Every year, the boxing calendar is brought to life by virtuoso elites, outburst shows, crunchy KOs, screaming controversies and, my personal favorite, troubled underdogs. This year was no different as a variety of favorite fighters degenerated into lesser known commodities as we enjoyed the 2021 championship rounds.
Sandor Martin, arguably this year’s biggest upset leader, joined the group on October 16 with a close but clear decisive victory over a confused Mikey Garcia at a catch weight of 145 pounds. Garcia, once a pound-for-pound contender, planned to shrink back from 147 and seek the biggest game available at super-lightweight. All he had to do was get past Sandor Martin, a 140-pound career. Martin once fought outside his native Spain and abandoned a decision to Anthony Yigit in 2017. With the Garcia match, Martin’s remaining CV was entirely out of competition at a local level, with no world-class experience. Of course, Garcia has only experienced world-class opposition since, roughly, 2012. Yet Martin radiated confidence and certainly predicted a victory for Spain.
The 10 rounds were never full of action, but, after seemingly dropping a few early rounds, Martin took over the second half of the fight to dominate from the back foot, delivering the more significant shots while Garcia sparingly and / or counteracted ineffectively. Each round saw Martin get better and Garcia less present. Garcia’s performance was blamed on ring rust, but it looked more like a boxer who believed the final result was already decided before the opening bell and did not give his opponent the right respect in training camp. Most of us were guilty of the same impression.
Martin, 28, is returning home to Barcelona, an emerging fighter, now seventh at £ 140 by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. He has more options than at any other stage of his career and, surely, some big decisions to make. Whether he opts for a Garcia reunion or a run for a world title, Martin does so as a winner and legitimate contender.
Martin, 39-2 (13), was not alone this year. In fact, a good handful of other Spanish-speaking fighters put on significantly disturbing performances.
Mauricio Lara – Featherweight
By 2020, few of us had Mexico’s Mauricio Lara on our radar, despite a 22-2 resume. His ledger, of course, had no merit. After Lara lost his professional debut in 2015, Lara continued to defeat domestic neophytes and club-level beginners in the sport, as most of his countrymen did. But, unlike many, Lara has managed to stay in control of his career and not be sold out as an opponent to build more promising fighters. He broke a handful of unbeaten records and absorbed just one additional defeat, apparently caught cold within a minute by a virtually unknown (Eliott Chavez). Ironically, the danger posed by being an ‘unknown’ at least helped Lara record his upset with Josh Warrington on February 13th. Warrington entered the ring undefeated with a myriad of world-class scalps in his trophy room. Warrington, a 12-round fighter by reputation, seemed determined to prove his meager numbers in the power division misleading as he involved Lara in phone hockey warfare from the start. Warrington was not without his tires, but early in round four it became clear that Lara could stun him. Soon after, it was clear that the Mexican rise could also hurt and drop one of the top-rated featherweights in the world. Lara put the final touch to this career-best win in round nine when a resilient Warrington found his full of left hooks and fell on the canvas a second time, causing the standstill. Lara accepted the rematch, but it was over before it started due to an accidental head-on collision in round two, which resulted in a technical draw. However, Lara, 23, stays warm in a division that offers opportunities against Emanuel Navarette, Kid Galahad, Leigh Wood and, of course, Warrington III.
Ricardo Rafael Sandoval – Flyweight
Sandoval is Mexican by descent and culture, but was born and raised in California, USA, and is bilingual. He turned professional in Mexico at the age of 17 and scored four wins before losing his fifth game of year one. Sandoval initially fought mainly in Mexico and in a variety of weight classes, and in 2017 he began to gain traction on his own soil and built up his numbers by defeating more experienced fighters. Before his breakout victory over Jay Harris on June 25, Sandoval built up an 18-1 (14) record with traveler Ray Tabugon the highlight of his dossier. Harris was one win removed from his gallant challenge by top flyweight Julio Cesar Martinez and named eighth by TBRB. Sandoval came to Bolton, Lancashire, ready to fight and un intimidated by the pro-Harris crowd. The two flyweights fought for the most part on equal footing, Harris dedicated himself to straight shots and Sandoval achieved early success with his overhand right and left hook. Harris remained brave until the end, as he did with Martinez, but Sandoval was able to level Harris with two separate left hooks and end the night in round eight. The win sent fewer shockwaves through the boxing community compared to Lara’s, but Sandoval demanded Harris’ rating and has since moved up to sixth. The world is waiting and is wide open for the baby face Sandoval (22), who has significant opportunities with Martinez, Sunny Edwards or Junto Nakatani.
