The second season of the World Boxing Super Series is officially upon us.
Following on from the successes of the first instalment, participants for the sequel of the revolutionary knockout-format tournament gathered for a glitzy black-tie gala in Moscow, Russia.
On the eve of the mouthwatering cruiserweight final, due to take place at Moscow’s Olympskiy Stadium and featuring two of boxing’s most captivating gladiators in Ukrainian Aleksandr Usyk and Russian powerhouse Murat Gassiev, it was the turn of the bantamweights and super lightweights to learn their fate ahead of the new season.
Below, we take a look at the four quarter-final announcements from the white-hot 118lbs bantamweight division and, as predicted, the tournament has thrown up some tantalising tussles for fans of the sport to look forward to…
Ryan Burnett vs Nonito Donaire
In the first quarter-final, number one seed Ryan Burnett (19-0-0, 9 KO’s) faces former multi-weight star and surprise entrant to the tournament, Nonito Donaire (38-5-0, 24 KO’s).
Burnett, of Belfast, Northern Ireland, won a gold medal for Ireland in the inaugural 2010 Youth Olympic Games during an impressive amateur career. He has had to overcome health scares, a promotional split and even a brief period of homelessness en route to becoming a unified bantamweight World champion and one of the jewels in the crown of Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing.
In June last year, he outboxed and dropped the vastly more experienced Lee Haskins to wrest the IBF title from him, and then outlasted teak-tough WBA titleholder Zhanat Zhakiyanov over twelve gruelling rounds to unify the division in his next outing.
In his most recent fight, having vacated the IBF belt, Burnett successfully defended his WBA title against mandatory challenger and former interim titlist Yonfrez Parejo, winning comfortably on the scorecards on the undercard of Anthony Joshua’s decision victory over Joseph Parker.
Nonito Donaire has enjoyed a terrific boxing career that will likely see him enshrined one day in the Boxing Hall of Fame.
A former four-weight world champion, the 2012 BWAA fighter of the year, two-time winner of Ring Magazine’s ‘Knockout of the Year’ and former pound-for-pound entrant, ‘The Filipino Flash’ is one of the best fighters of his generation to have graced the lower weight divisions.
He is, however, now a long way from that best at thirty five-years of age and having been through many wars in a professional career which began all the way back in 2001. Moreover – and perhaps more worryingly – he has not made the bantamweight limit since 2011.
In choosing Donaire, Burnett has selected a familiar face for his home fans (Donaire last fought in front of a Belfast crowd, a losing effort against two-weight World champion Carl Frampton) and is the biggest name in the draw by a considerable margin – but one who is long past his best.
Expect Burnett to claim another scalp to go on his mantelpiece and bring Donaire’s storied career to an end.
Naoya Inoue vs Juan Carlos Payano
Newly-crowned WBA ‘Regular’ champion Naoya Inoue (16-0-0, 14 KO’s) will face an experienced 118-pounder in only his second fight at the weight in the form of ex-champion Juan Carlos Payano (20-1-0, 9 KO’s).
Let’s put seedings aside for a moment. While Ryan Burnett deserves his number one spot based on his body of work at 118lbs, Naoya Inoue is the clear favourite to triumph in the WBSS bantamweight tournament.
‘The Monster’ is a three-weight World champion at the age of twenty-five, and has been an absolute wrecking ball so far in his sixteen fight career: his last fight against Britain’s Jamie McDonnell being a case in point.
McDonnell, then-reigning WBA ‘Regular’ titleholder was one of the most experienced and proven names at 118lbs and unbeaten in ten years. He had a reputation for durability – having never been stopped – and enjoyed a significant size advantage in the ring in Tokyo. In fact, by fight night, McDonnell had rehydrated to 144lbs: making him a functional welterweight.
… Inoue blasted him out inside one round.
Payano is a seasoned campaigner at bantamweight. The Dominican was the first man to defeat Anselmo Moreno – the longest reigning bantamweight champion in boxing history – at 118lbs.
He then split two very competitive fights with former US Olympian Rau’shee Warren, defending his title the first round time via split decision and losing a majority decision in the return. Payano enters the WBSS on a three fight winning-streak, surviving a knockdown in his last outing against Filipino prospect Mike Plania to triumph on points.
With Inoue on a tear and looking just as terrifying at his new weight, the cards are stacked against Payano who does not possess the true power to trouble Inoue. His veteran guiles may help him to last the distance, but it is hard to see anything other than an emphatic victory for the Japanese phenomenon.
Zolani Tete vs Mikhail Aloyan
WBO king Zolani Tete (27-3-0, 21 KO’s) will face Russian former amateur standout Mikhail Aloyan (4-0-0, 0 KO’s) in the third quarter-final.
Tete is a tough out for just about anyone from 118 to 122lbs. Unusually tall and long for his weight, he is an excellent boxer who utilises his physical attributes to maximum effect, making it difficult for any would-be foe to close the distance on him.
The South African slickster also possesses formidable punching power; witness the devastating left uppercut that disposed of former bantamweight titleholder Paul Butler, introducing him to the British audience in shuddering circumstances. In his first defence of the WBO bantamweight title, Tete iced countryman Siboniso Gonya in a mere eleven seconds, the quickest World title fight in boxing history.
Mikhail Aloyan, on the other hand, has only had four professional fights – but arguably enjoyed the most accomplished amateur career of any man in the WBSS bantamweight field. He won a gold medal at the 2010 European Championships, a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympic Games and was a two-time World Championship gold medallist.
In Aloyan’s very first professional fight, he outpointed a former World title challenger, Yader Cardoza, who had taken super-flyweight contender Jamie Conlan to a split decision in his previous fight.
However, in his last two fights he barely got past Hermogenes Elizabeth Castillo and Alexander Espinoza, taking split decisions over both. Castillo and Espinoza are tough outs for anyone at the weight in their first five professional fights, but a significant level below that which will be presented by Tete.
Tete does not get paid for overtime and this one could get ugly very quickly. Aloyan is taking a quantum leap up in class and will face a major height and reach disadvantage: not to mention a sizeable power deficit.
Emmanuel Rodriguez – Jason Moloney
The fourth bantamweight quarter-final will be a mandatory defence by current IBF titleholder Emmanuel Rodriguez (18-0-0, 12 KO’s) against fellow unbeaten Jason Moloney (17-0-0, 14 KO’s).
Former amateur standout Rodriguez is the latest boxing star hailing from the fight-crazy island of Puerto Rico.
Like fellow WBSS-participant Burnett, he won a gold medal in the 2010 Youth Olympic Games and has not put a foot wrong so far as a professional. In his last fight, he travelled to London to face the former-Tete victim Paul Butler for a step-up in class and the vacant IBF belt.
Rodriguez passed the test with flying colours, dishing out a twelve round masterclass and throwing the former World titleholder a beating in the process. Butler was floored twice in the opening round and shipped considerable punishment for the rest of the contest, with Rodriguez romping home to a lopsided unanimous points victory.
Australian Moloney also represented his country on the international stage as an amateur and as a professional holds the Commonwealth and WBA Oceania bantamweight titles. He is coming off of the best win of his career, a six round destruction of experienced-but-faded former WBA World super flyweight champion Kohei Kono – whose only previous stoppage loss came to Naoya Inoue.
Rodriguez, regarded by some as the dark horse of the tournament, is a classy operator in the ring – as he demonstrated against Butler – and should enter the ring as a healthy favourite: although Moloney who boasts decent skills and good pop in his punches cannot be dismissed by any means.
Article by: Paul Lam
Follow Paul on Twitter at: @PaulTheWallLam