The opening bell: the little big men
Last September, promoter Tom Loeffler and HBO hit pay dirt with a terrific card featuring the best of the deep 115-pound division, which is called either junior bantamweight or by the catchier name super flyweight.
The talented group, led by then-pound-for-pound king Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez, produced a series of entertaining fights, which led to the "Superfly 2" sequel in February, and again they put on a good show. Naturally, "Superfly 3" is in the works for this September.
Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Top Rank on Saturday night went with its version of "Superfly," as a division once largely ignored in the United States was again was on center stage with a world title doubleheader that served as the first of what will be a regular series of Top Rank-promoted cards to air exclusively on ESPN+ in the United States. The first effort drew 5,102 fans to the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California.
In the main event, the Philippines' Jerwin Ancajas (30-1-1, 20 KOs), a 26-year-old southpaw, retained his world title for the fifth time with a lopsided decision -- 119-109, 119-109 and 117-111 -- over countryman and mandatory challenger Jonas Sultan (14-4, 9 KOs), also 26, in a fight that never quite caught fire. In fact, it was a tough one to watch. The styles never meshed and it made for an awkward contest.
It was the first all-Filipino world title fight in 93 years, since then-flyweight world champion Pancho Villa, a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, retained his title by unanimous 15-round decision against countryman Clever Sencio on May 2, 1925, in Manila.
To say Ancajas-Sultan might make some wish that another 93 years go by until the next one might be too harsh, but it was a disappointing fight. But Ancajas showed he's a serious player in the deep division. He dominated with his jab (landing 62 of 300 of them to Sultan's 7 of 92, per CompuBox), landed far more punches overall (234-147), showed better speed and power, and never was in any trouble.
The question now is will his promoter, Top Rank, and Matchroom Boxing's Eddie Hearn get together to match Ancajas with fellow titleholder Kal Yafai (24-0, 15 KOs), 28, of England, who retained his title for the third time in far more impressive fashion in the co-feature as he took out Mexico's David Carmona (21-6-5, 9 KOs), 27, in the seventh round of a back-and-forth battle.
Carmona had twice previously challenged for a world title and was supposed to get his third shot against Yafai but lost that privilege by weighing in at 118.6 pounds, way over the 115-pound division limit.
Yafai made Carmona pay by dropping him in the first round, the fourth and twice in the fifth before he had taken enough punishment and retired on his stool after the seventh round.
After Ancajas and Yafai, purposely put on the same card to build interest in a possible unification bout later this year, both had won they were open to facing each other. That would be a meaningful and probably good fight, though Yafai could end up facing Gonzalez instead.
Prospect Watch: Efe Ajaba
Heavyweight Efe Ajaba (5-0, 5 KOs), 24, was a 2016 Nigerian Olympian and appears to be a heavyweight to watch. He's big (6-foot-5, 237 pounds), strong, agile and trained by veteran cornerman Ronnie Shields, not to mention he is promoted by Richard Schaefer and managed by Shelly Finkel. Shields, Schaefer and Finkel don't align themselves with just anybody. Ajaba sure looks the part as he blitzed West Virginia's Dell Long (5-3-2, 3 KOs), 27, who had not been stopped in two previous defeats. But Ajaba knocked him out cold with a clean right hand in just 35 seconds on the Premier Boxing Champions card Saturday night in Biloxi, Miss.
The next step: A lot more seasoning. Ajaba probably won't fight anyone of consequence for the next couple of years at least as he gains experience, but he's a project who could pay huge dividends down the road.
Fights you may have missed
Saturday at Quebec City
Middleweight David Lemieux (39-4, 33 KOs) W12 Karim Achour (26-5-3, 4 KOs), scores: 120-107, 119-107, 119-108
Former middleweight titlist Lemieux, 29, of Montreal, looking to bounce back from a one-sided decision loss challenging world titlist Billy Joe Saunders in December, cruised to a rout of Achour, 31, of France, but must be taken to task for yet again failing to make weight. Lemieux was 162 pounds, two over the contract limit, while Achour was 159. Lemieux dominated and put the icing on the cake with a knockdown in the final round. With so many issues making the middleweight limit, he is likely headed up to the 168-pound super middleweight division.
Saturday at Biloxi, Miss.
Junior welterweight Argenis Mendez (25-5-1, 12 KOs) W10 Eddie Ramirez (17-2, 11 KOs), scores: 99-87, 98-88, 97-89
Former junior lightweight world titlist Mendez, 31, of the Dominican Republic, didn't have much success at lightweight and moved up to junior welterweight and scored a mild upset over Ramirez, 25, of Chicago, in the main event of the PBC card in Biloxi, Mississippi, on Saturday night. Mendez dominated as he handed Ramirez his second straight loss. He dropped Ramirez four times (in the second and third rounds and twice in the fifth round) as he cruised to the victory in a true crossroads fight.
Featherweight Tugstsogt Nyambayar (10-0, 9 KOs) KO3 Oscar Escandon (25-4, 17 KOs)
The Southern California-based Nyambayar, 25, a 2012 Olympic silver medalist for Mongolia who didn't turn pro until 2015, is an excellent prospect and seemingly getting better each fight. He was very impressive in this overwhelming destruction of Escandon, 33, of Colombia, a former interim titlist who lasted seven rounds in a KO loss to featherweight world titleholder Gary Russell Jr. in his previous fight last May. "King Tug" beat Escandon up even worse than Russell did. He floored Escandon in the first round, twice in the second and twice in the third before referee Keith Hughes waved it off at 1 minute, 18 seconds.
Saturday at Mexico City
Junior featherweight Franklin Manzanilla (18-4, 17 KOs) TKO5 Julio Ceja (32-3, 28 KO)
In a major upset, the unknown Manzanilla, 29, of Venezuela, shockingly bumped off former junior featherweight world titleholder Ceja, 25, of Mexico, who was close to a mandatory shot to try to regain his old belt. But the taller Manzanilla, coming off a March win over a 1-46-2 opponent, battered Ceja, who suffered a broken nose in the second round, bled badly from it from there on and ultimately retired on his stool after the fifth round.