The Ring Ratings Reviewed 2023: Junior featherweight
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 junior featherweight, where Naoya Inoue recently invaded. It looks like he’ll have plenty of competition. As always, please enjoy the debate and respect other people’s opinions.
No. 1 NAOYA INOUE
RECORD: 25-0 (22 KOs)
THE PAST: Inoue devoured all before him en route to claiming world titles at 108, 115, 118 and 122 pounds. The big-punching Japanese “Monster” has lived up to his moniker, demolishing the likes of Omar Narvaez (KO 2), Jamie McDonnell (TKO 1), Juan Carlos Payano (KO 1) and Emmanuel Rodriguez (KO 2). However, it’s his triumphs over four-weight world champion Nonito Donaire that provided Inoue with considerable acclaim. He edged Donaire (UD 12) in an instant classic that was later named 2019 Fight of the Year by The Ring and stopped him in the second round of their rematch. The 30-year-old became the undisputed bantamweight champion when he dominated Paul Butler, stopping the Brit in 11 one-sided rounds. With nothing left to conquer at 118, Inoue decided to move up in weight and looked just as impressive as ever bludgeoning Stephen Fulton (TKO 8), the consensus No. 1-rated junior featherweight, to add the WBC and WBO 122-pound titles to his growing list of accolades.
THE FUTURE: Looks likely to face IBF/WBA 122-pound ruler Marlon Tapales for the undisputed junior featherweight championship in the fall.
No. 2 MARLON TAPALES
RECORD: 37-3 (19 KOs)
THE PAST: Tapales worked his way up through the ranks in the Philippines before narrowly losing to David Sanchez (MD 12) in Mexico. He rebounded to upset unbeaten Shohei Omari (TKO 2) in a WBO bantamweight title eliminator in Japan. Headed to Thailand and twice got off the canvas to stop Pungluang Sor Singyu (TKO 11) to pick up the WBO 118-pound title. In his first defense, Tapales headed back to Japan to face Omari in a rematch. Although he missed weight and was stripped of his title, he was able to stop Omari in the 11th round. Over a year of inactivity followed, but Tapales returned with two wins before losing to Ryosuke Iwasa (TKO 11) in an IBF 122-pound title eliminator. He bounced back with three wins including an impressive stoppage over Hiroaki Teshigawara (TKO 2) in an IBF eliminator. Then met Murodjon Akhmadaliev for the IBF/ WBA titles and surprised the defending champion by winning a 12-round split decision.
THE FUTURE: Was front row and center when Inoue bashed up Fulton to call out the Japanese superstar. Looking like he may get his wish later this year.
No. 3 STEPHEN FULTON
RECORD: 21-1 (8 KOs)
THE PAST: Fulton worked his way into title contention by besting former titleholder Paulus Ambunda (UD 12). He also stopped previously unbeaten Mexican Isaac Avelar (KO 6) and used his skills to tame another unbeaten opponent in Arnold Khegai (UD 12). The smooth boxing skills of the Philadelphia native helped him beat Angelo Leo (UD 12) to claim the WBO title, and he added the WBC title by edging Brandon Figueroa (MD 12) in a unification bout. Sparkled against former titlist Daniel Roman (UD 12). Lost his unbeaten record and titles to Inoue (TKO 8).
THE FUTURE: Still licks his wounds after losing to Inoue. Unlikely to return until next year and then may decide to jump to 126-pounds.
No. 4 MURODJON AKHMADALIEV
RECORD: 11-1 (8 KOs)
THE PAST: Akhmadaliev was a standout amateur, who won bronze at the 2016 Olympics before seamlessly transitioning into the pros. The dynamic Uzbekistan southpaw edged the more experienced Daniel Roman (SD 12) in early 2020 to become the IBF/WBA 122-pound titleholder, in just his eighth professional fight. The 28-year-old Uzbek made three successful defenses including a homecoming against former IBF titlist Ryosuke Iwasa (TKO 5) and a stoppage over Ronny Rios (TKO 12). However, he lost his titles in controversial fashion to Tapales (SD 12) earlier this year.
THE FUTURE: The WBA recently called for MJ to face Tomoki Kameda in a title eliminator and have given both parties 30 days to reach an agreement.
