The Bantamweight division doesn't just have some excellent champions but also some fantastic contenders making it one of the most interesting and deep divisions in the sport. The WBSS, which has been a thorn in the side of some divisions, has helped give time to the contenders at Bantamweight and we now have a multitude of fighters chomping at the bit for a big fight.
Nonito Donaire (40-6, 26)
A man who has got himself a title fight, at some point in 2020, is Filipino veteran Nonito Donaire, who was named as the WBC mandatory challenger. The 37 year old "Filipino Flash" exceeded all expectations in giving Naoya Inoue a tough bout in the WBSS final and we wouldn't be surprised if that wasn't a 1-off performance for Donaire who has looked better at Bantamweight than he ever looked at Super Bantamweight. The veteran has taken good care of his body, still has a dynamite left hook, a real iron chin and masses of experience. Despite his age he's someone who could well have 1 more run at the top.
Michael Dasmarinas (30-2-1, 20)
IBF mandatory challenger Michael Dasmarinas is set to get a shot later this year, though it's unclear when, and could end up having a massive 2020, win or lose in his eventual title fight. The talented Filipino has shown flaws in recent bouts, and was lucky against Manyo Plange in 2018, but is certainly a handful when he's on form. Like many Filipino fighters there seems to be two Dasmarinas's. There's the one who schooled the likes of Hayato Kimura and Jhaleel Payao, and lost a competitive one in South Africa to Lwandile Sityatha. Then there's the one who needed judges to help him get a draw with Plange and needed a thunderbolt from the blue to take out Karim Guerfi.
Zolani Tete (28-4, 21)
The future is very unclear for former WBO champion Zolani Tete. The 31 year old South African hasn't looked great in recent performances, even before being stopped by John Riel Casimero, and it's unclear what has happened to the skilled southpaw boxer-puncher. With his 5'9" frame we wouldn't be surprised by a move up in weight, which would likely be his best option right now. His loss to Casimero was seen as a major upset, but his performances going in, and the injury that forced him out of the WBSS, may suggest that he's close to being a spent force.
Guillermo Rigondeaux (19-1, 13)
It's hard to know quite what the 39 year old Rigondeaux has in the locker. The talented, yet horrifically frustrating, Cuban should have done so much more with his career. Sadly however he was his own worst enemy. He looked chinny, but talented through much of his early career, impressively beat Nonito Donaire, then began to stink out the joint, fight after fight. His unexciting performances saw him being castigated by Bob Arum and American TV but then he failed to really ever manage to work with anyone. A relationship with Gary Hyde, that could have lead to a nice run in Asia, was ended in acrimonious fashion and Rigondeaux toiled until losing to Vasily Lomachenko in 2017. Two wins later Rigondeaux finds himself at the door of the "Last Chance Saloon" and will get a WBA "regular" title fight on February 8th. A fight he must win to remain relevant.
Liborio Solis (30-5-1-1, 14)
Rugged and under-rated Venezuelan fighter Liborio Solis is very much the leader of the "who needs him?" Club. The former WBA Super Flyweight champion is a proper veteran, at the age of 37, and has given fits to the likes of Shinsuke Yamanaka and Jamie McDonnell, being robbed against McDonnell in their first fight in 2017. Sadly we've not seen much if Solis recent and it's unclear what he has in the tank. If he's half the fighter he once was he gives Rigondeaux hell in February, though there's a genuine chance that father time, and a punishing career may have taken the best out of the Solis.
Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-1, 12)
Once beaten former world champion Emmanuel Rodriguez made the mistake of angering "The Monster" ahead of their WBSS semi-final in 2019, losing by stoppage in round 2 to Inoue in Scotland. Prior to that Rodriguez had been on a good run including wins over Jason Moloney, more about him in a moment, Paul Butler and Alberto Guevara. The talented Puerto Rican was set for a world title eliminator in late 2019 against Luis Nery, but the Mexican failed to make weight, and the WBC used their infinite wisdom to not give Rodriguez a shot, instead nominating Donaire. Even with the oversight by the WBC we still expect to see Rodriguez in the mix later in the year.
Jason Moloney (20-1, 17)
Australian boxer-puncher Jason Moloney is a 29 year old who actually impressed us more in his sole loss than his 20 wins. Moloeny's loss came in the WBSS to Emmanuel Rodriguez, in an IBF world title fight, by split decision and we're looking forward to seeing Moloney getting a second shot at a world title. He's already beaten former world champions Immanuel Naidjala and Kohei Kono and looks to be one of the division's best kept secrets. With 3 wins under his belt since the Rodriguez loss we're looking forward to a fruitful 2020 for the 29 year old.
Joshua Greer Jr (22-1-1, 12)
Once beaten American fighter Joshua Greer Jr built himself a nice little gimmick in the last couple of years, bringing a pillow to the ring for opponents, before knocking them out. He stepped up in class last year and found out that opponents at a higher level weren't that easy to take down, and he ended up really struggling with Nikolai Potapov and Antonio Nieves, both of whom could have the decision go their way against Greer. With lady luck shining on him in 2019 he's now on the verge of a world title fight. Sadly for him pillows are unlikely to help when he goes in with a world class opponent, and we genuinely see the 25 year old being stepped when he does face a top 10 type fighter. Still, it'll be fun to see!
Takuma Inoue (13-1, 3)
Former WBC "interim" champion Takuma Inoue, the younger brother of Naoya Inoue, suffered his first loss last year as he came up short to Nordine Oubaali. Despite the loss Inoue showed he belonged in and around world level, despite the appalling scorecard of Alejandro Rochin. We suspect Inoue will come again, though it could be 2021 before he gets another chance. The one thing missing from Inoue is power, it appears his brother has taken the family's share, despite that he's skilled, talented and did hurt Oubaali late. Don't write off Inoue despite the loss last year.
Reymart Gaballo (23-0, 20)
One of the lesser seen faces in the division is 23 year old Filipino puncher Reymart Gaballo. The "Assassin" is one of the best kept secrets in world boxing right now and combines frightening power, speed and aggression with a real flair for entertainment. He's raw around the edges, he's got a lot of work to do to tidy up, but the natural tools to be a threat to anyone in the weight class. Despite being relatively unknown outside of the Philippines Gaballo has actually got international experience, scoring 4 wins in North America including a victory over Stephon Young, and looks to be on the verge of a really big year. He is one to get very excited about as we begin 2020.
3 bouts we want in 2020:
Naoya Inoue Vs John Riel Casimero
Nonito Donaire Vs Joshua Greer Jr
Michael Dasmarinas Vs Jason Moloney
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.