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The Top Ten Superflyweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

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Appraising the best superflyweights of the past decade was fascinating, not least because of the many excellent fights delivered throughout, but also because of the matchmaking strategy the top superflies almost universally engaged in. Top superflyweights do not duck each other; they duck lesser contenders.

In essence, the best of 115lbs spend time beating up prospects and gatekeepers then stage monumental showdowns with one another for the biggest dollar figure their stature can muster. It is refreshing and strange to work on and the result is this: no other division has delivered such numerically light resumes and no other weight class has seen so many fighters from the decadal top ten face each other.

It made things easier except when it didn’t – numbers one and two are really numbers 1a and 1b this time around, for example.

I hope you enjoy reading about it.

10 – Tomas Rojas

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 20-7 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

There were no fewer than seven candidates for the #10 spot.

Separating them was extremely difficult and Tomas Rojas’s claim upon the position is not irrefutable.  What cemented his placement in the end were his victories over Suriyan Kaikanha and Nobuo Nashiro, who were themselves (briefly in the case of Nashiro) candidates for the #10 spot. Many of the men in contention fought one another. Rojas was the only man without a spot to defeat two of them. It seems a reasonable selection.

Jerwin Ancajas, currently ranked the world’s number four super-flyweight, was my original choice, but his draw against Santiago Barrios is troubling; I can’t find a scorecard for anything but an Ancajas loss in that fight, and for a fighter whose best win was McJoe Arroyo, that won’t do. He was elbowed aside for Zolani Tete, but in the end, Tete’s best wins at the weight don’t quite measure up to those of Rojas and in combination with two losses at the poundage, Tete was barely edged out. Kaikanha, Nashiro and Kohei Kono were briefly considered but fell short for varied reasons and while Kazuto Ioka was an appealing choice, he suffered a defeat to Donnie Nietes. Nietes, on the other hand, fought exactly two fights at 115lbs: a controversial draw with Aston Palicte and that controversial win over Ioka.

So, it is Rojas, who despite some disappointing results higher up the scale lost only a single fight at 115lbs in the decade. His two key wins were unsurprisingly against Nashiro and Kono and his peak performance was Kono; that 2010 contest is worth tracking down for Rojas’s absurd dominance, quick-footed, quick-handed, with handsome, clean southpaw punching throughout. Despite a last round scare it was a blue-chip performance.

Rojas was chased from the division by the wildly inconsistent Suriyan Kaikanha, which is a mark against him, but I’m satisfied he’s the right man for the #10 spot.

09 – Yota Sato

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 9-1 Ranked For: 30% of the decade

Like Rojas, Yota Sato was bogged down in comparisons with the other candidate for the number ten spot, exalted by having, like Rojas, two victories over contenders for the #10 spot. In addition, he racked up more wins at the poundage. Just a little more activity was enough to get him across the line, so little is there to separate them – if only they could have met in the ring, it would have been a tremendous contest.

First of the candidates for this list to be beaten by Sato was Kohei Kono, with whom he clashed in early 2011 for the Japanese superfly title. Kono would go on to become a name that mattered with victories over Koki Kameda and Denkaosan Kaovichit.  Against Sato he deployed pressure, seeking to bull his way inside and deploy bunches.  Sato, who was comfortable on his toes, came down often to duke it out with him but it was the rounds he won on the move that were key. Sato’s footwork is fascinating, high stance, quick moves that licence some fascinating leads, from right hands to left hooks to the body to uppercuts. It was the latter that was the key in the Kono fight, an absolute peach of a counter on the inside dropping Kono for a count. The drama did not end there. Adaption and counter-adaption abounded in what was a fascinating learning fight for both men. Sato was a clear winner on points.

The following year he graduated for real, outpointing a vicious Suriyan Kaikanha. Kaikanha was the real deal, coming off victories over Tomas Rojas and Nobuo Nashiro; Sato dropped him twice in the third which was enough to keep him ahead on all three cards in a gruelling affair that acted as a final gut and chin-check for Sato.

Never less than fascinating, I enjoyed Sato’s career immensely. It was ended, a little prematurely in my view, behind the vicious 2013 thrashing administered by the great Srisaket Sor Rungvisai.

