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The Top Ten Flyweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

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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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Rodriguez vs. Estrada: A Closer Look at Saturday’s Dream Match-up in Phoenix 

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The meeting of Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez (19-0) and Juan Francisco Estrada (44-3) in the Footprint Center, Phoenix this Saturday night is a generational clash so satisfying as to feel improbable. When Estrada, the 115lb lineal champion, turned professional Jesse Rodriguez was eight years old. By the time Rodriguez turned professional, Estrada had already been matched for alphabet belts on seven different occasions, winning six. By the time Rodriguez picked up a strap of his own in early 2022, Estrada had been the legitimate lineal champion of the world for three years. This is the king Rodriguez seeks to topple this weekend, one of boxing’s royal bloodlines, and until recently, one of her greatest champions. 

But King Estrada has been inactive, the poison of post-COVID 19 boxing, and generally inadvisable for a thirty-four-year-old super-flyweight. Estrada has been waiting for the perfect money fight, the right contest to bring him out of hibernation and into the arena, but that arrangement is the cousin of retirement. If a fighter is refusing to budge for less than a given amount, he’s really saying he might not fight again, an important psychological step. Estrada has spent all of 2023 and some of 2024 with his feet up and he hasn’t made weight since December 11, 2022. He hit 115lbs dead on the nose and the following day boxed his in his most recent contest, against fellow sub 118lb legend Roman Gonzalez. 

Everything Jesse Rodriguez needs to know about Estrada is contained within these twelve rounds of boxing, the good and the bad, the reason to be cautious. Leaping straight to the twelfth round and the reason Rodriguez should be cautious: beaten and having lost every one of the last five rounds on my card, Estrada rallied to win the twelfth on pure heart. His three-time opponent, the man with whom he shared the best trilogy of the twenty-first century, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez was naturally more robust than Estrada. Being hit bothers him less than all but a tiny handful of fighters and that more than anything drew him close to victory over his old foe. Estrada resolved to contest the line he had been breaking before Gonzalez in that twelfth round and he did so while dealing some of the highest-class left-handed work that can be seen in boxing today. In the twelfth, as in the first, he jabbed, led with left hooks to the body, pierced with a lead left-uppercut and tied on a final punch, the riskiest punch, to all his combos where he had been stepping out earlier before. It won him the round and the fight; if he’d balked in that twelfth round the fight would have been a draw and the fourth between Gonzalez and Estrada would now have been boxed, to what result is anyone’s guess.   

What Rodriguez sees in that twelfth round is the part of Estrada that has been unbreakable. It might be easier to change his mind with punches than it is to change Roman’s, but it is Estrada who is in possession of the truly unbreakable chin. Nobody has even been close to stopping him and when it seemed that Gonzalez had strategically broken him, he found it in him to win the fight’s most important round against the run of action in ninety seconds that may have done more to define his career than any other thirty-six minutes. Estrada must be completely broken to be broken at all. 

More, if Rodriguez watches the first half of that fight, he will see style that does not please him. Estrada spent the first six rounds against Gonzalez controlling perhaps the finest ring-general of his generation bar Floyd Mayweather. Estrada’s left-hand is a delight, a paradigm of variety. He will lead with the left hand to the body, probably the second riskiest punch from the orthodox stance, and he will throw it all the way across himself to the far hip of his opponent if the front quarter is properly guarded. Behind this, all punches are possible, hooks and uppercuts abound, and the division’s best power jab is a punch that he must not be allowed to settle behind if he is to be beaten. 

Fortunately for Rodriguez, it is a punch that can be disrupted, not least because Estrada wants to throw more hurtful punches in many moments. If he settles behind his left jab he will win, but he has many more routes to victory and he is no slave to that punch. Certainly though, Rodriguez has the tools to disrupt Estrada’s offence generally and his jab especially. I am ready to dismiss Estrada’s jab as a factor in this fight – that is how good Rodriguez is. 

