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Analysis: The bantamweight division

Naoya Inoue
A formidable top three lead the way in the bantamweight division, a weight class that is a fans’ favourite for good reason, writes Matt Christie

10. Joshua Greer Jnr (USA)
Record: 22-1-1 (12) Age: 25 Height: 5ft 4ins
The Chicago fighter was due to take on Filipino Mike Plania in a Las Vegas 10-rounder just hours after we went to press. Greer is closing in on an alphabet title shot: He’s the WBO’s mandatory, ranked second by the IBF and stands at ninth with the WBC. The 25-year-old survived a shooting in 2016 where his friend and fellow prospect, Ed Brown, was killed.

STRENGTHS: Fast hands and excellent counter-puncher. Carries good one-punch power in his right hand. His gimmick – a pillow that says ‘night night’ on it, which he waves after scoring a knockout – is amusing if bordering on bad taste.

WEAKNESSES: His stamina has been called into question and he’s been dropped twice as a professional.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Survived a rocky 10th and final round to edge the solid Antonio Nievas in his most recent bout.

WORST PERFORMANCE: His 12-round win over Nikolai Potapov was booed by fans who when the verdict was announced.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: Greer seemed to be tiring going into the sixth of his 2016 clash with James Smith. Then he suddenly scored one of the knockouts of the year.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? At 25 time is on his side but Greer appears to be a long, long way behind the leaders of this weight class.

Joshua Greer

9. Carlos Cuadras (MEX)
Record: 39-3-1 (27) Age: 31 Height: 5ft 7½ins
Almost all signs are pointing towards decline in the Mexican veteran. Though only 31 and the winner of three fights in a row, it’s hard to recognise the Cuadras who was going toe-to-toe with the likes of Roman Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada down at super-flyweight as the same fighter today. The former WBC 115lbs champion is not a natural bantamweight despite competing there in his last three bouts; if he can secure another big fight in his old super-fly stomping ground, he will drop back down.

STRENGTHS: Experience and stamina are two key strengths. His left hook remains a potent weapon and he’s an adept body snatcher.

WEAKNESSES: His advancing age and fading reflexes.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Unlucky not to get the nod over Estrada following a furious 2017 encounter. His win over Luis Concepcion two years before that is arguably his best win.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Looked sluggish while pipping Jose Maria Cardenas last September.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The tussle with Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in 2014 saw Cuadras win the WBC super-flyweight strap.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Though there’s a chance the enforced layoff could do him good, Cuadras’ long and punishing career seems to be catching up.

Carlos Cuadras
Chris Farina/K2

8. Takuma Inoue (JPN)
Record: 13-1 (3) Age: 24 Height: 5ft 4½ins
The younger brother of the fearsome division leader, Takuma shares the Inoue speed and stamina but lacks the power and explosiveness. Hand injuries have not helped his quest to step out of Naoya’s shadow but he’s a viable contender in his own right. He gave Nordine Obaali all sorts of trouble after rising from a knockdown and taking the fight to the WBC champion. But he came up short on the cards – which were very cruel to Inoue.

STRENGTHS: Snappy jabber and quality left hooker who bursts in and out of range to remain largely elusive.

WEAKNESSES: Too reliant on those fast feet. He has tendency to lead with his right hand while opening up his body and increasing his opponent’s target zone.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Was disciplined throughout his 12-round points win over the 48-0 Tasana Salapat at the end of 2018.

WORST PERFORMANCE: He was dropped by Froilan Saludar en route to winning the 10-rounder on the cards.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The scrap with Oubaali was overshadowed by the main event (Naoya Inoue vs Nonito Donaire) but is worthy of another viewing, if only to try and work out how one judge scored 120-107 against him.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He still appears to be improving so can make a dent further up this list in the future.

TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

7. Luis Nery (MEX)
Record: 30-0 (24) Age: 25 Height: 5ft 6ins
The southpaw is a former WBC champion who was stripped of his title for failing to make weight ahead of his 2018 rematch with Shinsuke Yamanaka. Yet he was allowed to keep the title after failing a drug test before dethroning Yamanaka in 2017. Food contamination was put forward by the WBC as the reason for banned substance zilpaterol appearing in his system when he was tested in Mexico. Making weight is a problem for Nery, no question. He missed out on the chance to fight Emmanuel Rodriguez as recently as November because he couldn’t make the divisional limit. For that bout he was being trained by Freddie Roach but has since switched to Eddy Reynoso.

STRENGTHS: Sublime infighter with tremendous power in his left hand.

WEAKNESSES: Making weight is the obvious one. Can be reckless and telegraph his looping power arm.

BEST PERFORMANCE: The drug controversy aside, Nery looked devastating while ending the 13-fight reign of Yamanaka.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Laboured to an eight-round split decision win over Victor Mendez in 2014.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: He rose from the canvas to halt Arthur Villanueva in 2017.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Represents a monstrous challenge for all above him if he can stay in the division.

Luis Nery
Naoki Fukuda

6. Jason Moloney (AUS)
Record: 20-1 (17) Age: 29 Height: 5ft 5ins
The Aussie made a mark on the world scene when he pushed then-unbeaten Emmanuel Rodriguez all the way before losing a split decision in 2018. Though he was outfought in the early going he battled back in the championship rounds to make it close. Had the bout have been over 15 rounds, Moloney – always supremely conditioned – would have been favoured to win. The twin brother of super-flyweight contender, Andrew Moloney, defeated Michael Conlan in the amateur ranks and is scheduled to take on Oscar Negrete in Las Vegas on June 25.

STRENGTHS: A powerful hitter, particularly from the right uppercut and hook, with dogged persistence.

WEAKNESSES: His defence has let him down on occasion. Rodriguez had no problem repeatedly scoring with his jab.

BEST PERFORMANCE: The 2018 hammering of Kohei Kono highlighted his potential at world level.

WORST PERFORMANCE: The first half of the Rodriguez bout highlighted why he may struggle against the very best.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The savage beatdown of Dixon Flores in his most recent outing.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Would start as underdog against all above him.

bantamweight Jason Moloney

5. Emmanuel Rodriguez (PRI)
Record: 19-1 (12) Age: 27 Height: 5ft 6ins
Inactive for over a year through no fault of his own. Before coronavirus wiped boxing off the calendar, he was supposed to take on Luis Nery in November only for the Mexican to miss weight. He went 171-11 as an amateur, including victory over Robeisy Ramirez. Made his mark on the world scene in 2018 when he won the vacant IBF strap when he impressively dominated Paul Butler over 12 rounds at the O2 Arena in London. His boxing career was put on hold in 2010 after an automobile accident left him with second degree burns on 66 per cent of his body.

STRENGTHS: A skilled and determined technician with serious power in both hands.

WEAKNESSES: By his own admission, he struggles with the 12-round distance. Even when an eight-round fighter he would fade late.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Made the talented Paul Butler look ordinary on the Tony Bellew-David Haye II undercard.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Though he did well in the opening round against Naoya Inoue, he was stopped in the second.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: One of his favourite performances was the 2015 thrashing of Luis Hinojosa. It’s easy to see why.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Expect him to rebuild with aplomb following the loss to Inoue.

Emanuel Rodriguez bantamweight

4. Nordine Oubaali (FRA)
Record: 17-0 (12) Age: 33 Height: 5ft 3 1/2ins
A two-time Olympian, Oubaali had the misfortune of meeting Zou Shimming in the 2008 Games and Michael Conlan – at the quarter-final stage – four years later. Strangely, Oubaali also lost out to Shimming (2007) and Conlan (2011) at the Worlds. The Frenchman is having better luck in the professional ranks and last January claimed the vacant WBC strap when he decisioned another old amateur rival, Raus’hee Warren, over 12 rounds. He’s defended the belt twice with wins over Arthur Villanueva and Takuma Inoue.

STRENGTHS: The southpaw boxer-puncher, who has stellar footwork, delivers a spiteful whack to the body.

