· Young Corbett II moves up to lightweight
After his sensational KO of the fearsome Terry McGovern on 28th November 1901, Corbett struggled to maintain the featherweight limit. Records at the time were sketchy and it is not always possible to determine which fights were a world title defence and which were not. Some sources indicate that Corbett made a number of successful defences whereas others do not show him making any defences at all. Whatever the case, Corbett headed up to lightweight and the next great talent in the division came along; Abe Attell. Again, with record books being sketchy, it is not easy to figure out exactly when Attell’s reign began. Some historians quote his win over leading contender Johnny Reagan on 3rd September 1903 but others hold out until his win over another leading contender, Harry Forbes (a former world bantamweight champion), on 1st February 1904. Attell had earlier made his name by beating former three-time featherweight champ George Dixon on 28th October 1901 (he had drawn with him twice previously). Nevertheless, by the time of his win over Forbes, Attell was certainly the best featherweight in the world and had gained universal recognition as the world champion.
· Johnny Dundee moves up to lightweight
Without making a defence, Dundee moved up in weight and the world title became vacant. Who would be able to step into his shoes? Danny Kramer had beaten top contender Mike Dundee (who was on a 17-fight unbeaten streak, not counting no-decision bouts) on 21st November 1924. Another top contender was Kid Kaplan, who was on a 19-fight unbeaten run which included two wins over the highly-rated Bobby Garcia and three draws with Babe Herman. When Kaplan stopped Kramer in 9 rounds on 2nd January 1925 he gained universal acknowledgement as the next world champion.
Kaplan never lost the world title in the ring
· Kid Kaplan moves up to lightweight
After a 14-month reign, which incorporated two successful defences, Kaplan ventured into the lightweight class, leaving the usual void. Leading contender Benny Bass stepped forward. He had won ten bouts in a row with one no-contest. He had won and lost against Babe Herman and also beaten the highly-ranked Red Chapman by disqualification on 1st January 1927. Chapman had wins over Herman and former world champion Johnny Dundee. The result of the first meeting between Bass and Chapman was somewhat indecisive and when they met again on 12th September 1927 the winner, Bass, was accepted as the new world champion.
· Bat Battalino forfeits the world championship
Battalino (real name Christopher Battaglia) was scheduled to defend against Freddie Miller on 27th January 1932 but failed to make the weight limit, automatically forfeiting the world championship on the scales. However, Miller did make the weight limit and so if he had won the fight he would have been declared the new champ. Unfortunately for him, he did not win; the fight ended in a no-contest in the 3rd round (there was a suspicion that Battalino was attempting to “pass” the championship to Miller, who was his stablemate, but the referee stopped the fight due to the combatants “not trying”). Kid Chocolate (whose real name was Eligio Sardinias) earned the right to be called the next true champion when he beat Lew Feldman on 13th October 1932 (which also had New York state recognition). Feldman had already beaten Tommy Paul, a rival claimant, which gave the Kid the edge.
Kid Chocolate was a brilliant boxer from Cuba
· Kid Chocolate vacates the world championship
Well…..sort of. There is no clear verification of the Kid officially giving up the world title, but it was indicated that he could no longer make the featherweight limit and he basically stopped claiming the title and starting campaigning at lightweight. Freddie Miller subsequently won a 10-round decision over leading contender Tommy Paul on 13th January 1933 and strengthened his status with victories over Baby Arizmendi and future champion Chalky Wright. He was certainly the best in the division at the time, but it was not until he had beaten the talented British champion Nel Tarleton on 21st September 1934 that he gained universal recognition.
· Henry Armstrong moves up to lightweight/welterweight
Armstrong managed the mind-boggling achievement of holding three lineal world titles in three of the original eight weight classes at the same time; featherweight, lightweight and welterweight. It was a truly fabulous feat that will almost certainly never be repeated. Not surprisingly, with three championships to defend something had to give and it was the featherweight crown that Armstrong gave up so that he could focus on defending the others. Joey Archibald emerged as the leading contender, having scored two wins over Mike Belloise, the 2nd occasion being for New York state recognition. When he faced fellow top contender Leo Rodak on 18th April 1939 and won a 15-round decision he was awarded universal backing as the legitimate world champ.