08 – Hugo Fidel Cazares

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 10-3 Ranked For: 17% of the decade

Hugo Fidel Cazares is famous, if he is famous at all, for being a victim; a victim of Ivan Calderon at 108lbs in 2008, a victim of Carl Frampton at 122lbs in 2014. He deserves more than this though and in between these two losses he did his best work, most of it at 115lbs. He is not helped here by the bisection of this purple patch by the changing of the decades, but did enough to get him over the line, the first lock of the list.

At the end of the 00s he had fought a thrilling and strangely forgotten immortal combat with the seemingly invulnerable Nobuo Nashiro, a fighter whose tendency to fall short at the highest level saw him only fleetingly considered for this list but whose astonishing durability made for a difficult night’s work for Cazares in a fight scored a draw. In their rematch, however, Cazares showed championship consistency born of experience and banked round after round to put a decision in the bank; it was neither controversial nor thrilling in the manner of their first contest.

It was also the most significant win of Hugo’s decade. Now the number one superfly in the world, he set out to cash in on his status with a series of quick matches against competent rather than glowing opposition before running into the much fresher Tomonobu Shimizu on what was his fourth visit to Japan. Even then the fight was so close that it could be argued he deserved the nod; Cazares was never beaten clearly at 115lbs in this century.

A strange fighter capable of hyperactive perma-feinting or traditional high-gloved occupation of ring centre, he perched so squarely over his leading leg it was sometimes hard to tell if he throwing southpaw or orthodox. He was also never anything less than good value and his smear into obscurity is undeserved.

07 – Tepparith Singwancha

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 27-1 Ranked For: 29% of the decade

Tepparith Singwancha, also known as Tepparith Kokietgym or Panthep Mullipoom, out of Thailand, was one of my favourites in the early 2010s, at least until he ran into Kohei Kono in 2012. The loss was incidental; it was his immediate and shameful retreat into Thailand where he gorged himself on six rounders against soft opposition that turned me away from him. Ignore the 27-1 paper record for the decade. It is a sugared turd.

But Singwancha enjoyed a handsome prime between the turn of the decade and that hurtful knockout loss to Kono. He squeezed in no fewer than thirteen wins in that short space of time, most of them against limited opposition but in back-to-back fights against Drian Francisco (23-0-1), Daiki Kameda (22-2), Tomonobu Shimizu (19-3-1) and Nobuo Nashiro (18-4-1), Singwancha made his bones for the decade.

Of these, it is Nashiro and Shimzu in which we are most interested, and it is Shimzu against whom Singwancha turned in his best performance. Not a fighter blessed with quick feet, Singwancha is a paradigm of consistency in applying pressure, never far from range, almost always in position to punch. Stopped just once he can hold superfly punches and return them with interest but has enough arbitrary head-movement to prevent himself becoming a punchbag. His persistence inflicts disorganisation on any opponent without the firepower or mobility to negate it; Shimzu, who met Singwancha in April of 2012, had neither of these things but nor was he cut adrift. Menaced by Singwancha’s swarming attack in the fourth, he succumbed to it in the ninth still in touch on the judge’s scorecards but overwhelmed by pressure of withering insistence. A ragged one-two punished him along the ropes.

06 – Omar Andres Narvaez

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 20-4 Ranked For: 50% of the decade

Omar Andres Narvaez’s superfly career was a crushing disappointment. He could only be regarded as the divisional number one and yet – and yet, Narvaez did so little of meaning. If “clearing out a division” has a diametric, Narvaez defined it.

The best fighter he met was probably Felipe Orucuta (stopped dramatically last summer by Jonathan Rodriguez) who he first met in May of 2013 and, I would argue, was lucky to do so in his native Argentina. The fight, which was close enough that it could not be deemed a robbery, nevertheless went against Orucuta, the bigger man, the bigger puncher, who seemed to have both outhit and outworked his more prestigious opponent. Orucuta was given a rematch the following year and it was on this night that Narvaez proved himself definitively to be world class.

Narvaez, who had been repeatedly pushed back by Orucuta’s aggression in the first fight, started directly and with precise volume punching but after the first two rounds he drifted again, cornered in the third and hit to the body. From the third it appeared nothing less than a continuation of that first gruelling fight. The difference was that Narvaez, who had lost the final four rounds even on the Argentinian television scorecard for the first fight, came roaring back at his man in tenth through twelfth to edge home by the narrowest of margins on my card and win a majority decision.  It was as clean a gut-check as you might expect to see, and Narvaez passed it with flair and heart.

