The argument over which division in boxing is the best is an interesting one and is often one where there is a number of divisions of real consideration. For me however one division currently stands out above all the others due to a combination of talent, depth of competition and the match ups we've been getting in recent times, along with the bout scheduled to take place in coming months.
The division is the Light Flyweight division, which is scarily deep right now, has a brilliant mixture of talent and styles and is delivering top quality bouts on a regular basis. It also has one of the sports few unified champions and is a division with so many exciting contenders that it's almost inevitable that some top fighters will miss out on big opportunities.
For part 2 of this 4 part series we'll begin by looking at the division's most notable contenders, ranging from veterans and former champions to rising hopefuls looking to get a chance at breaking through. The depth here really is incredible and although we've made a solid effort to include a big number of contenders, we know we've missed some, the problem is the division really is too deep for it's own good.
For those who missed part 1 that's available here - The Depth at Light Flyweight - Part 1 - The World Champions
Ganigan Lopez (29-7, 18) – Former WBC champion
Mexican veteran Ganigan Lopez is the division's stalwart. Aged 36 he is certainly an old fighter for the weight class, but he lives up to his moniker of “El Maravilla” and is one of the most rounded fighters in the division. He's a 15 year veteran of the sport who has really improved with age and taken on a who's who whilst fighting all over the world.
Among the fighters Lopez has faced include Juan Palacios, Adrian Hernandez, Denver Cuello, Luis Ceja, Mario Rodriguez, Pedro Guevara, Yu Kimura, Jonathan Taconing and Ken Shiro. Whilst he has come up short against some of those, including a loss to Ken Shiro last year, he is still very much a leading contender who has not only got experience and ring craft but under-rated power and stamina and he really is a fighter who controls the ring like very few men in the division.
Sadly his single world title reign was a short one, with his title win coming in March 2016, his sole successful defense in July of that year before losing the title the following May to Ken Shiro. With a rematch against Ken Shiro due in May it could be do or die for Lopez who is getting on in year is probably looking at his last chance to make a big mark on the sport before retirement. A win in the rematch Ken Shiro would however open some big doors for the veteran.
Pedro Guevara (30-3-1, 17) – Former WBC Champion
Another former WBC champion who remains as a contender is Pedro Guevara, who just 28 but already a 10 year veteran of the sport. Guevara is a brilliantly intelligent boxer who is incredibly smart both in and out of the ring. It's his brain which has helped him make the most of his talent, and he really does have a lot of natural boxing ability as well as a very experienced team around him. Added to that is his experience, which includes fights around the likes of Mario Rodriguez, John Riel Casimero, Raul Garcia, Akira Yaegashi, Yu Kimura, Oswaldo Novoa and Ken Shiro.
Guevara's most notable win was his 2014 win over Akira Yaegashi for the WBC title, which he defended against Richard Claveras and Ganigan Lopez, before losing in a upset to Yu Kimura 11 months after winning the belt. Since then he has gone 4-1, with the loss being to Ken Shiro. The worrying thing for Guevara is that his last 7 bouts have gone to the score cards, and there are question marks about his power. Although he does have the skills and ring craft to not need to rely on paper, the lack of it at world level is somewhat a problem for him and could prevent him from reclaiming a world title.
Interestingly, at the time of writing, Guevara is pencilled in to fight his next bout on May 5th against Roman Gonzalez at Super Flyweight. If that bout does take place then it's very unlikely we'll see Guevara back at 108lbs. However until we see what Guevara's future holds he is still widely regarded as a leading contender at Light Flyweight.
Milan Melindo (37-3, 13) – Former IBF Champion
The division's most recently deposed world champion is technically excellent Filipino boxer Milan Melindo, who lost the IBF title in December 2017 to Ryoichi Taguchi. The Filipino made his debut way back in September 2005 and has racked 40 fights into his career already, yet is only 30 years old. Sadly though for Melindo his future is probably a little bit limited as he's a very old 30 with 300 professional rounds already under his belt and some very draining fights, including recent wars with Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr, Hekkie Budler amd Taguchi.
Melindo, like the aforementioned Guevara, is a thinking man's boxer. His understanding of range, tempo and timing are brilliant. At his best Melindo is razor sharp, a perfect punch picker and has the ability to throw some of the best combinations in the division. Sadly, like with many smart fighters, he can be found to be lazy and can struggle when the pace moves up a gear and he has also shown issues with cuts in recent bouts, suffering bad cuts against Fahlan and Budler.
At the moment it's unclear when Melindo will be back in action but it's hard to imagine him being out for too. It's likely going to be a case that he will be given time to totally heal up after some very hard bouts, then look to retain later in the year.
Hekkie Budler (31-3, 10) – Former WBA Minimumweight Champion
One other former world champion in the Light Flyweight title mix is South African speedster Hekkie Budler, who claimed his world title at Minimumweight where he had a pretty solid run as the WBA champion. His wins at the lower weight include victories over Nkosinathi Joyi, Pigmy Kokietgym, Xiong Zhao Zhong, Jesus Silvestre and Simphiwe Khonco. His most notable bout at 108lbs was a razor thin less last year to Melindo for the IBF title and due to the competitive nature of that bout he's stayed well and truly in the mix.
Budler is a gutsy warrior who lacks power but has a great engine, throws a lot of punches and is quick. On paper he's likely to have a hard time with almost anyone in the top 10, but they are also going to have a hard time with him. His determination is really impressive and his output is amazing, even at the lower weights. Sadly he does look like he can be out powered, and he was dropped in the final round by Melindo.
Budler will return to the ring on May 20th to take on Taguchi in a bout for the IBF, WBA and Ring magazine titles. The bout comes just 2 days after his 30th birthday and although he does still have quite a bit left he has been in some wars and will likely know that his shots at the top are numbered, with the Taguchi bout likely to be one of his last.
Edward Heno (12-0-5, 5) – OPBF Champion
One of the more notable rising Filipino's in the division is OPBF champion Edward Heno, an unbeaten fighter who has began to shoot up the rankings and is on the fringes of getting a world title fight. Unlike many on this list he isn't a former champion but already holds a number of notable wins, including stoppages against Cris Ganoza and Seita Ogido as well as a decision over Merlito Sabillo. Whilst those wins don't mean a massive amount on the world stage they are solid wins for a fighter who just moved from a prospect to a contender.
Heno's record is littered with draws and close decisions but 3 of those draws came in his first 3 bouts and he is certainly improving with every fight, as he showed by stopping two of the fighters who have held him to a draw. He is a powerful fighter who is building on his strengths and is becoming a real threat in the division.
Heno is probably 12-18 months away from being truly ready for a world title fight, but all 4 world title bodies rank him in the top 15 and he could be a voluntary defense for any of the champions later in the year. With his youth, power and development he could well be a real nightmare for any of the top handful of fighters and should be viewed as one to watch, even if he does lack the name value of some of the former champions.
Tetsuya Hisada (30-9-2, 19) – Japanese Champions
Another lower level champion looking to get a world title shot this year is Japanese national champion Tetsuya Hisada, who at the age of 33 really doesn't have the time to waste if he intends to make the next step up in class. It's worth noting that he hasn't got a pretty looking record, but he is better than those numbers suggest, and is in great form, having remained unbeaten in almost 3 years. His current 9 fight winning run has seen him go 9-0 (8) and score really good domestic wins over the likes of Shun Kosaka, Kenichi Horikawa, Atsushi Kakutani and Takeri Kamikubo.
Hisada, like many on this list, has got his next bout organised already, an April 14th title defense against fellow Japanese veteran Koji Itagaki, and if he comes through that he, and his team, do seem likely to chase a world title fight and ditch the Japanese title. It's worth noting he is in the top 10 with all 4 world title bodies and seems open to facing any of the world champions.
In the ring Hisada is a real battler. He throws a lot of shots, seems to get stronger as bouts go on and although not a monster puncher he's a heavy enough handed fighter to wear opponents down from sheer accumulation. At 33 his ability to keep coming in the later rounds might begin to wane, but for now he's a fighter full of confidence and with a serious point to prove, especially given that Ken Shiro gave up the Japanese title to fight for the WBC belt, just weeks before a scheduled 2017 bout with Hisada. That along gives Hisada a clear hunger to face the current WBC king.