The Footprint Center is a venue that has been kind to Rodriguez. He was brilliant there in February of 2022 for his arrival in earnest at the top of the sport, out-pointing veteran Carlos Cuadras over twelve rounds to lift an alphabet strap at 115lbs. It was not a close fight; I gave Cuadras three rounds, one of them arguable, and two of the judges saw it the same way. What most impressed about Rodriguez was the very thing that Roman Gonzalez used to his advantage in his third war with Estrada, his indifference to the punishment the supposedly bigger man and puncher, Cuadras, inflicted. Indeed, Rodriguez made a strategic error in spending too much time in the pocket fighting it out with Cuadras, when his greater successes were either at range or moving in to close range and then moving straight back out. He was indifferent to Cuadras and his hitting for the most part, punching all the while. 

Rodriguez worked this charm with excellent footwork, taking advantage of his natural excellence in balance to pivot right and open up new vistas for his punches.  After losing the first round to Cuadras, Rodriguez won a close second and then in the third stamped his authority on the fight. Cuadras cannot say he wasn’t warned; after landing a good southpaw uppercut in the first thirty seconds of the round, he landed a second only moments later, and Cuadras was deposited neatly on his backside.  

This will not work against Estrada – he’d read the runes on the first punch and change the distance or the angles. Estrada doesn’t have quite the talent for balance that Rodriguez does, but he understands where he is in the ring as well as anyone. That is why even Gonzalez couldn’t trap him along the ropes early in the third fight, Estrada was always ready to retaliate or move. That said, Estrada, the slower man, might find himself vulnerable to these pivots and changes of fortune, especially as he’s trying to develop his jab early in the fight. Estrada has an interesting strategic choice to make early in this contest: will he give ground or try to hustle up? Rodriguez has shown a certain vulnerability to infighting ostensibly larger men at the 115lb limit but Estrada has shown brilliance in drawing aggressive fighters into space and punishing them savagely. He could mix these strategies but history has shown that Estrada prefers to box with a real clarity of plan. It may not be wise to compromise that clarity at this late stage. 

Assuming Estrada goes with his preferred method of dealing with quick pressure, giving ground and countering the man and the space, he may find himself being out-sped and out-hit; a slow start would be disastrous for him so if he finds Rodriguez is able to make his way in to range and land while Estrada is waiting to counter, he will need to stand his ground and we will have a war on our hands. Either way this feels like a fight that cannot fail to deliver.  

I feel quite strongly that Estrada’s time has come. That he has the wrong amount of wear on him, over too many years and now with eighteen months of inactivity making matters more uncertain, he’ll get found out in the second half of the fight and find himself dropping a clear decision in the region of 116-112.   

I will be very happy to be proven wrong though. Estrada is a modern wonder and I’ve loved every moment of his hard-charging ambitious career, and I do think that the 2020 version would have been too much for even this summitting Rodriguez. 

For the winner, a top five pound-for-pound slot. 

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The Hauser Report: Ryan Garcia and the New York State Athletic Commission

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On June 20, the New York State Athletic Commission announced that it had reached a settlement with Ryan Garcia.

Garcia defeated Devin Haney by majority decision at Barclays Center on April 20. But his triumph was soon tarnished. On May 1, it was revealed that urine samples taken from Ryan by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) on April 19 and April 20 had tested positive for ostarine – a banned performance-enhancing drug that helps users build muscle mass, lose fat, and increase stamina. The two “B” samples taken from Garcia were subsequently tested at his request and also came back positive.

The June 20 settlement between the NYSAC and Garcia provided for the following:

(1) Garcia’s victory over Haney was changed to “no contest” on each fighter’s official record.

(2) Garcia was fined $10,000 (payable to the NYSAC).

(3) Garcia’s official purse, which was less than what he was actually paid for the fight, was forfeited and returned to Golden Boy (his promoter).

And most significantly;

(4)  Garcia’s professional boxing license was suspended until at least April 20, 2025, at which time he will be able to resume his ring career provided that he provides satisfactory evidence to the NYSAC (including the result of at least one PED test) that he is medically fit to fight.

As part of the settlement, Garcia waived his right to a hearing and any appeal of the Consent Order which embodied the terms of the agreement.

The announcement marked an end to an unfortunate series of events that occurred primarily on the watch of former NYSAC executive director Kim Sumbler who, citing family and health reasons, had announced her resignation on May 7.  Sumbler lived in Canada and was out of the commission office far more than she was in it during her seven-year tenure as executive director.

