By Marcus Bellinger
When the World Boxing Super Series concept was announced earlier this year there was a mixture of excitement, scepticism and intrigue from fans and media. The 2 8 man line-ups at cruiserweight and super middleweight began in September and are scheduled to finish in May 2018. So far both tournaments have provided some memorable knockouts and a consummated structure which doesn’t exist in the rest of the boxing world and the semi-finals have thrown up some eagerly anticipated bouts for early 2018.
Attention has already turned to possible future WBSS events with various weight classes being kicked around amongst online chatter. Welterweight and featherweight have proved popular choices with both possessing plenty of star power but one division that would really benefit from such a platform is light flyweight. Like the cruisers, 108 lb is often ignored by the majority but has plenty of talent, depth and variety and it would also give the handlers of the World Boxing Super Series a chance to branch out into Asia. Here’s what a potential light flyweight WBSS might look like of course starting with the 4 current world champions.
Ken Shiro 11-0 5 KOs WBC champion.
Out of the BMB Gym, Shiro is part of the new wave of exciting Japanese boxing talent and after capturing WBC Youth, Japanese and OPBF straps it was time to see if he could conquer the world stage in 2017. The 25-year-old faced then champion Ganigan Lopez in May and prevailed over 12 rounds in a closely contested bout. Another Mexican came next as Shiro took on Pedro Guevara on 22 October in his first defence. After being behind Shiro rallied and showed excellent stamina in the championship rounds to take a majority decision and keep his title and unbeaten record intact. Next up is a rematch with Lopez which could take place in the spring of 2018.
Kosei Tanaka 10-0 6 KOs WBO champion.
Tanaka was tipped for big things from the off and stopped then unbeaten Ryuji Hara in 10 rounds in October 2014 to claim the OPBF 105 lb belt in just his 4th professional contest. After outpointing Julian Yedras for the vacant WBO strawweight title in just his 5th contest and making one defence Tanaka moved up 3 pounds having outgrown the minimumweight class. He produced a blistering display to destroy Moises Fuentes in 5 rounds on the last day of 2016 to win the vacant WBO light flyweight crown. A unanimous verdict over Angel Acosta came in May and then the 22-year-old climbed off the floor to eventually stop Palangpol CP Freshmart in 9 rounds in September. Tanaka suffered orbital fractures to both eyes in the fight with Palangpol so won’t return until next year.
Milan Melindo 37-2 13 KOs IBF champion.
After coming up short in 2 world title fights at the hands of Juan Francisco Estrada and Javier Mendoza the Filipino’s career threatened to be one of unfulfilled potential. The 29-year-old received a crack at the interim IBF strap at home against Fahlan Sakreerin Jr in November 2016. Melindo won a unanimous decision and now had a guaranteed shot at full champion Akira Yaegashi. He produced a defining performance to stop Yaegashi inside a round in May and the career revival was now complete. In his first defence Melindo ground out a split decision over Hekkie Budler in September and came through some bad cuts in what was a highly entertaining encounter. A rematch with Budler was ordered by the IBF but isn’t expected to occur until 2018 due to the injuries sustained by the champion.
Ryoichi Taguchi 26-2-2 12 KOs WBA champion.
In his nearly 3 year reign as world champion consistency has eluded Taguchi somewhat but on his day the 30-year-old is a hard man to beat given his height and reach. He produced an excellent performance to hammer mandatory challenger Robert Barrera in 9 rounds in July and was assured in defeating forma 105 lb titlist Ryo Miyazaki via unanimous decision last August. On the other hand unknown Carlos Canizales gave the champion all sorts of problems in their 2016 New Year’s Eve clash with the pair eventually battling to a split draw. Victories over Juan Jose Landaeta, Luis de la Rosa and Kwanthai Sithmorseng did little for his reputation but Taguchi is still one of only 2 men to have heard the final bell against formidable super flyweight king Naoya Inoue.
Ganigan Lopez 28-7 17 KOs.
