All Time Featherweight Tournament
I have taken the 16 best featherweights (any fighter can only be ranked in one division) of all time and put together a random draw…
People often try and compare fighters of different eras by discussing who is the greatest. One way to do this is to rank fighters by who achieved the most in their careers. However perhaps a more entertaining way is creating fantasy fights to work out the greatest ever. I have taken the 16 best featherweights (any fighter can only be ranked in one division) of all time and put together a random draw. Some of the fighters are admittedly not technically featherweight but I had to find a way to get them in a tournament. Who will be the winner? Let’s watch the tournament unfold! [Footnote one]
Salvador Sanchez vs. Manny Pacquiao
Erik Morales vs. Terry McGovern
Sandy Saddler vs. Johnny Kilbane
Abe Attell vs. George Dixon
Alexis Arguello vs. Marco Antonio Barrera
Young Griffo vs. Naseem Hamed
Azumah Nelson vs. Vincente Salvidar
Willie Pep vs. Juan Manuel Marquez
Manny Pacquiao 4.2
Willie Pep 4.5
Alexis Arguello 4.8
Sandy Saddler 5.8
George Dixon 12
Salvador Sanchez 14
Terry McGovern 17
Azumah Nelson 20
Abe Attell — The Little Hebrew as he was known is famous for his six-year reign as featherweight champion of the world. As a child growing up in an Irish neighborhood he often engaged in scraps and won the world title at 18, beating George Dixon. He would lose and regain the title that he would defend eighteen times. His best wins include Dixon, Battling Nelson, Johnny Nelson and Jimmy Walsh — who was the bantamweight Champion. His final record came in at 125-9-21. He is one of the early pure boxers who used his smarts and speed to beat opponents. He was very hard to hit with a slippery style. Difficult enough to beat, he was very crafty and knew all the tricks.
Alexis Arguello — The Explosive Thin Man was the most famous boxer to ever come from Nicaragua. He is one of a select group of boxers to lose their debut and become world champion. He won the featherweight belt against Ruben Olivares, moving up in weight where he defeated Alfredo Escalera to become super featherweight champion and Jim Watt to become a three-weight champion. He also has wins over Jose Luis Ramirez, Ray Mancini and Rafael Limon but losses to Ernesto Marcel and Aaron Pryor. He finished with a 77-8 record. A textbook boxer with knockout power, he was how you dream a boxer. Tall and with perfect fundamentals he seldom wasted punches and had every punch in his locker.
Azumah Nelson — Probably the greatest African boxer of all time with a record of 39-6-2. After 13 fights, Nelson stepped up as a late notice replacement to box Salvador Sanchez. It would be a super bout with Nelson losing by late stoppage. After a few fights he would face Wilfredo Gomez and stop him for the featherweight champion. He had six defenses and stepped up in weight to become champion. The superb Pernell Whitaker would take it off him but even late in his career he had wins over Jeff Fenech and Juan Laporte.
Erik Morales — Born in Tijuana, Morales had an impressive amateur record, prior to his professional debut at 16. He dominated at super bantamweight to a 37-0 record defeating Marco Antonio Barrera, Wayne McCullough, Junior Jones and Daniel Zaragoza. He moved up in weight defeating Kevin Kelley for the title but would lose a majority decision to Barrera. He would become a super-bantamweight champion before again losing to Barrera. He would then beat favorite Pacquaio. He would have two stoppage losses at super featherweight to Pacman and would end with a record of 52-9.
George Dixon — The only Canadian on this list, Dixon was the first black world champion. Nat Fleischer ranked him as the greatest featherweight of all time. Little Chocolate first won the world bantamweight title with big wins against Tommy Spider Kelly and Nunc Thomas. He would beat Cal McCarthy to win the featherweight title. He had wins over Johnny Murphy, Abe Willis and Fred Jackson which made him the undisputed champion, making over 30 defenses. As drinking took a bigger part in his life, his skills waned and he lost the title to Solly Smith. He would become the first man to recapture a world title when beating Dave Sullivan but Terry McGovern and Abe Attell would inflict late beatings on Dixon.
Johnny Kilbane — Kilbane was born in Cleveland and would become the city hero. He had a tough childhood and would earn $25 for his fight in 1907. He would enter tournament to find an opponent for Abe Attell. It was set up for Joe Rivers to win, and he did with a controversial decision over Kilbane. Kilbane would win the rematch before beating Abe Attell for the championship. This was the beginning of the longest continuous reign of any world champion. Cleveland would have a huge parade on St. Patrick’s Day with hundreds of thousands. He drew with Jimmy Walsh and would have a loss to Benny Leonard when attempting to step up to lightweight. He would finally lose the title to Eugene Criqui finishing with a record of 138-4 and is listed by BoxRec as the number two featherweight of all time.