Let’s put the issues in perspective.

I

THE NEW YORK STATE ATHLETIC COMMISSION SHOULDN’T HAVE ALLOWED RYAN GARCIA TO FIGHT IN THE FIRST PLACE

In the months leading up to Haney-Garcia, Garcia (who has acknowledged having mental health issues in the past) posted a series of conspiracy-theory rants on social media that focused on satanic ritual sex, aliens, time travel, and demons. He predicted that an earthquake would destroy Los Angeles on June 6 and recounted being tied down and forced to watch middle-aged fat men raping young boys in Bohemian Grove. He referenced his own crucifixion, spoke in tongues, and told his followers that PRIME (a sports drink backed by KSI and Logan Paul) contains cyanide and that anyone who drinks PRIME is “working for Satan.” His conduct at press conferences to promote Haney-Garcia was also bizarre.

Garcia’s behavior was so troubling that attorney Pat English (who would represent Haney after Garcia’s positive test result was announced but wasn’t working with Devin before that) decided to telephone Kim Sumbler to suggest that the NYSAC undertake a thorough psychiatric evaluation to determine if Ryan was fit to fight. English tracked Sumbler down at a motorcycle rally in Florida and voiced his concern. Sumbler, in his words, “was non-committal on the subject.”

Thereafter, Garcia was asked to participate in a short Zoom session with two NYSAC representatives (neither of whom was a mental health care professional) to discuss his situation and sign a HIPAA waiver that allowed a small number of medical documents to be released to the commission. Then, in an act of absurdity, the commission required that Haney submit to a similar “psychiatric evaluation” to “even out the process.”

One might note here that when the Nevada State Athletic Commission conducted a hearing to determine whether Mike Tyson should be licensed to fight Lennox Lewis in Las Vegas after he bit Lennox on the thigh at a promotional press conference, the Nevada commission didn’t require Lennox to undergo a similar evaluation. However, it did deny Tyson a license to fight, after which Lewis-Tyson moved to Tennessee.

Having been licensed to fight Haney in New York, Garcia acted throughout fight week in a crude profane manner that brought disrepute on boxing (if such a thing is possible). He missed the specified contract weight for the bout by three pounds and, as noted above, was later found to have an illegal performance enhancing drug in his system. In recent weeks, he has been arrested in California and transferred by the authorities to a psychiatric facility for observation. He was later allowed to return home.

Just because a fighter is physically fit to fight – and wins a fight – doesn’t mean that it isn’t psychologically damaging for him to fight. I don’t think the NYSAC should have allowed Garcia to fight on April 20. I’m not a mental health care professional. But the two people who spoke briefly with Ryan on behalf of the commission prior to his being licensed, aren’t mental health care professionals either.

II

RYAN GARCIA AND HIS LAWYERS ACTED ABYSMALLY IN RESPONDING TO THE PED TEST RESULTS

Garcia’s statements on social media and elsewhere regarding his PED test results speak for themselves:

*        “It’s straight bullshit. It’s a con job . . . I’m going to find out who paid who to create this lie . . . These guys are probably pedos.”

*        “Do not believe the hype. They’re trying to set me up. F*** them all. This is some bull-****ing-shit. These mother******* are known cheaters. They know how to cheat and they know to taint shit because they just tainted my greatest victory. One-hundred percent, it’s the devil, bro. I would never, ever take steroids in my life. I don’t cheat in video games.”

*        “It’s a fake. Fake. Completely fake. It’s fabricated. It’s the most fake shit I’ve ever seen in my life. They’re faking it. I’m clean all the way through. F*** them. They can suck a big one.”

Much of Garcia’s rage has been aimed at Victor Conte, the former BALCO mastermind who has since become a forceful advocate for clean sport. After claiming (inaccurately) that Conte was affiliated with VADA and had manipulated his urine sample analysis, Ryan proclaimed on social media, “I’M SUING VADA and victor conte. I’m taking this to court !!!!!! Be prepared. ITS WAR!”

