The Super Flyweight division not only has 4 excellent champions but also has wonderful depth in terms of contenders, with several former world champions knocking on the door, and a former world title challenger now mandated for another world title. What's notable is not just the sheer depth in the division but also how varied it is, with a lot of different countries being represented. Due to how deep the Super Flyweight division is we've decided to not just look at contenders here, but two prospects who we expect to cross over into contenders in 2020, showing just how interesting the division is right now.
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (47-5-1, 41)
Hard hitting Thai Srisaket Sor Rungvisai announced himself to a global audience during an 11 month run that saw him score 2 wins Vs Roman Gonzalez and one over Juan Francisco Estrada. Sadly since then it's been a weird time for Srisaket, who hasn't looked the same. A loss in April 2019 to Estrada killed his moment and we've not seen the Thai in action again. Despite the fact he's promoted by Eddie Hearn talk of a Srisaket Vs Yafai bout has never really been heard and it seems like the English promoter has forgotten all about his destructive Thai. If Srisaket's not able to get a meaningful fight in 2020 it could well be that he ends up being remembered as a flash in the pan by international fans.
Roman Gonzalez (48-2, 40)
Nicaraguan legend Roman Gonzalez might not be what he once was but he is still arguably the biggest name in the division and now with his wear and tear and age, he's got a target on his back. Both Kazuto Ioka and Kal Yafai have began to circle like vultures. We hope Gonzalez has more in the tank than his detractors realise, but the reality is that his 50 fight career has been a long and hard one, and Super Flyweight was never the best for his career. If he can land a big fight this year, he has a chance, but if he's forced to wait until 2021 it could be too late for "Chocolatito" to reclaim a title. Given how little he's fought in recent years he is, oddly, a bit of a dark horse in the division right now, and that might serve him better than being the rampaging monster he once was.
Francisco Rodriguez Jr (33-4-1, 24)
The criminally under-rated Francisco Rodriguez Jr is best remembered for his incredibly fight with Katsunari Takayama down at 105lbs but has quietly become a force at 115lbs. Notably he's likely to have been written off for a run of bouts that saw him going 1-2-1 in 2014/2015 but he's now riding a 14 fight winning run. That run has included notable wins over Yohei Tobe, Hernan Marquez, Oswaldo Novoa, Ramon Garcia Hirales. He does still need a win over a top contemporary contender to earn a shot, but he's certainly having a resurgent run and deserves a mention.
Donnie Nietes (42-1-5, 23)
If any fighter "done fucked up" in 2019 it was Filipino Donnie Nietes. He entered the year the WBO Super Flyweight champion and ended the year on milk cartoons with the word "missing" above his head. The 4 weight champion looked set for a tremendous end to a brilliant decade but instead wasted the whole year on the outside looking in. At 37, he turned 38 in May, it's hard to know what Neites has left, but the crafty "Ahas" is as skilled as they come and if he lands a big fight this year it's hard to rule him out, even against the very best in the division. Fingers crossed ALA Promotions in the Philippines can secure Nietes a career defining opponent this year, or else he might as well retire, having had a truly legendary career.
Andrew Moloney (21-0, 14)
Unbeaten Australian Andrew Moloney is one of the hidden talents in the division, and like many top contenders in the division appears to be getting frozen out. He's the current "interim" champion and in theory lined up to fight Kal Yafai, though it seems likely that Yafai and his team will do what they can to avoid the high risk-low reward Australian. Moloney isn't unbeatable, but he is a very hard man to look good against, and he combines power, skills and speed very well. He has future world champion written all over, but of course, needs a shot at the top. We suspect he finally gets his crack at the back end of 2020, though with the WBA and their games we wouldn't be surprised if Yafai is promoted to "Super" champion and Moloney is only able to fight for the regular title.
Jeyvier Cintron (11-1-0-1, 5)
Puerto Rican fighter Jeyvier Cintron lost on New Year's Eve in a WBO title bout against Kazuto Ioka, but he impressed through out and certainly shouldn't be written off on the back of that loss. If anything the loss to Ioka should be seen as more of a learning experience for Cintron, who learned the real value of body shots through the bout. With a little more professional seasoning the 2-time Olympian is likely to win a world title, and at 24 years old his handsome mush is likely to be one of the key faces in the lower weights.
