Since the birth of the modern incarnation of the division in the mid-1970s, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call Jr. featherweight boxing’s preeminent war class. Pioneered into legitimacy by the title reign of the great Wilfredo Gomez, there aren’t many spots on the scale with a deeper pool of blood and guts classics in the last near five decades.
Matches like Gomez-Lupe Pintor, Marco Antonio Barrera-Erik Morales, and Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marqueza among multiple others are the violent legacy every new anticipated clash at 122 pounds can hope to add to. Saturday’s Showtime main event (10 PM EST) won’t have to meet those lofty heights to be as good as it looks on paper.
Just meeting expectations would make an excellent scrap.
But at Jr. featherweight, with two fighters right in the heart of their physical prime, the possibility for more is ever present. The promise of more, with the winner set for Stephen Fulton later this year, is there as well.
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Titles: WBC Super Bantamweight (2020-Present, 1st Defense)
Previous Titles: WBC Bantamweight (2017)
Weight: 122 lbs.
Hails from: Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico
Record: 31-0, 24 KO
Press Rankings: #2 (BoxRec), #5 (Boxing News), #7 (TBRB)
Record in Major Title Fights: 2-0, 1 KO
Last Five Opponents: 104-17-2 (.854)
Notable Outcomes, TBRB and/or Ring Rated Foes: Shinsuke Yamanaka TKO4, TKO2; Juan Carlos Payano KO9
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: McJoe Arroyo RTD4
Title/Previous Titles: None (Holds WBA sub-title)
Weight: 121 ½ lbs.
Hails from: Welasco, Texas
Record: 21-0-1, 16 KO
Press Rankings: #4 (Ring, Boxing News, BoxRec), #5 (TBRB, ESPN)
Record in Major Title Fights: 1st Title Opportunity
Last Five Opponents: 123-13-3 (.915)
Notable Outcomes, TBRB and/or Ring Rated Foes: None
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: Julio Ceja D12
The Case for Nery: Nery appears on tape to have several technical advantages in this fight. Nery’s head and upper body movement look slicker, his hands quicker, and his punches more direct. Nery looked a little between styles working for a fight with Eddie Reynoso in his last fight, a tougher than expected struggle with Aaron Alameda, but even there a lot of what Nery does well was on display. His jab is snappy and he fires fast and in multiple to the body. Nery is shorter than Figueroa and his arms are shorter, but if he can be first he’ll find a big target for his southpaw power. As was the case at bantamweight, it looks like hell for him to make the weight so the big question for Nery might be how long he can continue at the weight. So far, stamina hasn’t been an issue.
The Case for Figueroa: Figueroa has been brought along well so far in his career as he grew into his frame. Win or lose, he’s unlikely to be this low on the scale for many more fights. Long and active, Figueroa uses volume offense to make up for some liabilities in speed and defense. This should be, by some distance, the biggest test of those liabilities to date. If Figueroa can keep the shorter armed Nery at the end of lead punches, his combinations can pile points and may handcuff the return fire. Figueroa has to bite down, grind, and be the bigger man. How much he can take to deliver should make for a fascinating fight.
The Pick: Tape doesn’t always tell the whole story and sometimes fighters who look quicker in general are not when the bell rings. Still, it’s hard to miss what looks like a pretty good gap in speed and explosiveness for this fight. There is a thud to Figueroa’s shots that can multiply but Nery has a snap to his that can’t be taught. Nery is far from unhittable but he’s good at the sort of subtle defensive shifts back to offense that allow a fighter to land effectively in tight quarters. The thinking here is Nery uses his feet to press Figueroa and slowly breaks him down with cleaner shots over the course of the fight. Figueroa overwhelming Nery with offense is possible but it feels like Nery is just better in too many categories. The pick is Nery by decision.
Rold Picks 2021: 26-3
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org