Saddler (right) outpointed Teddy Davis at Madison Square Garden in 1955
· Sandy Saddler announces his retirement
Sadly, on 21st January 1957, Saddler announced an end to his boxing career due to injuries suffered in a car accident while he was still champion. Although his career was cut short, his legacy as one of the best of all time and perhaps the hardest-punching featherweight ever was secure. The two leading contenders were considered to be Hogan “Kid” Bassey of Nigeria and Cherif Hamia of France. Bassey was the Commonwealth champion and had beaten the highly-rated Miguel Berrios of Puerto Rico, while Hamia was the European champion and had also beaten Berrios. At the time no one else was considered as worthy and on 21st June 1957, Bassey stopped Hamia in the 10th round in Paris, France, to be regarded as the new world champion.
Saldivar was a superb two-time world champion at featherweight
· Vicente Saldivar announces his retirement
After an admirable reign, Mexico’s Saldivar stepped down in 1967 without losing the championship in the ring (though that would change later when he made an inevitable comeback). Naturally the alphabet groups went to work with different candidates but regardless of their activities, Johnny Famechon of Australia became a frontrunner in the division. He had a 25-fight unbeaten streak and had been Australian champion and Commonwealth champion. To rival him, Jose Legra of Cuba burst onto the scene with an incredible 54-fight winning run which included a victory over the highly-regarded Howard Winstone (and also avenging an earlier loss to him). When Legra and Famechon squared off on 21st January 1969, the winner, which was Famechon on points, was classed as the real world champion.
· Eder Jofre vacates the world championship
Well…..not exactly. Jofre basically drifted into semi-retirement and gave no indication that he was going to defend again, so the championship was deemed vacant. Going into 1975, Alexis Arguello of Nicaragua was considered the top dog; he also held the WBA belt. When he knocked out Rigoberto Riasco of Panama in two rounds on 31st May 1975, he was acknowledged as the new world champion by The Ring magazine. Riasco had earlier beaten the previously undefeated Rafael Ortega for the Panamanian title on 15th December 1973.
No one could argue that Arguello was not the best in the world at the time and The Ring’s choice was generally accepted.
Arguello was a murderous puncher
· Alexis Arguello moves up to lightweight
In 1977, Arguello moved up in weight, seeking new challenges, and after his departure, Danny Lopez of the USA was viewed as the best in the division. He had beaten David Kotey of Ghana for the WBC belt the previous year. Lopez had been through a rough patch in 1974/early 1975 but since then had put together a striking record which included wins over former world bantamweight champion Chucho Castillo, former two-time world bantamweight champion Ruben Olivares and previously undefeated hot prospect Sean O’Grady, as well as Kotey. When Lopez defeated the previously unbeaten Roberto Castanon of Spain, who was the European champion, on 10th March 1979, he was regarded as the new world champion (this fight was listed in The Ring record book (1981) as being for the vacant world title).
· Salvador Sanchez dies in a car accident
Tragedy struck in 1982 when the outstanding Sanchez of Mexico was killed in a car accident while still champion. He was in the midst of a stirring reign, so who knows what he would have gone on to achieve? Sanchez had held the WBC title and his WBA counterpart was Eusebio Pedroza of Panama. With Sanchez being the lineal champion, a showdown with Pedroza was being mooted at the time of his death. Juan LaPorte of Puerto Rico subsequently picked up the vacant WBC belt, but he had already lost to Pedroza for the WBA belt on 24th January 1982, which gave Pedroza the edge. Therefore, Pedroza was acknowledged at the legitimate world champion.
Pacquiao in the gym
· Manny Pacquiao moves up to lightweight
During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the featherweight division experienced something of a mini golden age, boasting headline-grabbing stars such as Naseem Hamed, Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez and Pacquiao. However, by 2005 only Marquez remained, with Hamed having retired and Barrera, Morales and Pacquiao all moving up in weight. With Pacquiao’s departure, the major player in the division was obviously Marquez. He had come extremely close to dethroning Pacquiao when they had battled to a draw on 8th May 2004. Other than that, Marquez had defeated notable opponents such as Agapito Sanchez and Alfred Kotey when he had risen through the featherweight ranks. He had dropped a decision to Freddie Norwood for the WBA title on 11th September 1999, but rebounded to triumph over Manuel Medina and Derrick Gainer to win the IBF and WBA titles respectively (Gainer had won the WBA title from Norwood). Next came the draw with Pacquiao for the genuine, lineal world championship and it was unfortunate that these perfectly-matched rivals could not agree on terms for an immediate rematch (they did eventually engage in a rematch at lightweight in 2008). However, Marquez still had his pair of alphabet belts and defended them by outpointing Orlando Salido on 18th September 2004 and Victor Polo on 7th May 2005. At the beginning of 2006, he was certainly the best featherweight in the world. The WBA had promoted him to "super champion" status and in the summer of 2005 he had been needlessly stripped of the IBF title, though the IBF's ludicrous actions did not affect Marquez's position atop the featherweight division. The vacant IBF title was later won by an obscure Brazilian called Valdemir Pereira, who had scored no significant victories.
