One could make an argument that there has been a portion of Boxing’s seventeen weight classes that for one reason or another struggles for mainstream recognition here in the United States, despite consistently producing memorable battles and dominant world champions through various eras that were as deserving of mainstream recognition as other fighters who compete in other weight classes. This observer is referring to the sport’s lower weight divisions. To be specific, the weight classes ranging from the 105lb. Minimumweight (Formally known as Strawweight) division to the 122lb. Jr. Featherweight division.
While yours truly can spend hours upon hours discussing the great fighters that have competed in these weight classes through the years and keeping in mind that the Jr. Featherweights usually receive more attention as compared to the weight classes below 122lbs., usually exposure comes for those weight classes when a fighter or group of fighters come along and provide the type of fights and performances that turn heads and force not only Boxing fans here in America, but more importantly television networks to take notice. While for the purposes of this column and more specifically it's length, I will not dive too deep into the history of these divisions, most knowledgeable Boxing fans are likely familiar with the careers of Michael Carbajai, Ricardo Lopez, Jorge Arce, and Humberto Gonzalez, to name a few that all served as focal points of the lower weight divisions during their careers and in the process, were able to bring their divisions much needed exposure here in America thanks to their crowd pleasing styles.
Although an argument can be made that the advent of streaming has largely improved the issue of exposure for the lower weight classes, like all divisions, exposure will always be driven by fighters with crowd pleasing styles. One such fighter in the present era of Boxing’s lighter weights that has served as a focal point has been Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, who has taken part in several memorable battles in recent years with the likes of Roman Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada among others.
After fifty-six professional fights over the course of a thirteen year career, the former WBC Jr. Bantamweight world champion Sor Rungvisai found himself in position to challenge once again for a world championship as he faced undefeated current WBC interim champion Jesse Rodriguez on June 25th in Rodriguez’ hometown of San Antonio, TX at the Tech Port Arena.
Although this fight had an obvious storyline of youth versus experience in the twenty-two year old Rodriguez facing the thirty -five year old Sor Rungvisai, the styles of the two fighters, which are come forward all-action, had the makings on paper of what might have been a Fight of the Year candidate in the eyes of some going into the bout. What occurred instead might ultimately be regarded as the beginning of a new era in Boxing’s lower weight classes.
From the opening bell the fight followed a pattern. Rodriguez using angles, throwing punches, and often landing in combination. Sor Rungvisai would occasionally land some punches, but generally, it was a fight that saw him on the receiving end more so than he was the one dishing out punishment. As I watched this fight, I had flashbacks of a fight I saw back in 1997 that I was not fortunate enough to cover. The Jr. Featherweight world title bout between a young Erik Morales and an aging champion at the time Daniel Zaragoza. What was similar between the two bouts was much like Rodriguez, Morales at that time was the young fighter coming into his own going against a more experienced world champion in Zaragoza.
Beyond that similarity, the other main similarity that was almost like seeing that fight all over again in some respects was despite Zaragoza’s will and mettle, on that night in what turned out to be the final fight in a seventeen year career and sixty-six professional fights, he was outgunned and ultimately stopped by Morales in eleven rounds. Much like what Morales had done to Zaragoza, Jesse Rodriguez gradually administered a beating to Sor Rungvisai. Anything that Sor Rungvisai was able to land, Rodriguez immediately had an answer for. Rodriguez would score a knockdown of Sor Rungvisai in the seventh round and would finish the fight with an unanswered flurry of punches in the eighth round.
A truly dominant performance that may indeed as it was back in 1997 in regard to the Zaragoza-Morales bout, serve as an unofficial passing of the torch between a fighter that served as a central figure for the lower weight classes for several years to a fighter that may be Boxing’s next big star. While it is easy to get on the hype bandwagon after a performance as the one Jesse Rodriguez produced in this fight, the commonality between this performance and all the fighters from the past that have been mentioned in this column is that it turned heads and should make people take notice.
Now the obvious question is what is next for Rodriguez? It is important to point out that he currently holds an interim championship designation in the WBC’s Jr. Bantamweight ratings, which could result in him facing current unified WBC/WBA champion Juan Francisco Estrada. Estrada however, has been deemed a “Franchise” champion by the WBC per his being a unified champion and appears to be heading towards a bout with WBA number one contender Joshua Franco. The WBC has said that it will strip Estrada if he does indeed opt to face Franco next, which would mean that Rodriguez would then be made full WBC champion.
The political aspects of the sport aside, it seems obvious that Rodriguez will likely wait to see what happens with regard to the WBC world championship at 115lbs. before deciding what his next move will be. After a star-making performance in stopping Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, the momentum is in his favor and whomever he fights next will likely carry with it a significant financial incentive for him.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
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