The Super Featherweight division is a really interesting one right now, with a nice selection of fighters at the top. We have destructive punchers, a stylist and some really amazing possible match ups. We also, sadly, have massive amounts of politics with the WBA causing a mess, as we see all too often, and other niggling issues. We also sort of lack depth in the division, which may end up helping force the top fighters to fight each other sooner, rather than later.
So lets take a look at the champions, which as usual aren't in a set order, but we do group the WBA title holders together.
Masayuki Ito (25-1-1, 13) - WBO (1 defense)
Japan's Masayuki Ito has been a professional for almost 9 years, but has only just come to the public's attention in 2018, winning the WBO title in the US, by beating Christopher Diaz, and defending at the end of the year, stopping Evgeny Chuprakov. Despite taking a while to reach the top Ito has really done things in an impressive fashion. His first major triumph was in the 2012 Rookie of the Year, he would later go on to win a WBC Youth title, an OPBF title and a WBO Asia Pacific title. In the ring he's a boxer, though who has started to develop some spite, something we didn't earlier in his career. Early in his career he was a pretty pure boxer mover but has started to stand and hold his feet, scoring 10 stoppages in his last 15 fights and only 3 in his first 12. He's certainly not unbeatable, but he's going to be a hard man to dethrone.
Tevin Farmer (28-4-1-1, 6) - IBF (2 defenses)
Another fighter who has had a long battle to the top before getting recognition recently is American Tevin Farmer. He's been a professional since 2011 and actually lost on debut and was 4-3-1 (1) after 8 bouts. His career really has been a hard slog but he's really shown what he can do and he's one of the best pure boxers in the division, with fantastic natural boxing ability, great movement, sharp punching and a high ring IQ. He won his world title in August 2018 and managed to rack 2 defenses in the following 4 months, but they haven't come against the greatest of challengers and it's going to be interesting when he does step up in class. He's talented, without a doubt, but his bouts aren't the most exciting and he does lack real quality wins, with his best results coming against Ivan Redkach, Daulis Prescott and Billy Dib. Hopefully he slows his activity in 2019 and takes on better competition.
Miguel Berchelt (35-1, 31) - WBC (4 defenses)
One of the best boxer-punchers in the sport right now, and one of the most criminally over-looked, is Mexican Miguel Berchelt. Berchelt has held the WBC title since January 2017, when he stopped Francisco Vargas, and has scored 4 defenses. On paper he has the strongest record in the division with wins over Vargas, Takashi Miura, Miguel Roman, Cristobal Cruz, Oliver Flores and Jonathan Victor Barros. Berchelt can pretty much do it all, bang, box, brawl and fight. The one loss on his record is a real freak defeat to Venezuelan Luis Eduardo Florez, almost 5 years ago, and shouldn't really be considered when looking at his future bouts. He caught clean and failed to recover, but has since proven his chin. For us he's the most dangerous fighter in the division.
Gervonta Davis (20-0, 19) - WBA "super" (0 defenses)
Although we think Berchelt is the most dangerous man at 130lbs he does stiff competition in the form of Gervonta Davis. "Tank" is one of the many American fighters who are clearly talented, but simply lack the activity needed to show that talent, the exact opposite of Tevin Farmer. Davis won the IBF title in January 2017, stopping Jose Pedraza, to announce himself on the world stage and defended it once before being stripped for failing to make weight ahead of a bout with Francisco Fonseca. He has since won the WBA "Super" title, in what was clearly a WBA political decision to create a title to give Davis, rather than recognise their "regular" champion as their top guy. Davis is a fantastic boxer, with scary power, a fantastic ability to mix things up and a real attitude in the ring. Sadly he's also the worst managed and promoted fighter in the division, and only fought once in 2018. He's set to defend his title in February against Abner Mares, in a bout that has been widely criticised, and the worry is that he will again fail to be active enough to remain in the memories of fight fans.
Alberto Machado (21-0, 17) - WBA "regular" (2 defenses)
Puerto Rican punches Alberto Machado is another monster puncher at 130lbs, and has a very solid claim to being the WBA's most legitimate champion, despite only being the "regular" champion. Machado beat Jezreel Corrales, who was stripped on the scales before facing Machado. Corrales had ended the long reign of Takashi Uchiyama and should really have been regarded as the fighter with the strongest line at the time, but the WBA didn't really follow any logic, knowing the money that was behind Davis. Since beating Corrales Machado has defended his belt twice, beating both Rafael Mensah and Yuandale Evans. Although not the best boxer he is a dynamite puncher, and puts fighters on the back foot with that power.
Having spent the last couple of days looking at the Featherweight division, and more precisely its champions and contenders, we now get on to some of the prospects in the division, which are a real mixed bag with many of them having had inactivity plague their careers so far.
If you missed the previous articles on the division they are available here:
The state of the Division - Featherweight - The Champions
The state of the Division - Featherweight - The Contenders
Ryo Sagawa (6-1, 4)
Arguably the most improved fighter in 2018 is Ryo Sagawa, who began the year 2-1 (2) and went on to score 4 good wins, over opponents with a combined 61-10-2, during the year. He was a former accomplished amateur who suffered a surprise loss in his second professional bout, but has bounced back well and scored notable domestic wins over Junki Sasaki, Ryo Matsumoto and Shingo Kawamura in his last 3 bouts. He's a skilled boxer-puncher who has shown real improvements since his loss and now looks like being one of the big rising stars of the Featherweight division. A real one to watch in 2019, a year that he's stated he'll be looking to fight for titles in.
Jordan Gill (22-0, 6)
With 22 fights to his name 24 year old Englishman should perhaps be a bit further along with his career than he is, however "the Thrill" hasn't been the most active in recent years with only a single fight in 2016 and just 2 fights in 2017 so has struggled to build momentum. The Englishman is a light puncher, but a talented one and scored good wins in 2018 against the likes of Jason Cunningham and Ryan Doyle. Hopefully he continues to be busy in 2019 and move his way on to the European title picture. Unfortunately, Europe is packed with very good Featherweights and it could be tough for Gill to impress at the level at the moment.
Hinata Maruta (8-1-1, 7)
The very highly regarded Hinata Maruta made his debut in 2015 and was destined for greatness. Sadly his journey hasn't been smooth sailing, as anticipated, with a loss to Hidenori Otake in late 2017 and an unfortunately draw with Ben Mananquil earlier this year. Despite those set backs we have seen touches of genius from Murata who now looks to be fighting at his best weight, and his recent TKO win over Tsuyoshi Tameda was as impressive as anything else he's done since turning professional. If Maruta can get it all together and perform to his best then his ceiling is incredibly high, but the boxer-puncher really needs everything to click sooner rather than later so he can build some momentum and move into title contention.
Joet Gonzalez (21-0, 12)
At 25 years old Joet Gonzalez is similar in some ways to the aforementioned Jordan Gill, in that we would typically expect a guy in his mid 20's with over 20 fights to really have progressed beyond being a prospect. He had a good 2018, with wins over Rafael Rivera and Rolando Magbanua, to go along with a solid 2017 win over Deivi Julio Bassa, but we're still waiting for a big break out from him, and we suspect that's what we'll see from him in 2019 as he looks to move from prospect to contender.
Hector Luis Garcia (10-0-0-1, 8)
Dominicant Puncher Hector Luis Garcia is a 27 year old who debuted in late 2016 and has quickly raced out to 10-0. He's heavy-handed has already won a regional title and now heads into 2019 with some momentum. Given his advanced age we're expecting to see Garcia matched with better regional talent in 2019 and could potentially find himself in the world rankings by the end of the year, if he can do that then maybe he'll be given more exposure. Whilst he's not a bit name he was a notable amateur, competing at the 2016 Olympics and being a 3-time silver medal winner in regional competitions, losing to top Cubans in his final bouts
Tremaine Williams (15-0, 5)
Unbeaten American Tramaine Williams, aka "The Might Midget" is a 26 year old who has long been tipped as a future world champion, following a solid amateur career. Sadly for all the expectations on his shoulders he's yet to really show what he can do, and he's already been a professional for well over 6 years. Sadly his career has been slowed by serious bouts of inactivity, with no fights in 2014 or 2016, and only 1 fight in 2018. Despite the inactivity he has beaten the likes of Christopher Martin, German Meraz and William Gonzalez, showing that he has been able to perform well against good competition. He's promising but certainly needs to "get on with it" so to speak.
