Between April 1975 and February 1980 boxing underwent a major expansion as it added three new weight classes (junior flyweight, junior bantamweight/super flyweight and cruiserweight) while reviving a fourth after a nearly 53-year hiatus. Even though the 122-pound division originally was launched in 1922 — it survived only 11 months and two fights before fading into oblivion — its real history began in April 1976 when Rigoberto Riasco stopped Waruinge Nakayama in Panama City to lay claim to the WBC bauble.
Since then, it can be argued that this weight class — whether one calls it junior featherweight or super bantamweight — has boasted the richest history. For instance, Riasco’s split decision over Dong Kyun Yum in August 1976 is one of the sport’s most notorious yet forgotten scandals. According to Harry Mullan’s “The Great Book of Boxing,” Yum appeared an easy winner but the challenger’s hometown crowd erupted in fury and surrounded referee Larry Rozadilla on his way to the dressing room once the decision was announced. Twenty-five minutes later a beleaguered Rozadilla returned to the ring and reversed the result but changed course again once he reached the safety of California.
That chaotic start was followed by a string of sensations — Wilfredo Gomez-Lupe Pintor, Leo Cruz-Sergio Palma II, Lupe Pintor-Juan “Kid” Meza, Soo Hwan Hong-Hector Carrasquilla, the first Marco Antonio Barrera-Erik Morales war and the titanic trilogy of 122-title fights between Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez, to name just a few.
On ESPN’s Friday Night Fights Teon Kennedy and Christopher Martin will look to take another step toward their championship dreams while eight days later on Showtime, WBA titleholder Rico Ramos and “interim” beltholder Guillermo Rigondeaux will seek not only to “unify” the WBA strap but also attempt to live up to the standard of their progenitors.
Time will tell whether any member of this quartet will ever approach the high bar their predecessors have set. The roster of 122-pound champions runs deeper than its relatively brief history suggests and this list of the division’s 10 greatest champions will serve as proof.