By Jake Donovan
The last leg of the series examines the sport’s little big men: bantamweight, junior bantamweight, flyweight, junior flyweight and strawweight.
Conventional wisdom suggests that of the five, only one lineal champion exists. As readers will soon find out, such is clearly not only untrue, but one division currently boasts the longest active unbroken link.
The bookends for the remaining five divisions – bantamweight and strawweight - suggest little to no hope in its future. Fortunately, the three in between remain very healthy, with junior bantamweight enjoying something of a Golden Age in recent years. Quite a statement considering just a little over a decade ago, Johnny Tapia, Mark Johnson and Danny Romero were among the sport’s best little big men.
And off we go…
Current Lineal Champion: None
Last Lineal Champion:
Length of previous lineage: 1961 – 1987 (Piñango vacated)
Champions during lineage: 18 (Bernardo Piñango UD15 Gaby Canizales; Canizales KO7 Richie Sandoval; Sandoval KO15 Jeff Chandler; Chandler KO14 Julian Solis; Solis SD15 Jorge Lujan; Lujan KO10 Alfonse Zamora; Zamora KO4 Soo-Hwan Hong; Hong UD15 Arnold Taylor; Taylor KO14 Romeo Anaya; Anaya KO3 Enrique Pinder; Pinder UD15 Rafael Herrera; Herrera KO8 Ruben Olivares; Olivares UD15 Chucho Castillo; Castillo TKO14 Olivares; Olivares KO5 Lionel Rose; Rose MD15 Fighting Harada; Harada SD15 Eder Jofre; Jofre named World champion in 1961, a year after Jose Becerra vacated)
Twenty years since… and perhaps another twenty more: How ironic that after four years of moving sideways while serving as a bantamweight titlist, Rafael Marquez has been in nothing but lineal title fights ever since moving up four pounds north.
So goes the fate of this division, where it’s been forever since its only unification match took place. Eder Jofre defeated Katsuyoshi Ioka in 1963 in an era where there were “only” two sanctioning bodies. Those belts became splintered in 1972, and the rest is history.
From 1972 to 1987, the closest the division saw to another unification match was the famous “Battle of the Z-Boys” super fight in 1977, in which Carlos Zarate (WBC) and Alfonse Zamora (WBA/World) met in a non-title bout, due to disputes over the financial demands of the sanctioning bodies involved.
No sanctioning fees were paid, with both fighters weighing slightly over the bantamweight limit in a wild fight Zarate would eventually win by fourth-round knockout.
The lineage remained intact for another 15 years, until Bernardo Piñango vacated the crown in pursuit of super bantamweight hardware. Since his departure, there have been 56 separate title reigns among the four most recognized alphabet organizations.
There have been some damn fine fighters among the lot, several of whom are either Hall of Famers or on their way to Canastota, including the soon-to-be-enshrined Orlando Canizales, whose 16 successful alphabet title defenses remains a division record to this day.
Perhaps the most glaring number not reflected among that lot: zero defenses against other titlists or anyone that could be regarded as a top bantamweight contender at the time.
If you’re not part of the solution…
But he’s not alone – and chances are, the same will hold true for years to come.
It’s a shame, as the top of the division is loaded with talent – Hosumi Hasegawa, Anselmo Moreno, Gerry Penalosa and Joseph Agbeko rate will with any other current divisional Top Four. Even if you take out Penalosa, whose eyeing a run at 122, there stands a good chance that you can replace him with Fernando Montiel, who ditched his 115 lb. alphabet title in pursuit of an interim belt three pounds next month, scheduled for March 28 in Mexico.
As talented as is Montiel, don’t count on him to serve as the division’s savior. His name was used as bait far more than anything else during his stay at junior bantamweight, the division’s lone titlist in the past year to not participate in a unification match.
An outside chance of bantamweight clarification could come in creative matchmaking.
Montiel and junior featherweight titlist Juan Manuel Lopez are both promoted by Top Rank. Bantamweight titlist Anselmo Moreno and dual-belted junior featherweight Celestino Caballero shame the same promoter in their native Panama, with Caballero also represented by Warriors Boxing in the states. Get the two together, and you have a decent starting point.
From there, the trick is getting top-rated Hosumi Hasegawa into the mix. The division’s elder statesman has seven title defenses under his belt since bumping off long-reigning two-time champion Veeraphol Sahaprom in 2005. His entire reign and career has been spent in his native Japan, where he remains a considerable draw.
Until he comes here, or the other bantamweights go there, the bantie chant remains “1987.”
Current Lineal Champion:
Last Lineal Champion: Masamori Tokuyama (retired as champion)
Length of previous lineage: 07/05/1984 – 03/14/2007
Champions during lineage: 14 (Masamori Tokuyama UD12 Katsushige Kawashima; Kawashima KO1 Tokuyama UD12 In-Joo Cho; Cho SD12 Gerry Peñalosa; Peñalosa UD12 Hiroshi Kawashima; Kawashima UD12 Jose Luis Bueno; Bueno SD12 Sung-Kil Moon; Moon KO4 Nana Konadu; Konadu UD12 Gilberto Roman; Roman UD12 Beibis “Sugar Boy” Rojas UD12 Santos Benigno Laciar; Laciar KO11 Roman; Roman UD12 Jiro Watanabe; Watanabe SD12 Payao Poontarat for vacant World title)
So why the asterisk: At the time of Tokuyama’s retirement in 2007, the second longest active lineage was broken, though not without a slew of worthy candidates to get together and eventually fill the void.
Two years later, a champion shall be retroactively crowned. His name is Vic Darchinyan.
You won’t find his name in that slot in the pages of The Ring, since retroactively is a word that they find offensive in crowning their own champions. But a quick look at the first four under their revised policy clearly underlines their hypocrisy.
When The Ring Championship policy was resurrected in 2002, four fighters were automatically inserted atop their respective divisions: Lennox Lewis (HVY); Roy Jones Jr (175); Bernard Hopkins (160); and Kostya Tszyu (140). Though all were no-brainers, there’s no way you can claim their reigns to not have been retroactively rewarded.
Lewis was already recognized as the lineal champ. The Ring rewarded him with their magazine title shortly after his November 2001 revenge knockout of Hasim Rahman. Jones, Hopkins and Tszyu were all named Ring Champions on the strength of owning their divisions’ three major alphabet titles (WBO excluded from that lot).
Such criteria has since been dropped from their policy, with the only way a title can be won is in the ring or when a victor is produced in a bout between the division’s top two (or in certain instances, top three) fighters in the presence of a vacant title.
Under The Ring’s policy, the only way Darchinyan can be named their champion anytime soon is by either fighting Fernando Montiel or Cristian Mijares.
Both just so happen to be traveling three pounds north in the very near future.
As mentioned in the bantamweight section, Montiel ditched his hardware in pursuit of a new title next month in his native Mexico. Mijares travels a similar path, fighting for a separate interim bantie title on March 14 in his first fight since having his ass handed to him by Darchinyan last year. Even if he remained at 115, the one-sided nature of their fight leaves little to no demand for a rematch.
You can make the argument on behalf of Alex Munoz and Nobuo Nashiro once Montiel and Mijares officially abandons the division. But let’s follow that link – Darchinyan wrecked Mijares, who a year ago defeated Munoz, who a year prior defeated Nashiro.
Mijares hasn’t fought since the Darchinyan fight. Munoz hasn’t fought since his loss to Mijares. Nashiro has been nibbling on a Gerber diet ever since losing to Munoz two years ago.
Anything short of Montiel proclaiming his second attempt at a bantamweight belt a one-and-done deal should automatically result in Darchinyan being named World junior bantamweight lineal champion immediately thereafter.
Current Lineal Champion: Daisuke Naito
Length of previous lineage: 01/08/1975 - Present
Champions during lineage: 22 - (Naito UD12 Pongsaklek Wonjongkam; Wonjongkam KO1 Malcolm Tunacao; Tunacao KO7 Megdeon Singsurat; Singsurat KO3 Manny Pacquiao; Pacquiao KO8 Chatchai Sasakul; Sasakul UD12 Yuri Arbachakov; Arbachakov KO8 Muangchai Kittikasem; Kittikasem KO6 Sot Chitalda; Chitalda SD12 Yong Kang Kim; Kim UD12 Chitalada; Chitalada UD15 Gabriel Bernal; Bernal KO2 Koji Kobayashi; Kobayashi KO2 Frank Cedeno; Cedeno KO6 Charlie Magri; Magri KO7 Eleoncio Mercedes; Mercedes MD15 Freddy Castillo; Castillo UD15 Prudencio Cardona; Cardona KO1 Antonio Avelar; Avelar KO7 Shoji Oguma; Oguma KO9 Chan-Hee Park; Park UD15 Miguel Canto; Canto MD15 Oguma for vacant title)
With so much history, why should it go ignored? It doesn’t matter if you’ve never before seen him fight. It doesn’t even matter whether or not you can pronounce his name.
