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FROM BOSTON TO NY, To See Good Boy in Action

Jeffrey Freeman

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Saturday morning, 6am.

When the alarm bells went off bright and early in Boston to awaken me for my big day in the Big Apple, I’d already been yanked from my slumber just a few hours prior by a 2am “Amber Alert” that sent my iPhone into a buzzing frenzy. For some reason, I thought it was going off like that because I had some new Twitter followers.

After a quick shower and an even quicker breakfast (protein shake fruit smoothie) I logged onto my computer only to find that my popular KO Digest “friend page” on Facebook was being converted by the powers-that-be into a Facebook “like page”, a virtual disaster for my ability to communicate with my loyal online audience.

As easy as it would have been to let this social media mishap spoil my pilgrimage to the Mecca of Boxing, I did my very best to not let it bother me too much; I began downloading a copy of the old page to my hard-drive and allowing the long process of conversion to begin. During this extended period while that was slowly taking place in cyber space, it was as if the KO Digest page on Facebook was in a strange state of pugilistic purgatory, technically knocked out before the fight even started. Are you serious?

When I arrived at the Amtrak station in Westwood, Mass after a short drive from Boston, I parked my 1997 Ford Taurus SHO (that stands for Super High Output) in the MBTA parking lot and took the short walk to the terminal. As I rounded a corner to have a seat in the lobby, who did I see but fellow Sweet Science boxing writer extraordinaire Springs Toledo. I told Springs about my Facebook situation (Toledo once referred to KO Digest as the “pied piper” of boxing) and he told me about the new boxing book he’s writing, In The Cheap Seats. That’s certainly a very appropriate name for his work in progress considering that Springs was traveling to the same fight card I was traveling to, but with a paid ticket in his pocket for the cheap seats and no press pass to speak of this time around. As my Acela Express train rolled into the station at 8:25am, we said our goodbyes and I took a quick selfie with the well dressed, award-winner from the Boxing Writers Association of America. As it turned out, Springs was taking the next train(8:55am) bound for Penn Station.

Yes, his seat was indeed a little bit cheaper. Holy Toledo, he even rode coach.

On the fly-by four hour train ride to midtown Manhattan, I sat with a young college student from Boston University named Jennifer. She was traveling to New York City for a student conference in the Capital District where she was planning to meet up with her new boyfriend Blake. I asked her if she knew anything about the Gennady Golovkin fight at MSG or if she’d even heard of the popular puncher known in boxing circles as Triple G. “Is he in the UFC?” she asked with a puzzled look on her face. Not surprisingly, Jennifer had no idea who or what I was talking about. Golovkin might very well be on the verge of becoming a crossover star in the larger sporting world, but he’s still an unknown commodity among college freshmen and pretty girls with crushes on pretty boys.

During the second half of the trip, in between checking emails and working on this travel log, I continued to deal with my now suddenly defunct social media outlet in an effort to get the page up and running again for the busy day ahead. By 11am, there was still no KO Digest on Facebook and I was starting to get concerned messages from friends and readers in the boxing community wondering just what the hell was going on with their trusty KO Digest. I tried to explain as best I could but having to do so just reminded me of how frustrated I was with the whole situation. The timing could not have been worse for me but boxing is nothing if not a struggle for all involved.

After a pleasant ride that went by like no time at all, my train rolled into Penn Station right on time at 11:45am. When that first blast of New York City air hit me in the face during the escalator ride up and out of the underground station, I was immediately struck by how cold and windy it was outside. I was expecting brisk weather but not quite early winter conditions. I put on a light jacket and made a loop around the historic venue to have a look around. It was still a little early in the day for the big boxing crowds to start filling in around Penn Station but I did hear a few folks already talking about the middleweight title fight on tap tonight in the big room.

I have to say, no trip to New York City is complete for me without first going down to Ground Zero for a show of respect to all the lives lost and forever destroyed on September 11, 2001. As a disabled American Gulf War era veteran, I’ll never forget 9/11. On that fateful morning fourteen years ago, I was proudly wearing the uniform of my country as a United States Army soldier. Seeing the site now turned into a squeaky clean memorial is meaningful but to also see how it’s become commercialized and capitalized, well, that makes me feel dirty on the inside and even colder on the outside. I’m reminded of Bernard Hopkins and Felix Trinidad in the wake of unimaginable tragedy.

Fortunately, by 1:30pm, the sun was starting to warm up the day and my spirits along with it.

If the heart and soul of boxing is the art of talking about boxing, that’s just what I managed to do for a few hours during the afternoon with a fellow named Art from Long Island. Art was enjoying his coffee and doing a little people watching when we struck up a conversation at the 7th Avenue Starbucks location. Before you knew it, others around us had jumped into the fray and we talked about everybody from Muhammad Ali to Hector Camacho to Rocky Marciano (“Rocky is Rocky!”) to Floyd “Money” Mayweather. As the banter heated up, I heard a wiseguy wisely say, “If Mayweather is one of the guys in the ring tonight, you’re not gonna see a fight.” I assured them there would be no shortage of action in the Garden tonight before heading over to TGIF’s for a last minute bite before the fights. Not surprisingly, more great conversations went down around me at the bar while I scarfed back a Pepsi and some overpriced tuna wontons. The bartender overheard our debate about Mike Tyson and piped in that he lives next-door to a guy in Brooklyn who was Big George Foreman’s first professional opponent, Don Waldheim. In boxing, it’s a small world. Everybody knows somebody. Waldheim was knocked out by Foreman in the third round in 1969. The rest is history.