Garcia’s allegations were so off base that Memo Heredia (Conte’s archrival) took to social media and posted, “As much as Conte & I have differences, I like to say he has no access to urine samples. He doesn’t perform any sample analysis or control laboratories for any bias matter. Ryan just trying to mislead and create doubt.”

Meanwhile, as the drama unfolded, Garcia’s attorneys were throwing so many red herrings into the mix that it recalled the words of Abraham Lincoln who counseled, “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. And if the fact and the law are both against you, pound the table.”

After both of the “B” samples collected from Garcia by VADA also tested positive for ostarine, Ryan’s legal team said that he had submitted hair follicles to a Paris clinic and that these samples had been found to be negative. In part, their statement read, “Soon after being notified of his positive test, Ryan voluntarily had his hair collected and shipped to Dr. Pascal Kintz, the foremost expert in toxicology and hair sample analysis. The results of Ryan’s hair sample came back negative, meaning Ryan has never intentionally taken Ostarine in the last six months.”

But that didn’t put the issue to rest since the aforementioned Dr. Kintz had authored a study in 2017 that concluded, “Hair testing should not be considered as an alternative to urinalysis but only as a complement in [a] positive case, and it must be clear that, in case of positive urine results, the negative hair result cannot overrule the positive urine result.”

Shifting gears, Garcia’s legal team then cited what it called the “ultra-low levels” of ostarine in the urine samples taken from Ryan on April 19 and 20 – “in the billionth of a gram range [that] point to Ryan being a victim of supplement contamination and never receiving any performance-enhancing benefit from the microscopic amounts in his system.”

However this “billionth of a gram range” was sixty times the amount of ostarine allowed to be in Ryan’s system under the rules of the New York State Athletic Commission.

Hence, the Garcia legal team advanced yet another argument: “We are certain that one of the natural supplements Ryan was using in the lead-up to the fight will prove to be contaminated. We are in the process of testing the supplements to determine the exact source.”

Lo and behold! On May 30, Garcia’s legal team announced that two supplements (NutraBio SuperCard and Body Health) that Ryan had ingested prior to fighting Haney had been tested by the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory (SMARTL) and had tested positive for ostarine.

“This confirms what we have consistently maintained,” Paul Greene (one of Garcia’s attorneys) said. Ryan was a victim of supplement contamination and has never intentionally used any banned or performance-enhancing substances.”

But – and this is an elephant-sized “but” – both supplements had been sent to SMARTL by Team Garcia in unsealed containers. That violated the most basic testing protocols and left open the possibility of tampering.

“This is nonsense,” Victor Conte declared. “Look at the chain of custody. No reputable commission would accept open containers. Garcia’s people have to get the lot numbers for the supplements he supposedly took and send several containers, unopened and untampered with, to the commission for testing. And by the way; isn’t it odd that both – I repeat, both – supplements tested positive?”

Paulie Malignaggi lacks Conte’s scientific pedigree but came to the same conclusion, noting, “A substance that’s not that common, very rare, winds up in two different batches of two different companies and both of those batches out of all the places they could have went to in the world, both wind up in Ryan Garcia’s house. This is what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about Mega-Millions lottery numbers. If it turns out that this excuse is as false as it sounds ridiculous, does your lying prove intent because obviously you’re trying to cover something up?”

The supplement companies weren’t happy about the allegation of contamination either, since it had the potential to impact negatively on sales of their products.

Thus, on June 14, Nutrabio founder and CEO Mark Glazier issued a statement that read, “Nutrabio categorically rejects the reckless claims made by professional boxer Ryan Garcia and his team that the Nutrabio supercarb product caused Mr. Garcia’s positive test for ostarine. Nutrabio has never manufactured a supplement with ostarine and has never brought ostarine into our manufacturing facility for use in any product, ever. A retain of the Supercarb in question has been tested for ostarine by Eurofins and BSCG, both of which are leading independent third party testing providers. The testing confirmed there was no ostarine detected in the product. Further, the miniscule amount of ostarine allegedly in the open container of Supercarb [provided by the Garcia camp to its own testers] does not explain the amount of ostarine identified in Ryan Garcia’s urine which, at 6 ng/ml, is 60 times the testing limit. We take any claims against our company extremely seriously and stand by our process for ensuring the quality, safety, and security of our products.”

