One of the best division's in the sport right now is the Super Flyweight division, which has been delivering some great fights over the last few years, some frustrations and plenty of twists. It's a division that has probably under-delivered in recent years, yet has still managed to give us things like Srisaket Sor Rungvisai Vs Roman Gonzalez, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai Vs Juan Francisco Estrada, Donnie Neites Vs Kazuto Ioka. Give the make up of the division right now we expect big things from it in 2020, especially with the talk of certain champions who appear to be hunting the other top guys.
WBC - Juan Francisco Estrada (40-3, 27)
Mexican fighter Juan Francisco Estrada is quite probably the best fighter in the division, and certainly has the strongest claim as the #1. He is a wonderfully talented boxer-puncher who has had notable success at Flyweight, where he held unified titles, and Super Flyweight, where he beat Srisaket Sor Rungvisai to claim the WBC title last year. Although not a huge puncher he's a clean accurate hitter and gets respect from everyone he faces due to his effectiveness. It'll take a special fighter to dethrone Estrada who is still maturing, and is only 29 years old.
WBO - Kazuto Ioka (25-2, 14)
Although Estrada is probably the #1 in the division he's probably not actually the most distinguished fighter holding a title at Super Flyweight. That is, arguably, Kazuto Ioka who is now a 4 weight world champion, having won titles from 105lbs all the way up to 115lbs. The talented Ioka is a Japanese star who attracts multi-million viewing numbers for his bouts and has proven to be a smart boxer-puncher himself. He's not quite as fluid or versatile as Estrada but is quite possibly the sport's most under-rated body puncher, and with Ismael Salas behind him he's continually adding to his box of tricks.
IBF - Jerwin Ancajas (32-1-2, 22)
Filipino southpaw Jerwin Ancajas burst on to the scene with a big upset win against McJoe Arroyo in September 2016, making him the longest reigning current world champion in the division. Sadly he is also the most frustrating. He's been active, and defended the title in 4 continents, but his competition has generally been poor. There were big money offers on the table to unify with the then WBO champion Naoya Inoue early in his reign, and whilst that would have been a real beating for Ancajas, he's seemingly managed to avoid all the big fish in the division. Whether that's good management, taking the most money for the least pain, is up to debate but the reality is the once promising reign of Ancajas has meandered into meaningless. With 7 defenses under his belt the feeling is that he, and his team, are happy to keep the belt without truly testing their man. Frustratingly his next mandatory will likely come against a man who he dominated in 2018, meaning little is likely to change in terms of the quality of Ancajas's reign.
WBA - Kal Yafai (26-0, 15)
English Kal Yafai has also had a frustrating reign as the WBA champion. He's held the WBA title for over 3 years, made 5 defenses and still lacks a legitimate super fight. In fact he's yet to really prove himself as a champion. In 2018 he narrowly scraped by Israel Gonzalez, and despite lots of talk about big fights he's yet to land one. The talk now is a title defense against Roman Gonzalez, and whilst that would be big, it's a shame it's taken over 3 years for us to get to that point. Whilst not everything is Yafai's fault, and a proposed bout with Estrada falling through due to an injury to the Mexican isn't his fault, it very much feels like he has milked the title for all it's worth and only began seeking challenges when his back has been forced against the wall.
As we write this today only 3 of the world title bodies have a world champion at Super Flyweight, and in fact there is no WBA shenanigans to give us interim, regular or super champions. The WBO title will see it's vacancy filled on December 31st when Kazuto Ioka (23-1, 13) faces Donnie Nietes (41-1-5, 23).
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (47-4-1, 41) - WBC (3 defenses)
Thailand's Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, also known as Wisaksil Wangek, is enjoying his second reign as the WBC Super Flyweight champion. The 32 year old southpaw came to the attention of the international boxing world in 2017, when he surprised everyone and upset Roman Gonzalez. For many that was the first they had seen of the rugged, heavy handed Thai, but he had actually first won the WBC title way back in 2013, when he had stopped Yota Sato, and had shown his value with another notable win against Jose Salgado. Since reclaiming the title Srisaket has beaten Gonzalez a second time and Juan Francisco Estrada. Although not the most technical fighter Sriskaet is a total handful due to his physical strength, power and work rate. We're expecting Srisaket to have at least one monster bout in 2019, either a rematch with Estrada or a unification bout with Ancajas, so 2019 could be another huge year for the Thai.
Jerwin Ancajas (30-1-2, 20) - IBF (6 defenses)
Filipino fighter Jerwin Ancajas is a fighter who seems unlikely to remain at Super Flyweight for low, but the Southpaw has already had a lot of success whilst there. He won the IBF title in September 2016 and has already notched 6 defenses, including wins against Teiru Kinoshita, Jamie Conlan and Jonas Sultan. Sadly however Ancajas' last couple of results, an uninspiring decision win over Sultan and a fortunate draw against Alejandro Santiago Barrios have taken a lot off gloss from his career. On paper his current run of 17-0-1 (15) looks fantastic but the performances haven't always matched up to his ability and his match making at times has been dreary to say the least. The hope is that better competition will draw a better performance from Ancajas. The talk is that he will either defend his title against in a unification bout with Srisaket Sor Rungvisai or will make a mandatory defense against Japan's Ryuichi Funai next time out.
Kal Yafai (25-0, 15) - WBA (4 defenses)
Unbeaten Englishman Khalid "Kal" Yafai is highly regarded by the British media but the 29 year old has to really live up to the expectations that many have for him. He won the WBA title in December 2016 and has defended it against the likes of Sho Ishida, David Carmona and Israel Gonzalez. For a reign that's already over 2 years long that's awful competition. He's supposedly wanting to face Roman Gonzalez in the new year, though he may instead have to settle for a mandatory defense against Norberto Jimenez, in what would again be a disappointing defenses. Although clearly talented questions remain as to whether Yafai has already peaked, has started to slide or may even be needing to move up in weight. He's shown a lack of power at world level, and not the most fun style either. He's clearly a very good fighter, but we've been genuinely disappointed by his reign.
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.