’, the heavy-handed Gomez had defended the title he had won from Dong Kyum Yum on 21 May 1977 against Raul Tirado, Royal Kobayashi, Juan Antonio Lopez, Sakad Petchyindee, Leonardo Cruz, Carlos Zarate, Nestor Jimenez, Julio Hernandez and Carlos Mendozo. Although Perez had an excellent record of 41 (24 inside the distance) wins and one draw in 42 contests and had beaten some good men it was a tough ask.
26 October 1979. Wilfredo Gomez w rsc 5 (15) Nicky Perez
Venue: Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, NYC, New York, USA. Recognition: WBC. Referee: Arthur Mercante.
Fight Summary: Despite allowing Perez (120) to dictate the opening two rounds, Gomez (122) went to work in the third and dropped the challenger with a heavy left hook in the next session. Into the fifth Perez was dropped three more times, the last time on the bell, and after the referee decided that he had seen enough he put the latter out of his misery.
3 February 1980. Wilfredo Gomez w rtd 6 (15) Ruben Valdez
Venue: Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Recognition: WBC. Referee: Ferd Hernandez.
Fight Summary: Breaking the record for successive inside-the-distance defences, Gomez (122) once again proved that he was in a different class to his challengers, swarming all over Valdez (121) from the opening bell. Although the crouching Valdez was not floored it was patently obvious that he was completely mastered as Gomez hit him with just about everything, straight rights, uppercuts and left hooks et al, and at one stage landed 30 punches without reply. Having been again badly staggered towards the end of the sixth round, the brave Valdez was wisely retired by his corner during the interval.
22 August 1980. Wilfredo Gomez w rsc 5 (15) Derrik Holmes
Venue: Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Recognition: WBC. Referee: Joey Curtis.
Fight Summary: Down five times prior to the fifth round - once in the third and four times in the fourth - and suffering a broken jaw in the second round, Holmes (120¼) gamely fought on against a champion on top of his game. Somehow making it through to the fifth Holmes was dropped twice more by Gomez (121), who used his famed uppercut and overarm rights to wreak havoc against a now defenceless foe. Proceedings were ended when Holmes' cornermen jumped into the ring, leaving the referee to call a halt on the 2.29 mark.
13 December 1980. Wilfredo Gomez w co 3 (15) Jose Cervantes
Venue: Jai-Alai Fronton, Miami, Florida, USA. Recognition: WBC. Referee: Ismael Quinones-Falu.
Fight Summary: Following two fairly even rounds, Gomez (122) got down to business in the third session, firing right hands in the direction of Cervantes (120½) before finally catching him with a tremendous right cross. Smashed face down on the canvas there was no way the challenger was going to make it and he was counted out with 1.30 on the clock.
27 March 1982. Wilfredo Gomez w rsc 6 (15) Juan Meza
Venue: Playboy Hotel, Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA. Recognition: WBC. Referee: Harold Valan.
Fight Summary: Coming back from an unsuccessful crack at the WBC featherweight title and two catchweight victories, Gomez (121¼) again showed his class and power, especially to the body, when he subjected Meza (120) to a one-sided beating despite a lack of knockdowns. Unable to keep Gomez at bay due to his lack of punch-power and volume the challenger was always under pressure, and at 2.28 of the sixth he was rescued by the referee after he had been driven into a corner and was being pounded non-stop to head and body without reply.
11 June 1982. Wilfredo Gomez w co 10 (15) Juan Antonio Lopez
Venue: Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Recognition: WBC. Referee: Davy Pearl.
Fight Summary: Controlling every round bar the fifth, when the challenger scored well with the left hand, Gomez (121) put Lopez (121) down twice in the first but was unable to repeat the feat until the tenth. By that time Lopez was extremely tired and was ready to go, and after a sustained battering a cracking left to the ribs sent him down to be counted out on the 1.02 mark.
18 August 1982. Wilfredo Gomez w rtd 7 (15) Roberto Rubaldino
Venue: Hiram Bithorn Stadium, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Recognition: WBC. Referee: Isidro Rodriguez.
Fight Summary: No match for the fast moving, hard-punching champion, Rubaldino (122), cut over the left eye and nearing exhaustion, was retired on his stool at the end of the seventh round having complained of low punches. Although Gomez (122) had failed to drop the Mexican he had certainly given him a going-over, his lateral movement, fast jab and powerful body attacks ultimately proving too much for a game foe.
3 December 1982. Wilfredo Gomez w rsc 14 (15) Lupe Pintor
Venue: The Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. Recognition: WBC. Referee: Arthur Mercante.
Fight Summary: In his 17th defence, Gomez (121½) took on the battle-hardened Pintor (121½), and although he looked at times ready to give way he once again proved that the only thing that would defeat him would be the weight-making process. Both men gave it everything and round three was one of the greatest rounds of all time as the action went first one way and then the other. It was certainly Gomez’s toughest defence. From the tenth through to the end of the 13th it appeared that he would lose, but coming back strongly in the 14th he put Pintor down for ‘four’ and then pinned his rival on the ropes before belting him to the canvas again. This time, however, the referee rescued the tough Mexican on the 2.44 mark.
A few months later, on 6 May 1983, Gomez relinquished the WBC title due to continued weight-making difficulties. It was only when the top-ranked Jaime Garza defended his WBC title on 26 May 1984 against Felipe Orozco, who was rated fourth in the division, that a contest would carry my version of the 'world' title again. The heavy-handed Garza had won all 39 contests he had participated in, only two men going the distance, and had beaten Antonio De La Paz, Carmelo Negron and Bobby Berna, the last named in a bout for the vacant WBC title. Having turned pro in 1980, Orozco had scored 11 inside-the-distance wins from 18 winning contests but had been relatively untested.
26 May 1984. Jaime Garza w co 3 (12) Felipe Orozco
Venue: Carlisle Stadium, Miami, Florida, USA. Recognition: WBC. Referee: Tony Perez.
Fight Summary: Despite giving away a four-inch-reach advantage, Garza (121) went straight after the southpaw challenger, looking to hit the body and get off single head shots. The tactics paid off in the third round as Orozco (122), making the mistake of staying on the ropes too long, was caught by a terrific right uppercut which dropped him to be counted out by the third man after just 68 seconds of the session had elapsed.
