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.
Earlier this week we broke the news that Hideyuki Ohashi had finally announced the Flyweight dream fight between WBC Flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi (20-3, 10) and Nicaraguan sensation Roman Gonzalez (39-0, 33). The fight was one we had been talking about most of the year and knew fans from around the world were really interested in. It isn't just a Flyweight title bout but is the lower weight equivalent to Manny Pacquiao Vs Floyd Mayweather Jr. It pits the linear champion against the most destructive fighter in the 112lb division and at the end of the day everyone who knows boxing knows this one will be great, especially with the mentality of both men.
In all honesty we rarely get the best men in any division fighting each other but in this case really we do have 2 of the elite fighting each other and better yet it seems very likely that the winner will be moved on to a fight with Juan Francisco Estrada next year in a bout that really would tie up all 3 of the divisions of the elite fighters.
Despite it being such a major bout it does seem highly unlikely that it will be shown in the US or the UK where a vast majority of our readers are from. In my eyes that's a huge shame and it tells us a lot about the boxing media in those two countries and the way they are both missing out on not just some of the best fighters but also some of the best fights.
I understand that channels in both countries have their reasons for not showing the bout but in some cases the arguments seem to be more like excuses.
Firstly the "time zone" of the bout. We understand that Asian fights are a problem, especially for US TV, due to when they take place however they have been showing some footage of the Bob Arm's cards from Macau on tape delay allowing fans in the states to see the fights "as live" the same day. Sure by then the results are out in the open but it's a step they have shown to be willing to take for fighters like Nonito Donaire. With that in mind I can't see a reason for the channels, especially smaller ones like AWE, ESPN or Boxnation, not to be willing to show the Yageashi/Gonzalez bout on tape delay giving an hour of their time for the bout. Incidentally if the bout finishes early they could then include highlights from the co-feature between Naoya Inoue (6-0, 5) and Samartlek Koietgym (16-4, 5), it's self a world title bout.
If the bouts were shown on tape delay it would give the teams on those channels a chance to piece together highlights from the fights and even give the men a small build up before they showed the actual fights, as if introducing the fighters to a new audience.
Of course another problem is the profile of the fighters involved. Whilst Gonzalez is a big name in Latin America he's almost unknown by all but the most hardcore of American fight fans. Yaegashi is even less well known and for many American fans it's a case of of knowing that Yaegashi has beaten Edgar Sosa and lost to Kazuto Ioka whilst also having a thriller with Pornsawan Porpramook. Thankfully however there is more than enough high quality, high octane action involving the two fighters to do excellent build up trailers involving things like Gonzalez's battering of various fighters and Yaegashi's fianl few rounds with Pornsawan Porpramook.
It wasn't too long ago that HBO took a punt on Gennady Golovkin and we all know how well that went, like wise Yoshihiro Kamegai and Nihito Arakawa have been involved in thrillers on US TV giving a chance for a US audience to see just how exciting Japanese fighters are. Whilst I wouldn't say Yaegashi was the same stylistically as Arakawa or Kamegai he is equally fun to watch and in Gonzalez he has an opponent who is also known for putting on a show. With the two of them it's almost guaranteed to be great back and forth action. If you give the fighters a chance to show themselves they will excite fans.
Another argument would be the price of the fights however no one is suggesting the networks send over their own commentators to Tokyo. What the channels would need would be the footage, which is being aired in Japan by Fuji TV, and their own commentators, who could be in a studio anywhere on the planet. Whilst we're not suggesting Fuji TV would just give away the footage for international distribution we wouldn't assume the cost for it would be much and a "token payment" would likely be accepted as the company would be getting a new line of revenue that wasn't previously there. Likewise the channel would likely be happy to build up some good will knowing that the Inoue brother's have seriously long term potential to make the channel long term money in international fees.
Of course one more thing we often hear from fans in the west is that no one cares about the lower weights. Whilst we know that this does apply in some ways a big part of that is due to a lack of exposure. If you don't let someone see something how are they to know they would enjoy it? Funnily this has seen fans missing out on dozens of modern day wars including, but not limited, to: [Note fights with links are to videos of the fights]
Katsunari Takayama Vs Roman Gonzalez (2009)
Giovani Segura Vs Ivan Calderon I (2010)
Akira Yaegashi Vs Pornsawan Porpramook (2011)
Kompayak Porpramook Vs Adrian Hernandez I (2011)
Hernan Marquez Vs Luis Concepcion I (2011)
Roman Gonzalez Vs Juan Francisco Estrada (2012)
Koki Eto Vs Kompayak Porpramook (2013)
Giovani Segura Vs Hernan Marquez (2013)
Kohei Kono Vs Liborio Solis (2013)
Katsunari Takayama Vs Mario Rodriguez (2013)
Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep Vs Takuya Kogawa (2014)
Koki Eto Vs Ardin Diale (2014)
I dare say if fans were given a chance to watch those fights they'd love the little divisions just as much as I do. Maybe it's time that the channels gave the fans a chance to decide for themselves if they enjoy the lighter divisions by letting them watch this one without need to go and hunt it down for a Japanese stream or a youtube video after the fight. Maybe, just maybe, the western media can give Akira Yaegashi and Roman Gonzalez a chance to impress fans on a wider scale than they have been able to in the past. You never know what happens when you give someone a chance and with both of these fighter being fun, action based men a US network could have some very cheap thrillers on their hands in the coming years if they decide to not only show this fight but continue to run with similar fights and fighters.
(Images courtesy of Ohashi Gym and Teiken Promotions)
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.