Two important fights in the 122-pound division took place this weekend, so even though the top two fighters are still on their well-earned rests from action, it's worth taking a look at this division. This very, very top-heavy division.
1. Israel Vazquez (43-4, 31 KO)
Check Izzy gangsta leaning at a presser over there.
One of boxing's pound-for-pound best fighters and hardest punchers also happens to be the most exciting warrior the sport has to offer. We are blessed in that regard.
Whatever Vazquez decides to do next, should it be a fourth fight with Rafael Marquez or anyone else, it'll be a gotta see it sort of fight.
Is there any fight that Vazquez could take that you wouldn't watch? Even if he was matched up with a boring opponent, it's not in him to fight in a dull fashion. He just doesn't have that gene. If they were at the same weight, Israel Vazquez could get a compelling, dramatic fight out of even Cory Spinks. I'm fully convinced of it. I see him as some sort of classic-making Superman at this point.
He will always be vulnerable to getting outboxed. Jhonny Gonzalez should have beaten him. But withstanding his relentless pressure and vicious power, which goes along with great punching accuracy, is a test of any fighter's mettle. I don't care how tough the chin is, a guy that fights like this can knock you out, no matter who you are.
2. Rafael Marquez (37-5, 33 KO)
Vazquez's arch-nemesis. These two could easily switch spots. Marquez is the better boxer. He punches like a beast himself. But his chin's not as good -- one of the more intriguing things about Marquez is the fact that he's been knocked out four times. As great as he is, and as well-rounded as his greatness is, he's very vulnerable. And that's part of what makes him so exciting.
Like Vazquez, he's one of the most consistently compelling and also best boxers on the entire planet. Not much more to be said about either guy. And not much more needs to be said, either. They are the very clear and obvious 1-2 fighters at this weight.
3. Celestino Caballero (29-2, 20 KO)
Has to be the most awkward opponent in all of boxing, ahead of even Paul Williams. It's said plenty, but it's worth saying again. Williams is a 6'1" welterweight. Caballero is 5'11" and fights 25 pounds lighter. And he doesn't seem to have any problems making weight.
Caballero is almost an X-Man, a total mutant being. He's also highly unskilled, ridiculously awkward, and a dirty fighter. I really wouldn't venture to call myself a Caballero fan. He's always interesting to watch because he's so unique, but it is never aesthetically pleasing.
That said, you have to respect the fact that he's a God awful hard matchup for anyone in the division. Vazquez-Caballero? I'd pick Vazquez, but man, Caballero is six-and-a-half inches taller than him and has a significant reach advantage. Beating Lorenzo Parra -- a flyweight stepping up 10 pounds -- on Saturday is not the biggest win in the world, but Parra had home court advantage and knows his way around the ring. Caballero hasn't lost since 2004, has some good wins (Ponce de Leon, Sithchatchawal, Ricardo Castillo), and just keeps plugging along, winning fights.
4. Juan Manuel Lopez (22-0, 20 KO)
Yes, he's this good. Anyone that can knock out Daniel Ponce de Leon in two minutes and some change is knocking on the door of the elite in his division. Actually, screw that. He knocked on the door, and when no one answered, he kicked the damn thing in.
Top Rank's Bob Arum sounds ready to promote Lopez as a top star. He even flat-out said that he's going to put him right alongside Cotto, Pavlik, and Margarito as the flagship fighters under the Top Rank banner. And Lopez is the youngest of them all, just 24 years old.
How good can he get potentially? The sky looks like the limit. I think he'd make a fine showing for himself against anyone. He's dynamite.
5. Steve Molitor (27-0, 10 KO)
Canadian scrapper who's currently stuck in a bitter dispute with his management. Molitor and Caballero were talking about a fight for later this year, but that appears to be in jeopardy, which is too bad to say the least. The dispute may have also gotten in the way of a proposed Molitor-Bernabe Concepcion fight that would have been a great addition to the Diaz-Pacquiao undercard. The only word was that Molitor "refused" to fight Concepcion, which seemed odd.
Molitor is one of those guys that hits harder than his KO rate. Not to say he's a puncher at all, but he's got enough sock to discourage his opponents, and he stays active and doesn't spoil a good fight with too much tactical stuff.
He also recently had a great quote, on the Caballero fight that is now a no-go: "(Promoter Allan Tremblay) offered $175,000 for that fight. That's small potatoes. That's what you offer a prostitute."
Low blow? Maybe. A bit crass? Sure. But funny? Memorable? Absolutely.
