State of the Game: Flyweights
This is the third in a series of stories from “The State of the Game,” the popular annual feature of THE RING magazine. We’re posting 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. Today: Flyweights.
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.
It’s a funny thing about RING champions: Sometimes you need to get the best fighter out of the division in order to crown one.
Last year around this time, Nonito Donaire was clearly the top flyweight in the world, but his people weren’t going after major fights and weren’t interested in taking him to Japan or Thailand to unify belts. And since you can’t crown a RING champ without the No. 1 contender involved, the vacant title wasn’t about to get filled. At least not until Donaire decided to move up to 115 pounds.
Then, seemingly without a warning, a RING title fight fell into our lap. Top-rated Koki Kameda, fresh off a solid win over Daisuke Naito, was signed to face second-rated Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, a veteran ex-titlist who’d remained busy and consistent, waiting for another opportunity to come along. And in a delicious twist, the 32-year-old underdog beat the previously unbeaten, trash-talking 23-year-old to rise again to the top of the division, claim the RING championship and significantly improve his chances of landing in the Hall of Fame someday.
Now the division looks the way all divisions should in a perfect world: There’s a single fighter on top we can call champion, and everyone beneath are his contenders. Since the fight was close, Kameda is worthy of a rematch, which would do huge business in Japan, but he has decided to move up in weight. Naito is still a capable fighter, and considering he and Pongsaklek have a bit of history – they’ve fought four times already, the most recent one ending in a draw – that’s a marketable matchup. So is Pongsaklek against alphabet beltholder Daiki Kameda, who would be trying to avenge his older brother’s loss.
There are a couple of additional ex-titlists in the mix, as both Takefumi Sakata and Denkaosan Kaovichit have proven their worth over the years. Moruti Mthalane is a quality fighter from South Africa whose only loss in the last five years came against Donaire. Luis Concepcion of Panama is probably the division’s hardest puncher, though he has a few too many washed-up strawweight titlists on his resume for our taste. And Zolani Tete of South Africa and Cesar Seda of Puerto Rico are a pair of unbeatens worth keeping an eye on.
Oh, and if you want an American to root for, there aren’t many, but Rayonta Whitfield’s only loss came against Narvaez in ’09 and the Augusta, Ga., native has since bounced back with a pair of wins.
Think About It: Yes, Tokyo is a large city, and yes, many fighters in this weight range come from Asia, but it’s still alarming how many of the top flyweights in the world hail specifically from the city of Tokyo. Looking at BoxRec.com’s ratings, four of the Top five flyweights call Tokyo home, plus there are three more in the Top 25 and five more in the Top 50. Frankly, there is enough quality 112-pounders from Tokyo that it suddenly seems very unrealistic that Godzilla succeeded in terrorizing this city. Come on, you put a dozen Top-50 flyweights together, and they ought to be able to wreak havoc on the big lizard’s ankles.
Is He Still Around?
Pongsaklek Wonjongkam-Koki Kameda
Deserves A Title Shot
Most Fun To Watch
On The Way Up
On The Way Down
Best Fight In 2009
Daisuke Naito W 12 Xiong Zhao Zhong