In sum, as Victor Conte noted, “Test results from unsealed containers provided by the athlete himself can’t possibly be authenticated. And Ryan Garcia’s lawyers know that. This is an attempt to influence the New York commission with wave after wave of publicity that would be regarded as ludicrous if it wasn’t repeated so often by con men and idiots.”

III

THE PROCESS BY WHICH THE NEW YORK STATE ATHLETIC COMMISSION RESOLVED THE RYAN GARCIA MATTER EXPOSED SERIOUS FAULT LINES AT THE COMMISSION

The Ryan Garcia debacle happened on Kim Sumbler’s watch. Following her departure from the commission, former director of boxing Matt Delaglio was named acting executive director. Delaglio is respected throughout the boxing community. He’s a hard worker who understands the sport and business of boxing and performed much of the nuts and bolts work for the commission that should have been handled by Sumbler during her tenure.

Delaglio is a capable public servant. But the NYSAC needs an overhaul at the commissioner level.

New York law provides that five commissioners should oversee the NYSAC. One of these positions has been vacant for years. The other four are filled by people who, for the most part, have little or no understanding of the intricacies inherent in combat sports from a competitive or business point of view.

None of the four NYSAC commissioners even attended Haney vs. Garcia.

The settlement negotiations that led to the Consent Order agreed to between the NYSAC and Ryan Garcia were conducted over a two-week period. Three of the four commissioners were aware that negotiations were going on but did not participate in them or vote on the resolution. The fourth commissioner was completely out of the loop.

The Garcia matter also exposed holes in NYSAC drug testing protocols since the commission’s own fight-night test on Garcia’s urine came back clean. How could that be? Because, to save money, the commission sent Garcia’s urine sample to Quest Laboratories rather than to a WADA-accredited lab. And Quest doesn’t test for ostarine. Later, the commission arranged for a WADA-accredited lab to test its Garcia B-sample (which came back positive).

The settlement between the NYSAC and Garcia was orchestrated almost completely on the commission’s side by David Mossberg, who has been a supervising attorney with the New York State Department of State since 2006.

Pat English (who Haney retained to look after his interests once Garcia tested positive for ostarine) says that the NYSAC refused to send him copies of correspondence and other documents exchanged between Garcia’s legal team and the commission, even though he was entitled to see them given Devin’s standing in the matter.

English also recounted a 75-minute conversation with Mossberg on June 18 and complained, “Mossberg didn’t know the facts. There were a number of legal points that I don’t think he understood. He kept saying things that were just plain wrong.”

English was also offended by the fact that Samantha McEachin (the attorney assigned to the NYSAC by the Department of State) repeatedly failed to return his telephone calls.

Paul Greene (who represented Garcia in the negotiations) suggested to the NYSAC that his client receive a six-month suspension. That was unacceptable to the commission, which was readying to temporarily suspend Ryan and schedule an administrative hearing when a bargain was struck.

The resolution could have been worse from a public policy point of view. It also could have been better.

Garcia’s victory over Haney was changed to “no contest” on each fighter’s official record. That was the correct resolution.

And Garcia was fined $10,000, payable to the commission, which was the maximum involuntary fine that the NYSAC could have imposed (although Ryan could have consented to a larger amount).

The problems begin with the forfeiture of Garcia’s “official purse” – the amount that Ryan received on fight night as paid to him by Golden Boy through the commission. Initially, the official purse was to have been roughly $2,000,000. After the penalty that Garcia paid for missing weight (believed to be $600,000) and other deductions, the “official purse” dropped to approximately $1,200,000.

But the forfeiture penalty has the feel of smoke and mirrors. The $1,200,000 is to be paid by Garcia to Golden Boy – not to the commission. That means it could be an unearned windfall for Golden Boy. Or quite possibly, Golden Boy has promised to give the money back to Ryan as a quid pro quo for his agreeing to the Consent Order.

It’s Golden Boy’s money. They can do what they want with it. With one limitation.

Under the terms of the bout contracts, Haney is entitled to 47 percent of the profits from the event. Logic dictates that Devin would claim that he’s entitled to 47% of any purse forfeiture that Golden Boy receives from Garcia.