No. 5 LUIS NERY
RECORD: 35-1 (27 KOs)
THE PAST: Nery moved through the bantamweight ranks and became the WBC mandatory challenger to Shinsuke Yamanaka. The Mexican puncher traveled to Japan and shocked the long-reigning champ via brutal fourth-round stoppage. However, in the aftermath, Nery was stripped of The Ring championship he’d won for taking a banned substance (zilpaterol). The WBC continued to recognize Nery, but then stripped him for failing to make weight for the rematch. Very much the pariah, Nery defeated Yamanaka by second-round stoppage but received little in the way of credit. The now 28-year-old eventually moved up to claim the vacant WBC 122-pound title by defeating Aaron Alameda (UD 12), but lost it in his first defense to Brandon Figueroa (KO 7). Nery has since won four fights, including a thriller and arguably Fight of The Year so far against Azat Hovhannisyan (KO 11).
THE FUTURE: The WBC mandatory to Inoue, will likely stay busy while waiting for his shot at the Japanese standout next year.
No. 6 SAM GOODMAN
RECORD: 15-0 (7 KOs)
THE PAST: Goodman worked his way through the domestic scene in Australia before claiming regional belts, notably beating Richie Mepranum (TKO 6) and Juan Miguel Elorde (TKO 8). However, the 24-year-old came to the fore when he bested former titlist TJ Doheny (UD 10) and, most recently, when he edged out previously unbeaten Ra’eese Aleem (SD 12) in an IBF title eliminator.
THE FUTURE: Will look to cap a break through year when he returns against former world title challenger Miguel Flores on October 15.
No. 7 RA’EESE ALEEM
RECORD: 20-1 (12 KOs)
THE PAST: The Michigan native took his time but made the most of his opportunity when it came and scored an impressive win over fellow-unbeaten fighter Vic Pasillas (TKO 11) in early 2021. The 33-year-old notched wins over Eduardo Baez (MD 10) and Mike Plania (UD 10) before coming unstuck against Sam Goodman (SD 12) in Australia in June.
THE FUTURE: Outside looking in after losing to Goodman, found opportunities hard to come by before and will likely do so again.
No. 8 AZAT HOVHANNISYAN
RECORD: 21-4 (17 KOs)
THE PAST: Hovhannisyan lost his debut and looked destined or a low-key future in the sport. However, after teaming up with Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach, he has improved immeasurably. The 35-year-old puncher stopped Ronny Rios (TKO 6) to earn himself a shot at WBC beltholder Rey Vargas (L UD 12). He rebounded with seven wins before losing to Nery (KO 11) in a dramatic slugfest.
THE FUTURE: The taxing nature of the loss to Nery will mean he’s off for a while but showed he’s capable of mixing with anyone. Hopefully can return later this year or early next year.
No. 9 ELIJAH PIERCE
RECORD: 18-2 (15 KOs)
THE PAST: Much of the tall southpaw punchers early career wasn’t helped by fighting considerably higher than his natural weight and he suffered defeats against Giovanni Cabrera (UD 10) and Sulaiman Segawa (MD 8). However, after a change of management he worked his way down in weight and is on a nine fight win streak which includes an impressive points win over Tramaine Williams (UD 10) and, most recently, a one-punch knockout over Mike Plania (KO 3).
THE FUTURE: Still early days after the destruction of Plania on the Overtime platform. Hopefully he can capitalize on that coming out party win.
No. 10 JOHN RIEL CASIMERO
RECORD: 33-4 (22 KOs)
THE PAST: Casimero lost his first world title attempt against IBF flyweight beltholder Moruti Mthalane (TKO 5) but learned from the experience to win world titles at 108 and 112. The globetrotting Filipino power-puncher has outpointed Pedro Guevara (SD 12), scored a revenge win over Amnat Ruenroeng (KO 4) and halted Charlie Edwards (TKO 10). He moved up to junior bantamweight but lost to compatriot Jonas Sultan (UD 12). Following a period of reflection, Casimero moved to bantamweight and, as underdog, stopped Zolani Tete (TKO 3) to win the WBO 118-pound title. Made two defenses, which included edging past Guillermo Rigondeaux (SD 12) in an ugly battle. Casimero was due to face mandatory challenger Paul Butler in Dubai, but succumbed to a mysterious stomach ailment at the 11th hour. The bout was rescheduled for April, but Casimero broke BBBofC rules when he used a sauna during fight week and got himself pulled from the card. The WBO decided enough was enough and stripped the Filipino. He has since moved to 122-pounds and won two fights.
THE FUTURE: Not been heard of since he won in May. You’d imagine he will be back in action in the coming months.
On the Cusp: Liam Davies, Alan Picasso, Rafael Pedroza, Toshiki Shimomachi and Yoshiki Takei
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Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected].