In 2016 we saw a lot of controversy at the Rio Olympics. A lot of that seemed to come around suspicion of bribery or ineptitude of the judges, and saw a number of very questionable decisions. Despite all the controversy there was one very big winner from the Olympics, Uzbekistan. The country, which only competed as an independent nation for the first in 1996, really shone just 20 years after their debut.
Having sent 11 fighters to Rio Uzbekistan actually went on to win the medal table, taking home an impressive 7 medals, including 3 gold medals, and one of those was also the Val Barker trophy winner Hasanboy Dusmatov. The following year at the Amateur World Boxing Championships they came second in the medal table, only behind the dominant Cuban team.
The early success stories of the Uzbek amateur scene, such as such as 1996 Olympic bronze medal winner Karim Tulaganov and 2000 Olympic gold medal winner Mohammad Abdullaev, both failed as professionals, with Tulaganov going 1-3 in the professional ranks. The only two real early success stories of Uzbek professionals are Artur Grigorian and Ruslan Chagaev.
Today however we look like we're on the verge of a golden age of Uzbek professional boxing. There is real depth in the Uzbek scene across a number of divisions and it's almost as if the country has finally realised it can be really successful as a force in professional boxing. And with so much talent breaking through, we thought it a perfect time to have a look at some of those emerging fighters.
We'll start by looking at 5 men who competed at Rio 2016, most of whom had really successful campaigns. Later in the week we'll look at those who didn't compete at the Olympics, in what will be part 2 of this mini-feature.
Fazliddin Gaibnazarov (3-0, 1)
The only Uzbek to have won an Olympic gold medal in Rio and to have already began their professional career is 26 year old Fazliddin Gaibnazarov who is managed by Egil Klimas and promoted by Top Rank. In the amateur he was a 2-time Olympian, fighting in London 2012 and Rio 2016, with his Rio triumph being the highlight of his amateur career.
As well as his Oympic triumph Gaibnazarov claimed silver medals at the 2015 World Amateur Championships, losing to Russian Vitaly Dunaytsev in the final, and the 2015 Asian Championships, losing to home fighter Wuttichai Masuk in the final.
As a professional Gaibnazarov hasn't yet shone, being put down on his debut in April 2017 and failing to stop any of his subsequent opponents. Although he hasn't been matched easily there is a worry that he lacks power and hasn't yet adapted to the professional ranks in the way Top Rank would have wanted. Saying that however he has won every round of his professional career, bar his very first.
Shakhram Giyasov (2-0, 1)
Having taken the silver medal in Rio at Welterweight there was some hope that Shakhram Giyasov would have professional promoters all over him and try to turn him professional quickly. Giyasov however stayed amateur and had a brilliant 2017, picking up gold medals at both the World Amateur Championships and the Asian Championships. The extra year in the amateurs saw him shine before turning professional.
Giyasov debuted this past March, against Nicolas Atilio Velazquez, and didn't even break sweat with a 15 second blow out. It seemed like he was unhappy with the speed of his win and he took his time in his second professional bout, taking a very 1-sided decision win over the experienced Gabor Gorbics, and going 6 very comfortably rounds in the process.
Based in the US there is big things expected of the 24 year old Welterweight. We don't expect him to be in world title fights this year, or even next year, but we do expect to see him in with “name” opponents in the near future, and given his relaxed nature in the ring we have no worries about him going long distances.
Murodjon Akhmadaliev (2-0, 2)
Another fighter who chose to stay in the unpaid ranks for an extra year following the Olympics was Bantamweight bronze medal winner Murodjon Akhmadaliev. Like Giyasov we saw Akhmadaliev claim more success after staying on in the amateurs, and he took a gold at the 2017 Asian Championships in Tashkent, a competition that saw the Uzbek team claim 9 of the 10 possible gold medals.
Akhmadaliev made his professional debut in March and instantly took to the professional ranks like a duck to water. From the opening seconds of his bout against David Michel Paz we saw a naturally aggressive, yet smart, young fighter. He would drop Paz with a body shot, that had a delayed reaction, and record his first win in just over a minute. In his second bout, earlier this month, he defeated Carlos Gaston Suarez and showed that he could box patiently before making the referee jump in and stop the bout in round 3.
Just like Giyasov it seems like Akhmadaliev could be set for a big year and the 23 year old Featherweight might well race into the fringes of the world rankings before the end of the year. He looks like a really special talent, and it's hard to say where his ceiling will be, but it's going to be very high.
Rustam Tulaganov (1-0)
Another bronze medal winner from the Rio games was Rustam Tulaganov, who claimed his medal in the Heavyweight division. Like many others on this list he didn't turn professional immediately but did make his debut in late 2017, taking a 4 round decision over Robert Guerra.
Since his debut Tulaganov has twice been pencilled in to face Martez McGregor but for whatever reason the bout has failed to actually happen. This means that Tulaganov has been out of action for around 6 months and his career really needs to kick on, rather than be slowed down. He's a talented fighter, in a stacked division, and can't afford to waste his prime years. He is only 26, but with so much talent at 175lbs he should be using this year to make his mark as a prospect.
When Tulaganov does next fight he'll be hoping to answer some questions and make up for lost time. He has the ability to go a long way, but will be wanting to avoid having a stop-start career. Thankfully with Egis Klimas managing his career he should have the link to be kept active, matched well and moved through the rankings. That however depends on his desire and hunger to make an impression on the professional scene.
Batyr Ahmedov (4-0, 3)
One man who fought at the Olympics but failed to medal was Batyr Ahmedov, who actually competed for Turkey under the name Batuhan Gozgec. Although he failed to medal he did reach the quarter finals and claimed two wins in Rio.
