December 27, 2013

Bantamweights & Below - 2013 Boxing Year End Review & Awards

Bantamweight & Below Fighter of the Year Juan Francisco Estrada
By Derek "DBO" Bonnett ~ Bantamweight and Below is nearing one year old. As the writer, this milestone forces to me to sit and reflect upon the year and if my goals for writing this monthly feature at KO Digest have been met. So far, I have enjoyed the attention this article has received and the feedback its readers have provided. Even more so, I have relished the questions this piece has generated from fans and the impetus it has given some to dive further into boxing's other five weight divisions. The article's very purpose was to make readers more aware of what has happened at Bantamweight and Below from month to month and what is On the Horizon.

Unfortunately, most of the world class boxing action between 118 and 105 pounds is not readily available on ESPN, HBO, or Showtime. So, the results section and calendar of upcoming bouts are valuable mediums for me to communicate what's important to readers and fans. Additionally, each month I have featured rankings with a myriad of intentions ranging from divisional standings to the best of a particular nation to those with the most dynamite in their fists. This month, please enjoy my take on the Pound For Pound landscape at Bantamweight and Below. Starting next month, readers can look forward to divisional rankings from a historical or all-time perspective. This was something the readers at KO Digest decided for themselves and this monthly feature will do its best to satiate that desire. These rankings made for interesting talking points in 2013 and I expect that to carry into the New Year. Also in this volume, you will see the Bantamweight and Below Year End Awards. These customary distinctions tend to end up in the hands of larger weight fighters or fighters with greater exposure on network television. Here the little guys will get their just due. Furthermore, you will receive an update on the fighters seen as most deserving of title shots from the Give That Man a Title Shot category. Lastly, you will find a section devoted to various Talking Points of the year. These were topics which did not necessarily fit into the results listings, rankings, or title shot candidates, but were worthy boxing headlines.

You can expect additional surprises from the 2014 volumes. Happy Holidays from Bantamweight and Below.

Bantamweight and Below Year End Award Winners:

Fight of the Year: Giovani Segura KO12 Hernan Marquez

Marquez and Segura went to war in 2013
The term "crossroads fight" gets thrown around pretty loosely by boxing publicists, but this year's FOTY winner between two of Mexico's top flyweights certainly fits the bill. Both Segura and Marquez were desperately searching for the right direction to send themselves back on their way to elite class status in boxing's most densely talent-laden division. Both Segura and Marquez failed to hear the final bell of their matches with Brian Viloria in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Segura rebounded with a shaky win before dropping a close decision to Edgar Sosa in May. He found himself again on the right track in August with a KO of prospect Jonathon Gonzalez. Marquez won two comeback bouts against limited or faded opposition this year before squaring off with Segura.

Each lion must have sensed his last kill might be presenting itself to him as they warred for the better part of twelve rounds. Segura dropped Marquez in rounds four, eleven, and for the finish in the twelfth. Late in the fourth, amid a series of torrid exchanges Marquez seemed to be getting the better of, "Tyson" was dropped by a Segura overhand right. Marquez acquitted himself quite well with crisp counters and power punches of his own, but it was Segura who would not be denied. The difference in their ability to take shots cemented the verdict in this one. That, and Segura's ruthless commitment to the body. Segura showed more versatility in his punch selection than in recent memory. Round eleven was Round of the Year quality as both men let their hands fly, taking turns turning each other's head. However, it was Segura who also worked in time for a basement level attack and he put Marquez down after a barrage of body shots along the ropes. The fight effectively ended then and there as Segura finally broke an exhausted Marquez. A left hook finished a spent Marquez at the 2:59 mark of the final stanza in Bantamweight and Below's 2013 Fight of the Year.

