The Super Bantamweight division has been an interesting one in recent years, despite some issues. We've had some really interesting fights, fighters who appear willing to be busy and prove themselves. Whilst we've not seen a host of unification bouts we have seen top fighters facing legitimate contenders and the division has moved on nice in the last few years, without really setting it's self on fire. Right now we have good champion, a good amount of talented contenders, and a lovely mix of styles.
WBA "super and IBF - Daniel Roman (27-2-1, 10)
Aggressive technician Daniel Roman is, at the time of writing, the unified WBA and IBF champion and went about things the hard way. He won the WBA title in Japan, stopping Shun Kubo, went back over to Japan for his first defense, against Ryo Matsumoto, and then went to war with TJ Doheny in a unification bout. The wonderfully respectful Doman was sadly forced out of a mandatory defense against Murodjon Akhmadaliev last September, but will face Akhmadaliev at the end of January in a mouth match up.
WBC - Rey Vargas (34-0, 22)
The 29 year old Rey Vargas may not be the most exciting or explosive fighter at 122lbs but the WBC champion is going to be a very tricky man to dethrone. Standing at close to 5'11" and with freakish reach Vargas is a guy that fighters will struggle to get close to and will have to take risks against. Sadly for all his talent, and he is talented, his bouts lack drama and excitement. Potentially set to change his promotional affiliation in 2020 there are options out there for Vargas, though we suspect he'll out grow the division before someone takes a title from him. Decribing Vargas in a word is easy, "awkward", beating him however is not easy in the slightest.
WBO - Emanuel Navarrete (30-1, 26)
Every division needs a destructive force and at Super Bantamweight we have Emanuel Navarrete, the Top Rank fighter who went 4-0 (4) in 2019 and has only seen the final bell once in his last 13 fights. His 2018 win over Isaac Dogboe saw him winning the WBO title and since then he has shown no mercy in stopping his opponents. Sadly his opposition hasn't been great since winning the title, a rematch with Dogboe aside, so hopefully 2020 brings a step up in class for the 24 year old "Vaquero". Quantity was fine in 2019, now lets see him in with some quality this year.
IBF "interim" - Ryosuke Iwasa (27-3, 17)
Former IBF champion Ryosuke Iwasa enters 2020 as the IBF "interim" champion, and is in an interesting position as the year kicks off. He'll be the mandatory challenger to the Roman Vs Akhmadaliev winner, if they wish to keep the unified titles and is in a great position to build on an excellent win against Marlon Tapales. The Japanese fighter, dubbed "Eagle Eye", does blow hot and cold but he looked really good against Tapales and will hopefully show that level of performance more often going forward.
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.
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.