Entering the mix at this time was Chris John of Indonesia. He was unbeaten and had scored wins over Oscar Leon (against whom he won the WBA interim title) and the aforementioned Gainer. Following this, he squared off with Marquez on 4th March 2006 and was awarded a unanimous decision, which meant that he was worthy of calling himself a true world champion. Any bout for recognition as the true world champion had to include Marquez. And who else was there to dispute this? When John-Marquez unfolded, the WBC title was held by the undistinguished, forgettable Takashi Koshimoto of Japan and the WBO title was in the hands of Scott Harrison of Scotland, who once had a promising career but by 2006 it was falling apart due to a chaotic private life, which included alcohol and drug problems. At the time there was uncertainty surrounding Harrison and he was subsequently stripped of the WBO title and would not fight again until 2012. Therefore, John deserved to be regarded as the new ruler following his win over Marquez.
· Nicholas Walters forfeits the world championship
It happened to Charlie Rosenberg at bantamweight. It happened to Benny Lynch at flyweight. And it happened to Nicholas Walters of Jamaica. Losing a world championship on the scales is quite rare but it was an outcome that befell Walters when he defended against Miguel Marriaga on 13th June 2015 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. He failed to make the 126 lb weight limit and automatically forfeited the world crown. The bout went ahead and if Marriaga had won then he would have become the new champ. Unfortunately for him, Walters won a unanimous decision and so the world title became vacant.
It would turn out to be Belfast's Carl Frampton who could next regard himself as the genuine world champion at featherweight following his narrow victory over Leo Santa Cruz of the USA on 29th July 2016. It was the status of two other outstanding fighters that paved the way for Frampton to claim recognition, and these two outstanding fighters were Vasyl Lomachenko of the Ukraine and Guillermo Rigondeaux of Cuba. It should be noted again here that this website does not acknowledge the junior featherweight division, which is totally unnecessary; it was a creation of the self-serving sanctioning groups who were motivated by greed so they could earn themselves more sanctioning fees. Such divisions were not created for the good of the sport and therefore as far as this website is concerned fighters like Frampton and Rigondeaux have always been featherweights since they box between 118 lbs (the bantamweight limit) and 126 lbs (the featherweight limit).
Lomachenko had a glittering amateur career, in which he won gold medals at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. He turned professional in 2013 and made rapid progress, quickly establishing himself as arguably the best featherweight in the world. However, going into 2016 he moved up to lightweight. As for Rigondeaux, he also had a glittering amateur career, winning gold medals at both the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games. He turned professional in 2009 and was soon surging up the ranks, scoring wins over top class opposition such as Nonito Donaire and Joseph Agbeko. But following the triumph over Agbeko, which occurred on 7th December 2013, he lost all momentum. He fought just three times over the next two years and the quality of his opposition dropped off considerably. Long periods of inactivity, interspersed with bouts against so-so opponents, meant that he suffered a small slide down the rankings. It was not a huge slide, but why should he retain a lofty status when not facing the best in the division?
Taking into account what happened to Lomachenko and Rigondeaux, it allowed Frampton and Santa Cruz to grab the spotlight. Frampton had gained victories over leading contenders Kiko Martinez of Spain (twice), Chris Avalos of the USA and British rival Scott Quigg. Meanwhile, Santa Cruz, who had previously been a top contender in the bantamweight class, had triumphed over the highly-regarded Abner Mares of Mexico on 29th August 2015.
Prior to the Frampton-Santa Cruz bout, other leading contenders included the likes of Lee Selby of the UK, but Selby's only real significant victory was over Evgeny Gradovich of Russia, but Gradovich was only an unexceptional, run-of-the-mill alphabet belt-holder. There was also Gary Russell of the USA, who won an alphabet belt from Mexico's Jhonny Gonzalez on 28th March 2015. But Russell then remained inactive for over a year and when he did return to the ring it was to gain a meaningless victory over ordinary journeyman Patrick Hyland. There is a strong case to accept Frampton and Santa Cruz as the best featherweights in the world when they clashed; they both had impressive records, an abundance of talent and bags of momentum, with both of them shining most brightly in the year leading up to their clash (with the exception of Lomachenko who, of course, then departed the division). Frampton was awarded a majority decision, with scores of 114-114, 117-111 and 116-112. In all honesty, the latter two scores were farcical; Frampton's victory was certainly not that wide. It was actually a very close bout that Frampton edged and could thus consider himself the real world featherweight champion.