Juan Manuel Marquez — The Mexican had a strong amateur career before debuting age 19. He would lose his first bout winning his next 29 fights against some quality opposition. Despite being mandatory for Naseem Hamed the two would not fight, instead he took on Freddie Norwood. He outlanded Norwood but lost the controversial decision. Instead he defeated Medina for a title and then unified against Derrick Gainer. He would have his fight first against Pacquaio, a controversial draw after being knocked down three times in round one. He would beat Salido but lose to Chris John before moving up in weight. He had a big win over Barrera and finally got a win over Pacquaio in their fourth bout, the first noncontroversial ending. Dinimita finished with a record of 56-7-1.
Manny Pacquiao — The Filipino is the only eight-weight world champion. He would stop Barrera in his first featherweight bout before a draw with Marquez when he knocked down his opponent three times. He would lose to Barrera up at super featherweight before stopping him later. Larios, Morales twice and Barrera were also dispatched. A Marquez rematch saw a controversial split decision. He also had a career run at welterweight defeating Cotto, Mosley, Hatton, De La Hoya and Marquez again. He would lose to Tim Bradley, Floyd Mayweather and Juan Manuel Marquez but his reputation as a legend is sealed.
Marco Antonio Barrera — Another with a strong amateur pedigree, Barrera became world champion at super bantamweight in his 35th bout beating Daniel Jimenez. He would lose the title to Junior Jones and then retire after defeat in the rematch. A return saw him beat Richie Benton to win the title and then lose to Morales. He would win the featherweight title by defeating Naseem Hamed and then Erik Morales. A Pacquaio loss sent him out of the division where he would once again beat Morales. Peden and Juarez were both defeated but he would come up against Marquez who beat him for his title and a second Pacquaio fight, which saw the same outcome. ESPN ranked him 43rd in their greatest boxer of all time.
Naseem Hamed — A flashy southpaw from Sheffield, Prince Naz had a huge following thanks to his unconventional style and power. Having never fought at featherweight he became WBO champion by defeating Steve Robinson. He would defeat Tom Johnson to unify the titles. Hamed would stop Kevin Kelley in four unifying the titles and Cesar Soto for the WBC. He would defeat Vuyani Bungu but lose to Marco Antonio Barrera in his second last bout in a bout he stated that he was ill prepared for. He finished with a record of 36-1.
Salvador Sanchez — The Mexican made his debut at 16 and after an early loss to Antonio Becerra. It come too early but he would soon change management and with it, his boxing style. Sanchez would have a huge win against Danny Lopez whom he stopped late. The rematch would go the same way. He would follow it up with Juan Laporte. Wilfredo Gomez would be his next opponent, another chapter in the famous Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry. Gomez was heavy favorite but Sanchez would drop him in the first and in the eighth the action was halted. Sanchez was deemed to be a Mexican legend. He would go on to fight plucky Ghanaian, Azumah Nelson winning with a late stoppage after a war. Unfortunately this would be the end of a wildly successful career, as Sanchez died in a car crash, age 23.
Sandy Saddler — Saddler never got the respect he deserved, an ‘ugly duckling’ around numerous greats. His rough power was on an ungainly frame never appealed to fans. He lost some early bouts but would stop future champion Joe Brown in three. He would then stop hall of famer Willie Pep in four dominant rounds for the world title. Pep would win it back in a close decision. Saddler would win 24 straight, including a super featherweight belt, earning the rematch with Pep who he would beat, by virtue of injury. He would finally defeat Pep for a third time. Saddler would often lose nontitle bouts but on the biggest occasions, especially opposite Pep he would turn up. The Ring has since rate him as the fifth hardest puncher of all time.
Terry McGovern — Terrible Terry was a two weight world champion at featherweight and bantamweight. His first world title was at bantamweight, stopping Pedlar Palmer in one. He moved up and after winning the featherweight belt by stopping George Dixon defended it five times before losing to Young Corbett. His power and aggressive charges were his signatures. He also beat lightweight champion Frank Erne finishing with a record of 65-6-8. McGovern was a short, powerful boxer who was aggressive from the opening bell.
Vicente Salvidar — The Mexican who grew up in a poor neighborhood, turned professional at 17. He defeated Ismael Laguna, before challenging Sugar Ramos for his world title. He upset Ramos by stoppage and would defend his title eight times including three wins over Howard Winstone. He would retire as champion with a record of 34-1. He did comeback to defeat Jose Legra and Johnny Famechon but lost to Kuniaki Shibata and Eder Jofre. He was a dynamic southpaw with stamina and power.
