Wanheng Menayothin cemented his position as the best strawweight in the world on Monday, Aug. 2, in Chonburi, Thailand, 50 miles from his hometown of Bangkok. Scores of 116-113, 116-112 and 115-113 (I had it 116-112) made him the victor over Saul Juarez out of Mexico City, very likely Menayothin’s best scalp. Since the departure of Roman Gonzalez and the decline of Katsunari Takayama, the division, which has several names (e.g., mini-flyweight), has lacked any sense of cohesion, so it was nice to see a meeting between top-ten contenders, Juarez ranking #8 (TBRB.org).
Menayothin is easily led by the WBC resulting in a series of less than excellent opponents and generally dissatisfying fights but even a stopped clock gets it right twice a day and the WBC seems to be no exception. Suarez is a defensively sharp and determined fighter and he proved a handful for the opening four rounds.
Menayothin will often take a look at his opponents early, sizing them up in the parlance of the old-school where fifteen round fights meant a slow start was not the disaster it would become. A cuffing left and higher activity gave the Mexican the first, but Menayothin sharpened his fight plan on that lazy first round. By the end of the second, he was closer to his opponent as both bounced lightly about the ring, and two right-hand counters to the Juarez jab near the end of the round betrayed a sorry truth that would only be revealed in retrospect: the fight was over.
Menayothin is a strange fighter. Without meaning to be too disrespectful, genuine quality is hard to come by in examining his 43-0 fight record but he is a boxer who looks the part no matter who his opponent. He often appears as two fighters: one, patient, technically gifted and married to a high, tight guard; the other, tigerish and aggressive, happy to risk unwise punches but generally escaping punishment. He slips both skins without discord and I imagine it makes him an extremely difficult, even spooky foe, especially when it comes to devising strategy.
Juarez’s strategy in the third was a sudden and rather desperate (if not quite wild) left hook that scored on two occasions to bring him the round. Menayothin greeted this new development calmly, but he did forgo exchanges, perhaps while assimilating this new information.
In the fourth though, Juarez was forced to give ground and looked disorganized in doing so. Menayothin decided to bring definite pressure and this ramped up the pace of the fight in a manner that certainly seemed to disagree with the Mexican. Dominating on the outside with sharp counters and sharper leads, Menayothin came off no worse than even when they closed. This is a disastrous pattern of action for the fighter on the receiving end; after winning the third, Juarez was actually ahead at this point, but he would never be ahead again. Although Juarez worked to show Menayothin something different, he never completely succeeded in breaking this essential rhythm.
In the sixth, Menayothin went to work on taking away the Juarez jab, countering him with right-hands which by this time were absolute dialled in. He hardly missed a right upon Juarez throwing a left, tossing yet another strategic spanner into the Mexican’s works. Menayothin has a superb boxing brain, I think, although it would be nice to see this tested against more opponents of this caliber and better; it’s easy to out-think fighters who are out-matched physically. That said, this is true even of Juarez, who was quick, but not as quick as the Thai, strong, but not as strong as the Thai, accurate but less accurate, organized but more easily disrupted.
That Menayothin wasn’t really extended in this fight is something of an exciting proposition for world boxing though, as ever, complications abound. The divisional number two is also a Thai, the colourfully named Knockout CP Freshmart (in Thailand, fighters will often cheerfully take upon themselves names of their gyms or, in this case, a grocery store providing sponsorship), also unbeaten at 13-0 and seemingly as natural as an opponent can be. The problem, as is so often the case, is the alphabet organizations that bequeath titles. Each holds a strap and each considers themselves a legitimate world champion; why give up the cash cow? It’s a question familiar to those who have followed attempts to make Alvarez-Golovkin or Stevenson-Kovalev. A shot at the title used to be everything. Now that everyone has one, it’s nothing.
Returning to Thailand and Menayothin’s domination of Juarez, the Mexican’s attempts to re-set and jab his way into the contest came to naught as he was speared with the Menayothin jab and driven back by right hands in the ninth and beaten close in the tenth. On my card he grabbed the eleventh and twelfth as Menayothin coasted home to keep his scorecard respectable. He took his shot and did not disgrace himself for all that he was outclassed by the superior fighter (and drops to 23-5-1).
How good is Menayothin? There was a certain ease to the way he dominated four through ten that makes me wonder if he might not be very good but we’re unlikely to find out except by his consistently matching competition at a higher level. It is available. Hekkie Budler and Katsunari Takayama are both damaged goods now but either one would provide a real test of Menayothin’s own experience. Bryan Rojas provided stiff competition recently for Freshmart and would be a fine measuring stick for his status relative to his younger, more aggressive shadow. Jose Argumedo rounds out the top five and continued close ties between Latin America and the east might be able to deliver us this fight.
It’s depressingly probable, however, that Menayothin will do whatever the WBC tells him to do. What they are going to tell him to do is fight Janiel Rivera (14-2-3) out of Puerto Rico, who recently struggled to a draw over eight rounds with a fighter named Felipe Rivas whose ledger stood at 15-16-3. And Rivera is not even the worst choice in the rancid WBC strawweight top ten.
Hopefully though, Menayothin spies the wood despite the trees. At just thirty years old he has the time and talent to carve out a serious footnote in the smallest of divisions.