The top ten super flyweights of all time: no. 8 and no. 7
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 Gerry Penalosa at number eight and Vic Darchinyan at number seven...
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 Filipino and an Armenian-born Aussie...
8. Gerry Penalosa 55-8-2 (37 KOs)
Perhaps remembered most for the brutal come-from-behind body shot that put Jhonny Gonzalez down for the count up at bantamweight, Penalosa was in fact at his peak at super flyweight.
Penalosa had some amateur experience, but like many Filipino boxers his main apprenticeship came in the jam-packed domestic scene, where starving fighters scrap it out to prove their supremacy and work their way towards fuller bellies.
Supremely quick of hand, Penalosa threw every punch straight out of the textbook. A tremendous combination puncher, he didn't throw aimless flurries designed to catch the eye, he threw sharp and accurate punches designed to bust the eye socket, or break a rib, and quickly found himself in a position to fight the ninth-ranked fighter on this list, Hiroshi Kawashima, then making the seventh defence of his title in February 1997.
Penalosa, 35-1-1 but with only one or two notable wins to his name, was unheralded in Kawashima's homeland. He wouldn’t be once the 12 rounds were up.
In many ways these two were mirror images of each other. Both southpaws, they did their best work at mid-range, could counter even the smartest of operators, and mixed up their work from head to body fluently.
A closely contested bout with a clear winner, the split decision rendered was surely due to the fact it took place in the champion's homeland. Penalosa was now the WBC champion, although close decisions away from home would hamper his chances of putting together a lengthy championship reign.
Footage of his losses shows that Penalosa was never decisively beaten at super flyweight, and with numerous wins over ranked contenders and former title challengers, his championship record of 3-4-1 at 115lbs is not indicative of his class.
No less a figure than Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach, who has seen it all over the years having had ring legends such as James Toney, Manny Pacquiao, Oscar De La Hoya and Mike Tyson under his tutelage at various times, once said: "Technically, he [Penalosa] is one of the best, even better than Manny."
7. Vic Darchinyan 43-9-1 (32 KOs)
For a while in the mid-2000s it seemed that Vic Darchinyan would be mainly remembered for being knocked out by Nonito Donaire, who relieved him not only of his senses but his IBF and IBO flyweight titles.
But Darchinyan put those thoughts to rest with a truly terrifying run through the best that super flyweight had to offer.
For those hanging around message boards towards the end of the new millennium's first decade, there was one super flyweight bout on everyone’s Christmas wishlist: WBA and WBC champ Cristian Mijares squaring off with WBO champ Fernando Montiel.
Such was Mijares’ standing at the time of his unification bout with Darchinyan - who had pulverised Dimitry Kirilov in five rounds to take the IBF portion of the 115lbs crown - that it was seen as a routine contest by many, just a stopgap before the inevitable four-belt unification between opposing Mexican stylists.
Darchinyan hadn’t read the script, flattening the relaxed and almost cocky Mijares in the first round before systematically breaking him down over nine rounds with a discipline that belied his reputation as a free swinging wild man, unifying the titles and booting Mijares from the upper tier of the pound-for-pound lists.
Darchinyan’s bullish style and near unrivalled strength at super fly would diminish somewhat when he moved up in search of bigger fish to feast on, but with wins over battle worn banger Jorge Arce, tricky Tomas Rojas and gutsy Rodrigo Guerrero - as well as being the first at the weight to hold three world title belts - the Armenian-born Australian slugger proved himself one of the best super flys of all time.