And Haney might go further, filing suit against Garcia on grounds that there was ostarine in Ryan’s system (not hard to prove), that Garcia knowingly or negligently ingested it (harder), that the ostarine affected the outcome of the fight (harder still), and that Devin’s marketability has been adversely affected by what happened in the ring on April 20 (a slam dunk).

Now we come to the biggest issue – the length of the suspension negotiated between the NYSAC and Garcia. Some penalties should be eased by mitigating circumstances. Here, there are exacerbating circumstances such as Garcia blowing off the contract weight and his overall conduct in advance of the fight.

Garcia’s professional boxing license has been suspended until at least April 20, 2025, at which time he will be able to resume his ring career provided that he provides satisfactory evidence to the NYSAC that he is medically fit to fight. There’s a school of thought that two years would have been a more appropriate suspension. But the NYSAC didn’t want to go through litigation and what could have been a long embarrassing process.

The fly in the ointment is that the drug testing provision in the Consent Order (which relates to Garcia’s medical fitness) could be a sham. Prior to having his license reinstated, Garcia must submit one negative urine test result (not blood, only urine) from a WADA-accredited laboratory to the NYSAC. Garcia may choose the testing agency and the time frame for this one test. The agreement doesn’t specifically state what he must be tested for or the type of tests required. It only calls for “a urinalysis which does not indicate a positive result for illegal and/or prohibited substances as mandated by the Commission, including a negative result for Anabolic Agents.” This means that Garcia, hypothetically, could use banned performance enhancing drugs for the next eight months before cycling off and being tested and then have his license reinstated.

The Consent Order does state that the medical evidence must be “to the satisfaction of the Commission.” But a blind man could drive a large truck through that hole without putting a dent in the vehicle.

So what’s likely to happen next?

As Chris Algieri notes, “It’s a two-tiered legal system. It depends on who you are and how much money you’ve got. This is not really going to affect Ryan Garcia. Yes, it takes a win away, but Ryan Garcia doesn’t really care. He’s made a ton of money. He’ll probably be back in the ring by the beginning of next year.”

Correction . . . He’ll be back in the ring if —

IV

RYAN GARCIA NEEDS HELP

In recent weeks, Ryan Garcia has indicated numerous times on social media that he’s retiring from boxing:

*        “Y’all may catch me out and about but, as far as boxing, I don’t know. I’m over it. I may do acting or singing. I’m hurt and I’m done with it and everyone. The sad part is I’m a great boxer. And I entertain and knock people out. I’m sad bc I love boxing.”

*        “Boxing will be alright without me. But sucks. I was fun in the game. And it was fun to punch people. Forget I existed everyone. I’m outty”

*        “I’m officially retired.”

Few people take these posts seriously. Garcia is unlikely to retire from boxing of his own free will. But mental health issues might preclude him from fighting in the foreseeable future.

On June 8, 2024, Garcia was arrested at the Beverly Hills Waldorf Astoria Hotel and charged with felony vandalism after allegedly causing $15,000 worth of damage while having a meltdown. According to media reports, he was held for psychiatric observation for three days before being released.

On Sunday, June 9, Darin Chavez (a member of Ryan’s legal team) released a prepared statement that read, “We are aware of the recent arrest. This comes at an extraordinarily challenging time for Ryan, as he has been grappling with devastating news regarding his mother’s health. First and foremost, we urge everyone to respect Ryan’s privacy during this difficult period. Ryan has been open about his struggles with mental health over the years and at this time he is dealing with an immense emotional burden. The support and understanding from fans and the public are crucial as he navigates these personal challenges. We are working diligently to provide Ryan with the resources he needs. Our team is committed to ensuring that he receives the appropriate help and care to address both his immediate and long-term well-being. We ask for continued support and compassion as Ryan focuses on his family and his health at this time.”

That statement rubbed some people the wrong way. Soon after it was issued, I received an email from a fan who wrote, “What a child to act out and feel sorry for himself and blame his mother for his actions. He should stop thinking of himself and learn to think of her and how to be helpful to her. I’m not trying to claim moral superiority. It’s just that, when so many people have so little yet act with respect towards others, it is hard to watch.”

