Premium Feature Issue

Analysis: The strawweight division

strawweight Wanheng Menayothin
Our series breaking down the finest fighters on the planet culminates in the world’s smallest weight class, writes John Dennen

10. Leyman Benavides (NIC)
Record:
17-6-1 (3) Age: 27
One of many Nicaraguan fighers that populate the lighter weight classes. Benavides has floated around light-flyweight in his career, moving up and down between the divisions. His last defeat came in 2017, losing inside the distance to Gilberto Parra in the weight class above. But he bounced back from that, dropping down to strawweight to hand Wilfredo Mendez a first lost. He only boxed once last year but has already got a fight in in 2020, outpointing Carlos Ortega over 12 rounds in Panama City.

STRENGTHS: His jerky, active style sees him bustle forward in a way that can be hard to contain.

WEAKNESSES: He can jab weakly and leave his right arm out after throwing his cross, inviting a counter-punch.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Wilfredo Mendez might have brought him in to lose, but Benavides had other ideas.

WORST PERFORMANCE: If his early career losses can be forgiven, a crushing stoppage loss to Parra in 2017 was punishing.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: Leyman Benavidez highlights are not in huge demand but you can watch him leave Mendez badly bruised and battered in a rough fight.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Clearly this is a fluid division, a rematch with Mendez could see Benavides shoot up the ranking but he is certainly beatable.

9. Ginjiro Shigeoka (JPN)
Record:
5-0 (4) Age: 20
Shigeoka started out with karate before a successful amateur boxing career in Japan. However he did not pursue amateur progress and attempt to qualify for Tokyo 2020. Instead he turned pro. The young Japanese fighter is only 20 years old and a mere five fights into his professional career. He’s never fought outside of his home country but also has never fought an opponent with a losing record. In December he knocked out the vastly more experienced Rey Loreto, the Filipino with two inside the distance wins over Nkosinathi Joyi on his ledger.

STRENGTHS: The southpaw can let his hands fly with some power.

WEAKNESSES: He is inexperienced at professional level but clearly prepared to move quickly.

BEST PERFORMANCE: His biggest win so far has been his most recent, taking out the solid and sturdy Rey Loreto in December. Loreto went down for the count in the fifth round.

WORST PERFORMANCE: He could not find the punches to stop Joel Lino last year, winning a decision over eight rounds.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: He melts Clyde Azarcon with a left cross to the body in little more than a minute.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He has tremendous potential but needs to be tested over 12 rounds.

8. Joey Canoy (PHL)
Record:
15-4-1 (8) Age: 27
The Filipino has losses dotted throughout his record. Most recently in December he lost a 12 round decision to Nkosinathi Joyi in South Africa. Indeed he has not good luck in South Africa. When boxing Simpiwe Konkco in East London, Canoy did put him down in the second round and looked to be on his way to victory, only for a cut to Konkco to bring the bout to an end in the fourth round and make the result a no contest. In 2017 he was in South Africa again, retiring after seven rounds with Hekkie Budler in Kempton Park. He remains in search of that breakthrough victory.

STRENGTHS: Fully commits to his left hook, which can land with an impact.

WEAKNESSES: The southpaw’s jab is hesitant at times and ponderous footwork leaves him vulnerable.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Canoy beat Melvin Jerusalem immediately after the latter had come away from a creditable world title challenge against Wanheng Meenayothin.

WORST PERFORMANCE: When countryman Jesse Espinas halted him it was Canoy’s first stoppage loss.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: His 10 rounder with Melvin Jerusalem is available in full.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Joyi’s domination of him suggests Canoy won’t be able to rise any further.

7. Nkosinathi Joyi (RSA)
Record: 29-5-1 Age: 37
The veteran proved he was not over the hill with his clear victory over Joey Canoy in his last outing, a unanimous decision win in December. That certainly restored his place in the world standings. He is a former champion, having won the IBF strawweight crown all the way back in 2010. He reigned for two years, losing the belt by knockout to Mario Rodriguez in Mexico in 2012. Since then defeats have dotted his record, including back to back knockout losses to Rey Loreto and a points reverse to Simpiwe Konkco. He might be on borrowed time, but he can still have an impact.

STRENGTHS: A sharp southpaw who looks commanding when he lets his combination punching flow.

WEAKNESSES: His chin lets him down. Rey Loreto for instance brutally exposed that when putting him away.

BEST PERFORMANCE: He defended his world title from future champion Katsunari Takayama in 2012.

WORST PERFORMANCE: In his rematch with Rey Loreto in South Afric, Joyi was floored and knocked out in the first round.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: There is little decent footage of him, but nevertheless watching Loreto hammer him into the canvas is mesmerising.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Age is not on the 37-year-old’s side.

6. Pedro Taduran (PHL)
Record:
14-2-1 (11) Age: 23
When he was just 22 years old Filipino Pedro Taduran became a world champion, at his second attempt. He won the IBF title last year when he forced the retirement of the previously unbeaten Samuel Salva, despite suffering a first-round knockdown himself. This was the first all-Filipiino world title fight in the Philippines since Pancho Villa boxed Clever Sencio in 1925. Taduran took his championship on the road this year, going to Mexico in February where he retained the belt after a cut to Daniel Valladares from an accidental head clash in the fourth round rendered the contest a technical draw.

STRENGTHS: His ferocity and determined work rate are hard to contain.

WEAKNESSES: Wild and inaccurate before he finds his rhythm, he can be dropped.

BEST PERFORMANCE: His frenetic bout with Samuel Salva.

WORST PERFORMANCE: He slipped up, losing a split decision to Joel Lino, then just 2-0, in 2016.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: He can be compared to one of the division leaders in his 12 round bout with Wanheng Meenayothin.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He lost his first world title fight to Meenayothin in Thailand but that doesn’t mean his rise can’t continue.