All you need to know is that Daisuke Naito is THE flyweight champion of the world, and the most recent claimant to the longest unbroken chain in the sport today (34 years and running).
The flyweight division is just one of the many casualties of The Ring’s decision to ignore history and crowning its own new age champions. The company nearly went bankrupt in 1989, forcing the magazine to cease publication until 1990, at which point it no longer recognized lineal champions.
Fortunately, boxing historians didn’t follow the same path.
Yong-Kang Kim was the last flyweight champ recognized by the publication. The lineal title has since changed hands nine times, including three claimants who would earn accolades on many pound-for-pound lists; Yuri Arbachakov, Manny Pacquiao and Pongsaklek Wonjongkam.
Pacquiao was the only entry of the three whose pound-for-pound fame would come outside of his body of work at flyweight, where he remains “just” a titlist in the eyes of The Ring, who view him as a two-division world champ (126, 130) and three-division titlist (112, 122, 135).
Everyone else, eyes on the bouncing ball, please.
The best argument you can come up with for ignoring the flyweight chain is the ridiculous number of times its top prize changed hands in the first half of the 1980’s (nine, in a span of less than four years).
But for that, you’d have to do the same for the present state of the cruiserweight division: The Ring’s version of the title has seen five separate reigns since first crowning a king in 2005, with David Haye the only one to manage a successful defense (Tomasz Adamek attempts to match that feat later this month).
The fact remains that there is no good reason to ignore the 34-year chain that began with one of the division’s greatest fighters in Miguel Canto.
All records are meant to be broken, but it will take a sweeping rules change for anyone to match Canto’s mark for most 15-round fights (17, with a record of 14-2-1 over that stretch). His 14 successful title defenses were a divisional record until Pongsaklek Wonjongkam surpassed him in 2006, winding up with 17 before being dethroned by Daisuke Naito in 2007.
Persistence paid off for Naito, having twice lost to Wonjongkam (KO1 by in 2002,L-Tech Dec. 9 in 2004) before making the third time a charm a couple of summers ago. A fourth fight resulted in a draw, one of four successful defenses he’s enjoyed to date, and presently involved in a potential collision course with his wildly popular countryman Koki Kameda.
Time will tell if Naito will go on to a reign anywhere near the levels of Canto, Wonjongkam or even Yuri Arbachakov, one of the top fighters for a good portion of the 1990’s. But between now and then, history has afforded him the right to be recognized as the lineal flyweight champion of the world.
Current Lineal Champion: Ivan Calderon (SD12 Hugo Cazares 08/25/2007)
Length of current lineage: 04/30/2005 - present
Champions during lineage: Two (Calderon SD12 Cazares; Cazares TD10 Nelson Dieppa for vacant World title)
Splintered history, though they eventually righted the ship: Even the most casual boxing fan surely heard about the legendary rivalry between Michael Carbajal and Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez.
Carbajal became the first fighter in the division’s history to earn a seven-figure payday when he faced Gonzalez in their March 1993 unification match. The fight was a war, with Carbajal recovering from two knockdowns to stop his archrival in the seventh, going on to earn Fighter of the Year honors, and many hailing the bout Fight of the Year.
Even if you want to ignore Gonzalez previous link, which ran all the way to the inception of the 108 lb. division, there’s not a soul in the world who didn’t regard Carbajal as THE world junior flyweight champion. It’s a moot point that he would lose the title to and a subsequent rubber match with Gonzalez; a valid starting point was created.
It ended with Jorge Arce’s departure to the flyweight division in 2005, with Saman SorJarturang and Yo-Sam Choi enjoying lineal reigns in between.
Arce’s reign began in 2002 with a 6th round knockout of Yo-Sam Choi. The Ring never jumped on board, instead waiting until March ‘03, when Rosendo Alvarez squeaked by Beibis Mendoza in their pay-per-view rubber match. Alvarez’ reign lasted 19 months, though featuring only one defense – a 12-round draw with Victor Burgos.
