By Cliff Rold
It would have been hard to ask for more.
After the last few days of examining divisions which fell short in 2008, the page turns (okay, clicks) to a division that exceeded its promise. For much the 2000’s, the Jr. Bantamweights have been hailed as a superior division amongst hardcore followers but the lack of defining fights left out the key ingredient in achieving acclaim. A change began to occur in 2007 and the roof blew off the joint in 2008.
If there was a better weight division this year…forget the rest of the question. There wasn’t one. Through eleven months, with a lull in this December cold, more top ten clashes occurred at 115 than in any other weight class along with some of the year’s best stories. Fans saw the end of two unheralded careers and career best performances on the same night twice (Alexander Munoz defeating Katsushige Kawashima and Fernando Montiel stopping Martin Castillo), the second and third unifications in the division’s history, a few epic battles, and career redemption of the highest order. The last of these leads to the…
Jr. Bantamweight Fighter of the Year: Vic Darchinyan (31-1-1, 25 KO)
Most of what needs to be said about what Darchinyan got done this year has been said. Here’s a refresher. Off of a devastating loss to Nonito Donaire for his IBF Flyweight belt in 2007, Darchinyan moves up and goes after top contender Z Gorres on hostile turf in the Philippines. He gets off the floor to control the bout and leave with a draw which is a win in a neutral house. IBF titlist Dimitri Kirilov had never been stopped; Darchinyan pancaked him. WBC/WBA titlist Cristian Mijares was getting pound-for-pound love; pounded in nine. When the dust settled, he was the first fighter in the almost three-decade history of Jr. Bantamweights to hold three belts at the same time and needs only a win over WBO titlist Fernando Montiel to make clear a true World champion.
That’s one hell of a year.
As 2009 unfolds, Montiel may or may not remain the hot target. If Darchinyan gets through a February showdown with Jorge Arce which should be a bloodletting, then he need only wait for a proposed bout between his lone conqueror Donaire and Montiel to be signed. If it is, Darchinyan versus the winner of that one keeps the ‘big mo’ going at 115 and then some.
Jr. Bantamweight Fight of the Year: Alexander Munoz-Katsushige Kawashima
Setting the stage for an eventual losing unification effort against Mijares in May, Alexander Munoz picked up a great win to start the year, toppling former lineal division king Katsushige Kawashima in what was selected as January’s BoxingScene fight of the month. As reviewed at: https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=12414
In the first of what is becoming a series of excellently conceived matches at 115 lbs. this year, Munoz (32-2, 27 KO, WBA titlist) of Venezuela held off a fantastic effort from the former lineal World Jr. Bantamweight champion Kawashima (32-7, 21 KO) of Japan on January 14 at the Bunka Gym in Yokohama.
The 33-year old Kawashima appeared in recent fare to be a spent force. He’d lost three of his last six coming into the Munoz bout and, if his 2005 bout with Jose Navarro had been scored fairly, it would have been four of seven. His two wins following a knockout loss to Cristian Mijares were against novice fodder and spoke little of his prospects against a 28-year old Munoz who had warred with Martin Castillo in early 2006 and mastered Castillo conqueror Nobuo Nashiro in 2007.
Prospects in this case are another way of saying opinions. Both vary in their accuracy and that’s why they fight the fights.
Munoz controlled a measured first round with his jab with only a single, furious right hand at the bell from Kawashima to keep him honest. The bout continued in that fashion in the second and third, with Munoz using the jab and stepping inside for increasingly harder combinations and Kawashima looking for spots to land hard counters. The fight would take a more vicious turn in the fourth.
Munoz was still using the jab to great affect but was leaving his left arm hanging a bit too long when pulling the jab back. Kawashima began threading the needle’s head that opened up with a looping right over the top, forcing Munoz to fire back and leaving both open to exchanges. The momentum built to the closing seconds of the round as each stood along the ropes swinging with abandon. The next three rounds were much the same with tactical starts leading to spots of savage fire from both men. It didn’t appear that Munoz was losing many rounds, but that would change in the seventh.
After another tactical start, Munoz and Kawashima would find themselves at ring center trading snarling body shots while Munoz worked the left uppercut and Kawashima continued to hurl his right. In the closing minute, one of those rights landed flush and clearly captured Munoz’s attention. Kawashima came forward to the encouragement of his local fans and continued to pile punishment on the defending titlist.