WEAKNESSES: Even for a bantamweight, the 5ft 3 1/2ins Frenchman is short.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Grinding down the durable Julio Cesar Miranda for a 12th round stoppage win highlighted Oubaali’s tenacious spirit.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Struggled to get to grips with Takuma Inoue for long periods of their 12-rounder.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The victory over Warren was entertaining and showcased both fighters’ quality.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? At 33 and with a style to cause nightmares, he may struggle to get the opportunities to go much further.

Nordine Oubaali

3. Nonito Donaire (PHI)
Record: 40-6 (26) Age: 37 Height: 5ft 7ins
Boxing News questioned the wisdom of the ageing Filipino’s return to bantamweight when he announced he would take part in the World Boxing Super Series yet his performances, even the one that ended in defeat, were a revelation. Donaire, a belt-holder in five divisions, is headed to the Hall of Fame but one does wonder how much more he can give at the age of 37. The thrilling defeat to Nayoa Inoue was gruelling in the extreme and would even have added miles to much younger clocks. But what we’ve come to realise with Donaire is never write him off.

STRENGTHS: Take your pick from size, speed, power and intelligence. Oh, and that famous left hook.

WEAKNESSES: Can be over-reliant on his power and switch off but, at this stage, his biggest weakness is his age.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Blitzing Fernando Montiel in two rounds back in 2011.

WORST PERFORMANCE: His career looked over when Nicholas Walters dominated Donaire and stopped him in six rounds in 2014.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: Remind yourself of when he gate-crashed the scene with a thunderous KO of Vic Darchinyan in 2007.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Hard to envision the charismatic “Filipino Flash” going any higher.

Nonito Donaire bantamweight
Sumio Yamada

2. John Riel Casimero (PHI)
Record: 29-4 (20) Age: 31 Height: 5ft 4ins
With hindsight it seems a little ridiculous that Casimero was given little chance of defeating Zolani Tete when he challenged for the IBF title in November last year. A belt-holder at light-fly and flyweight, the logic seemed to be that the Filipino was not quite big enough and too crude to rule at 118lbs, but – in his 13th bout outside of his country – Casimero made a mockery of the odds and the doubters. Tete never recovered from a right hook in the third before being stopped in the same round. With the bombastic display, a showdown with Naoya Inoue – slated for April before lockdown wrecked the sport – became one of boxing’s hottest tickets.

STRENGTHS: The owner of fast and powerful hands is completely fearless.

WEAKNESSES: He can appear disinterested and lose his way against ring generals.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Hard to look past the thrashing of Tete but was equally emphatic when defeating Amnat Ruenroeng in their 2016 sequel.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Outpointed by Jonas Sultan in 2017.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The 2019 victory over Kenya Yamashita was thrilling.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Would start as underdog against Inoue but has more than just a puncher’s chance.

John Riel Casimero

1. Naoya Inoue (JPN)
Record: 19-0 (16) Age: 27 Height: 5ft 5ins
Might be the best active fighter in the sport today. Hard to believe, given all that he’s accomplished, that Inoue is yet to have 20 fights and has only competed in 107 rounds as a professional. Inoue appears like he can do it all and – in a refreshing admission – says he has never once asked how much he’s getting paid when his potential opponents are put forward. Inoue simply wants to fight the best opposition available. Inoue trains every day and spends as much time practising boxing as he does honing the positivity in his mind.

STRENGTHS: Inoue’s mind-boggling power is down to his ability to throw a punch with every part of his body. Watch any of his early finishes and you will see technical perfection.

WEAKNESSES: Not hugely elusive as Nonto Donaire proved. The facial injuries he suffered – the broken eye socket in particular – may come back to haunt him.

BEST PERFORMANCE: The two-round savaging of Emmanuel Rodriguez.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Has only looked beatable once – in that titanic battle with Donaire.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: If you’ve overdosed on the Donaire classic, take in the impeccable KO of Juan Carlos Payano instead.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Can cement his status in the sport in the coming years.

Naoya Inoue bantamweight

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