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In The Bantamweight Division, Remodeling is Underway

By Cliff Rold

Friday’s result in Tokyo was no surprise, but it was in its way quite significant.  Japan’s Shinsuke Yamanaka retained the WBC Bantamweight belt, maintaining his unbeaten mark and notching his first genuine marquee win.

Even in suffering his third loss in five fights, and third title failure at 118 lbs. since 2009, Darchinyan remains a high quality win.  How much longer that remains true will be up to Darchinyan’s performances in the ring.  Reports from Saturday indicate he carried himself well.  As was the case last year against Anselmo Moreno, a taller, faster, and naturally bigger southpaw with an inclination to work off a long jab are too much for the 36-year old banger to handle at this point.

The significance is not only about the career of Darchinyan.  It is also about the future of the 118 lb. division.  Darchinyan’s defeat is the latest nail in the coffin for what was a fantastic run at Bantamweight in recent years. 

One wonders: can the division reload?  Will it return to its too regular status in recent decades as just another location on the scale?  Is the ride of recent years really over?

Given the results of Yamanaka-Darchinyan, here is what the new BoxingScene Top Ten at Bantamweight will look like when the full ratings update is released on Monday: 

1. Anselmo Moreno (32-1-1, 11 KO, WBA Super, 9 Defenses)
2. Abner Mares (23-0-1, 13 KO)
3. Joseph Agbeko (28-4, 22 KO)
4. Shinsuke Yamanaka (16-0-2, 11 KO, WBC, 1 Defense)
5. Koki Kameda (28-1, 17 KO, WBA Regular, 4 Defenses)
6.Vic Darchinyan (37-4-1, 27 KO)
7. Eric Morel (45-2, 22 KO)
8. Malcolm Tunacao (30-2-3, 19 KO)
9. Jorge Arce (60-6-2, 46 KO, WBO, 0 Defenses)
10. Leo Santa Cruz (19-0-1, 11 KO)

On its face, this is a solid top ten.  The problems surface when digging beneath the names and recalling what has already passed.  In 2009, the division featured a red-hot Hozumi Hasegawa and Fernando Montiel (both with belts), former titlist Wladimir Sidorenko, and a soon-to-be belt holding Yonnhy Perez.  Nonito Donaire joined them in late-2010. 

Mix that crew with Mares, Moreno, and Agbeko and, between 2009 and 2011, fans were treated to:

• Moreno’s cultivation of a road warrior title reign, culminating in a strong U.S. debut versus Darchinyan in December 2011;

• The first Bantamweight unification contest of any kind in decades, Montiel upsetting Hasegawa on the road in April 2010;

• Donaire’s frightening dissections of Sidorenko and Montiel in December 2010 and February 2011 respectively; and, most importantly…

• An eight fight round robin, to include the four fights in the Showtime Bantamweight tournament, between Mares, Agbeko, Darchinyan, and Perez.

There were points in the last couple years where a case could be made that Bantamweight was the sports finest weight class.  The reasons why are clear.  Where are we today?

Perez and Sidorenko are retired.  Hasegawa and Montiel have moved up the scale with mixed results.  Donaire has gone up as well. 

Despite their lofty perch in the ratings, both Mares and Moreno look like tomorrow’s Jr. Featherweights, soon to join Donaire.  For Mares, it’s official.  He gave up his Bantamweight belt and will compete for a vacant WBC belt against fellow Bantamweight contender Eric Morel on April 21.  The bout will be at a catchweight of 120 lbs., but one assumes Mares with a win would carry on at the regular limit of 122.

Insert WBC jokes here. 

Moreno, who shares representation with Mares at Golden Boy Promotions, will want to chase the dollars.  Should he successfully defend against David De La Mora on the undercard of Mares-Morel, would anyone be surprised if his tenth defense was his last? 

Agbeko remains, but time is likely to catch him sooner than later.  Darchinyan’s best hopes would likely be a rematch with Jorge Arce but Arce seems pointed back up the scale towards Donaire later this year.  Perhaps Agbeko-Darchinyan II could come about, but there isn’t much in the way of stakes for either in this moment.

A lot of this is good new for 122 lbs.  Add Mares and Moreno to Donaire, Toshiaki Nishioka, and Guillermo Rigondeaux and, just like that, boxing has a new hot spot.  It doesn’t mean Bantamweight dies.

It does mean, given results, we may be seeing a significant pole shift.  Yamanaka is clearly a quality battler and a good sign for the future of the class.  Also victorious this week was fellow Japanese Bantamweight, and titlist, Koki Kameda.  While this corner is uncertain of what politics could exist to keep those two apart, it seems a logical jumping off point for the next chapter at 118.  The economic muscle, considering Kameda’s drawing power at home, for the moment lies in Japan.  Add quality rising contenders out there like Leo Santa Cruz and interim WBA titlist Hugo Ruiz (30-1, 27 KO), and there are still enough ingredients available to generate new recipes for excitement

It may not move the needle in the U.S., but bantamweights rarely do anyways.  The last couple years were an enjoyable anomaly.  Now we can enjoy fresh carnage four pounds north.        

Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at [email protected]

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