Dixon was from Canada and was known as “Little Chocolate”
· George Dixon moves up to featherweight
After beating Johnny Murphy in 1890, Dixon began campaigning at featherweight, though there is no clarification of him officially vacating the bantamweight crown. Records can be somewhat vague for this era and it appears he simply fought at a higher weight from that point onwards. A number of claimants emerged, all vying for supremacy but with no one establishing a clear-cut edge over anyone else. And then Jimmy Barry entered the picture. The talented, undefeated Barry had scored wins over Caspar Leon (with a second and third meeting between them ending in a draw and a no-decision respectively), Dave Ross (against whom he won the US bantamweight title) and Jimmy Anthony, the Australian bantamweight champion. When Barry beat British champion Walter Croot on 6th December 1897, he gained recognition as the world champion.
Barry was never beaten during his entire career
· Jimmy Barry announces his retirement
With Barry having stepped down in 1899, he joins Rocky Marciano in the most exclusive of boxing clubs; lineal world champions from the original eight weight classes who remained undefeated throughout their entire career. It guarantees instant immortality in a club that currently boasts only three members (Joe Calzaghe, the former world light heavyweight champion is the other, though he retired in 2009 and could still feasibly make a comeback). Immediately available to fill Barry’s shoes was the hard-punching Terry McGovern, who had beaten quality opposition such as Harry Forbes, Joe Bernstein and Caspar Leon. He had also beaten Johnny Ritchie for the US bantamweight title on 1st July 1899. McGovern squared off with top contender Pedlar Palmer on 12th September 1899 and the winner was assured acknowledgement as the new world champion. Palmer, who had previously defeated the renowned Billy Plimmer twice to earn this chance, was stopped in the 1st round.
· Terry McGovern moves up to featherweight
After making only one successful defence, McGovern headed north and the bantamweight championship became vacant again. Subsequently, Harry Harris of the USA claimed it and he had a good record to back him up; he had scored victories over highly-regarded opponents such as Billy Murphy, Caspar Leon and Johnny Reagan. When Harris outpointed Pedlar Palmer on 18th March 1901, his claim was universally accepted.
· Harry Harris moves up to featherweight
After establishing himself as the legitimate world champion, Harris unfortunately found that he could no longer make the weight limit and had to abdicate his throne. A bout between Harry Forbes from the USA and Andrew Tokell from Great Britain on 27th February 1903 would decide who the next rightful champ would be. But why Forbes-Tokell?
Forbes had beaten top contender Frankie Neil and Tokell had been British champion, and Forbes’ win over Tokell gained him full recognition in most record books.
A postcard featuring Bowker
· Joe Bowker moves up to featherweight
To date, Bowker is the only genuine lineal bantamweight champion from the UK and there is no clear record of him relinquishing the world title. Like George Dixon before him, he began campaigning at featherweight and the bantamweight crown was deemed vacant. Jimmy Walsh rose to the forefront of the division with a win over Monte Attell on 29th March 1905 (they had previously met in a no-decision bout). Disputing Walsh’s status was Digger Stanley of the USA, who held wins over former champion Dixon, the highly-touted Owen Moran and Walsh himself (on 18th April 1904). When Walsh and Stanley fought again on 20th October 1905, the victor, Walsh (on points), was declared the new world champion.
· Jimmy Walsh moves up to featherweight
It was becoming a common trend in this era; a new champion was being established only to relinquish world title honours and then move up to featherweight. Walsh was the latest champion to do this. A period of confusion followed, with a number of claimants scrambling for recognition, including Monte Attell, but no outright leader shined through. Going into 1910, Johnny Coulon surfaced as a top bantamweight. He had previously engaged in a notable series with Kid Murphy, which was 3-1 in his favour. His claim as the best in the world was strengthened with two victories over Jim Kenrick (on 18th February and 6th March 1910 respectively) and after the 2nd triumph he was awarded universal recognition as the world champion.
· Charlie Rosenberg forfeits the world championship
When Rosenberg failed to make the bantamweight limit for a defence against Bushy Graham, he automatically lost the championship on the scales. Graham made the weight limit and the bout went ahead, and if he had triumphed he would have been crowned as the new champ. Unfortunately for him, Rosenberg won on a decision, so the championship became vacant. Al Brown of Panama came forth as the next great force in the division. He scored impressive victories over former world featherweight champion Eugene Criqui and vying contenders Kid Francis, Johnny Cuthbert and Dominico Bernasconi. Clearly the best bantamweight in the world at the time, when he beat another contender, Vidal Gregario of Spain, he gained acknowledgement as the legitimate world champion.