His number two opponent was Cesar Ceda, a rangy southpaw who also enjoyed a clear size advantage over Narvaez. He also appeared swifter when throwing those long, rapier-like punches, but after a slow start, Narvaez began to find him with regularity and in what was the most impressive performance of his career, Narvaez won a clear decision.

Ceda was probably a little better than his ranking (8), but he was also the last made man Narvaez would ever beat at 115lbs. His resume is barren. Beholden to the alphabets that controlled his career, he imported soft-touch after soft-touch to his Argentine stronghold for a long series of easy wins. When he finally left for Japan and a top five contender (the first he had ever met) he was summarily butchered by Naoya Inoue. So, is he good for the number six spot? Despite the shortcomings his longevity and consistency buoys those three keynote wins to extent enough that six becomes his natural spot – ranked with neither the true elite nor the second tier.

05 – Carlos Cuadras

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 25-3-1 Ranked For: 48% of the decade

Carlos Cuadras has a miserable resume for having been ranked as a flyweight for almost half of the decade but his place in the top five is unthreatened. In the widest terms, Cuadras didn’t do the work but his clashes with the world’s best were frequent and telling – most of all his 2014 defeat of no less a figure than Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. Rungvisai was perhaps a year removed from his absolute prime, but he was experienced at 27-3-1 and in possession of the physical gifts that would see him become one of the three most fearsome superflyweights of his generation.

Cuadras dominated him almost completely, and yet the win was not entirely satisfactory. Solving the riddle with fleet footwork and counter-rushes defined by a handy body-attack, he piled up points early, arguably winning all six of six before losing the seventh – but he lost it big, shipping a huge punch to the body before going on the run.  Early in the eighth the two clashed heads, exacerbating a cut a similar clash had caused in the third and resulting in a technical decision win for Cuadras.  Rungvisai had suddenly appeared much closer from the fifth and that sickening bodyshot casts a doubt – but Cuadras emerged with the win, one of the best of the decade despite circumstance.

Two years later he clashed with Roman Gonzalez; soundly beaten on this occasion, Cuadras was nevertheless in the fight and he exceeded expectations to such a degree that in some corners of the internet he was seen a winner. In 2017 though, Cuadras legitimately pushed a pound-for-pounder to the very edge. He pronounced himself “fast, strong and very handsome” ahead of his clash with Juan Francisco Estrada and he proved a chunk of that in the opening four rounds. He took every one of those with a fast, straight jab and his limber mobility. Estrada closed the gap on him late with searing uppercuts before edging Cuadras out by the narrowest of margins, a single point earned via a tenth-round knockdown.

Cuadras perhaps does not have the wider resume to justify the holding the number five spot, his next best win is likely over Luis Concepcion, but he is in many ways the fulcrum upon which the division turned. I am not uncomfortable with his placement.

04 – Roman Gonzalez

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 25-2 Ranked For: 30% of the decade

Roman Gonzalez was one of the decade’s exceptional fighters. 115lbs is where he reached his roof.

Stepping up to his fourth weight division, Gonzalez ran straight into Cuadras and knew about it. On paper it was a fine style advantage for Gonzalez who builds up stream while tracking down a fleet foe, but Cuadras was too big to wither.

What this meant was that Cuadras could afford to trade with Gonzalez, unheard of at lower weights.  Here, at last, Gonzalez underwent his first legitimate gut-check and passed with flying colours, out-fighting Cuadras in the seventh after appearing, momentarily, to have slipped from the box-seat in the sixth. In truth though, Gonzalez won clearly; I gave Cuadras only first and eleventh clearly (and the sixth and tenth narrowly).

Then Gonzalez ran into Srisaket Sor Rungvisai.

The story of Gonzalez and Rungvisai is now one of Rungvisai’s dominance and the second fight is the reason why, but in truth Gonzalez was unlucky to drop the decision during their first thriller, landing the cleaner shots and landing more shots. Finding a card for Rungvisai is not easy. The point was rendered moot by their second fight which saw Gonzalez stopped for the first time, but by this point, he had all but guaranteed himself the number four spot with his victory over Cuadras.  Supplementary wins would follow and in 2020 Gonzalez has proved he has much left to give.

