By Derek Bonnett: There is a lot happening in the super flyweight division. My fervent attention to the lighter weight classes is well known, but more and more insiders and mainstream followers of the sport are uttering the names Juan Francisco Estrada, Carlos Cuadras, Naoya Inoue, and, of course, Roman Gonzalez. That’s a "Fab-Four" worthy ensemble and we have good reason to believe they will be mixing it up in the coming year to cement their respective greatness in today’s game. Right now, three of the aforementioned 115-pound stars hold near universal recognition as top ten Pound for Pound fighters. Cuadras’ name is arguably on the fringe of that distinction, but he certainly made his case against Gonzalez last month. Fortunately for boxing fans, these four names are just the tip of a mammoth iceberg ready to sink the misconceptions that the smaller divisions lack talent, power, and million dollar purse demand.
The following is a synopsis of the current top ten-rated super flyweights at SecondsOut:
10.) McJoe Arroyo, Puerto Rico, 17-1-0 (8)
Where He Stands: The recently dethroned IBF super flyweight champion remains top ten ranked, but has been greatly held back by inactivity. Following career best performances against Hernan Marquez and Mark Anthony Gerardo, the Puerto Rican pugilist positioned himself as a top contender in the division. His title winning effort against Arthur Villanueva lacked a definitive performance, but he walked away technical decision winner and IBF champion. At thirty, inactivity is a death sentence for Arroyo at super flyweight. Last time out, Arroyo was soundly outpointed by the relatively unknown Jerwin Ancajas, whose lone defeat going in was to Geraldo. Arroyo spent a lot of time on the back foot as Ancajas stalked forward. Arroyo did well during exchanges, but Ancajas landed the more powerful shots. Arroyo was knocked out of the ring in round eight by a whirlwind of hooks along the ropes. Rust may have affected his performance, but losing his title and "0" sets him back greatly.
Growth Potential: At thirty, Arroyo is not going to conquer the division, but he is clearly better than number ten on his best night. Avenging the loss to Ancajas would help greatly. Staying busy would help even more. In the right form, Arroyo could reach as high as number five among the current crowd, but that’s not with any great certainty.
9.) Juan Hernandez, Mexico, 33-2-0 (24)
Where He Stands: The real answer is: all over the place. There are times when nailing down Hernandez’ weight can be a much of a challenge as assessing his ability. He’s fought from minimumweight to bantamweight and amassed a pretty underrated dossier overall. In his career he’s defeated good fighters in Ivan Meneses, Denver Cuello, Moises Fuentes, Saul Juarez, Ramon Garcia Hirales, Jesus Silvestre, and Omar Nino Romero. Not all of them were in their primes, but other than an early career loss only Kazuto Ioka has been able to beat him in a minimumweight title bout. Hernandez has excellent power and moves well on his feet. Unlike Juan Francisco Estrada this weekend, Hernandez was able to swarm Raymond Tabugon and hurt him to the body head before stopping him in five rounds. To his credit, when Hernandez smells blood, he knows how to finish with both hands.
Growth Potential: Hernandez, 29, potential literally increased with his size. Sucking down in weight to fight Ioka was the right move, but it likely hindered him. At flyweight and super flyweight he’s looked devastating and dominant against the right foes. He’s not likely poised to rule the division, but a world title is well within his grasp with the right matches against Ancajas or Luis Concepcion, who both currently have belts. Top five is very possible, especially since he has already fought for times in 2016. Upsetting one of the top four stars of the division is not unimaginable.
8.) Jerwin Ancajas, Philippines, 25-1-1 (16), IBF Champion
Where He Stands: Ancajas looked strong in outpointing McJoe Arroyo in his last outing in September. Prior to that, his resume was thin at best. Timing may have helped him lift the crown as much as his own ability as Arroyo was inactive sixteen months prior to lacing them up. Ancajas’ record is littered with losing fighters and his lone defeat came against Mark Anthony Geraldo narrowly. However, Arroyo was a solid top six in his division prior to losing, Ancajas has earned his due for now. In front of a home crowd, he showed poise on his larges stage and pressure a more experienced champion before knocking him out of the ring. Could he do it again?
