1. Guillermo Rigondeaux (17-0, 11 KO)
Not only does Rigondeaux hold the top spot again going into 2017, but now, with Carl Frampton having left the division, there’s absolutely no argument from anywhere that this is the best fighter at 122 pounds. Rigondeaux was never destined to be a “star” fighter, but he is a champion, one of the best technicians in memory, and still one of the best boxers on the planet. At 36, you’d think time will eventually catch up to him, but how many fighters at 122 would you even pick to win three rounds against him right now?
2. Jessie Magdaleno (24-0, 17 KO)
Magdaleno, 25, got his breakthrough this year, beating Nonito Donaire for the WBO title on November 5 in Las Vegas, jumping from stalled prospect to top contender and titleholder over those 12 rounds. It was a hard-fought battle, but Magdaleno got the job done against a good veteran fighter, and if there were any (legitimate) concerns that maybe he wasn’t so great, what with his career stagnating, they’re gone for now. How good he is remains to be seen — that was an aging Donaire, to be fair, and Magdaleno still has a bit to prove. But in a weakened division, he’s no worse than top four.
3. Yukinori Oguni (19-1-1, 7 KO)
Oguni, 28, came pretty much out of nowhere to stun Jonathan Guzman on New Year’s Eve in Kyoto, lifting the IBF title with a 12-round decision victory. Oguni won the Japanese belt back in 2014, and his only defense was a 10-round draw. His most notable fight before Guzman came in 2013, when Shingo Wake stopped him after 10 rounds. This could be a flash in the pan thing, but at this moment, this snapshot in time, Oguni is a top super bantamweight.
4. Moises Flores (25-0, 17 KO)
Flores is set to face Rigondeaux in February, which is a better fight than it’s being given credit for by some. I mean, you can make a decent argument that it’s the top two fighters in the division. Flores, 30, has held the interim WBA title since beating Oscar Escandon in April 2015, defending against Luis Cusolito in September 2015, and on the road in Namibia against Paulus Ambunda in June 2016. He’ll rightly be a massive underdog against Rigondeaux, but he’s earned the shot as much as anyone has, really.
5. Jonathan Guzman (22-1, 22 KO)
It was all looking pretty great for Guzman, the 27-year-old Dominican southpaw, before he ran into Yukinori Oguni. In April, he stopped Daniel Rosas after eight rounds in a PBC on Spike fight, then in July he went over to Japan and defeated Shingo Wake for the vacant IBF super bantamweight title, stopping Wake in the 11th after dominating the fight. Guzman’s 100% KO ratio actually hid a smart, patient boxer more than it exposed a one-dimensional guy. But Oguni beat him on December 31, and now Guzman goes back to the drawing board for 2017. Still, he’s a top contender.
6. Nonito Donaire (37-4, 24 KO)
I feel like I’m overrating Donaire by having him this high, but again, this division just isn’t what it was 12 months ago. If Frampton and Scott Quigg were still here, Donaire would be No. 8, and that would feel more appropriate. But here we are. Donaire can still fight, and has heart and grit. But time has definitely taken its toll. He’s 34, and what’s his last really good win? Toshiaki Nishioka in 2012? Cesar Juarez in 2015, if we’re being a bit generous? Simpiwe Vetyeka in 2014, even though there was some controversy there? Since Nicholas Walters sent him packing from featherweight back down to 122, Donaire has played it pretty safe, beating William Prado, Anthony Settoul, Juarez, and Zsolt Bedak, before he lost to Magdaleno on November 5. At worst, Magdaleno is a good, young fighter, so that’s not an embarrassment or anything, but it’s worth wondering where Donaire goes from here.
7. Nehomar Cermeno (26-5-1, 15 KO)
Born in Venezuela and now living in Panama, the 37-year-old veteran and former title contender has sort of quietly worked his way back into the mix in a depleted division. Opportunity is opportunity. It was 2010-12 where Cermeno went 1-5-1 over a seven-fight stretch, losing twice to Anselmo Moreno, and also to Victor Terrazas, Fernando Montiel, and Alexander Bakhtin, with a draw against Yoandris Salinas. But he’s scraped back since then, winning six fights in a row, including four in 2016, three of those coming in China, where he won the WBA “world” title against XiaoJun Qiu, defended against unbeaten Anurak Thisa, and then beat Qiu in a rematch.
8. Hugo Ruiz (36-4, 32 KO)
2016 started well for Ruiz, as he defeated Julio Ceja on February 27 in just 51 seconds, claiming the WBC title. But then it came apart in his first defense on September 16 in Osaka, losing to Hozumi Hasegawa (RTD-9). Ruiz is a big puncher without a great chin, which makes him exciting and vulnerable. He’s dangerous against anyone, and anyone good is dangerous to him.
9. Rey Vargas (28-0, 22 KO)
Vargas, 26, will face Gavin McDonnell on February 25 in Hull, England, for the vacant WBC title, most recently held by the now-retired Hozumi Hasegawa, who would have slotted in at No. 5 had he not bowed out of the sport late in 2016. Vargas is a good looking young fighter, but there’s plenty to prove still. His most notable wins have come over the likes of Alexander Munoz and Christian Esquivel, veteran steps on the journey, but not exactly standout opponents.
10. Cesar Juarez (19-5, 14 KO)
It’s kind of hard to rate Juarez right now, but I’ll throw him in at No. 10, somewhat cautiously, somewhat optimistically. He doesn’t have a pretty record, but we know damn well he can fight. And if you put him in a ring with Donaire, Ruiz, Vargas, or Cermeno and all things were fair, I’d at least strongly consider picking Juarez. BUt he also did lose a fight in March of this year to a club fighter named Giovanni Delgado. Maybe he came back too fast from his December 2015 war with Donaire. Either way, he followed that up with a win over previously-unbeaten prospect Albert Pagara, and closed his year in October with another victory. He’s a scrapper you can’t overlook, at worst.