Felix Alvarado (32-2, 28)
The Light Flyweight division has some massive puncher, in fact Angel Acosta and Carlos Canizales are world champions mostly due to their incredible punching power. They however probably don't have the heaviest hands in the division, instead that honour is probably with Nicaraguan terror Felix Alvarado, who in all honesty is the division's real boogey man. The 29 year old from Managua has 14-0 (13) since suffering back to back defeats to Kaztuo Ioka and Juan Carlos Reveco and he is a nightmare to fight.
Although Alvarado has lost his two biggest bouts he has remained a contender with notable wins over fringe contenders like Luis de la Rosa, Larluis Diaz, Jose Antonio Jimenez and most impressive Fahlan Sakreerin Jr. Not only is he a big puncher but he is an ultra aggressive fighter who appears to take a really hard shot very well, and is always swarming opponents looking to take them out as early as possible, with 15 opening round T/KO's already.
Alvarado's next bout isn't set yet, but he's in line for an IBF title fight, having scored his win over Fahlan in eliminator for the IBF title, and is looking like a fighter who wants to stay busy rather than just waiting for his shot. In 2017 he fought 6 times, and he already has two bouts under his belt this year. With that in mind he may well fight in the coming weeks and continue to tick over until getting his third world title shot.
Jonathan Taconing (27-3-1, 22)
Another of the division's tough guys with a serious punch is the limited, and some what crude, but wonderfully hard hitting Filipino Jonathan Taconing, who is also a 2-time world title challenger. The 31 year old “Lightning” debuted back in 2007 and looked like a savage puncher straight away, stopping his first 3 foes in a combined 4 rounds. A couple of set backs on the domestic scene slowed his ascent but he would go on to climb the rankings quite quickly and get a shot in 2012 against Kompayak Porpramook, losing a very controversial technical decision in Thailand. That loss put Taconing on the map but made him a fighter to avoid.
A4 year unbeaten run would follow for Taconing, who would go on to claim the OPBF title and score notable wins over Vergilio Silvano and Ramon Garcia Hirales before he would lose his second shot, a clear defeat to Ganigan Lopez in 2016. Since that defeat Taconing has gone 5-0 (4). He;s not as naturally talented as Alvarado, and doesn't quite set up his shots as well, but is hard hitting and teak tough and not many fighters will engage him in toe-to-toe war.
Taconing last fought back in March, in a domestic bout against Robert Onggocan, in what looks to have been a surprisingly competitive bout. It's worth noting, like many on this list, he is ranked by all 4 world title bodies, with 3 of the 4 having him in the top 5, and it's clear that he is on the verges of another world title fight. That fight might come this year, though we doubt any of the champions will be in a rush to face him.
Rey Loreto (24-14, 16)
Yet another puncher in the division is Rey Loreto, another of the talented Filipino fighters plying their trade at Light Flyweight, though also capable of fighting at Minimumweight. Loreto has the most messed up record of any contender in the division, if not the sport right now, but is a true nightmare of a fighter to face. Aged 27 Loreto is in his prime, but is already a 10 year veteran and and a fighter who has developed from a 0-4 teenager to being danger man and a true contender.
Loreto's career turned around in 2013, when he beat Pornsawan Porpramook in Thailand, and then had a huge show in the arm the following year when he scored a monster upset against Nkosinathi Joyi, something he repeated the following year. Sadly for Loreto he saw a 7 fight unbeaten run come to an end last year, losing to Knockout CP Freshmart in a Minimumweight title bout, but that set back may well have served as a blessing in disguise and a chance for Loreto to realise that his best weight is Light Flyweight.
Having fought in February Lerot may not fight again for a while, but is world ranked by the WBC, at Light Flyweight, and the WBA, at Minimumweight, and is certainly a fighter who has time on his side to rebuild and work on getting a second world title fight. It's unlikely he'll get a shot thus year, but 2019, or 2020, could well be his year.
