Division by Division: Bantamweight-Strawweight
The following article appears in the December 2021 issue of The Ring Magazine. Subscribe here.
A panel of history-minded editors, scribes and pundits contributed their top five fighters in all 17 of the modern weight classes to determine the best of the best in each division.
1 EDER JOFRE
The first Brazilian-born champion and by far his country’s best… Rose to prominence when he claimed the world title by stopping Johnny Caldwell (TKO 10)… Made five defenses, notably retaining his strap against grizzled veteran Jose Medal (KO 6) before going on the road to beat Katsutoshi Aoki (KO 3) in Japan, Johnny Jamito (TKO 11) in the Philippines and Bernardo Caraballo (KO 7) in Colombia… “O Galo De Ouro” (The Golden Bantam) retired after losing twice against Fighting Harada (SD 15/UD 15) in Japan… Returned and showed his greatness by winning the featherweight title at age 37.
2 RUBEN OLIVARES
“Rockabye Ruben” moved up the ranks in the mid-to-late 1960s with devastating ease, scoring 49 knockouts in 52 bouts without a loss on his way to his title-winning knockout of Lionel Rose (KO 5) in 1969… Made quick work of contender Alan Rudkin (TKO 2) in his first title defense before meeting fellow Mexican Chucho Castillo. Olivares bested his rival in their first meeting (UD 15), only to lose for the first time (in 61 pro bouts) in their rematch on cuts (TKO 14). He rebounded to take the series with an off-the-canvas 15-round unanimous decision… He would make two more defenses before losing to underrated countryman Rafael Herrera (KO 8). Blamed weight issues and resurfaced at featherweight, where he would later twice win versions of the title.
3 CARLOS ZARATE
Similar to how Marvin Hagler emerged just after another great champion in Carlos Monzon, Zarate did so with Olivares… His vaunted power was evidenced by going 39-0 with 38 knockouts en route to the title… Won the WBC belt against Rodolfo Martinez (KO 9) and made nine defenses, all inside the distance… Notched wins against Paul Ferreri (TKO 12), Waruinge Nakayama (KO 4) and Alberto Davila (TKO 8)… Attempted to unify mid-reign by facing fellow undefeated KO artist and WBA titleholder Alfonso Zamora (KO 4), however, politics got in the way and the famous “Battle of the Z-Boys” became a non-title bout… Also tried to step up to junior featherweight, where Wilfredo Gomez proved too much for him.
4 MANUEL ORTIZ
The main man at bantamweight for much of the 1940s… Made 19 defenses over the course of two title reigns, including 15 in his first stint as champion, a division record that stood more than 50 years until Orlando Canizales surpassed that mark… Boasts wins over Lou Salica (UD 12/TKO 11) and Jackie Jurich (TKO 9/KO 11)… His title reign was briefly interrupted when he lost to Harold Dade (UD 15), but he quickly regained champion status two months later by flipping the script on Dade… Lost his title a second time against Vic Toweel (PTS 15) in South Africa.
5 PANAMA AL BROWN
The 5-foot-11 Panamanian was especially tall for the weight and often used that advantage to keep his opponents honest behind a sharp jab… Often fought in the U.S. and Europe, where he was very popular… It’s said he spoke as many as seven different languages, which doubtlessly aided his globetrotting… He became his country’s first world champion in 1929 and held the title for five years, turning back nine challengers, including the respected trio of Eugene Huat (UD 15/UD 15), Pete Sanstol (SD 15) and Emile Pladner (KO 1).
A Notch Below: Terry McGovern, Orlando Canizales, Veeraphol Sahaprom, Naoya Inoue
1 KHAOSAI GALAXY
The fearsome Thai southpaw had over 100 Muay Thai contests before turning his attention to boxing… After winning the vacant WBA 115-pound title in 1984, went on to make a division-record 19 defenses over a seven-year reign… Defended his title against former two-time WBC titlist Rafael Orono (TKO 5) and future WBC/WBO bantamweight titleholder Israel Contreras (KO 5)… He hoped to unify, but the IBF wouldn’t sanction his fight with Elly Pical. It didn’t matter; Galaxy traveled to Indonesia and stopped his rival in 14 rounds… The aggressive puncher was too strong for his opponents and continued his reign of terror mostly at home, racking up the defenses, but he did travel to South Korea and Japan… Galaxy retired as champion.