Dave Penalosa (14-0, 10)
Hard hitting Filipino Dave Penalosa carries one of the biggest names in Filipino boxing, with his father, uncles, grandfather and brother all being notable fighters. He, like several others on this list, has been a really frustrating fighter. He's been a professional since 2011, but failed to fight in 2015 and 2017, essentially losing more 24 months of his career. If he can remain active, build on a couple of wins in 2018 he could become a contender by the end of 2019, especially given his surname, strong backing from ESPN5 in the Philippines and an exciting style. He will however need to be kept busy and be given the match ups to build on, rather than have any more time away from the ring.
Michael Conlan (10-0, 6)
Northern Irishman Michael Conlan is a very highly regarded prospect in the division and was a standout amateur, winning the 2015 World Amateur Championships with a victory over Murodjon Akhmadaliev as well as competing at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. We feel he hasn't quite shown the same skills in the professional ranks as he did in the amateurs, but with Top Rank behind him, along with a huge Irish support and so much amateur experience it's hard to see imagine any but success for Conlan, who is a lot more technically rounded than his brother Jamie, who was one of the most exciting fighters in recent memory. A lot of pressure is on Conlan's shoulders but we're expecting him to shine in the next year or two.
Musashi Mori (8-0, 5)
Whilst some fighters on this list have been tipped as a success since before making their professional debut, the same cannot be said of 19 year old Musashi Mori, who turned professional in 2016 without any fanfare. Mori would impress in 2017, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Super Featherweight before moving down in weight earlier this year to claim the WBO Asia Pacific title from Richard Pumicpic. There are areas for Mori to work on, but he looks like a fantastic prospect with good speed, underrated power, good composure and he is improving his defense as well. A really promising and young talent as we head into the new year.
Ren Sasaki (8-0, 5)
Another Japanese fighter making it on to this list is Ren Sasaki, a 23 year old who really made his mark in 2017 when he won the Japanese Rookie of the Year last year, winning it at Featherweight whilst the aforementioned Mori won at Super Featherweight before dropping down in weight. Sasaki didn't have a mega busy 2018 but did win a B class tournament final, over-coming Kanehiro Nakagawa and has shown a lot to be excited about, though he obviously is less far along than Mori who has already claimed an international title. We expect Sasaki will look to climb up the domestic rankings n 2019 and could well be looking at a national title fight in 2020.
The Featherweight division is a really frustrating one, with inactive champions and a long queue of contenders. Thankfully whilst it is a frustrating division it is one with a lot of depth to it, and a lot of interesting contenders, from former champions to unknown youngsters making their mark. Here we'll have a look at some of those contenders.
For those who misses it we also had a recent look at the divisional champions The state of the Division - Featherweight - The Champions
Can Xu (15-2, 2)
Little known Chinese fighter Can Xu made his debut in 2013, and lost 2 of his first 5 bouts, but has since reeled off 12 wins and climbed up the rankings thanks to wins over the likes of Hurricane Futa, Chris George, Corey McConnell and Nehomar Cermeno. He made his US debut last year, and looked really poor in beating Enrique Bernache but clearly has got the skills to beat good competition. He's a light punching fighter who throws a lot, looks pretty tough and has sparred with the likes of Naoya Inoue. Sadly for Xu his lack of power and world level experience is going to be a problem for him when he faces the top fighters in the division. He will be back in action on January 26th in his biggest bout to date, challenging WBA "regular" champion Jesus M Rojas in what is an incredibly tough looking test for the Chinese fighter.
Joseph Diaz (27-1, 14)
American 26 year old Joseph "Jo Jo" Diaz was a stand out amateur, fighting at the 2012 Olympics and the 2011 World Amateur Championships, before making his professional debut in later 2012. Since turning professional he has been an active fighter and has score notable wins over the likes of Rene Alvarado, Jayson Velez, Horacio Garcia, Victor Terrazas and Jesus M Rojas. Sadly he failed to make weight against Rojas., in a bout for the WBA "regular" title, and was beaten by Gary Russell Jr, in a WBC title fight. Diaz is talented but lacks power and will be forced to fight hard in every top-level fight he has.
Miguel Flores (23-2, 11)
American fighter Miguel Flores is a 26 year old who is set for a WBC title fight on February 16th, taking on Leo Santa Cruz. Were he not set for a title fight, which is an undeserved one, he wouldn't be listed here. He has been stopped in 2 of his last 3 bouts and we now need to go back to August 2016 to see his last win of note, a close decision win over Ryan Kielczweski. Although a decent fighter we really don't see him as a legitimate contender, as stoppages to Dat Nguyen and Christ Avalos have shown, and instead another poor challenger for the frustrating Leo Santa Cruz.
Carl Frampton (26-2, 15)
Northern Irishman Carl "The Jackal" Frampton is one of the division's more proven and more popular fighters with fantastic ring IQ and a good mix of skills, speed and power. Sadly at the age of 31 and with a tough career behind him we do wonder how much longer he will remain as an active fighter, and there is a chance we won't actually see him fight again. He was last seen fighting a few days ago, losing a decision to IBF champion Josh Warrington, and despite having moments in that fight he did look his age against the younger, fresher man.
Abner Mares (31-3-1, 15)
It's hard to know exactly what to make of the 33 year old Abner Mares, a talented multi-weight champion from Mexico. We suspect he'd be best suited at Bantamweight, where his 5'4" frame will still him from being outsized, but his next bout is set to take place at 130lbs, against Gervonta Davis. His last few fights have mostly been at Featherweight, where he's had a mixed record, losing to Jhonny Gonzalez and twice losing to Leo Santa Cruz whilst beating the likes of Andres Gutierrerz and Jesus Marcelo Andres Cuellar. At his best he was a skilled punching machine, but now he seems to be faded fighter looking for a big pay day. Still a skilled fighter, but one past his best.
Tugstsogt Nyamabayar (10-0, 9)
Mongolian hopeful, and former amateur standout Tugstsogt Nyamabayar is a hotly tipped 26 year old who turned professional in early 2015 and has been very impressive through his short yet destructive career. He stopped his first 8 opponents, including the tough Jhon Gemino, before being taken the distance by the then 19-0 Harmonito Dela Torre. Sadly his 2018 was a bit of a write off, with only a 3 round win over Oscar Escandon, but he's set for a bit 2019 with a contest against Claudio Marrero set for January 26th. A win over Marrero will open the doors for a huge fight later in the year for the heavy-handed Mongolian.
Marlon Tapales (31-2, 14)
Former WBO Bantamweight champion Marlon Tapales is a 26 year old Filipino fighter who skipped the Super Bantamweight division to attempt to make a mark at Featherweight. He's a short southpaw, but someone who has really underrated power and a gritty toughness. With only a 42% stoppage rate Tapales would be easy to write off an easy opponent but he has stopped his last 5 bouts early and scored of those wins on the road, twice stopping Shohei Omori and also stopping Pungluang Sor Singyu. He's very tough, very hard hitting and manages to use his lack of size very well. He's going to be a very, very hard man to beat at Featherweight.
Satsoshi Shimizu (8-0, 8)
2012 Olympic bronze medal winner Satoshi Shimizu is the leading Japanese contender, and the current OPBF champion. He's a former amateur standout who is being guided by the Ohashi gym and has so far looked thoroughly destructive since making his debut in September 2016. Although a very heavy handed fighter there are question marks about Shimizu's actual skillset, and since making his debut he has looked technically flawed, with wide swings and flat footed. Ohashi are expected to secure him a world title fight in 2019, though we don't see an easy title being out there for the 32 year old puncher.
