The 115-pound division has been one of the sport's best and most action-packed over the last couple of years, and the re-rise of the monster known as Vic Darchinyan has redefined the weight class since last August. Darchinyan's arrival coincides with the division sort of emptying out at the top tiers, too, and it's not as deep as it was even six months ago.
Notes: Fernando Montiel is officially stepping up to stay at 118 pounds. Cristian Mijares will join him as he will be fighting for an interim bantamweight title in March. Raul Martinez is moving down to fight Nonito Donaire at flyweight.
Darchinyan is likely not long for the division himself, as he'll either move up with the action at 118 or jump all the way to 122. There's just nothing really left as far as a money fight goes at 115 pounds. His best fight would be a rematch with Nonito Donaire, but selfish promoter Gary Shaw wants nothing to do with it. One must also wonder if Shaw, as much as he loves Darchinyan, admits to himself in the john that Donaire's speed and power just makes for a horrible stylistic matchup against his guy. Donaire didn't score a lucky one-punch flash knockout against Darchinyan, he dominated him.
Whatever Darchinyan decides to do next, he cleaned out 115 pounds as best as he possibly could. He took Dimitri Kirilov's title in March, followed that with taking two from Cristian Mijares in a stunningly one-sided rout, and then ended his long verbal feud with Jorge Arce by stopping the tough veteran after 11 rounds. He's been a force of nature in his last three bouts.
2. Alexander Munoz (32-3, 27 KO)
Venezuelan Munoz has largely made his name fighting in Japan, but he came to Mexico to face Mijares last May, clearly lost, although judge Gustavo Padilla somehow saw it for Munoz. He is the only guy to beat Nobuo Nashiro so far, outclassing the Japanese star over 12 rounds. His two non-Mijares losses both came to Martin Castillo, who retired last year after getting blasted by Montiel. Munoz was also the first guy to beat Julio Ler, who memorably came to America and stunk out the joint against Jorge Arce on Boxing After Dark.
3. Z Gorres (28-2-2, 15 KO)
Filipino southpaw Gorres, 26, earned a draw against Vic Darchinyan in February 2008, but has fought just once since, shutting out Nick Otieno over 10 rounds last May in Cebu City. "The Dream" has skills, and his only losses are a split decision to Montiel, and a TKO stoppage early in his career.
If Darchinyan does stay at 115 for one more fight while weighing his options, a rematch with Gorres would be welcome. There's unfinished business there. It's really the only fight that makes sense. Munoz may be better than Gorres, but they are worth pretty much the exact some money to Showtime as neither has name value in America.
4. Jorge Arce (51-5-1, 39 KO)
It's such a shallow division at this point that Arce still ranks this high, and I think he's pretty well close to shot. He had nothing against Darchinyan, but I still think I'd pick him over anyone below him on this list. Jorge's performances are spotty these days. Darchinyan was way too much, Rafael Concepcion was a smaller man that rocked him around on Mexican Independence Day, and he did not look good at all last May against Devid Lookmahanak. You could argue that Arce's majority decision win that night was a present.
Arce's only 29, but it's not hard to wonder if he has very much left at all. He's fought at 118 before, but he might have to go up even higher. The good news is he has a pretty wide frame for a guy who's only about 5'6", and in theory he should be able to carry 122 or maybe even 126 pounds pretty well. That doesn't mean his body can take it anymore, though. He's been in a ton of wars, taken serious punishment, and dished out plenty. If Arce is never a real factor again, I'll remember him fondly.
5. Jose Navarro (26-4, 12 KO)
Navarro hasn't fought in a year, since losing to Cristian Mijares last February in a fight where I thought he did pretty well, but certainly did not shut out Mijares, as judge Doug Tucker puzzlingly saw it. Prior to that he lost to Dimitri Kirilov, but I think I'd pick him if they rematched. Although to be blunt, it does beg the question (five fighters in) of, "Who cares, really?" Navarro's quality, but not that quality.
6. Dimitri Kirilov (29-4-1, 9 KO)
Got murdered by Darchinyan. Two of his losses came at 118. Who knows what he does now?
7. Jose Lopez (38-7-2, 32 KO)
Tough Puerto Rican puncher that once lost a fight to a guy who was sitting ringside eating a doughnut. I'm not even kidding; Isidro Garcia was once sitting ringside eating a doughtnut, Lopez's opponent pulled out, and Garcia stepped into the void and won the fight. That is a magnificent story. Hasn't lost a fight since 2001, and he's up for the vacant WBA title soon.
Next: March 28 v. Pramuansak Posuwan
8. Nobuo Nashiro (12-1, 7 KO)
The semi-myth of 27-year old Nashiro is built on two fights, mostly: His defeat of Hidenobu Honda in just his fifth pro fight, and his 10th round knockout of Martin Castillo in just his eighth pro fight. He also gained popularity in Japan when he sparred the more popular Koki Kameda and roughed him up pretty bad. He appeared on a Japanese TV show later and was asked what he thought of Kameda, made a "sour face," and responded, "He's great...I guess?" The audience exploded with laughter.
Next: April 11 v. Konosuke Tomiyama
9. Evans Mbamba (16-0, 8 KO)
After Devid Lookmahanak gave Arce a stern test, he was put into a WBC eliminator with South African Evans Mbamba. Mbamba knocked him out in the seventh round. Mbamba also holds a win over decent South African vet Zoilie Mbityi. That's about all it takes for this divsion. There are the Thai fighters (and a lot of 'em), but outside of rare instances, they fight taxi drivers and busboys, and I just find it impossible to gauge if they're actually good or not.
10. Rafael Concepcion (13-3-1, 8 KO)
Not a pretty record, but he's better than he looks on paper. He stunned AJ Banal and gave Arce all he could handle. There are roughly 25 guys you could put in the top ten with few arguments. I choose Concepcion because he's got guts and he's been fighting every two months.