Three men can lay claim to the title of “world champion” in boxing’s junior featherweight division. The WBO title belongs to Emanuel Navarrete, who faces Francisco De Vaca on Saturday (10 p.m., ESPN) at the Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles.
Rey Vargas has been the WBC champion for two-and-a-half years, and Danny Roman became one of a handful of unified champions in the sport with the WBA and IBF belts back in April.
There’s no clear No. 1 in this weight class, but the possibility of more clarity in the division is on the horizon.
There’s no shortage of challengers, either. There’s longtime standout Guillermo Rigondeaux (ranked No. 1 at 122 by ESPN), as well as tough contenders and former champions such as Azat Hovhannisyan, TJ Doheny, Ryosuke Iwasa, Ronny Rios, Carlos Castro, Ryan Burnett and Brandon Figueroa.
There are a plethora of fights to be made, but the biggest question that lingers is the golden question that hangs over every division: What are the chances of getting an undisputed champion?
Here’s a look at the immediate prospects of each champion in this weight class:
Emanuel Navarrete (27-1, 23 KOs)
The 24-year-old native of Mexico City burst onto the scene in December, when he upset the streaking Isaac Dogboe for the WBO crown. He proved it was no fluke by stopping Dogboe again in the 12th round in their rematch in May.
He’s a tall, lanky sort of fighter who does a good job of controlling distance and range while letting his hands go liberally. Navarette was simply too rangy and busy for Dogboe in their two meetings. After he proved himself to be more than a one-hit wonder with his second victory over Dogboe, he signed a co-promotional deal with Top Rank, alongside Zanfer Promotions.
Navarette is a tough physical matchup for anyone in the division because of his stature, his durability and his tendency to stay active.
Chances of unifying the division: Navarette’s association with Top Rank means that his bouts will be televised on ESPN platforms. Roman and Vargas are currently on DAZN, complicating matters. But there is a recent precedent for fighters crossing the street for significant bouts — the case in point being the recent junior welterweight unification showdown between Jose Ramirez and Maurice Hooker, in which a Top Rank boxer (Ramirez) fought on DAZN and brought back two belts.
Best possible unification bout for Navarrete: A clash against Roman would be the most crowd-pleasing matchup, given that Roman has a track record of chopping down taller opponents, and he has a solid fundamental style.
Danny Roman (27-2-1, 10 KOs)
Roman is one of the most improved fighters in the division in recent years. Until a few years ago, the 29-year-old was an unknown boxer from the West Coast, but Roman burst onto the scene by stopping Adam Lopez in 10 rounds on a ShoBox card at the beginning of 2017, which he parlayed into a world title shot.
Eight months later, Roman went to Japan and decisively beat Shun Kubo for the WBA strap. From that point on, he has made four successful defenses of that belt while performing in locales such as Frisco, Texas, Chicago and Los Angeles. He has put the “world” in world champion. In his most recent bout, he defeated Doheny in an entertaining, back-and-forth affair to add the IBF hardware to his collection.
The only thing Roman lacks is above-average power, but everything else is in his toolbox. He is a complete prizefighter who can adapt to just about any style.
Chances of unifying the division: Well, first things first. Before Roman can even think about adding a third (or fourth) belt, he has a very tough mandatory defense coming up on Sept. 13 against Murodjon Akhmadaliev. Don’t be fooled by Akhmadaliev’s inexperience at 6-0 — this will be a tough out. It’s the epitome of a high-risk, low-reward situation. But if Roman should get past Akhmadaliev, a showdown with Vargas is a very realistic possibility to happen next.
Best possible unification bout for Roman: There isn’t much that separates Navarrete and Vargas, who are both unusually tall for this weight class, but Navarrete throws more punches — and for that alone, we’ll go with him in this spot.
Rey Vargas (34-0, 22 KOs)
Vargas is the epitome of a guy who is more effective than he is exciting. The 28-year-old Vargas is around 5-foot-11 (taller than many welterweights), and his fights are often awkward and difficult to watch. He doesn’t get many style points, but give Vargas this much: He has a solid set of victories over the likes of Rios, Gavin McDonnell, Oscar Negrete and Azat Hovhannisyan, and in his most recent bout, he out-pointed Tomoki Kameda on July 13.
Chances of unifying the division: As stated above, both he and Roman are under the DAZN umbrella, so this fight is easy to make happen from that standpoint.
Best possible unification bout for Vargas: Vargas hasn’t yet proven that he can be entertaining in a fight, but on paper, he and Roman make for the best mix of styles. Really, this would be more about Roman, who has faced fighters of similar stature, such as McDonnell, Kubo, Moises Flores and Ryo Matsumoto, and dealt with them well.