Israel Gonzalez (25-3, 11)
Although Israel Gonzalez has come up short twice, losing by stoppage to Jerwin Ancajas and losing a very debatable decision to Kal Yafai, the Mexican has booked himself a third world title fight. Gonzalez recently won an IBF eliminator in Japan to force a second shot at the IBF title. Sadly he was so easily beaten by Ancajas in their clash we don't imagine he'll have much success in their inevitable rematch, but we do need to applaud Gonzalez. Unlike many in the division he has been chasing fights and going in as the under-dog. The 23 year old has, excuse our language, "given no shits" about facing good fighters and we really want to applaud him for that. Maybe, though, he does need another bout or two against a good southpaw to prepare for Ancajas. Given his age we genuinely do see him winning a world title down the line, but it might well be a few years down the line.
Ryusei Kawaura (7-0, 4)
Ryusei Kawaura is one of the two prospects we want to speak about here. The 25 year old is a protege of former world champion Hiroshi Kawashima, and although certainly not a big name international Kawashima was one of the smartest boxing in Japan. With Kawashima passing knowledge down to his young charge, expect to see big things of Kawaura, who will likely look for a national or regional title in 2020. He's a long way from a world title fight, but as we've seen from Japanese prospects in the past, it only takes 1 big year and they suddenly end up in the mix.
Sunny Edwards (14-0, 4)
Englishman Sunny Edwards, the brother of former WBC Flyweight champion Charlie Edwards, is a long way from a world title fight but is certainly one to keep an eye on in terms of the British and European scene. A flashy and skilled boxer Edwards will get a lot of attention in 2020. Sadly for the 24 year old he is in arguably the toughest division in the sport today and although many in the UK may see him as a future world champion he will need to be matched very carefully to get there. Despite that he's charismatic, an interesting character and well worthy of some attention. A very skilled youngster who Frank Warren will likely look to use a lot in 2020.
3 bouts we want in 2020:
Kazuto Ioka Vs Juan Francisco Estrada
Donnie Neites Vs Roman Gonzalez
Kal Yafai Vs Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
The Super Flyweight division is a really notable one due to the depth in the division, and the wonderful mix of recognisable top tier names, former champions and rising hopefuls. It's not the best division in the sport right now, but it is certainly a good one for the contenders, even if the champions have failed to shine recently.
For those who missed our look at the champions, that's available to read here The state of the Division - Super Flyweight - The Champions
Kazuto Ioka (23-1, 13)
Japanese star, and former 3 division world champion, Kazuto Ioka is one of the biggest names in the lower weights, and is one of the biggest attractions in Japanese boxing, despite having only fought twice since the start of 2017. Ioka has won titles at Minimumweight, Light Flyweight and Flyweight and will be looking to become a 4 weight champion on December 31st when he faces Donnie Nietes for the WBO title. Ioka is a brilliant boxer-puncher, one of the best body punchers in the sport and a smart fighter. Although he took time to grow into the Flyweight division he now looks like a very strong Super Flyweight and really impressed in September when he dominated McWilliams Arroyo. At 29 he's still relatively young, and hasn't had a hard career, so could well a lengthy reign if he defeats Nietes
Donnie Nietes (41-1-5, 23)
Having mentioned Kazuto Ioka it makes sense to go stright to Filipino fighter Donnie Nietes, the man Ioka will be facing. The 36 year old "Ahas" has also won world titles at Minmumweight, Light Flyweight and Flyweight and will be getting his second shot at a Super Flyweight title when he faces Ioka. The Filipino veteran has been a professional for over 15 years and his record reads like a who's who of the lower weights, with wins against the likes of Pornsawan Porpramook, Jesus Silvestre, Ramon Garcia Hirales, Moises Fuentes, Francisco Rodriguez Jr, Edgar Sosa Juan Carlos Reveco. Technically Nietes is an excellent fighter, but given his age, his relatively small size and long career it's unclear how long he will remain in the sport, win or lose at the end of the year.
