By Cliff Rold
Perhaps we can consider the current bantamweight scene as the ‘player to be named later.’
In team sports, the phrase represents the end of a trade. In boxing, it could apply to a division that could be running hot just over the horizon. Bantamweight had some good fights in 2015. The two longest running powers in the division, WBC titlist Shinsuke Yamanaka and Anselmo Moreno, faced off in a closely contested technical battle. WBA sub-titlist Jamie McDonnell picked up a pair of respect enhancing decisions over Tomoki Kameda.
And three-time US Olympian Rau’Shee Warren almost came from behind to win the WBA’s super version of the crown at 118 lbs. from Juan Carlos Payano (17-0, 8 KO). This Saturday, on the nationally televised undercard of Andrzej Fonfara-Joe Smith (NBC, 8:30 PM EST/5:30 PM PST), Warren gets another crack almost one year later.
Almost has been a big deal in the fistic experience of Warren. The 2007 world amateur champion exited both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics by a single point in each of his first fights. Against Payano, two points deducted from Warren in the ninth round were too much to erase even with a knockdown of Payano in the final round. His effort in the second half made it close.
It wasn’t enough.
If Warren (13-1, 4 KO; 20-1, 4 KO including World Series of Boxing contests) is ever going to break through, this is the time.
He wants to be there when the ‘player to be named later’ gets named.
Assuming Yamanaka stays at bantamweight, he has a looming mandatory with Moreno and both men are aging. McDonnell has made some noise about a possible move to 122 lbs. and his 5’10 frame may thank him for it. The winner of Warren-Payano has a chance in the next year or two to position themselves as the remaining force in the division.
For Warren, it would be a chance to add an American face to the division at a critical time. What makes now matter?
Well, for the moment, not a lot. In the next 12-24 months, much could change.
Word is getting louder that flyweight kingpin Roman Gonzalez is heading to 115 lbs. Unified flyweight titlist Juan Francisco Estrada likely wouldn’t be far behind. Japan’s Naoya Inoue, already the WBO 115 lb. titlist, has said he will be moving up as his career moves along. HBO already spotlights Gonzalez and could well add Inoue and Estrada to their air in the next year.
If and likely when that happens, a titled Warren could gain significant value.
Warren, aligned with the PBC, might not seem like a logical choice to mix with anyone on HBO. Things change. Détente between Bob Arum and Al Haymon seemed impossible a few years ago. Now it looks like it’s on the way.
Haymon and HBO won’t stay apart forever.
During the 1990s, Don King took his stable to Showtime for most of a decade. When business dictated it, Felix Trinidad was brought across the street.
As the pieces fall into place at 115, the evolution upwards towards 118 won’t be far behind. As good as the core fighters are right now, there isn’t an American in the mix. For an American network, that could be attractive. If Warren can turn the corner, the story of a Cincinnati kid finally overcoming years of narrow misses waiting for big names looking to notch new superlatives to their stat sheet could be attractive.
Sure, this is speculative. It doesn’t erase the possibilities. If, say, Gonzalez wins a title in his fourth weight class there will inevitably be interest in a fifth. It might not come right away. There are too many good fights at 115 first. This being modern boxing, that will probably add up to three. Warren, who isn’t a big puncher, would have to notch some defenses along the way. Considering neither he nor Payano has been in the ring since their first fight, he will have to find a way to get active enough to create any buzz.
No speculation matters without a win this weekend. He can’t be a factor unless he inserts himself into the mix. To do that, he can’t be the almost guy anymore.
Warren has to arrive. He might not get a better chance, in front of a better audience, than he will have this weekend.
If Gonzalez-Estrada II isn’t happening right now at 112, Gonzalez-Carlos Cuadras is a hell of a fight at 115. Gonzalez should win but he’d be facing a prime, tough guy in a new class. It would be one of the better fights on HBO this year…Sergey Kovalev-Andre Ward is getting closer and it’s still not close enough. There isn’t a more intriguing in-ring clash to be made…OJ: Made in America is what the critics said it was. It was with a feeling of self-loathing that a few minutes were viewed and then, just like that, hooked…If you’re making jokes about the death of a child via alligator, you’re not funny. You’re a bad person.
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]