By Rory Hickey: The 115-pound weight class has been one of the most exciting divisions in boxing for the last decade or so. The division has had memorable fights for years and has been a hidden gem in the boxing landscape. The super flyweight division (a.k.a. the junior bantamweight division) has been carried primarily by four amazing boxers: Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez, Carlos Cuadras, Juan Francisco Estrada, and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai.
The four men have helped demonstrate that no matter your size or where you are from, Chocolatito is Nicaraguan, Cuadras and Estrada are Mexican, and Rungvisai is Thai, persistence will ultimately be recognized and rewarded. Boxing fans loved the fights in the division, and TV networks took notice too. HBO has even run ‘Superfly’ events featuring the super flyweight division that has had multiple iterations.
Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez (16-0, 11 KO) was born in San Antonio, Texas, twenty days into the twenty-first century. He grew up watching those ‘Superfly’ cards and idolizing the pillars of the 115-pound division. In 2020, he ended up in the ring with Carlos Cuadras as a replacement for Sor Rungvisai, who had to withdraw due to illness. Rodriguez was preparing for a fight in the flyweight division and opted to take the super flyweight bout against Cuadras just six days before it took place. Then, he decisively defeated Cuadras to take his WBC super-flyweight championship and become the youngest champion in boxing at the time.
“Bam” Rodriguez followed that victory by taking on Sor Rungvisai, the man whose spot he filled on short notice. Rodriguez won, which was not a surprise – he opened as a 5 to 1 betting favorite. But the way he out-power-punched and ultimately stopped Sor Rungvisai by 8th round TKO was shocking.
Having defeated two of the four pillars of the super flyweight division, Rodriguez will have his next bout defending his WBC super flyweight championship against Israel Gonzalez (28-4-1, 11 KO) as the main undercard bout for Canelo-Golovkin III on September 17th.
The 22-year-old Rodriguez recently signed on to Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing, which has been a positive for his career. Having his next fight on Canelo’s undercard is the latest example of Hearn getting Rodriguez into the limelight where he can showcase his sublime skills.
“Earn With Hearn” is an Eddie Hearn-ism he uses to promote Matchroom Boxing, and Bam Rodriguez could be in a position to cash in like no man in the history of the lower weight classes of boxing. Rodriguez, who will not turn 23 until January 2023, already has two career-defining victories on his resume. If Bam gets by Israel Gonzalez, he could find himself at a fork in the road with another career-defining opponent on either side. Rodriguez could take on Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez, a legend in the lower weight divisions and the greatest boxer in Nicaraguan history. Or Bam Rodriguez could take on Juan Francisco Estrada, current Ring Magazine super flyweight champion and a future Hall of Famer in his own right.
Estrada and Chocolatito have agreed to fight a third time in December. If their third fight resembles the first two matchups in 2012 and this past March, we will have a classic trilogy on our hands. So the winner of that fight faces Bam Rodriguez in the spring of 2023, and everything is good? Well, no. Estrada recently had to give up his WBA ‘super’ junior bantamweight title he won by defeating Chocolatito in March. The WBA elevated Joshua Franco (18-1-2), the secondary titleholder, to their “regular” champion because Estrada ultimately opted to face Chocolatito again rather than challenge Franco. The WBA approved the third Estrada-Gonzalez fight; on the condition that the winner then faces Joshua Franco- who happens to be the brother of Bam Rodriguez.
Franco, the older brother, facing Estrada or Chocolatito before his younger brother would seem to throw a wrench into Bam’s potential super flyweight dominance. But Rodriguez and Franco have decided to share, like any good brothers. All the championships in the lower weight divisions, specifically the flyweight (112 pounds) and super flyweight divisions are what these two brothers will be divvying up; fighting with anyone in the lower weight divisions with a belt or anyone who wants the smoke.
Franco’s recent career has been interesting. The current WBA junior bantamweight champion has fought just three men in the last five years, but he completed trilogies against two of them, Oscar Negrete (19-3-2) and Andrew Moloney (24-2-0). He had three split decisions against Negrete, drawing two and winning one. Against Andrew Moloney, he won two unanimous decisions in the first and final bouts; the second bout was a no contest in which Franco had his eye closed as a result of swelling caused by an accidental headbutt, at least officially. On replay, it sure looked like a left jab from Moloney caused Franco’s eye to swell up, which would have given Moloney the TKO victory and Franco’s championship. The referee, Russell Mora, then went to a replay review done by the Nevada State Athletic Commission that took nearly half an hour and made the ending of an NBA game look lightning quick by comparison. Ultimately the wrong decision was upheld, and Franco escaped the Top Rank “boxing bubble” in Las Vegas with his championship.
Joshua Franco was a quality prospect in his early career, winning his first thirteen fights before suffering an upset loss via ninth-round KO to Lucas Emanuel Fernandez Leone in March 2018 for his only official loss. Since that defeat, he has developed and improved- especially in his bouts against Negrete and Moloney. While his career may not have as high of a ceiling as his brother Bam, Franco is a great fighter and a worthy champion. Franco is hoping to defend his WBA championship sometime in the fall.
Twin brothers Jermall and Jermell Charlo are creating a template for Bam Rodriguez and Joshua Franco’s vision of shared dominance; Jermall is holding a middleweight championship, and Jermell Charlo is currently the undisputed champion at super welterweight. The most recent example of a pair of brothers dominating a single weight class is Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko campaigning in the heavyweight division in the first part of this century. The Klitschkos famously promised their mother they would not face each other in a professional ring. Unlike the Klitschkos, who were genetically bound to the heavyweight division, Bam Rodriguez and Joshua Franco have some leeway to take on challengers at different weight classes.
After he defeated Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in his most recent bout, Bam Rodriguez outlined the plan in his post-fight interview: “Any champion at 112, come get it– I am here! Bam Rodriguez is here to stay; I’m a special fighter, not an average fighter!”
“[115 pounds] is for my brother Josh Franco. For those who don’t know, he is very underrated, and he is waiting for his shot. But, once he gets it, he is going to show who he is. We’re here to stay! 112, 115, anybody can get it!”
However, following deliberations with his management and promotional team, Bam Rodriguez opted to stay in the 115-pound division to defend his WBC super flyweight championship against Israel Gonzalez. If Bam defeats Gonzalez as expected and Franco successfully defends his WBA championship, Thanksgiving in San Antonio could be interesting this year.
In recent years the super flyweight division has been one of the most intriguing in boxing. As the careers of Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez, Carlos Cuadras, Juan Francisco Estrada, and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai wind down, the fundamentals of the 115-pound division remain strong. Cuadras and Sor Rungvasai look to be at or near the end of their legendary careers- while Chocolatito and Juan Francisco Estrada will face off against one another in December to conclude their terrific trilogy that began a decade ago.
Meanwhile, Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez has all the elements to become the next superstar in the super flyweight division. Rodriguez is an exciting and accomplished fighter who is mature for his age inside and outside the ring. As a San Antonio native, he will always have a large fan base, and with two top-notch victories already on his resume plus his growing exposure, the bandwagon will only get more crowded.
In theory, Franco and Rodriguez can fight in separate weight classes, with each brother clearing out the competition on their side of the street. But the politics and finances of boxing have a funny way of disrupting the best-laid plans. Will Bam have to alter his career path to appease or avoid his older brother? Only time will tell, but it will be exciting to find out.