The Ring Ratings Reviewed 2023: Junior bantamweight
The Ring first introduced its divisional ratings in 1925. Almost a century later, it’s no exaggeration to claim that these independent rankings are the most respected and talked-about in world boxing.
The Ring Ratings Panel is made up of a dozen experts from around the world. Opinions are shared, debate takes place, and the final decision on who should be ranked where is decided democratically every week. It sounds easy, but this can be an arduous and time-consuming process.
During the pandemic, we reviewed and broke down each division in full. In a two-pronged approach, we looked back at the respective achievements of the finest fighters in the world and analyzed what lay ahead.
Last year, we looked back on how each division was doing and have decided after a busy first half of 2023 to compile another divisional breakdown.
Next up is the talent rich junior bantamweight, which has an interesting mix of future hall of famers, top contenders and rising stars. As always, please enjoy the debate and respect other people’s opinions.
CHAMPION JUAN FRANCISCO ESTRADA
RECORD: 44-3 (28 KOs)
THE PAST: Came of age in a losing effort to former pound-for-pound king Roman Gonzalez (UD 12) in November 2012. Rebounded to win WBA and WBO 112-pound titles at the expense of Brian Viloria (SD 12). After making five defenses, Estrada abdicated his throne for a move up to junior bantamweight. After losing to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (MD 12), he outboxed the big-punching Thai to claim Ring and WBC junior bantamweight titles in the rematch. He made three defenses, edging old rival Gonzalez (SD 12) who held the WBA title, in a classic. “El Gallo” had his WBA and WBC titles taken when he spent 18-months on the sidelines. When he returned he was given a harder than expected time against Argi Cortes (UD 12). However, the 33-year-old returned to form boxing to an early lead and holding off Gonzalez (UD 12) to pick up the vacant WBC title in their trilogy fight.
THE FUTURE: Apparently there have been discussions about him facing WBA counterpart Kazuto Ioka.
No. 1 KAZUTO IOKA
RECORD: 30-2-1 (15 KOs)
THE PAST: After claiming titles at strawweight and junior flyweight, Ioka lost for the first time to IBF flyweight titleholder Amnat Ruenroeng (SD 12). Unperturbed, the Japanese star rebounded to best Juan Carlos Raveco (MD 12) to win the WBA belt in that division. He made five defenses, including a rematch victory over Raveco (TKO 11), then shockingly retired from the sport in 2017. However, following a 17-month layoff, Ioka returned at junior bantamweight in search of more glory. Lost a WBO title bout to Donnie Nietes (SD 12) but stopped Aston Palicte (TKO 10) for the very same belt after Nietes vacated. The four-weight world titleholder made six successful defenses, notably stopped Kosei Tanaka (TKO 8) before dominating Nietes (UD 12) in a rematch. Looked to unify with WBA titlist Joshua Franco but had to settle for a draw. Ioka, 34, decided to vacate his title instead of facing his mandatory to pursue a rematch with Franco and impressively won a 12-round unanimous decision.
THE FUTURE: Hopes to face Ring and WBC titlist Estrada.
No. 2 ROMAN GONZALEZ
RECORD: 51-4 (41 KOs)
THE PAST: The legendary Gonzalez annexed titles at strawweight, junior flyweight and flyweight before moving north once more. In 2016, “Chocolatito” dared to be great when he stepped up to junior bantamweight in a bid to surpass his idol and mentor, the late-great Alexis Arguello, by becoming a four-weight world champion. Gonzalez edged the bigger Carlos Cuadras (UD 12) to claim the WBC title. He put two losses to Srisaket behind him when he rolled back the years to claim the WBA title with a ninth-round stoppage of Kal Yafai. Gonzalez made one defense before losing controversially to Estrada (SD 12) in their rematch. Bounced back with a great win over reigning WBC 112-pound titlist Julio Cesar Martinez (UD 12) in a catchweight bout. Lost the rubber match with Estrada (UD 12) last time out.
THE FUTURE: Nothing been mentioned, but at 36 only a few fights left and is likely assessing his options.
No. 3 JUNTO NAKATANI
RECORD: 25-0 (19 KOs)
THE PAST: The heavy-handed boxer-puncher ran through his early opposition and holds wins over future junior flyweight titleholder Masamichi Yabuki (UD 4), flyweight contender Seigo Yuri Akui (TKO 6) and passed the litmus test of former 108-pound titleholder Milan Melindo (TKO 6). Covid stymied the tall 25-year-old’s progress and he had to wait 13-months to win the vacant WBO title against Giemel Magramo (TKO 8). He made two defenses, including his American debut, when he stopped former titleholder Angel Acosta (TKO 4) and on the undercard of Gennadiy Golovkin-Ryota Murata, he was equally impressive bludgeoning Ryota Yamauchi (TKO 8). Moved up to 115-pounds and beat tough Mexican Francisco Rodriguez Jr. (UD 10) before capturing the vacant WBO title with a highlight reel knockout over Andrew Moloney (KO 11).
THE FUTURE: Will defend his title for the first time against tough Mexican Argi Cortes in Tokyo on September 18.
No. 4 FERNANDO MARTINEZ
RECORD: 16-0 (9 KOs)
THE PAST: Martinez was a standout amateur and represented his home country of Argentina all over the world. Martinez appeared in the World Series of Boxing and the 2016 Olympics before turning professional in 2017. Won his first nine fights, all in Argentina, before venturing to South Africa to stop Athenkosi Dumezweni (TKO 11). The 32-year-old was largely unknown until he upset Jerwin Ancajas (UD 12) to win the IBF title and repeated the trick in his first defense. Followed that with a late stoppage over another Filipino Jade Bornea (TKO 11).
