By Cliff Rold
On paper, it looks as tantalizing as any match made yet in the Fox Sports 1 series. That might not be saying much. So far, too many of the weeknight offerings for the new series have been without high quality main events. That’s not the case this Thursday (8 PM EST/5 PM PST).
In the main event, 2009 World Amateur Champion and 2008 Olympian McWilliams Arroyo (14-1, 12 KO) of Puerto Rico takes on undefeated Froilan Saludar (19-0-1, 12 KO) of the Philippines. The winner gets a crack at IBF titlist Amnat Ruenroeng.
All of this happens in the Flyweight division.
This isn’t just a fight. It’s a platform. If this fight can be as good in the ring as it is on paper, it can only be a good thing for everyone who likes to see high quality action fights.
Flyweight is been as good as any division in boxing in terms of talent and depth. Only Welterweight may currently exceed it. The July 2014 issue of Ring Magazine, featuring their annual “State of the Game” report, rated Flyweight the best current division in boxing with Welterweight second.
It’s a worthy debate. Welterweight, with three of the best fighters of their era (Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquaio, and Juan Manuel Marquez) still competing at a high level and a strong supporting class around them, take a back seat to nothing.
However, as regards the violence in the ring, Flyweight has often been in a class of its own in the last few years. Brian Viloria, Edgar Sosa, Giovani Segura, Tyson Marquez, Luis Concepcion, and Juan Francisco Estrada have all been involved in exceptional contests, some of them outright classics. Roman Gonzalez and Akira Yaegashi’s best fights have, thus far, happened below 112 lbs.
Give it time. They’ll add to the mix too.
Most of this action has occurred ‘off-Broadway’ on US airwaves. Viloria, Estrada, and Marquez have all been seen on US English language platforms (AWE and HBO2 to be specific). None have had the benefit of the sort of prime time exposure Fox Sports 1 might be able to provide this week. While the network won’t deliver the masses the way Showtime or HBO might, it’s a great place to get more buzz generated.
Harold Lederman has expressed, on Twitter, how much he’d like to see Roman Gonzalez. Max Kellerman has expressed interest in the likely mandatory later this year between unified titlist Estrada and Segura. That interest isn’t the same as premium coverage.
They are, at root, fans of the sport and those fights and fighters are fan friendly. Flyweight in 2014 is worthy of fans and the chance to make more of them.
There’s nothing wrong with great fights being largely relegated to non-English language networks or even the confines of YouTube. A great fight is a great fight in any language. That said, there are plenty of people who are less interested when the broadcast is less relatable. Boxing is a storyteller’s sport. It’s about the men in the ring, but also the road they traveled to get there. Those stories help to build interest and emotional investment.
The language of leather flying is universal. The bond created by the story behind the action is not.
Michael Carbajal (at Jr. Flyweight) and Vic Darchinyan created fan bases in multiple parts of the world because their stories were told in multiple languages and then they delivered the thrills. The current crop at Flyweight needs more chances to get their stories told to an audience that right now isn’t being delivered the division as well as in other markets.
Of the two, the 28-year old Arroyo has the stronger pedigree and the deeper resume to date. A lone four round loss in his fourth fight was a hiccup. He’s been matched well in his development and looks ready for the next level. Last Saturday, his twin brother McJoe took a big step up with a knockout of Tyson Marquez at 115 lbs. This is his chance to play the Family Feud as both close in on title shots in their respective divisions.
The 25-year old Saludar has been matched well along his path as well and shown strong qualities. He’ll be the taller man on Thursday and possesses quick hands and a solid jab. A string of early knockouts was tempered a bit in his last five fights, four of them lasting the distance. It doesn’t mean he can’t still crack.
No, this is a scrap both men can punch and they come from fighting families (Saludar’s brothers are also fighters). This is a fight with serious potential to entertain for a night and impact for nights afterward. Create a memorable affair and the desire to see the winner take their next step increases.
In a division stacked to the rafters, every new face that can create interest matters. If the fight is good enough, we might even get two new faces people want to see again.
The more interest is created, the more likely it is that this excellent weight class can get a chance to show their wares on even bigger platforms. If anyone reading is amongst the hardcore faithful preaching the quality of this class recently, this is a night to remind anyone who likes fights of what’s on and then cross fingers and toes.
Flyweight has the stage to itself prior to the standard weekend of boxing. Let’s hope it can deliver more of the goods that have been its trademark and further the interest it deserves.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]