2 JIRO WATANABE
Although the skilled Japanese southpaw didn’t pick up a pair of gloves until he was 22, he quickly excelled… Lost a close but unanimous decision to WBC titlist Chul Ho Kim in South Korea in 1981… He claimed the WBA title a year later when he outboxed Rafael Pedroza (UD 15)… Made six defenses of his crown, beating respected past or future world titleholders Gustavo Ballas (TKO 9), Shoji Oguma (TKO 12) and Soon Chun Kwon (TD 11)… Looked to unify with WBC counterpart Payao Poontarat but was stripped of his WBA belt before edging past his Thai opponent (SD 12) and went on to make four more defenses of the WBC belt… He was probably past his prime when he lost his title to Gilberto Roman (UD 12) and never fought again.
3 JOHNNY TAPIA
The wayward American enjoyed success at higher weights, but it is at junior bantamweight that he was most successful… Claimed the fledgling WBO title stopping Henry Martinez (TKO 11)… Went on to make 14 defenses… Edged former amateur rival Arthur Johnson (MD 12) and outboxed future beltholder Hugo Soto (UD 12), but it is his win over crosstown rival Danny Romero (UD 12) in a WBO/IBF unification bout that garnered the most acclaim. Most expected the hot-headed New Mexican to go gung-ho at the bigger punching Romero, but “Mi Vida Loca” kept a calm head in the midst of battle and dominated the grudge match using his elite-level boxing ability… Was unbeaten in 45 bouts (43-0-2) at the end of his 115-pound title reign.
4 GILBERTO ROMAN
A typical Nacho Beristain boxer, very technical and economical, but he had the grit to go with his savvy… Initially fought at bantamweight but impressively bested Watanabe (UD 12) in Japan to win the WBC crown… Made 11 defenses over two reigns… His title reign was interrupted by a loss on cuts to Santos Laciar (TKO 11)… Beat Laciar’s conqueror Sugar Baby Rojas (UD 12)… Scored road wins over Kongtoranee Payakaroon (UD 12), Kiyoshi Hatanaka (UD 12), Rojas (UD 12) and Laciar (UD 12)… Had only two title defenses in Mexico, losing to Nana Yaw Konadu (UD 12) in one of them… Past his prime when he was stopped by Sung Kil Moon (TKO 8)… Sadly passed away in a car accident a few weeks later, just 28.
5 SUNG KIL MOON
A highly successful amateur who competed at the 1984 Olympics, his crowning moment came when he claimed gold at the 1986 World Championships… In just his seventh pro bout, he beat Khaosai Galaxy’s twin, Khaokor (TD 6), to become the WBA bantamweight titleholder… Made two defenses before losing the rematch to Galaxy (UD 12) in Thailand… The South Korean had a propensity to cut in several of his fights… Made the unusual decision to drop to 115 pounds and beat WBC ruler Nana Konadu (TD 9)… Made nine defenses, notably beating Roman (TKO 8), Konadu (TKO 4), Greg Richardson (MD 12), Hilario Zapata (TKO 1) and Carlos Salazar (SD 12).
A Notch Below: Vic Darchinyan, Juan Francisco Estrada, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
1 JIMMY WILDE
The big-punching Welshman is almost universally celebrated as the best 112-pounder of all time, but he regularly fought and beat much bigger men… Weighed less than 100 pounds for many of his fights… Always undersized but never outgunned, the “Ghost With The Hammer In His Hand” is regarded as one of the biggest punchers ever, pound-for-pound, and was voted the third-biggest puncher of all time by The Ring Magazine… Records at the time are difficult to come by and differ, but it is believed Wilde didn’t lose for over 90 fights and lost just three of nearly 150 bouts while also engaging in hundreds of booth bouts… He beat Joe Symonds (TKO 12) to become world champion and beat Tancy Lee (KO 11) and Young Zulu Kid (KO 11).