From there, it was over to 31st & 8th to pick up my media credential at 5pm sharp. The line wasn’t very long and it moved pretty quickly. As I was waiting outside to pass the security checkpoint, former heavyweight championship challenger Gerry Cooney emerged from the entrance and I couldn’t help but shout out, “Gentleman Gerry, we loved ya!” Cooney counter-punched quick with, “I love you,” before he asked me how I got so big. Cooney is 6’6. I’m 6’11. I told Gerry that I, like he, ate my spinach. Of course, that didn’t help the big fella when he was poleaxed by “Big George” in 1990.

With my press pass in hand, I headed over to the media room where I was accompanied by Derek Bonnett and Jason Prilbila from the website Second Out. Derek could hardly contain his excitement over getting to cover his “favorite fighter” Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez. I was very happy to see “KO JO” Jack Obermayer in the house wearing a Panamanian paper hat and a plaid shirt. I asked Jack how he’s feeling these days. Jack described himself as “weak” but for doing what he’s still doing with what he’s got, cancer, I’d say he’s pretty damn strong. Keep punching Jack.

After a quick pow-wow with my esteemed editor-in-chief, Michael “Call Me Woodsy” Woods, popular referee Steve Willis made an unexpected pass through the media room and I told Willis how glad boxing fans were that he was assigned to cover the main event, Golovkin vs. David Lemieux. Willis is an intense (bug-eyed) third man in the ring. In any fight he works, the action is always written all over his wonderfully expressive face.

I could only envy the unique perspective he’d have of the fisticuffs in just a few short hours.

Unfortunately, my dream of sitting ringside in press row proper at Madison Square Garden for a big time prizefight was dashed when I took a closer look at my red media credential. Section 327, Row #2, Seat 6. That’s “up there” but not a bad view at all in a dedicated media section stationed above the ring in the newly renovated MSG. That would be my point of view for the night ahead but by no means am I complaining. It’s a privilege and an honor to cover professional boxing on its biggest stages and to do so for one of the most well written and well read boxing websites in the world, The Sweet Science. With nothing but gratitude, I made my way up to my seat at 7:30 by taking an escalator all the way to the ninth floor. The arena was not yet half-filled as undefeated Lamont Roach, 9-0, battled Jose “Flash” Bustos, a 7-6 junior lightweight from one of the most dangerous places on Earth, Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Bustos lost a wide unanimous decision and nearly got knocked out in the final round but he held up like proud Mexican fighters tend to do.

At 9:30, the legendary Roberto Duran appeared on the jumbotron and the now near-capacity Garden gave the Panamanian icon a loud reception while the smiling “Hands of Stone” blew kisses to his adoring fans from ringside. Duran famously defeated New Yorker Davey Moore at this venue in 1983, destroying the young WBA junior middleweight champion with a cruel precision still talked about reverentially to this very day. In town during fight week, “Cholo” was asked about Golovkin and something apparently got lost in translation. Duran thought the reporter was asking him about Andrew Golota, the “Foul Pole” of boxing and scapegoat of the infamous 1996 riot that took place right here in the aftermath of Golota’s foul-filled bout against New Yorker Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe.

When the jumbotron showed American Presidential candidate Donald Trump in the locker room pressing the flesh with Pound-for-Pound candidate Gennady Golovkin, the reaction was mixed to say the least.

By 10:00, the heavyweights were in the ring. While undefeated Cuban Luis Ortiz and Argentine punching bag Matias Ariel Vidondo plodded around the ring like Tony “TNT” Tubbs and Francesco Damiani, I decided to take a quick walk around the upper levels of the building. I’m glad I did. It was there I ran into Chip Mitchell, a Facebook friend (and KO Digest reader) who crossed into my real world tonight with some kind words and an unexpected gift. Without warning, Mitchell gave me a silver necklace with a silver boxing glove on it. “Keep doing what you’re doing sir,” he told me as if he knew I needed to hear it. I thanked him and went back to my work station to watch Ortiz stop Vidondo with a straight left hand in the third round of a clumsy mismatch. To my immediate right, Stefan Oliva, a young deadline writer from an Argentine newspaper, scrambled around as he tried to file the disappointing story of his countryman’s face first defeat.

In the co-main event, World Flyweight Champion Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and Brian “Hawaiian Punch” Viloria didn’t exactly light the joint on fire but they did put on a very high quality title fight with a definitive result. Viloria was knocked down early in the bout and was getting batted around at will by the smooth punching Nicaraguan. There’s a good reason why Gonzalez, who draws comparisons to his idol Alexis Arguello, is seen as the number one pound for pound boxer in the world today following the recent retirement of Floyd Mayweather. Nobody out there today is as technically perfect in the ring as Gonzalez. To his credit, Viloria did his best to avoid a bad beating but he was catching one whenever Gonzalez let his hands go. In the ninth round, Gonzalez let them go and didn’t stop until referee Benjy Esteves stepped in at 2:53 with Viloria on the ropes taking punches from all angles.