Garza’s first defence would be against Juan Meza, a man who’d already had an unsuccessful crack at the title. A pro since September 1977, the hard-punching Meza had participated in 46 contests, winning 41 (33 inside the distance) and losing five, but was a big outsider.
3 November 1984. Juan Meza w co 1 (12) Jaime Garza
Venue: Midtown Centre, Kingston, New York, USA. Recognition: WBC. Referee: John LoBianco.
Fight Summary: Defending for the second time, Garza (121½) got off to a flier when a combination of blows put Meza (121½) down inside half a minute. Although Meza got up he was put under a lot of pressure before stunning the crowd when catching the champion with a vicious left hook of his own to force a count-out with just six seconds of the opening round remaining.
19 April 1985. Juan Meza w rsc 6 (12) Mike Ayala
Venue: Inglewood Forum, Los Angeles, California, USA. Recognition: WBC. Referee: John Thomas.
Fight Summary: On the attack from the start, Meza (121½) worked away with both hands to outpunch Ayala (121¾), who was never really in the fight apart from the odd burst of punches. Backed into a neutral corner in the sixth round, the challenger was unable to shake Meza off despite landing a series of left hooks. With blood pouring from his right eye he was put down on one knee before rising and being rescued by the referee at 1.31 of the session.
Lupe Pintor, the former undefeated WBC bantamweight champion, would be Meza’s next challenger having beaten Jorge Lujan, Cleo Garcia and Javier Marquez at the weight. With 53 (41 inside the distance) wins, two draws and seven defeats on his record, although he had been beaten in an earlier crack at the title by Wilfredo Gomez and then by Adriano Arreola he still fancied his chances.
18 August 1985. Lupe Pintor w pts 12 Juan Meza
Venue: Sports Palace, Mexico City, Mexico. Recognition: WBC. Referee: Octavio Meyran.
Scorecards: 115-111, 116-110, 117-110.
Fight Summary: Turning the clock back at the age of 30, Pintor (122) shrugged off two bad cuts to floor Meza (122) three times on his way to landing the win. Twice in the fifth Meza was dropped from long rights, and after doing well to come back he was again dumped by a vicious left hook in the tenth. However, Pintor was so tired at this stage that Meza somehow struggled through to the final bell. On winning, Pintor became a two-weight world champion.
Pintor’s first defence would be against Samart Payakaroon, who had won all of his 11 pro contests and had outpointed Netrnoi Sor Vorasingh over ten rounds in his initial outing in August 1982.
18 January 1986. Samart Payakaroon w co 5 Lupe Pintor
Venue: Hua Mark Indoor Stadium, Bangkok, Thailand. Recognition: WBC. Referee: Arthur Mercante.
Fight Summary: Pintor (125) forfeited the WBC version of the title when he came in over the weight for a defence against Payakaroon (122), the fight going ahead for the vacant title with only Payakaroon able to win it. Never threatening at any stage of the fight, Pintor was cut over the left eye in the fourth before being set up in the fifth by a southpaw right and sent crashing by a big left hook to be counted out on the 1.31 mark.
10 December 1986. Samart Payakaroon w rsc 12 (12) Juan Meza
Venue: Hua Mark Indoor Stadium, Bangkok, Thailand. Recognition: WBC. Referee: Roland Dakin.
Fight Summary: Making his first defence after beating over-the-weight Lupe Pintor, the upright Payakaroon (122) won virtually every round against the reckless Meza (122), who was knocked down in the sixth from a southpaw right and basically given a boxing lesson. Despite Meza being almost stopped on a couple of occasions he kept going until being caught by another right in the 11th, which dropped him. Somehow getting through the session and making it into the final round Meza was then floored by a straight left, and although beating the count he was on unsteady legs when the referee wisely brought matters to a close with just five seconds remaining.
Payakaroon’s next defence would be against Jeff Fenech, the former undefeated IBF bantamweight champion who had moved up a division. An all-out pressure fighter who was relentless in his pursuit of victory, Fenech was undefeated after 15 fights since turning pro in October 1984. With a style well suited to the professional side of the sport, he had beaten Wayne Mulholland, Satoshi Shingaki (2), Jerome Coffee, Daniel Zaragoza and Steve McCrory.
8 May 1987. Jeff Fenech w rsc 4 (12) Samart Payakaroon
Venue: Entertainment Centre, Sydney, Australia. Recognition: WBC. Referee: Arthur Mercante.
Fight Summary: Having moved up from bantam, Fenech (122) produced a terrific display of box-fighting to unhinge Payakaroon (121¾) from his title, despite being handed a count in the first round when off balance. There was no doubting that the Thai was the faster, but Fenech would not leave him alone, chasing his man relentlessly. With the pressure mounting in the fourth the champion was unable to fight back as the punches from head to body took everything out of him, and he was rescued at 2.42 just after hitting the floor, out to the world. On winning, Fenech became a two-weight world champion.
10 July 1987. Jeff Fenech w rsc 5 (12) Greg Richardson
Venue: Entertainment Centre, Sydney, Australia. Recognition: WBC. Referee: Larry Nadayag.
Fight Summary: Winning every round, Fenech (122) proved far superior to the outweighed Richardson (115¾), whose only course of action seemed to be to hold the champion’s left arm every time he was run to ground. All one-way traffic, it was no surprise when Fenech finally caught up with Richardson in the fifth. After being knocked down by a series of head punches, Richardson, cut on the left eye, was rescued by the referee at 1.29 of the session.
16 October 1987. Jeff Fenech w tdec 4 (12) Carlos Zarate
Venue: Hordern Pavilion, Sydney, Australia. Recognition: WBC. Referee: Henry Elesperu.
Scorecards: 40-34, 40-34, 40-34.
Fight Summary: Although winning the first three rounds Fenech (122) did not have it all his own way, the hard-hitting challenger often matching him as both scored with heavy body shots. At this stage one sensed that the fight would not last too long. In the fourth, after the pair went toe-to-toe, a right to the jaw decked Zarate (122) for the mandatory ‘eight’. On the resumption the referee warned Zarate for ‘use of the head’, and immediately prior to the bell a deep gash appeared on Fenech’s cheekbone. It looked to be extremely nasty, and during the interval, with the latter deemed unable to continue, the referee went to the scorecards.