Roman Gonzalez (47-2, 39)
With Ioka and Neites both fighting to become 4 weight champions at the end of the year it's worth noting they would join Roman Gonzalez in achieving the feat. The Nicaraguan great, who we like many others regarded as the pound for pound #1 before his first loss to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, is still a major name in the division and was one of the few fighters in the lower weights who really helped prove what the little men could do. Sadly at Super Flyweight Gonzalez looks under-sized, but he is still a very dangerous fighter, with great speed, hurtful power and fantastic combinations. If Gonzalez picks his opponents carefully he can reclaim a world title at the weight, but will need to avoid the big Super Flyweight fighters, like Srisaket, in the future. At 31 years old he still has time to come again, but it's unclear what his body has left after a very tough career.
Juan Francisco Estrada (38-3, 26)
Mexican boxer-puncher Juan Francisco Estrada is one of the few truly elite level fighters in the sport, to not currently hold a world title. He's a former unified Flyweight champion, judges distance and tempo excellently, puts punches together fantastically and has an amazing resume. His record includes close losses to Roman Gonzalez and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, and rematches with either man would be welcomed in 2019, as well as wins against a who's who including Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr, avenging his first career loss, Brian Viloria, Milan Melindo, Giovani Segura, Carlos Cuadras and Felipe Orucuta. Although he's not the biggest Super Flyweight he is strong at the weight and is a very technically rounded fighter.
Aston Palicte (24-2-1, 20)
Filipino fighter Aston Palicte is best known for his debatable draw with Donnie Nietes form back in September, in what was a bout for the vacant WBO Super Flyweight title. That's the one mark against the hard hitting, physically imposing and under-rated Filipino boxer-puncher. Palicte hasn't had much coverage in the US but has proven to be a very capable fighter with very heavy hands. His best wins are against the likes of Ismael Garnica, Vergilio Silvano, Oscar Cantu and Jose Alfredo Rodriguez, but he looks like he will be a fixture on the world stage for years to come. There are some technical improvements for Palicte to make, but if he can make them he will become very hard to beat.
Ryuichi Funai (31-7, 22)
Japanese veteran Ryuichi Funai is a relative unknown outside of Japan, though he recently became the IBF mandatory title challenger with a TKO win against Victor Emanuel Olivo. That win was Funai's 7th straight win, and followed short reigns as both the Japanese and WBO Asia Pacific champion. He's been a professional since 2005 and lost a number of early bouts, but is 23-3 (17) since losing to Shinsuke Yamanaka way back in 2009. Funai is a hard hitting fighter, who's not the quickest or the sharpest, or has the highest work rate, but really can bang with his right hand. We suspect that he'll come up short at world level, but certainly deserves a shot given his recent form.
Andrew Moloney (18-0, 11)
Naoya Inoue isn't the only fighter going by the "Monster" moniker, and another is Australian Andrew Moloney, a very talented boxer-puncher, and the brother of Bantamweight hopeful Jason Moloney. The unbeaten Andrew Moloney is a 27 year old who has been ranking up good wins in recent years against the likes of Renoel Pael, Rene Racquel, Richard Claveras and Luis Concepcion. He's made it clear that he wants a world title fight but is perhaps going to have to wait until the end of 2019 to get one, given how fighters are now queuing up for shots in the division. He would be the under-dog against any champion, but would be a very live under-dog.
Daigo Higa (15-1, 15)
Japanese exciting boxer-puncher Daigo Higa was stripped of the WBC Flyweight title earlier this year, due to failing to make weight, and suffered his first loss a day later, being stopped by Cristofer Rosales. Following his failure to make weight he was given an indefinite suspension by the JBC but it now seems likely that suspension will be lifted in 2019. In the ring Higa is an incredibly exciting fighter, who is still a boxing baby at the age of 23, and we're looking forward to seeing him back in the ring. Whether he stays at 115lbs for long is unclear, but we wouldn't be surprised at all to see him make a mark there with his style and aggression. A bout between Higa and either Roman Gonzalez or Srisaket Sor Rungvisai would have FOTY potential.
