The Super Bantamweight isn't overly reliant on just the top guys, as there are some excellent fighters coming through the ranks and forcing themselves into the mix as legitimate contenders. It's here that the division really does it's self some massive favours. Not only is there a lot of contenders, but they are very varied in how they fight, and their experience.
Murodjon Akhmadaliev (7-0, 6)
Former Uzbek amateur standout Murodjon Akhmadaliev is leading the charge for contenders and will be getting his shot, at unified champion Danny Roman no less, at the end of January. The talented "MJ" is a heavy handed boxer-puncher who really was an exceptional amateur before turning professional and being fast tracked through the ranks, to a mandatory title fight. Despite the amateur pedigree Akhmadaliev hasn't fought like an amateur, and is instead a very aggressive fighter who is very fun to watch. A real emerging gem, who could be on the verge of something very big this year.
Hiroaki Teshigawara (21-2-2, 14)
Heavy handed Japanese boxer-puncher Hiroaki Teshigawara has really made himself into a legitimate contender in the last few years, after almost an unknown in 2016. Prior to his loss to Ryo Akaho in October 2016 few would have paid much attention to Teshigawara but since then he has gone 9-0 (8) and picked up notable wins against Keita Kurihara, Jason Canoy, Teiru Kinoshita and Shohei Omori. Those wins have helped put "Crush Boy" on the verge of a world title fight. Although gifted with heavy hands Teshigawara is more than just a puncher and utilises feints and peculiar angles and timing much better than most Japanese fighters.
Tramaine Williams (19-0-0-1, 6)
Unbeaten "Mighty Midget" Tramaine Williams has promised a lot since his 2012 debut, and it's really time the 27 year old broke through. The talented southpaw is lightning quick, hits much harder than his record suggests and is a real natural talent. Sadly his progress hasn't been anywhere near as quick as it should have been, but with 4 fights in 2019 he now has the momentum to have a big 2020. If Williams can be focused on the sport and get the support from promoters that he needs he could become a genuine contender this year, and he appears to be a genuine a genuine nightmare to fight.
Angelo Leo (19-0, 9)
Few men made the moves that Angelo Leo made in 2019 to move from prospect to contender. "El Chinito" went 4-0 during the year and scored notable wins over Mark John Yap and Cesar Juarez, stopping Juarez in 11 rounds, to put himself on the map. The 25 year old hits harder than his record suggests, is highly skilled, quick, exciting and looks a natural in the ring. Although he's maybe a year away from a title fight we would expect a big 2020 for Leo who will almost certainly end the year on the verge of a world title fight. Do not sleep on this very talented youngster.
Ronnie Rios (32-3, 16)
It seems hard to believe that Ronny Rios has only just turned 30! The upset minded veteran has been a professional for over a decade and despite some mixed results he has repeatedly shown that he can pull it out the big wins and be involved in the upper levels of the division. With wins over Rico Ramos, Andrew Cancio, Jayson Velez and Deigo De La Hoya it's hard to write Rios off against anyone. He'll almost certainly get a another shot at a world title and he could, on his day, upset any of the champions.
Carlos Castro (24-0, 10)
The 25 year old Carlos Castro isn't a big name but he's someone who has started to knock on the door of the division. The skilled boxer-mover scored a notable upset last year, over Genesis Servania, where he made the Filipino look very slow and clumsy, and is maybe only 3 or 4 fights away from becoming a legitimate contender. We'd like to see Castro face a couple of opponents of some note this year and really earn his shot. He's a legitimate hopeful, who has remained under the radar, some how.
Mike Plania (23-1, 12)
Unheralded Filipino Mike Plania is one of the many hidden gems from the Philippines, and one who should be on the radar of fight fans. If he's not he will be. The 22 year old "Magic" has notched 8 wins since his 2018 loss to Juan Carlos Payano and looks to be edging his way to another big fight in the US. From his last 5 bouts 4 have been in the US, and it'll only be a matter of time before his handlers let him off the leash and put him in there with a fellow contender. Although not a huge puncher Plania hits hard enough to get respect from opponents, is well schooled and is certainly someone who will begin to get a lot of eyes on him in the near future.
Thomas Patrick Ward (29-0, 4)
Englishman Thomas Patrick Ward is one of the fighters that belong the long list of fighters who should be better known than they are. The 25 year old is backed by MTK and is skilled enough to be in the world title mix. Sadly his team haven't yet backed him in the way they should and he's been unable to build on the momentum his 2019 win over Jesse Angel Hernandez. If MTK really believe in Ward they now need to put their money where their mouth is and pay for him for him to face fellow contenders and move him forward. His last 3 opponents were awful and he needs better. Ward lacks power but has a brilliant boxing brain, fantastic skills, great movement and understand of the ring. Now he just needs some suitable dance partners.
Luis Nery (30-0, 24)
Controversial Mexican fighter Luis Nery continued to drag his name through the mud in 2019 by missing weight for a WBC Bantamweight title eliminator. With that weight issue rearing it's head again it's clear he needs to move to Super Bantamweight, where he will actually be able to fight without expecting opponents to bend over to accommodate him. The exciting and heavy handed southpaw will make an interesting addition at 1222lbs, though we do wonder if his weight bullying tactics will have the same effect here as they did at Bantamweight. Nery, despite all his issues, is a talent and he can be involved in some thrilling contests down the line, but he really needs to sort his career out. This year he needs to put all the issues with weight behind him, leave the Bantamweight division, and go make his mark at Super Bantamweight.
3 bouts we want in 2020:
Emanuel Navarrete vs Hiroaki Teshigawara
Rey Vargas Vs Thomas Patrick Ward
Angelo Leo Vs Tramaine Williams
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.
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.