Escobar reigned twice as the champion
· Sixto Escobar moves up to featherweight
Escobar is a little-known two-time champion from Puerto Rico whose quiet reign ended when he quietly jumped up in weight, and disappointingly for him, he encountered no real success. Filling the void he left were Lou Salica and George Pace, both from the USA. Salica had earned a high ranking with a win over top contender Tony Olivera, while Pace was snapping at his heels. However, Pace’s record was not sufficient enough to warrant worldwide acclaim….at least until he had beaten someone of the calibre of Salica. Pace and Salica met on 4th March 1940 but the result was inconclusive as it ended in a draw. There was a rematch on 24th September the same year and this time Salica won on points to become recognized as the genuine world champion.
Carruthers in action in the gym
· Jimmy Carruthers announces his retirement
Carruthers was the first world champion at any weight from Australia and his career ended perfectly in 1954 when he retired as the undefeated world champion. Sadly, he spoiled it when he made a comeback in 1961, suffering four losses. The most worthy contenders who could fill the gap were Chamrern Songkitrat from Thailand and Robert Cohen from France. Songkitrat had beaten highly-ranked Pappy Gault and also failed in a shot at Carruthers on 2nd May 1954. Cohen had also beaten Gault, plus rival contenders Maurice Sandeyron and Mario D’Agata. Cohen defeated Songkitrat on 19th September 1954 by split decision to become regarded as the next genuine world champion.
· Joe Becerra announces his retirement
Mexico’s Becerra stepped down in 1960 after making two successful defences, which may have been fortunate for him as the superb Eder Jofre of Brazil was waiting in the wings.
The talented Jofre, perhaps the greatest bantamweight ever, had already won the South American 118 lb title from Ernesto Miranda and beaten top contenders Jose Medel and Eloy Sanchez. Jofre finally achieved universal recognition when he had beaten Piero Rollo on 25th March 1961. Rollo, from Italy, had held the Italian and European bantamweight crowns, and had also beaten Mario D’Agata. In his match-up with Jofre, Rollo failed to come out for the 10th round.
Bernardo Pinango moves up to featherweight
When Venezuela's Bernardo Pinango decided to tackle the featherweight division in 1987, a number of sources, including the Cyber Boxing Zone website, kept their record of the lineal bantamweight championship as being vacant all the way through into the next century. But close investigation allowed for Veerapol Sahaprom of Thailand to stake a strong claim in 1999.
To establish a new legitimate world champion can conjure up the impression that there must be at least one or two unification bouts amongst the fighters who hold the alphabet belts. But in the era of alphabet belts this has become increasingly difficult, essentially because there are a ridiculous number of belts up for grabs. Between 1983 and 1988, when there were only the WBC, WBA and IBF titles in circulation (and even that was too many) it was feasible to unify them and have an undisputed champion. In 1988, the WBO was sadly formed, and thus creating an undisputed champion became more difficult. Here in the 21st century, the concept of an undisputed champion is a distant memory; it has been made utterly impossible by the mass multiplication of titles. Just how can one be determined with all the interim titles, super champions, diamond belts, silver belts and all the other paraphenalia concocted by the sanctioning bodies? And how many sanctioning bodies are there? Five? Six? Seven? Who knows or even cares? Basically, unification bouts cannot be looked upon as the sole gauge in acknowledging a fair claim to be a legitimate world champion. But examination of Sahaprom's status going into his fight with Joichiro Tatsuyoshi on 29th August 1999 leads to the view that he could be classed as Pinango's successor after he won that fight.
Of course, 1987 to 1999 is an awful long time without a genuine world champion but that is the unfortunate situation the bantamweight division found itself in. There were a number of fighters who looked as though they may take over and establish themselves as a true champ, including Orlando Canizales from the USA who held the IBF title from 1988 to 1994, Junior Jones from the USA who held the WBA title from 1993 to 1994 and Wayne McCulllough from Great Britain who held the WBC title from 1995 to 1997. But none of them did quite enough to eliminate the claims of their contemporaries. But if a unification bout between alphabet title-holders does not materialize, a claim can be determined by one title-holder gaining an edge over his main counterpart. For example, Boxer “A” has the WBA belt and has previously beaten Boxer “B”. When Boxer “B” goes on to win the IBF belt, the WBA belt has the edge because its holder has already triumphed over his IBF rival.