Unlike most on this list he didn't hang around in the amateurs and instead debuted in February 2017 with a 3rd round win over Dmitry Lavrinenko. Sadly he was inactive for close to 10 months, returning in December to stop Levan Tsiklauri in 2 rounds. It was obvious from the very start of his professional career that he was a special talent, making Lavreinenko look lost and confused by his foot work and smashing his face in with heavy shots. There was touches of Vasyl Lomachenko in what he was doing in the ring and it was great to watch.
Ahmedov has already stepped up, massively, and in just his third professional bout he faced Ricky Sismundo. The Filipino veteran is a solid gate keeper but Ahmedov made him look very poor, and dropped him twice en route to a dominant decision win, over 10 rounds. That win netted Ahmedov the WBA Inter-Continental Super Lightweight title, and given his weight on the scales there a real chance he could actually move down to Lightweight if he wanted. For the full 10 rounds Ahmedov looked great and like a star in the making. Since then he has also added a 3rd round win over Oscar Barajas.
With a very fan friendly style, a great work rate, proven stamina, spiteful power, great foot work and movement the future is incredibly bright for Ahmedov. He has already shown touches of genius and there is real potential for him to become a multi-weight champion. His team have spoke about fast tracking him, and given the showing against Sismundo there is no reason to doubt them.
Despite not fighting for Uzbekistan, or winning an Olympic medal, at Rio Ahmedov might well be the best Uzbek born boxer to have gone to Brazil.
In part 2 of our look at the rising Uzbek fighters we'll have a look at 7 fighters to keep an eye one. Several have already scored notable wins with two of the fighters already in the world rankings.
Over the last few weeks we've looked at the Light Flyweight world champions, the key contenders and a number of prospects. So to end this feature we'll look at one more thing that Light Flyweight has going for it, the match ups. And if we're being honest this is where the division really comes into it's own as it's set to give us some amazing bouts in the coming weeks and months. These include bouts for all the world titles!
Ryoichi Taguchi (27-2-2, 12) vs Hekkie Budler (31-3, 10)
On May 20th we get the first of 4 mouth watering world title bouts. This bout will see WBA “super”, IBF and Ring Magazine champion Ryoichi Taguchi defending his collection of title as he takes on former WBA Minimumweight champion Hekkie Budler. For Taguchi the bout will be his 8th defense of the WBA title and his first defense of the other two belts as he looks to build on a big win over Milan Melindo last year. As for Budler this will be his second shot at a Light Flyweight title, after a thrilling 12 round split decision loss to Melindo last September. The winner of this bout has a strong claim to be the divisional number #1 but given the depth in the division things aren't really that clear.
We're expecting this to be a really thrilling war as the gangly and hard working Taguchi takes on the quick and gritty determination of Budler. We're expecting something very exciting here, and wouldn't be surprised by the bout being a very thrilling 12 round war.
Ken Shiro (12-0, 6) vs Ganigan Lopez (29-7, 18) II
Less than a week after the Taguchi Vs Budler bout we get another fantastic match up, with WBC champion Ken Shiro defending his title against Ganigan Lopez, the man he took the belt from just over a year ago. Since winning the title Ken Shiro has made a couple of defense, beating Pedro Guevara and Gilberto Pedroza and has physically matured. At the age of 26 the champion is just coming into his prime and has the opportunity to become one of the faces of Japanese boxing. Lopez on the other hand is 36 years and this will be likely be his final big bout, if he loses, so will not be travelling to pick anything but a win and the title. As we saw in the first bout these two are well matched and this should be a compelling match once again.
Notably the winner of this will also have a great claim to be the best in the division. The champion has already scored notable wins over Lopez, Guevara and Pedroza whilst the challenger holds wins over the likes of Mario Rodriguez, Yu Kimura and Jonathan Taconing.
Angel Acosta (17-1, 17) vs Carlos Buitrago (30-3-1, 17)
On June 16th it's the turn of WBO champion Angel Acosta, with the huge punching Puerto Rican defending his title for the first time, and battling against Nicaraguan Carlos Buitrago. The champion won the title last year, when he stopped Juan Alejo, and looked back to his destructive best following a May 2017 loss to Kosei Tanaka. As for Buitrago the 26 year old challenger has lost 3 of his last 6 and will have to look at this bout as potentially his last chance, especially given how badly he was beaten last time out by Hiroto Kyoguchi. For Acosta this bout is a chance to score a win over a well known name, and prove that he really belong to remain in the world title mix whilst Buitrago will almost certainly see this bout as a do or die opportunity.
With Acosta's power this could be over early, especially given that Buitrago was simply broken into submission by Kyoguchi, however the Nicaraguan has always seemed more suited to the Light Flyweight division and may well see the recent success of Cristofer Rosales as something of an inspiration. This isn't likely to be the best bout coming up, but should be very exciting.
Carlos Canizales (20-0-1, 16) vs Bin Lu (1-0, 1)
WBA Regular champion Carlos Canizales will be making his first defense of the title that he won this past March, when he beat Reiya Konishi. Despite being the champion the Venezuelan won't actually be the focus of the bout, instead that will be China's Lu Bin, who looks to create history and become the first man to win a world title in just his second professional bout. The task is a huge one for Bin but if he can come out on top here he will get his name written into the record books and set a record that we don't imagine will be beaten any time soon, if ever. The Chinese fighter is a former amateur stand out, a break out success of the APB and someone willing to chase greatness. Canizales enters as the unbeaten champion, but won't have the pressure associated with being a champion for this bout.
With the winner in line to face Taguchi, by virtue of the WBA title, this bout is not only a major one between a defending champion and total novice, but also indirectly with the winner potentially getting such a big opportunity later. We expect Bin to play safe, use a lot of movement and try to move his way to a win, but Canizales can box and bang and may be a bit too powerful and experienced for Bin's history chasing moment.
