The top ten super flyweights of all time: no. 4 and no. 3
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 - continuing today with Sung Kil Moon at number four and Johnny Tapia at number three...
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 continue today's countdown with a Korean dynamo and an American whose out of the ring problems often overshadowed his pugilistic exploits...
4. Sung Kil Moon 20-2 (15 KOs)
Picture a multiple amateur medalist, an Olympian and World Amateur Championship gold medalist. You’ll probably envision a fighter of some sophistication, even if your first thought is that of an offensively minded fighter.
Sung Kil Moon reached the pinnacle of the unpaid ranks with no silky skills to boast of. He was a force of nature, with a chin filled with cement and sandbags for fists his a transition to the top of the pro game was as simple as taking off his vest and head guard.
Perhaps the closest comparison in this regard would be to George Foreman, a fighter similarly gifted at dishing out pain with little more than brute strength and otherworldly power.
Moon’s ascension to world title level was swift but at a weight above the one we are discussing, winning the WBA bantamweight title against Khaosai Galaxy’s win brother Khaokor in seven fights after a clash of heads sent the bout to the scorecards early. After two successful defences, Moon had the title battered off his waist in a return match with Khaokor, in a one-sided drubbing that showed up not just Moon’s lack of versatility but also the Korean’s unparalleled ability to absorb punishment.
The loss only made him more fearsome. To the likely chagrin of the division below, it convinced Moon to pursue further title opportunities at super flyweight, which only made his strength and power more apparent.
Unbeaten Ghanaian champion Nana Konadu was coming off the best win of his eighteen-fight career, having eviscerated legendary champion Gilberto Roman by scoring multiple knockdowns en route to a wide decision victory. Konadu was of the more sophisticated variety of offensive fighter, a skilled boxer-puncher who had shown himself able to go tit for tat with one of the more skilled boxers of the era.
In a classic battle the two juggernauts traded knockdowns before Moon’s gung-ho style brought about another premature ending due to a clash of heads. Just as he had against Khaokor Galaxy first time around, Moon came out the winner, and proved his superiority over Konadu in a terrifying battering a year later that saw Konadu surrender, unable to stave off Moon’s Neanderthal slugging.
Moon made nine defences of the WBC (lineal) title - including a drubbing of the aforementioned Roman - but found technically astute fighters more difficult to overwhelm. Small and tricky Greg Richardson, durable and versatile Carlos Gabriel Salazar and well-schooled Jose Luis Bueno all gave him trouble, with the latter relieving Moon of his title and sending him into retirement.
Despite his limitations, you will find no one else in this list scarier. Like those preceding him in this top ten, Moon was not a perfect fighter, but with the legitimate title fights he won - and with the quality of fighters he beat - he can be no lower than fourth.
3. Johnny Tapia 59-5-2 (30 KOs)
Johnny Tapia’s tragic private life is so hard to separate from his boxing career that his in-ring achievements sometimes get clouded.
Not surprising when his chosen ring moniker - ’Mi Vida Loca’ - directly references his crazy life, and his personal problems outside the ring saw him lose three of his prime years due to a positive drug test.
But what of Johnny Tapia the fighter? Or more importantly, Johnny Tapia the super flyweight?
With the looks of a brawler, to those that have only heard the story and not watched the fights it may be a surprise when Tapia is revealed as a boxer. A top-class amateur who once won the National Golden Gloves championship, Tapia was blessed with lightning fast hands and a cultured style that belied his battered nose and scar-tissue-covered face.
This is because that life, those experiences, that personality, did directly influence his boxing.
A blistering combination puncher with the ability to box at length as well as fight on the inside, Tapia often let his emotions choose the game plan rather than his brain, taking the fight to his opponents like they were his worst enemy, treating any bending of the rules from his opposite as an invitation to start a street fight.
Early on in his pro career Tapia picked up an impressive victory - with the benefit of hindsight at least - over John Michael Johnson, future bantamweight champ and spoiler of Junior Jones’ perfect record.
Continuing in similarly impressive form, Tapia won the USBA super flyweight title, defending against some not insignificant fighters including future European champ and world title challenger Luigi Camputaro and former Mexican super fly champ Jose Montiel.
Natural progression to world level was put on hold due to the aforementioned suspension (for cocaine use) and after a hiatus of over three years anyone would have been forgiven for assuming Tapia’s days of top level boxing were over.
But he hadn’t even gotten started.
From March 1994 to October of the same year, Tapia fought six times, raising his level of opposition with each fight, winning back the USBA title he’d been stripped of years before, and punishing Salvadorian Olympian Henry Martinez to win the vacant WBO super flyweight title in an excellent peformance, capping off an extraordinary run that took him from a rusty former hot prospect to world titlist in seven months.
Eleven title defences in the next two years (not including several over the weight non-title bouts) saw Tapia improve his record to 40-0-2, but the fact is that the best you could describe these challengers as is 'varying in quality', with some bearing the hallmarks of many poor WBO challengers. The talented Arthur Johnson was the best Tapia faced in this period and he arguably beat him, matching his long range boxing skills and holding his own on the inside.
But Tapia transcended the WBO title, and it was in the rare local derby that took place at the highest level of the sport that Tapia proved himself as a fighter worthy of a placing as high as this.
Tapia’s tragic childhood is well documented; with no father figure around, his mother murdered when he was still in single digits and a sometimes abusive family that forced him to fight for their own gain. Tapia turned to boxing to channel this pain into something, and found he had a gift for sending that pain back twofold.
Danny Romero’s upbringing was the opposite, from a stable home with a boxing mad father who forced the gloves on his kid aged five. Romero took to the ring like a duck to water. Handsome and unmarked, Romero looked like a stylist, but he fought in an aggressive, 'kill or be killed' fashion.
Albuquerque’s favourite sons were not necessarily always on a collision course. As a young boy, Tapia had even been trained at times by Danny Romero Sr, his future rival's father. On the undercard of Tapia’s first world title bout with Henry Martinez, Romero won the USBA 115lbs title Tapia had relinquished, though Romero dropped the same belt to move down to flyweight, winning the IBF strap and making a bout with Tapia unlikely.
Losing the belt in his second defence due to a freak injury sent Romero back to the drawing board. Meanwhile Tapia cleaned up his conqueror - Mexican journeyman Willy Salazar - and looked leagues ahead of the young puncher he once shared the gym with.
Romero however, was undaunted. Back up in Tapia’s domain, he obliterated the talented Harold Grey in two rounds to win the IBF super flyweight belt, thrusting himself back into the limelight. Two defences (and two stoppages) followed, and the stage was set for a cross town unification with such fervent support that the fight was staged in Las Vegas lest the locals cause carnage.
Heavy handed Romero predicted a third-round knockout, but Tapia was impossible to intimidate.
He told HBO, “He can’t knock me out. I’ve been through two many things already."
Tapia, quick to embrace the emotional against strangers, picked the fight with the most emotion involved to paint his masterpiece. Disciplined but not rigid, defensively flawless but not shy, a showman but not showy, Tapia was a clear winner at the end of 12 rounds, and added the IBF title to his mantelpiece.
Tapia would go on to win titles in two more weight classes, and is perhaps best known to fans for his bout with modern great Marco Antonio Barrera, if not the numerous articles and documentaries about his troubled life, which ended far too soon at the age of 45.
What’s most remarkable about Tapia’s story is what he did in the ring though. And he was never better than he was in his prime at super flyweight.