January 9, 2013

Bantamweights & Below - Boxing's Other Five Weight Divisions

IBF Bantamweight Champion Leo Santa Cruz
By Derek Bonnett ~ A lot of fans of the Sweet Science inside the USA claim to be diehard aficionados, but their scope often tends to be a little antiquated in that they hold onto to the old tradition that boxing only has eight weight classes. However, I am not talking about a purist's perspective of the good 'ole days of heavyweight to flyweight. No, that's not my point at all. Today, far too many American fans are neglecting to note myriad top performers below the lightweight division.

Why is this happening? Well, mostly because the USA has not produced flocks of talent below 135 pounds for some time. Every now and then a little man garners attention, but it is few and far between copious lesser talented heavyweight plodders or overhyped prospects. Boxing's lightest divisions are dominated by fighters from Asia and Central and South America, who do not get equivalent face time on ESPN, HBO, or Showtime. It's a shame really since American fans are presently missing out on our own Brian Viloria, who is in the middle of a career best run. Nicaragua's Roman Gonzalez just might be the second coming of Ricardo Lopez, but no American promotional company has made an effort to showcase him. Shinsuke Yamanaka and Yota Sato are damn impressive, but relatively unknown commodities to the majority of American fans.

World-wide, these fighters and far more are getting noticed, but it's time American boxing fans became familiar with boxing's lightest stars from abroad. Now, each month of 2013, KO Digest will seek to remedy this trend with the month's top performers in the lightest divisions. From bantamweight and below, these fighters had stand-out 2012 performances.

Thankfully, Leo Santa Cruz is beginning to create his own buzz at 118-pounds after fighting five times in 2012. His most recent showing on CBS was a huge step in the right direction thanks to a collaborative effort from Showtime. However, Santa Cruz is not the fighter fans have been missing out on. It's Japan's Shinsuke Yamanaka or "the other guy to completely outbox Vic Darchinyan for twelve rounds". Yamanaka, 30, posted two impressive 2012 victories to bolster his resume and add two defenses to his WBC bantamweight title reign. Darchinyan was the first as the champion won by unanimous decision. The second was a KO of the Year contender few American fight fans got to see. Just a matter of weeks back in November, Yamanaka scored a crunching seventh round KO of Tomas Rojas with a sweeping left cross. The punch folded up the Mexican former world champion to the canvas without hope of ever beating the count. Yamanaka enters 2013 with a record of 17-0-2 (12) and is must see talent.

Yota Sato
Yota Sato had a huge 2012 for a 115-pound fighter. Also hailing from Japan, Sato won three bouts last year including his title winning effort against Suriyan Sor Rungvisai. I viewed the win as an upset since I had not previously been exposed to Sato much outside of my own reading. However, Sato followed up the win with two clear-cut decisions over highly rated contenders Sylvester Lopez and Ryo Akaho. Sato applies a fun fan-friendly style and grinds away at his opponents with a high-volume attack.

At twenty-eight the WBC super flyweight champion is primed to take on a host of other top performers in his division such as Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr., Omar Narvaez, and the rising Carlos Cuadras. At 26-2-1 (12), Sato should be surfacing on the boxing radars world-wide.

Brian Viloria is a familiar name for boxing fans in the USA since he represented our Olympic team back in 2000. However, the last time we actually saw Viloria on a U.S. televised card was back when he was failing to live up to his potential. In recent form, Viloria could easily have been 2011's Comeback Fighter of the Year and a dark-horse candidate for Fighter of the Year in 2012. The Filipino holds dual citizenship in the USA and Philippines and should be on the same level as we hailed Michael Carbajal in the 1990s. In fact, like Manny Pacquiao, Viloria has become quite the Mexi-cutioner with wins over Hernan Marquez, Omar Nino Romero, Giovanni Segura, Julio Cesar Miranda, and Ulises Solis. At thirty-two, an age when most flyweights are ready to hang up the gloves, Viloria has put together a lighter weight renaissance. Going into 2013 with a 32-3 (19) dossier, Viloria could be eying a possible 112-pound Super Fight of the same caliber as Carbajal-Gonzalez or Alvarez-Lopez II. 

Roman Gonzalez
Roman Gonzalez is the latest standout fighter in a division which proudly boasted the names Michael Carbajal, Humberto Gonzalez, and Ricardo Lopez. Nicaragua's Gonzalez is unbeaten 34-0 (28) and after four wins in 2012 seems poised to break into a more mainstream audience. Like Lopez, Gonzalez punches with extreme precision and does not waste a punch. His power is so debilitating, be it a shot to the body or an uppercut to the chin, his opponents earn a moral victory simply for lasting the distance. Twice in 2012, Gonzalez was featured on boxing cards in California, but neither was broadcast outside of internet coverage. Again, it's a step in the right direction, but, at twenty-five, Gonzalez is in his prime and shouldn't have to be relegated to Youtube sensation status in the USA.

Don't be misguided, there are plenty more standout talents dwelling in the shadows of heavy and middleweight fighters. This was a mere recap of just some of the best fighters at bantamweight and below in 2012. Each month at KO Digest, I will dig deeper to shed some light upon these less familiar treasures of the Sweet Science. 

Written by Derek "DBO" Bonnett exclusively for KO Digest