Munoz came back with determined eighth to repay that punishment and on they continued with more peaks than valleys in the ninth and tenth. Each landed their share of shots, but Munoz steadily landed more. The eleventh was perhaps the finest round of the fight as Kawashima seemingly poured every bit of himself into every shot and a fatigued Munoz was left clinching and swinging arm shots just to hold him off. Munoz continued those tactics the 12th, willing himself to outpunch his charging opponent, winning the round on sheer volume. Munoz would capture the fight by scores 15-114, 115-113, and 117-111.
It was a magnificent, high-character effort from both diminutive warriors. It was also the world’s best fight in January of 2008.
Jr. Bantamweight: The Year in Results
Since last January, BoxingScene has produced quarterly ratings for each of Boxing’s seventeen weight classes. Ratings for the first quarter of 2009 should be available at the New Year; for now, here’s a look back at the critical Jr. Bantamweight results of 2008.
01/14: #3 Alexander Munoz (32-2, 27 KO) UD Katsushige Kawashima (32-7, 21 KO)
02/02: #7 Vic Darchinyan (29-1-1, 23 KO) D12 Z Gorres (27-2-1, 15 KO)
02/16: #1 Cristian Mijares (34-3-2, 14 KO, WBC) SD12 Jose Navarro (26-4, 12 KO)
02/16: #2 Fernando Montiel (36-2-1, 27 KO, WBO) KO4 #4 Martin Castillo (33-3, 17 KO)
02/28: #5 Dimitri Kirilov (29-3-1, 9 KO, IBF) D12 Cecilio Santos (22-8-3, 12 KO)
03/23: #6 Nobuo Nashiro (11-1, 7 KO) KO3 Sairung Suwanasil (42-13, 26 KO)
04/06: #10 AJ Banal (17-0-1, 14 KO) TKO4 Caril Herrera (21-1, 13 KO)
05/17: #1 Cristian Mijares (35-3-2, 14 KO, WBC/WBA) SD12 #3 Alexander Munoz (32-3, 27 KO)
05/17: #7 Jorge Arce (49-4-1, 37 KO) MD12 Devid Lookmahanak (18-2, 9 KO)
05/31: #2 Fernando Montiel (37-2-1, 28 KO) TKO3 Flyweight #10 Luis Maldonado (37-3-1, 28 KO)
05/31: #8 Z Gorres (28-2-2, 15 KO) UD10 Nick Otieno (15-2, 5 KO)
07/26: Rafael Concepcion (11-2-1, 7 KO) KO10 #10 AJ Banal (17-1-1, 14 KO)
08/03: #7 Vic Darchinyan (30-1-1, 24 KO, IBF) KO5 #3 Dimitri Kirilov (29-4-1, 9 KO)
08/30: #1 Cristian Mijares (36-3-2, 15 KO, WBC/WBA) KO 3 Chatchai Sasakul (64-4, 39 KO)
09/15: #5 Jorge Arce (50-4-1, 38 KO) RTD9 Rafael Concepcion (11-3-1, 7 KO)
09/15: #6 Nobuo Nashiro (12-1, 7 KO) SD12 #9 Kohei Kono (21-4, 7 KO)
11/1: #3 Vic Darchinyan (31-1-1, 25 KO, IBF/WBC/WBA) KO9 #1 Cristian Mijares (36-4-1, 15 KO)
11/1: #5 Jorge Arce (51-4-1, 39 KO) TKO4 Isidro Garcia (25-6-2, 8 KO)
11/2: #2 Fernando Montiel (38-2-1, 28 KO, WBO) UD10 Juan Rosas (27-5, 23 KO)
11/14: #9 Raul Martinez (24-0, 13 KO) KO1 Victor Proa (26-1-2, 19 KO)
11/26: #10 Pramuansak Posuwan (45-1-1, 24 KO) UD12 Roy Doliguez (18-17-8, 11 KO)
Other divisions in 2008 reviewed:
Jr. Flyweight: https://www.boxingscene.com/index.php?m=show&id=17514
Check in tomorrow for more of BoxingScene’s 2008 Year in Review.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org