Growth Potential: Ancajas, 24, does not appear to have a ceiling much higher than where he currently stands. A rematch win over Arroyo, should it happen, would help, but it doesn’t appear a sure bet. Reviewing the other eight super flyweights on this list, there is not one I would favor Ancajas over. I expect a short reign, but one that could be extended by facing the limited opposition atop the IBF rankings.
7.) Kohei Kono, Japan, 31-9-1 (13)
Where He Stands: Kono is a strong number seven. At an age when smaller fighters have declined, Kono hit his stride. After a string of competitive loses to mostly world class opposition including Nobou Nashiro, Tomas Rojas, and Yota Sato, Kono drilled Tepparith Singwancha for the WBA title at 115. He lost a close nod to Liborio Solis, but won the vacant title back against the capable Denkaosan Kaovichit ten months later. Kono earned his career best victory on U.S. soil by upsetting fellow countryman Koki Kameda to defend his title in a thrilling contest. After one more defense, Luis Concepcion outpointed him in a close contest. Koho has shown good power against top opposition and giving his all out action style, opportunities should still come.
Growth Potential: Kono is thirty-five and at the end of his best days, but he can still win a big fight or two. What you see is what you get, Kono is not changing, but he could strengthen his standing in the division a return to the top five at best.
6.) Wisaksil Wangek (AKA Sriskaket Sor Rungvisai), Thailand, 41-4-1 (38)
Where He Stands: Wangek is among the hardest punchers in the lighter divisions. He’s also among the most active boxers in the sport. With four wins this year, Wangek is ready for a challenge. With activity comes the asterisk that the former champion from Thailand has not been in tough regularly. Since losing his WBC title to Carlos Cuadras via technical decision in mid-2014, Wangek has accumulated fourteen victories with thirteen stoppages. However, only Jose Salgado presented world class opposition. With that said, Wangek is a strong number six-rated super flyweight at SecondsOut with a shiny win over Yota Sato. Wangek’s title bout with Cuadras was still on the table when the bout went to the scorecards after Cuadras was cut and Wangek has deducted a point per the WBC rules. A rematch was warranted, but never happened.
Growth Potential: If Wangek, 29, gets the opportunity, he could very likely become world champion again. His hands will be more than full against the reigning champions, but he has a great equalizer with his power. On the right night, he could reclaim his top status, but is more likely to reach three at best among the current crop. However, he has to mix more world class opposition into his whirlwind schedule.
5.) Luis Concepcion, Panama, 35-4-0 (24) WBA Champion
Where He Stands: Concepcion is a proven veteran of the sport and two-division champion. With many credible flyweight wins behind him, including the pelt of Denkaosan Kaovichit, Concepcion has built upon his resume at 115. He lost a comfortable decision to Carlos Cuadras in a WBC title bid, but has run an impressive streak since, defeating David Sanchez, Hernan Marquez, and Kohei Kono. The Marquez win avenged two prior defeats and the Kono win made him a division titlist in the eyes of the WBA. Giving his exciting style, the belt also make him a very marketable opponent for the elites in terms of unification.
Growth Potential: At 31, Concepcion has probably reached his ceiling in the current division. No slight to him, he’s an excellent fighter, but his style does not match up well with the other elites. There’s no fear in Concepcion, so he will meet all-comers and is the most likely to secure a big fight with one of the top four.