Claudio Marrero (23-2, 17)
Dominican fighter Claudio Marrero will be the next opponent for the aforementioned Tugstsogt Nyamabayar and is a proven quantity in and around world-class. He made his debut way back in 2010 and took gradual steps up in class until losing to Jesus Marcelo Andres Cuellar in 2013, he would bounce back with some explosive performances before a 2017 loss to Jesus M Rojas, which slowed his climb. In 2018 he fought just once, stopping Jorge Lara. Marrero is technically raw, but explosive, exciting and unpredictable. He's able to hurt fighters but also be hurt and is one of the most must watch fighters in the division.
Kid Galahad (26-0, 15)
Unbeaten Englishman Kid Galahad is the current mandatory challenger for the IBF title, currently held by Josh Warrington, in what would be a big all-British title fight for 2019. The 28 year old from Yokshire, though originally from Qatar, is a skilled boxer-mover who has come through the British scene the hard way, winning British and European titles, before winning an eliminator on the road this past October. Despite being unbeaten there are question marks over him, and he has failed a drugs test in the past and put on some very dreary performances, which may make him a hard sell, outside of his eventual world title shot at Warrington. A talent, but a frustrating one.
Shun Kubo (13-1, 9)
Japanese fighter Shun Kubo is a former WBA Super Bantamweight champion who stopped Nehomar Cermeno for that title in 2017 following a short reign as the OPBF champion. Following his title loss he has moved up in weight and is looking to become a 2-weight champion. He's proven to be tough and gutsy, and has the frame to build into a big Featherweight, but is technically flawed and needs to work on technique before fighting for another world title. At 28 years old and with the powerful Shinsei gym backing him he does have a shot at getting a title fight in 2019, though will almost certainly need to travel and would be a clear under-dog. Despite not being a big name he is in the WBA's rankings and could well see himself fighting for one of the many WBA variations in the future.
Genesis Servania (32-1, 15)
Former WBO title challenger Genesis Servania really made his mark in 2017, when he gave Oscar Valdez a much tougher fight than anyone had expected. The Filipino dropped Valdez before being dropped himself in what was a very entertaining contest. Since then he's not been able to get a big break, though has scored 3 stoppage wins and took part in a high profile with Naoya Inoue. Servania is a technically strong boxer-puncher with under-rated power, tough defenses and he can be in some very entertaining scraps, as we saw in 2013 when he fought Konosuke Tomiyama and gave us a thrilling contest. We're expecting to see him busy in 2019, due to a link up with Top Rank, and he may well get another world title fight before the end of the year.
Reiya Abe (18-2, 9)
Japanese fighter Reiya Abe is one of the more unknown fighters on this list, despite the 25 year old being on an impressive 10 fight winning run. That run has seen him defeat the likes of Satoshi Hosono, Tsuyoshi Tameda and Shingo Kusano, and work his way towards a May date for a Japanese title fight. He's currently ranked by a couple of world title bodies, despite having never had a title bout, but he's not ranked without merit, having given Hosono his clearest defeat to date. He's a talented boxer puncher with a lot of potential, and we suspect we'll see that potential being allowed to shine in 2019, though don't imagine he'll be getting a world title fight any time soon.
Kiko Martinez (39-8-2, 28)
Spanish veteran Kiko Martinez has had an amazingly strange career which appears to just go on and on. He's 32 years old now and debuted in 2004 taking his first massive win in 2007, when he stopped Bernard Dunne in 86 seconds for the European Super Bantamweight title. Since then he has had a distinguished career, winning and losing the IBF Super Bantamweight title and mixing with top fighters around the world. Every time he's written off he seems to bounce back and recently won the European Featherweight title to remain in the mix for one more world title bout. Given his age, his hard career and the mounting number of losses the hard hitting "La Sensacion" may not get another shot, but until he retires we suspect he will be a perennial contender.
When we talk about how interesting a division is, we sort of want to see not only top fighters, but also mouth watering match ups and active champions. Sadly the Featherweight division is lacking in terms of activity, and also has a very messy title scene, with a WBA special of having 3 champions, a WBC champion that fights once a year and a WBO champion who has sadly been inactive for almost a year due to a nasty injury.
Gary Russell Jr (29-1, 17) - WBC (3 defenses)
When we mentioned the WBC champion fights once a year, we're not kidding. The insanely talented Gary Russell Jr is one of the fighters blessed amazing speed, good boxing IQ and an exciting style, but not the hunger and desire to prove himself on a consistent basis, with 1 fight a year since 2015, the year in which he won his title. His first 24 fights were his apprenticeship, if you will, before he fought in his first world title bout and lost to the then 1-1 Vasyl Lomachenko in 2014. The following year he stopped Jhonny Gonzalez, to win the WBC title, which he has defended against Patrick Hyland, Oscar Escandon and Joseph Diaz. If Russell Jr was active he could be one of the biggest names in US boxing, but instead he's inactive and very easily forgotten, a real shame for someone with so much ability.
Oscar Valdez (24-0, 19) - WBO (4 defenses)
Hard hitting Mexican Oscar Valdez has been on the sideline since taking a 12 round unanimous decision win over Scott Quigg in March, in a bout saw him suffer a bad injury. Prior to that bout he had been active, and had been the man who looked like being the division's #1 star in the near future. A participant at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic's Valdez was groomed for stardom early on and he would win the WBO title in July 2016. Just 14 months after winning the title he had racked up 3 defenses, smashing Japan's Hiroshige Osawa, before winning FOTY contender's against Miguel Marriaga and Genesis Servania. Sadly much of 2018 has been written off due to the injuries suffered against Quigg. He was pencilled in for a January return against Andoni Gago, but that now looks to be off, with no plans yet being announced for his return.
Josh Warrington (28-0, 6) - IBF (1 defense)
The real revolution of the division in 2018 has been Englishman Josh Warrington, who went from being a local star in his home city of Leeds, England, to being recognised as one of the division's top fighters. He has done that thanks to 2 huge wins in 2018, first beating Lee Selby for the IBF title and then beating Carl Frampton to make his first defense of the title. Given his massive rise in 2018 he's going into the new year as a genuine star of the division and appears hungry to prove himself. Although not the best boxer, or the biggest puncher, Warrington has an incredible engine, a brilliant work rate and exciting style that should help grow his popularity when he does finally venture outside of the UK, something he doesn't need to do but sounds like he wants to do.
Leo Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19) - WBA "super" (2 defenses)
Exciting Mexican Leo Santa Cruz is one of the most exciting fighters in the sport, and really was something special at Bantamweight and Super Bantamweight, where he was a perpetual punching machine, who ground down opponents. Sadly "El Terremoto's" current reign as the WBA "super" champion has been a disappointing one. He won the belt in January 2017, avenging his loss to Carl Frampron and has only made 2 defenses, beating the less than great Chris Avalos in October 2017 and then beat Abner Mares in June 2018. Essentially in almost 2 years as champion Santa Cruz has beaten a man he had already beaten and a fighter who didn't deserve to be in the ring with him. He's talented, exciting, and we want to see a lot more of him, which we suspect we'll see in 2019 as he has a bout set for February 16th against Miguel Flores and has fighters snapping at his ankles for a world title fight.
Jesus M Rojas (26-2-2-1, 19) - WBA "regular" (0 defense)
Puerto Rican puncher Jesus M Rojas has had a long career, having debuted in 2006, but has gradually made his way up the sports ladder of success. He would suffer his first loss in 2008 suffer a draw against Jose Luis Araiza in 2012, and have a No Contest against Jorge Arce that same year, before going on to claim the WBA interim title in 2017, and later being upgraded to the "regular" champion. Although not a heralded fighter he has beaten the likes of Abraham Lopez and Claudio Marrero, shown himself to be a heavy-handed and tough fighter and a nightmare to fight. Sadly he was beaten last time out, but kept the title after his opponent, Joseph Diaz failed to make weight. He will be returning to the ring on January 26th to defend his title against Chinese challenger Can Xu.