Fenech relinquished the WBC title on 15 December 1987 to challenge for the WBC featherweight crown. It was only when the top-rated Welcome Ncita defended his IBF title against Kennedy McKinney, ranked at number five, that my version of the 'world' title would be on the line once more. Ncita, who had turned pro in 1984 and run up 32 straight wins, was a fast, smart boxer with a good jab-and-move routine, who had won the title from Fabrice Benichou and gone on to make successful defences against Ramon Cruz, Gerardo Lopez, Bebis Rojas (2), Hurley Snead and Jesus Salud. His opponent, McKinney, had turned pro in 1989 after winning a gold medal at the 1988 Olympic Games before going on to beat men such as Jerome Coffee, Bebis Rojas and Paul Banke, while winning the USBA title. With 21 wins and one technical draw on his record, and 13 opponents beaten inside the distance, he had good mobility and an excellent left jab to go with a solid punch.
2 December 1992. Kennedy McKinney w co 11 Welcome Ncita
Venue: Tenda Theatre, Tortoli, Italy. Recognition: IBF. Referee: Steve Smoger.
Fight Summary: From the moment the gong rang it was a spirited battle, with the challenger boxing on the outside using jabs and crosses while Ncita (121¾) concentrated with hooks and body shots. Forcing the pace from the eighth, Ncita unleashed his punches, stunning McKinney (121¼) on a number of occasions, and in the 11th he dropped him on one knee with a right-left. Immediately getting back into the action, McKinney, now carrying a cut on the right eye, went toe-to-toe with Ncita. Despite appearing to come off worse, McKinney suddenly fired off a straight right that caught the South African flush on the jaw and put him down to be counted out at 2.30 of the session.
17 April 1993. Kennedy McKinney w pts 12 Richard Duran
Venue: ARCO Arena, Sacramento, California, USA. Recognition: IBF. Referee: Pat Russell.
Scorecards: 117-111, 116-112, 116-112.
Fight Summary: The hard-hitting challenger gave McKinney (122) all the trouble he could handle in this one, but due to the latter’s adroitness and better boxing he was unable to land a finishing blow. Making a good start, Duran (122) won the first two rounds before being cut over the left eye, an injury McKinney then used to target as he moved ahead with accurate left jabs. Later in the fight the game Duran got to McKinney with several heavy rights to the head, the champion taking them well, and after an even tenth when both tired he got back to his boxing to win handily.
17 July 1993. Kennedy McKinney w rsc 3 Rudy Zavala
Venue: The Pyramid, Memphis, Tennessee, USA. Recognition: IBF. Referee: Chris Wollesen.
Fight Summary: Defending against a dangerous opponent McKinney (121) had to be careful, but he took the first round with jabs and uppercuts and stayed at close quarters in the second, regardless of having a massive reach advantage. The third saw McKinney crack in right after right to drop Zavala (122) three times before the referee called it off on the 2.08 mark. With Zavala only knowing one way to fight when he began to get outpunched his options became limited.
16 October 1993. Kennedy McKinney w pts 12 Jesus Salud
Venue: Caesar’s Palace, Lake Tahoe, Nevada, USA. Recognition: IBF. Referee: Vic Drakulich.
Scorecards: 119-109, 119-109, 118-110.
Fight Summary: Sporting a good reach advantage, McKinney (122) never allowed his challenger to get into the fight, keeping him off balance, cutting him over the right eye in the third, and generally working him over whenever he got close enough. It was not that Salud (122) was poor it being more to do with McKinney having his number, but to his credit the challenger was never completely subdued. As McKinney ducked, weaved and slipped punches before firing off returns, most of which found the target, Salud was as game as they come despite defeat being inevitable.
19 February 1994. Kennedy McKinney w co 5 Jose Rincones
Venue: Carousel Casino Resort, Temba, South Africa. Recognition: IBF. Referee: Stan Christodoulou.
Fight Summary: Boxing lackadaisically for the opening four rounds, the champion merely followed Rincones (121) around, and apart from the latter occasionally jumping in with wild punches that were easily avoided there was barely any action. However, midway during the fifth, after Rincones decided to trade with McKinney (121¾) he paid the price when he was belted by solid rights to the head before being knocked flat on his back to be counted out on the 2.40 mark.
16 April 1994. Kennedy McKinney w pts 12 Welcome Ncita
Venue: Convention Centre, South Padre Island, Texas, USA. Recognition: IBF. Referee: Rafael Ramos.
Scorecards: 117-110, 117-111, 114-114.
Fight Summary: McKinney (122) came through well against the tough Ncita (122), despite being put down by a looping right to the jaw in the fifth after both men had started slowly. It did not take long for McKinney to push on, and having imparted damage to Ncita’s left eye in the sixth, when the eye was closed a round later the champion took over, raking his rival’s head and body with hard and accurate blows. Ncita was still dangerous, occasionally troubling McKinney with heavy blows, but he was unable to alter the course of the fight.
McKinney’s next defence would be against the unranked Vuyani Bungu, who had 23 wins and two defeats, to Fransie Badenhorst and Freddie Norwood, on his record. A strong, hard-working fighter who targeted the body, Bungu came to the ring as the South African champion, having avenged his loss to Badenhorst in a defence.
20 August 1994. Vuyani Bungu w pts 12 Kennedy McKinney
Venue: Carousel Casino Resort, Temba, South Africa. Recognition: IBF. Referee: Stan Christodoulou.
Scorecards: 116-112, 116-112, 117-111.
Fight Summary: Fighting out of a crouch that confused McKinney (122), the superbly conditioned challenger was soon at work on the inside, having negated McKinney’s best weapon - the jab. Although McKinney, his right eye badly swollen, desperately tried to pick it up, by the sixth Bungu (122) was in charge, scoring well with hooks and overarm rights. Despite McKinney rallying in the 11th it was not enough.
19 November 1994. Vuyani Bungu w pts 12 Felix Camacho
Venue: Carousel Casino, Hammanskraal, South Africa: Recognition: IBF. Referee: Clement Martin.