THE FUTURE: Free of rematch and mandatory obligations can now look to unify, though may need to make an optional defense before the stars can align.
No. 5 JOSHUA FRANCO
RECORD: 18-2-3 (8 KOs)
THE PAST: Franco was highly regarded before being upset by Lucas Emanuel Fernandez Leone (TKO 9). Has become more battle-hardened, sharing 30 grueling rounds with Oscar Negrete (D 10, SD 10 and D 10). That experience served the 27-year-old Texan well when he beat Andrew Moloney two out of three times (UD 12/ ND 2/ UD 12). As WBA ‘regular’ titleholder, he waited patiently to face Estrada, but, when that didn’t happen, the WBA stripped the Mexican and promoted Franco to full world titleholder. Engaged in a two fight series with Ioka (D 12/ L UD). Badly missing weight in the second fight and promptly retired throwing his career into doubt.
THE FUTURE: Has said he’s retired, being given a temporary stay of absense before being removed from the rankings.
No. 6 KOSEI TANAKA
RECORD: 19-1 (11 KOs)
THE PAST: Tanaka won the WBO strawweight title from Julian Yedras (UD 12) in his fifth fight and made one defense. He then moved up to junior flyweight and won the vacant WBO title and made two defenses. The Japanese star outgrew that division and edged Sho Kimura (MD 12) to win the WBO flyweight title. He made three defenses of that one, notably outboxing former unified junior flyweight titleholder Ryoichi Taguchi (UD 12) and stopping current WBO 108-pound titlist Jonathan Gonzalez (TKO 7). The now 28-year-old jumped to 115 pounds but was brutally stopped by Ioka (TKO 8). The three-weight world champion has regained his confidence with four wins.
THE FUTURE: Likely to return in the fall whether that’s a marking time fight or a title fight remains to be seen.
No. 7 SRISAKET SOR RUNGVISAI
RECORD: 52-6-1 (44 KOs)
THE PAST: Unseated WBC junior bantamweight titleholder Yota Sato (TKO 8) in May 2013 but lost it to Carlos Cuadras (TD 8) after one defense. Reeled off 15 consecutive wins to earn a shot at his old title against then-pound-for-pound No. 1 Roman Gonzalez. Srisaket upset huge odds to win a controversial majority decision but left no doubt in the rematch, which he won via brutal fourth-round knockout. Went 1-1 with the aforementioned Estrada. Stayed in the title picture with three wins while awaiting the rubber match, but settled on facing rising star Jesse Rodriguez for his old title and was stopped in eight rounds. The 36-year-old may have seen better days but has won two fights since coming back.
THE FUTURE: Staying busy fighting on August 26, while he waits for some movement in the WBC rankings.
No. 8 FRANCISCO RODRIGUEZ JR.
RECORD: 37-6-1 (25 KOs)
THE PAST: Headed to Nicaragua and lost to national hero Roman Gonzalez (TKO 7) early in his career. Dropped to strawweight and knocked out Merlito Sabillo (TKO 10) to become WBO titleholder at the age of 20 before adding the IBF belt in a unification with Katsunari Takayama (UD 12). In 2015, he moved up to junior flyweight and lost back-to-back decisions to Donnie Nietes (UD 12) and Moises Fuentes (SD 12). “Chihuas” moved up in weight once more and went on a 15-fight win streak to earn a shot at WBO titleholder Ioka (L UD 12). After two wins back in Mexico, the 31-year-old headed back to Japan where he lost to Nakatani (UD 10).
THE FUTURE: Has fought between 115-112-pounds, wherever the best opportunity presents itself. However, a high WBC ranking at flyweight suggest he’d like to challenge Martinez if he can.
No. 9 DAVID CUELLAR
RECORD: 25-0 (17 KOs)
THE PAST: Cuellar started boxing at 5 and enjoyed a good amateur career before he turned professional in 2017. Since then he has fought exclusively in Mexico. The 21-year-old has wins over previously unbeaten Karim Arce (KO 9) and former world titleholder Moises Fuentes (KO 6), who later tragically lost his life from injuries suffered in the fight. “El General” is ranked in the top 15 by all four sanctioning bodies and is well regarded in Mexican circles. Stayed busy against a third-round stoppage over Marlon Rios on Friday.
THE FUTURE: Likely to return in the fall and is ready to step up. Match ups with the likes of battle-tested countrymen Israel Gonzalez or Jonathan Rodriguez would represent that and show how good he might be.
No. 10 ANDREW MOLONEY
RECORD: 25-3 (16 KOs)
THE PAST: Moloney was a seasoned amateur and won gold at the 2014 Commonwealth games. Has scored solid wins over Luis Concepcion (TKO 10), Miguel Gonzalez (TKO 8) and Elton Dharry (RTD 8). The Australian came up short in a three fight series with then WBA titlist Franco (UD 12/ ND 2/ UD 12). Four wins saw him well positioned to face Nakatani for the vacant WBO title but was knocked out in 11-rounds.
THE FUTURE: Wants to make another title run and hopes to return later this year.
On the Cusp: Argi Cortes, Carlos Cuadras, Israel Gonzalez, Pedro Guevara and Jonathan Rodriguez
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Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected].