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Boxing Year in Review 2015: The Strawweights

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A clear top two followed by a talented field make up the 105-pound ranks as we get 2016 going.

WBC

Year-End Top 10

  1. Wanheng Menayothin (40-0, 15 KO)
  2. Hekkie Budler (29-1, 9 KO)
  3. Kosei Tanaka (6-0, 3 KO)
  4. Jose Argumedo (16-3-1, 9 KO)
  5. Katsunari Takayama (30-8, 12 KO)
  6. Knockout CP Freshmart (11-0, 6 KO)
  7. Carlos Buitagro (28-1-1, 16 KO)
  8. Vic Saludar (11-2, 9 KO)
  9. Ryuji Hara (19-2, 11 KO)
  10. Chao Zhong Xiong (26-6-1, 14 KO)

Menayothin, 30, is perhaps Thailand's best fighter at the moment, pound for pound. The nine-year pro beat Oswaldo Novoa for the WBC belt in late 2014, and made three successful defenses this year, as well as a useless in-between fight in October that wasn't a title fight, as it was against an opponent with a 2-4 record.

Budler, 27, has had some close calls, but the South African just keeps winning. This year, he went 2-0 with a pair of WBA title defenses over Jesus Silvestre and Simphiwe Khonco, both solid contenders right outside of the top ten. Plus he has a great nickname: "The Hexicutioner."

The No. 3 spot was tougher to pick. Argumedo, 27, burst onto the scene with a New Year's Eve upset of Takayama, 32, who is probably at the back end of his own career. The gap between Menayothin and Budler and the rest of the group is fairly large. Tanaka, 20, is my tentative pick for No. 3 right now, but there have been red flags with two of his last three performances, albeit against pretty good opponents. Whereas Argumedo and Takayama certainly lack Tanaka's upside, Tanaka was dead even with Ryuji Hara before stopping him in 2014, and was getting absolutely wasted by Vic Saludar on New Year's Eve 2015 before a comeback KO. Wins are wins, and Tanaka at No. 3 makes sense on a lot of levels, but it's a choice that risks looking bad any time. He's got a lot of talent, but he's not Naoya Inoue or anything.

Knockout, 25, is the interim WBA titleholder and will hopefully land a fight with Budler sooner than later, although that's probably just more about the WBA getting extra money to "sanction" fights. This year, the Thai fighter -- born Thammanoon Niyomtrong and formerly known as Newlukrak Pagonponsurin -- beat veteran Muhammad Rachman and prospect Alexis Diaz.

Buitagro, 24, is a good young fighter from Managua, Nicaragua, who had a draw in 2013 with Merlito Sabillo in the Philippines, and lost a competitive decision to Knockout in 2014 in Thailand. He fought once this year, winning a minor WBA belt in Mexico against Mario Rodriguez.

Saludar, 25, had a great showing against Tanaka on New Year's Eve. Through five rounds, he was dominant, having dropped Tanaka in the fifth, and he had him on his heels again in the sixth before he was knocked out on a great shot. Even though it was a KO loss, Saludar was very impressive, and became a real contender in defeat.

Hara, 25, is a second-tier sort of guy, who lost to Tanaka in 2014 and Takayama in 2015, both by stoppage. But he was competitive in those fights, too. He's also a former Japanese and OPBF champion at the weight.

Chao, is a former titleholder and remains a solid veteran fringe contender. You could argue him out of the top ten for a handful of other fighters, most of whom are younger.

On the Cusp

Saul Juarez (22-4-1, 12 KO) is a 25-year-old Mexican fighter who moved down to 105 this year, after a decent run at 108 and 112. His lone fight in the division was called off in just 42 seconds, when Oswaldo Novoa suffered a bad cut on a clash of heads. He could be trouble at this weight, if he's comfortable.

Oswaldo Novoa (14-6-3, 9 KO) doesn't have a pretty record, but is a former titleholder. He's 0-2-2 in his last four, and the clock may have struck 12 on the 33-year-old Mexican scrapper, but he's worth a mention still at least.

