Boxing traditionally has only eight weight classes. This is the seventh installment of my Original Eight Ratings. I have rated the Middleweights, Welterweights, Heavyweights, Light Heavyweights, Lightweights and Featherweights.
Historically, the bantamweight division was the cut-off where American audiences outside of California, who historically drove the sport, didn’t pay as much attention. However, Boxing’s Golden Era, circa 1980-82, was so strong and the sport so popular and highly rated, that the bantamweights were even rightfully able to get in on the act, as Jeff Chandler became an additional great fighter featured on Saturday afternoon network TV, and Mexico’s Lupe Pintor appeared in high-profile Don King promoted events.
Unfortunately, some of boxing’s insidious troubles were already starting to rear their ugly heads and the two never fought. They followed the dominance of Carlos Zarate, his showdown with Alfonso Zamora and the great Ruben Olivares. The bantamweight division in an Original Eight context is a division that is one of the more difficult to rate, from its rightful champion to who belongs in the Top Ten and in what order. It is also one where the alphabet organization’s later creation, the junior bantamweight division, provides some serious contenders. It is also an Original Eight division, like light heavyweight, lightweight and recently middleweight, where The Ring and the Transnational Boxing Board have a split as to who, if anyone, the champion is.
For truly the best fights, close observers of the sport should not only focus on the recent spate of talent fighting at 115 pounds, but a fighter like Shinsuke Yamanaka who has rightfully slipped into some pound for pound lists and happens to be The Ring’s Bantamweight Champion. Regarding the crucial business of determining a rightful champion, which in an Original Eight context must be judged at the highest of standards, The Ring and Transnational currently recognize seventeen weight classes and again, still have disagreements at bantamweight–just as they have at lightweight, light heavyweight and very recently now at middleweight, with one having a champion and the other having the title vacant. At lightweight, I sided with Transnational after lengthy consideration, deciding that Linares-Crolla I did not quite do it for filling a vacant Original Eight Lightweight title. In the bantamweight division, The Ring chose to recognize the winner of the second Yamanaka-Moreno fight as the bantamweight champion. Considering the length of Yamanaka’s dominance in the division, the fact that Moreno pushed him and only lost by a split decision in their first bout, and the fact that Roman Gonzalez was only just entering the fray at bantamweight and other factors; Yamanaka has generally been recognized as the top fighter from 113-118 pounds despite Gonzalez ruling the pound for pound lists until his first loss. This led me to determine the Yamanaka-Moreno rematch was good enough for bantamweight title recognition and I recognize Yamanaka as the champion.
Regarding other notables in the Original Eight Bantamweight division, the U.K.’s Jamie McDonnell is an underrated fighter. Roman “Chocolito” Gonzalez has finally shown some signs of slippage and suffered his first loss and the forfeiture of his unofficial title as the world’s best pound for pound fighter in a controversial loss to tough Thai Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in an entertaining battle where Gonzalez was dropped. As true historians and close followers of the sport can respect, Gonzalez was already an established flyweight champion, flyweight being an original eight division, a status someone as good as Ricardo Lopez never achieved. It was interesting to see if Gonzalez could climb another Original Eight division, that being bantamweight, but it appears the sand may have run out on his hour glass.
Japan’s highly-regarded Naoye Inoue remains undefeated and in this mix despite the fact he has only had about a dozen fights.
Criteria: Fighters overall record, perceived talent level, quality of opposition, quality wins and level of performance in wins and losses, where the fighter is ranked in the Transnational Boxing Ranking Board’s Featherweight and Junior Featherweight Rankings and The Ring’s Bantamweight and Junior Bantamweight Rankings. Also strongly considered would be who would beat who and who and by how much one fighter would be favored over the other by odds makers were the fight to be signed tomorrow. The traditional standard of one year of inactivity will drop a fighter from the rankings will be taken into consideration but the fighter is eligible to re-enter as soon as he fights again. Champions will primarily be the recognized lineal champions, with consideration also given to champions recognized by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and The Ring. This is how the traditional bantamweight division looks today:
Champion: Shinsuke Yamanaka (Japan 27-0-2 19KO)
1. Naoya Inoue (Japan 12-0 10KO)
2. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (Thailand 43-4-1 39KO)
3. Roman Gonzalez (Nicaragua 46-1 38KO)
4 Jamie McDonnell (U,K. 29-2-1 13KO)
5. Zhanat Zhakiyanov (Kazakhstan. 27-1 18KO)
6. Carlos Cuadras (Mexico.36-1-1 27KO)
7. Rau’shee Warren (U.S.14-2 4KO)
8. Juan Carlos Payano (D.R. 18-1 9KO)
9. Anselmo Moreno (Panama. 36-5-1 12KO)
10. Juan Francisco Estrada (Mexico 34-2 24KO)
Ratings Notes: Shinsuke Yamanaka remains undefeated and gained Ring championship recognition in September of 2016, which is where we will measure him from for Original Eight purposes. He is 34-years old but someone still has to knock him off this perch. He has cracked some pound for pound lists. Naoya Inoue another Japanese fighter, is also unbeaten and has also cracked some pound for pound lists. Srisakiet Sor Rungvisai pulled the massive upset, and unknown to most, has one of the highest knockout totals of any Top Ten fighter in the sport, Gonzalez being one of the only fighters he trails. He dropped Gonzalez, and while I thought Gonzalez could have gotten the nod in the fight, I didn’t feel as strongly in a second viewing. Rungvisai hasn’t gotten enough respect for the performance and the Thai shouldn’t be discounted. Roman Gonzalez has had a spectacular career, picking up the Original Eight Flyweight title and beating everyone in his path until the recent controversial loss to Sor Rungvisai. And though I had him number 1 pound for pound until the loss, it’s now clear his recent performances where he wasn’t as sharp are not a fluke, he’s simply getting old for the lower weight classes. I had thought he had enough to beat Yamanaka, now it would be more interesting. I did think he clearly beat Cuadras however, the call for that rematch didn’t excite me.