Sho Ishida (27-1, 15)
Former WBA title challenger Sho Ishida lost in a competitive, but forgettable, bout against Kal Yafai in 2017. Since then he has reeled off 3 wins, including a stoppage victory over Richard Claveras and a decision over Warlito Parrenas, to get himself back in the title mix. Although a talented fighter, with wins against the likes of Yohei Tobe, Ryuichi Funai and Hayato Kimura, Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking and Petchbarngborn Kokietgym there has long been a feeling that Ishida doesn't quite fight to his best, and we're still waiting to really see how good he actually is. He's certainly a leading contender, but it's hard to know if he's a future world champion still, or someone who's just going to bang on the door a few times.
McWilliams Arroyo (17-4, 14)
Former amateur standout McWilliams Arroyo is a heavy handed boxer-puncher who has lost 3 of his last 5 but is a real notable contender who is much better than his record suggests and will only lose to the top men. He's fought for the IBF Flyweight title, back in 2014 losing a split decision to Amnat Ruenroeng, and would lose in a WBC Flyweight title fight to Roman Gonzalez in 2016. In 2018 we saw Arroyo upset Carlos Cuadras before losing to the returning Kazuto Ioka. He's certainly someone who belongs in the title mix, but at the age of 33 it's hard to really know what he has left in his career.
Norbelto Jimenez (29-8-4, 16)
Tricky Dominican fighter Norbelto Jimenez is best known for a 2014 draw with Kohei Kono in a WBA title bout. Since then he has gone 9-0 (6) to run up a 30 fight unbeaten run, going 27-0-3, since May 2011. Although relatively unknown he is ranked #1 by the WBA and is expected to be their next mandatory challenger for Kal Yafai. The bout with Kono is the only one that has seen Jimenez share the ring with a world class opponent, but he is certainly a contender, courtesy of his WBA ranking, and hopefully he does get a big shot sooner or later. If he loses at the top level then we can remove him from the mix, but by not giving him a chance he remains a contender and as someone who really is being over-looked, something we've seen since the Kono fight.
Yanga Sigqibo (12-1-1, 3)
The South African boxing scene currently has world champions at Light Flyweight, Flyweight and Bantamweight. They also have a very interesting Super Flyweight contender in the form of Yanga Sigqibo, who is a relative unknown but is racking up decent wins in the last year or two and is to be considered a genuine contender. Footage of Sigqibo is hard to come by, but wins over Rene Dacquel and Keyvin Lara have seen him pick up minor WBC and WBO titles and shoot up the rankings. It'd be nice to see him travel outside of South Africa for a bout in 2019, allowing him so notable exposure, but for now he seems happy to develop his skills and record at home. He's a bit of a divisional dark horse, but certainly deserves a bit of attention at the moment.
Jonas Sultan (15-4, 9)
Earlier this year we saw Filipino fighter Jonas Sultan challenge Jerwin Ancajas in an IBF title fight. Sultan looked poor in that bout, but is a genuine contender at Super Flyweight despite the loss. He holds notable wins over Brian Lobetania, Rene Dacquel, Makazole Tete and John Riel Casimero. Sultan is a technically solid fighter, but is an uninspiring one, who seems to lack a higher gear and can be a frustrating fighter to watch. He's good but not exciting and certainly needs someone else to force the action so that he can show what he can really do. Interestingly when he is facing more aggressive fighters he does look better, so it could be that he needs to be matched against fighters who can make him look good, rather than expect Sultan to make the fight.
Francisco Rodriguez Jr (29-4-1, 21)
Former unified Minimumweight champion Francisco Rodriguez Jr seems to have been around for years, but is only 25 and is proving himself to be a very credible fighter at Super Flyweight, where he's been fighting the last few years. He naturally outgrew the Minimumweight division, where he beat the likes of Merlito Sabillo and Katsunari Takayama, and never really found success at Light Flyweight, but looks to be a perfect fit at Super Flyweight. His recent bouts at 115lbs have seen him stopping the likes of Hernan Marquez, Yohei Tobe, Pablo Carrilo and Ronald Ramos, and he looks to be a very strong and very powerful fighter at the weight.