Willie Pep — Born Guglielmo Papaleo, Pep made an incredible career for himself. Associated Press and International Boxing Research Organization ranked him as the greatest featherweight of all time. He beat Chalky Wright to win his world title in 1942 and held on to it until 1948 when Saddler stopped him. He would win it back in their second bout but lost it in their third clash. He achieved all of this despite being severely injured in a plane crash in 1947. Pep was known for his speed and elusiveness, which meant he ended up fighting 1,956 rounds finishing with a record of 229-11-1.
Young Griffo — The Australian was one of the first world champions at any weights and was rated by Nat Fleischer as the eighth best featherweight. He turned professional at 15 and held the Australian title for years. He beat Torpedo Billy Murphy by decision to become champion in 1890. Paddy Moran, George Powell and Mick McCarthy were defeated before Griffo vacated to move up in weight. He travelled to America and mainly fought at lightweight. He drew with Solly Smith, George Dixon George Lavigne and Ike Weir but lost to Jack McAuliffe. Drinking and unwillingness to train meant he was not as good as he perhaps could have been. His final record was 105-12-73 with 39 no contests.
Round of 16:
Salvador Sanchez vs. Manny Pacquiao
Pacquaio at featherweight was an aggressive southpaw who mainly fought with his left hand. Sanchez had an iron chin and picked apart aggressive fighters — especially one-dimensional ones. Both could throw hundreds of punches a round so this would be fought at the most incredible pace! I just struggle to see how Manny experiences success against Sanchez. He can take rounds in a wild fire fight but Sanchez will win the majority probably hurting Pacquaio a couple of time with sharp, accurate right hands.
Result: Salvador Sanchez defeats Manny Pacquiao by Unanimous Decision (147-138 and 145-140 twice)[Footnote 5]
Erik Morales vs. Terry McGovern
This may be better than the first bout. McGovern has a stronger will to be the boxer on the front foot and will be straight on Morales. Morales will happily meet him in the middle of the ring. Both were tough as nails and had solid chins despite both being stopped. Morales was the cleverer operator with more boxing ability, I just cannot be sure he will use it. A slight edge is Morales would taunt his opponents, something which previously worked against McGovern. This is a barnstormer and one that McGovern can edge. He is at his most dangerous early and gets a knockdown on Morales which is later returned. Morales has too much pride to switch to trying to outbox McGovern and although he does it for spells and even gets the better of some exchanges, it is not enough.
Result: Terry McGovern defeats Erik Morales by Majority Decision (142-142, 143-140 and 144-139)
Sandy Saddler vs. Johnny Kilbane
Kilbane was a superb boxer, the Mayweather of his time. He would take away his opponents weapon and usually cruise to a decision. Saddler was a brute with crushing power in both hands and a bag full of tricks. Saddler has 4-inch reach on Kilbane which could negate some of the boxing ability. Saddler would be trying to get inside and making it rough. The truth is, he would probably manage it. Kilbane was brilliant, but Saddler was hell to beat especially if he turned up. I think he stops Kilbane in the middle rounds whilst ahead on the cards.
Result: Sandy Saddler defeats Johnny Kilbane by knockout at 0:57 of the Seventh Round
Abe Attell vs. George Dixon
This fight happened three times in 1901 with both men at opposite sides of the spectrum. Dixon was faded and old whilst Attell was young and inexperienced. Two draws were followed by an Attell win. Dixon should not have been boxing at this time but had to due to gambling debts. Both of them liked to box on the outside. Dixon was the better defensive boxer whilst Attell was seen as having more tricks and boxing smarts. Attell has an inch of height but Dixon has the longer reach. I see this as one for the purists and I edge towards Attell given his more impressive résumé.
Result: Abe Attell defeats George Dixon by Unanimous Decision (145-140 and 144-141 twice)
Alexis Arguello vs. Marco Antonio Barrera
Arguello could perhaps do with this being at a higher weight. He is the bigger man and struggles getting down to the weight. Barrera was a tough Mexican with the spirit of a warrior. Arguello was something special! He was tall and powerful, a boxer-puncher with an aggressive nature. He was technically superb and never really wasted shots. Barrera would be picked apart by Arguello. Just not fast enough and without the technical ability to trouble Arguello. Barrera has heart and chin but the referee has to jump in as the late rounds begin to see Arguello pummeling the Mexican warrior.