03 – Naoya Inoue

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 19-0 Ranked For: 32% of the decade

The Monster, Naoya Inoue, screeched out of 105lbs and continued to take the same bodies he had racked up in the lowest weight division. While 115lbs represented a roof for Gonzalez, Inoue thrived there before steaming north to bantamweight with all the momentum of a heatseeking missile. For him, superfly was a mere bump in the road.

That said, he is the only man in our top five that did not prove himself against someone else in the top five. His defining 115lb moment came against divisional number one and decadal number six Omar Narvaez. Narvaez was Naoya’s first superfly opponent, a man regarded universally as the divisional Don who furthermore had lost but one fight in the fourteen years since he had turned professional. Narvaez was exactly the sort of fighter a physical protégé would be well advised to avoid. Naoya instead paid premium to tempt him from his Buenos Aires fortress.

Then he steam-rolled him. He made not a single mistake in the few short minutes Narvaez was able to live with him, brushing off the punches of one of the most experienced elite fighters on the planet as though he were a rank amateur; supernaturally balanced – finding his slippery foe with a fierce consistency. The right hands to the body he peeled off in the second were beautiful to behold. Just hours after the contest I wrote that he had the look of a “31-year-old veteran rather than a 21-year-old kid” and six eventful years later this remark stands.

Two years later, in 2016, Naoya met number eight contender and Japanese cult hero in a fight widely ignored in the west that had the flavour of a near superfight in the east. Naoya became the first man to crack what was then one of boxing’s elite chins. Naoya’s sixth round knockout of Kono was devastating. The punch that sent him on his way seemed almost invisible and the trailing uppercuts that preceded it in the fifth advocate for the banning of that punch in the boxing ring.

This aside, Naoya beat up a series of emerging talents and gatekeeper types that were wasteful of his great talent; still, in a decadal division where the top tier fighters tend not to exceed a pair of elite names this is more than enough to ensconce him comfortably in the number three spot.

02 – Juan Francisco Estrada

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 28-3 Ranked For: 30% of the decade

Reigning superfly champion Juan Francisco Estrada is in possession of two wins of such quality it is surprising that they aren’t quite special enough to buy him the number one slot; as it goes, his victory over Carlos Cuadras, a thrilling one essentially determined by a single punch, is not quite enough – Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, as we shall see has the better quality second win.

It is Rungvisai that edges Estrada out. Saying so is not in keeping with this series of articles where some amount of reveal is planned, however futile. These two though, are bound by the decade, the clear 1a and 1b who furthermore have met each other in the ring not once, but twice, a win apiece the frustrating but thrilling result.

Estrada lost the first fight between these two, close but clear and the manner of the loss was disturbing.  He was essentially bossed by a physically bigger fighter who had no fear of his guns.  Turning around such a disadvantage in a rematch is among the most difficult tasks in boxing, so when they met again, just over a year later, I expected more of the same. What we got was an early rout. I scored every one of the first eight rounds for Estrada and for all that Rungvisai stole some late rounds when Estrada went all Mexican, this was a one-sided drubbing.

Estrada achieved this astonishing turnaround – one of the most surprising in the history of rematches in my view – using the simplest of concepts which is also the most physically difficult of tasks. He committed to outfighting the bigger, stronger man with aggressive boxing. The hub on which this strategy turned was a commitment to the left hook, a punch that was conspicuous by its absence in the first fight. Estrada used this drilling punch to head and body, opening himself up to the right jab, a punch he knew from bitter experience that Rungvisai abhorred.

It worked. Such was Rungvisai’s distress he switched to orthodox; such was Estrada’s dominance that he closed out the fight engaging in a shootout, you know, just for fun. Such was Estrada’s dominance that it gives him a good case for inhabiting the number one spot.

He misses out by the narrowest of margins.

01 – Srisaket Sor Rungvisai

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 46-3 Ranked For: 65% of the decade

Those readers who have paid attention will have gathered the following: I don’t think that Srisaket Sor Rungvisai really deserved the decision over Roman Gonzalez in early 2017; and that Rungvisai’s defeat of Estrada was less comprehensive than Estrada’s defeat of Rungvisai. Why then should Rungvisai (pictured in the left against Estrada) be gifted the number one spot?

