By Teodoro Medina Reynoso
To many boxing observers, the surprisingly massive fan interest in two recent fights, one in the super flyweight marking the passing of the old year and the other in the lightweight ushering the new year, could be sending a message—and warning.
On New Year’s Eve, WBO super flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka defended his crown for the second time against fellow Japanese emerging star Kosei Tanaka in Tokyo in a fight that was avidly followed live on cable TV and through the internet in the USA, Europe and Latin America.
A day after New Year, rising American sensation Ryan Garcia got off from a second round knockdown to knockout highly rated British contender Luke Campbell in the seventh round to win the WBC interim lightweight championship in a fight that was also followed as enthusiastically by a limited live arena crowd as well on cable and online.
To not a few pundits, this is indicative that fans are ready to shift their attention and allegiance to divisions other than the traditional flagship divisions as the heavyweight, middleweight and most particularly, welterweight class which marquee champions have for long refused to fight each other.
This early, fans are looking forward to the WBC-WBA super flyweight unification fight between Nicaragua’s Roman Gonzales and Mexico’s Juan Francisco Estrada on March 30 which will be a rematch of their light flyweight bout narrowly won by Gonzales nearly ten years ago.
There is also mounting interest for the fight between Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt and Oscar Valdez of the US for the WBC super-featherweight championship set earlier in March.
With pound for pound king Canelo Alvarez moving up to the super middleweights leaving his middleweight titles vacant, attention could also be generated for the IBF super middleweight title fight between Caleb Plant and Caleb Truax as the winner could be Canelo’s next foe.
With his established reputation as boxing’s biggest draw and pound for pound best enhanced by his convincing WBA, WBC and Ring Magazine super middleweight title victory over Calum Smith late last year, Canelo’s saga to unify all belts at 168 lbs will surely be followed by his boxing faithful this 2021.
Of course, Kingry Garcia’s latest victory coming at the heels of Teofimo Lopez’s Fighter of the Year multi lightweight titles win over erstwhile pound for pound topnotch Vasily Lomachenko and the rise of Devin Haney and Gervonta Tank Davis has made the lightweights as the new center of attention and attraction.
The smashing comeback and come from behind KO win of Japanese Masayosi Nakatani (who gave Teo Lopez his hardest fight) over Puerto Rico’s Felix Verdejo only serve to reinforce that.
All these could only have the effect of putting pressure on the traditional banner divisions, the heavies, the middle and the welters, to come up with fights that fans have long been asking to see, particularly between or among their big name champions.
The heavyweight seems to be responding to the long clamor as obstacles are now being removed to pave the way for the unification bout between champions Tyson Fury (WBC/Ring) and Anthony Joshua (WBA, WBO, IBF) by the middle of the year.
The possible next in line opponents/ title challengers against the winner are also being prepared with the scheduled rematch between Alexander Povetkin of Russia and Dillian Whyte of the UK with the WBC interim title at stake.
Interest in the middleweight is also seen to rise despite Canelo’s departure as the likelihood of Kazakh Gennady Golovkin and American Jermall Charlo meeting to establish or reestablish supremacy in the division has increased. With Demetrius BooBoo Andrade and Japan’s Ryota Murata waiting on the wings.
But things are not likely to move and change to the liking of the fans in the welterweights as unification much less fight for supremacy in the division is as farther as ever.
WBC/IBF champion Errol Spence has made it known that he is not interested in any fight with WBO titlist Terrence Crawford. He also said that any fight versus WBA super titlist Manny Pacquiao is entirely up to the Filipino, meaning to say he will not pursue any ring meeting if Pacquiao will not be willing to fight him.
Spence has recently defended his titles against Danny Garcia, an ex WBC titlist.
Crawford, through his Top Rank Promoter Bob Arum has claimed that a fight versus Pacquiao was allegedly in the works in a Middle East country until the Covid 19 pandemic got in the way. He and Arum said that they are keen in pursuing the fight with the agreement of Manny pending renewed support from the Middle East financier. But Pacquiao has neither confirmed nor denied such claim from the Crawford camp.
Last heard, Crawford may settle for former champion Shawn Porter, who with Danny Garcia has already made the rounds of champions from Kell Brook, Thurman and Spence with the exception of Crawford and Pacquiao. Oh no, not Porter again.
Pacquiao for his part has been ambivalent about fighting both or any of Spence and/or Crawford since winning the WBA super belt from Keith Thurman though publicly in many occasions he has expressed readiness to face any of them.
Pacquiao plans to fight twice this year to make up for his inactivity last year due to the pandemic and his Congressional duties. But words from his camp seems to suggest that he favors fights versus UFC star Conor McGregor and any of Mikey Garcia or Danny Garcia or rematch with Thurman.
The consensus is that Pacquiao holds the key to any big money fight involving him against any of his co champions Spence and Crawford. But Manny seems uninterested or noncommittal.
The best option for the division legacy wise however is a fight between Spence and Crawford as they are regarded as the top two welterweights around as also attested by their pound for pound ranking.
But Spence would not want to fight Crawford.
And Manny is noncommittal to a fight against any of the two.
The three kings of the 80s, Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns and Roberto Duran fought each other and that put the welterweights not just at par but even above the heavyweights at the time.
But the three current welterweight “kings” refuse to even commit to fight each other.
The writing is on the wall that boxing fans are getting impatient and angry they may soon consign the division to the dustbin of irrelevance.