As well as the champions at 130lbs we also have some interesting contenders in the division, with a mix of established names and emerging hopefuls.
Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (15-0, 12)
IBF mandatory contender is Tajik born Russian Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov, an aggressive, raw fighter with heavy hands and brutal body shots. He's mostly fought in Russia where he has notched solid wins over Malcolm Klassen and Robinson Castellanos, though did travel outside of Russia for his last bout, an 8th round TKO win over Azinga Fuzile. Rakhimov can certainly be outboxed, but he's a hard man to beat with his power, toughness and physicality.
Oscar Valdez (27-0, 21)
Former WBO Featherweight champion Oscar Valdez has abandoned the 126lb division and began his pursuit of a second divisional world title as he's moved up to 130lbs. On paper this looks like a move that may not be the best for the Mexican. At 126lbs Valdez was a brutal, explosive boxer-puncher but he didn't look good at all in his Featherweight debut, where he was dropped by Adam Lopez and given a real test. At 29 years old we understand him outgrowing the Featherweight division, but we do wonder whether he can replicate his success at 130lbs.
Andrew Cancio (21-5-2, 16)
American puncher Andrew Cancio lost the WBA "regular" title last time out, when he was stopped by Rene Alvarado. That bout saw Cancio lose the WBA title and later leave Golden Boy Promotions under a cloud dissatisfaction, following a very public falling out between fighter and promoter. Cancio has since signed with Top Rank and is likely to get opportunities under Bob Arum who has several top names in the division under his promotional banner. Although not the most talented fighter out there the 31 year old can punch and a bout between him and some of the other contenders in the division would be fantastic to watch.
Joseph Diaz (30-1, 15)
Joseph "Jo Jo" Diaz is a former is a 2012 Olympian who has banged on the door a few times, albeit at Featherweight. He lost a competitive bout in 2018 to Gary Russell Jr, then beat Jesus M Rojas, but failed to make weight. Since the Rojas mishap Diaz has moved up to the Featherweight and looked a bit hot and cold. He looked solid against Freddy Fonseca but struggled with journeyman Jesus Cuadro. He'll be getting his first crack at a Super Featherweight world title at the end of the month, when he takes on IBF champion Tevin Farmer. For Farmer the bout is a chance to legitimise his much maligned reign whilst Diaz will be looking to prove he's world class.
Muhammadkhuja Yaqubov (15-0, 9)
Another Tajik born Russian in the division is 24 year old Muhammadkhuja Yaqubov. He's not on the same level of development as Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov, despite the two men having the same number of bouts, but he is another very talented, very aggressive and very fun to watch fighter. In recent years Yaqubov has beaten the likes of Ernie Sanchez, Emanuel Lopez, Jhon Gemino and Abraham Montoya. The unbeaten Yaqubov is really fun to watch but will need to alter his style if he's to make the most of his abilities, and is likely to take longer to get into the mix than some of the other contenders in the division.
Carl Frampton (27-2, 15)
Former Super Bantamweight champion Carl Frampton singled his intent to be a player at 130lbs last year, when he took on Tyler McCreary and took a clear win over the previously unbeaten American. At the age of 32, and turning 33 in February, time is ticking on Frampton's career and it really does seem like it'll have to be this year for him to make a mark on the 130lb weight class. There has been a lot of talk of the "Jackal" fighting against Jamel Herring, though the original plans for that bout have had to be pushed back.
Joe Cordina (11-0, 7)
Welshman Joe Cordina is a former Olympian who is inked to the powerful Eddie Hearn. Talented, well schooled and at 28 years old Cordina looks like he's ready to push on with his career and 2020 could be a really big year for him. He turned professional with a very strong amateur background, though didn't have much hype. He has since developed carefully and it would seem almost a given that Eddie Hearn will secure the Welsh Wizard a title fight sooner rather than later. Expect him to fight in at least 1 eliminator this year, and potentially make his US debut to try and drum up interesting in him facing the Tevin Farmer or JoJo Diaz winner.
3 bouts we want to see in 2020:
Leo Santa Cruz Vs Rene Alvarado
Oscar Valdez Vs Andrew Cancio
Miguel Berchelt Vs Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov
When we talk about how interesting a division is, we sort of want to see not only top fighters, but also mouth watering match ups and active champions. Sadly the Featherweight division is lacking in terms of activity, and also has a very messy title scene, with a WBA special of having 3 champions, a WBC champion that fights once a year and a WBO champion who has sadly been inactive for almost a year due to a nasty injury.
