January 13, 2015

The 2014 Bantamweights & Below Boxing Year End Review & Awards

A monster year for the "Monster" Inoue
By Derek "DBO" Bonnett — I hate doing this. As a purveyor of world class boxing action from Bantamweight & Below, I know that all weight divisions are created equally. However, it's their individual treatment which varies greatly. If Dr. Seuss's Lorax speaks for the trees, I have assumed the role of speaking for the bantams, the flies, the straws, and everything in between. My dismay comes from the need for the genesis of specific lighter weight year-end awards. The little guys can compete with the middle and big boys of the sport without any help from me. The need for my work is to get them the recognition. In a society where everyone receives a medal for participation, American fans sure are adept at ignoring boxers ranging between 118 and 105 pounds. So, due to the necessity of fairness, I have reviewed the best action of 2014 from Bantamweight & Below and comprised a whole new listing of 2014 Year End Awards to honor the best in the business who are often overlooked due to geography, exposure, and size.

2014 Breakout Fighter of the Year: Kosei Tanaka

Breakout Year for Tanaka in 2014
Just as the names Roman Gonzalez and Naoya Inoue became hot topics for boxing fans usually paying little mind to action at Bantamweight & Below, so too will the name Kosei Tanaka in 2015. The keener eyes took note of Tanaka's debut in late 2013 or his stellar progress through 2014. If you caught his all-out war with Ryuji Hara in October, you witnessed not only a strong candidate for Fight of the Year, but the emergence of one of boxing's future stars on the world scene. Hara, 18-0 and top-five rated going into the bout, brought his A-game and, in fact, he fought at a level higher than he had previously displayed. With just three bouts under his belt, Tanaka, 19, took the fight to Hara and beat him to the punch at every turn. When Hara countered, powerfully at times, the former youth amateur boxing standout stood his ground and absorbed the blows without showing any signs of being hurt. With the growing trend of fast-tracked champions such as Inoue, Guillermo Rigondeaux, and Vasyl Lomachenko, Tanaka, 4-0 (2), has already positioned himself for a world title bout in early 2015.

Even at this stage, Tanaka's chances are huge against any 105-pounder in the world.

Runner Up: Ryo Matsumoto
Honorable Mention: Takuma Inoue

The 2014 Comeback of the Year: Ryoichi Taguchi 

Comeback for Taguchi

Following a ten round decision loss to Naoya Inoue in 2013, Ryoichi Taguchi followed up with a strong 2014. In his first bout of the year, Taguchi, 28, won a close unanimous decision over former world champion Florante Condes in an eight round bout. On the last day of the year, the Japanese fighter raised his record to 21-2-1 (8) and captured the WBA light flyweight title with a comprehensive unanimous decision over Peru's Alberto Rossel. Taguchi dropped Rossel in rounds eight and nine en route to taking home scores of 117-109, 116-111, and 116-110. After being unable to capitalize on a big opportunity in 2013, Taguchi punched his comeback card by scoring his two biggest career wins in 2014.

Runner Up: Moruti Mthalane
Honorable Mention: Denver Cuello

Bantamweight & Below Upset of the Year:
Juan Carlos Payano Tech. Dec. 6 Anselmo Moreno

In spite of his 2012 defeat to Abner Mares, Anselmo Moreno was still considered by many to be the top bantamweight in the world in 2014. Many were wondering just who Juan Carlos Payano was going into his September challenge of Moreno. Now, at the start of a new year, people are still wondering who Payano is and how he managed to defeat Moreno, who was once touted as a comparison to Pernell Whitaker for his defensive boxing. Coming into the bout, Payano was 15-0 (8) with only badly faded veterans on his record. However, Payano was catching Moreno at a period of time when he had been relatively inactive.

After a second round clash of heads, Payano emerged with a bad gash over his right eye.

Payano's persistence payed off
The challenger continued his aggressive attack in spite of several warnings for rough tactics. Time ran out on Moreno and the injury sustained by the challenger was deemed too severe to continue after round six. The early score tallies favored the work of the challenger 59-55, 58-55, and 58-56. Coming out of relative obscurity, the Dominican Republic native upset one of boxing's most highly regarded little men in one of the biggest surprises of 2014.

Runner Up: Rey Loreto KO 3 Nkosinathi Joyi
Honorable Mention: Faris Nenggo TKO 4 Merlito Sabillo

Bantamweight & Below Knockout of the Year: Rey Loreto KO 3 Nkosinathi Joyi 

The B&B KO of the Year
Sometimes a single fighter or bout has all the criteria down. For Rey Loreto, a journeyman turned contender, 2014 saw him breaking out into new territory, scoring upsets, but his most salient work was produced by crowd-pleasing, fight-ending power. 2014 packed in myriad highlight reel knockouts in twelve months time, but Loreto's third round destruction of former world champion Nkosinathi Joyi was paramount. In the midst of a heated exchange initiated by Joyi, Loreto ducked a sweeping right hook and countered with a perfectly timed left hook to the chin of the former champ. No count was necessary as the South African light flyweight lay flat on his back, arms and legs sprawled. The closest Joyi got to getting back up was merely raising his head a couple of inches off the canvas. Loreto, 18-13 (10) has twice rebounded from four-fight losing streaks in his career and now eyes a rematch with Joyi. A 2015 victory could surely land this Cinderella Man a world title fight.

Runner Up: Pedro Guevara KO 7 Akira Yaegashi
Honorable Mention: Donnie Nietes KO 9 Moises Fuentes 

Kogawa didn't get the W in Thailand
2014 Robbery (Bad Decision) of the Year: Yodmongkol Saengthep MD12 Takuya Kogawa

While I often point fans toward Bantamweight & Below to find the best boxing action on the planet, the lightest five divisions cannot provide a safe haven from poor officiating. In March, Japan's Takuya Kogawa traveled to Thailand in an attempt to lift the interim WBA title from Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep. The speedier Kogawa appeared to outwork the slow-footed interim titlist early on. Again, it was the case of one fighter, the champion, landing harder shots and the challenger throwing and landing in flashier volume. Saengthep stepped up the pace late in the contest to save his belt, but the Japanese boxer raised his volume each time, throwing well over one hundred punches in the final frame. In the end, Saengthep retained the title by scores of 116-113, 115-114, and 114-114. However, close margins like that at home support that the Thai fighter was a bit lucky to keep his number one status. Numerous viewers from ringside reported scoring the bout for Kogawa.

Runner Up: Kohei Kono D12 Norberto Jimenez
Honorable Mention: Knockout CP Freshmart UD12 Carlos Buitrago

Fight of the Year: Francisco Rodriguez Jr. W12 Katsunari Takayama

Rodriguez batters Takayama in the B&B Fight of the Year
This all-action IBF/WBO minimumweight unification bout held its own against any fight of 2014, but was a clear choice when competing with the fight results of only the lightest five divisions. Rodriguez Jr., who fought as high as super fly, carried his strength down to 105 and captured the WBO earlier in the year. He landed the harder, more telling, blows throughout the contest, but was met with high volume combinations by the division's Energizer Bunny in Takayama.

Rodriguez was particularly successful with the left hook, dropping Takayama with one to the chest in round three. Several of the later rounds could be counted among the best of the year as the two refused to give an inch to the other. Unanimous decision scores (119-108, 116-111, and 115-112) favored Rodriguez, too widely in the eyes of many, but the right fighter won.

Runner Up: Kosei Tanaka TKO 10 Ryuji Hara
Honorable Mention: Paul Butler SD12 Stuart Hall 

The Bantamweight & Below 2014 Fighter of the Year: Naoya Inoue

Inoue is KO's little Fighter of the Year
For boxers at Bantamweight & Below, topping Naoya Inoue's performance in 2014 was a difficult task. However, a couple of fighters really gave it the old college try. Over the last twelve months, Inoue captured the WBC 108-pound title, defended it once, and then moved up two divisions to capture the WBO super flyweight title.

In the process, Inoue, 21, made history by becoming the quickest fighter to become a two-division world champion in just eight professional bouts. Dethroning respected champions Adrian Hernandez and Omar Andres Narvaez, a combined 72-3-3 at fight time, in order to do so really seals the deal for Inoue. Inoue's resume credentials for Fighter of the Year in general match up well with Terence Crawford and Sergey Kovalev, the two most commonly chosen recipients in the year 2014.

Runner Up: Roman Gonzalez
Honorable Mention: Amnat Ruenroeng

Written by Derek Bonnett - exclusively for KO Digest 
Find more of Derek's writings at SecondsOut.com