By 11:30, Golovkin and Lemieux were in the ring and the Garden was rocking with spontaneous chants of “Triple G, Triple G” ringing out to start the fight. Golovkin was patient in the first round, using his stiff left jab to spear Lemieux, keeping the Canadian honest and his vaunted left hook home. People talk all day about Golovkin’s offense but his defense was good enough to easily avoid the wild power of Lemieux in the second round by just leaning back away from it. In the third, Golovkin landed a hard left hook to the liver, left hook to the head combo and he finished it up with another flush jab to the face of Lemieux. The pace picked up in the fourth and it looked like Golovkin might lower the boom but Lemieux stood in there like a champion and took the abuse while returning fire. Back on his heels in the fifth from more Golovkin jabs, Lemieux wasn’t landing much and when he did, Golovkin walked through it. After a knockdown of Lemieux by Golovkin in the fifth, Lemieux showed his grit in the sixth as the blood began to pour from his nose and mouth. In the seventh, referee Steve Willis brought the bloody Lemieux to see the ringside physician and the fight resumed after a cursory look by the doctor. In fact, it was referee Willis that was taking the closest looks at Lemieux and as the IBF middleweight champion was getting smashed about the head by Golovkin, the horrified look on Willis’ face told the story of the fight. In the eighth, Willis had seen enough carnage for the night and he jumped in to stop the one-sided fight at 1:32 of the frame.

With the win, Golovkin improved his record to 34-0 with 31 KOs. Golovkin now has 15 successful defenses of his WBA middleweight title, 21 consecutive stoppages in the ring, and of course, sole possession of the IBF 160 pound title that he won tonight from David Lemieux.

At the post-fight press conference, middleweight Tureano Johnson (unanimous decision winner over Eamonn O’Kane on the undercard) said he’s the one to beat Golovkin in the future. “He can hit me with all he’s got. I can knock him out, too, ” the Bahamas-bred boxer claimed. “I have a cast iron chin,” he told the press.

When the black and blue Lemieux hit the stage, he gave credit to Golovkin but the ex-champ did say he thought the stoppage was a little premature. Golovkin, smiling with four belts spread out before him, wrapped up his experience in the ring against Lemieux: “It was not an easy night but it was a good night.”

At 2:05 am on Sunday morning, I filed this write-up with The Sweet Science and made my way back down to Penn Station for the long train ride back to Boston. In the end, Golovkin was right of course, it wasn’t an easy night but it was a damn good night.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 110: Chocolatito, Lipinets and More

David A. Avila

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 110: Chocolatito, Lipinets and More

In the middle of the former Aztec Empire, now called Mexico City, a series of super flyweight world championships will be staged for the entire world to see on Friday.

If this were the 1500s there would be blood. This is 2000, there will be knockouts.

Leading the charge WBC super flyweight titlist Juan Francisco Estrada (40-3, 27 KOs) defends against former champion Carlos Cuadras (39-3-1, 27 KOs) at Gimnasio TV Azteca in Mexico City. Also joining will be Nicaragua’s Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, the WBA super flyweight world champ. DAZN will stream the card live.

Both Estrada and Cuadras want another crack at Chocolatito.

This is the second time around for the Mexican fighters. Estrada won their first encounter when they met at the StubHub Center in Carson, California. Cuadras just could not pull the trigger. Blame it on Estrada.

Cuadras, 33, has more to lose than just consciousness. The fighter known as “Principe” will be fighting in his hometown. That’s bad for business to lose in from of your home boys especially if you talk as much smack as Cuadras.

Northern Mexico’s Estrada, now 30, handily defeated Cuadras three years ago but views the Mexico City native as a stepping stone to his true target Chocolatito. The fighter known as “Gallo” wants revenge.

Back in 2012, in the city of Angels, “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and Estrada met at the old Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. That arena no longer exists but the memories of their encounter blazed its way to most fight fans brain cells. Although under-publicized, it was one of the best fights of that decade.

Nobody knew much about Estrada at that time, but Gonzalez was in the middle of a triumphant run toward becoming the best recognized fighter “pound for pound” in the world. He would reach it against Cuadras of all fighters. But against Estrada the Nicaraguan master fighter nearly was toppled.

The several thousand fans in attendance knew they had witnessed a classic. Many wanted to see a rematch. If both win on Friday, it’s likely that rematch will take place early next year.

Chocolatito

Gonzalez (49-2, 41 KOs) meets Israel Gonzalez (25-3, 11 KOs) of Los Cabos, Mexico. Many fans thought Chocolatito was done when he lost twice to Thailand’s Sor Rungvisai. It was the knockout loss that seemed to be the clincher. But he found a solution training in the desert sands of Coachella, California and now he’s back stronger than ever.

Chocolatito ripped the WBA world title away from Khalid Yafai last February and that left fans speechless. But at 33 how much is left for this 115-pound warrior?

What better place than Mexico City to discover who emerges from the smoke?

It was here in Mexico City, formerly known as Tenochtitlan, that the Aztec empire ruled over much of North and Central America. Battles were held constantly just for practice. True story. The Aztecs would have practice wars to keep up their killing skills and lives would be lost. It still remains one of the world’s greatest fight capitals.

Another bout features WBC flyweight world titlist Julio Cesar Martinez (16-1, 12 KOs) the fiery Mexican City fighter defending his throne against Moises Callero (33-9-1, 17 KOs).

The card on Friday night will be a strong one. Don’t miss it. It all begins at 4 p.m. PT on DAZN.

Showtime

Former super lightweight titlist Sergey Lipinets (16-1, 12 KOs) moves up a weight division and battles Canada’s Custio Clayton (18-0, 12 KOs) for the interim IBF welterweight title at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. Showtime will televise.

Lipinets, who trains in Los Angeles, has long sought another title shot at super lightweight and now heads into the welterweight realm and finds himself facing a Canadian fighter. You never know how good these guys are until they step in the boxing ring.

Also, on the same card, undefeated Xavier Martinez (15-0, 11 KOs) meets former world champion Claudio Marrero (24-4, 17 KOs) in a 12-round super featherweight match. Martinez, 22, may not be ready for the super slick Marrero but the Californian hasn’t had much trouble so far.

Fights to Watch

Thursday Oct. 22, UFC Fight Pass 7 p.m. Luis Torres (8-0) vs Orlando Zepeda (9-1).

Fri. Oct. 23, DAZN, 4 p.m. Roman Gonzalez (49-2) vs Israel Gonzalez (25-3); Juan Francisco Estrada (40-3) vs Carlos Cuadras (39-3-1); and Julio Cesar Martinez (16-1) vs Moises Calleros (33-9-1).

Fri. Oct. 23, Telemundo, 11:30 p.m. Belmar Preciado (20-3-1) vs Rodolfo Hernandez (30-9-1).

Sat. Oct. 24, Showtime 7 p.m. Sergey Lipinets (16-1) vs Custio Clayton (18-0).

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

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The Top Ten Flyweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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The Top Ten Flyweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

As we near the end of a lengthy series, a reminder of our criteria.

These are decadal lists, placing under the microscope the fights and fighters that occurred between January first, 2010 and December the thirty-first 2019; no fights outside these dates are considered.

Fights that occurred outside the weight class to hand, in this case flyweight, are only of passing interest – we appraise here the men who fought at 112lbs only. In doing so I utilise a number of different tools, from the video upload sites delightfully stuffed with boxing of all shapes and sizes, to the DVDs I continue to buy with inexplicable regularity to the detailed rankings helping to decipher who was who the day two contenders met.

Those rankings are from Ring Magazine from 2010 through 2012 before the founding of the TBRB allows independent rankings to be utilised for the remainder of the decade.

Finally, achievement, the who and the how, are given much heavier weight than more speculative concerns like perceived skillset and projected head-to-head predictions.

With the boring stuff out of the way, allow me to introduce you to the top ten flyweights of the decade past.

10 – Sonny Boy Jaro

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 17-7-5 Ranked For: 10% of the decade

The Tale of Sonny Boy Jaro is one of the great and under-told stories of the decade.  A journeyman, he also had an iron will that saw him bounce his equally iron-hewn physique from 108lbs up to 118lbs and back, fighting a busy schedule in his native Philippines and beyond. Problematically, he would also lose whenever he stepped up to elite level.

Until he ran into the great Pongsaklek Wonjongkam. That Jaro was able to beat him is astonishing.  Then ranked the world’s number eight fighter pound-for-pound, Wonjongkam was probably approaching a place where he might have been ready to be taken, but he just didn’t lose to the likes of Jaro, a type he ran into often. Jaro though, had learned his trade. He hurt the champion with the very first punch he threw and dropped him with the fourth or fifth, then he stayed right on him throwing consistent, hard punches, staying rough and aggressive. In the sixth, Wonjongkam was suddenly and finally worn, down twice, the second time dangerously under a vicious assault; the fight was waved off.

Jaro, alas, did not shake off his tendency to lose the big ones and dropped the title in his first defence. This makes Jaro’s hold on the number ten spot a little tenuous, but the fact is that nobody in contention held anything like as superb a win over so accomplished a fighter. From Daigo Higa to Artem Dalakian to Hernan Marquez, nobody did enough to supplant him.

09 – Amnat Ruenroeng

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 20-3 Ranked For: 22% of the decade

First, let’s get Amnat Ruenroeng’s 2015 defeat of John Riel Casimero out of the way. You can read about this insane parody of a prize-fight, for which Ruenroeng receives no credit, here. As I wrote at the time, “referee Larry Doggett…was very clearly guilty of, at the least, ineptitude. Like much in life that is truly ludicrous, it was funny and tragic in equal measures.”

His best win neutralised by his indiscipline, Ruenroeng’s victories of note become a little thin on the ground, but as we have seen, there is no depth of competition for these lowest slots. 2014 was his key year and in May Kazuto Ioka, one of the better 108lb boxers in the world, stepped up. It was bizarre to see the smaller man bringing the pressure while Ruenroeng maneuvered, seemingly spooked by Ioka’s beltline work and prodding straight; he found the gaps though, especially for an impressive uppercut which allowed him to hang on to Ioka’s coattails and a late rally saw him hold on to his strap in a widely judged split decision where each and every card somehow seemed reasonable.

This confusion, this chaos, is Ruenroeng’s hallmark, and whether he was throwing knees and elbows or waiting and deploying his jab, he had an air of intimidation matched by his ability to get under his opponent’s skin. Against McWilliams Arroyo he was dropped in the sixth by a winging left hook, cast adrift on the cards left and in need of five of the remaining six rounds. He got them. He got them by swapping out his cautious countering for sudden, rampant aggression and discombobulating holding and wrestling, culminating in his throwing Arroyo to the canvas in the tenth. Arroyo, furious and thrown from his rhythm, won only the last of the second six.

Ruenroeng earned supplemental wins over Rocky Fuentes and Shiming Zou and was a bubbling, vicious handful for absolutely every flyweight he ever met.

08 – John Riel Casimero

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 15-4 Ranked For: 19% of the decade

After being mugged by Amnat Ruenroeng in Bangkok, Filipino John Riel Casimero was made to wait an entire year for a rematch, to be fought on neutral territory in China. Preparation was disastrous for Ruenroeng who managed to weigh in over the super-flyweight limit on his first attempt, finally making the 112lb limit four hours later at the hotel in front of few witnesses. Whatever occurred, Ruenroeng looked sharp in bagging the first but his dark arts were firmly under the control of referee Tony Weeks, although he did manage to cast Casimero to the canvas in both the third and the fourth.

But later in the fourth, Casimero did the casting, dumping Ruenroeng into prayer position with a lighting left hook as the two twisted inside. Ruenroeng made it up but in what must rate as the most satisfying moment of his career, Casimero achieved his revenge, untidily but definitively by knockout in the fourth.

This was a good summary of Casimero in those flyweight days. He was brave and direct but sometimes disorganised; fun but a little frothy although he had more than enough though to see off future beltholder Charlie Edwards, among others. Casimero couldn’t hold the poundage long enough to make a serious dent but he is happily locked above his nemesis Amnat Ruenroeng, a real case of the good guy finishing first.

07 – Pongsaklek Wonjongkam

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 17-2-1 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

Pongsaklek Wonjongkam (also known as Phongskorn Wonjongkam or Pongsaklek Sitkanongsak) is the greatest flyweight on this list – but as far as the decade goes, we capture only the last meaningful wins of a once pre-eminent fighter’s career, followed by his shocking loss to Sonny Boy Jaro. Behind that loss, Wonjongkam achieved no other wins of interest and in fact managed to throw in another shocking loss.

In 2010 though, Wonjongkam was holding onto the very last of it and in the ring with the division’s number one contender no less, Koki Kameda. In an impressive veteran’s performance, Wonjongkam won clear, despite the inexplicable drawn card found by judge Predrag Aleksic. He can be seen punishing Kameda for even minor transgressions in positioning, finding him with punches if Kameda moved across him rather than taking a half step back and going across him, forcing Kameda to circle more widely, taking more steps than he would have wished, forgoing the range and movement he appeared to have trained for. Perhaps not unrelated was Pongsaklek’s strong finish. Despite being the more shopworn of the two, he dominated the late action.

A year later, Wonjongkam met the final ranked contender he would defeat in his storied career in the form of Edgar Sosa, a near peer, a man born just two years after him who nevertheless had fought just over half the contests. It showed. Once more Wonjongkam finished the fight the stronger of the two in winning a wide decision victory fighting at a fast pace but he earned that right by out-hitting his fresher opponent throughout the entire contest, by wasting little, by knowing where his opponent was at almost all times. These behaviours are learned rather than taught and it was wonderful to watch a master of them ply his trade.

Not so much that Wonjongkam could be installed at number six though; he does post losses to Jaro, perhaps the least likely true champion since James Douglas, and then Rey Megrino, a professional loser of the type Wonjongkam had been beating up for walking-around-money for years. Still, his sun setting on the era was one of the events of the flyweight decade.

06 – Kosei Tanaka

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 15-0 Ranked For: 11% of the decade

Kosei Tanaka stepped up to 112lbs early in 2018, quickly tested the water versus the overmatched Ronnie Baldonado, then steamed headlong into Sho Kimura and the fight of the flyweight decade.

Writing about Tanaka back in 2015 with his record at just 4-0, I named him the world’s brightest prospect but pointed out that his mobile but aggressive style was a demanding one. “Does he have the engine for it?” was my question. “If he does, will he hold his power late enough for it to matter?”