Gary Russell Jr (29-1, 17) - WBC (3 defenses)
When we mentioned the WBC champion fights once a year, we're not kidding. The insanely talented Gary Russell Jr is one of the fighters blessed amazing speed, good boxing IQ and an exciting style, but not the hunger and desire to prove himself on a consistent basis, with 1 fight a year since 2015, the year in which he won his title. His first 24 fights were his apprenticeship, if you will, before he fought in his first world title bout and lost to the then 1-1 Vasyl Lomachenko in 2014. The following year he stopped Jhonny Gonzalez, to win the WBC title, which he has defended against Patrick Hyland, Oscar Escandon and Joseph Diaz. If Russell Jr was active he could be one of the biggest names in US boxing, but instead he's inactive and very easily forgotten, a real shame for someone with so much ability.
Oscar Valdez (24-0, 19) - WBO (4 defenses)
Hard hitting Mexican Oscar Valdez has been on the sideline since taking a 12 round unanimous decision win over Scott Quigg in March, in a bout saw him suffer a bad injury. Prior to that bout he had been active, and had been the man who looked like being the division's #1 star in the near future. A participant at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic's Valdez was groomed for stardom early on and he would win the WBO title in July 2016. Just 14 months after winning the title he had racked up 3 defenses, smashing Japan's Hiroshige Osawa, before winning FOTY contender's against Miguel Marriaga and Genesis Servania. Sadly much of 2018 has been written off due to the injuries suffered against Quigg. He was pencilled in for a January return against Andoni Gago, but that now looks to be off, with no plans yet being announced for his return.
Josh Warrington (28-0, 6) - IBF (1 defense)
The real revolution of the division in 2018 has been Englishman Josh Warrington, who went from being a local star in his home city of Leeds, England, to being recognised as one of the division's top fighters. He has done that thanks to 2 huge wins in 2018, first beating Lee Selby for the IBF title and then beating Carl Frampton to make his first defense of the title. Given his massive rise in 2018 he's going into the new year as a genuine star of the division and appears hungry to prove himself. Although not the best boxer, or the biggest puncher, Warrington has an incredible engine, a brilliant work rate and exciting style that should help grow his popularity when he does finally venture outside of the UK, something he doesn't need to do but sounds like he wants to do.
Leo Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19) - WBA "super" (2 defenses)
Exciting Mexican Leo Santa Cruz is one of the most exciting fighters in the sport, and really was something special at Bantamweight and Super Bantamweight, where he was a perpetual punching machine, who ground down opponents. Sadly "El Terremoto's" current reign as the WBA "super" champion has been a disappointing one. He won the belt in January 2017, avenging his loss to Carl Frampron and has only made 2 defenses, beating the less than great Chris Avalos in October 2017 and then beat Abner Mares in June 2018. Essentially in almost 2 years as champion Santa Cruz has beaten a man he had already beaten and a fighter who didn't deserve to be in the ring with him. He's talented, exciting, and we want to see a lot more of him, which we suspect we'll see in 2019 as he has a bout set for February 16th against Miguel Flores and has fighters snapping at his ankles for a world title fight.
Jesus M Rojas (26-2-2-1, 19) - WBA "regular" (0 defense)
Puerto Rican puncher Jesus M Rojas has had a long career, having debuted in 2006, but has gradually made his way up the sports ladder of success. He would suffer his first loss in 2008 suffer a draw against Jose Luis Araiza in 2012, and have a No Contest against Jorge Arce that same year, before going on to claim the WBA interim title in 2017, and later being upgraded to the "regular" champion. Although not a heralded fighter he has beaten the likes of Abraham Lopez and Claudio Marrero, shown himself to be a heavy-handed and tough fighter and a nightmare to fight. Sadly he was beaten last time out, but kept the title after his opponent, Joseph Diaz failed to make weight. He will be returning to the ring on January 26th to defend his title against Chinese challenger Can Xu.
Jhack Tepora (22-0, 17) - WBA "interim" (0 defenses)
The WBA mess in the division has seen the division have 3 champions, Santa Cruz, Rojas and Filipino slugger Jhack Tepora. The 25 year old Tepora is the least well-known of all the "world" champions in the division but is a rising force thanks to huge wins on the road over Lusanda Komanisi, in South Africa, and Edivaldo Ortega, in Malaysia, to claim the WBA interim title. Tepora is a crude boxer-puncher, who is very heavy-handed and despite being a bit on the slow side does have good timing and boxing skills. Fighting out of the southpaw stance Tepora looks like the sort of awkward fighter who will be a nightmare for more gifted opponents, but he also looks like he will need to improve technically before facing the best in the division. Tepora will be defending his title on January 19th on his US debut, with his opponent expected to be Mexican puncher Hugo Ruiz, in what should be an explosive clash.
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.