Year-End Top 10
- Shinsuke Yamanaka (24-0-2, 17 KO)
- Jamie McDonnell (27-2-1, 12 KO)
- Juan Carlos Payano (17-0, 8 KO)
- Anselmo Moreno (35-4-1, 12 KO)
- Suriyan Sor Rungvisai (46-6-1, 23 KO)
- Tomoki Kameda (31-2, 19 KO)
- Pungluang Sor Singyu (51-3, 35 KO)
- Lee Haskins (32-3, 14 KO)
- Rau'Shee Warren (13-1, 4 KO)
- Liborio Solis (23-3-1, 10 KO)
Yamanaka, 33, might not get the same amount of credit and international interest, but he's got some things in common with top super featherweight Takashi Uchiyama. First of all, and this might surprise you, they are both Japanese. Ha ha ha. But to be serious, they are both strong veteran fighters who have been at or near the top of their division for several years now. Southpaw Yamanaka knocked out Diego Ricardo Santillan in April, and followed that up with a narrow decision win over the always difficult Anselmo Moreno in September, so he kept his spot this year as the No. 1 bantamweight. Do we know who he is? Yes.
McDonnell, 29, has been something of a surprise. He can claim to be "world champion," in that he holds the WBA "world" title, but that is the sanctioning body's second-highest honor, and there is an active "super world champion" in Payano, 31, so McDonnell's claim is iffy at best. Still, Payano won his belt from Anselmo Moreno in 2014 on a technical decision, which cut that fight down to six rounds. And his defense this year against Rau'Shee Warren had a controversial outcome, too, a split decision with point deductions on both sides. Right now, McDonnell, thanks to two wins this year over Tomoki Kameda, has more momentum. But you could put these two in either order and it would be fair enough, really. Depends what you value more.
Moreno, 30, may actually still be the best fighter in the division, which he was able to claim for a while there, or at least be in a heated argument against Yamanaka, if "who's the best bantamweight between Anselmo Moreno and Shinsuke Yamanaka?" arguments ever got particularly heated. Moreno has lost two straight, but both times the ruling was either worthy of skepticism (the six-round technical decision loss to Payano) or controversial (the split decision loss to Yamanaka). Moreno remains more than a handful for anyone at this weight.
Suriyan, 26, won eight fights this year to pad his record, as fighters will often do in Thailand. None of the wins meant F-all if we're being serious about this, and we should be, this is very serious business. But he's a good fighter, and has youth on his side, too. In 2014, he faced Yamanaka, and went all 12 pretty competitively despite being dropped three times.
Kameda, 24, went 0-2 this year against Jamie McDonell, both fights coming in Texas. I said before the first fight that McDonnell could be more trouble than Kameda was preparing to face, and I was right. I like to bring up times I'm right and not the other times, when I was wrong. Kameda seems to have stagnated in his development, struggling a bit last year against Alejandro Hernandez, too, a fight he was expected to win easily. All these fights came after a seventh round knockout of a good fighter in Pungluang Sor Singyu, but that fight wasn't easy for Kameda, either. For a while, Tomoki was looked at as perhaps the best of the Kameda brothers, and he might be. But Koki and Daiki were both weak world titleholders, too. Tomoki may be closer to their level -- good, well short of great -- than previously believed.
Pungluang, 27, won three fights this year, most notably beating Ryo Akaho for the vacant WBO title on August 7 in Ratchaburi, Thailand, knocking out his opponent in the second round. This is his second time holding the belt. He won it in late 2012, also when it was vacant, by stopping AJ Banal, then lost in his first defense to Paulus Ambunda in March 2013.
Haskins, 32, also has a world title, claiming full titleholder status for the IBF after his scheduled November shot at Randy Caballero was canceled when Caballero didn't come close to making weight and a deal couldn't be made for the fight to go on. There was really no point in Haskins continuing on with the fight. He had nothing to gain, and he got the belt, which was really the right call. That's sort of what an interim title should be for. He won the interim belt while Caballero was out dealing with an injury, beating Ryosuke Iwasa in June. That came after Haskins won the European title with a win over Omar Lamiri in February. He's on a roll, with six straight wins since 2013, a run that started with him winning the British title.
Warren, 28, may not rank this high for most, but he gave Payano a stiff test in August, and has otherwise been sharp as a pro. He's not really a prospect at all -- he'd be a bit on the old side for the consideration, and he's fought at the highest level of the division already, too. He's a finished product. What you see with Warren is what you're going to get, give or take a bit of improvement which is certainly possible. He's a good boxer, not a puncher, and for whatever reason just hasn't quite gotten over the hump in his entire career, going back to his amateur days, where he competed in the 2004, 2008, and 2012 Olympics, and never medaled. One might say he's snakebit. One could also say that perhaps he's good, but just not good enough at higher levels of competition.
Solis, 33, is a former 115-pound titleholder from Venezuela, rounding out our top ten for now. There's no real upside for him, but he went 5-0 this year.
On the Cusp
Randy Caballero (22-0, 13 KO) won a world title in October 2014, but never did defend it. A scheduled defense for February 2015 was canceled due to injury, and then he missed weight for a November defense against Haskins, leading to his being stripped of the belt. At 25, he's headed up in weight to the super bantamweights.
23-year-old Filipino southpaw Marlon Tapales (28-2, 11 KO) won a WBO eliminator on December 16, stopping Japan's Shohei Omori (15-1, 10 KO) in the second round, after dropping Omori, 22, three times in the first round. Omori was the prospect of serious note going into that fight, and he was just wiped out. Tapales should get a fight with Pungluang soon.
Venezuela's Liborio Solis (23-3-1, 10 KO) is a former sorta-world titleholder at 115 pounds, holding the interim WBA world belt in 2011-12, and winning the "world" title from Kohei Kono in 2013, before vacating when he failed to make weight for a unification with Daiki Kameda that same year. He's 7-0 since moving up in weight, but opposition has been iffy.
Tepparith Kokietgym (32-3, 19 KO) has been competing at bantamweight since his 2012 loss at 115 to Kohei Kono, and has won a couple of minor titles, but he really hasn't fought anyone decent in three years, either. But he can fight.
Alexis Santiago (20-3-1, 8 KO) doesn't have a pretty record, but he's won nine straight fights since 2012, too. He could be an American fighter worth keeping tabs on in this division, which is fairly rare.
South Africa's Lwandile Sityatha (21-3-1, 7 KO) hasn't lost (or drawn) since 2013, either, and has been on a good run at home. He won a minor WBO belt in the division in December, moving up from super flyweight.
Ryo Akaho (26-2-2, 18 KO) was knocked out quick by Pungluang in August with the vacant WBO belt at stake, but he's still a fringe contender in the division, and a former title challenger at 115, too. Other Japanese fringe contenders: Go Onaga (26-2-2, 18 KO), OPBC champ Takahiro Yamamoto (17-4, 14 KO), Teiru Kinoshita (23-1-1, 6 KO), Kentaro Masuda (23-7, 12 KO), and Ryuichi Funai (24-6, 16 KO).
Argentina's Diego Ricardo Santillan (23-1, 15 KO) was sort of an unknown before challenging Yamanaka in April. He lost, and badly.
Mexico's Daniel "Bad Boy" Rosas (20-2-1, 12 KO) fights between 118 and 126, depending on the seriousness of the fight. He's worth a mention somewhere, I suppose here is good enough.
WBC: Shinsuke Yamanaka
- def. Diego Ricardo Santillan (KO-7, 4/16)
- def. Anselmo Moreno (SD-12, 9/22)
WBA: Juan Carlos Payano
- def. Rau'Shee Warren (SD-12, 8/2)
IBF: Lee Haskins
- Haskins promoted from interim to full champion on November 20, when previous titleholder Randy Caballero failed to make weight for November 21 fight
WBO: Pungluang Sor Singyu
- Tomoki Kameda vacated belt on April 23
- def. Ryo Akaho (KO-2, 8/7 - WON VACANT TITLE)
Top 5 Prospects
- Emmanuel Rodriguez (14-0, 10 KO)
- Nikolay Potapov (14-0, 6 KO)
- Shohei Omori (15-1, 10 KO)
- Emanuel Navarrete (12-1, 11 KO)
- Petch Sor Chitpattana (34-0, 21 KO)
Rodriguez, 23, is a Puerto Rican fighter who looked really good in a seventh round stoppage of Eliecer Aquino on the 11/25 PBC on ESPN card. He'll get every opportunity to succeed if he keeps winning fights, and is the best bet of these guys to be on your TV consistently in 2016.
Potapov, 25, fought just one time this year, making his U.S. debut on October 29 with a win over veteran club fighterPedro Melo in Brooklyn. He joined Dmitry Salita's squad for that fight, and plans to fight more in the U.S. as he attempts to make a name for himself in the division, or at least he's said he plans to do so. There's really not a huge bantamweight market here, and Salita isn't a big promoter or anything, so we'll see. Of this group, he is probably the most polished boxer and while perhaps doesn't have the highest upside, probably is the least risky bet to become a serious contender, or at least close to it.
Omori, 22, suffered a humbling TKO-2 defeat against Marlon Tapales in December, but that doesn't mean he's worth writing off as a prospect. If he can recover from the loss, there's still a lot to like about the Japanese southpaw. He's still the domestic champiion at 118 pounds, and has beaten veterans like Kentaro Masuda and Christian Esquivel very impressively. He didn't end 2015 on the high note he wanted, but keep him in mind.
Navarrete, 20, is a Mexican fighter whose lone loss came in 2012 against Daniel Argueta, which was a four-round fight, and the final of the Cinturón de Oro XVIII tournament, where Navarrete was declared the winner of the tournament anyway because Argueta didn't weigh in. Four round fights are weird, and I'm someone who thinks six should be the minimum for pros. Not only are you less likely to get anything goofy, but then maybe we wouldn't have Taishan Dong fights at all.
Petch, 22, might be better than this ranking, or worse. It's really hard to tell with Thai fighters because a lot of their fights are against unreasonably awful competition. But he's done what has been asked so far, going 6-0 in 2015.