As well as the bouts that have been signed there are also some great match ups we could see later this year, as the contenders look to eliminate each other and force themselves into a title fight. Here are some that we really would love the look of, and really hope get made.
Felix Alvarado (32-2, 28) Vs Jonathan Taconing (27-3-1, 22)
A bout between two crude but tough and huge punching fighters would sure deliver fire works, and that's exactly what we'd expect if Nicaragua's Felix Alvarado fought Filipino Jonathan Taconing. Both of these men have fallen short in 2 world title fighters and are chasing a third crack at a title and what a better way to get that fight than by going through another of the division's monster punchers.
Tetsuya Hisada (31-9-2, 19) Vs Reiya Konishi (15-1, 5)
Japanese boxing is well known for it's warriors and exciting back and forth wars. A bout between Tetsuya Hisada and Reiya Konishi would certainly deliver us another war with both fighters loving to let their hands go and have a fight. We wouldn't expect anything too explosive or defensively impressive here, but it would be a toe-to-toe war with both men looking to out work, out land and out punch he other. Both fighters would be looking to impress and with their style's we would get something enthralling.
Milan Melindo (37-3, 13) Vs Randy Petalcorin (28-2-1, 21)
We don't get enough top tier all-Filipino bouts, though we would like to see more and a bout between former IBF champion Milan Melindo and former WBA “interim” champion Randy Petalcorin would be just that. Both fighters will be looking to move towards getting a world title fight later in the year and both will know that a win over the other would put them forward as one of the leading Filipino contenders. Not only that but this would be a highly skilled, fast paced chess match.
Christian Araneta (15-0, 13) Vs Jesse Espinas (18-2, 11) II
Another all Filipino bout that makes a lot of sense is a rematch between Christian Araneta and Jesse Espinas. These two met back in 2015 with Espinas being stopped in 8 rounds of a fantastic bout in Danao City and with a few years since that bout a rematch does make sense. From what we under-stand both men have shown interest in a rematch and it would really push the winner towards a world title fight. High risk, high reward and high potential for an exciting bout.
Edward Heno (12-0-5, 5) Vs Rey Loreto (24-14, 16)
Yet another potentially thrilling all-Filipino bout, really showing how strong the country is at 108lbs, would see OPBF champion Edward Heno take on former world title challenger Rey Loreto. Heno is a rising contender who has made his mark over the last 12 months or so with notable results against Cris Ganoza, Seita Ogido and Merlito Sabillo but really could do with one more testing bout before looking at a world title fight. Loreto on the other hand has been matched hard through his career but has proven his ability some excellent fighters and could see a win over Heno as his chance to move towards a second world title bout, and bounce back from a loss to Knockout CP Freshmart.
If there is a boxing god out there we'll get some of those extra bouts to go alongside the currently scheduled contests as the Light Flyweight division continues to impress and make it's mark.
If you missed the other parts of this series
Part 1 is available here - The Depth at Light Flyweight - Part 1 - The World Champions
Part 2 is available here - The Depth at Light Flyweight - Part 2 - The Contenders
Part 3 is available here - The Depth at Light Flyweight - Part 3 - The Prospects
(Image of Acosta courtesy of www.promocionesmiguelcotto.com)
Having gone through the champions and contenders at Light Flyweight our final look at the fighters comes from the prospects in the division. There isn't a huge amount of “name value” here, but for the long term success of the division these are among the guys that really should have fans keep an eye one. They might be 2 or 3 fights from a world title fight, or might be much further away, but these are some of the fighters who are likely to make a mark on the division in the near future.
If you missed part 1 that's available here - The Depth at Light Flyweight - Part 1 - The World Champions
If you missed past 2 that's available here - The Depth at Light Flyweight - Part 2 - The Contenders
Masataka Taniguchi (10-2, 7)
One of the few prospects of note with a loss against his name is Masataka Taniguchi, a 24 year old fighter from the Watanabe gym. As an amateur Taniguchi was a top domestic talent, the captain of his university and someone marked for professional success. As a professional he has been ultra busy, fighting 12 times in 24 months, and has been matched hard already.
The thing that stands out, on paper, about Taniguchi is his two defeats. They have however been to Reiya Konishi and Tsubasa Koura in title fights at Minimumweight, and both were razor thin majority losses. In both of those defeats Taniguchi showed that he was class, with all the skills needed to go all the way. We'd keep him in mind when talking about the best prospects in boxing, never mind the best at 108lbs.
At the moment it's unclear when he will be back in the ring but we are expecting him to fight in May and he will likely find himself in a title fight before the end of 2018.
Abraham Rodriguez (22-0, 11)
Unbeaten 23 year old Abraham Rodriguez is finely balanced between being a prospect and a contender, and with 22 bouts under his belt he is already racking up the experience to be ready for a title fight. Amazingly, given his age, he has already been a professional for over 5 years and in recent bouts has been stepping up.
Rodriguez's record isn't just impressive in terms of numbers but there is also some substance there, with wins over Saul Jaurez, Mauricio Fuentes and and Jose Alonso Nunez Lopez. Sadly removing those names does leave his record looking thin for a fighter with around 20 wins, but for a 23 year old that's a trio of solid wins and he is looking like a fighter who will push his team to give him more and more tests.
After fitting in 3 fights last year Rodriguez has been quiet thus far in 2018, and really hasn't built on a December win over Saul Juarez. Hopefully he'll be back in action shortly and hopefully will be able to get another good win to begin the year.