Thankfully, there are numerous reasons and although Estrada is breathing down his neck, Rungvisai at number one is not difficult to defend. First, there is his longevity: 65% of the decade in the top ten is not an enormous amount for a cruiserweight, but as we have seen, it is plenty for a superfly.  Rungvisai has been marking up the division since 2013 and has continued to add to resume throughout. His is the way of the Thai and he was out nine times in 2014 alone, usually against opposition that can kindly be described as moderate but consistently building the most numerically impressive ledger in the division – by some distance.

One of only two true divisional champions on the list, it is true that it is his near rival Estrada who is the other – but it is also true that Rungvisai ruled for more than a year while Estrada managed just seven months in the timeframe. These small edges matter in such a close comparison.

And while it is true that Estrada beat Rungvisai more convincingly than Rungvisai defeated Estrada, it is also true that Rungvisai’s win was clear, for all that it was closer. It was not a controversial fight.  A win is a win is a win as the saying goes and Rungvisai holds one over Estrada just as Estrada holds one over him. And yes, Rungvisai’s March 2017 decision victory over Roman Gonzalez was questionable but it also shod the path for Rungvisai’s finest moment, their September rematch.

Rungvisai’s destruction of Gonzalez was so deeply impressive that commentators, chief among them Max Kellerman, immediately began to sell the narrative that Gonzalez was shot when Rungvisai collapsed him. This is fantasy. Gonzalez was excellent in the first fight against Rungvisai and irresistible in 2020 in destroying Kal Yafai. In between these two impressive performances, Rungvisai detonated him, handling him like the former minimumweight he was, sitting him down, brutalising him from the pound-for-pound list.

Gonzalez beat Cuadras; Estrada beat Cuadras – then Rungvisai beat Gonzalez. Once again Rungvisai noses ahead when it comes to direct comparisons between the two. The argument as to who is the better superfly has yet to be settled but the answer as to who was the more accomplished 2010-2019 is known: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai Nakornl born Wisaksil Wangek, the greatest superfly of the decade.

The other lists:

Heavyweight

Cruiserweight

Light Heavyweight

Super Middleweight

Middleweight

Light Middleweight

Welterweight

Light Welterweight

Lightweight

Super Featherweight

Featherweight

Super Bantamweight

Bantamweight

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

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In a One-Sided Beatdown, Batyr Jukembayev TKOs Shopworn Ivan Redkach

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In a One-Sided Beatdown, Batyr Jukembayev TKOs Shopworn Ivan Redkach

The noted trainer Brian “BoMac” McIntyre had two fighters on tonight’s ProBox card in Plant City, Florida, and brought along the ace of his stable, Terence Crawford, to provide moral support.

The main event, contested at 140 pounds, had an Eastern European flavor pitting Kazakhstan’s Batyr Jukembayev against LA-based Ukrainian Ivan Redkach. Jukembayev, Crawford’s stablemate, needed no moral support as Redkach fought a survivor’s fight for as long as it lasted. A 33-year-old southpaw, the Kazkh won every second of the fight until the mismatch was halted at the 2:18 mark of round five.

It was the fifth straight win for Jukembayev (23-1, 17 KOs) whose only defeat was inflicted by Subriel Matias, the current holder of the IBF world title at 140. Redkach (24-7-1) was stopped for the fourth time including a fight with Regis Prograis where he succumbed to a phantom low blow. Now 38 years old, he should not be allowed to fight again. His showing tonight bore stark evidence that he is completely shot.

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a 10-round junior lightweight affair, Jonhatan Cardoso, a 25-year-old Brazilian, advanced to 17-1 (15) with a split decision over LA’s Adam “Bluenose” Lopez. This figured to be a fan-friendly fight and didn’t disappoint. Both fighters threw punches in bunches although Lopez’s workrate declined in the late rounds.

Lopez, now 17-6-1, is better than his record. His first five losses came against opponents who were collectively 109-6 at the time that he fought them. The son of the late Hector Lopez, an Olympic silver medalist for Mexico and a three-time world title challenger, “Bluenose” doesn’t have a signature win, but has a signature moment. He knocked Oscar Valdez down hard in their first of two meetings, a fight he took on 1-day notice when Valdez’s original opponent was scratched after coming in 11 pounds overweight. As a pro he has limitations, but is a high-octane fighter who rarely has a bad fight.

