Boxing's bantamweight division has been one of the best and most competitive in the sport in the last few years, but as the top fighters decline, retire, or move up in weight, the top spot has been cycling quite a bit, and on Saturday, a new man looks to say he's without question the No. 1 fighter in the world in his weight class.
Since 2009, we've been treated to some very good fights in the weight class, many featured on Showtime. In July of that year, Joseph Agbeko beat Vic Darchinyan, who was coming up from 115 and favored by many to be too much for the Ghanaian standout.
Three months later, Agbeko was taken off of his IBF perch by Yonnhy Perez in a great fight. After that, Perez faced young Abner Mares, and the two went to a very entertaining draw in May 2010. Showtime threw the four men into a tournament later in 2010, and this time we got Agbeko beating Perez, and Mares topping Darchinyan in a close, bloody battle.
Now for all of what those guys did, the top bantamweight in the world was considered to be Japan's Hozumi Hasegawa until April 2010, when Fernando Montiel knocked him out in the fourth round. That led to plenty of disagreements. Some simply felt that Montiel winning meant Montiel was the world's best bantamweight. Others argued that even though he'd beaten Hasegawa, the spot should have gone to Perez, prior to his loss to Agbeko in October.
Last year, the division got a shake-up when pound-for-pound contender and former flyweight and super flyweight star Nonito Donaire moved up to 118 and crushed Montiel in two rounds on HBO. Two months after that, Darchinyan returned to the top ranks by pounding Perez for five rounds, and in August, Mares took home a highly controversial decision over Agbeko (pictured above) to win Showtime's four-man bantamweight tournament. The two rematched in December, with Mares winning cleaner and more convincingly.
In October, Donaire beat Omar Narvaez and stated his intention to move up to 122 pounds, which he did in February of this year. With Donaire gone, Mares became the No. 1 man in the division for most. But another guy started creeping up: Panama's Anselmo Moreno.
Moreno never figured to be a U.S. TV guy, but he signed with Golden Boy Promotions last August, which surprised some, because he didn't come with the reputation of being an action fighter or someone marketable. Instead, Golden Boy signed Moreno for two reasons: He's really good, and they needed fighters in that weight class that were not Mares and Eric Morel.
His first fight under the Golden Boy banner came in December on Showtime, when he and Darchinyan were the co-feature in Anaheim on the Mares-Agbeko II card. Here's how BLH's Matt Miller put it in his post-fight recap that night:
Vic is always awkward, but he looked pathetically awkward as the fight wore on, and Moreno, going with increasing frequency and substance to the body, started to take over in the middle rounds. In round four, Vic's frustration already began to make itself too clear, and he threw Moreno down blatantly, resulting in a point deduction. Darchinyan lost his cool again late in the fight and pushed Moreno, but Moreno stayed collected and continued to punish Vic's belly with serious counter punching.
With that fight, Moreno arrived on the scene in the United States. Some who had seen him in the past against the likes of Nehomar Cermeno, Wladimir Sidorenko, Lorenzo Parra, Mahyar Monshipour, and others, felt that Moreno, not Mares, established himself as the best bantamweight in the sport that night.
Recently the division has seen more shifts. Yonnhy Perez announced his retirement from boxing on March 8. Darchinyan went to Japan and lost to Shinsuke Yamanaka. Jorge Arce has returned to the division, sort of, but is probably headed back out. Young contender Leo Santa Cruz is about to get a chance to break through against Vusi Malinga.
On Saturday night, Mares will be moving out of the division, facing Eric Morel for the vacant WBC super bantamweight title. That leaves Moreno looking to secure his spot at the top of the division against David De La Mora in the co-feature -- that is, unless Moreno heads out of the division to chase a fight with Mares, which he seems to want. For now, though, he's looking to take the clear No. 1 spot in what remains one of boxing's most talent-laden weight classes.
We'll have more tomorrow morning on the Mores vs Marel and Moreno vs De La Mora fights, with separate fight previews for each bout, so check back then. We'll also have round-by-round coverage of the entire show, including the SHO Extreme undercards, starting at 7 p.m. EDT on Saturday night.