Christian Araneta (15-0, 13)
Filipino puncher Christian Araneta is a brutal 23 year old from Cebu who has looked fantastic on the domestic scene and already looks like he could be mixing at a higher level. He has been a professional since September 2013 and has already claimed the PBF and WBO Oriental Light Flyweight titles. Not only has he claimed titles but he has also scored several wins of note, including a very big one over Jessie Espinas.
With his power Araneta looks like the next great puncher in the division, a division that already boasts punchers like Jonathan Taconing, Felix Alvarado, Angel Acosta and Carlos Canizales, and with his youth there is a lot of time to develop the skills to match his power.
Araneta fought earlier this month, stopping Ian Ligutan in 2 rounds, and given the quick nature of that blow out he will likely be back in action in the summer and may well fit 3 more fights in this year, making up for a frustrating 2017 in which he just once.
Rene Mark Cuarto (15-1-1, 9)
Another man with a loss on his record, but can't be over-looked, is 21 year old Pinoy hopeful Rene Mark Cuarto. The youngster suffered an earlier career set back to Jerald Paclar, though has since avenged the loss and has now beaten every fighter he has faced. Not only that but he is riding a 6 fight winning run and has managed to pick up a win on foreign soil, winning in China last year. Just as impressive is his activity, which saw him fight 5 times last year.
Although rising through the ranks Cuarto is still lacking a win of note, even on the domestic scene. Whilst that can certainly be held against him he is, as mentioned, only 21 years old and is likely to get that notable win in the near future. In fact it could well come later this year, if his team can afford to get him a good enough foe.
Given that Cuarto fought 5 times last year we are expecting him to be busy this year. So far he has fought just once, scoring a 3rd round KO over the highly experienced Rodel Tejares back in March, though we expect him back out in the ring in the Summer before potentially getting a notable opponent in the fall, if not the winter.
Vince Paras (13-0, 11)
Another Filipino puncher is Vince Paras, a teenager who is really getting fans excited. Aged just 19 the belief is that Paras is something something, and that belief has been there for a while with his handlers debuting the youngster at just 16 years old! Of course he was matched very easily early on but has been progressed well, and and last year he scored an excellent domestic win over Jimboy Haya for the WBO Asia Pacific Youth Light Flyweight title. That win over Haya showed that Paras could go 10 rounds and he looks like his potential is huge.
Although really promising Paras was dropped last time out, though did recover. He might be lacking in the toughness department though that's one of a number of questions that could make following Para really exciting, though the big question is how long he will remain at 108lbs.
Haya hasn't fought yet this year, though we suspect that he will be back in the ring in the Summer, potential moving towards a national title fight. There is however no need to race him, and he can have time to develop, even if he does mature into a Super Flyweight or Bantamweight.
Christian Bacolod (8-0, 6)
It really does seem like thee is a Filipino take over at 108lbs, and Christian Bacolod is yet another young Filipino rising through the division. At 23 he's older than some of the other's but has already began to come close in terms of achievements. His career only consists of 8 bouts but already features good domestic wins over Marlou Sandoval, Mike Kinaadman and Ryan Makiputin.
Bacolod was relatively inactive last year, fighting only twice, and he's not fought so far this year. At his age he can get away with some inactivity but won't want to waste too much time, especially given how many other good Filipino's are in his weight class. If he only fights twice this year there is a good chance he will get left behind.
In the ring Bacolod is a little rough around the edges but with his age there is time to smooth those edges off and add to what is a promising fighter with naturally heavy hands and some lovely combination punching. It's also worth noting that he has fought in front of the big lights on a ALA card and won't be worried about fighting on TV in the future.
Dave Apolinario (6-0, 4)
A final Filipino of note here is another 19 year old in the form of Dave Apolinario. The “Amazing” southpaw made his debut last June with an opening round TKO and has been managed well so far, with 6 fights in 10 months. Not only has he been busy but he has been stepped up and was last out in an 8 rounder, proving he had stamina to go with his power and skills. With that in mind it may be long until he's fighting in 10 rounders and even title bouts.
Apolinario has looked sensational so far and has shown glimpses of his amateur pedigree, skills that have allowed him and his team to be so aggressive with his development. That is likely to continue, and perhaps even step up a level as he continues to mature and physically develop.
Apolinario has already fought twice this year and will likely continue to be busy through the rest of 2018. We don't see him fighting for titles this year, but he will almost certainly break into the OPBF rankings before the year is over. A title fight at that level will be too much for him, for now, but in the next 24 months or so he should be looking Oriental titles.
Kai Ishizawa (4-0, 4)
Japanese youngster Kai Ishizawa is an over-looked 21 year old puncher who debuted last June but already looks like a sensation in the making. He debuted, like many Japanese prospects, against a Thai novice and looked great on debut. In his second bout he destroyed a domestic opponent before another Thai foe. Those first 3 opponents lasted just 5 rounds with Ishizawa. In his most recent bout Ishizawa stepped up and stopped Tatsuro Nakashima in an outstanding performance to further solidify his standing as one of Japan's most over-looked prospects.
Having already shown good power, a good boxing brain and a stiff hard jab Ishizawa is already showing the tools needed to go a very long way. His team have matched him hard already, with two good domestic opponents already on his record, and a good 42 fight amateur career behind him. There work to be done, but he really does look like he could be a diamond in the rough.
Ishizawa is expected to return later in the year in a Japanese Youth title fight. That will be a chance for him to prove himself, claim a title and begin to show he belongs to be fighting at title level. If he wins that belt we expect to see him bang on the door of a Japanese ranking soon afterwards.