Tanaka answered the first of these questions gloriously and forever against Kimura. Kimura, at that time the world’s number two contender, is a granite-jawed pressure fighter with the type of insistent pressure that only elite power can dissuade. Tanaka whaled on him early, a glorious left hook to the body his main power shot, but straight punches and dashing hooks were sprinkled liberally throughout. Tanaka has delightful footwork but rather than moving (some short late spells aside) he used it to form a tight, constricting circle while throwing serious punches with a fluidity which would have pleased Roman Gonzalez. Kimura, ceding rounds early, nevertheless threw return punches relentlessly, himself a technician of no small note.

Re-watching them for this article (and for any other reason I can think of) I had the sense that each man’s punch resistance relative to the other’s power meant they could barely hold one another’s punches comfortably enough to retain form and no more; slightly more power on either side would have upset the rhythm of this glorious fight. As it was, each hurt the other but once, Tanaka bending Kimura’s knee briefly in the second, himself stalling under the fuselage that was the height of Kimura in the twelfth and final round.

A lifelong atheist, I occasionally pray for a rematch.

Also, in my 2015 appraisal of Tanaka I claimed that his power would remain a limiting factor – that “I don’t think he will ever be the kind of fighter to be rescued by his power.” One of the great glories of following Tanaka’s career has been watching him emerge as a puncher, not a darkening one, but something more than just stinging, too. He proved this most of all in August of 2019 against number ten contender Jonathan Gonzalez. Gonzalez is far from impossible to stop, the trick has been pulled twice before but it was Tanaka’s relentlessness that impressed me as much as anything else. He determined to apply pressure to a moving opponent and at some point around the sixth his technically sound punches morphed into technically competent meathooks. Gonzalez went from moving to outright fleeing to being lashed to the canvas by a body-attack that is painful to watch.

One suspects the next flyweight decade will belong to Tanaka.

05 – Akira Yaegashi

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 16-5 Ranked For: 15% of the decade

Akira Yaegashi wasn’t really a flyweight but a Japanese superfight with Toshiyuki Igarashi was impossible to turn down; Yeagashi won and found himself on an exciting, enriching and impressive flyweight adventure as well as the legitimate flyweight champion of the world. It made his legacy.

Igarashi just didn’t have the power to keep Yaegashi under control, nor the silk to throw fluidly enough on the move to consistently outscore him, so the fight devolved into a brutal and aggressive shoot-out, a fight that Igarashi could not possibly hope to win. Yaegashi was the champion of the world. He beat up a wilted Oscar Blanquet in his first defence and then matched the number three contender, Edgar Sosa, a tough fighter in the best form of his life.

Yaegashi thrashed him. This fight was a little different, the Japanese working to keep one step ahead of his opponent, but generally speaking, he was a shark in the ring, irrefutable upon smelling blood but vulnerable when he ran up against superior firepower. Such was his fate in 2014 when he ran into the irresistible Roman Gonzalez in the absolute prime of his career.

He immediately dipped back down to 108lbs, where he probably belonged, re-emerging briefly at flyweight in 2019 where he suffered another loss. More of Yaegashi, who may prove to be underrated in a pound-for-pound sense, next time, but credibly cracking the top five at 112lbs is no mean feat. It will be his highest divisional ranking.

04 – Brian Viloria

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 12-4 Ranked For: 66% of the decade

It makes me uncomfortable when a fighter’s keynote win is a fighter from the division below moving up, but I make an exception for Brian Viloria in the case of Giovani Segura, who moved up from 108lbs to take him on at 112lbs in 2011. Segura was, at that time, ranked among the top ten fighters in the world pound-for-pound having twice blasted out the great Ivan Calderon and if anyone deserves the nod four pounds north it is him. Viloria though demonstrated how much those four pounds can matter, negotiating Segura’s hard-swung punches to stop him in eight one-sided but exciting rounds.

This fight came as a part of Viloria’s golden 2011/12 run and even more exciting had been Viloria’s nine round destruction of Julio Cesar Miranda five months earlier. Viloria, a powerful puncher, dropped Miranda in seven but the number seven contender came back steaming and an electric battle for territory followed, fought at pace and for the most part on the inside, a fight which Viloria won. Miranda, unable to fight going backwards, was neatly dispatched in the ninth.

Viloria looked near invincible when he was dominating but in fact he was easier to hit than is normal for an elite flyweight. This cost him later in his career when he had slowed down a bit and in truth, despite his lingering in the rankings until 2018, his last truly meaningful win came in late 2012 over the excellent Hernan Marquez. This was a painful memory for me as Hernan was one of my favourites and Viloria soundly thrashed him around the ring, dropping him in the first and fifth before stopping him in the tenth. Viloria was a fighter of real talent on offence, but a certain vulnerability meant he was always to come up short against the division’s true elite.

03 – Moruti Mthalane

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 14-0 Ranked For: 95% of the decade

South African Moruti Mthalane cracked the Ring Magazine rankings back in 2008 behind his defeat of the formerly ranked Australian Hussein Hussein. Today, TBRB ranks him at number two and although he was removed for six months for inactivity in 2013, he has spent 95% of the decade past operating as a ranked flyweight. This is astonishing.