After being knocked out in 2 rounds in a WBC strawweight eliminator by Denver Cuello in May 2012 and losing on points to Pedro Guevara in July 2015 for the WBC 108 lb trinket, the Mexican’s career looked to be going nowhere. Lopez then was given a shot at WBC champion Yu Kimura in the land of the rising sun in March 2016. He took the opportunity with both hands, easily overcoming the man from Japan on points. His first defence 4 months later was a dangerous assignment against the heavily avoided and big punching Jonathan Taconing. Lopez got his tactics spot on and managed to negate Taconing on his way to a unanimous verdict. Despite being 35 which is considered extremely old for someone in the lower weights the smart southpaw has shown no signs of decline as yet and as stated earlier he will rematch Ken Shiro after their tight first contest in May.
Felix Alvarado 30-2 26 KOs.
Arguably the hardest hitter on this list the big punching Nicaraguan has scored 6 stoppages inside 3 rounds in 2017 culminating in a devastating third round drilling of Fahlan Sakreerin Jr in an IBF eliminator on 14 October. The Thai has shared the ring with the likes of Milan Melindo and Katsunari Takayama but has never been completely wiped out as he was against Alvarado. The 28-year-old’s only losses came against Juan Carlos Reveco in June 2014 and versus Kazuto Ioka on the last day of 2013. Both Ioka and Reveco certainly knew they had been in a fight and there probably isn’t a big queue lining up to take on Alvarado.
Pedro Guevara 30-3-1 17 KOs.
The Mexican has campaigned at world level for around the last 5 years with mixed success both at home and on the road. His first world title crack saw him lose a split decision to Johnriel Casimero in August 2012 for the IBF bauble. It was December 2014 when Guevara got his second tilt as he travelled to Japan to face Akira Yaegashi for the vacant WBC crown. Yaegashi had come down in weight after being relieved of his flyweight title by Roman Gonzalez and if proved to be a bridge too far as the Mexican stopped the Japanese warrior in round 7. After 2 successful defences including against Ganigan Lopez the 28-year-old was surprisingly beaten by Yu Kimura in November 2015 in a bout that he looked to be well in control of after 6 rounds. Guevara showed in his majority loss to Ken Shiro he is more than capable of mixing it with anyone in the division and a couple of solid wins should gain him another big fight.
Hekkie Budler 31-3 10 KOs.
A forma champion 3 lb south the South African has wins over the likes of Jesus Silvestre, Xiong Zhao Zhong and Nkosinathi Joyi on his record. The 29-year-old has not only fought at home but on some of the big Monte Carlo shows that had the likes of Gennady Golovkin as headline acts. He was upset by Byran Rojas in March 2016, losing his title in the process. After 2 wins at 108 lb Budler went to the Philippines and as previously stated, lost a split decision to Milan Melindo in September in a terrific fight. Having managed to secure the rematch Budler has already something to look forward to next year and a victory would set up some interesting and appealing matchups.
Others who were considered and would be more than capable participants were Filipino pair Jonathan Taconing and Randy Petalcorin, Thailand’s Palangpol CP Freshmart and Puerto Rican Angel Acosta.
By Marcus Bellinger-
This past weekend was a busy one involving Asian fighters with world title fights of significance as well as domestic bouts in Japan.
The most notable action came on Sunday from Kokugikan, Tokyo as Teiken Promotions presented a solid triple header that was headlined by the rematch between Ryota Murata and Hassan N’Dam. Murata was on the wrong end of one of the most appalling decisions seen in recent times in their first encounter in May with 2 judges somehow giving it to the French based Cameroonian.
Murata immediately was on the front foot, applying pressure to N’Dam who was letting go with flurries. After the first couple of rounds Murata began to take over and N’Dam was burning up unnecessary energy. The constant body attack on N’Dam was paying dividends and Murata dished out an absolute hammering in rounds 5, 6 and 7 before N’Dam was wisely pulled out by his corner at the end of the 7th.
For Murata this will put to bed the wrong that took place in May and he can move on to big things in 2018 and with Teiken and Top Rank behind him the sky is the limit. The 31-year-old is a mega star in Japan with many of the main sports pages featuring the fight as their lead story. The bout drew a whopping average audience of around 13.7 million which to put it in prospective are the best numbers for boxing on Fuji TV since 2000. The plan is for Murata to defend his belt in Japan next spring before a possible fight in the US next summer.
