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10: Notable flyweight title fights

02
Sep

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For those who see flyweights as boxing’s little giants, the period between Sept. 5-10 will be nothing short of nirvana. All five widely recognized titles – The RING championship and those offered by the four recognized sanctioning bodies – will be on the line and, better yet, every titleholder will face a worthy adversary.

On paper, the first fight may be the best of all as RING champion (and WBC titlist) Akira Yaegashi meets a most severe threat in former two-division belt-holder and RING’s number nine pound-for-pound occupant Roman Gonzalez, who enters the bout with a sparkling 39-0 (33 knockouts) record. Friday’s bout in Tokyo is highly anticipated not just because of their resumes but also because each has fully loaded arsenals in terms of boxing skills as well as the ability to hurt their opponents with a single blow. The 20-3 (10 KOs) Yaegashi, who won his first divisional belt at 105 in a tumultuous punch-a-thon against Pornsawan Porpramook (KO 10) in October 2011, zoomed past junior flyweight to win his second strap at 112 against then-RING champ Toshiyuki Igarashi and will be defending it for the fourth time. Gonzalez, for his part, is riding a five-fight KO streak and the Nicaraguan will have his share of fans because he’s fighting in Japan for the third time in four fights and for the eighth time overall.

The next day in Mexico City THE RING’s second-rated flyweight Juan Francisco Estrada, 26-2 (19), will risk his WBA and WBO straps against the resurgent Giovani Segura, 32-3-1 (28) and rated ninth by THE RING. Estrada, who is making the fourth defense of the belts, first vaulted into prominence in November 2012 by giving then-WBA light flyweight king Roman Gonzalez a stirring challenge before dropping a unanimous decision. Five months later he parlayed a strong second-half surge to dethrone WBA/WBO flyweight king Brian Viloria and further consolidated his reputation with wins over Filipinos Milan Melindo (W 12) and Richie Mepranum (KO 10). Meanwhile, all-action southpaw Segura, a former WBA/WBO titleholder at junior flyweight, has rebounded strongly from a three-fight stretch that saw him lose to Viloria (KO by 8) and Edgar Sosa (L 12). His last three efforts saw him destroy previously undefeated Jonathan Gonzalez (KO 4), outlast Hernan Marquez in a fight-of-the-year quality war (KO 12) and dominate Felipe Salguero this past April (KO 10). Given their styles and mindsets, this all-Mexican war should satisfy even the most voracious action addict.

Four days after Estrada-Segura, 34-year-old IBF belt-holder and THE RING’s number-seven Amnat Ruenroeng, 13-0 (5), will fight mandatory challenger McWilliams Arroyo, 15-1 (13), before his home fans in Thailand. The 34-year-old Ruenroeng’s story of redemption is a particularly inspiring one: The former Muay Thai champion turned to boxing while serving a 15-year jail sentence for robbery, his third term behind bars. Taking advantage of a prison amateur boxing program, Ruenroeng won the national light flyweight title as well as his early release. He continued his amateur career – beating Zou Shiming at the 2007 King’s Cup tournament and representing Thailand in the 2008 Olympics, where he lost in the quarters to eventual silver medalist Purevdorj Serdamba of Mongolia – before turning pro at age 32 and beating Rocky Fuentes for the vacant IBF belt just 16 months later. Ruenroeng will defend his belt for the first time against Arroyo, a fellow 2008 Olympian who, like Ruenroeng, lost in the quarterfinals. Arroyo earned his crack at glory by cracking Froilan Saludar with a left hook that should be a contender for 2014’s knockout of the year. The 2009 amateur world champion has won 12 straight since suffering his lone loss, a four-round decision to Takashi Okada that saw the Puerto Rican floored in round two.

Three fights, six top fighters and a boatload of potential story lines. What else could a boxing fan want? In fact, this may well be the most significant short stretch of fights the 112-pound division has seen in its 105-year history.

And what a history it has been, for since Jimmy Wilde defeated Young Zulu Kid in the first universally recognized world flyweight title fight, the division has produced plenty of action-packed, career-defining battles. The following article will list, in chronological order, 10 championship fights that changed the face of the division while doing the same to the faces of the combatants.

June 18, 1923 – Pancho Villa KO 7 Jimmy Wilde, Polo Grounds, New York City

Photo / THE RING

Photo / THE RING

Wilde was living proof that the most destructive forces can reside within the smallest packages. Standing 5 feet 2¾ inches and often scaling under 100 pounds, the Welshman possessed such incredibly disproportionate punching power that he was nicknamed “The Mighty Atom” and “The Ghost With the Hammer in His Hand.” One example of his freakishly prodigious punch took place on August 28, 1913 when the 94¾-pound Wilde flattened the 116-pound Jack Dyer in three rounds. If one extrapolates the weight percentage difference (18.5 percent) into a situation that inserted modern fighters, Wilde’s feat would be the equivalent of the 112-pound Roman Gonzalez stretching WBC lightweight champion Omar Figueroa.

