The top ten super flyweights of all time: no. 10 and no. 9
As Saturday's 'Superfly 2' card headlined by Srisaket Sor Rungvisai vs Juan Francisco Estrada approaches, Kyle McLachlan counts down his choice of the top ten super flyweights of all time - beginning with Naoya Inoue at number ten and Hiroshi Kawashima at number nine...
This coming weekend, the super flyweight division will play host to what is one of the most anticipated match-ups in all of boxing.
Thai powerhouse and WBC kingpin Srisaket Sor Rungvisai will take on the all-round technical wizard - and former flyweight title holder - Juan Francisco Estrada of Mexico, in a clash of styles that should not only provide a meeting of minds but an explosion of violence.
Given that both have already taken some impressive scalps at the weight, a clear win will likely see the victor make a claim for being one of the best ever at the weight.
The 115lbs weight class is not one known for its depth historically, yet it has seen talent pass through that can be put alongside the best of nearly any weight class.
Super fly is sandwiched between two of the sport's most longstanding divisions, flyweight (112lbs) and bantamweight (118lbs). When the division was first created, the WBC claimed it was to benefit those who were too big to drain the necessary poundage to reach the flyweight limit, or too small to reasonably compete against the strongest bantamweights.
With the Oriental and Pacific Boxing Federation having strong ties to the WBC, and Venezuela not yet the home of the rival WBA (who would follow the WBC’s super fly lead in 1981), the first title fight in the division was made between 10-0 Venezuelan bantamweight champion Rafael Orono - coming down three pounds - and 11-2 South Korean flyweight champ Seung-Hoon Lee.
They might not have been the best fighters that could conceivably make the weight class but, in February 1980, they found themselves in a world title fight. The Korean was game, but Orono, big for the weight, proved too strong, and he became the first ever junior bantamweight champion. He ended up a fine champion too, with eight title defences split over two reigns against some very good fighters.
In time, super flyweight would find itself home to more impressive champions than Orono, fighters who gave their best years to the fledgling weight class.
But who really are the best super flyweights of all time? Who beat the best? Who staked their claim as a true divisional great by seeking out the top challenges available?
We start with a fighter still in his prime, who anyone reading this article will likely already be familiar with...
10. Naoya Inoue 15-0 (13 KOs)
It’s always hard for a historian to accurately weigh up a fighter's legacy while he is still active, but the boxer known as ‘Monster’ can only improve on his current standing should he choose to.
While the consensus seems to be that Inoue will move up to bantamweight in search of a third world title, his body of work at super flyweight is already impressive enough to see him snatch the last spot of this top ten.
Jumping two weight classes from light fly - where he was already a world champion - Inoue devastated longtime titlist Omar Narvaez inside two rounds to take the WBO title in December 2014, in one of the more clinical and destructive performances in the division's history.
While his reign has been hampered by inactivity due to hand injuries and a succession of unworthy challengers, Inoue still managed to squeeze in some excellent showings, including stopping former champ Kohei Kono for the first time in his career, to prove himself among the division's elite.
A victory against the winner of the aforementioned super fight between Srisaket and Estrada would surely launch Inoue into the top two or three spots of this list. If he moves up to bantam though, he could be leapfrogged by one of them as they accrue more quality on their own resumes.
9. Hiroshi Kawashima 20-3-1 (14 KOs)
Inoue isn’t the last Japanese champion to feature on this list - and neither will Hiroshi Kawashima be - but this is a super-flyweight champion perhaps more than any other on this list that deserves more notice.
Fighting out of Tokyo, Kawashima was a skilled mid-range operator who overcame a few early career knockout losses to become the lineal champion of super flyweight.
Not only that but he beat a series of quality fighters in a three-year reign.
Ignacio 'Nacho' Beristain charge Jose Luis Bueno was the world champion in 1994 before Kawashima dethroned him in a near flawless performance. A seemingly more focused Bueno showed up for the rematch, but Kawashima had the measure of him.
Kawashima showed his class when he dealt with the tricky Carlos Gabriel Salazar with far less hassle than other top quality operators did. Salazar, an Argentine with boxing ability who knew how to slow the pace down to one he was comfortable with, had given fits to Sot Chitalada - the best flyweight of the '80s - and Sung-Kil Moon, the lineal super-flyweight champ.
Prior to challenging Kawashima he gave a young, undefeated Mexican kid called Marco Antonio Barrera serious troubles over ten rounds in a title eliminator. As Barrera had missed weight Salazar got the title chance instead. He'd later win a quarter of the super flyweight crown, a worthy reward for mixing so well in the upper echelons between 112-115lbs.
Still Salazar was no match for Kawashima, who won a unanimous decision, obliging the Argentine in his preferred range and still landing the better punches in a career-best performance.
Kawashima would keep hold of the title until his seventh defence in February 1997, when he was dethroned by a man who we will hear more about in the next installment of this top ten...