6. Daniel Ponce de Leon (34-2, 30 KO)
Caballero-Ponce de Leon was Daniel's first loss, a butt ugly, entertaining affair that saw Ponce de Leon unable to get inside the long, swooping punches of Caballero en route to a wide unanimous decision. His second was a crushing first-round TKO against a young gun joining the class of the division.
But I can't count Daniel Ponce de Leon out. Not at all. Plus, it doesn't hurt him that the division is really pretty weak past the top few guys. Ponce de Leon is never going to be a Floyd Mayweather or a Winky Wright or even a Steve Molitor. But he'll always show up to slug it out, and with the help of Golden Boy Promotions, that will always promise good TV slots.
7. Jhonny Gonzalez (38-6, 32 KO)
Four of those six losses came very early in his career, and he's only been stopped against Vazquez and a single perfect body shot from Gerry Penalosa, in a fight where he'd overtrained at bantamweight.
Gonzalez, maybe an old 26, is a hell of a good fighter. He took Vazquez to boxing class when they fought in 2006 before Vazquez staged his remarkable comeback. Gonzalez is now pressing to get an eliminator to potentially face Vazquez again. Hey, why not? It was a hell of a fight the first time around.
8. Rey Bautista (25-1, 18 KO)
I know he got blitzed by Ponce de Leon last August, but he also looked really good on the Mayweather-de la Hoya undercard against Sergio Medina, and came back strong with two wins post-Ponce de Leon, too. He is 21 years old and had the sack to step in against a world class titleholder after just 23 pro fights. He was overwhelmed from the opening bell and crumbled after getting hit with some great shots, including a dead on the chin left hand that put him down the first time. It happens. Who could get hit right there and not have the fight shift against them?
Sure, he looked tight even before that, but he was young. That can't be emphasized enough. In a weak division, I think he's good enough to warrant a spot in the top ten.
9. Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym (34-1, 24 KO)
That name is too long. I'm going to call him Poon.
Ol' Poon gets to break my unwritten law of never taking Thai fighters too seriously, because they just do not fight real competition. But Poon beat fellow notable Thai pro Somsak Sithchatchawal, gave Ricardo Cordoba his first and only loss (disputed by some), and his only loss came to Wladimir Sidorenko at 118 pounds. Like Bautista, a lot of this ranking falls into the court of the division being somewhat weak.
10. Ricardo Cordoba (32-1-2, 21 KO)
Dominated fellow Panamanian Caballero back in 2004, though his record since then has been rather unimpressive. Not a whole lot of quality wins of which to speak. But he's big (5'8") for the division, sports a good record, and wouldn't be a bad mandatory, really, for any of the titlists.
You Coulda Been a Contender...
20-year old Filipino prospect Bernabe Concepcion (25-1-1, 14 KO) has been looking for a step up and has yet to find a dance partner. He's only 20. He should maybe take a look at what happened to Bautista when he was rushed and calm down a little.
Veteran Genaro Garcia (36-6, 20 KO) came off of two straight losses to dominate Miguel Roman in December. He did once lose to Samson Dutch Boy Gym, though.
28-year old Mike Oliver (21-1, 7 KO) was the American hope in the division. A fool's hope, maybe, but the American hope nonetheless. That was before he ran into the fists of Reynaldo Lopez (29-5-2, 20 KO) in February, a third round TKO loss. Lopez had come off of losses to Ponce de Leon and 115-pound star Cristian Mijares. Experience speaks sometimes.
Somsak Sithchatchawal (56-3-1, 44 KO) is worth noting if only because of his 2006 Fight of the Year slugfest against Mahyar Monshipour, who retired after the loss. Since then, he's lost to Ol' Poon and Caballero, and in between those two defeats rattled off a very Thai-like 10 wins over punching bags with pulses in 2007.
Al Seeger (27-3, 21 KO): slightly dangerous ESPN opponent for hire!
Takalani Ndlovu (28-4, 18 KO) fought hard against Molitor last year. Then he got knocked out. He's a quality opponent, little more. But no less.
There was once a time when Ricardo Castillo (33-6, 22 KO) was a world title contender, a rough customer who overcame two early pro losses to get himself into the top tier in the division. He's since lost four of five fights, including an 11th round TKO loss to Giovanni Caro (9-4-4 coming in) in May. The clock may have struck 12 on the 29-year old Castillo. When you're going into deep waters with Caro, let alone losing, something's just not right.