With so many belts around, the idea of champions can get watered down and not just by the WBA. It’s almost certainly one of the reasons pound-for-pound ratings gained so much more heft in the marketplace in the last two generations.
It was a way to cut through the chaff.
That doesn’t mean there still aren’t men who exemplify what a champion should be. They are the men who face the best available in their class more often than others who share their place as beltholders. In anticipation of the return of all the men who call themselves champions, let’s take a look at each of the seventeen weight classes in the game, identifying the most impressive champion in each division, ending with the top ten title reigns in the sport.
For the purpose of comparison (and with a full disclosure of personal involvement), this comparison will use the current and archived Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ratings as a reasonable gauge to identify the rated contenders defeated during each current title reign for the primary titlist of each sanctioning body or, where applicable, reigning lineal kings. WBA sub-titlists can be found on the BoxingScene Championship stats page but won’t be included for this evaluation.
The first installment featured a look at the champions and titlists from heavyweight to super middleweight followed by an examination of middleweight through Jr. welterweight and then a trip from lightweight to Jr. featherweight. Let’s continue in this installment with...
WBA (Super): Naoya Inoue (19-0, 16 KO, 0 Defenses); won 11/07/2019, UD12 N. Donaire; won sub-title 05/25/2018, TKO1 J. McDonnell
WBC: Nordine Oubaali (17-0, 12 KO, 2 Defenses); won vacant 01/19/2019, UD12 R. Warren
IBF: N. Inoue (1 Defense); won 05/18/2019, KO2 E. Rodriguez
WBO: Johnriel Casimero (29-4, 20 KO, 0 Defenses); won 11/30/2019, TKO3 Z. Tete
IBO: Mitchell Banquez (19-1, 13 KO, 0 Defenses); won 07/12/2019, UD12 P. Patel
This is a division with a pretty clear divisional leader and he happens to be one of the sports best fighters. Since moving to bantamweight, Naoya Inoue has defeated four straight top ten contenders. As a titlist, this comparison only includes his wins over Rodriguez (then rated sixth by TBRB) and Donaire (then fourth), but that’s still enough to lead the field. Barring the pandemic, he’d have had a good chance to add another highly rated foe in a scuttled unification with Casimero. It’s exactly what one would want to see from a genuine champion. Oubaali defeated Warren for a vacant belt at a point when Warren was rated at 115 lbs. He also gets credit for his win over Inoue’s brother, then rated seventh. Should Inoue-Casimero be resurrected, the winner will have the best case as leading champion in the class but Oubaali will be there waiting.
Lineal/WBC: Juan Francisco Estrada (40-3, 27 KO, 1 Defense); won 04/26/2019, UD12 S. Rungvisai
WBA (Super): Roman Gonzalez (49-2, 41 KO, 0 Defenses); won 02/29/2020, TKO9 K. Yafai
IBF: Jerwin Ancajas (32-1-2, 22 KO, 8 Defenses); won 09/03/2016, UD12 M. Arroyo
WBO: Kazuto Ioka (25-2, 14 KO, 1 Defense); won vacant 06/19/2019, TKO10 A. Palicte
IBO: Gideon Buthelezi (22-5, 5 KO, 5 Defenses); won vacant 12/18/2015, UD12 M. Tete
The longest reigning champion in the division is an example of how numbers can be deceiving. In nine title fights, Ancajas has faced only two men rated in the TBRB top ten. Use another non-sanctioning body top ten at 115 (Ring, Boxing News etc.) and it likely doesn’t get much better. In this case, those wins came in his title victory over Arroyo (then sixth) and Jonas Sultan (then eighth). To his credit, he also stopped an Israel Gonzalez who has since moved into the top ten. Estrada’s win over Sor Rungvisai makes him the leader of the class and signs point to a possible unification with Roman Gonzalez. It’s a rematch nearly a decade in the making and will give the division a champion with real momentum. Ioka would make a fine match with anyone. The four division titlist bested a rated Palicte to win his belt after first falling short against the savvy Donnie Nietes but Ioka hasn’t had much chance to make a reign of it yet.
