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Smaller divisions are full of talent with Martinez, Teraji, Menayothin and more

Julio Cesar Martinez is one of the three different titleholders in the flyweight division. Steven Paston/Getty Images

Who's the best fighter in the smaller divisions? You can make a case for Mexico's Julio Cesar Martinez or South Africa's Moruti Mthalane at flyweight, or Kenshiro Teraji in the junior flyweight division and the 54-0 strawweight machine Wanheng Menayothin. With no live boxing for the foreseeable future due to the coronavirus pandemic, Dan Rafael takes a look at those entertaining divisions.

Flyweight

What's the biggest question you have about this division?

Will we ever see some unification fights at 112 pounds? Mexico's Julio Cesar Martinez, South Africa's Moruti Mthalane and Ukraine's Artem Dalakian all hold belts, while Japan's Kosei Tanaka recently vacated his world title to move up in weight. The three titleholders are a combined 75-3, but there has never been any serious discussion about any of these men facing each other. They have different promoters, are from different countries and none of them really generates serious money or has a big fan base. There probably is not a pot of gold in any unification fight, so perhaps the risk has not yet been worth the reward. Still, you would have to think there would be more money in a unification fight than a run-of-the-mill title defense, so why not go for it?

Who is the star? Who is their biggest competitor?

The closest thing to a star was Tanaka in Japan, but he has left the division in search of a world title in a fourth weight class. Martinez might have a chance to reach some level of stardom. He is an all-action fighter who is now being placed on major cards. Martinez has looked very good in recent fights, including a very exciting decision win over Jay Harris on Feb. 29 on the Mikey Garcia-Jessie Vargas undercard in Frisco, Texas, where the largely Mexican American crowd cheered wildly for him.

Who is a potential dark horse?

It's hard to call Mthalane a dark horse so I will take a little liberty here and refer to him as by far the division's most underrated and underappreciated fighter. Mthalane (39-2, 26 KOs) is a two-time world titlist who has made three defenses in his second title reign and has won 16 fights in a row since a sixth-round knockout loss to future Hall of Famer Nonito Donaire in a 2008 flyweight world title bout. Mthalane has beaten many quality opponents during his 20-year pro career, including Hussein Hussein, Julio Cesar Miranda, Zolani Tete, John Riel Casimero and Akira Yaegashi, and still appears to be going strong.

What fight do you want to see next in the division?

Martinez against Mthalane is the best fight that can be made in the division. Mthalane has made a career of fighting quality opponents and surely would be willing to travel to the United States or Mexico for the fight. He is a road warrior. He has fought in seven different countries, including four straight bouts away from home (Malaysia, China and twice in Japan).


Junior flyweight

What's the biggest question you have about this division?

How much longer can world titlist Kenshiro Teraji (17-0, 10 KOs) remain at 108 pounds? In my view he is the best junior flyweight in the world, but a move up in weight likely will beckon soon. Japan's Teraji (who used to go by the name "Ken Shiro") won his title in 2017 and has made four defenses, all in dominating fashion against decent opposition (former titlist Milan Melindo, Saul "Baby" Juarez, Jonathan Taconing and Randy Petalcorin). But at age 28, after being a junior flyweight since turning pro in 2014, the end of Teraji's run at this weight is probably near.

Who is the star? Who is their biggest competitor?

Teraji has popularity in Japan, so he is probably the biggest star in the division -- certainly ahead of countryman and fellow world titlist Hiroto Kyoguchi in that department. There is no natural rivalry in the division.

Who is a potential dark horse?

Mexico's Elwin Soto (17-1, 12 KOs) is just 23 and on the rise. He was an unknown fighter when he knocked out fierce-punching Angel Acosta in the 12th round to take his world title last June. He has made one successful defense, in a competitive decision victory over then-unbeaten Edward Heno in October. Soto followed that up with a first-round knockout win in a stay-busy, nontitle bout at home on Feb. 15. He seems like he might be able to make some noise in the division.

What fight do you want to see next in the division?

Teraji and Nicaragua's Felix Alvarado were supposed to meet in a world title unification fight on Dec. 23 in Yokohama, Japan, but the fight was canceled when Alvarado withdrew due to an injury. Kenshiro still fought that night and defeated Petalcorin and has not fought since. Alvarado, idle since May 2019, recently signed with Golden Boy Promotions and was slated to defend against former strawweight titlist DeeJay Kriel on an April 25 card postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Whether that bout is rescheduled remains to be seen, but either way, I'd still like to see the camps get together and reschedule Teraji-Alvarado.


Strawweight

What's the biggest question you have about this division?

Just how long can world titlist Wanheng Menayothin remain undefeated? He is 54-0 with 18 knockouts, giving him the longest current winning streak in boxing, and an even better record than the 50-0 Floyd Mayweather retired with, in 2017. Menayothin has made 12 successful defenses since winning his 105-pound world title in 2014, and while he has boxed every one of his bouts in Thailand, he has faced solid opposition and won most of them with little issue. How much longer can that last, especially at age 34, which is considered ancient for a fighter in this small of a weight class?

Who is the star? Who is their biggest competitor?

Since the division was created in 1987 there has never been a true star, other than perhaps the all-time great Hall of Famer Ricardo "Finito" Lopez. Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez also was a long-reigning champion at strawweight, but did not really reach stardom until he moved up in weight and began fighting in the United States. The current titleholders -- Menayothin, Wilfredo Mendez of Puerto Rico, Pedro Taduran of the Philippines and Knockout CP Freshmart of Thailand -- each have a constituency in their home country, but none can really be called a star.

Who is a potential dark horse?

Mendez won a world title by decision against Vic Saludar last August and has made two defenses. He is only 23 and seems to have a solid future ahead in the division.

What is a fight you need to see next in the division?

Menayothin and CP Freshmart (21-0, 7 KOs) are a combined 75-0, they both hold world titles and they are both from Thailand. I have them ranked 1-2 in the division. They need to fight not only for strawweight supremacy, but to prove who the best is in their country.