Two of the judges favored Cardoso. Their tallies were 99-91 and 96-94. The dissenter favored Lopez 97-93. The scores were all over the map, but the right guy wn.

Also

In the TV opener, Omaha-bred junior welterweight Charles Harris Jr scored a unanimous 6-round decision over Oceanside, California’s Kyle Erwin. The judges had it 58-56 and 59-55 twice.

A protégé of “BoMac,” Harris Jr., who began his pro career in Mexico at age 16, improved to 9-1 (7). It was the second pro loss for Erwin (7-2) whose lone prior defeat was the result of a cut.

In an unrelated matter, today (May 22) was the day that Ryan Garcia’s B-sample would be opened and analyzed. So we were all led to believe.

Confoundingly, it appears that opening the urine specimen and testing the contents aren’t performed on the same day. Dan Rafael enlightened us. “Will take a few days for results but certainly possible it could stretch into early next week due to weekend and holiday,” Rafael tweeted today on his Fight Freaks Unite platform.

Why wasn’t this made known beforehand so that fight journalists could plan their day accordingly? I place the blame on the New York State Athletic Commission.

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Oleksandr Usyk from a Historical Perspective 

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Oleksandr Usyk flipped the heavyweight division onto its head this past Saturday night in the Kingdom Arena, Riyadh, travelling a long way from home to seal his greatest victory. Usyk, small by modern heavyweight standards, towers over most men at 6’3″ and 220lbs and sporting a reach that lineal champions Ezzard Charles or Joe Walcott would have killed for. Things have changed though, and in the middle rounds of his war with Tyson Fury, Usyk suddenly appeared tiny. Fury, a giant at around 6’8” and over 260lbs seems a heavyweight for this century. Usyk, a journeyman in the most ancient sense of the word, feels like a throwback to a more savage time. His greatest achievements have taken place on foreign soil. The last time he boxed at home was almost a decade ago and given the situation in Ukraine and given Usyk’s 37 years, it is unlikely he will ever box there again.

Usyk took chances in the seventh and especially the eighth to take charge of a fight that seemed to be slipping away from him. In the vertigo inducing ninth, it was he, not Fury who appeared the giant. Usyk draped the Englishman over the ropes like so much fresh meat and tenderised him to within an inch of unconsciousness, the sheer hugeness of Fury perhaps preventing a referee’s intervention on behalf of his opponent, and not for the first time. Against both Deontay Wilder (the first fight) and Otto Wallin, a more squeamish official would have stepped in and stopped the fight, and here, too, there was a case. If Usyk seems a throwback, then Fury has been refereed like one, spared stoppages likely to be inflicted upon his peers, he was allowed once again to continue boxing, as Joe Louis was against Max Schmeling, or Jack Dempsey was against Luis Pirpo. But with Fury buckled at the knees, Usyk seemed the true heavy man in the ring.

In historical terms, Usyk is not a small heavyweight. He would have dwarfed “The Galveston Giant” Jack Johnson in the ring and loomed large over “Big” George Foreman. Usyk has every attribute necessary to make an unpleasant evening for Joe Louis, but it should be noted that while his footwork and speed and technical excellence would be the source of the discomfort, his excess of height and reach are the wildcards. Usyk would seem two to three weight classes bigger than Rocky Marciano, mainly because he is, and the towering Sonny Liston would look up. Circus strongman Jess Willard and the mob-sponsored Primo Carnera would both look down on Usyk – but not by that much. Usyk would stand eye to eye with Muhammad Ali but prime-for-prime he would outweigh him by ten pounds, as he would Larry Holmes. We must skip Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield and reach all the way into the Lennox Lewis era before we find men from history that truly out-size Usyk on a consistent basis.

