Welcome to “Road To Undisputed,” a brand new series where I look at every weight class in boxing, look at the champions and contenders and map out a road to crowning an undisputed champion and the chances of it happening anytime soon.
This week, we’ll take a look at the super bantamweight division, led by a group of rising stars and young fighters set to elevate the division for years to come.
Here are the divisions covered so far:
- WBA “Super” and IBF: Murodjon Akhmadaliev
- WBA “Regular:” Brandon Figueroa
- WBC: Luis Nery
- WBC Champion In Recess: Rey Vargas
- WBO: Angelo Leo
- Ronny Rios
- Azat Hovhannisyan
- Daniel Roman
- Stephen Fulton
- Aaron Alameda
- Michael Conlan
- Thomas Patrick Ward
- Hiroaki Teshigawara
- Mike Plania
- Carlos Castro
Out of all the divisions highlighted in this series, boxing’s super bantamweight division is one with the biggest collection of young stars either in their prime or entering their prime. All four active titleholders (including Brandon Figueroa) are between the ages of 23 and 26 with most top names being in their 20s.
The top fighter in the group, or at least the one with the most titles, is Murodjon Akhmadaliev. The Uzbek champion defeated Daniel Roman to win the WBA “Super” and IBF world titles in just his eighth pro bout, becoming one of the fastest in history become a unified champion.
As for the other champions, Angelo Leo is one of the most dangerous fighters among the current class. Promoted by Floyd Mayweather, Leo is a battle-tested young fighter who is capable of engaging in close quarters combat. Leo can both deal devastating body punches and can take big punches from opponents. Leo and rival Stephen Fulton are on a collision course for a title fight in 2021. Such a fight would promise fireworks and possibly one or more knockdowns given both guys’ penchant for aggressive fighting.
Luis Nery is also arguably the most dangerous fighter at 122 pounds, though his stock has fallen down a bit. After a run at bantamweight that saw him miss weight for title fights and fail drug tests, Nery moved up in weight. Nery’s run at super bantamweight has received somewhat mixed receptions. His heavy hands, feared by many during his bantamweight title run, don’t carry the same level of power at the higher weights.
The aforementioned Figueroa holds the WBA’s secondary title at 122 pounds but is no less a threat to the current crop of fighters. Figueroa is one of the division’s biggest and tallest fighters, but is more than happy to overpower smaller fighters on the inside.
When talking about the list of contenders, there are perhaps not enough words in the day to talk about them. Rey Vargas is arguably the division’s best despite not holding a belt. The 5’10.5″ Vargas has been nothing but dominant during his reign as WBC champion, scoring decision victories against the likes of Azat Hovhannisyan, Tomoki Kameda and Ronny Rios to name a few.
Roman might be leaving 2020 with zero belts, but he still has one of the division’s most complete skillset. Roman combines his level of power and technical ability with an eagerness to trade with some of the best brawlers in the division. One such example was his thrilling victory against TJ Doheny in 2019.
As for the others, Hovhannisyan and Rios are still threats due to their awkward styles and pressure fighting. Fulton carries enough power to put away most fighters and is willing to take a punch to throw two or three big ones. Unbeaten Japanese fighter Hiroaki Teshigawara is perhaps the one that is most under-the-radar. He has great power and is riding a big wave of momentum with 10 straight wins.
What will it take to get an undisputed champion?
Strap yourself in because this one’s complicated. Starting with the WBC, Nery’s reign began as a result of Vargas not able to defend his title due to injury and granted the title of Champion In Recess. Before Nery can think about a possible unification, he will most likely have to defend his title against Vargas once he’s able to fight again.
Such a fight has no current timetable because the WBC has yet to fully order the fight. First, Vargas will need to fully recover from his broken leg. The process between ordering the fight and getting it done could carry things well into the summer.
Then, there’s the WBO side of things to consider. Leo was supposed to fight Fulton for the then-vacant title in August, but Fulton tested positive for COVID-19 days before the fight. Leo would go on to defeat Tramaine Williams to become the new champion. However, the WBO stated that Leo would have to face Fulton next. Like with Nery and Vargas, getting a Leo vs. Fulton fight done will take some time, likely taking place in the spring.
As for Akhmadaliev, his road to unifying more titles is the perhaps the longest to get going. As a holder of titles from two different organizations, he’ll have to deal with mandatory title defenses. At the moment, there is a possibility a mandatory title defense will be ordered in 2021. Akhmadaliev has yet to have a fight announced in the coming months, so his future is uncertain. A rematch against Roman is more than possible for 2021, but it would only further push back potential title unifications.
That’s not to mention the WBA’s secondary champion Brandon Figueroa. The young upstart has been targeting some of the other champions at 122 pounds, but for the sake of the undisputed argument, Akhmadaliev’s version of the belt is what most will consider to be what is needed to create an undisputed champion. Should Figueroa target someone like Nery or Leo down the line, it wouldn’t necessarily mean we’re one step closer to undisputed.
It’s extremely hard to figure out what the road to undisputed will be in boxing’s 122-pound division. The future of the super bantamweights is still bright. Most of the top stars are either fighting for PBC or willing to fight for PBC. However, there are too many moving parts to accurately portray what an undisputed title fight would even look like.
Chances of there being a minimumweight champion in the next 18 months: 1%