Or phrased differently, most of us have suffered grievous losses at one time or another in our lives. We didn’t respond by going out and trashing a hotel lobby.

Yet the enablers won’t be stilled. One day after Garcia entered into his settlement with the New York State Athletic Commission, Chavez and Guadalupe Valencia (another of Ryan’s attorneys) issued a statement that (with my comments in brackets) read:

“There is a lot of misinformation being disseminated [by Ryan Garcia and his legal team] about Ryan Garcia, However, the undisputed facts [they’re very much in dispute] are as follows. His positive test was the result of contaminated supplements [unlikely] of which he was unaware. The subsequent lab testing of the supplements proved to be in the billions of a gram [it was sixty times the legal threshold in New York and the supplements sent to the lab had been previously opened by Team Garcia]. And the two positive tests were in the billions and trillions, that every expert will attest to had absolutely no performance benefit [experts that Garcia’s attorneys hire aren’t ‘every expert’]. To be clear, Ryan Garcia’s sole advantage over Devin Haney was that he is simply a superior fighter [Ryan also had a significant size advantage as a consequence of not making weight and an illegal PED in his system on fight night]. Rest assured, there are multiple agendas [now we come to paranoia} that have been at play since Ryan’s clear and convincing win against Haney, and all those agendas have been aimed against King Ryan [enough said].”

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – MY MOTHER and me – is a personal memoir available at www.amazon.com/My-Mother-Me-Thomas-Hauser/dp/1955836191/ref=sr_1_1?crid=5C0TEN4M9ZAH&keywords=thomas+hauser&qid=1707662513&sprefix=thomas+hauser%2Caps%2C80&sr=8-1

          In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Denny and Crocker Win in Birmingham: Catterall vs Prograis a Go for Aug. 24

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Matchroom was at Resorts World in Birmingham, England today with a card topped by an EBU European middleweight title fight between Tyler Denny and Felix Cash. Denny was the defending champion and had home field advantage, but Cash, undefeated heading in (16-0, 10 KOs) went to post a consensus 9/4 favorite.

A member of the Irish Traveler community, Cash was making his first start in 18 months. As noted by Tris Dixon, he had a number of distractions during his hiatus, including a bitter divorce. Tonight, he looked rusty and he never did get the chance to establish a rhythm.  In the second round, he suffered a cut on his right eyelid from what was ruled an accidental clash of heads. The cut deepened, and in round five the referee stopped the action and had the ringside physician inspect the wound. On his advice, the bout was stopped.

Owing to the derivation of the cut, the bout went to the scorecards. Tyler Denny was ahead on all three cards: 49-46 and 49-47 twice.

Denny, who improved to 19-2-3, won his second straight inside the distance, an oddity as every one of his first 17 wins went to the scorecards.

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, Belfast welterweight Lewis Crocker advanced to 21-0 (11) with a unanimous but unpopular 10-round decision over Wolverhampton’s Conah Walker (13-3-1). The judges had it 95-94 and 96-93 twice. There were no knockdowns, but Walker had a point deducted in round nine for low blows.

The crowd’s dissatisfaction with the decision (Walker was clearly the busier fighter) was tempered by the fact they got to see a doozy of a fight. At times, notably in the last two rounds, the action was furious.

A rematch is in order, but all indications are that Crocker’s next fight will come against Paddy Donovan who was in attendance. A Top Rank signee from Limerick, Ireland, Donovan is 14-0 as a pro after a decorated amateur career.

Before the main event, Matchroom honcho Eddie Hearn announced that he had come to terms with Jack Catterall and Regis Prograis who will lock horns on Aug. 24 at the new Co-Op Live arena in Manchester, England. In his last assignment, Catterall comprehensively out-pointed former unified 140-pound world champion Josh Taylor while avenging the lone “L” on his record, a highly controversial setback to Taylor two years earlier in Glasgow. Regis Prograis, a two-time world title-holder at 140, has had only bad showing, but that came in his last start when he was thoroughly outclassed by Devin Haney.

Photo credit: Mark Robinson / Matchroom

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