Result: Alexis Arguello defeats Marco Antonio Barrera by technical knockout at 1:34 of the eleventh round
Young Griffo vs. Naseem Hamed
The fight of two men who could have been so much more if they took training seriously. Griffo was someone who made boxing look easy with tiny little movements to avoid punches. Little feints and boxing smarts meant he was considered one of the best defensive boxers of all time. Naseem Hamed on the other hand was one of the scariest attacking boxers of all time. He was powerful with unconventional attacks trained by Brendan Ingle. Griffo was superb but there is almost no chance he boxed someone like Naz. Naz would have started to get through with his punches from awkward angles and would probably stop Griffo.
Result: Naseem Hamed defeats Young Griffo by knockout at 2:37 of the sixth round
Azumah Nelson vs. Vicente Salvidar
This pace would be fought at some pace, because Salvidar would make it so. A 15-round fight would suit him as he only got better with rounds as his body punches sapped away from opponents’ energy. He was smart and skillful. A little bit like Salvador Sanchez who would beat a young Nelson. Nelson was intelligent, picking away at his opponents’ holes. His patience would be taken over by speed and power. His chin also impressed and he had a toughness about him. Salvidar would perhaps struggle most against a good mover, something than was not Nelson’s best attribute. Salvidar would lose the early rounds as he so often did. He had enough smarts to not massively trail at the halfway mark. As always he would come on strong his body punching beginning to wear down even Nelson. He was so precise with his punching that Nelson would begin to mark up and he would put Nelson on the canvas in the 13th round.
Result: Vicente Salvidar defeats Azumah Nelson by Unanimous Decision (143-141 twice and 144-140)
Willie Pep vs. Juan Manuel Marquez
Marquez was a modern Mexican warrior. It almost goes without saying that he has great heart and a solid chin. He was a crafty counterpuncher though who looked for openings and would punish them given the opportunities. Pep has been described as the greatest defensive fighter of all time. He is famed for winning a round without throwing a punch. His timing was impeccable and he made sure he was able to counter with tiny little moves that did not take him out of range. The boxer most similar to Pep in modern times was Floyd Mayweather. Mayweather absolutely schooled Marquez and I see the same happening here. Marquez would be forced into being the aggressor and Pep would pick him apart.
Result: Willie Pep defeats Juan Manuel Marquez by Unanimous Decision (150-135, 149-136 and 147-138)
Salvador Sanchez vs. Terry McGovern
It does not take long when watching McGovern to see why he was effective. He was powerful and closed the gap with big punches. You can also see the holes, gaping holes that Sanchez would find a way to fit his fists through. He could pick apart an aggressor with slashing, powerful shots. Sanchez has form for winning fights in this way. He was underdog against Gomez who came out aggressive. The fight changed halfway through the first round when Sanchez landed a blistering combination to drop Gomez. I see similar here as he never lets McGovern settle into the fight but instead McGovern gets more wild and plays into the hands of the powerful Puerto Rican. Sanchez stops McGovern with an uppercut in the fourth.
Result: Salvador Sanchez defeats Terry McGovern by knockout at 1:06 of the fourth round
Sandy Saddler vs. Abe Attell
An intriguing style matchup as Saddler does all his best work on the inside while Attell is a smart out fighter. The underrated factor here has to be size. Saddler has four inches of reach on Attell, uncommon for a boxer who wants to be on the inside. Attell was stopped four times in his career and against a puncher like Saddler that would worry me. Saddler would win a few early rounds as Attell struggled to get to grips with the style. The second round would see Attell dropped to the body. The clever Attell would begin to adjust and start pinching rounds despite fighting on the back foot, bothered by the constant pressure of Saddler. Whenever Saddler gets in close he makes the most of it and he stops a slowing Attell with a clubbing combination.
Result: Sandy Saddler defeats Abe Attell by technical knockout at 2:34 of the ninth round
Alexis Arguello vs. Naseem Hamed
Arguello is one of the greatest boxers of all time, utterly textbook. The ability of Prince Naz to punch from all angles and powerful hands would pose problems for Arguello. The men who made Prince struggle tended to be technical boxers with intelligence. Arguello was that. He also had six inches on Hamed and power. Perhaps the biggest worry for Arguello was the quick foot movement of Hamed and potential to get hurt by a wild Hamed. I think Hamed can start strong with his fast feet but the intelligence of Arguello means he can begin to dominate. Hamed was often dropped perhaps due to his balance. He would punish Arguello the first time he was dropped by coming back strong and hurting Hamed. Arguello would once again take over, beginning to dominate with his powerful shots getting through to Hamed.