Jhack Tepora (22-0, 17) - WBA "interim" (0 defenses)
The WBA mess in the division has seen the division have 3 champions, Santa Cruz, Rojas and Filipino slugger Jhack Tepora. The 25 year old Tepora is the least well-known of all the "world" champions in the division but is a rising force thanks to huge wins on the road over Lusanda Komanisi, in South Africa, and Edivaldo Ortega, in Malaysia, to claim the WBA interim title. Tepora is a crude boxer-puncher, who is very heavy-handed and despite being a bit on the slow side does have good timing and boxing skills. Fighting out of the southpaw stance Tepora looks like the sort of awkward fighter who will be a nightmare for more gifted opponents, but he also looks like he will need to improve technically before facing the best in the division. Tepora will be defending his title on January 19th on his US debut, with his opponent expected to be Mexican puncher Hugo Ruiz, in what should be an explosive clash.
The Super Bantamweight division is a bit of a strange one when it comes to prospects, with very few fighters being fast tracked, and more of the prospects having records that, on paper at least, are similar to those of contenders. Despite that is does show the depth of talent in the division, and in many ways is actually notable for showing just how deep the division is today.
If you missed our previous articles from this mini series they can be read below:
The state of the Division - Super Bantamweight - The Champions
The state of the Division - Super Bantamweight - The Contenders
Hiroaki Teshigawara (18-2-2, 11)
OPBF champion Hiroaki Teshigawara is a 28 year old verging on being a contender. His last loss came in October 2016, to Ryo Akaho, and since then he has gone 6-0 (5) and scored notable wins over the likes of Keita Kurihara, Jetro Pabustan, Jason Canoy and Teiru Kinoshita. Although not the most rounded fighter Teshigawara is an aggressive, hard hitting, tough and exciting fighter who will be a handful to anyone just below world level. He's a very exciting Japanese fighter.
Yusaku Kuga (17-3-1, 12)
Another exciting Japanese fighter is Yusaku Kuga, a former Japanese national champion who lost the Japanese title in 2018 to Shingo Wake. The loss to Wake is Kuga's only defeat since losing to Yasutaka Ishimoto in 2015, a loss that was later avenged. Kuga is a hard hitting and exciting fighter who has a rugged crudeness to him. He can certainly be out boxed, as Wake showed, but few fighters will look to have a war with him. As with Teshigawara there is an argument that Kuga is more of a fringe contender than a prospect, but we do feel that both would be highly unfancied against world-class opponents.
Jeo Santisima (17-2, 14)
With 19 fights under his belt, Filipino 22 year old Jeo Santisima is a very advanced prospect, who has managed to secure good wins over Rex Wao and Victor Uriel Lopez during his current 15 fight winning streak. With power, speed and stamina Santisima has the tools to go a long way. At the moment Santisima needs to work on his technical ability, but if he can sort out his technical flaws then there is a lot that the youngster can go on to achieve and he could end up being a very notable contender over the years to come. Before he reaches to the top however there is a fair bit of work to do.
Ye Joon Kim (16-1-2, 8)
Korean boxing has really lacked notable fighters in recent years, however they do have a real natural talent on their hands in the form of Ye Joon Kim, a gifted boxer-puncher. The 26 year old "Pacquiweather" was inactive for just over 2 years before returning this past November and stopping Waldo Sabu. Before his break he had beaten the likes of Vergil Puton, Yoshiro Utsumi and Yuki Strong Kobayashi. Kim had gone 4-1-2 in his first 7 bouts, losing to future OPBF champion Sa Myung Noh, but has since reeled off 12 straight wins and proven himself as the most promising Korean native.
Arnold Khegai (14-0-1, 9)
Interestingly, having just mentioned Ye Joon Kim, it's worth noting that 26 year old fighter Arnold Khegai is a Ukrainian prospect born to Korean parents who is now based in the US. He's also one of the most promising fighters in the division and has recently beaten the likes of Jorge Diaz and Adam Lopez. There's a long way for Khegai to go, but he's a confident, experienced fighter with a lot of potential. Given he's now in his 20's we're expecting 2019 to be a huge year for him and perhaps a world title fight will follow in 2020 or 2021.
Joseph Landeros (15-0, 15)
At just 17 years old American fighter Joseph Landeros looks to be a prodigy. Amazingly, given his age, he has already crammed 15 fights into his career, which remarkably began when he was just 15. Despite that level of activity he has only had 31 rounds as a professional. Given his average length of bout and his young age it's clear he has yet to be tested really, but his competition has been stepping up, and his last 3 opponents have all had winning records. We suspect Landeros will be a long term "one to watch" but he is certainly one to keep an eye on.
Antonio Russell (12-0, 10)
The unbeaten Gary Antonio Russell is one of Gary Russell Jr's many boxing brothers and is rising prospect at Bantamweight/Super Bantamweight. At 25 years old he is just starting to reach hi physical peak and really that seems to have shown in recent results, stopping his last 5 opponents and 8 of his last 9. Despite his solid form he has lacked a big win, and a step is likely to come in 2019. Hopefully stiffer competition will draw the best from Russell, though given how his more famous brother has fought there is a worry that Russell will have bouts of inactivity when, or rather if, he reaches the top.
Wasiru Mohammed (10-0, 9)
Ghana's Wasiru Mohammed appears to be one of the division's hidden gems. He's a heavy-handed fighter who made his debut in April 2017 and is already the WBO Africa champion, and the Ghanaian champion. Mohammed came to the attention of many fans for his win over Isaac Sackey, a win that was followed by a riot at the Bukom Boxing Arena in Accra. The stoppage over Sackey was very questionable, however his KO win over Raymond Commey was very impressive. We'd love to see Mohammed fighting outside of Ghana and he looks like a handful, even if he is a bit of a wild slugger. With dynamite power and exciting style there is real potential for him to move on to the world scene in the years to come.
Carlos Caraballo (9-0, 9)
Unbeaten Puerto Rican puncher Carlos Caraballa is a 24 year old who made his debut back in 2016 and took make steps forward in 2018, with a notable win over Jesus Martinez, on his US debut. The footage available of him makes him look speedy, intelligent and heavy-handed, with a stiff jab and a calm demeanour in the ring. Although clearly confident in his power. Caraballo doesn't seem to rush his work and is instead a calm and calculated pressure fighter. With Golen Boy now involved in his career it's going to be fun seeing how far Caraballo goes in 2019.
Alberto Ezequiel Melian (3-0, 2)
Argentinian fighter Alberto Ezequiel Melian is a 28 year old prospect on the fast track to the top. He made his debut in December 2017, in an 8 rounder against former world title challenger Deigo Ricardo Santillan, and since then has fought back-to-back 10 round bouts whilst taking the Argentinian title, beating Julian Evaristo Aristule in just his second professional bout. Given his age it's clear that 2019 will be a big year for Melian who will be making his US debut on January 26th against Edgar Ortega, a win there will likely set up a potential world title eliminator later in the year.
Yuki Yamauchi (2-0, 1)
Japanese 23 year old Yuki Yamauchi made his debut this past July and is already being touted as a potential star. The southpaw stopped Jimboy Rosales on debut before taking a step up and out classing Alvin Medura in October. He's managed by the powerful Shinsei gym and is a former amateur standout, who will likely be pushed hard by a gym that has been signing up young talent in the Hyogo area. Given his age he probably won't be put on a similar fast track to Melian but will certainly be moved aggressively over the next few years, potentially in a similar fashion to stablemate Shun Kubo, who fought for an OPBF title in his 9th bout and a world title in his 12th bout.
Currently the contenders in the Super Featherweight division are some of the most interesting, with a large number of former champions along with a good mixture of upcoming talent and recognised contenders.
