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Boxing Year in Review 2015: The Super Flyweights

Naoya Inoue and Carlos Cuadras lead a mixed bag at 115 pounds, with plenty of veteran names mixed in with a lot of young fighters on the way up.

Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

Year-End Top 10

  1. Naoya Inoue (9-0, 8 KO)
  2. Carlos Cuadras (34-0-1, 26 KO)
  3. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (37-4-1, 34 KO)
  4. Zolani Tete (22-3, 18 KO)
  5. McJoe Arroyo (17-0, 8 KO)
  6. Omar Narvaez (44-2-2, 23 KO)
  7. Luis Concepcion (34-4, 24 KO)
  8. Kohei Kono (31-8-1, 13 KO)
  9. Paul Butler (20-1, 11 KO)
  10. Arthur Villanueva (28-1, 14 KO)

Inoue, 22, is a destroyer, a fighter who has earned his nickname: "Monster." The Japanese phenom has won world titles at 108 and 115, jumping from junor flyweight on December 30, 2014, to overwhelmingly overpower long-reigning WBO titleholder Omar Narvaez in Tokyo, stopping the Argentinean in two rounds. Inoue was out almost all of 2015 due to a hand injury, but returned on December 29 to stop Warlito Parrenas in two rounds. The hand could be bad news, but for now he deserves the top spot here.

Cuadras, 27, may disagree. Mexico's "Principe" beat Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in May 2014 to win the WBC title, and has made five defenses since then (one ending in a technical draw), including three this year. Most notable was his April win over Luis Concepcion, which was followed by victories over non-contender Dixon Flores in Mexico and Koki Eto in Japan, which came in November. A unification fight between Inoue and Cuadras isn't one at the top of many "must-have" lists you'll find, but would be a terrific fight to make.

Srisaket, 29, is a Thai southpaw with a lot of power, and went 6-0 in 2015, his best win coming on May 28 against Jose Salgado, the rest of them very "boxing in Thailand" wins. He's a former WBC titleholder at 115, losing a technical decision to Cuadras in May 2014. It would be nice to get a rematch there, too.

Tete, 27, gave up the IBF belt after winning it in 2014 and defending against Paul Butler this year, as he refused to fight McJoe Arroyo for peanuts when Golden Boy won a purse bid for $25,000, which would have given Tete a purse of $18,750. Instead, he went back to South Africa, scoring a couple of wins in September and December.

Arroyo, 30, has a world title and a still-unblemished pro record, but may still not be as good as his twin brother, McWilliams, who competes at flyweight and has a couple of losses. McJoe has emerged as a top fighter at 115, though, scoring a technical decision win over Arthur Villanueva on July 18, to win the IBF belt that Tete abandoned. Hopefully, Arroyo-Tete can be revisited in 2016.

Narvaez, 40, is tough to rank at this point. He was absolutely blasted to pieces by Inoue in 2014, but to that point had been the same painful-to-fight, painful-to-watch technician he'd been since he won his first world title as a flyweight in 2002. No one's going to make the argument (or at least not a very convincing one) that he's actually one of the best fighters of his generation, but he should be remembered for what he did achieve. I mean, no matter how you slice it, records of 15-0-1 in flyweight title fights and 12-1 in super flyweight title fights is not easy to accomplish. And it's not as simple as "he fought bad fighters," because he fought enough pretty good fighters that he could have easily lost if he weren't pretty damn good himself. It's also not as simple as "he fought at home." Personally, I may remember Narvaez best for taking Top Rank and HBO's money and giggling all the way back home to Argentina after he showed up and put on a dreadfully Narvaez performance in a loss to Nonito Donaire in 2011, with the promoters then acting as if they didn't expect him to fight like himself. Anyway, Narvaez fought once this year, in October, and won handily in a tune-up situation. He's not going to regain the WBO belt so long as Inoue holds it, and is probably close to retirement anyway, but we'll see where he goes from here.

Concepcion, 30, has seemingly been around forever, though he didn't really rise up on the scene until 2009. Still, that's almost seven years now. We are all getting older. So is Concepcion. Concepcion has made a career out of holding minor trinkets and interim belts, and holds one again right now, beating David Sanchez for the interim WBA title in September, and defending it in December against Tyson Marquez, who had beaten Concepcion twice in 2011. Concepcion also fought Cuadras in April, and fell to 0-3 in "real" world title fights.

Kono, 35, holds the WBA's "world" title, which he regained in early 2014 with a victory over Denkaosan Kaovichit. This year, he fought one time, beating Koki Kameda over 12 rounds in Chicago on October 16. The Japanese veteran has been in the super flyweight title picture since 2008, when he first fought for a world title and lost a narrow decision to Nobuo Nashiro.

