As we into the middle of December we need to remember there's a lot to look forward in the back end of the month. Here we take a look at the final week or so of the month.
If you missed part 1 that's available here - What's to come in December...Part 1 and part 2 is here - What's to come in December...Part 2
All Japan Rookie of the Year Finals - Tokyo, Japan
Professional boxing's biggest annual tournament comes to a close on December 23rd in Tokyo, as we see the latest All Japan Rookie of the Year champions being crowned. The tournament might not make much of a mark internationally but it puts the winners on the fast track to domestic success and with the whole card being shown live on G+ it goes us a brilliant pre-Christmas being treat.
Keita Kurihara (12-5, 11) Vs Yuki Strong Kobayashi (14-7, 8) - Osaka, Japan
The final major bout for us before Christmas comes from Osaka and sees the hard hitting Keita Kurihara take on Yuki Strong Kobayashi for the vacant OPBF Bantamweight title. The match up is a solid looking lower tier match up, though what needs to be noted is that both men are better than their records suggest, with both suffering a number of defeats early in their careers, and to good fighters. We're expecting a hard hitting affair here and it should be very exciting.
Masayuki Ito (24-1-1, 12) Vs Evgeny Chuprakov (20-0, 10) - Tokyo, Japan
After a little bit of a break for Christmas big action returns on December 30th, as we run towards an explosive end to 2018. One of 3 title bouts on the penultimate day of the year will see Masayuki Ito make his first defence of the WBO Super Featherweight title, as he takes on unbeaten mandatory challenger Evgeny Chuprakov. A win here will open up some big fights for Ito in the new year, and he has stated that he intends to return to the US, where he won the title, to make future defenses. For Chuprakov the bout is a big step up in class, but he is certainly a live challenger.
Kenshiro (14-0, 8) Vs Saul Juarez (24-8-2, 13) - Tokyo, Japan
The longest reigning Japanese champion Kenshiro will also be on the December 30th card, defending his WBC Light Flyweight title against Mexican veteran Saul Juarez. Kenshiro has been incredibly impressive recently, beating the likes of Ganigan Lopez, Pedro Guevara and Milan Melindo, and this looks like a step backwards, unfortunately. Juarez is a good fighter, or rather was a good fighter, but his form has been less than great recently and he is 2-4-2 in his last 8 bouts. Juarez, at his best, would be a good opponent for Kenshiro, but he looks to be beyond his best, even if he is only 28.
Takuma Inoue (12-0, 3) Vs Petch Sor Chitpattana (48-0, 33) - Tokyo, Japan
The third major bout on December 30th will see the unbeaten pairing of Takuma Inoue and Petch Sor Chitpattana facing off for the WBC "Interim" Bantamweight title, a title that's an interim belt whilst the WBC wait to sort out the mess of their vacant "regular" title. This is a brilliant match up, between two talented youngsters, though sadly the politics of the WBC have left this bout feeling less glamorous than it should be. The winner will get a shot at the full WBC title in the new year, if and when the WBC actually get around to crowning an actual champion. With a combined 60-0 record these two do make for an interesting fight, but this is a huge step up in class for the Thai, whilst Inoue, the younger brother of Naoya Inoue, has fought a number of world class opponents during his short career.
Kazuto Ioka (23-1, 13) Vs Donnie Nietes (41-1-5, 23) - Macau
It's not just December 30th that will be delivering a triple header, but also December 31st, which has one of the very best match ups of the year. The match up in question pits a couple of 3-weight world champions against each other, with Japan's Kazuto Ioka taking on Donnie Neites for the Vacant WBO Super Flyweight title. Both fighters are looking to become only the third man in history to win titles in the lowest 4 weight classes, both are looking to etch their names into the history books and help set up major bouts in 2019. Amazingly this will be the first time Nietes has ever faced a Japanese fighter whilst Ioka hasn't fought a Filipino in over 8 years! We expect to see a lot of skill on show here in what coul be a potential FOTY candidate.
Hekkie Budler (32-3, 10) vs Hiroto Kyoguchi (11-0, 8) - Macau
The second best bout on New Year's Eve will see WBA Light Flyweight champion Hekkie Budler defending his title against former IBF Minimumweight champion Hiroto Kyoguchi. This will be Budler's first defense of the title, which he won earlier this year in Japan by out point Ryoichi Taguchi, and he will be facing a stablemate of the man he beat for the belt. For Kyoguchi it's a great chance to become a 2-weight champion and to score a massive win to end the year. A win here for either man will set them up for massive bouts in 2019, with possible unification bouts in the new year.
Moruti Mthalane (36-2, 24) Vs Masahiro Sakamoto (13-1, 9) - Macau
A second South Africa Vs Japan bout will see IBF Flyweight champion Moruti Mthalane defending his title against little known Japanese fighter Masahiro Sakamoto. The South African is enjoying his second reign as the IBF champion, having won the title earlier this year in a nail biter against Pakistani fighter Muhammad Waseem, but at the age of 36 we do wonder what he has left, and he certainly looked like he was aging in the final rounds against Waseem. Sakamoto really is only known in boxing circles for losing to Sho Kimura, in a regional title bout, but has impressed since then and is a smart fighter who will know he has the opportunity of a life time here.
This past Saturday Filipino fans saw Donnie Nietes (40-1-4, 22) further enhance his legacy as he became just the third Filipino fighter to become a 3-weight world champion, a feat he accomplished by defeating Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking (22-4, 15) by decision for the IBF Flyweight title. The win took Nietes to 15-0-1 (6) in world title bouts and saw him extend his current unbeaten run to 32 fights, 29 wins and 3 draws, since a controversial defeat in 2004 to Angky Angkotta in Indonesia.
Despite the incredible numbers that Nietes has there are still some lingering issues with his career, and sadly it may be too late for those issues to ever be over-come and for him to ever become a boxing legend. And those issues could mean that “Ahas” is set to be remembered as a long term champion who lacked real wins of significance, and failed to get the bouts to prove how good he really is. Whilst those in the Philippines will look at his achievements, including his 3-weight title reigns, his 10 years at the top and his 13 year unbeaten run, others may end up feeling like he was one of the sports greatest under-achievers or a man who really should have tested himself against the best.
Nietes began his career way back in 2003 and climbed through the ranks quickly, getting his first world title fight in September 2007. That bout saw the then 21-1-3 (13) Nietes battle with the then then unbeaten Pornsawan Porpramook (20-0, 15 at the time) for the vacant WBO Minimumweight title. The title had been vacated by Puerto Rican great Ivan Calderon, who had chosen to move up in weight after more than 10 defenses of the belt in a 4 year period. Nietes over-came Porpramook with a unanimous decision to announce himself on the world stage.
With the title Minimumweight around his waist Nietes would notch up 4 defenses of the title, all against Latin American foes. The first of those was against Eddy Castro, who had done nothing to deserve a title fight and had lost to a very limited fighter in his previous bout. The second saw Nietes travel to Mexico to take on the #2 ranked Erick Ramirez, who was game but out matched and dropped 4 times en route to a decision loss. The third also saw Nietes travel, as he took a split decision over “interim” champion Manuel Vargas, in what was a really credible defense for Nietes especially on the road. The final defense by Nietes was again in Mexico, as he beat Mario Rodriguez with a wide decision. Coming in to that bout Rodriguez was ranked #10 by the WBO but had won just 10 of his 18 bouts.
Whilst it should be noted that Rodriguez would later go on to hold the IBF title, upsetting Nkosinathi Joyi in 2012, his reign at the top was a short one with Katsunari Takayama taking the title from him just 6 months later. Porpramook and Rodriguez would be the only world title foes of Nietes's at 105lbs to go on to win a world titles themselves.
Between winning the title in 2007 and relinquishing it in 2010 Nietes had racked up 4 defenses but in all honesty none was against a consensus top 10 opponent. At the time the division had fighters like Roman Gonzalez, Oleydong Sithsamerchai, Raul Garcia, Nkosinathi Joyi, Katsunari Takayama, Florante Condes, Juan Palacios and Denver Cuello and for Nietes to skip through the division having faced none of those fighters is a disappointment.
Following the win over Rodriguez we saw Nietes move up in weight and quickly capture the WBO Light Flyweight title, taking a decision over Ramon Garcia Hirales for the title in October 2011. Having captured a second divisional title Nietes had the potential to really crank home his claim as being on the fringes of the pound for pound rankings, though sadly his competition did little to strengthen that claim, despite the fact he defended the title 8 times before vacating it in late 2016.