Lu Bin (1-0, 1)
The division's wild card in some ways is Chinese sensation Lu Bin. The 23 year old from Jinan is an amateur stand out, who like very few other fighters seems to be a fighter who has made his professional debut, but is also fighting as an amateur. His amateur career seems to be standing in the way of his professional development, which is a huge shame as Bin has the ability to become the star that Chinese boxing want Zou Shiming to be. The novice professional is a true talent with speed, power, skills, defense and a really high ring IQ. Not only that but he already has a world ranking, a regional title and the skills to make an immediate impact on the professional scene.
If Bin can commit to being a professional fighter he can almost choose his rate of progress. He has the tools to be something very special, but a question can be asked of his desire and hunger.
Bin recently won the Chinese National Amateur crown, no big surprise given his pedigree, but the decision to chase professional glory doesn't seem like one he's in a rush to make. His debut professional bout looks like it's going to be an anomaly for now, and it could be a while until he's unleashed on the professional ranks again. Sadly.
(Image courtesy of Watanabe Boxing Gym, Boxrec and Boxmob.jp)
The argument over which division in boxing is the best is an interesting one and is often one where there is a number of divisions of real consideration. For me however one division currently stands out above all the others due to a combination of talent, depth of competition and the match ups we've been getting in recent times, along with the bout scheduled to take place in coming months.
The division is the Light Flyweight division, which is scarily deep right now, has a brilliant mixture of talent and styles and is delivering top quality bouts on a regular basis. It also has one of the sports few unified champions and is a division with so many exciting contenders that it's almost inevitable that some top fighters will miss out on big opportunities.
For part 2 of this 4 part series we'll begin by looking at the division's most notable contenders, ranging from veterans and former champions to rising hopefuls looking to get a chance at breaking through. The depth here really is incredible and although we've made a solid effort to include a big number of contenders, we know we've missed some, the problem is the division really is too deep for it's own good.
For those who missed part 1 that's available here - The Depth at Light Flyweight - Part 1 - The World Champions
Ganigan Lopez (29-7, 18) – Former WBC champion
Mexican veteran Ganigan Lopez is the division's stalwart. Aged 36 he is certainly an old fighter for the weight class, but he lives up to his moniker of “El Maravilla” and is one of the most rounded fighters in the division. He's a 15 year veteran of the sport who has really improved with age and taken on a who's who whilst fighting all over the world.
Among the fighters Lopez has faced include Juan Palacios, Adrian Hernandez, Denver Cuello, Luis Ceja, Mario Rodriguez, Pedro Guevara, Yu Kimura, Jonathan Taconing and Ken Shiro. Whilst he has come up short against some of those, including a loss to Ken Shiro last year, he is still very much a leading contender who has not only got experience and ring craft but under-rated power and stamina and he really is a fighter who controls the ring like very few men in the division.
Sadly his single world title reign was a short one, with his title win coming in March 2016, his sole successful defense in July of that year before losing the title the following May to Ken Shiro. With a rematch against Ken Shiro due in May it could be do or die for Lopez who is getting on in year is probably looking at his last chance to make a big mark on the sport before retirement. A win in the rematch Ken Shiro would however open some big doors for the veteran.
Pedro Guevara (30-3-1, 17) – Former WBC Champion
Another former WBC champion who remains as a contender is Pedro Guevara, who just 28 but already a 10 year veteran of the sport. Guevara is a brilliantly intelligent boxer who is incredibly smart both in and out of the ring. It's his brain which has helped him make the most of his talent, and he really does have a lot of natural boxing ability as well as a very experienced team around him. Added to that is his experience, which includes fights around the likes of Mario Rodriguez, John Riel Casimero, Raul Garcia, Akira Yaegashi, Yu Kimura, Oswaldo Novoa and Ken Shiro.
Guevara's most notable win was his 2014 win over Akira Yaegashi for the WBC title, which he defended against Richard Claveras and Ganigan Lopez, before losing in a upset to Yu Kimura 11 months after winning the belt. Since then he has gone 4-1, with the loss being to Ken Shiro. The worrying thing for Guevara is that his last 7 bouts have gone to the score cards, and there are question marks about his power. Although he does have the skills and ring craft to not need to rely on paper, the lack of it at world level is somewhat a problem for him and could prevent him from reclaiming a world title.
Interestingly, at the time of writing, Guevara is pencilled in to fight his next bout on May 5th against Roman Gonzalez at Super Flyweight. If that bout does take place then it's very unlikely we'll see Guevara back at 108lbs. However until we see what Guevara's future holds he is still widely regarded as a leading contender at Light Flyweight.
Milan Melindo (37-3, 13) – Former IBF Champion
The division's most recently deposed world champion is technically excellent Filipino boxer Milan Melindo, who lost the IBF title in December 2017 to Ryoichi Taguchi. The Filipino made his debut way back in September 2005 and has racked 40 fights into his career already, yet is only 30 years old. Sadly though for Melindo his future is probably a little bit limited as he's a very old 30 with 300 professional rounds already under his belt and some very draining fights, including recent wars with Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr, Hekkie Budler amd Taguchi.
Melindo, like the aforementioned Guevara, is a thinking man's boxer. His understanding of range, tempo and timing are brilliant. At his best Melindo is razor sharp, a perfect punch picker and has the ability to throw some of the best combinations in the division. Sadly, like with many smart fighters, he can be found to be lazy and can struggle when the pace moves up a gear and he has also shown issues with cuts in recent bouts, suffering bad cuts against Fahlan and Budler.
At the moment it's unclear when Melindo will be back in action but it's hard to imagine him being out for too. It's likely going to be a case that he will be given time to totally heal up after some very hard bouts, then look to retain later in the year.