If you missed our look at the division's champions that's available to read here - The state of the Division - Super Bantamweight - The Champions
Isaac Dogboe (20-1, 14)
Former WBO champion Isaac Dogboe had a huge 2018, stopping Cesar Juarez, Jessie Magdaleno and Hidenori Otake before losing the WBO belt in December to Emanuel Navarrete. At the age of 24 the British based Ghanaian has a long time to bounce back and may even find himself moving down a weight class, as he is small, but very powerful, at 122lbs. Dogboe is an exciting and likable fighter, but he really did take a beating to Navarette and it could be a while before we see him fighting at the top-level again.
Jessie Magdaleno (25-1, 15)
From one former WBO champion to another, Jessie Magdaleno was the man that Dogboe took the title from in April in what was a pulsating 12 round fight that saw both men being dropped. Although Magdaleno started well, dropping Dogboe in the first round, he was eventually broken down himself. The Nevada resident was one tipped as a future star, but he seems to have fallen short of reaching super stardom. He is, however, a talented fighter who will likely rebuild towards a second world title fight in the near future.
Ryosuke Iwasa (25-3, 18)
Staying with former champions Japan's hard hitting Ryosuke Iwasa is a former IBF champion, who lost the belt in August to TJ Doheny. Iwasa is a hard hitting southpaw who is managed by the Celes gym in Tokyo and is expected to climb back up towards a world title fight in 2019. Iwasa is an exciting puncher, but failed to really shine after winning the IBF title, going through the motions against Ernesto Saulong and then losing the belt to TJ Doheny. If he can perform like he did in his title winning effort he could be very hard to beat, but we've only seen glimpses of that talent.
Yukinori Oguni (20-2-1, 8)
The man Iwasa ripped the IBF title off was fellow Japanese fighter Yukinori Oguni, whose reign was a short one but had seen him defeat Jonathan Guzman for the belt. After losing to Iwasa in 2017 Oguni retired, before returning in December 2018, having had surgery and a good rest. He didn't look amazing on his return, with a lot of ring rust showing, but looked excellent with his body shots and it's clear that he's looking to progress quickly through 2019 and may well end up finding himself getting another world title fight by the end of the year.
Shingo Wake (25-5-2, 17)
Another talented Japanese fighter at Super Bantamweight is sharp shitting Shingo Wake, a charismatic boxer-puncher who is best known for being stopped by Jonathan Guzman in an IBF title fight. Despite the stoppage loss to Guzman, which forced Wake to have considerable time away from the ring to recover, he has looked great on his return to the ring and stoppage Yusaku Kuga in 2019, to claim the Japanese national title. Wake has publicly called for a fight with Tomoki Kameda, but will likely have to wait for a shot at the top. His next bout is scheduled for January 19th, against Takafumi Nakajima, as he attempts to avenge one of his 5 defeats.
Shohei Omori (20-2, 15)
One more Japanese southpaw at the weight is Shohei Omori, a former world title challenger at Bantamweight who moved up in weight following his second loss to Marlon Tapales. The talented and exciting Omori looked like a future world champion before running into Tapales the first time, but bounced back and had a rematch, that saw him being broken down in a damaging less that saw him suffering a bad facial injury. Since moving up he's looked fantastic, with the same speed and power that he had at Bantamweight, and potentially more durability. It's going to be very fun to see how he is at the top-level of the division.
Franklin Manzanilla (18-4, 17)
Little known Venezuelan Franklin Manzanilla is pencilled in for a world title fight with the WBC champion Rey Vargas in February, in what will be a huge bout for Manzanilla. He's got his shot following an unexpected win over Julio Ceja back in May 2018, that win aside he really doesn't have any wins of note and has lost to the likes of Belmar Preciado, who was recently stopped by Hiroshige Osawa. We'll learn a lot about Manzanilla when he takes on Vargas, though we can't see him putting up much of a test to the Mexican world champion.
Deigo De La Hoya (21-0, 10)
Unbeaten American hopeful Deigo De La Hoya has proven that he's not only known because of his relationship with Oscar De La Hoya, but also because he's an excellent fighter himself. The 24 year old Mexican has been banging on the door of a world title fight for a while, and has picked up very credible wins over Luis Orlando Del Valle, Randy Caballero and Jose Salgado, albeit a Salgado who was fighting well above his best weight. He's talented, quick, has a good boxing brain and could go a long way, it's just a case of seeing whether the 24 year old can add some power to his game before he challenges for a world title.
Lodumi Lamati (14-0-1, 9)
As with many South African contenders Lodumi Lamati looks to be a potential hidden gem. Dubbed "9mm" Lamati has already scored notable wins over Luis Melendez and Alexis Boureima Kabore. Sadly he's yet to fight outside of South Africa, though hopefully that happens in the new year and he continues his development. Footage of Lamati is limited, but he looks sharp, accurate and quick and is expected to have a big fight early in 2019.
Cesar Juarez (23-6, 17)
Mexican veteran Cesar Juarez is a 27 year old contender who really deserves a lot more attention than he gets. He first came to the attention of the hardcore fans in 2015, with notable wins over Cesar Seda and Juan Carlos Sanchez, before pushing Nonito Doinaire all the way in a thrilling FOTY contender. Since losing to Donaire Juarez has gone 6-2, including notable wins over Albert Pagara, Richard Pumicpic and Jorge Sanchez, as well as losing to Isaac Dogboe.
Albert Pagara (31-1, 22)
Having just mentioned Cesar Juarez it makes sense to talk about Albert Pagara, who suffered his only loss to Juarez and is likely wanting to avenge that loss one day. The talented Pagara looked like a future world champion in the making early in his career, but the loss to Juarez really slowed his assent. Since the loss Pagara has won 5 bouts in a row, but has been in with limited competition and now needs a step up in class. At 24 he has time to develop but shouldn't be given any more knock over jobs, he's simply too good for that level of competition.
Abigail Medina (19-4-2, 10)
Spanish based Dominican Abigail Medina recently lost a clear, but competitive, decision to Tomoki Kameda in a bout for the WBC "interim" title. The early part of the bout saw Medina look unable to cope with Kameda's speed, but later gave Kameda hell, showing that he belonged to stay in the title mix. Medinina had been on a good run before the bout with Kameda, including wins over Jeremy Parodi, Martin Ward and Anthony Settoul. He's not an elite level fighter, but certainly deserves a second shot, if he can continue to pick up decent scalps.
Murodjon Akhmadaliev (5-0, 4)
Last, but certainly not least, is 24 year old Uzbek Murodjon Akhmadaliev. The talented, exciting and hard hitting Akhmadaliev only turned professional earlier this year but has raced off to winning the WBA Inter Continental title and is ranked #1 by the WBA. A world title shot is expected in 2019, and we can't help but feel that Akhmadaliev has the potential to win a win a belt as early as his next fight. Unfortunately for him we think the champion he seems to be targeting, Danny Roman, is the toughest champion in the division and the one who could pose him the most problems. He's powerful, hard hitting, fast and unorthordox, and incredibly exciting to watch.
The Super Bantamweight division is unlike most divisions in the sport right now. It has a WBC "interim" champion, which most don't but also lacks in fast rising prospects, with one or two exceptions, and it also has a huge wealth off contenders, many of which are proven at world level having been former champions, or have earned shots at the top.
We'll start by looking at the champions.
Emanuel Navarrete (26-1, 22) - WBO (0 defenses)
The newest champion in the division is Mexican fighter Emanuel Navarrete, who upset Isaac Dogboe for the title in December, in one of the notable upsets from the final part of the year. The 23 year old proved against Dogboe that he was tough, hard working, had very good power and was very physically imposing at the weight. Navarrete's sole defeat came way back in July 2012, when he lost in the Cinturon de Oro XVIII final, though was crowned the champion due to Argueta not making it to the weigh in. Since that loss, when Navarrete was 17, he has gone 21-0 (17). The win over Dogboe aside it's fair to say Navarrete hasn't got much on his record in terms of quality, but that one win is genuinely huge and showed that the Mexican youngster is a real handful, for anyone.
