Bantamweight top dog Nonito Donaire comforts Fernando Montiel after demolishing him inside of two rounds in February. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Right now, my rankings page is somewhat sloppily out-of-date in certain divisions, because I fell behind keeping up with the maintenance in January/February, but I'm getting it back on track. This morning I wanted to take a glance at the best division in boxing for my money, the bantamweights.
As for the rankings page, I'm planning a major overhaul for it to go live on Monday, after which every week there will be a Monday update. March 7, 2011 will be the starting point for the rankings as far as a "weeks in rankings" tally goes. Even if nothing at all changes in any division that week, there will be a technical "update" that way.
1. Nonito Donaire (26-1, 18 KO)
Donaire was top man at 112, top man at 115, and in February, clearly established himself as the best fighter at 118 pounds with his two-round destruction of Fernando Montiel. His height, speed, power, and reflexes are all a cut above the field, in my estimation, and he's cemented as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world. It's insane to even bring this up, but don't forget that Manny Pacquiao first established himself as a flyweight, too, and that he's actually shorter than Donaire really is (we've said it a lot, but that 5'6" listed height for Donaire looks to be two inches short). In his biggest fights, he has made mincemeat of his opponents, from Vic Darchinyan to Montiel, with thrashings of the very capable Raul Martinez and Moruti Mthalane also quite notable. I don't think there's a fighter at 118 that can hang with him, to be honest. I think he crushes everyone else in the division. And I say that with great praise for Donaire's ability, because the division is stellar and loaded with talented fighters of all styles and stripes. Donaire might not stay here for long, even though he's claimed a desire to unify belts or whatever other thing that fans like to hear. The unification of meaningless titles means nothing to me, but there are better legacy-building fights at 118 than there are at 122 right now, so hopefully he does stay. But don't expect more than one or two more fights at the weight, and you won't be too disappointed when he bolts for further glory. They're already talking about fighting the best at 126.
I might well have Mares a spot (or two) higher than most, but I thought he fought a good, even contest with Yonnhy Perez last year in their draw, and he beat Vic Darchinyan in his last fight. He's the second-youngest fighter in the top ten, as he turns 26 in November, and he's shown grit and guts against his two best opponents, and really he took quite a leap in competition after a slow burn prospect period. He's got a lot of talent and clearly isn't afraid to fight the best, and we've seen him battle through blood to get a victory. Not much to dislike about Mares, even if you wouldn't consider him a likely candidate for true greatness.
3. Joseph Agbeko (28-2, 22 KO)
Agbeko turns 31 on March 22, and took 14 months off after fighting and losing to Yonnhy Perez in a great battle in 2009. He came back to fight Perez again in December 2010, and the fight resembled a mirror of the first bout, with Agbeko leading the action this time around and coming out with a convincing, competitive win. He showed no signs of rust and looked to be in really phenomenal condition. He faces Mares on April 23 in a fight that could very well determine Donaire's next opponent, at least if Agbeko wins. King and Arum would surely see the value in Donaire-Agbeko, which either HBO or Showtime would be anxious to grab at this point. If Mares wins, I'm sure the Top Rank-Golden Boy feud foolishly gets in the way of everyone making money.
4. Yonnhy Perez (20-1-1, 14 KO)
Perez is 32 now, and he's a great story, but he's peaked for sure. He rallied to beat longtime contender Silence Mabuza back in 2009, setting up his upset win over Agbeko on Showtime, and has gone 0-1-1 in his last two, albeit against Mares and Agbeko, two guys who can really fight. And Perez can really fight, but he might not be up here for too long. He's going to fight Vic Darchinyan in the April 23 co-feature as they battle for third place in the Showtime mini-tournament, and if nothing else happens, we could see rematches with the winners of those fights, and there's nothing wrong with that. Agbeko-Perez III would be fine, as would Agbeko-Darchinyan II, Mares-Perez II, Mares-Darchinyan II, or even just rematches of BOTH fights if they're both exceptional, which they well could be. There's absolutely nothing I don't like about those four guys fighting each other. They've yet to have a bad fight with that group.