Hekkie Budler (31-3, 10) – Former WBA Minimumweight Champion
One other former world champion in the Light Flyweight title mix is South African speedster Hekkie Budler, who claimed his world title at Minimumweight where he had a pretty solid run as the WBA champion. His wins at the lower weight include victories over Nkosinathi Joyi, Pigmy Kokietgym, Xiong Zhao Zhong, Jesus Silvestre and Simphiwe Khonco. His most notable bout at 108lbs was a razor thin less last year to Melindo for the IBF title and due to the competitive nature of that bout he's stayed well and truly in the mix.
Budler is a gutsy warrior who lacks power but has a great engine, throws a lot of punches and is quick. On paper he's likely to have a hard time with almost anyone in the top 10, but they are also going to have a hard time with him. His determination is really impressive and his output is amazing, even at the lower weights. Sadly he does look like he can be out powered, and he was dropped in the final round by Melindo.
Budler will return to the ring on May 20th to take on Taguchi in a bout for the IBF, WBA and Ring magazine titles. The bout comes just 2 days after his 30th birthday and although he does still have quite a bit left he has been in some wars and will likely know that his shots at the top are numbered, with the Taguchi bout likely to be one of his last.
Edward Heno (12-0-5, 5) – OPBF Champion
One of the more notable rising Filipino's in the division is OPBF champion Edward Heno, an unbeaten fighter who has began to shoot up the rankings and is on the fringes of getting a world title fight. Unlike many on this list he isn't a former champion but already holds a number of notable wins, including stoppages against Cris Ganoza and Seita Ogido as well as a decision over Merlito Sabillo. Whilst those wins don't mean a massive amount on the world stage they are solid wins for a fighter who just moved from a prospect to a contender.
Heno's record is littered with draws and close decisions but 3 of those draws came in his first 3 bouts and he is certainly improving with every fight, as he showed by stopping two of the fighters who have held him to a draw. He is a powerful fighter who is building on his strengths and is becoming a real threat in the division.
Heno is probably 12-18 months away from being truly ready for a world title fight, but all 4 world title bodies rank him in the top 15 and he could be a voluntary defense for any of the champions later in the year. With his youth, power and development he could well be a real nightmare for any of the top handful of fighters and should be viewed as one to watch, even if he does lack the name value of some of the former champions.
Tetsuya Hisada (30-9-2, 19) – Japanese Champions
Another lower level champion looking to get a world title shot this year is Japanese national champion Tetsuya Hisada, who at the age of 33 really doesn't have the time to waste if he intends to make the next step up in class. It's worth noting that he hasn't got a pretty looking record, but he is better than those numbers suggest, and is in great form, having remained unbeaten in almost 3 years. His current 9 fight winning run has seen him go 9-0 (8) and score really good domestic wins over the likes of Shun Kosaka, Kenichi Horikawa, Atsushi Kakutani and Takeri Kamikubo.
Hisada, like many on this list, has got his next bout organised already, an April 14th title defense against fellow Japanese veteran Koji Itagaki, and if he comes through that he, and his team, do seem likely to chase a world title fight and ditch the Japanese title. It's worth noting he is in the top 10 with all 4 world title bodies and seems open to facing any of the world champions.
In the ring Hisada is a real battler. He throws a lot of shots, seems to get stronger as bouts go on and although not a monster puncher he's a heavy enough handed fighter to wear opponents down from sheer accumulation. At 33 his ability to keep coming in the later rounds might begin to wane, but for now he's a fighter full of confidence and with a serious point to prove, especially given that Ken Shiro gave up the Japanese title to fight for the WBC belt, just weeks before a scheduled 2017 bout with Hisada. That along gives Hisada a clear hunger to face the current WBC king.
Felix Alvarado (32-2, 28)
The Light Flyweight division has some massive puncher, in fact Angel Acosta and Carlos Canizales are world champions mostly due to their incredible punching power. They however probably don't have the heaviest hands in the division, instead that honour is probably with Nicaraguan terror Felix Alvarado, who in all honesty is the division's real boogey man. The 29 year old from Managua has 14-0 (13) since suffering back to back defeats to Kaztuo Ioka and Juan Carlos Reveco and he is a nightmare to fight.
Although Alvarado has lost his two biggest bouts he has remained a contender with notable wins over fringe contenders like Luis de la Rosa, Larluis Diaz, Jose Antonio Jimenez and most impressive Fahlan Sakreerin Jr. Not only is he a big puncher but he is an ultra aggressive fighter who appears to take a really hard shot very well, and is always swarming opponents looking to take them out as early as possible, with 15 opening round T/KO's already.
Alvarado's next bout isn't set yet, but he's in line for an IBF title fight, having scored his win over Fahlan in eliminator for the IBF title, and is looking like a fighter who wants to stay busy rather than just waiting for his shot. In 2017 he fought 6 times, and he already has two bouts under his belt this year. With that in mind he may well fight in the coming weeks and continue to tick over until getting his third world title shot.
Jonathan Taconing (27-3-1, 22)
Another of the division's tough guys with a serious punch is the limited, and some what crude, but wonderfully hard hitting Filipino Jonathan Taconing, who is also a 2-time world title challenger. The 31 year old “Lightning” debuted back in 2007 and looked like a savage puncher straight away, stopping his first 3 foes in a combined 4 rounds. A couple of set backs on the domestic scene slowed his ascent but he would go on to climb the rankings quite quickly and get a shot in 2012 against Kompayak Porpramook, losing a very controversial technical decision in Thailand. That loss put Taconing on the map but made him a fighter to avoid.
A4 year unbeaten run would follow for Taconing, who would go on to claim the OPBF title and score notable wins over Vergilio Silvano and Ramon Garcia Hirales before he would lose his second shot, a clear defeat to Ganigan Lopez in 2016. Since that defeat Taconing has gone 5-0 (4). He;s not as naturally talented as Alvarado, and doesn't quite set up his shots as well, but is hard hitting and teak tough and not many fighters will engage him in toe-to-toe war.