Size, as Usyk has proven, is far from everything. Big by historical standards, he is small by modern standards. What else is now true in the wake of the seismic fistic events of Saturday night? Firstly, Usyk is unquestionably ranked the #1 heavyweight in the world. Of this, there can be no dispute. Accounting for his two wonderful defeats of another “super” heavyweight, Anthony Joshua, he is 3-0 against the rest of the top five and sitting unassailably at the head of the heavyweight table. More, and I have been surprised to see it disputed in some corners, Usyk is now almost as equally unassailably the pound-for-pound number one. The only fighter breathing the same air as Usyk right now is Naoya Inoue. Inoue has been operating at or near the highest level for longer, but the level of his opposition has not been as rarefied. Comparing the first phase opposition defeated by Naoya to the murderer’s row of cruiserweights that Usyk ran into during the Super Six series can lead to only one conclusion. Although Naoya’s busy, weight-class-bursting style has topped him out for most of the past two to three years, only one of these men has consistently been beating bigger, taller, longer opposition at the highest level, and that is Usyk. It is not a matter of opinion – he is the smallest man in my heavyweight top ten.

01 – Oleksandr Usyk

02 – Anthony Joshua

03 – Joseph Parker

04 – Tyson Fury

05 – Filip Hrgovic

06 – Zhilei Zhang

07 – Agit Kabayel

08 – Daneil Dubois

09 – Martin Bakole

10 – Joe Joyce

Usyk lives among giants now and where there is parity of height (Kabayel) he is the lighter man by 15 pounds. This is not true of Naoya, who despite his weight-hopping, still manages to run into fighters of the same height and of shorter reach. The opposition argument is narrow, but the relative size opposition is not and there is no pound-for-pound credential more significant than that of consistently out-fighting bigger men. Usyk has done so and will continue to do so for as long as he fights. There is simply no smaller man in his class.

Not since the heyday of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield has a lineal heavyweight champion consistently fought bigger men and not since Mike’s hype-infused prime has a heavyweight menaced the number one pound-for-pound spot. Usyk has not enjoyed anything like the same machine support as Mike did; indeed, he has laboured in the shadow of more prominent men until such time as he thrashed them. He is a true manifestation of pound-for-pound glory in the unlimited class. Where does this leave him in terms of all-time standing?

I am reluctant to rate active fighters for reasons that are obvious enough; Usyk could be pole-axed in three by an irate Fury in a December rematch and all this ink is for naught. But what I am willing to do is play let’s pretend and imagine Usyk as retired and consider his place in heavyweight history now.

Usyk’s raw numbers are low-grade at just 22-0 with 14 knockouts. Worse, most of this was built in the cruiserweight division and not the heavyweight division. Against men weighing in as heavyweights, Uysk is essentially 7-0, and only 3-0 against ranked opposition. On the other hand, one of these victories came against Daniel Dubois, now ranked, and the 3-0 was posted against Tyson Fury, generally held to be the best or second-best heavyweight in the world, and Anthony Joshua, ranked behind only Fury at the time of his first fight with Usyk. So, when he stepped up, he stepped up to tackle the best in the world and has become lineal as a result. It’s a hard ledger to wrestle with, but fortunately we have a career that is comparable in the shape of Gene Tunney.

Tunney, a career light-heavyweight, earned a heavyweight legacy built of essentially one man: Jack Dempsey. Past-prime and inactive, Dempsey was ripped apart by Tunney in their legendary first fight and did better in a losing effort against the genius “Fighting Marine” in a rematch, much like Joshua did against Usyk. Tunney then boxed the limited but game Tom Heeney and retired. The rest of his heavyweight career was spent beating great middleweights like Harry Greb and limited losing-streak gatekeepers like Charley Weinert and Martin Burke. One thing that must be noted is that Tunney is matching men who are smaller than Usyk’s cruiserweight opposition to his heavyweight credit. Men like Mairis Briedis and Murat Gassiev would have been big men in Tunney’s era, but they aren’t counted towards heavyweight legacy for the Ukrainian – either would constitute Tunney’s second-best heavyweight scalp, I think. Tunney’s wider resume does not necessarily include fighters who compare that favourably even to Dereck Chisora or Chaz Witherspoon, the men who make up Usyk’s second layer of opposition.

The point is, Tunney was made a legend for defeating a champion. Both Fury and Joshua were active, physically enormous fighters that Usyk simply unmanned with a type of genius Gene Tunney would have stood to applaud. Tunney appended to his light-heavyweight career the important part of a heavyweight career – the part where you fight and beat the champion, and it has made him a stalwart of heavyweight history. This, Usyk too has achieved, but I have been more impressed with Usyk’s summit than Tunney’s. To be direct: Usyk should rate higher at heavyweight than Tunney.