On the same card Daigo Higa made the first defense of his WBC flyweight crown against Frenchman Thomas Masson. Given the chasm between European and world level in the lower weights this was expected to be routine for Higa and that’s exactly what it was with the hard hitting champion prevailing via 7th round stoppage. Masson proved to be pretty durable but was unable to keep Higa at bay and after taking a knee was stopped soon afterwards due to an eye injury.
In the post-fight interview Higa called out fellow 112 lb titlist Kazuto Ioka for a unification on New Year’s Eve and the Osakan seems the only man with the traits to compete with the 22-year-old however, with recent rumours of Ioka retiring due to a dispute with his father this looks holy unrealistic. A homecoming defense in Okinawa is the aim for January or February 2018 with no opponent confirmed although Muhammad Waseem and Andrew Selby have been linked to Higa in recent times.
The third title clash saw Ken Shiro defend his WBC light flyweight strap against Pedro Guevara. Shiro was facing his second Mexican opponent on the trot after narrowly defeating Ganigan Lopez in May for the belt. After being behind Shiro rallied to claim a majority decision and the 25-year-old has proved his mettle in 2017 having come through 2 hard-fought contests. Unfortunately the Guevara fight wasn’t shown on Fuji TV and hopefully Shiro receives some live broadcast time in 2018 and a rematch with Ganigan Lopez is next up for the BMB Gym fighter.
Approximately 12 hours earlier bantamweights Ryan Burnett and Zhanat Zhakiyanov squared off in the first ever unification clash to be staged in Ireland. The first half of this contest was honestly quite a difficult watch with a whole lot of holding clinching and grappling resulting in a very messy contest. Zhakiyanov never stopped coming forward and putting on the pressure but as the Kazak slowed down Burnett’s extra class showed down the stretch. The Belfast man was a worthy winner but the scorecards of 119-109 and 118-110 were far too wide and yet another further demonstration of how hard it has become for a visiting boxer to win a point's verdict in the UK.
Burnett showed a real versatility and adaptability in being able to beat Zhakiyanov at his own game and this will stand him in good stead for the future. The 118 lb division was thrown in to chaos when Luis Nery failed a drugs test soon after his KO win over the long reigning Shinsuke Yamanaka in August and a decision is still to be made by the WBC. Incidentally Nery takes on Arthur Villanueva in a non-title affair in Tiajuana on 4 November. The other legitimate belt holder is South Africa’s Zolani Tete but whether the egos of promoters Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn can be put aside to make the bout between Tete and Burnett will have to be seen to be believed.
A few hours earlier at the Korakuen Hall the vacant Japanese lightweight title was contested between Shuichiro Yoshino and Spicy Matsushita. Yoshino was expected to overcome his veteran opponent and he duly did, scoring a 7th round knockout and claiming his first title in the process. Yoshino moved to 6-0 4 KOs and whilst it’s very premature to be talking about world title fights for the 26-year-old it will be interesting to see how he progresses with his first defense scheduled for February 2018. There were a number of Japanese title eliminators on the undercard including at flyweight where Katsunori Nagamine faced Akinori Hoshino. Despite a 7th round loss at the hands of Ken Shiro Nagamine has been in some thrillers in recent times and has become a bit of a favourite of mine. Unfortunately the bout with Hoshino never got going and at the end of 8 rounds it was a split draw with cards of 78-75 Nagamine, 77-75 Hoshino and a level 76-76. Nagamine progressed under the dominant point rule and will meet the winner of the November clash between Masayuki Kuroda and Mako Matsuyama sometime next year in what should be a far more exciting dustup.
Finally on the previous day still at the Korakuen Hall there was a Japan versus China show with Rikki Naito versus Baishanbo Nasiyiwula topping the bill. In what was a highly competitive bout Naito won a very close decision with scores of 77-75 76-75 and 75-79 and a rematch would be welcomed. This seems like a good initiative and could help the Chinese boxing scene which is still desperately searching for a genuine talent to take the sport forward.
