Boxing’s 130-pound division will be one of the most vibrant and compelling the sport has to offer in 2020. It has a solid quartet of belt holders, and an influx of talent from 126 pounds is ready to push them.

Over the next two weekends, Leo Santa Cruz, Oscar Valdez and Carl Frampton — who all held featherweight world titles and sit second, fifth and sixth, respectively, in ESPN’s 126-pound rankings — will step up in weight to take on new challenges.

Despite the migration of Gervonta “Tank” Davis to lightweight, these additions make the junior lightweight one of the deepest divisions in all of boxing.

And with most of the fighters in the division eager to face each other, by the end of 2020, junior lightweight could well be the next division to find some clarity.


The titleholders

Andrew Cancio: Cancio (21-4-2, 16 KOs), 31, defends his WBA “regular” junior lightweight title against Rene Alvarado. Cancio’s success is so recent that he still holds onto his day job at the Southern California Gas Co. But he has had a banner year, defeating the previously unbeaten Alberto Machado twice.

Cancio entered 2019 a journeyman and will leave it a true world titlist, if he beats Alvarado, on the precipice of some major opportunities atop the junior lightweight division. This bout with Alvarado (31-8, 20 KOs) is a rematch of a 2015 fight in which Cancio stopped the Nicaraguan in the eighth round at the very same venue where they will fight on Saturday.

While this rematch might seem questionable, Alvarado is the mandatory challenger, and this fight is a gateway for Cancio to earn bigger and more lucrative fights in 2020.

Miguel Berchelt: Berchelt (37-1, 33 KOs), 28, won his title in January of 2017 by stopping Francisco Vargas in 11 rounds. He has made six successful defenses of the WBC belt and most recently thrashed Jason Sosa in four rounds on Nov. 2.

Berchelt is an all-action fighter, overwhelming foes with an impressive rate of activity while taking advantage of his good size (5-foot-7) for this weight class. He appears to be in his physical prime and growing in confidence, winning 16 consecutive fights since getting stopped in one round by Luis Eduardo Florez in 2014. He has perhaps the best résumé of any current junior lightweight, with a pair of victories over Vargas, plus wins over Takashi Miura and Miguel Roman.

Tevin Farmer: Farmer (30-4-1, 6 KOs), 29, is a classic, slick, southpaw boxer. The Philadelphia native is a story of perseverance after kicking off his career with a loss in his pro debut via knockout against Oscar Santana in four rounds in 2011. In his first eight fights, his record stood at 3-4-1. But since that point in time, only Jose Pedraza — who would go on to be a belt holder in his own right at 130 pounds — has been able to solve Farmer.

In August 2018, Farmer traveled to Australia and clearly outpointed Billy Dib to capture the vacant IBF crown. Since then, he has defeated the rather uninspiring quartet of James Tennyson (TKO5), Francisco Fonseca (W12), Jono Carroll (W12) and, most recently, Guillaume Frenois. Farmer is much more of a technician than an entertainer, and it’s clear he needs a notable dance partner, which could come to fruition if an arrangement can be reached with Top Rank.

“We’re loaded with great 130- and 126-pounders … next year we’re going to mix-and-match as best we can,” promised Top Rank founder Bob Arum, who promotes Valdez, Frampton and Berchelt. “And if we can get a guy like Farmer, as well, he figures in.”

There are reports of Farmer, currently ranked No. 2 in the division by ESPN, facing Joseph Diaz in late January. While Diaz and Golden Boy have come to terms on their side, Lou DiBella, who promotes Farmer, tells ESPN that they still have not received a firm offer as of Nov. 14.

“We’re in the process of trying to work out a deal with [Matchroom promoter] Eddie [Hearn], at least for a Jojo Diaz fight, alone,” said DiBella, who had made an agreement for Farmer to fight on DAZN over his past four fights.

However, DiBella added, “Tevin has commented that he has concerns about being locked in — if it’s not a great deal that he’s locked in to with an endgame. He’s concerned about the length of the deal.”

Jamel Herring: Herring (21-2 10 KOs), 34, won his title in May by outboxing Masayuki Ito over 12 rounds. The ex-Marine who served two tours in Iraq is a well-schooled southpaw who represented the United States in the 2012 Olympics. His career hit rough waters as he lost to Denis Shafikov and Ladarius Miller a few years ago, but Herring has really found himself as a boxer after joining the camp of WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford.

Herring has an eye on two-division world titleholder Frampton, and a fight against an Irish boxer on St. Patrick’s Day at Madison Square Garden would be a massive potential platform in play.