Scorecards: 118-111, 119-110, 117-111.
Fight Summary: With the slick southpaw challenger on the move, in the first two rounds there was very little incident until the third when Bungu (121¾) began to attack the body. That set the pattern of the fight as Camacho (122) boxed on the retreat, while Bungu banged in blows to the body when he could in an attempt to slow his rival down. It was not much of a spectacle, with Camacho running and Bungu often hitting thin air, but it was a successful first defence for the champion.
4 March 1995. Vuyani Bungu w pts 12 Mohammad Nurhuda
Venue: Carousel Casino, Hammanskraal, South Africa. Recognition: IBF. Referee: Clement Martin.
Scorecards: 119-109, 119-109, 118-110.
Fight Summary: Regardless that he started slowly, the champion eventually picked up the pace to score heavily with combination punches as both men came together. By the sixth round, as Bungu (121½) varied his attacks from head to body and mixed up his jabs from the outside, it was obvious that the brave Nurhuda (122) would be lucky to last the distance. That he did with his left eye almost closed was testament to his vast reservoirs of courage.
29 April 1995. Vuyani Bungu w pts 12 Victor Llerena
Venue: FNB Stadium, Johannesburg, South Africa. Recognition: IBF. Referee: Clement Martin.
Scorecards: 118-108, 120-105, 117-111.
Fight Summary: In what turned out to be yet another one-sided contest for Bungu (122), the champion, bobbing and weaving, stayed close to Llerena (121½) who came into the fight with a reputation of being a dangerous puncher. The tactic was to limit the amount of space Llerena had with which to get his heavy shots off. With Bungu picking his punches throughout, Llerena, who had three points deducted for low blows, often threw wild overarm punches that were either blocked or hit thin air, and as the fight neared its conclusion his aggression began to peter out in resignation of defeat.
26 September 1995. Vuyani Bungu w pts 12 Laureano Ramirez
Venue: Carousel Casino, Hammanskraal, South Africa. Recognition: IBF. Referee: Clement Martin.
Scorecards: 117-111, 117-111, 118-111.
Fight Summary: Again, it was not a totally impressive performance from the champion who only fought in flurries and appeared out of sorts at times. After replacing Rafael Del Valle, who had to withdraw, the southpaw Ramirez (122) gave Bungu (121½) plenty of trouble when forcing him to fight on the outside, but lacked the power to do too much damage. Although the stronger Bungu appeared to be going through the motions at times, relying on looping lefts to the body and jabs to get him through, he never looked like losing.
23 January 1996. Vuyani Bungu w pts 12 Johnny Lewus
Venue: Grand Casino, Biloxi, Mississippi, USA. Recognition: IBF. Referee: Fred Steinweinder.
Scorecards: 118-111, 118-112, 120-108.
Fight Summary: Starting aggressively but having little power, the smaller Lewus (122) was soon slowed down by the champion’s jab before being belted by lefts and rights to head and body. He proved to be a tough customer though. Put down in the fourth round from a palpably low blow, after being given time out he tore back into the fray, and it was not until the latter rounds when he tired that Bungu (122) really began to set about him. The final session saw Bungu hit Lewus with every punch in the book before the game American made it to the final bell to loud applause.
15 April 1996. Vuyani Bungu w rsc 2 Pablo Osuna
Venue: Carousel Casino Carpark, Hammanskraal, South Africa. Recognition: IBF. Referee: Stan Christodoulou.
Fight Summary: Starting confidently the southpaw challenger looked to jab, but once Bungu (121½) found his range, countering with lefts and rights to the head, his rival was in trouble before being put down heavily towards the end of the first round. Somehow Osuna (121¼) made it to the bell, but coming out for the second session he was dropped by a right to the jaw almost immediately. Again Osuna got up, but after Bungu put him down for the third time, a left hook doing the damage, the referee called it off on the 39 second mark so that he could receive help.
20 August 1996. Vuyani Bungu w pts 12 Jesus Salud
Venue: Carousel Hotel and Casino, Hammanskraal, South Africa. Recognition: IBF. Referee: Stan Christodoulou.
Scorecards: 117-111, 118-109, 118-110.
Fight Summary: Although the scorecards showed a clear win for the champion, Salud (121), setting a terrific pace, certainly gave him a run for his money while much of the time matching his rival punch for punch. It began with Salud making the fight, and Bungu (121½), who was cut over the left eye in the second round, showing off his counter-punching abilities. With Salud in front at the halfway stage it had been unrelenting, but after Bungu had a big round in the ninth he began to score more freely with solid combination punches to gain the upper hand.
5 April 1997. Vuyani Bungu w pts 12 Kennedy McKinney
Venue: Carousel Casino, Hammanskraal, South Africa. Recognition: IBF. Referee: Stan Christodoulou.
Scorecards: 117-113, 115-113, 113-115.
Fight Summary: Following a quiet opening round Bungu (122) opened up, only for McKinney (121¾) to match him. And while the former was able to use his hand-speed and counters to keep his rival off balance throughout it was never easy. With the champion generally moving too fast for McKinney the latter’s right hand was mainly negated, and although recognising that he had to up the pace over the last two rounds he had left it too late.
Bungu forfeited my version of the 'world' title on 18 April, having failed to meet a top-five rated opponent for over two years. Further to that, a return match between the top-ranked Junior Jones, the WBO champion, and Marco Antonio Barrera, the fourth-rated man in the division, should be seen as carrying the 'world' title. A former WBA bantamweight champion, Jones had taken the WBO junior feather title from Barrera on 22 November 1996 and this would be a return. An elegant, talented boxer with a big right hand, Jones had recorded 43 (26 inside the distance) wins while suffering two losses, whereas Barrera had a similar record of 43 wins and one defeat. Prior to losing to Jones, Barrera had successfully defended the WBO belt, that he had won when beating Daniel Jimenez, against Frankie Toledo, Maui Diaz, Agapito Sanchez, Eddie Croft, Kennedy McKinney, Jesse Benavides, Orlando Fernandez and Jesse Magana.
18 April 1997. Junior Jones w pts 12 Marco Antonio Barrera
Venue: Hilton Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Recognition: WBO. Referee: Mills Lane.
