The biggest names define memorable eras.
The supporting casts are often what separates the best eras from each other.
This weekend, on the undercard of Terence Crawford-Kell Brook, 25-year old Joshua Franco (17-1-2, 8 KO) will face 29-year old Andrew Moloney (21-1, 14 KO) in an immediate rematch of their exciting clash in June. Franco upset Moloney with the Australian on the verge of a mandatory shot at the WBA belt at Jr. bantamweight. The WBA sub-title on the line isn’t the real prize. The winner here will surely set their sights on a clash with that organization’s primary titlist, currently Roman Gonzalez, and be a compelling challenger when they get there.
The fight occurs the same week a long anticipated announcement was made in the division for an all Japanese clash on New Year’s Eve. Four division beltholder and current WBO standard Kazuto Ioka (25-2, 14 KO), 31, will face 25-year old former three division titlist Kosei Tanaka (15-0, 9 KO). It’s the sort of match-up that forces serious fight followers to declare they know they’ve seen the fight of the year until the clock strikes midnight.
Sometimes seen as one of boxing’s ‘unnecessary’ weight classes, Jr. bantamweight (or super flyweight) turned forty years old in 2020. There have been some memorable pockets of action that gave it necessity over time. Jiro Watanabe, Gilberto Roman, Khaosai Galaxy, Sung Kil Moon, Johnny Tapia, and Vic Darchinyan all made serious bones at the limit.
Regardless of what came before, the anniversary year for Jr. bantamweight comes well into what history should likely regard as the premiere era of those forty years. The status can be attributed first to the clashes between four men: Roman Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, and Carlos Cuadras.
Eight of nine fights between those four men, so far, have taken place at 115 lbs. More are coming. If they were all that passed the time in this era, it would still stand out from much of the division’s past.
What has gone on beneath and around them has only made it better. Ioka, Tanaka, an assumed to be returning Donnie Nietes, and McWilliams Arroyo have all added memorable wins and moments along the way and any who have not yet could still be mixed into the hardcore four at the top before it’s done. The Franco-Moloney II winner should be within shooting distance sooner than later.
That’s a case of strength by depth for any weight class, something we see often in truly great eras.
Compare it to the gold standard “Fab Four” of the 1980s. Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran, and Marvin Hagler didn’t need anyone else to be great. They had more than enough around them to make them even greater than the sum of four parts.
Leonard, Hearns, and Duran, at welterweight and Jr. middleweight, made another perfect foursome with the great Wilfred Benitez. Hall of Fame welterweights Pipino Cuevas and Carlos Palomino, Jr. middleweight standouts Maurice Hope and Ayub Kalule, and a string of solid contenders fleshed out and gave tremendous value to the night’s when the big stars weren’t fighting each other.
Over time, as they rose in weight, new co-stars like Iran Barkley added even more to the memory banks of fans.
The same was true in the memorable heavyweight eras of the 1970s and 90s. Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Tyson, Holyfield, Lewis...sure, they stand the test of time. The eras wouldn’t have been the same without names like Lyle, Shavers, Quarry, Morrison, Ruddock, or Mercer. That extra layer or two of depth stands out, set against the rest of heavyweight history.
So when waiting for the main event this weekend, think about it in the context of the moment. The first was a damn good fight and there is no reason the sequel shouldn’t be too. But also think about in the context of the times.
It’s one more piece of a rich tapestry that would be less without fights like it.
All hail the supporting cast. They make the good times even better.
With Ioka-Tanaka signed, the sting of Ryan Garcia-Luke Campbell being at the least postponed is lessened. In a deep December, Garcia-Campbell might be at best the fourth best showdown of the month on paper...The Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury stuff will be more memorable if it ends in a third fight. Without that, it’s fodder for social media and not much more interesting than that. It’s at least a good sign Deontay Wilder still wants the real thing and isn’t expressing interest in any new silly divisions...Liked what was seen of heavyweight Frank Sanchez last weekend...Saul Alvarez has a lot of good options at super middleweight. Any of the major beltholders would be a fine choice. So would the recently belted David Benavidez. Looking forward to seeing where it all shakes out.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org