by Cliff Rold
In 1973, bantamweight champion Enrique Pinder was stripped of the WBC belt for failing to defend against Rodolfo Martinez, opting instead for what ultimately was a loss to Romeo Anaya. The lineage of the title would remain intact into the 1980s but the belts remained apart.
In the 45-plus years since, the WBO and IBF have come to be recognized as the other major titles by most of the boxing world. Only two titles have been unified in all that time. That came in 2010 when WBO titlist Fernando Montiel knocked out WBC titlist Hozumi Hasegawa. Those titles stayed married for a little over a year, moving from Montiel to Nonito Donaire in 2011.
Donaire vacated to chase more gold at Jr. featherweight.
The World Boxing Super Series at bantamweight beginning Sunday (DAZN, 7 AM EST) won’t give us the same four-belt unification the recently completed WBSS at cruiserweight did. The WBC belt is currently vacant, ordered to be decided at an as yet undetermined date between former WBA titlist Rau’Shee Warren and undefeated Nordine Oubaali. The title fell vacant when Luis Nery lost it on the scale earlier this year.
Neither of those men will be competing in the tournament.
Every other active titlist in the division will, including Ryan Burnett who won (if only briefly held) the WBA title Warren lost to Zhanat Zhakiyanov. The WBO belt held by Zolani Tete and the IBF held by Emanuel Rodriguez will also be up for grabs along the way. In total, the top three bantamweights as currently ranked by TBRB, and five of the top seven, are part of the eight-man field. That leaves us with the potential at the end for three bantamweight titles to be unified for the first time and for a consensus, true champion to emerge.
The undefeated Nery, who returns to competition this weekend in the bantamweight division, is also outside the tournament and could provide a showdown for the tournament winner if he maintains the weight and sticks around.
This is the bantamweight picture heading into the WBSS. The road to a unified triplet of belts begins in Japan as two-division former titlist Naoya Inoue faces former WBA bantamweight titlist Juan Carlos Payano.
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Title: None (Holds WBA sub-title at 118, 2018-Present, 1stdefense)
Previous Titles: WBC light flyweight (2014, 1 Defense); WBO Jr. bantamweight (2014-18, 7 defenses)
Weight: 118 lbs.
Hails from: Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan
Record: 16-0, 14 KO
Rankings: #1 (TBRB, Boxing Monthly, Boxrec), #2 (Ring, ESPN)
Record in Title Fights: 10-0, 9 KO (11-0, 10 KO including sub-title fights)
Last Five Opponents: 135-19-4 (.867)
WBSS Seed: 2
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Ryoichi Taguchi UD10; Adrian Hernandez TKO6; Omar Narvaez KO2; Kohei Kono TKO6; Jamie McDonnell TKO1
Juan Carlos Payano
Previous Titles: WBA “super” bantamweight (2014-16, 1 Defense)
Weight: 117 ½ lbs.
Hails from: Miami, Florida (Born in Dominican Republic)
Record: 20-1, 9 KO
Press Rankings: #5 (TBRB, Ring), #6 (ESPN, Boxing Monthly), #10 (BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 2-1
Last Five Opponents: 76-12-2 (.875)
WBSS Seed: Unseeded
Current/Former World Champions Faced: Anselmo Moreno Tech. Dec. 6; Rau’Shee Warren SD12, L12
The Case for Inoue: Inoue has several notable advantages heading into this one. He’s younger by almost a decade, has explosive speed, and his punching power stands out from the bulk of the WBSS field. He’s one of the most devastating punchers, pound for pound, in all of boxing. He lands that power with equal ferocity to both the head and body. What makes that power especially dangerous is a technical foundation that refines his attack. He has a sharp, stiff jab but also sometimes leads with an authoritative left hook. He’s equally adept at picking smart angles with his right, coming around a guard or straight down the pipe without losing anything in terms of velocity. His balance is good and he moves his feet well, able to press or back off and work from range. We haven’t seen a lot of him against full-bodied bantamweights as yet but the sample size of the McDonnell fight suggests that, at 25, he’s just arriving at the weight class where his prime will unfold. Being frank, the case for Inoue is he appears to be one of the most complete fighters in the world with the sort of talent few can hope to defeat until someone proves they can. Not only hasn’t he lost a fight; he’s barely lost a round yet as a professional
The Case for Payano: Payano is more technically acute than he can appear to be. A two-time Olympian who managed to advance one round in both the 2004 and 2008 Games, his biggest problem as a pro has been activity. In almost two years as a titlist, he managed only one defense. Things have been a little better since his loss to Warren. He fought twice in the same year in 2017 for the first time since 2014 but hasn’t fought more than twice in a year since 2013. This is his second fight in 2018 so rust shouldn’t be an issue. His chances here come from his awkwardness, extenuated by his southpaw stance, and physical strength. He sometimes paws with his jab but that can allow him to get close and use his body to lean on opponents. His head can also be a weapon, if inadvertently, in bull rushing attacks that allow him to whip in the left hand at odd angles to the head and body. Against Warren and Moreno, he was able to confuse the rhythm of both men for stretches but neither had the return fire of Inoue. Notably, when he tired in the first Warren fight, he was dropped in the final round. Inoue has shown he carries power not just early but also late into a fight. Payano will have to be wary from bell to bell but if he can steal some rounds early he can make this a fight.
The Pick: Payano is a solid pro but in any environment, tournament or not, he would feel like the sort of opponent Inoue would face before a bigger fight. Payano doesn’t have the punch variety, or offensive creativity, of Inoue. It may take a round or two to time Payano but once he does Inoue should be able to torture him with body shots and create openings upstairs. That could make Payano reluctant to come forward and, if and when that occurs, it will be checkmate. The pick is Inoue to hand Payano his first stoppage loss.
The WBSS and the Picture at Jr. welterweight
The parallel tournament at 140 lbs. also kicks off on Sunday’s card. It doesn’t quite capture the top of the division, or the title picture, the way the bantamweight field does but it’s still plenty intriguing.
The WBC title is held by Jose Ramirez and the WBO belt by Maurice Hooker; neither of them is in the tournament. Hooker won his title against Terry Flanagan, a tournament entrant. Currently, the IBF title is vacant, to be decided as part of the tournament between Anthony Ygit and Ivan Baranchyk in October. The WBA belt is on the line in the tournament opener as third seed and defending titlist Kiryl Relikh (22-2, 19 KO) defends against former IBF titlist Edouard Troyanovsky (27-1, 24 KO).
Like the bantamweight field, five of the TBRB top ten will be in competition but only three of the top five. Will a consensus champion emerge at the end? The level of competition the tournament will provide could create a strong division leader but what Ramirez and Hooker do independent of the WBSS could leave some doubt at the top of the Jr. welterweight class.
Additional Weekend Picks
Jessie Vargas Dec. Thomas Dulorme
Artur Beterbiev KO Callum Johnson
Daniel Roman Dec. Gavin McDonnell
Ken Shiro Dec. Milan Melindo
Kiryl Relikh TKO Edouard Troyanovsky
Rold Picks 2018: 32-13
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]