By Cliff Rold
In a weekend chock full of fighting on the US airwaves, one of the more interesting bouts on tap didn’t make the cut.
Quality young heavyweights?
Jr. welterweight champion in front of a raucous hometown crowd?
A rock solid doubleheader on Showtime?
We’ve even got Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. for those who still care. Fans who want their fill of the sweet science will get plenty on their plate. That doesn’t mean US fans won’t be missing a little bit. On the undercard of Anthony Joshua-Eric Molina, a 115 lb. title fight could be a show stealer.
It could also be a table setter for 2017.
Panama’s Luis Concepcion (35-4, 24 KO) has had one heck of a career save. In April 2015, he lost a respectable but wide decision to Carlos Cuadras. It appeared his chance near the top of any division might be past him. He’s since won three in a row, stopping a streaking David Sanchez, avenging two losses to Tyson Marquez, and upsetting Kohei Kono in Japan to win the WBA belt.
No one would confuse Concepcion with being the best in his division. Fellow titlists Roman Gonzalez (46-0, 38 KO, WBC) and Naoya Inoue (11-0, 9 KO, WBO) strongly preclude that. Cuadras (35-1-1, 27 KO), even after losing to Gonzalez, would still rate ahead of him as well. So too would the man Cuadras beat to win a title, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (41-4-1, 38 KO). The Thai puncher has won fourteen in a row, thirteen by knockout.
It’s still a nice rebound story.
Belts might not make one the best in their class but they certainly pay better. Concepcion is in the position to cash in on that belt if one of the titans goes looking for a unification bout they see as winnable or if former flyweight titlist Juan Francisco Estrada (34-2, 24 KO) decides he wants to try to win a belt before hunting bigger names.
They might not be fights he would be expected to win but losing for more money has its benefits. Concepcion might not ever get the chance at those bigger names, at least with a belt in tow.
The team of Khalid Yafai (20-0, 14 KO) made the right offer first. He’s got a real chance to win. The former UK Olympian is making a big jump in terms of opposition quality here. He’s certainly never seen anyone with the pop Concepcion carries in his gloves.
He’s a solid favorite to overcome those problems.
If he does, Yafai will arrive as a Jr. bantamweight titlist at one of the best times he could. Sometimes divisions have depth. Sometimes they have star power that matters at the box office. Both things don’t always happen at the same time.
Box office is relative of course. Even in the pockets of the world that are most enthusiastic about divisions below featherweight, there aren’t multi-millions to be made. There is just more in the pot now than is often the case. Estrada is a significant ratings draw in Mexico. Inoue is likely to come out of Japan and start building his name abroad next year.
Most important to the class, Gonzalez has become one of the HBO guys. His television ratings and ticket sales aren’t mind blowing compared across the scale, but they are significant for a 115 lb. fighter in the US.
Hardcore boxing fans are already excited about the possibilities emerging at 115. Yafai would add another stick of dynamite to the mix. If he defeats Concepcion, three of the four major titlists in the class would be undefeated. The fourth, Filipino Jerwin Ancajas (25-1-1, 16 KO, IBF), has lost only once. Ancajas was impressive in unseating, and outclassing, former Olympian McJoe Arroyo for the title earlier this year.
This is a pool of fighters worth getting excited about. They’ve already produced one classic battle this year (Gonzalez-Cuadras) and the possibility of a round robin could mean more where that came from.
Concepcion is an elder statesman in this crew.
Concepcion is only 31.
Everyone else mentioned, including the 27-year old Yafai, is under 30 years of age. It’s not just depth. We’re looking at depth in its prime.
If Concepcion wins this weekend, it keeps a nice story going. It also sets a ceiling on the depth of the class. A Yafai win expands it, even if only by one. If he impresses in winning, that expansion adds fuel to a fiery class. That he competes in the red hot UK market could add an additional dollar dimension too.
It’s one more guy that people might want to see mixed in with a must-see crew. It’s too bad US audiences won’t see this one easily this weekend, but in the age of YouTube that just means a delay. Regardless, there is still the chance that we will get something we want to see in 2017 out of Concepcion-Yafai.
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]