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State of the Game: Strawweights

24
Jun

This is the first in a series of stories from “The State of the Game,” the popular annual feature of THE RING magazine. We’re going to post one weight class per day, starting with strawweight and working our way up to heavyweight. The package was featured in the July issue of the magazine, which is on sale through June 28.

It’s often been said that in boxing, the top two percent of the fighters make about 98 percent of the money. Well, we’re about to feed directly into that inequity. Not only do the top two percent get most of the money, but they get most of the attention too, and in “The State Of The Game,” we focus primarily on that top two percent – the cream of every weight class. Maybe it’s not fair to the 145th best junior featherweight in the world, but hey, there’s a reason he’s only 145th best.

Still, you have to admit, we go deeper and include more fighters in State of the Game than just about any other article you’ll read all year. Where else will you find Wladimir Klitschko, Fernando Guerrero, Alfonso Gomez and Hekkie Budler all discussed in the same story?

Basically, the State of the Game is just what it sounds like: an all-encompassing exploration of where every division in boxing stands at this particular moment. As for the state of the sport as a whole, we know the balance of power is continuing to shift away from American fighters and away from the heavyweight division, but does that mean boxing is any worse off than it was a year ago or five years ago or 10 years ago? In a global sense, and judged in relativity to the economic climate across most of the world, no. Remember, some people in both the boxing community and the mainstream media opined three years ago that Oscar De La Hoya vs. Floyd Mayweather was going to be the last megafight we’d see for years. How laughable is that now? We’ve since had four different pay-per-views cross the million-buy mark, and if Manny Pacquiao vs. Mayweather ever happens, it will crush every number Mayweather-De La Hoya posted.



Of course, all that this means is that the guys at the very top are getting exponentially richer while everyone else is struggling to make ends meet. Hey, that’s the way boxing has always been, and in a nutshell, that’s how life works. Boxing has loads of problems, no doubt, but year after year, it entertains and amazes those loyal followers who persevere through all the crap to get to the good stuff.

STRAWWEIGHT

Strawweight is the only division in which the IBF, WBA, and WBC belts are all held by undefeated fighters. As has been discussed by many fans and experts, the notion of being undefeated has become overrated. Still, those zeroes at the end of the records look pretty, don’t they? And in a division where there’s not much to get excited about – at least not in America – having three titlists with perfect records is a start. The next step is getting them to put those perfect records on the line against each other.

Leading the way is Nicaragua’s Roman Gonzalez, who has now made three successful title defenses, including a decision over Katsunari Takayama and a four-round KO of Ivan Meneses in the past year. At just 23, Gonzalez has all the potential in the world to be this division’s biggest star since Hall of Famer Ricardo Lopez, but his opposition since winning his belt from Yutaka Niida has been disappointing.

Thailand’s Oleydong Sithsamerchai has done a better job of challenging himself in his five defenses since winning a belt in ’07 – maybe too good of a job. His last two defenses were both narrow escapes, a majority decision win over Gonzalez’ fellow Managuan Juan Palacios and a unanimous decision over Yasutaka Koroki, in which the margin of victory was four total points spread across three cards. Still, wins are wins, and there should be plenty more of them in the future of Oleydong, who is only 24 years old.

The newest addition to the parade of unbeaten beltholders is South Africa’s Nkosinathi Joyi, who has scored impressive landslide decision wins in his last two bouts. First he shut out former titlist Florante Condes on two of the three cards in June ’09, then he bagged a belt by prevailing by eight, 10, and 10 points over previously undefeated Raul “Rayito” Garcia. And though those wins came over the distance, the 27-year-old Joyi can pop, having scored knockouts in his previous seven fights in a row, including two first-rounders and three second-rounders.

The rest of the Top 10 is made up primarily of the names of the defeated fighters mentioned above, like Garcia, Condes, Palacios, Takayama, and Kuroki. Also worth a mention is Filipino Donnie Nietes, who holds the WBO strap and hasn’t lost a fight since 2004.

Think About It: We sometimes joke about how the difference between a strawweight and a junior flyweight is one Big Mac, and if you order fries and a shake with it you’ll be a flyweight. After all, from the strawweight limit to the bantamweight limit, a span of five weight classes, the weight jump is only 13 pounds. So is it really that big of a deal to move among boxing’s smaller divisions? Not for Mexico’s Manuel Vargas. In consecutive fights in the last nine months, Vargas lost a split decision to Nietes for a strawweight belt, weighing 105 pounds, then got stopped by Nonito Donaire in a junior bantamweight fight, weighing 114. And over the last eight years, Vargas has held and challenged for an assortment of regional titles at both flyweight and junior fly. The man knows his way around the scale. (But we’d recommend his handlers not steer him into any more fights with junior bantams who happen to reside on the pound-for-pound list, like Donaire.)

STRAWWEIGHT

Best Puncher
Roman Gonzalez

Best Boxer
Oleydong Sithsamerchai

Most Protected
Denver Cuello

Most Avoided
Yasutaka Koroki

Is He Still Around?
Muhammad Rachman

Matchmaker’s Dream
Roman Gonzalez-Nkosinathi Joyi

Deserves A Title Shot
Juan Palacios

Most Fun To Watch
Roman Gonzalez

On The Way Up
Juan Hernandez

On The Way Down
Florante Condes

Best Fight In 2009
Roman Gonzalez W12 Francisco Rosas

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