5. Byron Rojas (NIC)
Record:
27-4-3 (11) Age: 30
Fighting mostly in Nicaragua, he overcome a rash of losses and draws in the early years of his career to advance. In 2016 he boxed overseas for the first time, beating Hekkie Budler in South Africa in a WBA strawweight title fight. He lost his next fight though. In Thailand Knockout CP Freshmart beat him over the course of 12 rounds to become the WBA champion. After that Rojas racked up eight consecutive victories before rematching Freshmart again in 2018. But he could not change the result losing another unanimous decision. Unbeaten since then, Rojas fought three times in Nicaragua in 2019 and will hope to be able to launch another world title challenge.

STRENGTHS: Has a sharp countering left hook as he takes a deliberate, methodical approach.

WEAKNESSES: Opens up his defences as he throws wide-armed shots.

BEST PERFORMANCE: He was the underdog when he overcame Hekkie Budler in Kempton Park.

WORST PERFORMANCE: A split decision loss over six rounds to Luis Rios was an unimpressive result, which Rojas later avenged.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: Highlights of his triumph over Budler are available.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? It might be hard for him to break into the world top three.

4. Vic Saludar (PHL)
Record:
20-4 (11) Age: 29
Saludar was a successful international amateur. His third pro fight went all wrong, he broke his hand before having to retire on his stool against the unremarkable Powell Balaba, a result he would eventually avenge. Saludar first challenged for a world title in 2015. He built up a healthy lead on the scorecards only for Kosei Tanaka to knock him out in the sixth round. His next visit to Japan was more successful. He won the WBO’s minimumweight crown again Ryuya Yamanaka and defended his title from Masataka Taniguchi last year. But in August Wilfredo Mendez outpointed him in Puerto Rico, leaving Saludar 2-2 in world title fights.

STRENGTHS: With vicious instincts he waits, ready to fire in crisp crosses and left hooks.

WEAKNESSES: Dropping his hands after punching is risky, but he relies on his footwork and positioning to escape from trouble.

BEST PERFORMANCE: He dropped Yamanaka on his way to winning a unanimous decision and the WBO world title in Kobe.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Saludar succumbed to Toto Landero on a split decision.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: Kosei Tanaka undoes all Saludar’s good work with a tremendous left hook to the body.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He will remain a world title contender.

Vic Saludar strawweight

3. Wilfredo Mendez (PRI)
Record:
16-1 (6) Age: 23
The young Puerto Rican only won the WBO world title last August. He’s already made two successful defences, taking a technical decision win over Axel Aragon Vega before stopping Gabriel Mendoza in Panama. He remains Puerto Rico’s only currently reigning men’s world champion, a notable mantle, and will be looking at unification clashes with the other world titlists.

STRENGTHS: Moves well and is evasive with good head movement and footwork.

WEAKNESSES: He can be hurt and ground down.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Overcoming Vic Saludar was key for him. He relied on his skills and did not unravel when Saludar dropped him. Mendez won the unanimous decision after 12 rounds.

WORST PERFORMANCE: He suffered a wake up call against Leyman Benavides, losing clearly on points in March 2018.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: He drops Janiel Rivera with a savage lead hook, though does not put him away and is taken 10 rounds.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? His future is certainly bright, but a rematch with Benavides would answer a lot of questions.

2. Wanheng Meenayothin (THA)
Record:
54-0 (18) Age: 34
The man with the best record in boxing. The Thai fighter eclipsed Floyd Mayweather’s landmark 50-0 record when he beat Pedro Taduran in 2018. He racked up three more victories, most recently beating Simpiwe Konkco on a unanimous decision in what was his 13th WBC title fight, a belt he’s held since 2014. Earlier this year he floated his own retirement, before rowing back and saying that he would not in fact walk away from the sport. He may have bettered Mayweather’s record, but he would need to remain undefeated for the rest of his career to maintain that place in history.

STRENGTHS: He varies his combination attacks to the head and body well, using quick jabs to break up an opponent’s defence and backs them up with a firm cross and a whipping left hook.

WEAKNESSES: Not a noted power puncher, with only 18 inside schedule wins.

BEST PERFORMANCE: His record breaking bout with Taduran.

WORST PERFORMANCE: A meaningless contest against journeyman Jack Amisa.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The manner in which he blasts Leeroy Estrada to defeat him.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? The comparisons with Mayweather don’t extend beyond his record number of career wins but Meenayothin should be able to keep adding to that tally.

Wanheng Meenayothin

1. Knockout CP Freshmart (THA)
Record:
21-0 (7) Age: 29
Born Thammanoon Niyomtron, he is sponsored by convenience store chain CP Freshmart and is now known as Knockout CP Freshmart. Impressively unbeaten in 21 fights, he first won a WBA Interim title in 2014. For the full title he beat Byron Rojas in 2016 to ascend to world level. In his run of defences he’s also scalped Rey Loreto, beaten Rojas a second time, travelled to China to defeat Chaozhong Xiong and most recently in March of this year he handed Norihito Tanaka a unanimous points loss.

STRENGTHS: He presses forward with clattering flurries of hooks and he is an effective body puncher.

WEAKNESSES: Has a propensity to get dragged into boring fights.

BEST PERFORMANCE: He had to rally to wear down Rey Loreto, dropping the Filipino in the ninth round to make sure of a unanimous decision.

WORST PERFORMANCE: His win over Chaozhong Xiong was not a thriller.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: He slugs Go Odaira off his feet in the fourth round before stopping him in five, a cruel left hook setting up the finishing cross.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He can solidify his position and deserves a chance to unify titles.

Boxing news – Newsletter

Current Issue