Result: Alexis Arguello defeats Naseem Hamed by Unanimous Decision (145-137, 143-139 and 147-135)
Vicente Salvidar vs. Willie Pep
What a bout, between two legends with different styles. Pep is a pure boxer known for his defense and boxing theory dictates that pure boxers struggle with swarmers. Salvidar was an intelligent boxer who set a relentless pace. In the first third of the fight Pep builds an early lead off a solid defense. Salvidar would pressure Pep and work to the body. Pep struggled with Saddler and when you compare Salvidar to Saddler he is not as powerful or as dirty but has more intelligence, speed and stamina. He can adapt in the middle rounds and make changes necessary. Pep would also then adapt. I think this fight is basically a pick ‘em. Pep is the greater boxer but stylistically I think Salvidar can just trouble him and constantly pick at him.
Result: Vicente Salvidar defeats Willie Pep by Split Decision (143-142, 145-140 and 141-144)
Salvador Sanchez vs. Sandy Saddler
Maybe it is just because Sanchez only does fun fights, but this seems like a super intriguing contest. Saddler has one tactic and he will do it for all 15 rounds. The greatest skill of Sanchez, for me, was his ability to adapt and combine styles. That means in this fight he can fight on the inside with his powerful punches and if it does not work, he can work out ways to box Saddler. Pep showed that for a pure boxer it was hard to beat Saddler, but Sanchez has advantages. Saddler was a lot stronger than Pep but he would not have an advantage against Sanchez who was almost as big and long as Saddler. He was far more willing to trade punches and has more power and accuracy than Pep. Sanchez can frustrate Saddler and I even see Saddler getting deducted a couple of points late on as Sanchez pulls away on the cards.
Result: Salvador Sanchez defeats Sandy Saddler by Unanimous Decision (143-140, 145-138 and 146-137)
Alexis Arguello vs. Vicente Salvidar
Another intriguing bout! You have to make Arguello favorite. Arguello is another fighter who is able to adapt really well. He is a superb boxer, a controlled swarmed with slugging fists. He could do it all. Salvidar will have never fought anyone like Arguello. The difference here probably comes in the foot speed, a big advantage for Arguello, and the sharper more accurate punches also from Arguello. His power shots would hurt Salvidar and I wonder if it would begin to dissuade Salvidar from his attacks. If so, he becomes a sitting duck for Arguello and I feel Arguello stops him late.
Result: Alexis Arguello defeats Vicente Salvidar by Technical Knockout at 1.54 of the 14th round
Salvador Sanchez vs. Alexis Arguello [Footnote 6]
In a tournament full of world class boxers, we get a superb final between sensational fighters. So many factors come into this bout. The power of Arguello is pretty much negated as Sanchez has possibly the best chin of all time. This fight would also be one of the greatest examples of stamina ever provided. Both of them could seemingly throw punch after punch and seemingly suffer no ill effects. Sanchez could tear apart those who pressured him but Arguello was intelligent and patient with it. A slick boxer did usually cause Arguello trouble but Sanchez has a far higher punch output than a typical boxer. Sanchez could have probably landed as Arguello came in. The size of Arguello caused everyone problems but that would have been less of a factor for a big Sanchez. I have a real sense here that Sanchez has a huge chance, he is built in a way that he suits an Arguello fight. Arguello can and probably will adapt to the fight if it does not go how he wants. He would have moments where he drew Sanchez into a fight, lesser boxers managed it. That would be where Arguello could do most of his damage with smart, well picked shots. It is tight, it could go either way and it would be unmissable. My preference, after plenty of deliberation time, was ever so slightly Sanchez. If you could give him quicker feet, this is an easier test but his feet are quick enough to win. Arguello has moments but it’s the chin of Sanchez that carries him through when lesser boxers would be stopped.
Result: Salvador Sanchez defeats Alexis Arguello by Unanimous Decision (144-141 twice and 145-140)
The Overall Winner of the All-Time Featherweight Tournament: Salvador Sanchez
[Footnote 1] I almost made this tournament 32 boxers but believed it would lessen the quality.
[Footnote 2] The draw as always is completely random
[Footnote 3] I was desperate to include Prince Naseem Hamed and despite strong claims from numerous boxers around the turn of the 20th century (Jim Driscoll especially) I went with gut
[Footnote 4] To give the career of Juan Manuel Marquez credit, it takes more space than I want to use
[Footnote 5] The fights are 15 rounds as I have always liked the idea of the championship rounds with less chance of a draw. Also in imaginary fights there is no increased chance of damage to boxers which make 15 rounds hard to justify
[Footnote 6] Google this fight for varying opinions and arguments is interesting. I would say the preference is 70% to Arguello with probably 25% by stoppage