Just last year, the 135-pound division was the weight class to watch, as Devin Haney, Teofimo Lopez, Ryan Garcia and Gervonta Davis all called it home.
Now Lopez and Garcia campaign at 140 pounds, and suddenly, the junior welterweight division is one of the sport’s most competitive weight classes. The injection of star power from Lopez and Garcia is a nice boost, but even without them, the weight class features elite fighters and a deep well of contenders.
Division kingpin Josh Taylor recently vacated a third title, creating opportunities for a bundle of meaningful fights in a suddenly wide-open weight class. Who’s primed to grab those titles and what marquee matchups are on the horizon? Let’s look at the landscape at 140 pounds.
Taylor captured the undisputed championship in May 2021 and was on top when he entered the ring in February to defend all four belts vs. Jack Catterall. Shockingly, Catterall seemed to win the fight, but the judges in Taylor’s native country, Scotland, denied the challenger.
The 31-year-old planned to jump to 147 pounds, but the controversial nature and outcry for a rematch prompted him to remain at 140 for at least one more fight. There’s no deal yet, but Taylor is in talks for a Nov. 26 rematch with Catterall.
In pursuing the return bout, Taylor vacated his WBC, WBA and IBF belts. He remains the WBO champion, a title he’ll likely defend against Catterall in November.
“I will continue to do whatever it takes to be in a position to make the rematch with Jack Catterall happen,” Taylor, who owns wins over Jose Ramirez and Regis Prograis in unification bouts, told Sky Sports last week.
The 28-year-old Dominican had never faced a world-class opponent until earlier this month when he claimed a vacant title with a split-decision victory over Batyr Akhmedov.
A skilled counter-puncher promoted by PBC, Puello could find himself matched with the winner of the IBF title fight between Subriel Matias and Jeremias Ponce next year.
Catterall wasn’t highly regarded when he stepped through the ropes to fight Taylor, but he proved he could hang with the best at 140 pounds.
Catterall consistently beat Taylor to the punch and did an excellent job dictating the pace with his jab. Did the Englishman simply put it all together for one performance against a champion who took him lightly?
Catterall should have a chance to prove he’s here to stay in a rematch against Taylor that’s likely to take place Nov. 26 in Glasgow.
Universally recognized as one of the best pound-for-pound boxers following his win over Vasiliy Lomachenko, Lopez now finds himself being doubted.
Lopez’s camp for the George Kambosos Jr. fight in November was tumultuous, and the fight followed suit.
After he was floored in the opening round, Lopez rallied to drop Kambosos in Round 10 but still lost his four 135-pound titles via decision in a bloody affair that was later named ESPN’s Upset of the Year.
Lopez fought with a slight tear in his esophagus versus Kambosos, but after recovery, he made his 140-pound debut against the unheralded Pedro Campa in August. Lopez failed to impress while grabbing a victory via seventh-round TKO. He is slated to return on Dec. 10 in New York, where he will no doubt face better competition.
Garcia wasn’t expected to depart 135 pounds so soon, but following two consecutive fights at 140 pounds — including a KO of Javier Fortuna in July — he insisted he was done with lightweight.
Of course, Garcia could return to 135 pounds for a superfight with Gervonta Davis; they remain in talks for a potential fight in December. Davis has also competed at 140 pounds, so the matchup could also take place at that weight.
Garcia remains a work in progress under the guidance of trainer Joe Goossen, but with his blend of speed and power, he could soon realize his vast potential.
A robust and volume-punching pressure fighter from Puerto Rico, Matias might be one of the best-kept secrets in all of boxing.
In January, he avenged his lone professional defeat with a ninth-round TKO of Petros Ananyan. Earlier in his career, Matias faced adversity after he dealt with the anguish of his tragic 2019 fight with Maxim Dadashev, who died afterward from injuries suffered in the bout.
Matias could soon join Taylor and Puello as titleholders. He’ll be favored to defeat Ponce in a battle for a vacant belt this fall.
Outside of a close decision loss to Taylor in 2019, Prograis has cruised through the competition. A southpaw boxer-puncher, Prograis has found difficulty trying to land a meaningful fight since he lost his title, but he now has a chance to regain it.
There’s no deal yet, but Prograis and Jose Zepeda were ordered to fight for the vacant WBC title after Jose Ramirez passed on the title shot due to his upcoming wedding.
With a victory over Zepeda, Prograis should be in more meaningful fights next year, starting with Ramirez, who’s in line for the winner.
After holding a title at 130 pounds, Pedraza hasn’t been able to get over the hump at junior welterweight, though he’s always in competitive fights. The most recent example: a draw with Richard Commey on Saturday.
Pedraza appeared to be on the shortlist for a December fight with Lopez, but the opportunity might have slipped without the victory over Commey. The Puerto Rican boxer came close to defeating Jose Ramirez in his lone title shot at 140 pounds and also dropped a decision to Lomachenko in a 135-pound title fight.
The power-puncher from Ghana grabbed a sliver of redemption with the draw against Pedraza following a listless performance against Lomachenko in December.
A former title-holder at 135 pounds, Commey lost his belt via second-round TKO against Lopez. Now winless in his 140-pound debut, Commey could find himself in a rematch with Pedraza.
The former unified champion defeated Pedraza in March in his first fight since the loss to Taylor, and it figures to be his only fight in 2022. Ramirez is set to be married in October and passed up the opportunity to fight Zepeda in a rematch for a vacant title.
He’ll be the mandatory challenger for the winner of Prograis-Zepeda, though, and after the way he performed against Taylor, Ramirez has a great chance to regain his belts.
He owns a 2019 victory over Zepeda via a disputed decision to go along with wins over Maurice Hooker and Viktor Postol.
Since the loss to Jose Ramirez in 2019, Zepeda has reeled off five wins, including a decision victory over Pedraza.
Most notably, Zepeda knocked out former champion Ivan Baranchyk in ESPN’s 2020 Fight of the Year and scored a first-round TKO of Josue Vargas in October.
He’s set to fight Prograis in a second crack at the title, and if no deal is struck, a purse bid will be held on Aug. 30.
Barboza is campaigning for a fight with Teofimo Lopez in December, but it’s unclear if he has a shot at landing the opportunity.
He has yet to face a fighter of Lopez’s caliber, and his most formidable opposition came in his most recent outing. That was a decision victory over Danielito Zorrilla in July, which followed a decision win over Antonio Moran.
Gary Antuanne Russell
The younger brother of former featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr., Antuanne Russell raised his level of competition substantially in his past two fights. He was more than up to the task.
The pressure fighter scored a 10th-round TKO of Viktor Postol in February and followed up with a sixth-round stoppage of Rances Barthelemy last month.
Still just 26, the southpaw figures to challenge for a title in 2023.