Casual fans, in particular, will overlook the smaller weight classes. However, as we dive into the profound and exciting history of boxing, you can find a range of incredibly gifted fighters who have made their name in the 118 lb division. It may not receive the glitz, glamour, and coverage of the big heavyweight nights, but today we will be running through some of the greats of this division. Many professional fighters aim to see their name lit up in the bright lights on the Las Vegas strip.
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Starting with an active, mesmerizingly gifted fighter, Japan’s Naoya Inoue is undoubtedly one of the greatest bantamweights ever. He is in his prime, having flattened Paul Butler to pick up the last of the four major world title belts at 118 lbs. However, he still has a long way to go in his career and has a mega showdown against American Stephen Fulton, one of the best fights that can be made anywhere in the sport today.
He is nicknamed “The Monster” for a whole host of reasons. With a knockout ratio of 87.5% and initially starting his career as a super flyweight, that is one of the main reasons he adorns this terrifying moniker. It is rare to see a fighter carry their power up with them through the weight classes, and it is a sign of a truly legendary fighter.
Suppose he gets past the highly technical and incredibly skilled American, the number one super-bantamweight in the world. In that case, there isn’t a fighter in or around these weight classes who can even come close to the phenomenal Japanese southpaw, and it puts him right in the mix as arguably the greatest bantamweight ever.
Many believe that Donaire is the greatest bantamweight of all time. Following a sensational career that resulted in The Filipino Flash tearing through the bantamweight division with consummate ease, at his peak, he was considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet. Once you throw into the mix that he also gave Inoue the most brutal fight of his career, despite being 37 and on the decline, you can see why so many boxing writers and analysts have him as number one.
Donaire probably falls short of Inoue for two reasons. Firstly, through no fault of his own, he didn’t have the names in the division to beat, and secondly, he often found himself jumping weight classes for big fights and falling short on occasions. Despite this, he still won world titles in four different weight classes.
However, if he had stayed at bantamweight throughout his career, he would have undoubtedly reigned supreme for longer. As a result, he may not have put as many miles on his clock and beaten Inoue in their thrilling 2019 dust-up.
For boxing fans old enough to remember, the 1970s and 1980s belonged to Ruben Olivares. The cement-fisted Mexican carried the power of fighters that operated at weight levels much higher than him. With 79 of his 89 wins coming by way of knockout, “Mister Knockout” is one of the biggest characters in Mexican boxing and was the biggest star of his generation in his homeland.
He won world titles at featherweight and bantamweight; at the end of the 20th Century, he has voted the greatest bantamweight of the last 100 years. Although our article today has been dominated by 21st Century fighters, Olivares reigned supreme at a time when the lower-weight class had barely any attention in the mainstream press.
However, his fights in America became significant events and would sell out arenas quickly due to his incredible style and charismatic ability to sell a fight and perform. In a few decades, Inoue and Donaire will be in the conversation for the greatest fighter in this weight class, and Olivares will still be right alongside them.