In light of the recent box office bout between Scott Quigg and Carl Frampton, what hasn’t escaped many people is the increasing number of high profile fights in the lower weight classes of the sport. The flyweight thru featherweight divisions are responsible for some of the biggest potential match ups that can currently be made, which is both refreshing and way overdue. It is time the lighter guys got some well deserved attention, and below are a select few who are enjoying the limelight.
Way down at flyweight, there is a fighter who is in danger of putting himself in the “no one wants to face him” category. Roman Gonzalez is dismissing opponents with such ease it is hard to see any weakness to his game at all. A sleek, aggressive yet composed fighter with a respectable chin and a flawless record that is littered with knockouts, he has won world titles at minimumweight, at light-flyweight, and now is the WBC flyweight champion, most recently knocking out the brave Brian Viloria in 9 rounds. He has good options at flyweight; either a match between him and Kazuto Ioka (the WBA champ) or a rematch with former victim Juan Francisco Estrada (who has since followed Gonzalez to flyweight and become a unified champion himself) would prove excellent viewing.
But he isn’t the only shark in the water. A weight class above Gonzalez lurks a boxer from Japan who is also a serious threat. WBO super-flyweight champion Naoya Inoue had a quiet 2015, his only appearance coming in December when he blasted out Warlito Parrenas in two rounds, but he is still a fearsome fighter. Although he has hardly fought outside Tokyo, he won his first world title in only his 6th fight, a feat worthy of praise regardless of where it took place. He has knocked out all, but one of his opponents and if he & Gonzalez were to meet this year, it would surely be pay-per-view material. Failing that, a unification match with WBC boss Carlos Cuadras would more than suffice.
Bantamweight doesn’t have the same caliber of ‘superstar’ names among its ranks, but there is still plenty of talent to go around. Although sites like BoxRec list Shinsuke Yamanaka as the division’s premier, my own preference lies with Jamie McDonnell and Zolani Tete. McDonnell is a smooth fighter with a good work-rate and a fan-pleasing style which sometimes results in superb brawls. For me, though, Tete is the man to watch out for. He first came to attention when he both outclassed and knocked out Paul Butler in 8 rounds and is now building a growing case for a world title shot, most notably by knocking out Jose Santos Gonzales in 7 for the IBF International title. A match between him and McDonnell or with IBF champ Lee Haskins, would be worth everyone’s attention.
Given the recent events, super-bantamweight is the division of the day and with good reason. The biggest fight of the year was between two guys who had been threatening to fight one another for years, but had never managed to make the meeting happen. Finally, they did meet, and although it took a while to ignite, Scott Quigg and Carl Frampton provided at least a slice of the entertainment we knew they were capable of. Frampton is now a unified champion and has options aplenty, while Quigg must find a different path to the very top.
Meanwhile, Guillermo Rigondeaux is becoming very much conspicuous in his absence. Generally paraded as the best fighter in the division, even the purists can’t deny he has endured a shaky few months. A torrid match in November last year (his only fight of 2015) saw him outpoint Drian Francisco in one of the biggest let-downs in recent memory, especially as it was televised. This was supposed to be the platform which lifted ‘The Jackal‘ out of the shadows, but instead we were treated to an overly cautious, unenterprising display of inaction. Classy, yes. But nothing else.
Stripped of his belts due to a long period of activity (which looks set to continue after a bizarre match with British champion James Dickens was cancelled with less than a week to go, due to the Cuban failing to resolve visa issues), Rigondeaux needs to have a look at himself & his team and work out where things are going wrong. Principle alone won’t tempt the likes of Frampton into facing him and these goings-on have undoubtedly bumped his name further down the list. He is at risk of becoming akin to “The Great and Powerful Oz” from The Wizard of Oz; all powerful, all mighty and terrible, but no one actually ever sees him. He needs to fight, he needs to do it soon and it needs to be good.
Featherweight is a genuinely fun division, partly because it’s so varied in the styles of its fighters. The most promising of them is Vasyl Lomachenko, who challenged for a world title in his second fight, claimed one in his third and now looks poised to meet undefeated Jamaican big-hitter Nicholas Walters at a catch-weight. An amateur superstar with talent to burn, he is without doubt one of the great boxers of his generation. His collection of gold medals looks like a pirates treasure chest; multiple golds at the Olympics. Multiple golds at the World Championships. Gold at the Europeans. As an amateur he beat the likes of Abner Cotto, Felix Verdejo, and Oscar Valdez on his way to a record of 396-1. Truly astonishingand proof that experience in the amateurs does more often that not lead to excellence in the pros.