Lee Groves

10: “Singles Hitters”

3. Miguel Canto: 61-9-4 (15) – .203 knockout percentage

If ever a fighter defied conventional wisdom, it was this master from Mexico. He lost two of his first three fights by knockout. He lost his first title shot to then-WBC titlist Betulio Gonzalez. He stood just a half-inch over 5-feet tall and owned a miniscule 60-inch reach that demanded that he become a wade-in slugger. But because he admired Willie Pep’s artistry over his nation’s heritage of sluggers, the vertically challenged Canto chose to become a pure boxer.

And what a boxer he was.

His superb timing, quick hands and nimble movement allowed Canto to bedazzle his rangier opponents and win round after round. After losing the majority decision over Gonzalez, Canto ran off six wins in a row to earn a shot at Gonzalez’s successor Shoji Oguma. Fighting at the Miyagi Sports Center in Sendai, Japan, Canto overcame Oguma’s home ring advantage and lifted the belt by majority decision.

Over the next 50 months, Canto showcased the velvety skills that overcame his feather fists. The toughest feat to pull off in boxing is to win decisions in title fights away from home and Canto’s anemic power exponentially increased the degree of difficulty. But Canto’s knowledge was so well executed that the judges had little choice but to grant him enough rounds to keep the title. He took his belt to Venezuela twice, Japan three times, Chile, Houston and Los Angeles and each time Canto returned to the airport with belt in hand – all by decision.

In fact, Canto established a record that will never be broken in this era of 12-round title fights: He retained his title 12 straight times by 15 round decision. Of those, eight – including four straight – were achieved away from his native Mexico.

Canto’s 14 successful defenses at flyweight was the division record until Pongsaklek Wonjongkam snapped it more than three decades later and his roster of victims was impressive enough to vault him into the IBHOF in 1998. He twice avenged his initial loss to Gonzalez by out-pointing him in Canto’s hometown of Merida, then in Gonzalez’s native Venezuela. During his title run, Canto decisioned Oguma three times (all in Japan), out-boxed Chilean bomber Martin Vargas in back-to-back home-and-home bouts held 74 days apart, out-pointed future WBC titlist Antonio Avelar and former titlist Susumu Hanagata. The only title defense that ended in knockout was his second, an 11th round stoppage over Jiro Takada.

Canto’s run ended when he traveled to South Korea to fight Chan Hee Park, who had fewer pro fights coming in (10) than Canto had title defenses. But Park’s swarming style built a huge lead through 10 rounds and though Canto managed a stirring rally in the championship rounds, his lack of KO power finally caught up to him as he lost by one, three and nine points. Many observers thought he had done enough to win the rematch six months later but Canto’s final title fight ended in a draw.

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