On Saturday night we saw Kazuto Ioka (23-1, 13) [井岡一翔] return to the ring after well over a year out and dominate McWilliams Arroyo (17-4, 14) on Superfly 3. It wasn't just a comeback bout for Ioka following a long period of inactivity but it was also his US debut and his first bout as a Super Flyweight, with the Japanese fighter looking to begin his chase of a 4th divisional world title.
The win saw Ioka claim the WBC “Silver” Super Flyweight title and announce himself on the Super Flyweight division. It also saw a lot of interesting potential match ups become available for Ioka, who is clearly very serious about retaking his position as one of the biggest names in Japanese boxing. A win over Arroyo would have been impressive by it's self, but the dominating fashion of the win, which saw him take a decision with scores of 97-92, twice, and 99-90, as well as score a knockdown and cut Arroyo, really put the division on alert.
Having seen that performance it made us thinking about the most interesting match ups Ioka could be involved in at Super Flyweight going forward.
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (46-4-1, 41) – WBC Champion
If Ioka wants to become the big dog of the division who better to target the current dog of the yard! Thailand's Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, also known as Wisakil Wangek, is the division's biggest name and leading figure. He's the current WBC champion, enjoying his second reign, and put himself on the global boxing map last year when he defeated Roman Gonzalez, repeating that feat this year. He's by far the most dangerous man in the division and the biggest light at 115lbs, so big in fact that he will be headlining a ONE Championship card in October in Bangkok!
The Thai is 31 years old so is likely to be slowing down in the near future, but he's not been in too many wars, due to his power, and is seen as a really dangerous force in the lower weight classes. He can be beat, but it will take a very talented fighter to beat him, and the rub they will get from defeating Srisaket will ba massive. With that in mind Ioka will have to join a queue, headed by Juan Francisco Estrada, to face the Thai, but that could just give him a little bit more time adapt to the division before taking on the Thai.
This bout would be one that makes a lot of sense to promote, with a very long standing Japan Vs Thailand rivalry, and we've seen several fights between Ioka and Thai's, and Srisaket and Japanese. In fact both men won their first world titles by beating an opponent from the other's country, with Ioka stopping Oleydong Sithsamerchai and Srisaket stopping Yota Sato, giving a lot of promotional angles to sell this fight.
Juan Francisco Estrada (37-3, 25)
Having mentioned Juan Francisco Estrada just a moment ago it's hard not to actually be very excited about an Ioka Vs Estrada bout, potentially even holding that bout with Srisaket contest up as a reward for the winner. This was a bout that also has a sub-story, with the two men being ordered to face off when both were Flyweights before Estrada abandoned the 112lb division to chase Super Flyweight glory and a second bout with Roman Gonzalez. Not only has this bout got a bit of a sub-plot but also arguably the highest boxing IQ of any potential Super Flyweight bout, with both being incredibly smart fighters.
Estrada is regarded as the best non-champion at 115lbs and pushed Srisaket hard earlier this year. As a Flyweight he was a unified WBO and WBA “super” champion, with notable wins against the likes of Brian Viloria, Milen Melindo, Giovani Segura and Hernan Marquez. He has built on his reputation with a big win over Carlos Cuadras at 115lbs but failed to shine on the same card as Ioka's win over Arroyo, when he was pushed all the way by the unheralded Felipe Orucuta. Despite being a talent we do wonder if Estrada is someone who struggles to get up for lesser fights, and maybe rather than fight in another stay busy contest a bout with Ioka would be in his best interest.
The only real thing standing in the way of this potential clash is the fact that Estrada is almost certain to get a Srisaket rematch in early 2019 and he's not going to want to risk that match by facing off with Ioka first. However a bout with Ioka after Srisaket Vs Estrada II would be something very special and something we'd look forward too, whether Estrada avenges his loss to Srisaket or not.
Kal Yafai (24-0, 15) – WBA Champion
Another bout that has a sub-story is a potential showdown between Ioka and WBA champion Kal Yafai. The Englishman has history with Japan, following successful title defenses against Suguru Muranaka and Sho Ishida, with Ishida and Ioka being former gym mates at the Ioka gym, run by Kazuto's father, in Osaka. A chance to avenge his friend's loss would give Ioka real fire to want Yafai, whilst Yafai would see this as a potential chance to give his record a much needed win over a proven world class fighter. As with the Estrada bout it would see two very talented boxers in action and should be a very interesting match up.