Taconing last fought back in March, in a domestic bout against Robert Onggocan, in what looks to have been a surprisingly competitive bout. It's worth noting, like many on this list, he is ranked by all 4 world title bodies, with 3 of the 4 having him in the top 5, and it's clear that he is on the verges of another world title fight. That fight might come this year, though we doubt any of the champions will be in a rush to face him.
Rey Loreto (24-14, 16)
Yet another puncher in the division is Rey Loreto, another of the talented Filipino fighters plying their trade at Light Flyweight, though also capable of fighting at Minimumweight. Loreto has the most messed up record of any contender in the division, if not the sport right now, but is a true nightmare of a fighter to face. Aged 27 Loreto is in his prime, but is already a 10 year veteran and and a fighter who has developed from a 0-4 teenager to being danger man and a true contender.
Loreto's career turned around in 2013, when he beat Pornsawan Porpramook in Thailand, and then had a huge show in the arm the following year when he scored a monster upset against Nkosinathi Joyi, something he repeated the following year. Sadly for Loreto he saw a 7 fight unbeaten run come to an end last year, losing to Knockout CP Freshmart in a Minimumweight title bout, but that set back may well have served as a blessing in disguise and a chance for Loreto to realise that his best weight is Light Flyweight.
Having fought in February Lerot may not fight again for a while, but is world ranked by the WBC, at Light Flyweight, and the WBA, at Minimumweight, and is certainly a fighter who has time on his side to rebuild and work on getting a second world title fight. It's unlikely he'll get a shot thus year, but 2019, or 2020, could well be his year.
Randy Petalcorin (28-2-1, 21) – Former WBA “interim” Champion
Another Filipino in and around the world title scene is former WBA “interim” champion Randy Petalcorin, who once looked like he was right in the mix before his career stalled, massively. Back in 2014 Petalcorin claimed the interim crown and defended it once, blitzing Ma Yi Min in Beijing. Sadly though he has gone 5-1 since impressive display, over 4 years ago. Worse than the inactivity is the quality he has been fighting, and from being on the edge of a world title fight he has found himself fighting regional journeymen.
As a fighter Petalcorin is a natural talent. He's a wonderfully crisp boxer-puncher and despite having been a professional for 9 years he is still only 26 and whilst it does feel like he is wasting his time at the moment he does have a lot of youth on his side. Hopefully that won't give him and excuse to waste more time, as he really is such a pure joy to watch.
Whilst it's easy to look at Petalcorin's record and see two losses one of those was a very early career defeat to future world champion Marlon Tapales whilst the other was a hotly disputed split decision loss to Omari Kimweri 2 years ago. That loss to Kimweri has been followed by 5 straight wins, and it's now time Petalcorin showed his skills are against more testing opponents than he's been up against in recent times.
Tibo Monabesa (17-0-2, 8)
Indonesian boxing has lacked a star since the retirement of Chris John though they may be on the verge of having a new one thanks to the talented Tibo Monabesa. The 27 year old southpaw has been a professional for a little under 6 years but has already progressed far beyond domestic level and is the current WBC International Silver champion, having already notched two defenses of the belt and become a bit of hit at home.
To date his best wins are only over regional opponents, but still they have come against decent fighters, such as Rene Patilano and Lester Abutan. Those wins, along with his title, have helped him creep into the world rankings without getting much international fan fare. At the time of writing he is in the top 15 with the WBA, WBO and WBC and although not quite ready for a world champion he's certainly not far off a title fight.
With one fight already under his belt in 2018 we're expecting to see a busy and eventful year for the man from Jakarta and we suspect he'll fight progressively better opponents through to the end of the year as he and his team prepare for a world title fight, possible as early as 2019. Sadly though for his growing local fanbase it's unlikely he and his team will manage to secure home advantage and he will likely be on the road when a world title fight is offered to him.
Reiya Konishi (15-1, 5) Former Japanese Minimumweight Champion
Former Japanese Minimumweight champion Reiya Konishi is another in the long line of young Japanese fighters making a mark in the lower weight classes. The 24 year old from Kobe made his mark on the domestic scene by winning the Rookie of the Year in 2014 before claiming the Japanese title in 2017. As the Japanese Minimumweight champion Konishi impressed with wins against Shin Ono and Kenta Matsui before moving up in weight and vacating the title. Sadly for Konishi he lost earlier this year, coming up short to Carlos Canizales.
Despite losing to Canizales, in a bout for the WBA “regular” title, we were impressed by Konishi who gritted his teeth after being knocked down early on and really gave Canizales problems with his fantastic work rate and desire. It may have been a loss but it was a “good loss” in many ways and showed that he really does belong in the title mix going forward.
Konishi's loss to Canizales was less than a month ago so it's unlikely he'll be racing back into the ring, but he will likely be back in last summer as he looks to bounce back and rebuild. That could well see him fighting another contender, or drop down to domestic level and really get used to the weight. At 24 he really has time on his side and there is no need to rush him until he's ready, especially given that his style is one that could burn him out if he has too many wars too soon together.
As well as the 12 fighters mentioned above other notable contenders include:
Palangpol CP Freshmart (14-2, 8) - Thai fighter Palangpol CP Freshmart is best known for challenging Kosei Tanaka in 2017 and dropping the then WBO champion before being stopped himself in round 9. It's unclear when Palangpol will return, but he is a genuine threat to the division
Jesse Espinas (18-2, 11) - Jesse Espinas is an in-form Filipino who is climbing up the rankings thanks to a 7 fight winning streak, which included a big upset win on the road over the then unbeaten Paipharob Kokietgym in 2016
Ryuji Hara (23-2, 14)-Japanese speedster Ryuji Hara has been linked to facing WBO champion Angel Acosta and despite his two stoppage losses, to Kosei Tanaka and Katsunari Takayama, the Ohashi fighter is a talent, and could ask serious questions of the Puerto Rican puncher if that bout manages to take place.