Such a scenario thankfully occurred in 1999, when Sahaprom could claim to be the proper world champion. After putting together a 16-fight winning streak, he had won the WBC title from Joichiro Tatsuyoshi of Japan on 29th December 1998. Tatsuyoshi had an eye-catching record; he had defeated quality opposition such as Greg Richardson, Victor Rabanales, Paulie Ayala and Sirimongkol Singwangcha. Although Tatsuyoshi had suffered two losses to Daniel Zaragoza, those bouts were at featherweight. After his win over Tatsuyoshi, Sahaprom could claim to be the best bantamweight in the world, but what about being the true champion?
At the time, the WBO belt could be dismissed due to its weak history. It was held by Jorge Eliecer Julio of Colombia, who had previously held the WBA belt. But he had lost that to Junior Jones back in 1993 (and Jones had been the only truly world-class opponent Julio had faced). As the WBA title had not become vacant since, the WBO strand could be cancelled out. Entering 1999, the WBA title was in the clutches of the highly-regarded Johnny Tapia of the USA. Tapia was undefeated and had scored impressive victories over Danny Romero and Nana Konadu.
As for the IBF belt, in 1999 that was held by Tim Austin of the USA, but that also had a weak history. Austin had won it from South Africa’s Mbulelo Botile in 1997, who in turn had won it from the obscure Harold Mestre of Colombia in 1995. The little-known, undistinguished Mestre had picked up the IBF belt after Orlando Canizales had relinquished it to campaign at featherweight. Neither Botile nor Austin had beaten any genuine leading contenders prior to winning the IBF title (the term "leading contenders" refers here to a boxer considered to be among the top five or six in the world), and furthermore, neither had defended against any genuine leading contenders after winning it.
Clearly, the WBC and WBA titles had a stronger stance, and a significant result occurred on 26th June 1999 when Paulie Ayala won the WBA title from Tapia. Ayala had previously been beaten for the WBC title by Tatsuyoshi, which therefore gave the WBC strand the edge. Almost exactly two months later, when Sahaprom triumphed over Tatsuyoshi in a rematch on 29th August 1999, Sahaprom instituted a valid claim to be the true world champion.
· Nonito Donaire moves up to featherweight
When budding superstar Nonito Donaire of the Philippines won the world bantamweight title from Fernando Montiel on 19th February 2011, the dust had barely settled when speculation began about him moving up in weight. This was a shame because several lucrative and interesting match-ups awaited him at bantamweight. Whatever happened to a big name sticking around and actually cleaning up a division by beating all the top contenders around? It's a relatively rare concept in an era that is plagued with far too many titles in too many weight divisions. Boxers can easily bounce around in weight, win a title, discard it, win another, ignore a tough opponent and just keep moving on. Sadly, it's just a select few that go against this trend whilst the merry-go-round continues. After just one successful defence, Donaire abandoned his bantamweight crown, though he could viably have become one of the truly great bantamweight champions if he had gone on to make five or six defences and thoroughly dominated the division. But who would take over? The answer to that question came in the shape of Shinsuke Yamanaka after he defeated Liborio Solis on 4th March 2016.
Going into 2016, Japan's Yamanaka had glistening stats of 24-0-2 (17) and was generally viewed as the best bantamweight in the world. He certainly had the best record and any bout involving the legitimate world championship had to include him. He had a series of notable conquests, which included veteran Vic Darchinyan (whom he outpointed on 6th April 2012 when Darchinyan was still a threat), former world flyweight champion Malcolm Tunacao (whom he KO'd on 8th April 2013), highly-ranked Suriyan Sor Rungvisai (whom he outpointed on 22nd October 2014), and another highly-ranked contender in Anselmo Moreno (whom he outpointed on 22nd September 2015).
As for Venezuela's Liborio Solis, prior to the Yamanaka fight he had been undefeated for five years and during that span he had scored major victories over Jose Salgado (on 10th December 2011), Kohei Kono (on 6th May 2013), and Daiki Kameda (on 3rd December 2013), all of whom were among the best in the world at the time when he fought them. In fact, the victory over Kono has become retrospectively even more significant following Kono's subsequent big win over former world flyweight champion Koki Kameda on 16th October 2015.
It should be noted that there are two outfits that recognize one proper world champion per division; "The Ring" magazine and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and neither of them rated Solis particularly highly at bantamweight leading up to the Yamanaka fight. This is largely because both these outfits recognize the junior-bantamweight (or super-flyweight) division, which Solis had previously competed in. From their point of view, Solis "moved up" to bantamweight in 2014 and thus had to establish himself in a "new" division. However, Lineal Champs does not recognize the junior-bantamweight division; its existence is totally unnecessary and it is just a conception of the alphabet groups so that they can create more titles and thus earn themselves more sanctioning fees. Therefore, as far as Lineal Champs is concerned, Solis has always been a bantamweight and as such has remained amongst the top fighters in this weight class.