Nicaragua's Byron Rojas (16-2-3, 8 KO) started his career just 6-2-3 from 2010-12, including back to back losses in 2012, but has come back nicely. There's an odd curiosity on his record. He's fought a fellow Nicaraguan fighter named Alcides Martinez three times, drawing with him twice in 2010 and then going to a no-contest with him in 2013. Overall, the 24-year-old Martinez has a pro record of 12-3-10 (6 KO), which is remarkable. He's fought to a draw in 40% of his pro fights, and also has a pair of no contests. You don't see a record like that often.

Simphiwe Khonco (15-5, 7 KO) lost a decision to Budler on September 19, ending a nine-fight win streak. Jesus Silvestre (31-6, 22 KO) lost to Budler on February 21, but his win streak was just two, the minimum consecutive victories required for a streak, according to manager Lou Brown in the hit film Major League.

Fahlan Sakkreein Jr (29-4-1, 15 KO) is another guy who lost in a world title fight this year but still should be remembered. He's just 22 years old, too, and the best could be ahead for him.

Samartlek Kokietgym (23-5, 8 KO) came back down to 105 this year, winning six easy fights in Thailand, following a brave but utterly one-sided loss to Naoya Inoue in 2014 in a 108-pound title fight. Against his better opponents -- including Denver Cuello, Randy Petalcorin, and Yuki Chinen -- he's been blown out of the water.

Alexis Diaz (18-1, 11 KO) of Venezuela had a good thing going before he ran into Knockout CP Freshmart in July, but he rebounded from that with two wins at home, too, winning the Venezuelan flyweight title, for whatever that's worth. And considering he won the vacant title by beating a guy who was 2-3, it's not worth much.

Muhammad Rachman (65-12-5, 35 KO) is still going at age 44. Nicknamed "Predator" and "The Rock Breaker," the Indonesian fighter won his first world title way back in 2004, and his first defense came against Fahlan Sakkreein -- the elder Fahlan Sakkreein, that is, not the Jr version we just talked about here. That was also the elder Fahlan's last pro fight after a 17 year career. Rachman held that title until 2007, when he lost to Florante Condes, then had a strak of four straight losses to Milan Melindo, Oleydong Sithsamerchai, Denver Cuello, and Samartlek Kokietgym in 2009-11. He should have been done at that point. Instead, he knocked out then-unbeaten Kwanthai Sithmorseng to win the WBA 105-pound title in April 2011, a fight he didn't deserve but made the most of the situation. He lost it on a majority decision three months later. This year, he fought once, losing to Knockout CP Freshmart but going the distance. In his entire, 22-year pro career, Rachman has only been stopped one time, by Cuello in 2010. He's not an all-time great or anything, but he's had a hell of a career.

The Titleholders

WBC: Wanheng Menayothin

  • def. Jeffrey Galero (UD-12, 2/5)
  • def. Jerry Tomogdan (KO-9, 6/2)
  • def. Young Gil Bae (TKO-9, 11/24)

WBA: Hekkie Budler

  • def. Jesus Silvestre (UD-12, 2/21)
  • def. Simphiwe Khonco (UD-12, 9/19)

IBF: Jose Argumedo

  • Katsunari Takayama def. Fahlan Sakkreein Jr (TD-9, 4/22)
  • Katsunari Takayama def. Ryuji Hara (TKO-8, 9/27)
  • def. Katsunari Takayama (TD-9, 12/31 - TITLE CHANGE)

WBO: Kosei Tanaka

  • def. Julian Yedras (UD-12, 5/30 - WON VACANT TITLE)
  • def. Vic Saludar (KO-6, 12/31)

Top Prospect

I don't know much of nothin' about the prospects in the division, but here's hoping that 21-year-old Melvin Jerusalem (8-0, 7 KO) of the Philippines makes it, because that's a cool name that sounds like it would come from a Tarantino movie or something.

Other young people: Cris Ganoza, Reiya Konishi, Tsubasa Koura, Jay Loto, Panya Pradabsri, Takumi Sakae, Pedro Taduran