WBA: Artem Dalakian (20-0, 14 KO, 4 Defenses); won vacant 02/24/2018, UD12 B. Viloria
WBC: Julio Cesar Martinez (16-1, 12 KO, 1 Defense); won vacant 12/20/2019, TKO9 C. Rosales
IBF: Moruti Mthalane (39-2, 26 KO, 3 Defenses); won vacant 07/15/2018, UD12 M. Waseem
IBO: Maximino Flores (25-4-2, 17 KO, 0 Defenses); won vacant 08/25/2019, Tech. Dec. 7 C. Penalosa
Flyweight has a potential action star in Martinez, a balanced talent in Dalakian, and a veteran unbeaten in more than a decade in Mthalane. What it doesn’t have is a genuinely standout reign at the moment. If Mthalane hadn’t been interrupted as IBF titlist, he’d have a long lead on the field. As is, each of the titlists of the most recognized sanctioning bodies has only a single win over a top ten fighter from the start of their current reigns to today. Martinez’s win, over a then-sixth rated Rosales, is the best of the bunch. Until someone beats him though, it’s hard not to consider Mthalane the head of the class.
WBA (Super): H. Kyoguchi (2 Defenses); won 12/31/2018, TKO11 H. Budler
WBC: Ken Shiro (17-0, 10 KO, 7 Defenses); won 05/20/2017, MD12 G. Lopez
IBF: Felix Alvarado (35-2, 30 KO, 1 Defense); won vacant 10/29/2018, TKO7 R. Petalcorin
WBO: Elwin Soto (17-1, 12 KO, 1 Defense); won 06/21/2019, TKO12 A. Acosta
While Kyoguchi has the honor of being Ring Magazine’s titlist at 108, it is Shiro who has by far the best reign of anyone in the division right now. Lopez was rated fifth when Shiro upended him for the WBC belt and three of seven defenses have been against rated foes. They include Lopez in a rematch (sixth), Pedro Guevara (first), and Milan Melindo (fifth). Shiro is meeting a champion’s burden. It trumps Kyoguchi’s lone top ten win over Budler (then second) and Elwin Soto’s two rated wins over Angel Acosta (sixth) and Edward Heno (ninth).
WBA: Knockout CP Freshmart (21-0, 7 KO, 9 Defenses – full; 11 Defenses – full & interim); won interim 10/01/2014, UD12 C. Buitrago; won full 06/29/2016, UD12 B. Rojas
WBC: Wanheng Menayothin (54-0, 18 KO, 12 Defenses); won 11/06/2014, RTD9 Oswaldo Novoa
IBF: Pedro Taduran (14-2-1, 11 KO, 1 Defense); won vacant 09/07/2019, RTD4 S. Salva
WBO: Wilfredo Mendez (16-1, 6 KO, 2 Defenses); won 08/24/2019, UD12 V. Saludar
IBO: Nkosinathi Joyi (29-5-1, 19 KO, 0 Defenses); won vacant 12/16/2019, UD12 J. Canoy
While social media savvy boxing fans can’t miss the jokes comparing the record of Menayothin to Floyd Mayweather, a look under the hood exhibits flaws in his title reign. In thirteen title fights, only three foes were rated in the TBRB top ten heading into the contests. The same is true for the best-if-ironically named fighter in boxing, Knockout CP Freshmart. Freshmart doesn’t score a lot of stoppages but the ratings of his three (Byron Rojas twice at second and third respectively, and Chaozhong Xiong at tenth) give him a comparative advantage. However, Menayothin’s three (Oswaldo Novoa - Sixth, Saul Juarez - eighth, and Simpiwe Konkco - seventh) miss a critical win that has gained value since it occurred. Menayothin holds a lopsided win over current IBF titlist Pedro Taduran but it happened before Taduran rose to be rated. That tilts the scale a hair to Menayothin but the reality is this division has had two men near the top for going on seven years who don’t show any inclination to figure out who the best man is.
To Be Concluded with the Top Ten Current Title Reigns in Boxing
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 email@example.com