What is the difference between the junior lightweight and super featherweight divisions in boxing? Technically none.
Junior lightweight is the division below lightweight (135 pounds) and super featherweight is the division above featherweight (126 pounds). So the weight limit for super featherweight and junior lightweight is 130 pounds.
Junior lightweight or super featherweight are among the nine divisions “inserted” between the original eight weight divisions in boxing. And with so many weight divisions in boxing today, it is very hard to identify those who are worthy to be called super stars or icons. The existence of several “alphabet soup” boxing organizations also muddles matters further. I mean, with at least five boxing organizations today, there can be up to five champions for each weight division.
It was very easy to know who the boxing super stars were during the days when only the eight weight divisions existed without the “juniors” or “supers”: flyweight (112 pounds), bantamweight (118 pounds), featherweight (126 pounds), lightweight (135 pounds), welterweight (147 pounds), middleweight (160 pounds), light heavyweight (175 pounds) and heavyweight. And from the 1970s, there were only two boxing organizations: the World Boxing Council (WBC) and the World Boxing Associa- tion (WBA).
Today, there are 17 weight divisions including the straw weight or minimum weight (105 pounds) division that is two notches below flyweight. Minimum weight is actually one notch lower than junior flyweight (108 pounds) that is in turn a notch below flyweight. Then, there’s the cruiserweight (200 pounds) division sandwiched between light-heavyweight and heavyweight.
And besides the WBC and WBA, the other boxing organizations today include the World Boxing Organization (WBO), International Boxing Federation (IBF) and International Boxing Organization (IBO). So multiply 17 weight divisions by five boxing organization and the world would have as much as 85 boxing champions today.
Today, a boxer who wins a world championship no longer enjoys the same prestige as a boxer who wins one of the eight weight division championships from any of the two boxing organizations decades back. That is the painful truth.
It’s a good thing The Ring magazine has its Pound-for-Pound rankings that names the most outstanding champion in each division and the top 10 contenders.
So if a boxer wins any of the 17 weight divisions from any of the five boxing organizations today, his battle for recognition has only started. And we can look at three examples from the Philippines on how to gain recognition at the championship level: Donnie Nietes, Nonito Donaire and Manny Pacquiao.
Nietes gained recognition for racking up successful defenses at the straw and junior flyweight divisions eclipsing the feat of Gabriel “Flash” Elorde. And he is now The Ring magazine champion at junior flyweight. While Nietes did not collar all the belts from the other boxing organizations, his successive defenses in two weight divisions has gained him enough recognition.
In the case of Pacquiao, he won championships in eight weight divisions that includes four “junior” or “super” championships: junior featherweight (super bantamweight at 122 pounds); junior lightweight (super featherweight); junior welterweight (super lightweight at 140 pounds); and junior middleweight (super welterweight). As far as I can recall, Pacquiao only fought once at lightweight and super welterweight. But I know is Pacquiao was recognized as the world lineal champion at junior lightweight without officially winning a title in that division from any of the world boxing organizations, which I consider a remarkable feat.
Donaire’s feat is also unique compared to Pacquiao and Nietes. Donaire won the IBO and WBA world titles at flyweight, held the WBO and WBC world bantamweight titles and collared the WBA, WBO and IBF world super bantamweight titles. Had he stayed at super bantamweight, Donaire could have collared all the titles from the five boxing organizations. All told, Donaire was champion in five weight divisions.
The achievements of Nietes, Pacquiao and Donaire at the championship level show that winning a world title and defending it once or twice is no longer enough for a boxer to become a household name. And let’s face it—Pacquiao would never be the Pacquiao who won championships in eight divisions if boxing only had eight divisions. And maybe Nietes would have a hard time winning a world champion if there was no straw weight or junior flyweight division.
As for Donaire, he is going back to the junior featherweight division to make another run for recognition.
Maybe we should be thankful today there are 17 weight divisions in boxing. That’s also good business for the five world boxing organizations that charge “sanctioning” fees for every championship bout held. As a line from a popular song of Abba goes, “Money, money, money, must funny, in the rich man’s world.”