Knockout of the Year: Edgar Sosa KO2 Ulises Solis

Sosa scores the Bantamweight and Below KO of the Year
The significance of Edgar Sosa's second round KO of Ulises Solis went far beyond a great punch. These bitter Mexican rivals once again found themselves competing in the same division among the talent rich flyweights of boxing. National pride was on the line in this genuine grudge match. Solis won a narrow split decision over Sosa twelve years before when the two prospects met in a 2001 six-rounder. Solis repeated his narrow victory in 2003 with a majority decision win for the Mexican light flyweight crown. Since then, the men had once again become equals as world champions at 108 pounds. Now, as flyweights, it was Sosa's time to score the most emphatic victory of their trilogy. Sosa scored a crunching one-punch KO of his rival at 2:12 of round number two. Solis foolishly ignored the lesson of James "Buster" Douglas and threw a left uppercut well out of range. Sosa dipped back and countered with a left hook straight to the chin of Solis and the fight was over. The two-time champion landed flat on his back.

A jubilant Sosa circled the ring after the bout was waved off. He finished his year outpointing Segura and losing a decision to Akira Yaegashi in a flyweight title bout. It was his early magic against Solis which earned him credit for Bantamweight and Below's Knockout of the Year.

Upset of the Year: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai TKO8 Yota Sato

Rungvisai celebrates his big upset of Sato
Going into his May 2013 match with Japan's Yota Sato, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai was a virtual nonentity in regard to world class boxing. Outside of his pro debut, a third round TKO loss to Akira Yaegashi, the Thai challenger's dossier was littered with inexperienced fighters wielding losing records or pro-debuters. That and seventeen KOs in eighteen victories, mostly in the early rounds. Sato, by contrast, own victories over top-flight opposition such as Kohei Kono, Suriyan Sor Rungvisai, Sylvester Lopez, and Ryo Akaho. Sato's name had emerged as one I often slung around in conversation regarding the best fighters at Bantamweight & Below. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai ended that kind of talk, the WBC reign of Sato, and the Japanese fighter's career.

Sor Rungvisai, giving up four and a half inches in height, did well to negate Sato's height and reach with a high-pressure attack to the champion's torso. When Sato was not pinned along the ropes, he was forced to use his legs more than usual to retreat by circling the ring. Sato attempted to fight at long range, but was forced to do so out of range. The extra distance depleted his attack and left him reaching for fear of sampling the Thai-challenger's dynamite. As Sato slowed, he was drawn into fighting Sor Rungvisai's fight, which furthered his undoing as the mighty challenger raked him with powerful hooks to the body and head. With his head hanging over his knees and his movement sloppy, Sato was pinned to the ropes for one final barrage in the eighth round where the champion was stopped on his feet at the 1:26 mark. From nowhere to the top of the super flyweight division, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai had a breakout year in 2013. He fought and won seven times this year with five non-title wins, his title-winning KO of Sato, and a first defense of the WBC crown against Hirofumi Mukai. Coming out of obscurity to KO the highly regarded Sato is what earned Srisaket Sor Rungvisai the distinction of Upset of the Year at Bantamweight and Below.

Comeback Fighter of the Year: Akira Yaegashi

Comeback of the Year fighter Akira Yaegashi
Akira Yaegashi, 19-3 (9), had a scorcher of a year in 2013 and just as easily could've received top honors for Fighter of the Year. Yaegashi was on the losing end of my 2012 Fight of the Year against Kazuto Ioka at 105 pounds. Instead of waiting around for another shot, Yaegashi jumped two weight classes to flyweight and stopped Saenmuangloei Kokietgym in nine rounds in January 2013. That victory earned him a shot at Toshiyuki Igarashi for the WBC title in April. Yaegashi, 30, did not disappoint and fought in his usual Fight of the Year manner to win a wide unanimous decision by scores of 117-108, 116-109, and 115-110. He then made his first title defense in August with a unanimous nod over Oscar Blanquet to the similar tunes of 116-110, 116-110, and 115-111. Lastly, in December, Yaegashi defeated his greatest challenger of the year in Edgar Sosa. Sosa himself was competing for Fighter of the Year honors going into this bout. The action was intense. The judges favored Yaegashi's cleaner power punches over Sosa's effective countering to award the champion his second defense by scores of 117-111, 117-111, 116-112. 