Rey Vargas (32-0, 22) - WBC (3 defenses)
The longest reigning active champion in the division right now is WBC champion Rey Vargas, who looks like a wonderfully talented fighter, with brilliant outside boxing skills. Sadly the 28 year old hasn't really shined since winning the title, which he did in the UK against Gavin McDonnell, and his 3 defenses have all lacked in terms of action and drama. He's talented but doesn't seem to have the mentality to become a star, or the style to really excite. Able to box off the back foot Vargas is a fighter who doesn't have a typical Mexican style, but is incredibly skilled, and knows how to use the ring and his size really well. At the time of writing he's pencilled in to defend his title on February 9th against Franklin Manzanilla in California.
Daniel Roman (26-2-1, 10) - WBA (3 defenses)
WBA champion Daniel Roman really has had a strange, and very impressive, career. He was 2-1-1 after his first 4 bouts and 8-2-1 after 11 bouts, but has since reeled off 18 straight wins and beaten the likes of Christopher Martin, Daniel Noriega, Christian Esquivel, Shun Kubo, Ryo Mtasumoto, Moises Flores and Gavin McDonnell. The American hasn't just done it on his own door step, but has scored two good wins on Japanese soil, winning the title from Kubo in Kyoto and then defeating Matsumoto in Tokyo. Roman isn't a heavy handed fighter, or the quickest fighter, but he's a fighter who is very consistent, does everything behind a high work rate and is incredibly accurate. Watching him you don't see a special fighter, but the truth is that you see a fighter who is so good in so many ways that there's not a clear gameplan to use against him. A really impressive fighter who is technically solid, as opposed to physically gifted.
TJ Doheny (20-0, 14) - IBF (0 defenses)
Irish born Australian based southpaw TJ Doheny scored a career best win back in August to take the IBF title from Ryosuke Iwasa. He's not defended the belt since, though will now be expected to make his first defense in early 2019. Against Iwasa we saw Doheny show that there was a lot to his game, as he battled through a cut to neutralise Iwasa and clearly out box him, despite some atrocious commentary suggesting the bout was a robbery. At 32 Doheny is unlikely to have a long reign, but he could either take an easy first defense, or look to take the best pay day on offer. It's going to be very interesting to see what he does next, and he certainly looks to be the weakest of the champions at the moment.
Tomoki Kameda (36-2, 20) - WBC "interim" (0 defenses)
Japan's Tomoki Kameda picked up the WBC's "interim" title in November, during a time when Rey Vargas was out of the ring with health issues. The talented Kameda, best known for his reign as the WBO Bantamweight champion as the youngest of the 3 fighting brothers from the Kameda family, looked great for 6 rounds in his title win against Abigail Medina but, as he slowed down he began to look human and Medina certainly had his moments in the second half of their fight. At his best Kameda is a razor sharp boxer-mover, though he has almost no power at world level, despite his memorable KO win over Pungluang Sor Singyu, and as a result he's always going to have to rely on his skills, toughness and stamina to get over the line. A talented fighter without a doubt, but one who certainly seems unlikely to have a long reign here.
The Bantamweight division doesn't just have notable names at the top of the division, but also a deep amount of contenders in what is one of the more overlooked and deep divisions in the sport.
The division also has an incredibly bright future with a lot of fantastic young prospects coming through the rankings, and better yet it appears that it's not just Eastern prospects that are being fast tracked, but also some from Europe and the Americas.
If you missed out on our previous articles about the Bantamweight division they are here:
The state of the Division - Bantamweight - The Champions
The state of the Division - Bantamweight - The Contenders
Carl Jammes Martin (11-0, 10)
Not many teenagers could get away with being called "Wonder Boy" but 19 year old Filipino prospect Carl Jammes Martin certainly seems to be living up to the moniker. He debuted at the age of 16 and has already worked his way into the world rankings. The youngster is in need of a step up yo see how good he really is, but he's already won the WBA Asia and WBO Oriental Youth titles and looks to be one of the brightest prospects in the Philippines with his mixture of power, speed, aggressions and skills. It's just a shame that, so far, he has been blasting people out before we've managed to see just how good he actually is.
Tenta Kiyose (15-2-1, 7)
Japanese 22 year old Tenta Kiyose isn't one of the country's many "super prospects" who turned professional with a depth of amateur experience. Instead he's someone who has had to turn his career into a success. Afer losing on debut, being 1-1-1 after 3 bouts and losing in the 2015 Rookie of the Year final to Matcha Nakagawa we have finally seen Kiyose develop into a genuine prospect, winning his last 8 bouts. During his current winning run he has won the WBC Youth Super Bantamweight title, with a shut out over Joe Tejones, and scored a career defining stopping over Oleydong Sithsamerchai. He's big at the weight and with his current form he will be full of confidence.
Ukashir Farooq (11-0, 4)
British-Pakistani fighter Ukashi Farooq is dubbed "untouchable", and given how few rounds he's lost during his 11 bout career he does live up to that nickname pretty well. In 2017 he took the Scottish Area title, stopping Scott Allan in 8 rounds in their second meeting, and has since won and defended the British title. He looked sensational in his British title win, stopping Jamie Wilson in a round, and his win over the once touted Iain Butcher in November was very impressive. There are question marks around this power, despite the blow out of Wilson, but he is undeniably skilled and will begin chasing international honours shortly.
Kazuki Nakajima (6-0, 5)
The Ohashi gym is packed with top talent and highly regarded prospects, meaning it can be easy to get lost in the shuffle. One man looking to avoid that position is touted Bantamweight puncher Kazuki Nakajima, a 25 year old Southpaw, who debuted in summer 2017 and, one bout aside, has looked sensational. He struggled in his third bout, against the under-rated Taiga Higashi, but since then has gone from strength to strength, and looked fantastic beating veteran Yoshihiro Utsumi. Nakajima won't be the next big Ohashi star, but he has the potential to reach the top, and do so rather quickly.
Lee McGregor (5-0, 5)
Arguably the most under-rated and overlooked prospect in Britain is "Lightning" Lee McGregor, a 21 year old Bantamweight from Edinburgh who has won the IBF Youth and Commonwealth Bantamweight titles, and done so against decent competition, stopping both Goodluck Mrema and Thomas Essomba in 4 and 12 rounds respectively. McGregor was a former amateur standout before making his professional debut in November 2011 and has risen rapidly under the guidance of Cyclone Promotions. If you like the way Josh Taylor has been managed then we suspect you'll like how McGregor has been moved too.
Jade Bornea (13-0, 9)
Unbeaten Filipino 23 year old Jade Borena has been quietly rising through the ranks without too much fuss, though is a quality fighter, as he proved in the amateur ranks beating the likes of Murodjon Akhmadaliev and Kosei Tanaka in the 2013 Asian Confederation Youth Boxing Championships. At the moment Bornea is lacking a "big" win but has picked up some minor titles since his 2014 debut and is a natural talent. We really hope 2019 is a year where he begins to make a real mark on the regional scene.
Junior Almonte (11-0, 8)
Dominican puncher Junior Almonte isn't a well known fighter, but like many Dominicans rising through the ranks he's heavy handed, exciting and busy. He debuted in July 2017 and already has 11 bouts under his belt , those 11 bouts combine for 33 rounds showing how dangerous he is early on. Sadly his best wins are against the likes of Rafael Rodriguez and Donny Garcias, but we expect to see him make a step up in 2019, and hopefully make his international debut.
Fumiya Fuse (7-0, 1)
The 2017 All Japan Rookie of the Year quietly won the Rookie of the Year tournament last year as a 19 year old, just 11 months after his debut. Since then he has added a couple more wins, gone 6 rounds for the first time, made his international debut and genuinely looked like a pure natural talent. He's a skilled boxer-mover who's only question mark at the moment appears to be his power. He's only 20 years old now, so may have his man strength to develop in the coming years and if so the talented southpaw really could be one of Japan's many notable Bantamweights.