And yet, rather like Omar Narvaez at 115lbs, although the overall career-arc is impressive, the detail feels underwhelming. In thirteen years hunting straps Mthalane has met so few Ring/TBRB ranked contenders it can be painted a deliberate strategy. In fact, Mthalane never met a fighter ranked higher than nine, which is a travesty.

Almost despite himself though, Mthalane built a solid resume in taking on lowly or unranked fighters who would reach the top of this division or who had previously made their mark. Such victories bookend his decade.

In September 2010 Mthalane posted a knockout over the budding (but ranked) flyweight Zolani Tete. Tete was unbeaten at 13-0, but Mthalane just rounded him up with an insidious pressure that must be awful for an inexperienced fighter to face, before dispatching him in the fifth. Six months later he pulled an almost identical trick against none other than John Riel Casimero.  Nearly ten years later Mthalane stopped former champion Akira Yaegashi in nine. Three different seek-and-destroy missions played out against three different opponents with ten years separating the first and the last; it is impressive stuff.

Mthalane’s legacy problem is that in between, he did so little of note, Muhammad Waseem and Masayuki Kuroda his best performances in the interim, but his longevity and his undefeated status for the decade impresses so much he is rendered at #3. That he made a victim of Yaegashi last year gets him over that line.

02 – Juan Francsico Estrada

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 28-3 Ranked For: 31% of the decade

Juan Francisco Estrada emerged from 108lbs with the brakes off, matching the world’s number one contender Brian Viloria in June of 2013 in an immediate and violent assault on the division.

Clearly unintimidated, Estrada stepped into Viloria’s wheel-house and out-fought him there, matching his armaments, and out-hitting him. It was the seventh when the divisional number one finally broke before him and the fight was a foregone conclusion from that point. Estrada did not drop another round on my scorecard.

Variety was the key for Estrada in this fight. He eschewed the jab in favour of leading with right hands, left hooks, and especially uppercuts, sometimes stepping in with the front foot and bringing up an “L” while face to face with his prestigious foe. It was a risky strategy and Estrada suffered for it in the sixth, but as he continued to mix leads at speed regardless of cost, Viloria found himself more and more on the end of punches he was not prepared to counter. Once the pre-counter was beaten out of him he fought on without real hope.

Rocketed to the very top of the division, Estrada certainly did no hiding meeting ranked contenders Milan Melindo and Giovani Segura (by then an established flyweight) and the sliding Hernan Marquez. Of these, his performance against the unbeaten Melindo most impressed me. His left, as always, weaved magic, a combination of push jabs, uppercuts, hooks, especially to the body and of course feints; but it seemed that the right spoke more forcefully than it had until this match, too. A slingy, overhand punch was perhaps the most damaging and persistent he threw, and a menacing right uppercut, though less frequent, partnered it.

A preference for the brutal, heart-rending knockout he scored against Marquez is valid but either way, it’s a resume and execution worthy of the number one spot. Sadly, he once again has to make do with number two, which is the same position he landed at 115lbs. An old adversary edged him out.

01 – Roman Gonzalez

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 25-2 Ranked For: 29% of the decade

Juan Francisco Estrada may have had the best uppercut/power-punch combination of the flyweight decade, but there were no other two-pieces, combinations or flurries of any designation where any flyweight could rival Roman Gonzalez. He is a superb puncher and perhaps the best composite puncher in the division’s entire history. His coming to flyweight was a sure reckoning.

Gonzalez had probed the division for years but arrived in earnest in 2013 against no-less a figure than Francisco Rodriguez, a component rather than a great fighter, but one who is always in great fights. Rodriguez’s Mexican approach could not stand Gonzalez though, who turned him away in seven. One year later he stood in the ring with Akira Yaegashi, the flyweight world champion.  Yaegashi had until this day demonstrated a heart of oak and elite punch-resistance but he never recovered from what Gonzalez fed him.

No fighter is more comfortable at all distances than Gonzalez and he gave a masterclass in seek and destroy when Yaegashi tried to move. Yaegashi tried to check his man’s momentum with brave forays but over and again he was out-hit, out-thought. Never was the right hand better; Gonzalez threw it in all shapes and at all ranges and at many different carefully selected targets. The glove eventually became a living feint, something that made Yaegashi flinch away in uncertainty, even as Gonzalez began to wind up the left. The referee eventually intervened after the second knockdown of the fight in the ninth round, and a new champion was birthed.

Gonzalez did good business in the top five as king, without making his claim as one of the great ones.  He staged four defences, chief among them Edgar Sosa and Brian Viloria ranked four, and McWilliams Arroyo ranked seven. He brooked no resistance, rolling over Sosa in two, outfighting a brave Brian Viloria who managed to survive for nine rounds, before finally going the distance with Arroyo. This last is the most fascinating fight of these three in that Arroyo found a way to survive.  Gonzalez ceded the opening rounds, as he often did against bigger men, but, like Joe Louis, like Ray Robinson, once he had found you, he had found you for all time. Gonzalez decoding how a man below 112lbs moves is the same as his winning the fight, going on all available evidence.

