By Cliff Rold
In what stands out as the de facto big fight of a week without any real big fights, Mexico’s WBC 108 lb. titlist Adrian Hernandez (28-2-1, 17 KO) attempts the fourth defense of his second title reign against Puerto Rican Janiel Rivera (10-1-2, 6 KO). It won’t attract much global attention but a win for Hernandez would not be without significance for him.
For Hernandez and all of the men who hold belts at Jr. Flyweight, this is a moment of opportunity.
In January, Roman Gonzalez made official his exit from the division by vacating the WBA “Super” belt and making clear that he was now campaigning in the deep 112 lb. field. Gonzalez (37-0, 31 KO) is installed already as the mandatory to lineal and WBC World Champion Akira Yaegashi. It will be no surprise if the Nicaraguan night-night machine soon as a title in his third weight division.
Gonzalez, among hardcore fight followers, has been seen as a gem since winning his first title at 105 by walking through Japan’s Yutaka Niida. His dominance at 105 and 108 was such that few were seen as his peers. He was the quality face of both classes.
His exit from Jr. Flyweight creates a vacuum. Hernandez is one of the candidates to emerge as a new face for the division.
This is no time for stumbles.
Hernandez had one of those already as a belt holder. In the second defense of his first reign in December 2011, Hernandez went on the road to Thailand to face the rugged Kompayak Porpramook. It was a sensational battle that colored both men in honor.
In the tenth round, it colored Hernandez with a “KO by” on his resume. It was the second knockout loss of his career, the other coming at Flyweight in 2008. Hernandez rebounded from the Porpramook loss with two stay busy wins before a rematch in his native land. In six rounds, Hernandez gained revenge and has won three more times since.
Currently, the title picture at 108 lbs. looks like this:
• Hernandez – WBC
• Kazuto Ioka – WBA (14-0, 9 KO, 3 Defenses)
• Johnriel Casimero – IBF (19-2, 11 KO, 3 Defenses)
• Donnie Nietes – WBO (32-1-4, 18 KO, 3 Defenses)
None of these men are viewed widely with the same regard as Gonzalez. Of the four, it might be argued that Hernandez has the softest championship ledger. Ioka, a prodigious talent who has already been a unified champion at 105 as well, may soon be on his way to Flyweight. He’s the closest in regard to Gonzalez but lost some of steam when there was a push away, instead of towards, Gonzalez while both held versions of the WBA belt. That doesn’t mean he’s gone soft. Ioka’s opponents in defense of his title have had a combined record of 104-9-3 and included former 105 lb. titlist Kwanthai Sithmorseng.
Nietes’ foes have a combined record of 65-12-3 and include a hard-hitting draw against then-reigning WBO 105 lb. titlist Moises Fuentes. Fuentes has since moved to 108 full-time and is the interim WBO titlist. It can be presumed a rematch is probable in 2014.
Casimero hasn’t faced any former titlists since winning an interim (later fully recognized) title in a foul affair with Luis Lazarte in 2012 (a fight that ended with a post-fight melee one must YouTube to believe), but he’s piecing together a quality reign. His opponents have had a combined record of 54-5-3 and included the undefeated and quite tough Pedro Guevara.
Hernandez hasn’t faced any former titlists in his three current title defenses and it can be argued he’s had the safest road to three defenses. His defense opponents sport a combined mark of 41-13. While Hernandez might already be viewed by some as the #1 guy after the exit of Gonzalez, it could be that much of that is a reflection of attrition more than competition.
His opponent this weekend doesn’t do much to bolster his credentials. According to BoxRec, Rivera, whom this author can’t recall having seen in the past, has only three wins against opponents with winning records. The point Saturday then isn’t just for Hernandez to try to win but to be impressive in doing so.
Jr. Flyweight isn’t a division rich with unification clashes since it’s emergence in the 1970s. Divisional pioneers Luis Estaba and Yoko Gushiken never unified the crown. Korea’s Jung Koo Chang and Myung Wuh Yuh both made it to the Hall of Fame and reigned concurrently for a long time. They never fought. Jorge Arce and Ricardo Lopez never squared off.
Of the three times there have been unification clashes, two (Michael Carbajal-Chiquita Gonzalez I and Giovani Segura-Ivan Calderon I) won the Ring Magazine Fight of the Year. The other clash, a draw between Rosendo Alvarez and Jose Victor Burgos on the undercard of Bernard Hopkins-William Joppy, wasn’t a bad scrap either.
They ought to do it more often.
Could the pieces be in place for it right now? Probably not given the economics of smaller classes but it’s not impossible. However, with Ioka a logical prediction to leave as early as this year, the remaining men currently holding belts could find incentive in each other. Mexican versus Filipino has been a profitable rivalry in recent years and both Nietes and Casimero are Filipino champions.
They’d mix nicely with Hernandez. All three men can make good, exciting fights.
One thing was certain: unification was less likely with Gonzalez around. He was what face the division could present.
Will anyone left behind emerge to take his place?
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]