Bantamweight and Below 2013 Fighter of the Year: Juan Francisco Estrada

Juan Francisco Estrada had a great 2013
Estrada, 25-2 (18), had a stellar 2013 calendar year in the ring. The rising Mexican star twice traveled to Cotai Arena at the Venetian Resort in Macao, Macao, S.A.R., China for twenty-four furious rounds, which competed for numerous Year End Award honors. First, on April 6, Estrada met Pound for Pound entrant Brian Viloria over twelve rounds for the WBA/WBO flyweight championships. The pensive Viloria had much to think on going into this bout. "Things came easy for me early in my career which is why I lost my titles. I’ve learned from those experiences. I know at this stage of my career I have to put my full capacity into my training. When your opponent brings his ‘A Game’ you’d better be ready. I have also developed an appreciation of my current reign as world champion that I did not have before. I enjoy being the best in my division. I don’t see this as an easy fight. Juan Francisco Estrada has the ability to be a champion.
He’s very good. My edge over him in this fight will be my experience."

However, after twelve hard-fought, but seemingly decisive, rounds, Estrada was awarded the split verdict by margins of 117-111, 116-111, and 113-115. The bout was an early candidate for Fight of the Year and, because of Viloria's previous three outings, Upset of the Year. Estrada, 23, came into the bout on the heels of a competitive unanimous decision loss to Roman Gonzalez in 2012, which spoke volumes about "El Gallo" as a fighter.

In Estrada's first defense, he took on previously unbeaten Milan Melindo, who rated among the sport's most deserving title challengers. Melindo fought extremely well, but was faced with an even more improved version of Estrada, who won a unanimous decision. Estrada shut down Melindo's best weapon with educated footwork and eventually broke through to score a knockdown late in the fight. The action resembled another Fight of the Year effort, but the scoring lopsidedly favored the champion 118-109, 118-109, 117-109. Boxing fans should have high hopes for the possibilities Estrada has opened up for himself in 2014. Most likely, we'll see him defend against fellow countryman Giovanni Segura, who had an excellent second half of 2013. Also, Roman Gonzalez has followed Estrada up to flyweight and a monumental rematch could be brewing for 2014. The immediate future is bright for Bantamweight and Below's 2013 Fighter of the Year.

Bantamweight and Below Talking Points of 2013:

The biggest talk in 2013 at Bantamweight and Below did not always come from the best of boxing's littlest practitioners. Several names became serious talking points in the sport of boxing for various boxing-related achievements or distinctions. Benchmarks aren't titles, but sometimes they can carry historical significance or their weight in gold.

Boxing's history making Kameda brothers
The Japanese Kameda Clan made history in 2013 by becoming the first trio of brothers to win world championships. Brothers Koki, Daiki, and Tomoki have collectively won titles from 108 to 118 pounds. This feat was achieved on August 1, 2013 when youngest brother Tomoki won the WBO bantamweight title with a unanimous decision over Paulus Ambunda. The trio enhanced their status by also becoming the first trio of brothers to hold their titles simultaneously. Middle brother Daiki won a disputed decision over Rodrigo Guerrero to capture the IBF super flyweight title on September 3, 2013. Oldest brother Koki started the year wearing his belt and kept it throughout 2013. Koki, however, has been the recipient of several questionable decisions in the last year. Before 2013 could end, Daiki was defeated by Liborio Solis, but because the Venezuelan failed to make weight, Kameda was allowed to keep his title. History remains though and the Kameda's have carved out a very impressive benchmark in boxing history.

Ali Raymi is a loud-talking, unbeaten, forty year old minimumweight contender whose reputation appears to be supported more by shadow and light than reality. Raymi appeared on the boxing radar in 2013 as he neared Tyrone Brunson's benchmark of nineteen successive first round knockout victories. Brunson previously dethroned Edwin Valero for this honor in 2008. Raymi scored sixteen first round KOs in 2013 to go along with his four in 2011 to raise the current bar to twenty. Raymi's feat was also achieved against only unbeaten fighters or fighters making their debut; he has never faced a fighter with a defeat. With that said, Raymi never has ventured out of his native Yemen, which apparently now dabbles in boxing along with salmon fishing. Raymi attempted to lure Samson Dutch Boy Gym out of retirement for a battle of unbeatens, but the Thai boxer, 41 and eleven years retired, could not gain clearance into Yemen for the bout.