By Marcus Bellinger-
Boxers being moved at a rapid fire pace has become common place in Japan with Kazuto Ioka, Naoya Inoue, Kosei Tanaka, Hiroto Kyoguchi and Ken Shiro all capturing a world title in 10 fights or less and domestic and regional straps being claimed in a handful of bouts has also become a frequent occurrence.
The next fighter from the land of the rising sun aiming to continue this trend was Hinata Maruta who challenged OPBF super bantamweight champion Hidenori Otake at the Korakuen Hall on 13 October in just his 6th pro contest.
There has been a real buzz and excitement around Maruta for a while within Japanese boxing circles with many tipping the 20-year-old for huge things. The highlight of an excellent amateur career which saw him go 55-11 31 KOs came when he won a Bronze in the 2013 Asian Youth Championships.
Maruta’s anticipated professional debut came in November 2015 in a 6 rounder against Jason Canoy. The Filipino was world ranked at the time and this was a real gamble on behalf of Maruta’s handlers at the Morioka Gym. The risk proved to be worth taking as Maruta prevailed on points and dropped Canoy in the 4th round to make a real statement.
After a facile opening round win versus an overmatched Thai 4 months later, Maruta faced unbeaten Filipino Wilbert Berondo for the WBC Youth bantamweight crown in July 2016. Berondo was taken out in round 6 and the man from Japan had won his first title. His first defense came against the once beaten Joe Tejones 4 months later and after taking his time Maruta scored a 7th round KO. Before his OPBF contest undefeated Indonesian Hanson Tiger Lamandau was dispatched in 6 rounds in March.
Going in to the bout with Otake there was definite intrigue with the 36-year-old champion possessing a wealth of experience at national and regional level whilst the challenger had the youth and height and reach advantages. After 4 rounds it was all to play for but experience then proved to be the order of the day as Otake assumed command and triumphed with a unanimous point’s victory with scores of 116-112 twice and 117-111.
Maruta showed flashes of his class at times but couldn’t maintain distance for long enough and was dragged in to an inside tussle which suited Otake perfectly. The youngster’s career certainly isn’t over and he should gain a huge amount from going the 12 rounds for the first time and he now knows what he needs to work on to move on to the next level. Finally, a deserved word on Otake who is now in line for a major bout with numerous domestic options available for him.
(Image courtesy of Morioka Boxing Gym)
Whilst mainland China still yearns for a fighter to generate real excitement and show the necessary ingredients to carry the sport on their back Hong Kong has no such issues as the momentum around Rex Tso continues to gather pace both in and out the ring. The super flyweight known as “The Wonder Kid” took a hard-fought 7th round technical decision this past Saturday over forma world champion Kohei Kono to move his record to 22-0 13 KOs. As expected the pair delivered a war of attrition but unfortunately a grotesque swelling and a shut left eye suffered by Tso brought a halt to proceedings at the start of the 7th with Tso in front on all 3 cards by scores of 68-66.
Tso came from a boxing family with his dad and 3 brothers all competing as amateurs but the 30-year-old showed no appetite for the sport. Despite possessing plenty of talent a poor work ethic and general laziness suggested that his career would come to nothing however, linking up with Jay Lau seem to be a turning point. Lau, who was intent on building professional boxing in Hong Kong asked Tso to be his linchpin in the area and in conjunction with Top Rank Lau’s DEF Promotions still promotes Tso to this day.
Tso turned pro in September 2011 and his first few bouts were spread across Asia including Singapore, the Philippines and mainland China as well as at home. He was then able to take full advantage of Top Ranks foray in to Asia and ended up appearing on 8 of the cards that were staged in Macao. In this period he took on the likes of Rusalee Samor, Mako Matsuyama, Espinos Sabu, John Bajawa and Michael Enriquez. By now Tso had proved himself to be an exciting fan friendly fighter with a big heart but how far he could go was debatable.
With a government clampdown and a downturn in the Macao economy which resulted in Top Rank ceasing their operations in the area it was time to turn the attention back home for Tso and his handlers.