Randy Petalcorin (28-2-1, 21) – Former WBA “interim” Champion
Another Filipino in and around the world title scene is former WBA “interim” champion Randy Petalcorin, who once looked like he was right in the mix before his career stalled, massively. Back in 2014 Petalcorin claimed the interim crown and defended it once, blitzing Ma Yi Min in Beijing. Sadly though he has gone 5-1 since impressive display, over 4 years ago. Worse than the inactivity is the quality he has been fighting, and from being on the edge of a world title fight he has found himself fighting regional journeymen.
As a fighter Petalcorin is a natural talent. He's a wonderfully crisp boxer-puncher and despite having been a professional for 9 years he is still only 26 and whilst it does feel like he is wasting his time at the moment he does have a lot of youth on his side. Hopefully that won't give him and excuse to waste more time, as he really is such a pure joy to watch.
Whilst it's easy to look at Petalcorin's record and see two losses one of those was a very early career defeat to future world champion Marlon Tapales whilst the other was a hotly disputed split decision loss to Omari Kimweri 2 years ago. That loss to Kimweri has been followed by 5 straight wins, and it's now time Petalcorin showed his skills are against more testing opponents than he's been up against in recent times.
Tibo Monabesa (17-0-2, 8)
Indonesian boxing has lacked a star since the retirement of Chris John though they may be on the verge of having a new one thanks to the talented Tibo Monabesa. The 27 year old southpaw has been a professional for a little under 6 years but has already progressed far beyond domestic level and is the current WBC International Silver champion, having already notched two defenses of the belt and become a bit of hit at home.
To date his best wins are only over regional opponents, but still they have come against decent fighters, such as Rene Patilano and Lester Abutan. Those wins, along with his title, have helped him creep into the world rankings without getting much international fan fare. At the time of writing he is in the top 15 with the WBA, WBO and WBC and although not quite ready for a world champion he's certainly not far off a title fight.
With one fight already under his belt in 2018 we're expecting to see a busy and eventful year for the man from Jakarta and we suspect he'll fight progressively better opponents through to the end of the year as he and his team prepare for a world title fight, possible as early as 2019. Sadly though for his growing local fanbase it's unlikely he and his team will manage to secure home advantage and he will likely be on the road when a world title fight is offered to him.
Reiya Konishi (15-1, 5) Former Japanese Minimumweight Champion
Former Japanese Minimumweight champion Reiya Konishi is another in the long line of young Japanese fighters making a mark in the lower weight classes. The 24 year old from Kobe made his mark on the domestic scene by winning the Rookie of the Year in 2014 before claiming the Japanese title in 2017. As the Japanese Minimumweight champion Konishi impressed with wins against Shin Ono and Kenta Matsui before moving up in weight and vacating the title. Sadly for Konishi he lost earlier this year, coming up short to Carlos Canizales.
Despite losing to Canizales, in a bout for the WBA “regular” title, we were impressed by Konishi who gritted his teeth after being knocked down early on and really gave Canizales problems with his fantastic work rate and desire. It may have been a loss but it was a “good loss” in many ways and showed that he really does belong in the title mix going forward.
Konishi's loss to Canizales was less than a month ago so it's unlikely he'll be racing back into the ring, but he will likely be back in last summer as he looks to bounce back and rebuild. That could well see him fighting another contender, or drop down to domestic level and really get used to the weight. At 24 he really has time on his side and there is no need to rush him until he's ready, especially given that his style is one that could burn him out if he has too many wars too soon together.
As well as the 12 fighters mentioned above other notable contenders include:
Palangpol CP Freshmart (14-2, 8) - Thai fighter Palangpol CP Freshmart is best known for challenging Kosei Tanaka in 2017 and dropping the then WBO champion before being stopped himself in round 9. It's unclear when Palangpol will return, but he is a genuine threat to the division
Jesse Espinas (18-2, 11) - Jesse Espinas is an in-form Filipino who is climbing up the rankings thanks to a 7 fight winning streak, which included a big upset win on the road over the then unbeaten Paipharob Kokietgym in 2016
Ryuji Hara (23-2, 14)-Japanese speedster Ryuji Hara has been linked to facing WBO champion Angel Acosta and despite his two stoppage losses, to Kosei Tanaka and Katsunari Takayama, the Ohashi fighter is a talent, and could ask serious questions of the Puerto Rican puncher if that bout manages to take place.
(Images courtesy of boxrec and boxmob.jp)
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