4.) Juan Francisco Estrada, Mexico, 34-2-0 (24)
Where He Stands: Many Pound for Pound lists, mine included, seen Estrada as a top ten talent in the sport. However, at 115, he is just starting to establish himself there as a full-time player. His resume is deep though. The Mexican former flyweight champion just defeated Raymond Tabugon this month in his return bout after a year layoff. He was comprehensive in pitching a shutout, but the win failed to make a statement. Still with wins over Brian Viloria, Milan Melindo, Hernan Marquez, and Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr., we know Estrada belongs with the elite. His greatest stamp for some so far is his close encounter Roman Gonzalez back at light flyweight. Gonzalez only wants a rematch if they both get paid. HBO may be willing to push for Carbajal-Gonzalez type purse parity.
Growth Potential: There are those that felt Estrada defeated Gonzalez in their first encounter and are sure the growth he has already demonstrated since would be enough to avenge the loss. In terms of experience at the world class level, Estrada is even with the best and second to no one in the division. On his best night, it is easy to imagine Estrada, 26, as the best super flyweight in the world.
3.) Carlos Cuadras, Mexico, 35-1-1 (27)
Where He Stands: Cuadras stands tall following his September WBC title loss to Roman Gonzalez. There were a few, not many, that felt Cuadras earned a draw with the Nicaraguan champion. For sure, the twelve round loss will only enhance Cuadras’ career and keep him name on the tongues of fans. Gonzalez himself said Cuadras deserves a rematch, but that he needed time to heal his body before doing so. That is a statement . Personally, I view Cuadras as a top fifteen Pound for Pound talent. Before winning the crown with a technical decision over Wangek, Cuadras built his resume on the backs of some credible opponents with good experience. His title reign was solid with wins over Concepcion, Marvin Mabait, and Koki Eto, to name several. With two wins over SecondsOut rated super flyweights and a close encounter with Roman Gonzalez, Cuadras has grounds to be rated number two.
Growth Potential: Cuadras, 28, could regain his number one status. He took a lot out of Gonzalez last month and would be a live underdog in the rematch. His chances against Naoya Inoue have always looked good, but now even better.
2.) Naoya Inoue, Japan, 11-0-0 (9) WBO Champion
Where He Stands: Inoue, 23, is a big super flyweight, who will probably grow into a super bantamweight before long. He has looked his best in destroying his best opposition. Adrian Hernandez and Omar Andres Narvaez looked like ants thrown into the spin cycle of a washing machine while trying to defend their titles against this "Monster". However, hand injuries and, perhaps, a lack of challenged have marred some of his title defenses. It’s unfair to expect devastation each time out, but the injury also stunted his activity and allowed for some ring rust. Make no mistake, Inoue will be ready for any challenge ahead and he will probably be favored. We have yet to see Inoue in a difficult fight as he already have with Gonzalez, Cuadras, Estrada, and Concepcion, so it is tough to gauge how he might respond. We are dying to find out.
Growth Potential: Hmmm? Well, Inoue certainly has claim to the number one spot right now. He is also a top ten Pound for Pound talent, who, with the right opportunity, could claim the top spot. Inoue will grow with experience, but it is hard to imagine what he would look like being better than he was against Narvaez and Hernandez. What’s worse than a monster?
1.) Roman Gonzalez, Nicaragua, 46-0-0 (38) WBC Champion
Where He Stands: Roman Gonzalez, 29, is pretty close to being the consensus best fighter in the world Pound for Pound. His win over Cuadras elevated him to top status at super flyweight as well. The four-division champion is unbeaten in the pro ranks with a vast resume which includes the names Cuadras, Estrada, Brian Viloria, Edgar Sosa, Akira Yaegashi, Katsunari Takayama, and Yutaka Niida. Gonzalez stands to become an all-time great and is already in the conversation in terms of surpassing the great Alexis Arguello as Nicaragua’s premiere fighter in history. Some would say the only place Gonzalez has to go is down.
Growth Potential: Gonzalez has the recognition as the best fighter in the world, but he needs to substantiate it further. Three names stand out and he’s already defeated two of them. If Gonzalez can defeat Inoue and repeat his wins over Cuadras and Estrada, his name will stand among the greatest fighters of all-time.
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October 21 2016