"5'3" by 39 kills better than a much heavier hammer," Raymi told KO Digest earlier this year in regard to his power and thoughts about moving up in weight."The problem with smaller guys moving up, is they gain more weight. It's like adding a lot of weight to the bullet, it makes it heavier, but slower and weaker at one point."

Shiming was one of the key Talking Points in 2013
Zou Shiming, the thirty-two year old Chinese amateur standout, made his professional debut in 2013 and improved his record to 3-0 throughout the year. The three-time Olympic Medalist (Bronze, Gold, Gold) has helped Top Rank boxing in their laudable foray to make China a new boxing Mecca. The Cotai Arena at the Venetian Resort in Macao, Macao S.A.R., China has emerged as a new boxing metropolis featuring celebrated names such as Manny Pacquiao and Brian Viloria to the stars of tomorrow in Juan Francisco Estrada and Milan Melindo. Shiming's role in this new venture was not without huge compensation as the 3-0 flyweight contender is on pace toward becoming the most heavily compensated fighter from Bantamweight & Below. Shiming's purses for one four and two six-round rounds have reportedly exceeded half a million dollars each.

Bantamweight and Below: Give That Man a Title Shot!

Of the eleven boxers we have highlighted this year on KO Digest for their title shot merits, only three have received a crack at one of the various world title crowns in 2013. Of those three, none were able to unseat a reigning champion.

In June, Denver Cuello suffered a torn rotator cuff in the opening round of his WBC minimumweight title bout against Xiong Zhao Zhong. The Chinese world champion dominated the one handed Cuello for twelve rounds in spite of the close majority verdict. Zhong retained the title by scores of 115-112, 113-110, and 113-113. Cuello's future in the sport remains uncertain as he had yet to return to the ring following surgery. If he returns, it will almost certainly be above 105 pounds.

Melindo (R) against Estrada
In July, Milan Melindo put in a stalwart effort against Juan Francisco Estrada. Melindo boxed less than he should have, but the crafty Estrada took away his best weapons in a high-paced fight. Estrada broke through late in the fight an dropped his challenger in the eleventh. Melindo looked in bad shape, but survived the final round to lose by unfairly lopsided scores 119-109, 118-109, and 118-110. Melindo has since rebounded with a strong showing in a twelve round win over Jose Alfredo Rodriguez. A second title shot in 2014 would not be out of the question for Melindo, who continues to campaign among the mighty flyweight ranks.

Just this month, Edgar Sosa saw his Fighter of the Year hopes dashed by Akira Yaegashi in a hotly contested WBC flyweight match-up, which, again, appeared much closer than the actual scoring. Yaegashi controlled the distance and used uncharacteristically effective foot work to defeat Sosa, who countered effectively in combination. The 117-111, 117-111, and 116-112 unanimous decision went to the champion, but Sosa still remains in the mix at 112 with wins over Ulises Solis and Giovani Segura in the same year. 

Pedro Guevara also won three bouts in 2013. It would be unlikely that he does not receive a title fight in 2014 given his narrow 2012 loss to John Riel Casimero for the IBF belt and his claiming the WBC silver title in 2013. "My first fight I did in the year was the best for me (SD 12 Raul Garcia), because in the fight I had to win the silver flyweight title against an opponent who was also being favored," Guevara told KO Digest in summation of his year and future plans. "[Garcia was a] champion of the world and ranked among the best. In 2014, I'm supposed to fight for the world championship. Much has been said about it. I'm ranked at number four by the WBC. So, I just waiting for fight against Adrian Hernandez."

Segura (R) stops Gonzalez
Giovani Segura went 3-1 in 2013, but did not get on the title fight radar until after his loss to Edgar Sosa in May. Since then, he has made strong claim to Comeback Fighter of the Year in defeating Jonathon Gonzalez and Hernan Marquez by stoppage in the second half of the year. Segura is rumored to be the top challenger for Juan Francisco Estrada's WBA/WBO flyweight titles in 2014.