Scorecards: 116-111, 114-113, 114-112.
Fight Summary: As in their first fight Jones (121) made an excellent start when shooting out jabs, but Barrera (122), this time around in the role of challenger, soon came into it with steady body attacks, the fight being even by the seventh. There was never much in it, both having their successes. The last three rounds were intense as the two men each looked for a driving finish, and although many were divided on who had won it was Jones’ extra aggression that was thought to have been the deciding factor.
Rated at number seven, the former IBF champion, Kennedy McKinney, would be Jones’ first challenger. Since losing his old title to Vuyani Bungu back in August 1994, McKinney had first taken a year out before returning in a losing WBO challenge against Barrera and a return with Bungu. In between, McKinney added Johnny Lewus and Nestor Lopez to his list of victims before beating Hector Acero Sanchez for the USBA title and stopping Luigi Camputaro. Coming into the Jones’ fight, his record stood at 32 wins, one technical draw and three defeats.
19 December 1997. Kennedy McKinney w rsc 4 Junior Jones
Venue: Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, NYC, New York, USA. Recognition: WBO. Referee: Wayne Kelly.
Fight Summary: Despite Jones (122), who was cut on the right cheek in the first minute, dominating the first three rounds and having his challenger down for ‘nine’ from a terrific right to the chin in the third, he expended so much energy trying to finish his rival off that he virtually exhausted himself, being in trouble before the bell went. Coming out for the fourth, McKinney (122), firing off a couple of rights quickly put Jones down, and although the referee did not give it as a knockdown it was clear that the latter was done for as he stumbled around the ring. McKinney did not need to be told what he had to do next. Tearing in, a cracking right hand dropped Jones, who somehow got up before tumbling to the floor and being rescued by the referee with 21 seconds of the round remaining.
It was reported on 11 May 1998 that McKinney had been stripped of the title by the WBO after pulling out of a prospective 6 June defence against Richie Wenton, while looking for a featherweight title challenge instead. The next time that my version of the 'world' title was up for grabs came when the top-ranked Erik Morales defended his WBC crown against Wayne McCullough, rated at number five, on 22 October 1999. Having won the WBC title when beating Daniel Zaragoza on 6 September 1997, Morales had successfully defended it against John Lowey, Remigio Molina, Jose Luis Bueno, Junior Jones, Angel Chacon, Juan Carlos Ramirez and Reynante Jamili. With 34 (28 inside the distance) straight wins, Morales was a heavy puncher both up and down. A durable fighter and a former undefeated WBC bantamweight champion, McCullough’s record showed 23 wins and two defeats.
22 October 1999. Erik Morales w pts 12 Wayne McCullough
Venue: Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, Michigan, USA. Recognition: WBC. Referee: Frank Garza.
Scorecards: 118-110, 116-112, 116-112.
Fight Summary: The first man to last the distance against the champion in a defence, McCullough (121¼), finishing with a cut over the left eye to go with a ruptured ear drum, yet again proved to have a great chin and tremendous character as he walked through the head punches to force Morales (121¾) to switch to the body. Although the scoring gave little or no idea of the intensity of the fight, McCullough, who was always in Morales’ face, never budged as the champion picked his power-packed punches skilfully. Always working himself, McCullough may have thrown more than Morales but the quality was always with the champion.
19 February 2000. Erik Morales w pts 12 Marco Antonio Barrera
Venue: Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Recognition: WBC/WBO. Referee: Mitch Halpern.
Scorecards: 114-113, 115-112, 113-114.
Fight Summary: A match made by public demand saw a contest between two champions - Morales (121) representing the WBC and Barrera (121½) the WBO - and at the end of 12 exciting rounds two judges decided that Morales had won. While Morales was the busier, Barrera, swollen and cut down the left side of his face, was the bigger puncher, staggering his rival on several occasions, especially with withering hooks to the body. In the final round, Morales was knocked down according to the referee, but film later showed it to be a slip. It was certainly a tough one to call with most of the onlookers feeling that Barrera had won clearly. Those feelings were borne out when Barrera was reinstated as the WBO champion on 23 February after the organisation refused to accept the decision in Morales’ favour.
On 2 September, Morales relinquished the WBC version of the title to fight in a higher weight class. Following that, my version of the 'world' title became available again after Paulie Ayala beat Clarence Adams, who had been recognised as the best man in the weight division by The Ring magazine on 4 August 2001. The fight had come about after Adams, who had 41 wins, three draws, including one of the technical classification, and three losses on his slate, had decided to meet Ayala, the current world bantamweight champion, rather than defend the WBA junior featherweight title he had won from Nestor Garza and successfully defended against Andres Fernandez and Ivan Alvarez. Ayala was a clever southpaw who was extremely astute tactically and could rough it up with the best of them if needed. Coming to the ring with 33 wins and one defeat on his slate, among the men he had defeated were Mario Diaz, Ivan Alvarez, Cuahtemoc Gomez, Johnny Tapia, Johnny Bredahl and Hugo Dianza.
23 February 2002. Paulie Ayala w pts 12 Clarence Adams
Venue: Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Recognition: The Ring. Referee: Kenny Bayless.
Scorecards: 118-110, 117-111, 118-110.
Fight Summary: Shooting out southpaw jabs from the beginning Ayala (122) made a better start than previously, and with Adams (121½) boxing far too defensively he slipped further and further behind. It was clear at the two-thirds stage that Adams needed to start taking the fight to Ayala, but while he connected with some good shots here and there it was not sustained. Disappointingly, the fight had not been a patch on their earlier go.
When Ayala moved up in weight to meet Erik Morales on 16 November 2002, my version of the 'world' title was automatically vacated. The next it was available was 3 December 2005 when the third-ranked Israel Vazquez, the IBF champion, met the division’s top man, Oscar Larios, the WBC title holder, in a unification bout which also carried The Ring Championship Belt. While the heavy-handed Vazquez brought 38 wins, 27 of them being by the short route, and three losses to the party, Larios had 56 wins, one technical draw and three defeats on his slate. Although Vazquez had been stopped by Larios in a fight for the WBC ‘interim’ title back in 2002 he had gone on to become the IBF champion after beating Jose Luis Valbuena, and had defended the belt against Artyom Simonyan and Armando Guerrero. The more experienced Larios had won the WBC title when defeating Willie Jorrin, and had made successful defences against Shigeru Nakazato (2), Kozo Ishii, Napapol Sor Rungvisai, Nedal Hussein and Wayne McCullough (2).