Nietes first defense of the Light Flyweight title saw him defeat Felipe Salguero, who has lost just 2 fights earlier and had done little to earn a title fight, despite the WBO and IBF some how ranking him at #7. That defense was followed by a controversial majority decision against a very hungry Moises Fuentes, who seemed to out work and out battle Nietes despite only earning a draw. The draw with Fuentes was a solid defense, despite the judging feeling a little out of touch, but it was followed with a frankly ridiculous match up against Sammy Gutierrez. Despite only being 27 Gutierrez was looking a shadow of the fighter he had once been and had lost 4 of his previous 9 bouts, 2 by stoppage, before being blown out in 3 rounds by Nietes.
A rematch with Fuentes followed, with Nietes putting on a clinic to stop Fuentes in 9 rounds, in what was a really outstanding performance from the Filipino. That was followed with a less than great match up against Carlos Velarde, who had been best known for being clean KO'd by Ryo Miyazaki in a WBA Minimumweight title fight just 18 months earlier. Velerde was outclassed from the start and was retired at the end of round 7 having done little to test Nietes. Velerde was followed by Gilberto Parra Medina, who also looked out classed, though did claim a couple of rounds before being stopped after 9 rounds.
The real standout win by Nietes at Light Flyweight was his 7th defense, when he defeated Francisco Rodriguez Jr. “Chihuas” had unified titles at Minimumweight before moving up in weight. He looked to have struggled against Jomar Fajardo, twice, but was considered a very live opponent when Nietes took him on. Sadly for the Mexican the move up in weight didn't suit him and he was out boxed by Nietes, who scored one of his most credible wins to date.
In his final defense of the title Nietes beat the tough but thoroughly limited Juan Alejo. Coming in Alejo had won his previous 20 bouts, after a 0-3 start, but his opponents had been real unknowns and hadn't really qualified him for a world title fight. He showed guts and toughness against Nietes, but that was about it.
During Nietes's reign at Light Flyweight he again faced very few top fighters. When the division featured the likes of Roman Gonzalez, Kazuto Ioka, Kompayak Porpramook, John Riel Casimero, Ryoichi Taguchi, Felix Alvarado, Randy Petalcorin, Akira Yaegashi, Adrian Hernandez, Jonathan Taconing Ganigan Lopez and Pedro Guevara, we again saw Nietes avoid most of the top fighters.
His win over Eaktawan this past weekend saw Nietes again claiming a previous vacant title, like his first belt. He had been the mandatory for the WBO Flyweight title, which would have meant a fight with Chinese fighter Zou Shiming, but he elected to go the IBF route. It wasn't a bad decision, and no one can criticise him for the way the rankings work, but it's fair to say that Eaktawan is far from a genuine top 10 Flyweight.
Whilst Nietes has began talking about big fights at Flyweight the feeling is that he'll again talk about big match ups but fail to get them.
Away from his world title fights he again has faced some notable names, including Jesus Silvestre and Edgar Sosa, albeit a shot to pieces Sosa and a pre-prime Silvestre but both are solid fighters and do add to Nietes's reputation.
Sadly for Nietes the failure to face a single Japanese or Filipino fighter in his world title bouts is amazing. The divisions he has held titles in have been dominated by fighters from the region yet Nietes hasn't faced any so far. Likewise his failure to fight in a unification bout, or against more than a handful of consensus top 10 fighters is also a major issue.
He does hold some good wins, including victories over Porpramook, Vargas, Fuentes and Rodriguez, but that is a small number for a man who has been at the top for 10 years. It looks like he has been moved carefully and made the most of the WBO's weak rankings to milk the title rather than really go out and chase legacy defining bouts.
Whilst no one can criticise Nietes' skills, and he really is a talented fighter who at the age of 34 is still one of the most gifted fighters on the planet, they can quite freely rip his record to pieces and his 15-0-1 record world title fights sounds impressive, but the reality is that only a small number of his foes were genuinely world class when he faced them.
There is always the argument that a fighter can only fight opponents willing to face him. And that is always true. However to believe that a man who has been champion for 10 years over 3 divisions to have been avoided by so many top fighters is simply unfathomable and Nietes, and his team at the ALA gym, need to take some blame for the competition. That level of competition is why Nietes will never get the credit that his ability, and achievements, deserve.
Had Nietes beat just a few of the notable fighters that were available he would have enhanced his reputation immeasurably, and sadly it may be too late for him to make up for those bouts that should have been
This is just an opinion, maaaan! It's easy to share our opinions, and that's what you'll find here, some random opinion pieces