This website uses the "Return To Sanity" policy that "The Ring" magazine adopted in 1987 (it was outlined in the July 1987 issue and is certainly worth picking up on Ebay), though the policy had no rigid criteria that was set out in order to determine how a vacant world championship could be won. It was a simple case of a particular fight or the status of a particular division being given fair consideration to see if a suitable, genuine world champion could be designated. For example, "The Ring" magazine recognized Sumbu Kalambay as the world middleweight champion in 1988 following his wins over leading contenders Herol Graham, Iran Barkley and Mike McCallum (click here to go to the page which provides full details on this) and the decision to recognize Kalambay made perfect sense.
The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board has a strict policy of only recognizing a bout between its number one and number two contenders as being for a vacant world title. This approach is certainly admirable but at the same time it is also too restrictive. The ranking of boxers can be quite subjective, so what if the abilities and accomplishments of the fighters ranked at number two and three are very close? If the fighter ranked at number one defeats the fighter ranked at number two, is that unfair to the fighter ranked at number three? If the fighter ranked at number three is just about on equal footing with the fighter at number two why should he miss out? But then does that mean that the fighter ranked at number one should face both the number two and number three fighters? Furthermore, what if the abilities and accomplishments of the fighters ranked at two, three and four are all just about equal, with their respective rankings open to debate and therefore being inter-changeable? Sometimes, the best fighter in a division is quite obvious, and similarly the two best fighters in a division are quite obvious, but there are also many instances when it is not obvious. Are the TBRB always right in who they rank as the top two? The TBRB can be commended for their stance but such inflexibility isn't always appropriate.
Consider that in 1988, "The Ring" magazine recognized the bout between Julio Cesar Chavez and Jose Luis Ramirez as being for the vacant lineal world lightweight championship. At the time, Chavez was ranked number one and Ramirez was ranked number four, but the recognition made perfect sense (click here to go to the page in which the status of this bout is explained in more detail). However, returning to the match-up between Yamanaka and Solis, were there any other viable contenders on the scene? The most viable was Juan Carlos Payano of the Dominican Republic. He was unbeaten in 17 fights (eight inside the distance) and had a significant win over Anselmo Moreno on 26th September 2014. The win came by technical decision, with Payano suffering a cut after a clash of heads in the second round. The cut worsened and the fight was stopped in the sixth round. Payano had a small lead on the score cards at the time (two judges had him ahead 58-56 and the third judge had him ahead 59-55) and was declared the winner, though the ending of this abbreviated bout was arguably inconclusive. Payano fought just once in 2015 and that was a mighty struggle against Rau'shee Warren of the USA, with Payano emerging with a split decision victory. Warren had eye-catching amateur credentials (he was a three-time Olympian) but was quite a novice as a pro and hadn't beaten anyone of note. Nevertheless, there were plenty of observers who thought the decision should have gone his way.
The bantamweight ratings were also occupied by the likes of Carlos Cuadras of Mexico, Zolani Tete of South Africa and Naoya Inoue of Japan. But they did not possess a record that was really any better than that of Solis. The best win that Cuadras had scored was over Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, which occurred on 31st May 2014, though Rungvisai did not surpass the best names on Solis' record. Tete's biggest win was over the UK's Paul Butler on 6th March 2015, though Butler himself had not beaten any highly-ranked fighters on the world scene. And Inoue's most major victory was against Omar Narvaez of Argentina on 30th December 2014. Narvaez, who was a little past his prime at the time, was one of those fighters who specializes in milking an alphabet belt for all it was worth (which isn't much). He had won the WBO super-flyweight title in 2010 and defended it against a string of nobodies until he lost it to Inoue. The only occasion in which he had tackled a genuine big name was when he stepped up to challenge world bantamweight champion Nonito Donaire on 22nd October 2011 and not surprisingly he was soundly beaten.
To surmise, Solis was worthy of being ranked amongst the top bantamweights in the world and Yamanka has the most superior record overall. Just as in 1988 when Kalambay was recognized as the world middleweight champion after his wins over Graham, Barkley and McCallum, this website deems that Yamanaka also deserves recognition after his wins over Suriyan Sor Rungvisai, Anselmo Moreno and now Liborio Solis.
Donaire with his wife (Rachel)
Pinango (left) in action against Simon Skosana in 1986 (Pinango won by 15th round KO)