3 December 2005. Israel Vazquez w rsc 3 Oscar Larios
Venue: Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Recognition: IBF/WBC/The Ring. Referee: Tony Weeks.
Fight Summary: Even though Larios, the world’s number one, was ruled out of contesting Vazquez’s IBF title as he failed that body’s ruling on weight gain following the official weigh-in, with the third-ranked Vazquez (121) winning he picked up Larios’ WBC crown. The fight itself saw Larios (120½) decked after half a minute, courtesy of a left hook to the jaw, but getting up and going on to win the second round when boxing well on the outside. Although right back in the frame, disaster struck for Larios in the third when a right-left combination ripped a deep gash over his left eye and led to the referee stopping the contest in Vazquez’s favour at 2.52 of the session after consulting the doctor.
Vazquez forfeited the IBF title on 19 April 2006 when failing to agree to a title defence.
10 June 2006. Israel Vazquez w rsc 4 Ivan Hernandez
Venue: Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA. Recognition: WBC/The Ring. Referee: Earl Morton.
Fight Summary: Fighting in a controlled fashion, Vazquez (122) continually pressured Hernandez (122), who put up game resistance before being cut badly on the bridge of his nose in the fourth. Having been beaten to the punch throughout, Hernandez lacked the power to take Vazquez out, and after the doctor had taken a good look at the damaged nose at the end of the session he advised the referee to halt the contest.
16 September 2006. Israel Vazquez w rsc 10 Jhonny Gonzalez
Venue: MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Recognition: WBC/The Ring. Referee: Kenny Bayless.
Fight Summary: Despite dropping the opening six rounds and being decked twice by left hook counters, in the fourth and sixth, the champion came right back in the seventh when flooring Gonzalez (121) with a solid right to the head. From thereon in it was all Vazquez (122), his right eye damaged in the third failing to stop his forward march, and in the tenth he sent the tiring Gonzalez down from a three-punch combination. Although getting to his feet before the count was over, when the referee saw Gonzalez's corner looking for him to rescue their man he did just that, the finish being timed at 2.09. Interestingly, all three judges had Gonzalez ahead up to that point.
Vazquez would next defend against Rafael Marquez, the current IBF bantamweight champion, who had 36 wins and three losses on his record. The brother of Juan Manuel Marquez had won the above title from Tim Austin and had defended it against Mauricio Pastrana (2), Pete Frissina, Heriberto Ruiz, Ricardo Vargas and Silence Mabuza (2) before chancing his arm in a higher weight division.
3 March 2007. Rafael Marquez w rtd 7 Israel Vazquez
Venue: Home Depot Centre, Carson, California, USA. Recognition: WBC/The Ring. Referee: Raul Caiz Jnr.
Fight Summary: Vazquez (121¾) came up against a hardy opponent in Marquez (121½) who took the fight to him from the opening bell and made life difficult. Having shaded the first and second, Marquez then ran into a thunderous left hook to the jaw in the third that sent him to the floor, and although he made it to his feet he was shaky for the rest of the session. From thereon in it was almost punch for punch as both men gave it their all, but at the end of the fifth it was clear that Vazquez was having trouble with his nose. Although going well in the sixth, Vazquez was retired at the end of the seventh with a badly broken nose. Now a two-weight world champion, Marquez relinquished the IBF bantamweight title on 16 March and was booked to meet Vazquez in a return contest once it was known that nose had been repaired successful.
4 August 2007. Israel Vazquez w rsc 6 Rafael Marquez
Venue: Dodge Arena, Hidalgo, Texas, USA. Recognition: WBC/The Ring. Referee: Lupe Garcia.
Fight Summary: Having lost the WBC title to Marquez (121) in his previous fight, this time around Vazquez (121) turned in a great performance to regain them with a stoppage at 1.16 of the sixth after another great contest between the pair. There was never that much between them, Vazquez using his jab to move inside with left hooks while Marquez hit back with a whole range of shots. Coming into the fourth both men were cut on their right eyes, and after going toe-to-toe in the fifth Vazquez went to the floor in what was ruled a slip. The pace was relentless. In the sixth it was Marquez's turn to be dropped when a combination of blows finished off with a cracking left hook to the jaw dumped him, and although he regained his feet and was allowed to box on the referee gave him every chance before calling it off.
1 March 2008. Israel Vazquez w pts 12 Rafael Marquez
Venue: Home Depot Centre, Carson, California, USA. Recognition: WBC/The Ring. Referee: Pat Russell.
Scorecards: 114-111, 113-112, 111-114.
Fight Summary: Meeting for the third time, in what was another brilliant fight, the champion came from behind to win by a split decision. Both men scored knockdowns, Marquez (121½) in the fourth following two cracking rights to the head and Vazquez (122) in the 12th when his rival was held up by the ropes. In between the knockdowns was a points deduction for Marquez in the tenth when he went low once too often and plenty of tremendous action as the fight swung to and fro. There were so many thrilling rounds that it would be difficult to describe in so few words, but there was no doubting that this would go down in boxing history as one of the great fights of modern times. At the final bell, both men were suspended for 60 days by the Californian Boxing Commission on medical grounds, Vazquez carrying cuts on his eyes which would require 30 stitches, as well as damaging ligaments in his left knee.
Vazquez was stripped of the WBC title on 3 January 2009 when unable to make a defence following retina surgery. Meanwhile, The Ring magazine continued to recognise Vazquez as their champion until 1 June 2009 when it became clear that he would be fighting in a higher weight division. Further to Vazquez moving up in weight, Celestino Caballero, the IBF/WBA title holder, should also be seen as holding my version of the 'world' title from 1 June 2009. Having turned pro in 1998 the tall Caballero had racked up 32 (22 inside the distance) wins against two defeats, and had become the WBA champion when beating Somsak Sithchatchawal. Following five successful defences, against Ricardo Castillo, Jorge Lacierva, Mauricio Pastrana, Lorenzo Parra and Elvis Mejia, he unified the WBA and IBF titles when beating Steve Molitor before turning back Jeffrey Mathebula.
