Bantamweight and Featherweight, New Pinoy Niche Weight Classes?
By Teodoro Medina Reynoso
Thu, 14 Nov 2019
Casimero (L) and Tapales lead Pinoys at top of bantam and feather weights.
The bantamweight is a class in boxing for boxers who weigh above 115 pounds and up to 118 pounds . The weight class takes its name from bantam, a particularly feisty kind of chicken originally from the town of Bantam in the Indonesian island of Java.
The featherweight on the other hand used to be the intermediate weight class between the bantamweight and lightweight for boxers weighing above 122 pounds and up to 126 pounds. That was before the introduction of the junior, latter denoted as super divisions as the junior featherweight or super bantamweight and junior lightweight or super featherweight, divisions.
Apart from Nonito Donaire, Jr. who reigned for a second time as world bantamweight titlist until losing to Naoya Inoue in the World Boxing Super Series recently in Saitama, Japan, three other Filipinos are still currently in the thick of the fight for supremacy in the 118 lbs weight class.
There's former world light flyweight and flyweight titleholder Johnriel Casimero on whose shoulders rest the fate of the Philippines world title campaign this November after the Donaire loss and the Jerwin Ancajas fight cancellation as he takes on WBO regular world belt holder Zolani Tete of South Africa in Manchester, UK this November 30. Casimero is current WBO interim world champion.
Then there's former IBO world bantamweight champion and current IBF mandatory challenger Michael Dasmarinas who is among those being considered as the possible next opponents for unified WBA and IBF as well as Ring Magazine champion Monster Naoya Inoue when he returns to the ring next year.
And there's the undefeated former WBA bantamweight interim titlist Reymart Gaballo who inflected the first to defeat American Stephon Young before Young faced Donaire as a late substitute in the WBSS semifinals and got knocked out.
Counting Nonito, that's four Pinoys still in contention in one of the most talented and loaded weight divisions in boxing today.
Meanwhile, less than ten pounds north of the bantamweight division, five other Pinoy fighters are girding and bidding to bring more world titles and glory for the country. This campaign is being led by former WBO bantamweight titlist Marlon Tapales who with Genesis Servania and Albert Pagara are rated highly in both the super bantamweight (122 lbs) and the featherweight divisions. There's also the promising duo of Jhack Tepora and Mark Magsayo who have already won titles as WBA interim and WBO inter continental champions in the featherweight class.
With a total of nine Pinoy fighters fighting at top level in world competitions between 118 and 126 lbs., indeed we never had it this good.
Since becoming an ardent boxing fan and student back in my grade school days in the 60s, I have always wondered why Filipinos have generally been good in other divisions, particularly the flyweights, the sub lightweights, even as high as the middleweights, welterweights and sub welterweights but not in the bantamweights, and featherweights?
In fact, I remember in the 70s more than fifty years after Pancho Villa won the first Philippine world boxing title at flyweight or 112 lbs. class, the country had yet to make a significant mark in the bantamweight and the featherweight divisions.
At that time we have since won world titles at middleweight (Ceferino Garcia), junior welterweights (Roberto Cruz and Pedro Adigue), junior lightweight (Flash Elorde, Rene Barrientos and Ben Villaflor) and flyweight ( Small Montana, Little Dado, Bernabe Villacampo and Erbito Salavarria).
But not in the bantamweight and featherweight.
The closest that Pinoy boxers had come was when Johnny Jamito fought and lost to Brazilian world bantamweight champion champion Eder Jofre in Manila in the early 60s and Flash Elorde challenged and was stopped late on cuts by rough and rugged (read: dirty fighting) American world featherweight king Sandy Saddler in San Francisco, USA after Elorde had outpointed Saddler in a non title bout also held in Manila in the late 50s.
This changed starting in the late 1980s when Luisito Lindol Espinosa broke the Filipino jinx in the bantamweight and featherweight classes, winning world championships in both division almost in back to back manner after debuting as a flyweight.
Espinosa first won the WBA bantamweight crown by a shocking first round knockout of Thai defending champion Khaokor Galaxy in Bangkok in 1989, a few months after the Great North Luzon Earthquake.
After losing that title mainly due to problems, keeping the weight Lindol would win the WBC featherweight title in 1995 by outpointing Mexico's Manuel Medina in Tokyo, Japan. He would proceed to hold that world championship for years before the combination of advancing age and weight, personal/marital and monetary issues wore him down and he lost the title to another Mexican he had beaten earlier, Cesar Soto in 1999.
However, what initially was perceived as a strange stroke of luck turned out to be something that next waves of Filipino campaigners prove they can not only sustain but very well establish themselves as among the best, elite competitors in the 118 to 126 lbs classes.
For next came Manny Pacquiao who after winning world title at flyweight, rose to become world champion also at 122 and 126 lbs and in fact, five other higher weight classes including the junior middleweight or super welterweight. He is a rare case, though.
Then came Nonito Donaire who after also winning world title at flyweight proceeded to essay the first real Monster act in the super flyweight, bantamweight, super bantamweight and featherweight before deciding as a late career move to go back to the bantamweight where he has just reaffirmed his still elite status despite his age. And notwithstanding a loss to the new Monster, Naoya Inoue.
Marlon Tapales was also able to stamp his mark though comparatively briefly as WBO world champion, winning the title by knockout over Thailand's Pungluang Sor Singyu, himself a dreaded KO artist in 2016 and defending it against another big punching Japanese challenger Shohei Omori before being forced to vacate due to weight problem in 2017. He has since moved up to the featherweights where he is now among the top title contenders.
As stated earlier, we have nine world rated Pinoy fighters currently campaigning between 118 and 126 lbs., the most numerous after the minimumweight and the light flyweight classes or 105-108 lbs. divisions where we have as many as a baker dozen.
In the earlier years up to the recent past, most prominent Pinoy pro fighters start their boxing careers at flyweight or 112 lbs class where many also succeeded in establishing themselves as regional, international and even world champions and title holders.
That is no longer the case now as we have very, very few currently rated led by Geimel Magramo.
Donnie Nietes used to rule in the flyweights and sub divisions but he has already moved up to the junior bantamweight where Jerwin Ancajas is the IBF champion. Both may soon move up to the bantamweight especially Ancajas who has been in the 115 lbs class for years now.
Seems like we are having a paradigm shift where the bantamweight and the featherweight may become the new Pinoy niche weight divisions.
It could be us, Filipinos as a race is growing and improving physically and physiologically over time.
The author Teodoro Medina Reynoso is a veteran boxing radio talk show host living in the Philippines. He can be reached at email@example.com and by phone 09215309477.
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