A year after Alvarez made it obvious that he could no longer make 108, Hugo Cazares traveled to Puerto Rico, where he defeated Nelson Dieppa via 10th round technical decision. It was believed by The Ring that a rematch was necessary in order to crown a king; Cazares would win such a fight the following year, this time stopping Dieppa in ten rounds.
So began their version of the next chapter in junior flyweight history.
Along came Ivan Calderon, who climbed off of the canvas to outlast Cazares in their August 2007 meet, and has ruled the junior flyweight roost ever since.
Skill-wise, you can’t ask for a better fit; Calderon is regarded by many as the best pure boxer in the game.
What’s become worrisome is that his reign has been largely unspectacular to date, at a time when there are several worthy challengers to the throne. Edgar Sosa, Archie Solis… in fact, you can’t go wrong selecting anyone in at least Boxingscene’s top eight at 108.
The only one Calderon has selected to date is Cazares, twice defeating the Mexican over the course of his present reign – 18 months and counting.
The good news is that it will soon change: rumored next for the Puerto Rican southpaw is Cesar Canchilla, who looked oh so good in bumping off Giovanni Segura last summer on the Antonio Margarito-Miguel Cotto undercard. The bout will potentially take place as early as May.
Solis and Sosa are hardly sitting on their leads while awaiting a Calderon showdown. Solis is slated for his ninth alphabet title defense next month when he faces former titlist Brian Viloria in the Philippines. The ubiquitous Sosa, whose own alphabet reign began with a decision win over Viloria in 2007, already makes his eighth defense in early April.
While the division as a whole remains limited to pay-per-view undercard filler, it remains as healthy as it’s been in years. It may never again capture the prominence it once enjoyed in the days of Carbajal and Chiquita, but is shaping up to carve out a memorable era of its own.
Current Lineal Champion: None
Last Lineal Champion: Ricardo Lopez
Length of previous lineage: 01/31/1988-10/02/1999
Champions during lineage: Five (Lopez KO5 Hideyuki Ohashi; Ohashi KO9 Jum Hwan Choi; Choi KO12 Napa Kiatwanchai; Kiatwanchai MD12 Hiroki Ioka; Ioka TKO12 Kyung-Yun Lee for vacant World title)
Is there any hope? Probably not.
There hasn’t been ever since the greatest fighter in the history of the division, Ricardo Lopez ended his reign of nine-plus years to pursue a title at 108. A division record 22 defenses, including three alphabet unification matches (2-0-1) threatens to become a mark that will never be approached, never mind eclipsed.
For now, boxing would gladly settle for a new starting point.
Though not in line to fight anyone of note anytime soon, the emergence of undefeated Roman Gonzalez has given cause to actually acknowledge the division’s existence. The flame-throwing Nicaraguan has knocked out all but two of his 22 career opponents to date, including a 4th round blitzing of long-reigning titlist Yutaka Niida last September in the champion’s backyard of Japan.
His next fight takes place on February 28, sharing a card with fellow divisional titlist Donnie Nietes. Interesting about the card is that Gonzalez is based out of Nicaragua, while Nietes is the latest Filipino import to claim alphabet hardware, yet the card lands in Mexico.
One strawweight who hails from Mexico (though not on the aforementioned show) is undefeated Raul Garcia.
Anyone else see where this is going?
Hopefully to divisional clarification.
Of course, Thai southpaw Oleydong Sithsamerchai would want to have a say in that debate. The 23-year old caught the always exciting Eagle Kyowa at the right time – on the tail end of several brutal wars, outlasting his countryman (though later based in Japan) in their November 2007 bout.
While Asia is the perennial hotspot for most of the lower weight classes, there’s plenty to go around on this side of the globe for Sithsamerchai to bring more to the table than a reign that threatens to never branch out of Thailand.
Then again, it could prove to be a moot point should any combination of Gonzalez, Nietes and Garcia can get together in the near future.
Ricardo Lopez v2.0 it is not. But it’s now a hell of a lot more promising than it’s been at any other point since his departure.
Part One: http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=18453
Part Two: http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=18468
Part Three: http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=18518
BoxingScene Rankings: http://www.boxingscene.com/forums/view.php?pg=boxing-ratings
Jake Donovan is a voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Comments/questions can be submitted to [email protected] .