Ryusei Kawaura (5-0, 4)
From a Japanese non-puncher to a Japanese puncher, Ryusei Kawaura is a heavy handed boxer-puncher who stepped up in 2018 to over-come Marjun Pantilgan, with an 8 round decision, and Yuki Yoshimura. He's currently fighting between Super Flyweight and Bantamweight, though suspicion is that his 24 year old frame will fill into a fully fledged Bantamweight in the new year. Kawaura is a southpaw who's career has developed slowly but has a lot of potential
Seiya Tsutsumi (4-0, 3)
Another Japanese fighter looking to find their ideal weight is 22 year old Watanabe prospect Seiya Tsutsumi, who won a Danagn B Class tournament at Bantamweight in September but has since flirted with Featherweight and spoke about fighting at Super Flyweight. We're really unsure where Tsutsumi will settle, and it seems like he's also unsure, but what we do know is that he's an exciting, aggressive, hard hitting fighter who brings a lot of pressure and a lot of action. Given his age his body will almost certainly grow into that of a fully fledged Bantamweight, and we see that being the weight that he makes his name at.
Elie Konki (5-0, 1)
It's strange referring to a national champion as a prospect, but French national champion, and 2016 Olympian, Elie Konki is certainly a prospect, and one with a lot of upside. The "Spider" is a tall Bantamweight who has raced to a national title, doing so last time out, racked up experience over 10 rounds and looks like a genuine one to watch. He needs more seasoning before stepping up, but at 26 time is on his side, and there is a growth in the French scene at the moment, suggesting that Konki may get promotional backing in the near future.
Jonathan Lopez (5-0, 3)
Unbeaten "Bum Bum" Jonathan Lopez is a Puerto Rican hopeful who debuted in 2017 but really made a mark in 2018, which included a massive career win over former world title challenger Jose Alfredo Rodriguez in December. Whilst Rodriguez is no world beater, he is a the type of fighter that prospects don't tend to face in just their 5th professional bout. Given that Lopez has fit 4 bouts into 2018 we're looking forward to seeing what he and his team have in store for the new year.
The top of the Bantamweight division is exciting, well matched and really interesting. That's despite the fact the WBC title is vacant, and is currently a real mess due to the WBC's failure force bouts to actually take place. The WBC's mess however is responsible for a backlog of challengers, as the division lines up to fight for belts.
For those who missed it, we had a look at the division's champion's here The state of the Division - Bantamweight - The Champions
Please note these aren't in a particular order, other than the 4 men fighting for the WBC interim and regular titles, who are at the top based on the fact they have fights in the next few weeks.
Petch Sor Chitpattana (48-0, 33)
Unbeaten Thai 25 year old Petch Sor Chitpattana, who also fights as Petch CP Freshmart and is listed as Tasana Salapat, who has racked up an incredibly looking 48-0 record. Sadly Petch has fought almost nobody of note through his career, which began back in 2011, but his winning run has seen him climb into the WBC rankings and he'll be fighting for the WBC "interim" title on December 30th against Takuma Inoue. From the footage available he's a pretty basic southpaw, but he could end up being someone who just needs a chance to shine. We'll see very shortly.
Takuma Inoue (12-0, 3)
Petch's opponent in the WBC "interim" title fight will be 22 year old Japanese fighter Takuma Inoue, the younger brother of Naoya Inoue. The unbeaten Inoue is a much more tested than is upcoming foe, having beaten the likes of Mark John Yap, Tatsuya Fukuhara and Hiroyuki Kudaka already. He's a talent, but is cursed with the Inoue name, which has put a lot of pressure on his shoulders, especially when he doesn't have the frightening power of Naoya. Although not a puncher Inoue is a good outside boxer, and can hold his own in a brawl. It should also be noted that whilst he struggles to score stoppages he has regularly dropped decent fighters.
Nordine Oubaali (14-0, 11)
Another man involved in the WBC mess is unbeaten French fighter Nordine Oubaali, a hard hitting southpaw with a strong amateur background who will be fighting for the WBC regular title on January 19th. Oubaali is a 2-time Olympian, fighting at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, who turned professional in 2014 and has notched notable wins over Iran Diaz, Julio Cesar Mirando and Alejandro Hernandez. Although he's looked fantastic since his debut it does seem like he's yet to face a prime natural Bantamweight opponent, something expect to see when he returns to the ring in the new year against Rau'shee Warren.
Rau'shee Warren (16-2-0-1, 4)
American fighter Rau'shee Warren is a 3-time Olympian who will face the aforementioned Oubaali in the new year for the WBC title. His career promised a lot, but it took a long time to really get going, following his debut back in 2012. In 2015 Warren challenged the then WBA "super" champion Juan Carlos Payano, losing a close decision before winning a rematch the following year to win the title. Warren's reign was a very short one, losing in his first defense to Zhanat Zhakiyanov, despite dropping Zhakiyanov twice. A 2017 win over McJoe Arroyo showed Warren was still a skilled fighter, but his activity has been limited and his lack of power is likely to be am issue when he faces Oubaali.
Luis Nery (28-0, 22)
Controversial Mexican fight Luis Nery is currently banned in Japan and is a fighter who is responsible for the current WBC mess. He was a very regarded hopeful before beating Shinsuke Yamanaka in 2017, then failing a drugs test, then failed to make weight for the rematch with Yamanaka. Since returning following a WBC suspension we've seen Nery score a couple of wins but he's certainly a fighter who will have a long journey back to redeeming his name. He's spoken about a bout with Naoya Inoue in recent weeks, and whilst that bout would be something special, there is also a clear feeling that no one in Japan will want to deal with Nery, who has proven to be as unreliable as he is talented. At 24 he has a long time to rebuild his name, but will need to be an angel when it comes to drug testing, weight making and everything else if he's to get the big fights he wants.
Carlos Cuadras (37-3-1, 27)
Former WBC Super Flyweight champion Carlos Cuadras is another fighter who has a reputation to rebuilding following drug issues, although unlike Nery where the drugs was used for making weight Cuadras' problem was related to recreational drugs. Cuadras beat Srisaket Sor Rungvisai back in 2014 for the WBC Super Flyweight title and remained a top Super Flyweight until recently, losing the title to Roman Gonzalez in 2016 and then losing 2 of his following 3 bouts. It seems like his struggle with form has been put down to weight issues and he's now looking to make his mark at Bantamweight. At 30 it'll be a challenge to see him have a lengthy reign, but he has the talent to hold his own with most in the division.
Jason Moloney (17-1, 14)
Earlier this year we saw Australian fighter Jason Moloney take a huge step up in class, but his ability as he ran IBF champion Emmanuel Rodriguez close in a very competitive and interesting contest. The 27 year old is a fantastic boxer-puncher who has scored a number of notable regional wins, such as wins over Marco Demecillo and Lolito Sonsona, as well as a win over former world champion Kohei Kono. Although perhaps a touch under that ability of the divisional elite Moloney's performance against Rodriguez suggests he can hold his own with almost anyone at 118lbs, and deserves another shot at a world title in the new year. He's a sharp puncher and the bout with Rodriguez will serve his development well, even if he did lose his unbeaten record to the Puerto Rican.
Lee Haskins (35-4, 14)
At the moment it's unclear whether Englishman Lee Haskins is going to fight again, following the late cancellation of an IBF world title eliminator. If he is active then he has to be regarded as a contender in the Bantamweight division, given a prior reign as an IBF champion, which only ended in the summer of 2017. The 35 year old "Playboy" is a tricky, smart switch hitter, who is getting on in terms of age, but is a nightmare to box with his unorthodox and frustrating style. Sadly if his career is now over it's one less contender that the Bantamweight division has hovering around the title picture.
Mark John Yap (29-13, 14)
The situation around Filipino veteran Mark John Yap is a strange one right now. He was last seen losing in a WBC eliminator to Takuma Inoue, a bout that he entered as the OPBF champion, though a falling out of sorts with Mutoh gym saw the gym state he had retired whilst the fighter stated he had been abused by the Japanese promotional outfit. Whatever the truth it appears that Yap's career could be held up for a while as the promotional mess and contracts all slow down his return to the ring. His record doesn't suggest he's anything special, but his record form has shown he's a world class contender, and the longer he's out of the ring the bigger the shame. He's an excellent fighter, and we're really hoping things get sorted and Yap gets back in the ring sooner rather tha later.