Arroyo covered up, staged resistances but he was outhit for the third through to the twelfth by four and five punch combinations, narrow, webbed punches within which net Gonzalez responded to movement with the same sensitivity as a spider detecting prey. He took the closest range against Arroyo, a good fighter, and beat him up. This is Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez distilled.

It is also the last of him as a great fighter. He remains, to this day, a good one but his final fight at 112lbs was his last where he was able to work with fighters who did not hold over him a prohibitive size advantage. When he departed the division for the richer purses at 115lbs he also broke the lineage of the longest lineal title in the world, dating back to Miguel Canto and the 1970s. It was a prestigious crown to abandon.

You sense it would have come about either way though. Roman Gonzalez could be fighting at the weight still and it is unlikely they would have found a man to defeat him – whenever he departed the division he would have taken the title with him.

The uncontested number one decadal flyweight.

The other lists:

Heavyweight

Cruiserweight

Light-Heavyweight

Super-Middleweight

Middleweight

Light-Middleweight

Welterweight

Light-Welterweight

Lightweight

Super-Featherweight

Featherweight

Super-Bantamweight

Bantamweight

Super-Flyweight

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Featured Articles

In Defense of Julie Lederman

Ted Sares

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In-Defense-of-Julie-Lederman

Some years ago, Matt Podgorski (a former boxing official) came up with a formula for evaluating the performance of boxing judges worldwide by determining the percentage of instances his or her scores were consistent with the other two judges working the same fights. He called it the Pod Index. It was a rare effort to quasi-quantify the work of boxing judges. “Boxing and MMA judges are often evaluated based on whether or not they have had a controversial decision. This is a poor way to assign and regard professional judges,” said Podgorski in an interview with former RingTV editor Michael Rosenthal.

Matt’s Disclaimer: “We are not claiming that judges with low Pod Index scores are bad judges. The Pod Index is simply a measurement of round by round variation compared to other judges.”

Julie Lederman placed very high in Podgorski’s study. In fact, only one  veteran judge — Canada’s Benoit Roussel — had a better score.

For more information about the Pod Index, see http://theboxingtribune.com/2014/12/19/the-pod-index-a-step-in-the-right-direction/

Confirmation Bias

Some of this writer’s favorite judges, in addition to Lederman, are Steve Weisfeld, Glen Feldman, Dave Moretti, Glenn Trowbridge, Joe Pasquale, Max DeLuca, Hubert Earle, Benoit Roussel, Burt Clements, Rocky Young, Joel Scobie, Tom Shreck, Don Trella, William Lerch, Pinit Prayadsab, and Raúl Caiz, Jr. All of them have been maligned at one time or another.

Being a judge is a thankless endeavor and attention is mostly received when something controversial happens. Once a judgment is made about a bad job, that judgment influences future perceptions. This is known as “confirmation bias.”

Thus, Julie Lederman’s highly questionable scoring in the Loma-Lopez fight, though it didn’t change the result, will most certainly label her a bad judge, tarnishing her reputation despite all of the fine work she has done in the past. Moreover, it’s now fashionable to “pile on” and castigate her with a nasty Bob Arum leading the charge.

“…what kind of fight was she watching,…these judges are the craziest…I would advise any fighter I would have to ask the commission not to appoint her…” — Arum

This wasn’t the first time that Arum criticized Julie. Back in 2014, Tim Bradley and Diego Gabriel Chaves fought to a draw. Lederman scored the fight 116-112 in favor of Chaves. Arum had this to say: “She should never be allowed to work in Nevada again….Her scorecard for Chaves is an absolute disgrace …[She was appointed] because they let these [expletive] Showtime guys put a fight on the same night that we did it. They don’t have enough judges. They don’t have enough referees. They want to accommodate both parties. Why? Because they’ll do anything the [expletive] MGM asks them to do.”

“It’s easy to criticize boxing judges. But it’s not that easy to have a sound basis for the criticism. One needs to see the fight the judge saw to be in the position to rightly criticize. Critics should temper criticisms in light of the situations boxing judges are in when judging fights. And judges should likewise understand criticisms from the boxing public, however baseless these may seem.”  — Epifanio M. Almeda

Lederman, 52, is in her 24th year as a professional boxing judge. Her assignments have taken her to eight foreign countries and Puerto Rico. And she has been a fixture this year at the MGM Bubble, working 18 fights across seven shows without incident prior to this past Saturday night.

This, of course, does not excuse Julie’s scoring on Saturday (119-109 for Teofimo Lopez), but it needs to be kept in mind that she has been ranked high over the years and does not have in her past work a pattern of poor judging such as seemed to exist, for example, in Texas and which drew the ire of Paulie Malignaggi.

When she first hit the scene, cries of nepotism and politics accompanied her, but those complaints quickly evaporated. Whether she can bounce back from this controversy remains to be seen. This writer hopes she can.

Photo: Julie Lederman and her father are flanked by Henry Hascup, President of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame and Aaron Davis, former President of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board

Ted Sares can be reached on Facebook or at tedsares@roadrunner.com

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

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