Jamie McDonnell is an underrated fighter and he showed a lot in his fights with Kameda. He’s also got wins over Liborio Solis and Julio Ceja. I think he matches up well in fights with the top of the division. He’s a little underpowered even for bantamweight, that’s his main flaw. Zhanat Zhakiyanov came out of nowhere to upset Rau’shee Warren’s applecart. He’s fought his way into his spot. Carlos Cuadras was undefeated until fighting Roman Gonzalez but I thought he got a little too much credit for his cautious performance. Still, he’s right there in this mix.
Rau’shee Warren has amateur pedigree and earned a win over Payano in their second fight but he’s underpowered and just looks limited. He’s earned the Top Ten but it will be hard for him to stay in. Juan Carlos Payano dropped a rematch to Warren and also deserves to be in this Top Ten, but like Warren, seems limited to be hanging around this Top Ten for long. Those rating him too highly should rethink it. Anselmo Moreno battled Yamanaka close in their first fight but got stopped in the rematch which was for The Ring title. So he’s been to the mountaintop here but has to prove his best days aren’t behind him. Juan Fransisco Estrada has unsuccessfully tangled with Roman Gonzalez at flyweight already, which is no shame. He now seems to be chasing Gonzalez up in weight. He has proven he’s a good enough fighter to enter the Top Ten even with the move up in weight.
Fighters not in the Top Ten but worthy of mention and watching include: Lee Haskins is on a winning streak and has a win over Jamie McDonnell earlier in his career. Marlon Tapales missed weight for his last scheduled bantamweight fight, a knockout win over Shohei Omori. It appears he’s headed for the Original Eight featherweight division. Nevertheless, he was not good enough to crack this Top Ten even before missing weight. Tomoki Kameda looks the part skill wise, he just didn’t seem to have the desire to turn it up enough in the two fights with McDonnell. If he can do that, he has the skills and power to be a tough fight for anyone. Luis Nery is an undefeated Mexican who appears to have good pop. Khalid Yafai is an undefeated Brit who has been fighting at 115. Jerwin Ancajas hails from the Philippines and has been fighting at 115 and only has one loss by majority decision, and a win over then-unbeaten McJoe Arroyo. Rex Tso is unbeaten in his campaign so far fighting at 115, which has been almost exclusively in his home country of China but he’s done enough to get on the radar. Brandon Figueroa is the 20 year-old brother of former lightweight belt holder Omar Figueroa and has been fighting on PBC cards and looked extremely impressive. He passes the eye test even with his number of fights and young age and should be watched already. He’s 11-0 with 8 knockouts against low-level opposition but looks ready for tough competition.
For Comparison look at the Ring Ratings for the end of the years 1980 and 1950:
Champion: Jeff Chandler
1. Lupe Pintor
2. Julian Solis
3. Alberto Davila
4. Jorge Lujan
5. Roberto Rubaldino
6. Oscar Muniz
7. Rafael Orono
8. Eijiro Murata
9. Jose Rufino Narvaez
10. Norberto Cabrera
Champion: Vic Toweel
1. Luis Romero
2. Manuel Ortiz
3. Peter Keenan
4. Luis Galvani
5. Elley Bennett
6. Emile Chemama
7. Maurice Sandeyron
8. Tommy Proffitt
9. Hadi Tijani
10. Gianni Zuddas
While today’s Original Bantamweight division is interesting with a fighter at the top, Yamanaka, who has had a long undefeated run, and is joined by Inoue and Gonzalez as fighters at the head of the division, that can’t best a prime bantamweight champion Joltin’ Jeff Chandler of The Fighting City of Philadelphia, PA and Mexico’s Lupe Pintor. The rest of the 1980’s Top Ten is filled with good fighters like Solis, Davila, Lujan, Muniz and Murata, who aren’t as good as Yamanaka and Gonzalez, but are comparable to some of the other cream of the Top Ten fighters. Thankfully for fans in 1980, the 115 pound alphabet created junior bantamweight division was not yet paid attention to.
In 1950, such junior divisions didn’t exist at all. Vic Toweel was the champ in 1950 and is considered one of the best South African fighters of all time. Today’s champ and top of the division are actually a bit stronger than 1950, although it’s amazing to see Luis Romero accumulated 156 wins and 78 by KO, while also campaigning as a featherweight. Manuel Ortiz had a tremendous championship run but it had just been ended for the final time by Toweel, so he was a bit past his best. He did have 100 wins 54 by KO and was only stopped once in his career. He certainly had a better career than anyone except maybe Roman Gonzalez in today’s Top Ten, and in his era, his career was probably better, having a lengthy reign in the Original Eight Bantamweight division. Today’s Original Eight bantamweight division could thrive if all the recent enthusiasm for those fighting at 115 could be translated in them taking a shot at Yamanaka’s title.