29 August 2009. Celestino Caballero w rtd 7 Francisco Leal
Venue: Calafia Bullring, Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico. Recognition: IBF/WBA. Referee: Rafael Ramos.
Fight Summary: Caballero (121½) started fast when having his southpaw opponent down following a solid right to the head before handing out a beating for round after round. The overmatched Leal (121½) was always trying to get inside but was denied the room by the lanky champion, who continually battered him with lefts and rights. The fight came to a conclusion when Leal was retired by his corner at the end of the seventh. Sadly, Leal passed away on 22 October 2013 from injuries sustained in a contest against Raul Hirales three days earlier.
Caballero handed in his WBA ‘super’ title when moving up to featherweight on 10 December 2010, an action that also saw my version of the 'world' title vacated. The next time it was up for grabs was when Nonito Donaire, the WBO champion, met the IBF’s Jeffrey Mathebula (26 wins, two draws and three defeats) in a unification battle. Mathebula had come back from his defeat at the hands of Celestino Caballero to win the IBF title from Takalani Ndlovu before taking on the WBO champion, Donaire in his next contest. With 28 (18 inside the distance) wins and one loss on his slate, the skilful, hard-hitting Donaire had been an undefeated IBF flyweight and WBC/WBO bantamweight champion before beating Wilfredo Vazquez Jnr for the IBF/WBO junior featherweight belts in his previous contest.
7 July 2012. Nonito Donaire w pts 12 Jeffrey Mathebula
Venue: Home Depot Centre, Carson, California, USA. Recognition: IBF/WBO. Referee: Pat Russell.
Scorecards: 119-108, 118-109, 117-110.
Fight Summary: In a match that involved the unification of the IBF and WBO titles, the WBO champion, Donaire (121½), outscored the lanky Mathebula (121¾), representing the IBF, by a wide margin of points, the latter winning two rounds at most. But because Donaire did not take advantage of opportunities and was happy to box at his own pace many of the rounds were very close. Although Donaire dropped Mathebula with a solid left hook near the end of the fourth he failed to hammer his advantage home, being happy to get 12 rounds under his belt.
Donaire handed in his IBF Belt two days prior to defending the WBO title against Toshiaki Nishioka in a contest that was supported by The Ring magazine.
13 October 2012. Nonito Donaire w rsc 9 Toshiaki Nishioka
Venue: Home Depot Centre, Carson, California, USA. Recognition: WBO/The Ring. Referee: Raul Caiz.
Fight Summary: When reeling off the opening seven rounds and knocking Nishioka (121¾) down in the sixth with a solid left uppercut, Donaire (121½) showed his boxing prowess against a top-class southpaw challenger. Although Nishioka came back strongly in the eighth, after being dropped in the ninth by a straight right to the chin and staggering up the referee stopped the contest at 1.54 of the session. The referee's decision, if needed, was endorsed for him when Nishioka's corner threw the towel into the ring.
15 December 2012. Nonito Donaire w rsc 3 Jorge Arce
Venue: Toyota Centre, Houston, Texas, USA. Recognition: WBO/The Ring. Referee: Laurence Cole.
Fight Summary: Donaire (121½) went on the front foot immediately, dropping Arce (122) in the second with a left-right, which on closer inspection was seen to be a shove rather than a punch. In the third, having taken the fight to Donaire, the challenger was floored by a right to the temple, and on getting up he was quickly smashed down again by a left hook that landed right on the button. With just one second of the session remaining, the referee immediately called the fight off to allow Arce to be tended to by the medics.
The WBA’s Guillermo Rigondeaux, who was unbeaten in 11 contests, would be the next man to take on Donaire. A brilliant box-fighting southpaw with excellent evasive skills, Rigondeaux had won the WBA title in his ninth fight, beating Rico Ramos, and had gone on to make successful defences against Teon Kennedy and Robert Marroquin. Turning pro in America at the age of 29 came about after he had won seven Cuban titles and twice been an Olympic and World champion.
13 April 2013. Guillermo Rigondeaux w pts 12 Nonito Donaire
Venue: Radio City Music Hall, Manhattan, NYC, New York, USA. Recognition: WBA/WBO/The Ring. Referee: Benjy Esteves Jnr.
Scorecards: 116-111, 115-112, 114-113.
Fight Summary: Up against Donaire (121½), the holder of the WBO title, Rigondeaux (121½), the WBA champion, excelled himself when putting on a great display of boxing. Starting fast, getting in and out before Donaire could respond, the Cuban southpaw then began to exhibit great defensive skills when avoiding follow-ups. Although Donaire began to pick up points when coming down the straight he was unable to land more than one punch at a time as Rigondeaux's defence held firm. Eventually Donaire's pressure began to count when having Rigondeaux down twice in the tenth, once from a slip and then a left hook to the jaw. But fighting on to the final bell, damaging Donaire's right eye in the process, Rigondeaux won the last two sessions to make sure of the verdict.
7 December 2013. Guillermo Rigondeaux w pts 12 Joseph Agbeko
Venue: Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA. Recognition: WBA/WBO/The Ring. Referee: Benjy Esteves.
Scorecards: 120-108, 120-108, 120-108.
Fight Summary: The southpaw champion once more showed his skills to good effect when outboxing the 36-year-old Agbeko (121½) for round after round in what became a boring spectacle for many. It was not that Agbeko was poor it was because Rigondeaux (121) not only had great defensive ability but was also too powerful for the game Ghanaian, who failed to win a round on all three judges' scorecards. The fight stats showed that Agbeko landed just 48 punches in the contest, being taken apart by jabs and hard lefts from distance.
19 July 2014. Guillermo Rigondeaux w co 1 Sod Kokietgym
Venue: Cotai Arena, Venetian Resort, Macao, SAR China. Recognition: WBA/WBO/The Ring. Referee: Mark Nelson.
Fight Summary: Formerly known as Sod Looknongyangtoy, the challenger, now named Sod Kokietgym (122), only lasted 104 seconds as Rigondeaux (121½) set about him with vigour. After a clash of heads had dropped Kokietgym, having appealed to the referee without success the latter got up before being sent down again from a cracking left-right to the jaw. Never looking likely to find his feet, Kokietgym was counted out in what was a match-up of southpaws.
