by Tris Dixon
“This tournament is the toughest challenge that all the participants will have faced in their careers,” said Adam Booth, trainer of bantamweight world champion Ryan Burnett.
Booth, who has created a formidable stable including the likes of welter prospect Josh Kelly and Irish star Mick Conlan, was talking about the World Boxing Super Series event which is due to start in September and so far features four of the top bantamweights in the world.
Burnett 19-0, Naoya Inoue 16-0, Emmanuel Rodriguez 18-0 and Zolani Tete, 27-3, all have their names in the hat. Their combined 80-3 stats, blend of fighting styles and intriguing backstories add real potency to the expanding brand that is clearly earning a reputation as the ‘go-to’ place in boxing for the best to fight the best.
Tete, the WBO champion, is considered the most avoided, Burnett has unified the IBF and WBA Super titles, Inoue moved up in weight to destroy WBA beltholder Jamie McDonnell in one blistering round last week and Rodriguez impressed against Paul Butler to capture the WBC crown.
“Inoue looked powerful and aggressive,” admitted Booth, who did not feel the Japanese had earned his ‘new favourite’ tag having earned his third world crown in a third weight class in just 16 fights.
“Each of them will be the best they have faced.”
And that is the beauty of it; superb fighters want to test one another and themselves.
His trainer echoes Burnett’s positive attitude. “I don’t see any as threats, they are all challenges to overcome,’ said the always pragmatic Booth.
“The WBSS is a great addition to the boxing world and I honestly think that the bantamweights will be the best yet.”
Of course, all of the recent discussion swirled around Inoue’s dismantling of McDonnell last week.
The Englishman looked horribly drawn on the scales. There was talk that after he rehydrated and replenished he had gained as much as 26lbs before the fight.
That is astonishing. It begs the question how hard was it for the Doncaster man to make weight, and was it even safe? Some experts have talked of perhaps a two-weight jump further north in the future for the deposed champion but it posed an interesting question.
For all of the fighters who get criticised for failing to make weight, is it safer to miss weight and allow a fighter to box on with a possible advantage (even with no title at stake) or to enforce a fighter to boil down to a depleted state and put him in with someone who is red hot and punches with the impact of a charging rhino?
Is it safer to break the laws rather than commit to them?
McDonnell looked emaciated at the weigh-in and was almost unrecognisable the next day.
Missing weight has always been seen as a cardinal sin, a sign of disrespect to an opponent, their team and their fans.
But safety must always be paramount.
It will be down to fighters, trainers and managers to admit to themselves, collectively, whether a boxer has outgrown a division in the years they have held a title.
The pictures of McDonnell on the scales were terrifying, but that’s not to detract from Inoue, who lived up to his “Monster” moniker and notched his 14th early win in 16 starts.
He made dents in McDonnell with his first shots, froze him with a left hook and lifted him off his feet with a body shot. Then, when it came time to finish, the champion – clinging on by his fingertips, his back to the ropes – opted to exchange. It was then as good as over. McDonnell was trying to land one bingo shot to keep Inoue at bay but committed to attack and neglected defence. Inoue accepted the open invitation and that was that. McDonnell lost for the first time since back-to-back defeats to the late Chris Edwards, at super-flyweight, and Lee Haskins in 2007/2008.
“Tete was the favourite up until Friday,” said top South African trainer Colin Nathan. “Jamie was a good world champion and had only two losses on his record – on points, but Inoue, from what I was told, was hitting even harder than before now having moved up. He has to be the favourite going in. “Although Inoue punches wide that's the only flaw I have seen. The way he blew Jamie out was something special.”
But the tournament hosts some special permutations, potentially special fighters and matches and that is the simple beauty of the WBSS. It takes out the BS.