By Cliff Rold
Two fighters, both coming off the loss of their first titles, will face off this Saturday with a chance to move forward in one of boxing’s hottest divisions.
How hot is Jr. bantamweight?
Just weeks ago Jerwin Ancajas, who defeated McJoe Arroyo for the IBF 115 lb. title last year, got spotlight time on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao-Jeff Horn. In a little more than a month, HBO will air a tripleheader in the division as good as any card on air this year.
In between, former WBA bantamweight titlist and three-time US Olympian Rau’shee Warren (14-2, 4 KO) has chosen to move down in weight a class rather than pursuing a rematch to regain the title he lost earlier this year.
It’s a bold move and he hasn’t chosen an easy path.
Warren, on the undercard of Adrien Broner-Mikey Garcia, will face Arroyo (17-1, 8 KO), also a former Olympian from Puerto Rico. Arroyo is making his first start since the loss to Ancajas. This will be an IBF eliminator, meaning either Arroyo earns a rematch or Warren earns a chance at a title in a second weight class.
Warren could have opted to pursue a return against the man who took his title, Zhanat Zhakiyanov. They had a heck of a scrap in February. Warren scored a pair of knockdowns in the first round only for Zhakiyanov to rally and outwork him for the split decision win. A rematch would have been a good fight.
The money below featherweight wasn’t going to come in that return. A cast of Jr. bantamweight characters that includes Roman Gonzalez, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Carlos Cuadras, Juan Francisco Estrada, Naoya Inoue, Ancajas, and the UK’s Khalid Yafai presents a lot of economic opportunity.
There isn’t massive pay-per-view wealth to be made this low on the scale. That doesn’t mean it’s a land of poverty. Every dollar counts lower on the scale and there are simply more dollars right now three pounds below the bantamweight limit. The winner this weekend won’t be in line for the biggest names in the class but they’ll be in the title hunt. That’s an avenue that gets them there.
For Warren, it could be particularly tantalizing. He could emerge as a lone US face in a class without any. Given his Olympic background, he could be an easy plug and play with anyone if he could defeat both Arroyo and Ancajas.
Arroyo has a chance to put a bad loss behind him. Ancajas didn’t just beat Arroyo. He largely dominated him. It was an eye opening performance for the Filipino and one he’d be favored to pull off again. Arroyo can only erase that mark on his ledger if he gets by Warren this weekend.
Will we get a chance to see it? Plans right now don’t have the fight on the broadcast and there isn’t a streaming plan to get it to the masses. Hopefully, something can shake out before Saturday. Even if not, pay attention to this result. It will impact the next steps forward in a class overflowing with quality.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]