Editorials

Perfect Isn’t Good Enough

Some 400 people packed a small pavilion in the Nakhon Sawan Province of Thailand, making up four rows surrounding the ring, where Wanheng Menayothin extended his perfect record to 51-0, with 18 KOs, defending his WBC Strawweight title (105-pound limit) by unanimous decision against Pedro Taduran (12-2, 9 KOs).

Menayothin, 32, and undefeated since 2007, commanded the center of the white canvas for almost the entirety of the championship distance. Taduran, a 21-year-old southpaw fighting out of the Philippines, met the strapping little champion head on. The Filipino maintained a high two-fisted output, but never penetrated Menayothin’s high guard.

Referee Stephen Blea, however, managed to put a damper on the straw brawl. Working his first real world title bout, Blea ignored the hometown fighter’s punches after the bell to end Rounds 1 and 3. The fledging referee was all the while eager to deduct two points from Taduran for glancing low blows in the eighth and 11th periods.

The Thai boxer’s gloves absorbed most of what his challenger had for him. Whether two punches at a time or six, the moment Taduran’s rapid fists waned, Menayothin threw a wicked overhand right or a slashing uppercut—not knockout punches, but stingers, nonetheless.

The crisp counterpunching dictated the outcome of the match. Though scores of 117-110 and 118-110 seemed unfair to Taduran, judge Malcolm Bulner’s 115-111 card for Menayothin was on the money.

Now, with over a half-century in the win column, Menayothin’s ledger deserves a closer look—lest it’s compared to Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s 50-0 mark any longer.

Debuting in 2007, Menayothin ran up some soft touches before testing himself against a live body. In 2011, the Thai roughed up Florante Condes, a formidable puncher and perennial contender, winning by unanimous decision. But the time between that win and lifting the WBC strap in 2014 wasn’t pretty. He stayed busy against punching bags, including two fights apiece with Jack Amisa and Samuel Tehuayo, who each had career winning percentages below .500 (naturally, Menayothin battled Amisa (21-44-2, 14 KOs) one more time in 2017 for good measure).

Menayothin, though, looked every bit of world-class with the green belt on the line in November 2014 opposite Oswaldo Novoa. The Mexican banger’s face was swelled up by the ninth round, where Menayothin became the first man to earn a stoppage over Novoa.

Ten title defenses followed. Most were unimpressive, but a couple are worth mentioning, like beating another Mexican warmonger in Saul “Baby” Juarez in 2016 or a year later, going life and death with Melvin Jerusalem.

Menayothin finished off 2017 stronger than ever, securing what must be the highlight of his career when he edged out Tatsuya Fukuhara. He outfought the taller Japanese boxer to another decision victory. Today, Fukuhara remains a world-ranked Strawweight for his competitive showdown with the excellent Ryuya Yamanaka and victory over the tenacious Moises Callero.

This year, before turning away Taduran, Menayothin knocked out another youthful challenger, 23-year-old Leroy Estrada, in five rounds.

Altogether, that’s a handful of wins to be proud of. But under a microscope, the number 51 loses its glimmer. Relative to boxers of yesteryear, even more so.

To start, longtime Strawweight destroyer Ricardo “Finito” Lopez retired with nearly an identical record (51-0-1, 38 KOs). Lopez spent a decade on top, besting an assortment of ranked opponents like Rosendo Alvarez, Hideyuki Ohashi, Rocky Lin, Saman Sorjaturong, and Kermin Guardia all before jumping to 108 pounds.

More recently, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez seized control of the Strawweight class, traveling to Japan twice in one calendar year to pulverize Yutaka Niida and Katsunari Takayama in enemy territory. Gonzalez was last seen felled at the hands of the Thai bruiser Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, who has also campaigned in Japan and Mexico as well as the United States.

Menayothin has yet to ever step foot outside of Thailand. Recognizing an exception like Sor Rungvisai, the country has gained a reputation for the gaudy records of its fighters. They relentlessly pad their win column until a prominent foreign promoter comes calling in hopes of making their own guy look good.

Noknoi Sittipraset, for example, fought on the same card Menayothin just headlined. On paper, Sittipraset might as well be a Hall of Famer, sporting a record of 67-4, with 42 KOs. Yet, his opponent this week had just three fights to his name—none of them W’s. Last year, Sittipraset traveled to Japan to face beltholder Kazuto Ioka and was thoroughly outclassed.

The phenomenon is alive and well. Consider: Oleydong Sithsamerchai (68-2-1, 28 KOs); Pigmy Kokietgym (60-10-2, 24 KOs); the 24-year-old Petch Sor Chitpattana (47-0, 33 KOs); and, despite flashes of brilliance early in his career, Sirimongkol Singwancha (96-4, 61 KOs).

Menayothin and his team must’ve had Mayweather’s career numbers in mind because now the Thai champion is actually linked to one of those New Year’s Eve cards in Japan that quickly became a lower-weight boxing tradition. His team, per AsianBoxing, is reportedly in talks with former world title challenger Shin Ono.

That’s an interesting name because while Menayothin is obviously no Mayweather, all things considered, Menayothin isn’t even the No. 1 Minimumweight in the world. Ironically, the honor belongs to another boxer from Thailand, one with just a modest record, and someone who already outboxed the aforementioned Ono.

Also known as Thammanoon Niyomtrong, Knockout CP Freshmart (18-0, 7 KOs) is the WBA-recognized 105-pound titleholder. In 2016, Freshmart floored Ono en route to a wide points victory. Last month, Freshmart showed off his skill again, decisioning former world champion Chao Zhong Xion.

Freshmart, 27, is hardly fun to watch and clinches too often. But no Strawweight around can match his scalps, boasting wins over the murderous-punching Rey Loreto; the boxer-puncher supreme Carlos Buitrago (twice); and Byron Rojas, who dethroned 105-pound king Hekkie Budler.

Chasing CP Freshmart’s leftovers doesn’t help Menayothin’s case—that glamorous record be damned.

Sometimes being perfect isn’t even good enough.

 

Header photo: BoxRec

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