31 December 2014. Guillermo Rigondeaux w rtd 11 Hisashi Amagasa
Venue: Bodymaker Coliseum, Osaka, Japan. Recognition: WBA/WBO/The Ring. Referee: Michael Ortega.
Fight Summary: Despite boxing well, Rigondeaux (121¾) nearly came unstuck in this one. Up against the lanky Amagasa (121¾) the Cuban southpaw started as well as ever when showcasing his skill and hitting power, but he was unable to drop the challenger early on even though he landed heavily at times. This was illustrated in the fifth when Rigondeaux blasted Amagasa into the ropes, only for the latter to come back fighting hard. With the crowd right behind him, in the seventh Amagasa surprised all and sundry when dropping Rigondeaux, having caught him with a crunching straight right to the jaw, before repeating the trick after he was back on his feet. Almost floored again in the eighth, Rigondeaux recovered somewhat to drop the tough Amagasa in the tenth with a solid left that followed a burst of heavy blows from both hands. Despite continuing to show great resolve, with both of his eyes badly swollen, Amagasa's corner retired their man at the end of the 11th.
Rigondeaux was stripped of his WBO title on 29 October 2015 due to inactivity, and a day later was classed as 'champion in recess' by the WBA after the body had rejected Cesar Seda as a world championship opponent. Finally, having not defended against a top-five man for almost three years, on 9 February 2016 Rigondeaux forfeited his hold on the Ring Championship Belt. Just under three weeks later, Carl Frampton’s next defence of the IBF title would be against Scott Quigg, the WBA champion, in a contest that would involve my version of the 'world' title. Neither man had been beaten, with Frampton on 21 (14 inside the distance) wins and Quigg having 31 wins and two draws, one of them technical, on his record. While Quigg had been handed the WBA belt after Guillermo Rigondeaux had been stripped, Frampton had beaten Kiko Martinez to win the IBF title and had made successful defences against Chris Avalos and Alejandro Gonzalez. Both men were good punchers and there was plenty at stake.
27 February 2016. Carl Frampton w pts 12 Scott Quigg
Venue: The Arena, Manchester, England. Recognition: IBF/WBA. Referee: Ernie Sharif.
Scorecards: 116-112, 116-112, 113-115.
Fight Summary: With Quigg (121¼) defending the WBA title he inherited from Guillermo Rigondeaux up against the IBF champion, Frampton (121¼), in an all British clash, the latter was handed a split decision after a disappointing fight. Following a cautious start, once Quigg's jaw was broken in the fourth it was all uphill for him. Taking full advantage of Quigg's misfortune, Frampton bossed all rounds coming into the eighth, a round in which Quigg finally and bravely picked up the pace when winning the next two sessions. Although Frampton came back strongly in the tenth it was all Quigg in the 11th as he made a desperate attempt to turn things around, but it was not to be. A disconsolate Quigg would be out of the ring for several months due to the nature of the injury, while Frampton would go on to greater things.
Frampton forfeited the WBA version of the title on 7 April after not agreeing to a defence against their mandatory challenger, Guillermo Rigondeaux, and in order to take a fight with Leo Santa Cruz for the WBA featherweight title, he handed in his IBF belt on 28 April. My version of the 'world' title would next be up for grabs when Daniel Roman, the WBA champion, was matched against T. J. Doheny, the IBF titleholder, in a unification battle. Having been appointed champion by the WBA on 2 January 2018, Roman had successfully defended the belt against Ryo Matsumoto, Moises Flores and Gavin McDonnell. Prior to the contest, Roman’s record stood at 26 wins, one draw and two defeats, while Doheny, a southpaw, was on 21 (15 inside the distance) wins. Doheny had won the IBF title when beating Ryosuke Iwasa and had stopped Ryohei Takahashi in a defence.
26 April 2019. Daniel Roman w pts 12 T. J. Doheny
Venue: Inglewood Forum, Los Angeles, California, USA. Recognition: IBF/WBA. Referee: Raul Caiz.
Scorecards: 116-110, 116-110, 113-113.
Fight Summary: In a battle between the WBA champion, Daniel Roman (121¼), and the IBF’s T. J. Doheny (121¾), it was the former who came through by dint of a majority decision. After dropping the opening session, Roman came back with a bang in the second when dropping the Irish-born Australian southpaw with a solid left hook to the jaw. Refusing to fight his opponent’s fight, Doheny continued to use his speed and skill to hold up the oncoming Roman despite being caught here and there. Doheny’s best moments came in the seventh when he put Roman down, only for it to be called a slip, and by the end of the session it was the latter who was in the ascendancy. With his features becoming more and more bloodied and being slowed down by body shots, Doheny was badly hurt in the ninth before being dropped in the 11th by a left uppercut. With blood pouring from his nose, and thought to be suffering damage to his ribs, Doheny bravely gave it his best shot in the 12th before going down on the cards.
Roman's next defence would be against Murodjon Akhmadaliev, who had been a pro for just 18 months. Little was known about Akhmadaliev (121¼), other than he was a southpaw who had just seven fights to his name, six of them finishing inside the distance. The fight had been due to take place in September 2019, but had to be postponed due to the champion injuring his right shoulder.
30 January 2020. Murodjon Akhmadaliev w pts 12 Daniel Roman
Venue: Meridian Island Gardens Arena, Miami, Florida, USA. Recognition: IBF/WBA. Referee: Frank Gentile.
Scorecards: 115-113, 115-113, 113-115.
Fight Summary: The fight had been due to take place in September 2019, but had to be postponed due to the champion injuring his right shoulder. In a fight where both men showed they belonged at the highest level, although Akhmadaliev had the power and hurt Roman (121½) at times the latter shook off heavy blows to come back with both hands. At the final bell it could have gone either way, but it was the Uzbek who took a split decision.
3 April 2021. Murodjon Akhmadaliev w rsc 5 Ryosuke Iwasa
Venue: Humo Arena, Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Recognition: IBF/WBA. Referee: Yuri Koptsev.