The top ten super flyweights of all time: no. 6 and no. 5
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 Masamori Tokuyama at number six and Khaosai Galaxy at number five...
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 controversial Korean and a formidable Thai...
6. Masamori Tokuyama 32-3-1 (8 KOs)
Born in Japan to North Korean parents, Tokuyama was a controversial figure who didn’t shy away from his roots, and became the first North Korean world boxing champ whilst flying the flag for the DPRK and openly calling for a Unified Korea. His affiliation and travels to the state found him unable to fight in America, where bouts with the likes of Fernando Montiel and Cristian Mijares would’ve bolstered his legacy. It also saw Tokuyama always having home advantage, which depending on how you view his closest fights, may sour some of his greatest victories.
Not that Tokuyama missed out on fighting many of the best around. In-Joo Cho had won the WBC lineal 115lbs title with two very close, ugly and contentious bouts with Gerry Penalosa, yet Tokuyama dispatched him with ease, first by decision then by a clinical one-punch knockout.
The right hand that pasted Cho was not indicative of Tokuyama’s style, but neither is his low knockout percentage. A boxer first, spoiler second, Tokuyama’s offense was relatively basic, with a constant jab supplemented only by a sharp right hand. It was Tokuyama’s ability to adjust, to dictate the terms on which the bout was fought, and his excellent timing with the right that saw him successful in no less than eleven world title fights.
With an array of dirty, spoiling tactics that bring to mind Bernard Hopkins and Andre Ward, Tokuyama managed to make his two fights with fellow top ten super fly Penalosa horrid affairs to watch. Whilst the Filipino's camp protested both decisions, Penalosa conceded that the blame fell on him for not being able to figure out the puzzle that Tokuyama presented.
Tokuyama also demonstrated his ability to bounce back when things weren’t going his own way. Hard punching Katushige Kawashima - whom Tokuyama had already defeated - shocked the division when he flattened Tokuyama inside a round in 2004.
Thirteen months later Tokuyama returned to the ring to win back his title, and retired the following year after defeating U.S Olympian Jose Navarro, taking his title with him and closing the book on the unbroken 24-year title lineage that began with Rafael Orono. Only the debatable scorecards of Tokuyama’s wins over Penalosa make his placement here at number six potentially divisive. Consider them swing rounds in the decision to place him here as we move into the top five.
5. Khaosai Galaxy 47-1 (41 KOs)
Surprised to see the man given the moniker Thai Tyson this far down the list? You
shouldn’t be - although Galaxy was a formidable fighter with true power, his legacy has been somewhat inflated over the years due to his myth spreading in a time before the internet, when boxing magazine prose was powerful enough to build the myth of an all-conquering monster from the Far East.
Not that Khaosai didn’t conquer all he met. It’s just that he didn’t meet everyone he should’ve.
After WBA champ Jiro Watanabe elected to unify with Khaosai’s compatriot Payao Poontarat, the WBA stripped Watanabe - ostensibly the true unified champ of the division - and give the shot to Khaosai.
Khaosai clearly made the title his own, with nineteen challengers turned away over the seven years, sixteen inside the distance. The varying quality of these opponents - and Khaosai’s inability to unify with the excellent fighters who held the WBC title during his reign - are why he’s at number five and not higher.
So why would a paper champion earn a top five ranking in a top ten that aims to reward those for fighting the very best the division had to offer? The simple fact is that Khaosai managed to amass a quality resume despite the knock overs he sometimes faced off with.
He destroyed the tricky Edgar Monserrat in two rounds and prevailed in an exciting shootout with the devastating future WBO bantam champ Israel Contera. He beat down Yong-Kam Kim - former lineal flyweight champ - and got off the deck to turn away the excellent former Muay Thai champion and top ranked 115lb contender Kontoranee Payakaroon.
Perhaps his crowning achievement was beating Indonesian IBF titlist Ellyas Pical away from home. Pical - then IBF champ - did not put his title on the line, but this didn’t dissuade Khaosai from putting on one of the best showings of his career, ending the bout in the fourteenth round.
Khaosai Galaxy’s legacy therefore falls somewhere in the middle of the opinions you tend to hear of him: a heavy-handed bulldozer who didn’t quite prove himself the very best in his division, he did also use the vacant title he picked up to beat as many top fighters as he could. The footage of these title bouts show his offensive prowess was not just empty words from foreign correspondents in boxing publications: his path of destruction was very real.
So how could Khaosai Galaxy have found himself right at the top of this list? The answer to that question would have been a win over another south east Asian monster plying his trade at the same time...