The Englishman has held the WBA title for close to two years, having defeated Luis Concepcion for the best in December 2016. His reign however has been very disappointing. Ioka is ranked #2 by the WBA, meaning that a bout between the two makes a lot of sense for a world governing body point of view, and would also see Ioka continue his relationship with the WBA, having held their Minimumweight and Light Flyweight titles.
Although it makes sense from both fighters point of view, and makes sense from a WBA perspective, the bout may fail on the grounds of boxing politics. Eddie Hearn is unlikely to risk his Super Flyweight champion on a HBO “Superfly” card whilst it's unlikely that 360 Promotions would be in a rush to let Ioka fight on a DAZN card. Both 360 and Matchroom do work together, and have a good working relationship, but we struggle to see either side compromising to get this bout done, at this moment in time. Sadly. A great bout, but one where the stars may not quite align.
Jerwin Ancajas (30-1-1, 20) – IBF Champion
Another world champion that Ioka might be interested in face is Filipino Jerwin Ancajas, the Top Rank promoted IBF champion. Ancajas probably makes the least sense, from a political side of things but as a fan it's a bout that would again be a highly skilled chess match of a bout, between two sharp boxers. Of the two Ioka is the more rounded and aggressive, but Ancajas is the more natural Super Flyweight and the more active, having defended the IBF title 5 times since winning it September 2016. Of those 5 defenses 2 have come this year, and he's set to make his next defense later this month.
In the ring Ancajas is one of the most eye pleasing fighters to watch, when he gets going, but can also be a huge frustration to watch, waiting too long and fighter too safety first. He impressed when he got the chance, against Teiru Kinoshita on the Manny Pacquiao Vs Jeff Horn under-card, but has underwhelmed with his opposition since. We understand why certain bouts were taken but he will need a win over a proven world class fighter very soon. A bout against Ioka would give him that opportunity.
Sadly the situation with 360 Promotions and Top Rank aren't quite as good as they are between 360 and Matchroom and we really can't see anyway Top Rank allow Ancajas to get in the ring with Ioka. The Filipino is being groomed slowly to become a star, and Top Rank will have no intention to take any big risks unless they absolutely need to. We think Ancasjas would happily take the fight, but his team will certainly not be wanting to see the contest take place.
Donnie Nietes (41-1-5, 23)
On the same show as Ioka's win over Arroyo we also saw Donnie Nietes fight to a draw with Aston Palicte in a bout for the vacant WBO Super Flyweight title. The result of the draw left the title vacant but in a strange way it could have opened the door to a Nietes Vs Ioka fight, and what a fight that would be. Not only is a mouth watering match up on paper, but it's a very doable one with no political issues, and no real excuses. Not only that but it could see the two men fighting for the WBO title, a title that would make the winner of the bout a 4-weight champion, and the third man to win belts in the lowest 4 divisions. It would also have two of boxing unheralded little men clashing in a very special bout.
Amazingly, during his 47 fight career, Nietes has never fought a Japanese fighter. A staggering fact given the divisions he's fought in have been filled with Japanese fighters. Similarly Ioka has only ever fought one Filipino, Albert Alcoy way back in 2010. That sort of adds another level of intrigue to the contest, with the Japan V Philippines rivalry being an often over-looked one.
With both fighters working with 360 promotions, and both featuring on Superfly 3, the bout is one that makes a lot of sense from a promotional stance. The styles of the two men should gel and it should be a much more exciting contest than a potential rematch between Nietes and Palicte, who had an interesting contest but not an exciting one.
A bout between Ioka Vs Nietes, as part of Superfly 4, along with Srisaket Vs Estrada II could have the winners clash down the line, to unify the WBO and WBC titles. The two matches would give us a lot of action and would make for the strongest card in the Superfly series so far!
(Images courtesy of Wit 094, Chris Farina, Sky Sports, Rey Baniquet and HBO)
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.