As part of this Treasure Trove series we have spent a lot of time talking about the more obscure battles and wars from 2019. Today however we look at a huge bout that saw international TV exposure and was one of the biggest bouts of the year, at least in terms of Asian fighters. It pitted the top Thai against one of the top Mexican's, in a rematch that had been building for over a year. It wasn't the fight of the year, but was very damn good!
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (47-4-1, 41) Vs Juan Francisco Estrada (38-3, 26)
In one corner was WBC Super Flyweight champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, enjoying his second reign as the champion. The Thai had announced himself in the US with a controversial win over Roman Gonzalez, before blasting out the Nicaraguan in a rematch. Following that he had enhanced his standing in the sport with a decision win over brilliant Mexican Juan Francisco Estrada.
At his best Srisaket was a strong, powerful, come forward fighter with scary strength for a Super Flyweight and a terminator like mentality. Defensively he has always been quite open, and often relies on his toughness to get him through tough spots, and he is slow, but more than males up for those issues by being a terrifying man to fight. He walks through punches, he comes forward, he's relentless, strong, heavy handed and, worst of all, he's a hard hitting southpaw. One thing many think, when watching him, is that he's crude, and that's actually a bit unfair, he does do some very smart work, but it's on the front foot, and is often hidden behind his pressure and physicality.
Whilst Srisaket was regarded as an offensive pressure machine talented Mexican Juan Francisco Estrada was regarded as one of the best technical all rounders in the sport. His boxing IQ, timing and control of distance is fantastic, his handspeed is criminally under-rated and he's proven that he's really able to do everything. He's one of the very few fighters who's as good on the back foot as he is on the front foot, and can pressure, box, fight or counter. He's also tough, hard to hit clean and counters brilliantly.
Although incredibly skilled Estrada's biggest issue is that he can, at times, over-look his opponents. This was seen notably against Joebert Alvarez, in what was a very close bout despite the score cards. He can also be dragged into the wrong type of fighter, and at Super Flyweight he's certainly not a big puncher. He's a very clean puncher, but does lack 1-punch KO power.
In February 2018 the two men had clashed in their first bout, with Srisaket taking a majority decision win over Estrada. Following that win Srisaket had had issues outside of the ring, splitting with his long term partner and scoring two low profile wins. The most notable of those wins came over Hiram Irak Diaz and was a less than stellar performance. Estrada on the other hand had scored two solid wins, beating Felipe Orucuta and Victor Mendez, and looked good and hungry coming into the rematch.
This was a bout hardcore fans wanted, it was a rematch of a great bout and was expected to be something brilliant. What we got was something very memorable and compelling.
The bout started with Srisaket giving up his key advantage. Rather than fighting southpaw he actually came out fighting orthodox and rather than taking the fight to Estrada he tried to box with the Mexican genius. It was instantly a weird start to the fight, and seemed as if Srisaket wanted to beat Estrada at Estrada's game. It wasn't a good gameplan from the Thai.
As the early rounds went on Srisket continued to fight the wrong fight, falling behind. Despite that both men were landing some solid shots, in what was a really technical boxing contest. This was high level, entertaining, and a show case of what an Estrada fight is. It was higher being fought with a feeling that sooner or later Srisaket's power and aggression would begin to turn things around.
Having fallen a long way behind Srisaket finally turned southpaw, finally fought his fight and finally began to make his strengths count. This forced some brilliant action in the final few rounds as he attempted to wage war on Estrada.
This is a strange bout, but it's a brilliant bout. It's got one of the best Thai's ever fighting the wrong bout, before things click and it's got one of the best pure boxers in the sport showing what a boxing genius he is.
This isn't a hidden gem, but it is a fantastic bout, and a somewhat over-looked contest that really is worth a re-watch!
Although we're seeing more boxing in the East there is still a disjointed feel to lots of things, with bouts being cancelled, and events being changed almost daily. Thankfully though Thailand seems to be on top of things, and we're now starting to see some regular action from "The land of Smiles".
With that said this week's "One to Watch" is coming from Thailand and is a bout that has seen more attention than a typical all-Thai bout!
The One to Watch?
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (47-5-1, 41) Vs Amnat Ruenroeng (20-3, 6)
August 1st (Saturday)
It's rare to get a bout in Thailand that has some interest in the west, but that's exactly what we have here with a bout between two former world champions who meet in the main event of a WP Boxing event. The bout won't just be a rare bout between two well known Thai's but will also likely lead the winner into another world title fight. This is a bout that has significance well beyond the realms of Asian boxing, despite featuring two Asian fighters. This has implications on the world scene.
The WP Boxing is also proof of concept behind "studio boxing" with all the events being held at the Work Point Studio in Bang Phun. We've seen BT Sport trial something similar, but the WP Boxing series dates back a few years now and they almost all run from a studio with no issues at all. For a small event in the west this may end up being something we get to see more of in the west.
We suspect almost every fan to know something about Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. The 33 year old from Si Sa Ket is a 2-time WBC Super Flyweight champion, one of the hard hitting hitting fighters in the lower weights and a human tank. He is best known for his wins over Roman Gonzalez, both of which came in 2017, but other notable wins include victories over Juan Francisco Estrada, Jose Salgado and Yota Sato. He's a power punching and aggressive Super Flyweight and a physical monster who is looking to become a 3-time world champion.
Aged 40 Amnat Ruenroeng is an ancient "smaller man", but he's had a strange career in general. He made his professional debut at the age of 32, won the IBF Flyweight title at the age of 34, and scored a string of notable wins when he was the IBF champion. During his title reign Amnat beat the likes of Kazuto Ioka, Zou Shiming, John Riel Casimero and McWilliams Arroyo. Although a talented boxer he was a master at bending the rules, knowing how to foul and get away with it. He's not typically a physically imposing fighter, but he is a surprisingly strong one.
What to expect?
We'll be honest we actually see this as being a bit of a mismatch. Although both men are former world champions Srisaket is still in, or around, his prime. Amnat on the other hand is very much coming towards the end of his career. Not only that but Amnat is also the naturally smaller man, despite having slight edges in height and reach he is less powerfully built than Srisaket. It's also worth noting that Amnat has suffered a lot of punishment in recent years, including a KO loss to John Riel Casimer, a TKO loss to Nawaphon Por Chokchai and a loss in a kickboxing bout against Tenshin Nasukawa.
We expect to see Srisaket struggle early on with the tactics and jab of Amnat, but after 3 or 4 rounds we suspect that Srisaket's strength and power will begin to break down the 40 year old, who will begin to look for a way out by rounds 5 or 6.
The bad news?
For one of the few times in this series there really isn't too much bad to talk about. The bout will be streamed for free, via Matchroom and Work Point, there's no paywall or tape delay issues. Maybe the one issue is the fact the the bout is a mismatch and the it's on at an awkward for a Western audience, but it's still worth tuning in for.
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
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.