By Cliff Rold
Tomorrow in Shanghai, 36-year old Zou Shiming (9-1, 2 KO) will attempt to add the one thing currently missing from his trophy case.
He’s got three Olympic Gold medals. He’s got three additional amateur world championships. Last November, in his second chance to snag it, he added a major professional title, winning the vacant IBF flyweight title in a rematch with a Thailand’s Kwanpichit OnesongchaitGym.
The only thing he hasn’t done with a pair of gloves is add the words “successfully defended” to his professional ledger. Japan’s 28-year old Sho Kimura (14-1-2, 7 KO) is the obstacle to that goal and a live one at that.
No matter who wins, this is the beginning of the next phase at flyweight.
Of the four major titlists at 122 lbs. right now, three have yet to make a title defense. Shiming will be the first with 21-year old WBC titlist Daigo Higa (13-0, 13 KO) and 35-year old WBO beltholder Donnie Nietes (40-1-4, 22 KO) sure to follow.
The only man with a successful defense on the board is 28-year old WBA titleholder Kazuto Ioka (22-1, 13 KO). Like Nietes, Ioka is a three-division titlist but that third notch is only recently fully realized. Ioka had been sharing WBA honors with unified “super” champion Juan Francisco Estrada. They never faced off in the ring but Ioka ends up with the full WBA honors by attrition.
Add in former flyweight titlist Moruti Mthalane, and this isn’t a bad core at flyweight. It does though have a feeling of being what remains. The exit from the class of Roman Gonzalez, Estrada, and John Riel Casimero thinned the ranks. It was hard to imagine, little more than a year ago, a soft enough target for Shiming to land on for a title.
It turned out all Shiming had to do, after a lopsided loss in his first title fight against Amnat Ruenroeng, was wait it out. Given the ratings he draws in his native China, and his age, Shiming can and probably should ride the belt as long as he can. He’d likely be a sizable underdog against any of the other titlists in his class.
Those other three should be enough to interest any hardcore fight follower.
Flyweight isn’t a division with a deep history of unification bouts since the alphabet titles began to proliferate in the 1960s. This might be a time to hope for some. We never got the Gonzalez-Estrada rematch at 112 lbs. Can we get an Ioka-Nietes showdown?
Ioka has chased unification before, winning two belts at 105 lbs. Nietes is still in search of a defining fight and time isn’t on his side.
If not that showdown of established veterans, what about an all-Japan face off between Ioka and Higa? Higa might be the next hardcore darling in the lowest weight classes. He can crack like hell and is fun to watch. At 21, he’s only just getting started and could quickly look to move into the deep mix at 115 lbs.
For now, we wait for the new beltholders to all add that first title defense notch to their belts. Shiming goes first as what remains starts to become the new foundation.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]