Michael Dasmarinas (28-2-1, 19)
Filipino fighter Michael Dasmarinas is a bit of unknown outside of Asia, but the 26 year old is a talented boxer-puncher who has the powerful Ringstar Management behind him. He lost a bout earlier in his career but has since gone 25-1-1 (17) including wins over the likes of Hayato Kimura, Jhaleel Payao and Karim Guerfi. Although very talented, and the current IBO champion, Dasmarinas looked very lucky to escape with a draw against the previously unheralded Manyo Plange in September. It was recently announced that Dasmarinas would be getting back in the ring in March to fight Kenny Demecillo in an IBF world title eliminator.
Manyo Plange (17-0-1, 15)
Having just mentioned Manyo Plange it makes sense to speak about Ghana's hard hitting, and criminally under-rated, fighter. Plange is an unknown by many though was an outstanding amateur who competed at the 2008 Olympics, beating Filipino Harry Tanamor. He turned professional in 2012 and has been slowly making his name at home before taking on Dasmarinas in Singaporet,aking a draw from that bout. We felt he deserved the win against the Filipino, though it seems we weren't the only ones impressed, with Ringstar management signing him after that bout. It's unclear where Plange is going to end up by the end of 2019, but we'd love to see him get another big bout during the next 12 months. He deserves a rematch with Dasmarinas, at the very least.
Liborio Solis (28-5-1-1, 13)
Venezuelan veteran Liborio Solis is a former WBA Super Flyweight champion who has proven to be a tough out for top Bantamweights, having given Jamie McDonnell and Shinsuke Yamanaka fits in world title challenges at 118lbs. Solis' activity in recent years has been a problem, though he is a fighter who is small, aggressive, has under-rated power, good defense, a great work rate and a real will to win. It's hard to see any of the champions rushing to face him, but he's here on merit and does deserve one more shot, given that his second bout with McDonnell ended inside in a No Cotnest.
Ryan Burnett (19-1, 9)
Former IBF and WBA "super" champion Ryan Burnett is one of the most naturally talented boxers in the division, sadly though his career is currently on hold after suffering a nasty freak injury in his recent loss to Nonito Donaire. The talented Northern Irish fighter is a gorgeous boxer, with great timing and ring craft, in fact one of the few things missing from his game is power. Despite only having 20 bouts he has already scored wins over the likes of Lee Haskins and Zhanat Zhakiyanov. At 26 he does have time to recover from the injury he suffered against Donaire, but we do wonder if he will ever be 100% given how bad that injury was.
Kenny Demecillo (14-4-2, 8)
Filipino 26 year old Kenny Demecillo is one of the most obscure contenders on this list, but is highly regarded by the IBF and is set for an IBF eliminator in March against Michael Dasmarinas. He's been waiting for a shot for a while, having seen Lee Haskins pull out of an arranged bout with him. Demecillo has really come into the title mix thanks to a major upset win back in March against Vyacheslav Mirzaev. Other than that he lacks in terms of big wins, but has beaten the likes of Daryl Basadre and Jestoni Autida. Demecillo is perhaps a dark horse in the mix here, but given his IBF status her certainly needs to be regarded as a contender.
Mikhail Aloyan (4-1)
Former Russian amateur standout has the record of a prospect on paper but Aloyan proved he was a contender when he ran WBO champion Zolani Tete close earlier this year in a WBSS bout. The Russian 30 year old started his career impressively, with wins against good competition, and despite losing to Tete showed there was a lot to like with a high boxing IQ, good speed and timing. Unfortunately he also showed that he totally lacked power, enjoyed holding and spoiling, and struggled to really impose himself. We do wonder whether Bantamweight is really the best weight for him, but he's certainly a talent, and at 30 we don't expect him to take on many lesser fighters as he hunts a second world title fight.
The Bantamweight division is one of the most complex right now, with a host of fighters in and around world level. It's unfortunately a bit of a mess due to how many contenders there are floating about, and the fact that both the WBA and WBC have really mismanaged their titles this past year, but with the WBSS under way we should see the division being sorted out through 2019.
Nonito Donaire (39-5, 25) - WBA "Super" (0 defenses)
Filipino veteran Nonito Donaire became a champion once again this past November, just 2 weeks before his 36th birthday, when he defeated Ryan Burnett, who had to retire in the corner with a back injury. That win saw Donaire claim the WBA "super" title, that Burnett had held, and put himself in line for major bouts down the line. Although not the fighter he once was Donaire is still a tough, dangerous, experienced fighter who has a devastating left hook. Even prior to the injury for Burnett we saw Doniare having success against the younger, quicker man, and it seems like the move back down to Bantamweight may well give his career one last burst of life. Sadly though we wonder what his body still has left in it and whether he could really go 12 rounds at a good pace.
Naoya Inoue (17-0, 15) - WBA "Regular" (1 defense)
Although Donaire is the "super" champion it's probably fair to suggest that Naoya Inoue is the division's #1 fighter. He has fought just twice as a Bantamweight, but demolished both Jamie McDonnell and Juan Carlos Payno in those fights, stopping both men in the opening round. Inoue really made his name at Light Flyweight and Super Flyweight, winning world titles in both weight classes in 2014, and has notched up a string of notable wins during what has been a short and very exciting career. Dubbed the "Monster" Inoue is an incredibly scary fighter in the ring, with incredible power, timing and speed. The only questions he needs to answer are related to his durability, and he has had a history of hand problems during his career.
Zolani Tete (28-3, 21) - WBO (3 defenses)
Talented, yet frustrating, WBO Zolani Tete is a big of an enigma at Bantamweight. He moved to the division a few years ago and and quickly took the WBO "interim" title, by defeating Arthur Villanueva in a dire and forgetable fight. He then followed that up by smashing Siboniso Gonya in 11 seconds before being defending his belt in unmemorable bouts with Omar Andres Narvaez and Mikhail Aloyan, going 12 rounds against much smaller men. Tete is getting a reputation as a talented fighter who lacks killed instinct and is happy to just get wins, rather than get real attention from fans. The win over Gonya, and prior to that a win over Paul Butler, showed he was a talented puncher, but the reality seems to be that he struggles to create his own offense, and depends more on countering lesser opponents. Future bouts could see him settle at the weight, and he does have size advantage over everyone in the division, but it will take a change in mentality to change his growing reputation as a nightmare to watch.
Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-0, 12) - IBF (1 defense)
Unbeaten 26 year old Puerto Rican fighter Emmanuel Rodriguez is next in line to face Noaya Inoue, as part of the WBSS, and will be looking to build on recent wins over Paul Butler and Jason Moloney. In both of those bouts Rodriguez proved he was a talented fighter, with solid power, nice movement and solid all round technical skills. Sadly though, like Tete, he appears to lack killer instinct at the top level and against Moloney we were left with serious questions about his stamina and his potential weakness to body shots, something that would be a major problem against Inoue. He's proven to be very solid but we are waiting to see him answer a lot of questions and genuinely do look forward to seeing him in his next bout of the WBSS.
Reymart Gaballo (20-0, 17) - WBA "interim" (0 defenses)
One of the "forgotten" men of the division is WBA "interim" champion Reymart Gaballo, a hard hitting and unbeaten 22 year old Filipino who really came of age in March when he dominated the previously unbeaten Stephon Young. Gaballo lacks quality wins, other than the one over Young, though showed his ability recently against Julias Kisarawe, who lasted less than 3 minutes with Gaballo back in September. The "Assassin" is one of the division's dark horses, and whilst we all dislike the interim titles we do hope it leads to Gaballo getting good fights in the new year, sadly however the belt hasn't yet helped him get a notable foe, and he's yet to defense the title despite winning it back in around 9 months ago.
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.