The Best of the Bunch
Over the last five years, there has been a resurgence in attention among boxing’s little giants. More than ever, everyone from hardcore heads to boxing’s mainstream are covering the strawweight (105lbs) to super bantamweight (122lbs) divisions.
The last you saw serious attention paid to the lower weights was in the 1990’s, the lower-weight golden era. Junior flyweights Michael Carbajal and “Chiquita” Gonzalez headlined pay-per-view cards earning $1 million dollar purses. Johnny Tapia and Ricardo Lopez were headlining cards on HBO and Showtime. Also, flyweight and super flyweight champion Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson was unanimously ranked among the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport.
A NEW GOLDEN AGE
What’s happening currently could be considered a second golden age. WBA Bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue is a budding international superstar and arguably the hardest puncher in the sport. Many hail WBO Flyweight champion Kosei Tanaka as having one of the most impressive résumé’s in all of boxing. Also, we can’t leave out Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez. Boxing mainstream outlets ESPN, HBO, and Ring Magazine hailed the former multiple-division world champion as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport from boxing back in 2016.
With the current dynamics of the sport and the advent of social media, the lower weights are receiving unprecedented attention. So that begs the question, who is the best of the current lot?
TOP OF THE PILE
The answer may not be the aforementioned Inoue, Tanaka or “Chocolatito”. For that matter, it may not even be the likes of other highly touted lower-weight fighters. The top spot may even evade current WBO Super Flyweight and four-division world champion Kazuto Ioka. The same goes for Donnie Nietes, another highly accomplished four-division world champion among the lower weight divisions.
The best of the lot may well be Juan Francisco Estrada, the former WBA/WBO Flyweight and current WBC Super-Flyweight champion. The fighter known as “Gallo” has a solid enough resume. However, more importantly, its his ability and skill that may put him over the top.
JUAN FRANCISCO ESTRADA
When you look at Estrada the fighter, he’s as complete as any fighter among the lower weight divisions. Skill-wise, 24-year old Kosei Tanaka is comparable to Estrada and is five years younger. The glaring negative about Tanaka is his defensive lapses and tendency to get hit with flush shots, which would spell trouble against the precision and counter-punching prowess of the Mexican world champion.
Looking at Estrada in comparison to the likes of Ioka and Nietes, you have to keep this in mind. While both Ioka and Nietes, age 30 and 37, respectively, are wily vets who are versatile, both fighters have also tended to fight more flat-footed as they’ve aged. During his April 26 rematch win over Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Estrada showed he’s still very much fleet of foot. How would Ioka and Nietes deal with the quick feet, as well as the quick hands and expert jab of Estrada?
THE CASE AGAINST INOUE
Now let’s get to Naoya Inoue, the “monster” of the lower-weight divisions. Ever since winning his first world title in 2014, Inoue has been leaving a path of respected fighters in his wake. What makes him even scarier is as he has moved up in weight, he is seemingly punching harder and has become more explosive. Other than Deontay Wilder, is there a more dynamic fighter in the sport?
While an extremely daunting task here’s the thing, has Inoue faced anyone as good as Estrada in their prime? Has Naoya Inoue faced anyone who can jab, move, change angles, and quickly transition offensively and defensively in the way that Estrada can?
And given his guile and experience with hard-hitters such as Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, “Gallo” will be far from scared. With his elite skill and maneuverability, Estrada may well be the one fighter among the lower-weight fighters who has what it takes to tame the monster.
THE CASE OF ROMAN GONZALEZ
Speaking of Roman Gonzalez, yes he defeated Juan Francisco Estrada in November 2012 in a terrific fight. But this is 2019 and “Chocolatito” is not the fighter he was seven years ago. He is no longer a world champion and far from considered among the elite fighters in the world. Plus, he’s been inactive for a year due to lingering knee problems. If Roman Gonzalez and Estrada fought a second time, who with a straight face would pick Gonzalez to win?
The lower-weight divisions are hot right now and full of terrific fighters who bring plenty of excitement to the sport. All the fighters mentioned are outstanding and among the very best in this sport. However at the end of the day, when it comes the lower weight divisions, could the fighter from Sonora, Mexico who they call “Gallo” be the true top dog?
By: Michael Wilson Jr.