2 MIGUEL CANTO
Canto is a far cry from the archetypal Mexican puncher in that he was a pure boxer. He used brains over brawn, scoring just 15 knockouts in 74 bouts… Canto came up the hard way on the notoriously tough Mexican circuit. Lost to Betulio Gonzalez (MD 15) in his first title attempt but beat Gonzalez-conqueror Shoji Oguma (MD 15) in Japan to become the WBC titleholder… The defensive wizard tallied 14 successful defenses over a four-year period, almost always outpointing his opponent… Of his 18 world title fights, 12 were away from home and he only lost two of those… He beat Gonzalez (SD 15/SD 15) and Oguma (SD 15/UD 15) in a series of fights.
3 PASCUAL PEREZ
The Argentine won gold at the 1948 Olympics before making the transition to the professional ranks with equal success… Won the flyweight world title just two years into his pro career by going to Japan and unseating Yoshio Shirai and never looked back… Made nine defenses over six years, often on the road, where he exhibited impressive power… Lost the title to the excellent Pone Kingpetch (SD 12), who stopped Perez in eight rounds in an immediate rematch five months later… His successful defenses included Shirai (KO 5), Leo Espinosa (UD 15) and Dai Dower (KO 1).
4 PANCHO VILLA
Became the first Filipino world champion when he unseated Wilde in 1923… He was very busy, as was customary in those days, and retained his title a handful of times… Although he twice lost to Frankie Genaro, he beat Johnny Buff (TKO 11), Abe Goldstein (UD 15) and Bud Taylor (UD 12), among other standouts… Tragically passed away at age 23 from blood poisoning, the result of an infection following a wisdom tooth extraction, after surprisingly losing to a 10-round points decision to future welterweight champ Jimmy McLarnin… Still revered in his homeland today.
5 FRANKIE GENARO
Capitalized on winning gold at the 1920 Olympics by moving quickly as a professional… The New Yorker was an expert boxer who outboxed Villa (SD 15) for the American flyweight title in 1923. The victory was later enhanced when Villa stopped Wilde to become world champion… The Italian American faced many of the best fighters in and around his weight class, including the likes of Memphis Pal Moore (DQ 6), Kid Williams (PTS 12) and Midget Wolgast (D 15). Lost to Fidel LaBarba (PTS 10) but later claimed the NBA title and made 10 defenses over two reigns.
A Notch Below: Fidel LaBarba, Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, Benny Lynch, Mark Johnson, Roman Gonzalez
1 MICHAEL CARBAJAL
After winning silver at the 1988 Olympics, he quickly transitioned to the professional side of the sport… Carbajal was big for the weight but didn’t use his size to outbox opponents, preferring to use his power… Beat well-regarded Thai Muangchai Kittikasem (TKO 7) to become the IBF titlist… Made six defenses before he collided with WBC beltholder Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez in a unification bout. The American twice dragged himself off the canvas before knocking out his rival in seven rounds… Made an unprecedented $1 million for the rematch, which he lost (SD 12)… He was also beaten in their third fight (MD 12) but later claimed three more world titles… Rounded out his career with a come-from-behind knockout of Jorge Arce (TKO 11).
2 HUMBERTO GONZALEZ
“Chiquita” could box and punch in equal measure… Became WBC titleholder when he bested Yul Woo Lee (UD 12) in South Korea; returned to repeat the trick against Jung Koo Chang (UD 12)… Made 11 defenses over three reigns… Lost to Carbajal in their first clash but showed a smart boxing brain to outbox his big rival in second and third meetings… The Mexican enjoyed a good tear-up, and that cost him on three occasions. His recklessness saw him lose to Rolando Pascua (KO 6), Carbajal (KO 7) and Saman Sorjaturong (TKO 7).
3 JUNG KOO CHANG
A force of nature at 108 pounds… With minimal experience, he barely lost to WBC titlist Hilario Zapata (SD 15)… Six months later, he claimed the title by stopping Zapata (TKO 3)… “The Korean Hawk” built a fearsome reputation, turning back future world champions German Torres (UD 12, MD 12, UD 12), Sot Chitalada (UD 12), Hideyuki Ohashi (TKO 5 and TKO 8) and the heavy-handed Isidro Perez (UD 12).