Wilde’s success against far bigger fighters was forged in the boxing booths where he regularly fought all comers scaling all weights. According to “The Great Book of Boxing” by Harry Mullan, it was rumored that Wilde knocked out 19 men of various sizes in three-and-a-half hours, then, after taking a 30-minute rest, polished off another four in 45 minutes. He continued to compete in the booths even after winning the world title and various sources quote Wilde as having fought between 500 and 1,000 times in that forum. While record-keeping in the early 1900s was sketchy at best, Boxrec.com credits Wilde with going unbeaten in his first 102 fights (one draw, five no-contests) and scoring 64 knockouts before the 111 1/2-pound Tancy Lee stopped the historic skein with a 17th round KO over the 97-pound wonder, who weighed in fully dressed. Following the Lee fight Wilde knocked out 28 of his next 29 opponents, including Joe Symonds for the British and IBU version of the world title, Young Zulu Kid to earn worldwide recognition and Lee in a rematch.

By the time he met Villa, however, Wilde was hanging on by a thread. The 31-year-old had not fought since recently deposed bantamweight champion Pete Herman hammered Wilde into a 17th round KO defeat two-and-a-half years earlier. The final moments were particularly brutal: According to an article posted on Welshboxers.com, Herman punched Wilde through the ropes and the Welshman hit the back of his head on the concrete floor, causing a concussion that kept him out of the ring ever since. Though in semi-retirement Wilde remained the recognized champion and that status drew a monstrous $65,000 offer to fight a rising young star named Pancho Villa.

Born Francisco Villaruel Guilledo, the 21-year-old native of Manila was a force of nature that proved too much save for the very best. Though he couldn’t match Wilde for one-punch power, his volume-punching bob-and-weave ferocity more than made up for that shortcoming. Only Frankie Genaro – who won one newspaper decision and two official nods in their three fights – could claim multi-fight supremacy over Villa, but Villa did lose an eight-round newspaper decision to Bobby Wolgast in Philadelphia’s Shibe Park just 25 days before meeting Wilde. Despite the perceived setback, Villa was installed as a slim 6-to-5 favorite to dethrone Wilde.

More than 40,000 people jammed themselves into the Polo Grounds to witness the fight and the spectacle. Neither disappointed.

As expected, the contest began quickly as the two combatants ripped into each other with their best blows. Wilde appeared to be getting the better of the action as he forced Villa backward and landed pinpoint jabs and heavy crosses that the Filipino managed to shake off.

The fight took a dramatic turn when Villa landed a right hand the very moment the bell ending the second round sounded, though the Welshboxers.com account had Ray Arcel, who had worked an undercard bout and was seated at ringside, saying the incident occurred after round six. No matter when it landed, the blow floored Wilde and while many in the crowd shouted for Villa to be disqualified, ringside scribe Harry Coady Lindop felt differently.

“Villa had started the punch, and even had he wanted to could not have stopped the blow from landing,” he wrote.

The two-sided action was constant and thrilling but soon the younger man’s freshness and strength enabled him to seize command. He often trapped Wilde on the ropes and whacked freely at the champion’s ribs before shifting his attack to the head. Bit by bit the old champion’s reserves ebbed away and by the start of round seven he was a spent force. Villa, on the other hand, remained springy and powerful. On the inside Villa darted from side to side to create unique punching angles that were too inventive for Wilde to defend.

After landing a right to the body and a left to the jaw, Villa slid to his right and connected with a right uppercut to the chin. He then connected with a wide left to the jaw followed by a shorter, crisper hook that snapped the Welshman’s head, then snapped off his synapses. Devoid of all consciousness, Wilde’s body fell forward and landed with a thud. Wilde’s condition appeared so dire that several of his seconds immediately ran into the ring and carried the now former champion to his corner. Wilde never fought again, and thankfully so.

The victory was historic for Villa, for he became the first Filipino to win a world boxing championship. From that moment 91 years ago a proud lineage was created, a line that would produce 36 more champions that include Hall of Famer Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, the Penalosas (Dodie Boy and Gerry), perennial Hall of Fame ballot entrant Ceferino Garcia, pound-for-pound entrant Nonito Donaire and future Hall of Famer Manny Pacquiao. It is a legacy for which Villa should be extremely proud.

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