A 7th round knockout of Brad Hore then followed in August 2015 before he faced forma world title challenger Young Gil Bae in May 2016. The Korean proved to be no match for Tso who stopped him in 4 rounds. 5 months later he faced the undefeated Ryuto Maekawa who is a stablemate of the formidable WBC flyweight champion Daigo Higa. The 2 engaged in a bruising encounter with Tso prevailing after 10 rounds via unanimous decision. By now he was generating a real buzz in Hong Kong and pulling in a sizable crowd at the Convention and Exhibition Center. Canny operator Hirofumi Mukai was up next 5 months later and although the experienced Japanese fighter brought plenty of tricks to the table he was overwhelmed and stopped in 8 rounds.
Tso will never be a defensive wizard but sparring with the likes of Rey Megrino, Marlon Tapales, Takuya Watanabe and Randy Petalcorin has certainly sharpened his skills and elevated him on to another level. His ability to sell out the Convention and Exhibition Center and pull in a huge online audience make him a genuine attraction which of course gives his team more cards to play with when trying to entice quality opposition to Hong Kong.
Going forward a rematch with Kono would seem the most logical move given the early ending and the fabulous entertainment that the contest provided. With the depth and quality at 115 lb there is absolutely no guarantee of Tso claiming a world title but the Hong Kong superstar is a wonderful example of boxing’s continuing globalisation and however his career progresses it’s sure to be a memorable one with plenty of thrills and spills.
(Image courtesy of DEF HK Promotions)
By Marcus Bellinger-
There are a number of weight classes in boxing right now that have a solid amount of depth including cruiserweight, light heavyweight, welterweight, super flyweight and light flyweight just to name a few but the featherweight division is bristling with talent and is as stacked as any in the sport.
Gary Russell Jnr, Leo Santa Cruz, Lee Selby and Oscar Valdez are the 4 current world champions at 126 lb and there is certainly no obvious weak link within this foursome. When you factor in contenders Carl Frampton, Abner Mares, Joseph Diaz, and Genesis Servania just to name a few you realise the strength in depth that exists and you can now add Japan’s fast rising Satoshi Shimizu to the mix.
Shimizu stopped Sa Myung Noh in 5 rounds to capture the OPBF crown at the Korakuen Hall on 2 October and make it 4 wins from 4 with all coming inside the distance. Noh was by no means a world beater but the Korean had never been stopped and went to Japan in June and scored a come from behind knockout of then OPBF champion Ryo Takenaka.
Shimizu was an excellent amateur and claimed Bronze medals at the 2009 Asian Championships, the 2012 Olympics and the 2014 Asian Games and also competed at the 2008 Olympics along with multiple world championship appearances. Shimizu had intended on appearing at the 2016 Olympics but Daisuke Narimatsu took the available lightweight spot.
The Japanese southpaw then elected to turn professional under the guidance of the Ohashi Gym. He made his debut in September 2016 against forma Korean champion In Kyoo Lee and scored a 5th round stoppage. 4 months later Carlo Demecillo was up next and was expected to provide a solid test having gone 10 rounds with Hisashi Amagasa however, he was unable to stand up to the heavy hands of Shimizu and was taken out in 3 rounds. Previous to his OPBF triumph Takuya Yamamoto was drilled in a round in May.
So far Shimizu has displayed genuine power along with a quirky and unorthodox style in the ring and his tall frame and southpaw stance make him a nightmare proposition for future opponents. Shimizu could return before the end of the year and at 31 he has no time to waste and his handlers have stated that a world title shot will come in 2018.
The regional scene is pretty weak at featherweight with only Mark Magsayo and Genesis Servania standing out as intriguing options and a bout against the forma seems highly unlikely. A bout with Servania would tell us a whole lot about Shimizu especially given the Filipinos display against Oscar Valdez. Besides these 2 fights looking at the rankings an opponent such as Oscar Escandon would bridge the gap nicely from regional to world level and would be a good indicator of Shimizu’s readiness to compete for a world strap. Being matched tough and moved quickly has become the norm in Japan and especially in the Ohashi Gym with Akira Yaegashi and the Inoue brothers being great examples and next year should tell us whether Shimizu can live up to those expectations.
(Image courtesy of Ohashi Gym)
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