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Road To Undisputed #3: Flyweights

junto nakatani

Welcome to “Road To Undisputed,” a brand new series where I look at every weight class in boxing, look at the champions and contenders and map out a road to crowning an undisputed champion and the chances of it happening anytime soon.

This week, we’ll take a look at the constantly-shifting flyweight division, whose group of champions is often considered one of the best in the sport’s lower weights.


Titleholders:

  • WBC: Julio Cesar Martinez
  • WBA: Artem Dalakian
  • IBF: Moruti Mthalane
  • WBO: Junto Nakatani

Contenders:

  • Giemel Magramo
  • Angel Acosta
  • Wulan Tuolehazi
  • Cristofer Rosales
  • Andrew Selby
  • Luis Concepcion
  • McWilliams Arroyo
  • Sunny Edwards

Current Outlook:

This week’s piece is written moments after Junto Nakatani turned in a star-making performance by knocking out Giemel Magramo at Tokyo’s Korakuen Hall to win the WBO title. This completes the division’s quartet of champions which was previously incomplete after the departure of former WBO champion Kosei Tanaka.

Onto the current champions. Nakatani is the new face on the block, possessing one of the most complete skillsets for a boxer in the lower weight classes so young in his career. Nakatani has already staked his claim as the division’s best with two very impressive wins inside the distance against Magramo and former world champion Milan Melindo in his last fight.

As far as the other champions, Julio Cesar Martinez is the other one that has perhaps the best case for No. 1 fighter at 112 pounds. Martinez hasn’t simply been winning fights as the WBC champion, he’s been absolutely dominant. The Mexican star, who firmly believes he is one of the country’s best (and has proven as such), has been breaking opponents’ will and body with his terrifying power alone. With wins over Jay Harris and former champion Cristofer Rosales (plus a no contest against Charlie Edwards that was heading towards a KO win for Martinez had he not hit Edwards while he was on the canvas), Martinez has one of the better resumes among the champions.

Then there’s Moruti Mthalane, the South African IBF titleholder who continues to defy his age. At 38 years old, Mthalane has provided great fight after great fight against a myriad of contenders like Masayuki Kuroda and Muhammad Waseem and former world champions such as Akira Yaegashi. One of the more impressive things about Mthalane’s title reign is that all of his title defenses have taken place outside of his home country of South Africa.

Lastly, Artem Dalakian holds the WBA title but his title reign can be best described as forgettable. There’s no question that Dalakian is very talented and one of the best at 112 pounds. However, the list of opponents he’s had has been downright dreadful. Since winning the title against Brian Viloria in 2018, Dalakian has defended his belt four times. Those title defenses were Sirichai Thaiyen, Gregorio Lebron, Sarawut Thawornkham and Josber Perez. Not one of those fighters would land in the top 50 of fighters at 112 pounds on most people’s lists. While all of Mthalane’s title defenses have come on the road, Dalakian has been defending his title in his home country in Ukraine, which is probably why he’s not getting big fights at the moment. That’s not to dismiss Dalakian, but his title reign has easily been the most lackluster one in the division.

What will it take to get an undisputed champion?

Some of the champions have shown a willingness to travel for big fights such as Martinez and Mthalane. It’s hard to tell what Nakatani’s future holds for him, but it’s possible an early defense will be against former light flyweight champion Angel Acosta. Since all of these champions come from different parts of the world, travel will be especially difficult.

Even without travel restrictions, there’s still the issue of Dalakian remaining in Ukraine during his title reign. I find it unlikely for any champion to fight Dalakian in Ukraine. As such, it will take him going to where the other champions are.

Martinez has expressed interest in potentially unifying titles. A fight against Mthalane or Nakatani would be fantastic given their fan friendly styles, but travelling is very difficult. By the time global travel restrictions are lifted, the title scene could be very different. Martinez could decide to move up to super flyweight, Mthalane might be thinking about retirement and Dalakian’s title reign could still be in limbo. The only one that could still be a champion at flyweight by this next year is Nakatani. However, this is only because he just started his world title reign.

More than anything, the pandemic is what will prevent any chance of any unification fight happening soon. In addition, the division has seen plenty of changes in recent years. Just 12 months ago, Tanaka held the WBO title and there was no WBC champion at the time. The lack of stability of some of the titles could also be a reason for the lack of unifications in past years.

I would still feel optimistic about the future of the division. Next year is still too soon to get any unifications done, but early 2022 sounds more reasonable.

Chances of there being a minimumweight champion in the next 18 months: 10%

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