William Zepeda – Lightweight
“Hector Tanajara is the most underrated lightweight in the world,” I regularly said through 2019 and 2020. I was excited about his ring return so others could come on board with this sentiment, even if it was against the relatively unknown William Zepeda. Zepeda (25) at least had nice numbers! Time will tell Zepeda had much more than just that. Zepeda had a relatively late start in his professional career, albeit by Mexican standards, at the age of 20 in 2015. He got on the right track and beat debutants and inexperienced pros early, but by year three and four, Zepeda was already beaten by 20 and 30 matches against boxers. In 2019, he even stopped Eliott Chavez, who owned a first-round KO over the then-unknown Mauricio Lara (Yes, I learned to write this article.) More progressive victories followed, resulting in a 22- 0 (20) CV built up without much attention despite an impressive fifth round break over Roberto Ramirez in his American debut. Tanajara, who has been inactive for a year and a half, has already used his superior boxing skills to defeat Roger Gutierrez, Robert Manzanarez and Juan Carlos Burgos. The experience of the blue-headed prospect did not cost much against Zepeda. The man, who hails from San Mateo Atenco, Mexico, closed the distance on Tanajara almost immediately and started his packing time by the first round start time. Pressure was the real accident for Tanajara, as Zepeda never allowed him to box safely from a distance. Unlike the first two disruptions that were revisited, which were real wars, Zepeda made a real turnaround. Tanajara struggled to stay on his guard after absorbing too many fists on his arms and shoulders. After six rounds, his own corner saw enough and saved him from ruin. Zepeda, perhaps the new “most underrated lightweight in the world”, is in 10th place on the TBRB leaderboard. His path offers less immediate marquis combat opportunities as some of the biggest names in the sport live at the top of the lightweight division. However, some well-traveled names like Jorge Linares, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Masayoshi Nakatani will promote Zepeda’s CV and envision something bigger.
Luis Alberto Lopez – Super Featherweight
Lopez, 28, fought from featherweight to welterweight to find the right opportunity. His start differed little from the above contenders, and fought 17 times in Mexico. Lopez best outscored unsalted professionals until he mixed it with a co-prospect in Abraham Montoya, which cost him his unbeaten record by a split decision after 10 rounds. Nevertheless, he learned and made good on his American debut, with another rising prospect in Ray Ximenez in Washington. This led to a match with Ruben Villa that caused him to lose on featherweight points again. Lopez returned to Mexico and scored three more victories, including a break on lightweight Cristian Baez, an unbeaten Venezuelan. He assaulted Andy Vences on his next outing in Las Vegas on super featherweight. Although he got some steam, Lopez was not expected to beat Gabriel Flores Jr. on Sept. 10. Flores were unbeaten and dominated his last four opponents, which included tough edge contenders Jayson Velez and Ryan Kielczweski. Flores reigned five inches above Lopez and had a three-inch reach advantage; however, it could not save him. Lopez dominated the California native and beat him worse than Zepeda Tanajara owns. By the sixth, there was talk of a mercy stop being justified, but ignored by Flores’ father in the corner. Lopez’s luscious right hooks found their way past Flores’ guard all night and the Mexican ground him out on the inside. When it was time for Flores to counter, Lopez used good upper body movement to stay elusive. Otherwise, Lopez, 23-2 (12), showed good mustaches that absorb the bigger man’s blows and win skewed on points. Lopez, who hails from Mexicali, Baja California, should settle in one division, but opportunities are likely to exist at both 126 and 130 pounds. TBRB currently ranks Lopez ninth in super-featherweight. A Roger Gutierrez fight will be a burner and a sure way to get more onslaught in any division.
Vladimir Hernandez – Super Welterweight
Vladimir Hernandez has the least number of matches and the lowest winning percentage on the list plus, at 32, he is the oldest, but he has the biggest win and names on his CV so far. Hernandez, 13-4 (6), split his career between Mexico and the United States, but sticks strongly to his Durango roots. His career began, no doubt, in even greater obscurity and his first few years were marred by inactivity and defeat. Within his first 10 outings, Hernandez encountered opponents with twice as many games and greater experience; he lost both, but scored good rounds with 12 and eight rounds respectively. In 2018, Hernandez was selected for Israel Madrimov’s high-profile HBO debut and was stopped in three. He would again be used as a last-minute opponent for Souleymane Cissokho on a DAZN card. He lost on points after eight rounds. Hernandez was at a crossroads and could have either continued to lose good pay days or found better advocacy for his career. He was at the top a winning fighter in his next heat. When matched with Alfredo Angulo, it seemed like a safe opportunity for the former rival to rebuild after his defeat of Peter Quillin in 2019. However, Hernandez ended his chances of further strife by a divided decision in Los Angeles. take. Julian “J-Rock” Williams looked like a much bigger task for Hernandez under Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder III on October 9, but the hard-headed resident of Stockton, CA persisted after a difficult opening of a few rounds. It was a nightmare all night long, but Hernandez was able to give and take better than his opponent who rated higher. The win earned him TBRB’s number 10 spot at 154lbs, a division that might just yield the biggest reward for any of the boxers on this list. Hernandez is durable, but his raw technique can entice some of the bigger names to take the risk to improve their records. a power play with Tim Tszyu in Australia has great appeal, just like a step up for Sebastian Fundora. I expect the next few months to be interesting for Hernandez.