Hekkie Budler won three times in 2013. His third victory, a fourth round TKO of Hugo Hernan Verchelli earned him the WBA interim minimumweight title, which should ensure he gets a crack at WBA boss Ryo Miyazaki, should be retain his title against Fahsan Sakkreerin on December 31.

Luis Concepcion thrice won in 2013, but, in spite of his explosive style, he seems among the least likely candidates to get another crack at a world title. His big punch is something a champion may want to avoid and his weaker opposition is not enough to force them into fight negotiations. However, when does matchmaking ever truly follow logic like this?

Moises Fuentes went 3-0-1 in 2013. He started his year with Bantamweight & Below Robbery of the Year against Donnie Nietes. He went on to score his three wins and picked up the interim WBO title, which almost guarantees a rematch with Nietes or a shot at the vacated title should he refuse in 2014. 

Carlos Cuadras fought only once, but has one more bout scheduled for December 31. The Mexican power puncher is rumored to be in line to meet Srisaket Sor Rungvisai for the WBC super flyweight title in February 2014.
This battle of power-punchers is a must see match-up.

Two other fighters highlighted on KO Digest in 2013 had good years. Thailand's Oleydong Sithsamerchai and Wanheng Menayothin each went 6-0 this year, but neither has a scheduled world title fight on the horizon.

Bantamweight and Below Featured Rankings: Pound for Pound

El Chocolatito is #1 P4P
1.) Roman Gonzalez (112) 37-0-0 (31) ~ Former WBA Minimum and Light Flyweight Champion ~ Best Win: UD12 Juan Francisco Estrada ~ Best Possible Match-Up: Juan Francisco Estrada rematch

2.) Shinsuke Yamanaka (118) 20-0-2 (15) ~ WBC Bantamweight Champion ~ Best Win: UD12 Vic Darchinyan ~ Best Possible Match-Up: Anselmo Moreno

3.) Juan Francisco Estrada (112) 25-2-0 (18) ~ WBO/WBA Flyweight Champion ~ Best Win: SD12 Brian Viloria ~ Best Possible Match-Up: Roman Gonzalez rematch

4.) Anselmo Moreno (118) 34-2-1 (12) ~ WBA Bantamweight Champion ~ Best Win: UD12 Vic Darchinyan ~ Best Possible Match-Up: Shinsuke Yamanaka

5.) Kazuto Ioka (108) 13-0-0 (9) ~ WBA Light Flyweight Champion; Former WBA/WBC Minimumweight Champion ~ Best Win: UD12 Akira Yaegashi ~ Best Possible Match-Up: Adrian Hernandez

Budler is #6 P4P
6.) Hekkie Budler (105) 24-1-0 (7) ~ Top-Rated Minimumweight Contender ~ Best Win: SD12 Nkosinathi Joyi ~ Best Possible Match-Up: Xiong Zhou Zhong

7.) Akira Yaegashi (112) 19-3-0 (9) ~ WBC Flyweight Champion; Former WBA Minimumweight Champion ~ Best Win: UD Edgar Sosa ~ Best Possible Match-Up: Giovani Segura

8.) Edgar Sosa (112) 49-8-0 (29) ~ Former WBC Light Flyweight Champion ~ Best Win: KO2 Ulises Solis ~ Best Possible Match-Up: Brian Viloria Rematch

9.) Brian Viloria (112) 32-4-0 (19) ~ Former WBO/WBA Flyweight Champion and WBC/IBF Light Flyweight Champion ~ Best Win: KO11 Ulises Solis ~ Best Possible Match-Up: Edgar Sosa Rematch

10.) Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (115) 22-3-1 (20) ~ WBC Super Flyweight Champion ~ Best Win: TKO8 Yota Sato ~ Best Possible Match-Up: Omar Andres Narvaez

Narvaez is #14 P4P at Bantamweight and Below
Honorable Mentions: 

11.) Giovani Segura (112)
12.) Adrian Hernandez (108)
13.) John Riel Casimero (108)
14.) Omar Andres Narvaez (115)
15.) Liborio Solis (115)

Written by Derek Bonnett - exclusively for KO Digest

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