4 HILARIO ZAPATA
A slick defensive master whose style was a nightmare for all who faced him… He won the WBC title on the road and regularly defended it in Asia and South America… Lost his title in startling fashion to Amado Ursua (KO 2) but beat Ursua’s conqueror Tadashi Tomori (SD 15) to regain his title… After edging Chang in their first encounter (SD 15), weight issues saw him lose in three rounds in the rematch.
5 ROMAN GONZALEZ
Fought at the weight just eight times, but he fit a lot into that time, regularly fighting battle-hardened Mexicans in their backyard… Won the WBA title in 2011 and made four defenses… Hard-fought victory over Juan Francisco Estrada (UD 12) is retrospectively huge and a significant reason why he was able to hold off Yuh and Gushiken for the No. 5 spot.
A Notch Below: Myung Woo Yuh, Yoko Gushiken, Ricardo Lopez
1 RICARDO LOPEZ
The highly technical Mexican assassin is widely regarded as the greatest strawweight of all time. “Finito” holds the division record for longest reign (nine years) and most successful title defenses (21)… Claimed the WBC title with a fifth-round stoppage win over Hideyuki Ohashi in Japan… Beat future 108-pound titleholder Saman Sorjaturong (TKO 2), once-beaten contender Ala Villamor (KO 8) and WBO titlist Alex Sanchez (TKO 5) in a unification bout… The lone blemish on his ledger came against Rosendo Alvarez when the two fought to a blood-splattered eight-round technical draw. Unperturbed, Lopez edged the heavier Alvarez by split decision to win the rematch and add the WBA title to his impressive resume.
2 IVAN CALDERON
The Puerto Rican stylist was a top amateur who represented his country at the 2000 Olympics before embarking on a pro career… “Iron Boy” won the WBO strawweight title in 2003, and over the course of the next four years he made 12 defenses before abdicating his throne and moving up in weight… During his championship tenure, the diminutive southpaw, who was always undersized, showcased his considerable ring craft by soundly outboxing former world titleholders Alex Sanchez (UD 12), Roberto Leyva (UD 12) and Daniel Reyes (UD 12)… Calderon was recognized as one of the best pure boxers of the 2000s.
3 ROMAN GONZALEZ
The Alexis Arguello prodigy took apart Yutaka Niida (TKO 4) to claim the WBA title at just 21… “Chocolatito” made just three defenses before moving up in weight, which doubtlessly hurts his chances of being ranked higher… Bested the tough Francisco Rosas (MD 12) in Mexico, five-time strawweight titlist Katsunari Takayama (UD 12) in Japan, and easily vanquished Ivan Meneses Flores (TKO 4), again in Mexico… The diminutive Nicaraguan went on to become a four-weight world champion, but at 105, before the world got to know him, he was a wonderful boxer-puncher.
4 ROSENDO ALVAREZ
“El Bufalo” edged previously unbeaten Chana Porpaoin (SD 12) in Thailand, a near-impossible feat at the time, for his first world title… Although he made just five successful defenses, the level of opposition was high. He knocked out Kermin Guardia (KO 3) less than two years after the once-beaten Colombian had gone the distance with Lopez. The battle-hardened Alvarez retained his title twice more in Japan and again in Thailand against respectable opposition… Alvarez gave Lopez (TD 8) the toughest fight of the Mexican master’s career… Lost his title on the scales prior to Lopez taking his unbeaten record via split decision in their rematch, but just running Lopez close is a measure of just how good Alvarez was.
5 CHANA PORPAOIN
The Thai boxer impressively won the WBA title from Hideyuki Ohashi (MD 12) in Japan. He was an active titleholder, making eight title defenses over a near-three-year period. In the midst of his title reign, he twice beat the excellent Panamanian Carlos Murillo (UD 12/MD 12)… Lost the title to Alvarez but was able to briefly regain it several years later when, aged 35, he beat Keitaro Hoshino (SD 12) in Japan. Father Time then caught up with him and he lost the belt to Niida in his first defense.
A Notch Below: Ratanapol Sor Vorapin, Wanheng Menayothin, Zolani Petelo
Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected].
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