By Cliff Rold
It’s not an argument.
If Bantamweight is not the best weight class in boxing right now (and, for the record, it is), it’s right near the top of the heap. It’s a fact. It’s also a pleasant surprise after too many periods over the last thirty years where the division struggled to consistently pull together the pieces for extended runs.
It should not be a surprise that it is occurring given recent history.
Boxing, with seventeen weight classes to go around, makes for pretty seamless transitions of quality upwards on the scale. For instance, it’s worth wagering today’s red-hot Jr. Welterweights is merely an indication of where Welterweight and Jr. Middleweight will be a couple years from now.
Don’t believe it?
Where were the likes of Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto just a few years ago? Where are they now?
And, no, that’s not meant literally, so no need for “fighting with security guards” or “fighting old dudes” quips.
Flying almost tragically below the radar for much of the 00’s, the best division that rarely got the full measure of credit it deserved was Jr. Bantamweight. It produced steadily, in the U.S., Mexico, and Japan most notably. Men like Fernando Montiel, Alexander Munoz, Jorge Arce, Martin Castillo, Katsushige Kawashima, and the borderline great Masamori Tokuyama provided quality fights at high levels for years.
The culmination of the era came in 2008, a pair of unification contests (Munoz-Cristian Mijares and Mijares-Vic Darchinyan) culminating with the first tri-belted 115 lb. champ since the division was born in the 1980s.
With only three pounds between Jr. and senior Bantamweight, many of the defeated and the victorious alike moved up. Montiel and Nonito Donaire have both come to 118 from below (112 and 115 for good measure); Darchinyan also reigned at 112 before his rise. They joined a stellar cast already in place, leaving their old haunts…
…well, looking a bit the ghost town.
There is little argument to be had that 115 is anywhere near what it was in the 00’s right now.
That doesn’t mean it’s dead.
As long as there is a solid core in place, any division can come to life with the right matches. Reporting from Ernesto Castellanos on Tuesday indicated one of the right matches might be coming together: Hugo Cazares vs. Omar Narvaez in an April unification.
Mexico’s Cazares (34-6-2, 24 KO), a former legitimate World champion at 108 lbs., skipped two classes to become the Jr. Bantamweight’s current sparkplug and WBA titlist. His two battles with Japan’s Nobuo Nashiro in 2009 and 2010 have been highlights while the true champion of the class, Darchinyan, bounced between 115 and 118. In the last decade and change, the only fighter who got the better of the rugged Cazares was the brilliant Ivan Calderon.
Argentina’s Narvaez (32-0-2, 19 KO) is a former WBO Flyweight titlist who defended that title 16 times against a field that looks better, in retrospect, all the time. Carlos Tamara, Brahim Asloum, and Luis Lazarte all won major belts after being handled by Narvaez. That retrospect doesn’t mean respect in all circles and Narvaez could use a notable win to define himself. He’s already picked up a WBO diadem at 115.
The fight is a great idea that might also end up a great fight.
Add to this pair the continuing career of Nashiro (14-2-1, 9 KO), who fights for a WBC belt next month; the rise of Daiki Kameda, former WBA Flyweight titlist; and a return to form for Mijares late last year. The Mexican slickster looked in bad shape after following the Darchinyan loss with a pair of decision drops at Bantamweight to Nehomar Cermeno.
However, rumors of Mijares’ fistic demise were…insert the rest of the trope. Mijares (41-6-2, 18 KO) never really fell as far as it seemed. The first Cermeno fight could easily have gone his way; both Darchinyan and Cermeno are fine foes. Mijares showed, in winning the IBF belt from Juan Alberto Rosas last December he’s still got plenty to give.
Could plenty mean the winner of a Cazares-Narvaez fight? Will Kameda be first in line for that victor as a mandatory or will “Super champion” rules kick in.
They are good questions. They are questions worth finding the answers to. It’s happening at 115.
Not bad for a down period.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]