Advertisement

Great Eight: Juan Francisco Estrada vs. Bam Rodriguez would be rare champ vs. champ

The proliferation of titles makes it difficult for all but the most astute fans to determine the cream of the boxing crop.

That’s why Boxing Junkie came up with its “Great Eight” feature, which names the best fighter in each of the original eight weight classes –heavyweight, light heavyweight, middleweight, welterweight, lightweight, featherweight, bantamweight and flyweight.

Heavyweight includes cruiserweight (and the WBA and WBC’s bridgerweight), light heavyweight includes super middleweight, middleweight includes junior middleweight and so on down to flyweight, which includes junior flyweight and strawweight.

In this installment of “Great Eight,” we explore the possibility of an intriguing development: Two of our champions — Juan Francisco Estrada (bantamweight) and Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez (flyweight) — are in talks to fight one another.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said he’s trying to close a deal for the fighters to meet for Estrada’s 115-pound title on June 29 in Phoenix.

The principals are at different stages of their careers.

Estrada (44-3, 28 KOs) is a two-division champion who has shown no signs of decline — he’s coming off a second victory in his third fight against future Hall of Famer Roman Gonzalez — but he’s 33 and has been fighting professionally for 15-plus years.

The Mexican also hasn’t been active. The second victory over Gonzalez took place in December 2022 and he hasn’t fought since. He had been in talks to face fellow titleholder Kazuto Ioka last December but negotiations broke down.

Estrada has won eight consecutive fights since he lost a majority decision to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in 2018, a setback he later avenged.

Rodriguez (19-0, 12 KOs) is a rising star. The 24-year-old Texan has reeled off one spectacular victory after another to join Estrada on many credible pound-for-pound lists, including Boxing Junkie’s.

He made a strong impression by outpointing veteran Carlos Cuadras to win a vacant 115-pound title in February 2022 and then knocked out the equally respected Sor Rungvisai in eight rounds in his first defense four months later.

And he was just getting started. He delivered what might be his best performance last December, when, after dropping down to 112 and winning a major belt, he stopped previously unbeaten Sunny Edwards to unify two titles.

“This is a fight we’ve been working on for a long time,” Hearn told DAZN. “I think Estrada against Bam Rodriguez is just a stunner. You keep seeing these small guys give us unbelievable nights.

“Estrada against “Chocolatito” (Roman Gonzalez) so many times, Bam against Sunny [Edwards] last December was incredible, and Estrada against Bam is just a Fight of the Year contender written all over it.”

It would be difficult to argue with Hearn on that point. It doesn’t get much better than one of the best fighters of the generation vs. one of the most exciting young phenoms in the game

And, of course, it would have major implications in terms of Great Eight.

If the fight happens and Estrada wins, he would add to his own Hall of Fame credentials and remain as bantamweight champion here. Rodriguez would become champion in a second Great Eight division if he has his hand raised.

Rodriguez hasn’t said definitively that he’s finished at 112 but that appears to be the case.

Here are the top fighters in the original eight divisions:

HEAVYWEIGHT

Tyson Fury (34-0-1, 24 KOs) – Fury will have a chance to prove his subpar performance against Francis Ngannou was an aberration when he faces Oleksandr Usyk for the undisputed championship on pay-per-view May 18 in Saudi Arabia. Of course, the winner will be our Great Eight champ.

LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT

Dmitry Bivol (22-0, 11 KOs) – The winner of the Bivol-Beterbiev showdown on June 1 will determine not only the Great Eight champion but also the best 175-pounder of the era. Few possible matchups in boxing are better or more significant than this one.

MIDDLEWEIGHT

Jermell Charlo (35-2-1, 19 KOs) – The 154-pounder came up short against 168-pound champ Canelo Alvarez but he remains the best at 160 and 154. He had expressed interest in facing welterweight king Terence Crawford but that doesn’t appear to be in the works, leaving his future uncertain..

WELTERWEIGHT

Terence Crawford (40-0, 31 KOs) – Crawford hasn’t fought since his epic beat down of Errol Spence Jr. last July and has nothing solid in the works. One potential opponent would be Israil Madrimov, who stopped Magomed Kurbanov to win a 154-pound title on May 8.

LIGHTWEIGHT

Gervonta Davis (29-0, 27 KOs) – “Tank” remains the most-complete fighter at 135 and 130 but boxing wizards Shakur Stevenson and Vasiliy Lomachenko might have something to say about who reigns in Great Eight before all is said and done. Now we need to see these pivotal matchups.

FEATHERWEIGHT

Naoya Inoue (26-0, 23 KOs) – Inoue gave another dominating performance against Marlon Tapales on Dec. 26, stopping the Filipino in the 10th round to become undisputed champion in a second weight class. Can anyone compete with him? Luis Nery will be the next one to try. They meet on May 6.

BANTAMWEIGHT

Juan Francisco Estrada (44-3, 28 KOs) – Boxing Junkie’s No. 5 fighter pound-for-pound had hinted that he might move up from junior bantamweight to bantamweight but an explosive potential matchup with Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez at 115 might keep him in his current division.

FLYWEIGHT

Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez (19-0, 12 KOs) – Rodriguez supplanted Edwards as champion here after leaving no doubt about who is the best 112-pounder in the world. He’ll almost certainly be replaced if he signs a contract to challenge Estrada at 115 pounds.

Story originally appeared on Boxing Junkie