Butler, 27, is the latest "Baby Faced Assassin" in the boxing world. He won the IBF bantamweight title from Stuart Hall in the summer of 2014, and never did defend it, opting instead to move back to super flyweight, where he was stopped by Tete in eight rounds on March 6 of this year. He won a pair of bantamweight tune-ups before claiming a minor WBO title on December 19 with a stoppage of Silvio Olteanu in Manchester.

Villanueva, 26, blew a chance at a world title in July when he lost a technical decision to McJoe Arroyo, a fight where Villanueva was deducted a point for headbutts, and ultimately wound up getting the fight stopped due to a cut over his eye. In February, he beat veteran Pingo Miranda, and came back in November with a win over Victor Mendez in the Philippines.

On the Cusp

Former flyweight title challenger Rocky Fuentes (36-8-2, 21 KO) moved up to super flyweight this year, winning a tune-up fight in the Philippines on November 28, following back to back world title losses at 112 to Amnat Ruenroeng and Roman Gonzalez. The 29-year-old "Road Warrior" had a really strong run from 2008-13, but never quite got over the hump at 112. There's still time.

Former 105-pound champ Oleydong Sithsamerchai (58-1-1, 23 KO) is now competing as a super flyweight, just winning nothing fights on a regular schedule. This year, he went 3-0. The 30-year-old southpaw is a talented fighter, but has been all but MIA on the relevant scene since his 2011 loss to Kazuto Ioka at 105.

Rex Tso (18-0, 11 KO) is perhaps now the top hope for a Chinese boxer to become a serious star as well as an actual top fighter, though that also doesn't seem particularly likely, as he's just not all that good. The 28-year-old "Wonder Kid" went 3-0 this year, winning twice in Macau and once in Hong Kong. What a nice gesture it would be if Zou Shiming took a fight against Tso at 115 and lost to pass him the barely-lit torch, although it's also possible Zou would just beat him.

The Titleholders

WBC: Carlos Cuadras

  • def. Luis Concepcion (UD-12, 4/4)
  • def. Dixon Flores (TKO-5, 8/15)
  • def. Koki Eto (UD-12, 11/28)

WBA: Kohei Kono

  • def. Koki Kameda (UD-12, 10/16)

IBF: McJoe Arroyo

  • def. Arthur Villanueva (TD-10, 7/18 - WON VACANT TITLE)

WBO: Naoya Inoue

  • def. Warlito Parrenas (TKO-2, 12/29)

Top 5 Prospects

Carl Froch v Yusaf Mack - IBF World Super Middleweight Title Fight
  1. Sho Ishida (21-0, 11 KO)
  2. Takuma Inoue (6-0, 1 KO)
  3. Kal Yafai (17-0, 11 KO, pictured)
  4. Jose Martinez (16-0, 10 KO)
  5. Jerwin Ancajas (24-1-1, 16 KO)

Ishida, 24, is a solid bet to pan out as a contender. The reigning Japanese champion at the weight, he's got some decent experience under his belt and his best years should still be ahead of him. He may be the safest bet here, if not the fighter with the highest ceiling.

Inoue, 20, is the little brother of Naoya, and to say he's not quite the wrecking ball that big brother is would be putting it mildly. Takuma is not a puncher at all, as you might have guessed, but he's a very talented fighter, and as he just turned 20 on December 26, it's possible that he'll "grow into his man strength" in the next couple of years. He's got skills and speed to burn, and the only thing against him, really, is the lack of power. If that develops more, or if he turns out to be so good that he can get around it, he's a likely major player at this weight.

Yafai, 26, is a little older than the other fighters here, but at the worst he's already a very good domestic fighter in the UK, winning the vacant British title against Jason Cunningham in October, part of a 4-0 year for the Birmingham native. Does he have world level upside? Sure. How much? Don't know.

Martinez, 23, is a Puerto Rican fighter nicknamed "Chiquiro," who went 3-0 in 2015, and ended his year in November with a solid eight-round win over fellow prospect Oscar Mojica in Las Vegas, on the Cotto-Canelo undercard.

Ancajas, 24, had his last fight at bantamweight, and the Filipino southpaw has bounced between 115 and 118 over his career, mostly fighting as a super flyweight. His loss came in 2012 against Mark Anthony Geraldo, a 10-round majority decision. There is a young Pacquiao quality to his style, and not just because he's a Filipino southpaw. Actually, let's be serious, probably exactly because he's a Filipino southpaw and idolizes Pacquiao. But for guys who were inspired by Pacquiao and have copied, to whatever degree, Pacquiao's younger style, Ancajas does it better than Mercito Gesta ever did. His "Pretty Boy" nickname does not reflect a true infatuation with one fighter, however.

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