5. Anselmo Moreno (30-1-1, 10 KO)
Moreno is a 5'8" southpaw who has no U.S. publicity and fights in a manner that isn't likely to get him any. He griped about not getting an invite to the Showtime tournament, so he is at least aware that the U.S. networks are buying into the bantamweight division, and seems anxious to get a piece. He'd be troublesome for just about anyone, too. "Chemito" won a couple of split decisions last year over Nehomar Cermeno in Venezuela and Panama, the latter fight finally on his home turf against a notable opponent. Moreno has become a highly successful road warrior, beating Wladimir Sidorenko twice in Germany, Mahyar Monshipour in France, and Cermeno in Venezuela.
6. Fernando Montiel (44-3-2, 34 KO)
Fernando heard the drums of Donaire's fists. There really was something in the air that night, the stars were bright. They were shining there for you and me, for liberty, Fernando. And I know you never thought you could lose, but don't have any regret. If you had to do the same again, wouldn't you, Fernando?
I remain Kameda's biggest American fan, or at least I'm going to say that. I'm sure someone out there is a bigger Kameda fan than me, but I like the idea. His move up from 112 has been successful so far, with a December win over Alexander Munoz gaining the brash Japanese star a recognized trinket in a second weight class. Kameda is short, doesn't have great power, and really doesn't look particularly great against real opponents, but he's beaten Munoz and Daisuke Naito, and was competitive in his losing effort against the great Pongsaklek Wonjongkam. I think he's a smarter boxer than he often gets credit for being, which will help him along the way, because good as he is, and he is good, he's not a super talent or anything.
8. Vic Darchinyan (35-3-1, 27 KO)
This might seem low for the notorious Darchinyan, but let's be realistic. He's 1-2 at the weight, with the win coming over journeyman Eric Barcelona, and at 118 pounds, Darchinyan looks really normal and nothing like the fierce bully he was at 112 and 115. His power hasn't come with him as a bantamweight, as he couldn't dent Agbeko in a losing effort, and he threw everything but the kitchen sink at Mares and didn't seem able to truly deter him, either. Now don't get me wrong, those are good losses if you're going to lose, and I thought he beat himself against Agbeko as much as anything, but Darchinyan has a habit of fighting dumb and getting in his own way. Darchinyan has been a standout "little guy" over his career, but now he's 35 years old and it looks like this weight class is just one too high for him to maintain his demolition man persona. He's still good and will compete well against most, but he's far more ordinary at 118 than he was in the past.
9. Vusi Malinga (20-3-1, 12 KO)
10. Malcolm Tunacao (28-2-3, 17 KO)
There are a lot of guys you could slot into the final two spots. I choose veterans Malinga and Tunacao for now. Both are on solid runs. Malinga had a fight with Joseph Agbeko called off last year, but outside of a TKO-1 blasting at the hands of Hozumi Hasegawa in 2009, he hasn't lost a fight since 2000. Filipino Tunacao now lives in Japan, where he does most of his fighting as the OPBF bantamweight titleholder. He's won seven straight and is responsible for both the loss and the draw on Kohei Oba's 28-1-1 record.
Honorable Mentions and Others
European champ Jamie McDonnell (pictured) (16-2-1, 7 KO) has become a favorite of mine, but I'd be really stretching it if I said I felt he was world class. ... Filipino prospect AJ Banal (23-1-1, 18 KO) is still out there and plugging away. He's still only 22, but since he's been a pro since 2005, seems older than that. His 2008 loss to Rafael Concepcion burst his bubble a little sooner than his handlers were hoping, but he's 6-0 since. ... Eric Morel (43-2, 21 KO) could make the top ten, but he doesn't make mine. He supposedly fights the ultra shot Martin Castillo on April 1. ... Michael Domingo (40-15-2, 18 KO) had been on a nice run before losing to Malinga in October. ... 24-year-old Mexican Christian Esquivel (21-2, 15 KO) is starting to make some noise and is being lined up for a belt grab by the WBC. ... Venezuela's Alexander Munoz (35-4, 27 KO) has had a fine career in Japan, but keeps an inconsistent schedule these days and might not get many more opportunities. ... 19-year-old Tomoki Kameda (18-0, 12 KO) is the youngest of the fighting Kameda clan, and is still building his prospect status in Mexico. He fought his first 12-rounder in his last bout, beating journeyman German Meraz on 119-109 scores across the board. ... 21-year-old Japanese southpaw Ryosuke Iwasa (8-0, 6 KO) is one to watch, and will challenge Japanese bantamweight champion Shinsuke Yamanaka (13-0-2, 9 KO) on Saturday at Korakuen Hall.