By Cliff Rold
Sometimes, it’s best to get to the main course early and let the rest of the meal unfold from there.
Fans of the lower weight classes know that, right now, Jr. bantamweight is about as loaded as one could ask a class to be. Between the four major titlists there is a single loss. Solid veterans surround them with fighters from lower weights are vacating titles to get into the mix.
Already, we’ve had a Fight of the Year contender in 2016 in the twelve hellish rounds of Roman Gonzalez-Carlos Cuadras. That may yet be seen as only an appetizer, a harbinger of carnage over the next couple of years.
Since 2014, when Gonzalez won the lineal crown at 112 lbs. and Naoya Inoue won belts at both 108 and 115 lbs., hardcore fight fans have wondered about a showdown between the two. As we stare at a potentially delightful menu of options for 2017, the premiere entrée on the menu may have received all the marinating it needs on Friday in Japan.
Making the fourth defense of his WBO super flyweight belt, the 23-year old Inoue (12-0, 10 KO) went through veteran former two-time WBA titlist Kohei Kono (32-10-1, 13 KO). Inoue winning wasn’t unexpected. Kono is 36, old for his division, and was coming off a title loss in August to Luis Concepcion.
Inoue gets credit for style points. Kono had been dropped before but no one had ever stopped him. Inoue did it in six with deft counter punching and brutal work to the body. The way he won was a statement.
The statement was that it’s time for him to face the best in his division. The biggest, best fight that can be made on paper is Inoue versus the 29-year old WBC beltholder Gonzalez (46-0, 38 KO). Many rate the four-division titlist from Nicaragua the best fighter in the world in any weight class. In Inoue, he’d be facing a younger, taller, faster man with legitimate one-punch knockout power.
This is the main course.
Can we order it up immediately?
This is boxing so maybe not. If that is the case, it’s not like there aren’t other things to order on the menu. The great thing right now at Jr. bantamweight/115 lbs. is that you can mix and match about eight different fighters, all age 30 or under, and get a fight where the winner could be in doubt. Those eight fighters are:
· Khalid Yafai – 27 – UK Olympian, current WBA titlist – 21-0, 14 KO
· Jerwin Ancajas – 24 – current IBF titlist – 25-1-1, 16 KO
· Cuadras – 28 – former WBC titlist – 35-1-1, 27 KO
· Srisaket Sor Rungvisai – 30 – former WBC titlist – 41-4-1, 38 KO
· Juan Francisco Estrada – 26 – former WBA/WBO flyweight titlist – 34-2, 24 KO
· John Riel Casimero – 26 – former IBF Jr. flyweight and flyweight titlist – 23-3, 15 KO
That’s a strong top of any class. It comes with plenty of fun narratives in the form of fresh matches and potential rematches.
Inoue against any of these men is a new chapter for the ingénue. We’ve already seen Cuadras-Sor Rungvisai and got an unsatisfying cut ending in 2014. A sequel there could be fun. Sequels between Gonzalez and Cuadras or Estrada, whom he defeated at 108 lbs. in a 2012 classic, would be even better. Cuadras-Estrada would be an all Mexican war. Either versus Ancajas or Casimero could be thrilling chapters in the Mexico-Philippines rivalry. Gonzalez-Sor Rungvisai is a possible mandatory in 2017. Yafai could attempt to lure any of the above to the lively UK market.
That all are still in their prime makes it all the more mouth watering.
It’s a minefield that could hand out losses to anyone if it produces the round robin available. How long it stays this hot will depend in part on how long the ingredients stay in place.
Gonzalez’s struggle with Cuadras last year redrew some of his perceived ceiling. Talks of him going all the way to featherweight eventually have been tempered and there is little reason to move competitively anyways. There is plenty to do right where he is. The ceiling for Inoue is another story.
Talk of a move to bantamweight for Inoue has been there for at least a year. Waiting on this fight for too long could see its sell by date expire. Waiting doesn’t make sense if the fight is going to happen when it could be most attractive. Inoue’s lack of fights and need for more experience was a reason to wait, one even Inoue expressed at one time.
The Kono performance begs the question, ‘what are we waiting for?’ Inoue isn’t going to become a remarkably active fighter. He’s a 2-3 appearance a year guy already. Hand injuries in the past could always crop up in future outings so making other fights risks unnecessary delay.
Gonzalez and Inoue share promotional ties in Japan and are perceived as 1-2 in the class right now.
They are undefeated right now.
There may not be a better fight to make in all of boxing right now.
Boxing fans have seen too many fights like this get watered down. They could fight any of the other men mentioned and it would be fine. We’d be seeing competitive fights and there would be no guarantees that this showdown would remain the main course it is in this moment.
All of those fights could still happen after a showdown.
Speculation about Gonzalez-Inoue has been there for two years. Can Inoue weather the relentless attack of Gonzalez? Can Gonzalez handle the speed and explosive power of this younger, hungry rival? There is only one way to find out in a genuine 50-50 match.
It’s time to turn speculation into spectacle.
Gonzalez-Inoue must happen in 2017.
Gonzalez-Inoue should be served next.
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]