What that means is that the top twenty at heavyweight is the minimum Usyk can expect from history’s eye should he retire undefeated. In such a case, I would place Usyk in this sort of company:

18 – Ezzard Charles

19 – Oleksandr Usyk

20 – Jersey Joe Walcott

21 – James J Corbett

22 – Peter Jackson

23 – Ken Norton

24 – Max Schmeling

25 – Vitali Klitschko

26 – Riddick Bowe

27 – Gene Tunney

Also illustrative of a point is Tunney’s career pre-heavyweight. Tunney, every bit as brilliant as Usyk in the ring (although notably smaller, and successful against notably smaller opposition), laced up his gloves on close to ninety occasions and his level of competition dwarfs that of Usyk. That is no indictment. All it really means is that Usyk isn’t among the thirty greatest fighters ever to have drawn breath, like Tunney is. He can join an enormous and star-studded cast that includes Mike Tyson, Bernard Hopkins and Carlos Monzon in that. I do think, though, that Oleksandr Usyk’s career, were it to end tomorrow, could be readily compared to that of Evander Holyfield and that means that an unbeaten Usyk, lineal cruiserweight and heavyweight champion of the world, current pound-for-pound king, is within spitting distance of a list that captures the fifty greatest fighters in history.

56 – Ruben Olivares

57 – Wilfredo Gomez

58 – Vicente Saldivar

59 – Oleksandr Usyk

60 – Evander Holyfield

61 – Ted Kid Lewis

62 – Lou Ambers

63 – Rocky Marciano

64 – Abe Attell

65 – Manuel Ortiz

A retired Naoya Inoue would join him in the top seventy, I think, and a retired Bud Crawford the top ninety.

Boxing is dead, haven’t you heard?

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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Another Victory for Ukraine as Berinchyk Upsets Navarrete in San Diego

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Whether it was inspiration or perspiration, Ukraine’s Denys Berinchyk motored past Mexico’s Emanuel Navarrete by split decision to become the WBO lightweight world titlist on Saturday.

Just hours after his fellow countryman Oleksandr Usyk became undisputed heavyweight world champion, Berinchyk joined the club.

“This is a great night for all people of Ukraine,” Berinchyk said.

The undefeated Ukrainian Berinchyk (19-0, 9 KOs) gutted out a win over Navarrete (38-2-1, 31 KOs) who was attempting to join Mexico’s four-division world champion club in San Diego. The lanky fighter known as “Vaquero” fell a little short.

Through all 12 rounds neither fighter was able to dominate and neither was able to score a knockdown. Just when it seemed one fighter gathered enough momentum, the other fighter would rally.

A butt caused a slight cut on Navarrete in the 10th round. That seemed to ignite anger from the Mexican fighter and he powered through the Ukrainian fighter the next two rounds.

In the final round Berinchyk bore down and slugged it out with the Mexican fighter as both relied on their weapons of choice. For most of the night Navarrete scored with long-range uppercuts and Berinchyk scored with overhand rights.

After 12 rounds two judges scored it 115-113, 116-112 for Berinchyk and one 116-112 for Navarrete. Ukraine gained its third world titlist in one a week. Berinchyk joins Usyk and Vasyl Lomachenko as world titlists.

“He’s a very tough guy,” said Berinchyk of Navarrete.

Welterweights

A battle between undefeated welterweights saw Brian Norman (26-0, 20 KOs) knock out Giovany Santillan (32-1, 17 KOs) in the 10th round to become the interim WBO titlist.

For nine rounds both welterweights engaged in brutal inside warfare as each tried to beat the sense out of each other.

Norman worked the body early as Santillan targeted the head. Neither fought more than two inches from each other.

The younger Norman, 23, connected with a right cross during an exchange that wobbled Santillan in the eighth round. From that point on the Georgia fighter began setting up for his power shots. Finally, in the 10th round, uppercuts dropped Santillan twice. In the second knockdown Santillan went down hard as referee Ray Corona stopped the fight immediately at 1:33 of the 10th round.

Other Bouts

Heavyweight Richard Torrez (10-0, 10 KOs) knocked out Brandon Moore (14-1) in the fifth round for a regional title.

Lightweight Alan Garcia (10-0) defeated Wilfredo Flores (10-3-1) by decision after eight.

Photo credit: German Villasenor

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