While age and experience certainly have their place in the fight game, youthful energy and raw talent have proven more than enough to produce World Champions in boxing. Some fighters are naturally skilled and born to perform inside the ring.
They move with speed and explosiveness, often throwing caution to the wind while relying on their natural physical gifts. And the more they progress in their careers, the better they get.
It is certainly astonishing how fighters so young are able to climb the ladder and reach the pinnacle of the sport in such a short time, but these legends have defied the odds.
They say boxing is a young man’s game. These fighters are a testament to this old adage. Let’s take a look at the youngsters who seized the moment and etched their names in the annals of boxing history.
Today, Evolve Daily shares five of the youngest boxing World Champions of all time.
1) Wilfred “El Radar” Benitez
Puerto Rican lightweight by way of New York City, Wilfred “El Radar” Benitez is the youngest world champion in boxing history.
At just 17 years, five months, and 24 days old, Benitez captured the WBA Super Light Welterweight Championship with a 15-round split decision victory over Antonio Cervantes in 1976. He also won the lineal light welterweight title in the process.
Benitez was most known for his skilled aggression, reminiscent of throwback fighters in boxing’s most significant era. Despite his offensive repertoire, though, “El Radar” also possessed robust defensive abilities that allowed him to evade imminent danger while keeping himself in the pocket.
Benitez was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996 and is today considered one of the greatest Puerto Rican boxers of all time, joining a short list that includes Felix Trinidad, Wilfredo Gomez, Carlos Ortiz, Hector Camacho, and Miguel Cotto.
2) Cesar “El Patico” Polanco
The Dominican Republic’s Cesar “El Patico” Polanco turned professional in 1983 and soon amassed a 15-1-1 boxing record within his first three years in the sport.
In 1986, he flew to Jakarta, Indonesia to do battle with local fighter, Elly Pical, with the IBF Super Flyweight Championship on the line. After a close back-and-forth affair, “El Patico” took home a razor-thin split decision victory, capturing the belt and making history.
He is the second-youngest boxing world champion of all time, winning a major belt at 18 years, two months, and 18 days old.
Unfortunately, Polanco flew back to Jakarta months later to battle Pical in a highly anticipated rematch. It was his very first world title defense. Pical stopped Polanco with a crushing body shot in the third round.
“El Patico” would never make it back into the heights to vie for another world title, and his career eventually fizzled out, leading to his retirement from boxing in 1993.
3) Ratanapol “Little Khaosai” Sor Vorapin
Former Thai professional boxer Ratanapol “Little Khaosai” Sor Vorapin came from extreme poverty in the rural Nakhon Ratchasima province of Thailand, with his older brother, former WBC Bantamweight Champion Ratanachai Sor Vorapin.
When the two boys discovered martial arts at a young age, it became a means of building a better life.
Sor Vorapin initially competed in Muay Thai in Bangkok, the national martial art of Thailand, but later switched to boxing, in which he made his professional debut in 1990. He then strung together an impressive streak of knockout victories, and in 1992, challenged for a world title.
At 18 years, six months, and five days old, “Little Khaosai” captured the IBF Minimumweight Championship after bagging a close split decision over Manny Melchor at home in Thailand.
The victory propelled Sor Vorapin to stardom in his country, and he proceeded to defend the belt multiple times. He retired in 2009.
4) Jose “Pipino” Cuevas
Mexican-born former professional boxer Jose “Pipino” Cuevas is a boxing Hall of Famer and was the atypical Mexican boxer. He was lightning quick, powerful, and aggressive. But perhaps the most interesting part of his career was that he turned professional at just 14 years of age.
Cuevas made his debut in 1971 against Alfredo Castro in Mexico City. Unfortunately, Cuevas lost that fight by second-round knockout. Now, he could have quit right there and called it a day, but “Pipino” soldiered on and it turned out to be the right decision.
Just five years later, Cuevas challenged Angel Espada for the WBA Welterweight Championship. He defeated Espada via second-round technical knockout to earn the golden strap and become one of the youngest boxing world champions in history at just 18 years, six months, and 21 days.
Cuevas was later inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and the World Boxing Hall of Fame.
5) Hiroki Ioka
Former multiple-division boxing world champion Hiroki Ioka of Osaka, Japan, is one of the most accomplished Japanese fighters in history.
In 1987, Ioka earned a hard-fought 12-round unanimous decision victory over Mai Thomburifarm in front of his countrymen. The victory earned him his first world title.
Ioka was the first-ever WBC Mini Flyweight Champion, and won the belt immediately after the division was established. At 18 years, nine months, and 11 days old, Ioka became one of the youngest boxing world champions of all time.
He is also the youngest boxer in Japan’s history, a record that still stands today.
Ioka eventually retired in 1998, after having won belts in several weight classes, including light flyweight, flyweight, and super flyweight. He now owns his own studio and teaches the younger generation at Ioka Boxing Gym. He also appears on local Japanese television shows and is an important figure in the local scene.
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