“It’s definitely priority No. 1,” affirmed Herring, who recently defeated Lamont Roach Jr. by unanimous decision in his first defense of that belt. While he initially had wanted to face Berchelt, Herring understands that Berchelt has other plans.

A unification fight with Cancio down the line is realistic in Herring’s eyes, given the fact Golden Boy, Cancio’s promoter, and Top Rank recently have made deals and seem to be on good terms. But Frampton also is under the Top Rank banner, like Herring.

“Carl is the easier route to go, right now, so if he wins, that’s the fight I would look forward to,” Herring said.

Whether Frampton is indeed next, the idea for Herring in the long term is to go head-to-head with the other world title holders — proving himself against the best.

“That’s the only way to basically stand out in today’s world of boxing,” said Herring, who yearns for unification bouts in the upcoming year. “As you see, there’s a new belt every month, every time you look at it. So in order to stand out as one of the best in your division, at least, you’ve got to start unifying some of these titles.”


The newcomers

Leo Santa Cruz: On the same night Cancio-Alvarado will take place, Santa Cruz (36-1-1), 31, will look to add gold as well when he faces Miguel Flores for the vacant WBA “super” 130-pound belt at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

The situation surrounding the “super” title upsets Cancio, who points out that he beat Machado for the WBA regular belt and that he should be fighting for the “super” title, not Santa Cruz. It is why Cancio’s focus after the Alvarado bout is on trying to fight Santa Cruz next year, if Santa Cruz beats Flores.

“I’m pretty ticked off. I’m upset at Leo Santa Cruz too,” Cancio admitted. “Don’t give me this BS, ‘Oh, [adviser] Al Haymon, he’s my employer and I have to listen to him.’ Yes and no, you’re also a fighter, and I know you want that fourth title, but there’s a world champion already in that division.”

Santa Cruz hasn’t said much about Cancio.

“I’m only focused on my fight because I know that Miguel Flores is going to bring everything he has to try to win that title,” Santa Cruz said recently during an open media workout in Los Angeles. “There are a lot of great champions in this division, but I can’t think of anything past Flores.”

Oscar Valdez: Valdez (26-0, 21 KOs), 28, defeated Matias Adrian Rueda to win his first world title and then made six successful defenses of that featherweight strap, before weight-cutting issues prompted a move up to 130. In his junior lightweight debut, Valdez faces Andres Gutierrez (38-2-1, 25 KOs) at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas on Nov. 30 (ESPN+). The WBC has announced that the winner of this bout will get the next shot at Berchelt.

“If we win, I would definitely want a fight with ‘Alacran’ Berchelt,” Valdez said. “Berchelt is a good friend of mine. He’s a great fighter. I do believe he’s the best at 130 pounds. But that’s the reason I want to fight him: I want to become the WBC world champion.”

While Valdez held the WBO 126-pound title for a few years, it was a relatively undistinguished run, outside of his bloody battle on a wet, rainy night in Carson, California, where he defeated Scott Quigg. Valdez valiantly fought on that evening while suffering a fractured jaw that eventually kept him sidelined for 11 months.

At junior lightweight, Valdez has a chance to participate in some career defining fights.

“I want the best,” Valdez said. “I want Berchelt because I don’t like hearing comments where they say I’m scared to fight or that I don’t want to fight the best. I really do want to fight the best, and I’m planning on showing it after I fight this guy. If I take him out, I win my shot for a title and I’ll do my best to become a world champion again.”

If that’s the path Valdez chooses, he would be taking on the toughest physical challenge of his career — a fighter he is very familiar with, going back to their days as Mexican amateurs.

Carl Frampton: Frampton (26-2, 15 KOs), 32, co-headlines that Thanksgiving weekend Valdez-Gutierrez card in Las Vegas, set to take on Tyler McCreary in a catchweight bout at 128 pounds.

Frampton, who captured major titles at 122 and 126 pounds, is still undecided as to whether he’ll become a full-fledged junior lightweight. But he has one clear vision in mind.

“I want my next fight to be against a champion, in the featherweight or junior lightweight division,” Frampton said.

Frampton is one of three boxers from Ireland, along with Steve Collins and Katie Taylor, who have captured championships in two weight classes. Winning a third in the 130-pound division would be historic.

“I’d be the only one from Ireland — I’d absolutely love that,” admitted Frampton, who said this would be his biggest motivation to go up in weight. And there just happens to be a belt holder who Frampton would love to face: Herring.

Would Frampton be interested in such a bout on one of the biggest boxing days of the year in New York?

“Absolutely,” he said. “I think it would be huge.”