(Images courtesy of boxrec and boxmob.jp)
The argument over which division in boxing is the best is an interesting one and is often one where there is a number of divisions of real consideration. For me however one division currently stands out above all the others due to a combination of talent, depth of competition and the match ups we've been getting in recent times, along with the bout scheduled to take place in coming months.
The division is the Light Flyweight division, which is scarily deep right now, has a brilliant mixture of talent and styles and is delivering top quality bouts on a regular basis. It also has one of the sports few unified champions and is a division with so many exciting contenders that it's almost inevitable that some top fighters will miss out on big opportunities.
For part 1 of this 4 part series we'll begin by looking at the division's word champions. The second part will look at the contenders, part 3 will look at the divisions top prospects and part 4 will be a brief look at some of the match ups coming up in the division over the coming weeks, and there are several big bouts coming up as the divisions continues to deliver.
Ryoichi Taguchi (27-2-2, 12) - WBA “Super”, IBF and Ring Magazine Champion
The 31 year old from the Watanabe Gym made his debut back in 2006, as a 19 year old and after an inauspicious start to his career, fighting in 4 rounders he would go on to claim the 2007 Rookie of the Year. A loss in 2009 slowed his rise but he would continue to develop and in 2012 he got his first title fight, fighting to a draw with Masayuki Kuroda in a bout for the Japanese national title. After Kuroda vacated the title Taguchi would claim the vacant Japanaese belt, by over-coming Yuki Chinenin 2013. Sadly for Taguchi his national title reign was a short one, lasting less than 5 months, as he came up against the sensational Naoya Inoue and was dethroned in his first defense, losing a decision to the "Monster" and becoming the first fighter to last the distance with the rising Ohashi fight.
The set back to Inoue was a big one but Taguchi bounced back and has subsequently gone 9-0-1 (4). He claimed the WBA title in late 2014 by defeating Alberto Rossel and after several defenses he went on to add the IBF and Ring titles last year, defeating Milan Melindo in an excellent bout to end 2017 and unify three world title. His current 10 fight unbeaten run has seen him defeat not only Rossel and Melindo but also Ryo Miyazaki, Kwanthai Sithmorseng and Robert Barrera, and he has also fought to a draw with big punching Carlos Canizlaes.
Tough with a great engine, the ability to adapt and freakish size for a Light Flyweight Taguchi is going to be a tough man to dethrone and is already lined up for his next defense, on May 20th against former WBA Minimumweight champion Hekkie Budler. That bout is an IBF mandatory, and Taguchi is likely to be be returning in September and December as he looks to finish 2018 with 10 defenses of some version of the WBA belt.
Ken Shiro (12-0, 6) – WBC champion
Aged 26 Ken Shiro is significantly younger than Taguchi, but is already an accomplished fighter on the professional scene, and that's despite the fact he's been a professional for less than 4 years. In what has been a really short career he has already claimed the WBC Youth, Japanese, OPBF and WBC world titles. He was earmarked for success from his debut and aggressively fast tracked, winning a title within 3 years of his debut. His record already features wins over the likes of Pedro Guevara, Ganigan Lopez, Gilberto Pedroza and Kenichi Horikawa and clearly shows the belief that his team, headed by his father, have in him.
Ken Shiro a former amateur stand out on the Japanese doemstic scene and is blessed with speed, a high boxing IQ and the youthfulness to develop his skills further. Those traits are why Ken Shiro looks like he will become one of the key faces of Japanese boxing over the next few years, along with the likes of Daigo Higa and Kosei Tanaka. Although unfortunate to have his first two world title fights, both thrillers, shown on delay in Japan he did have his opportunity to shine on live TV last time out. And he took that chance as he impressed by showing off his boxing, power, skills, speed and personality, which will certainly have won over fans who hadn't seen him before.
Although more of a pure boxer than many in the division he really does have the ability to box, brawl or fight and and is very much a chameleon in the ring.
Ken Shiro will make his next defense of the WBC title on May 25th against former champion Ganigan Lopez, the man that he originally beat for he belt last May. A win there, in impressive fashion, could well secure Ken Shiro's place as one of Fuji TV's top fighters, and could see them building shows around him in the future.
Angel Acosta (17-1, 17) – WBO champion
Puerto Rican puncher Angel Acosta is one of the divisions many big punchers and the 27 year old not only has power but also heart, skills, under-rated speed, a very good amateur back ground and stamina. He blew out his first 15 opponents in just 41 rounds, but has since gone 32 rounds in his last 3 bouts, proving his power carries late in to bouts, with 10th round stoppages against Japhet Uutoni and Juan Alejo. His only loss has also come in his last 3 bouts, suffering a decision loss to Kosei Tanaka last May, though he has since bounced back with the win over Alejo, which came in December 2017.
At the moment Acosta is one of two Puerto Rican world champions, along with Alberto Machado, and will likely have his team try to build him as one of the new faces of Puerto Rican boxing. He lacks the star power of a Tito Trinidad, Miguel Cotto or even a Juanma Lopez but like those 3 he is a naturally heavy handed fighter and will certainly thrill fans, especially given he has such brutal power at such a low weight
Acosta was pencilled in to fight Ryuji Hara earlier this year but Hara was injured in the build up, a potential bout with Merlito Sabillo also fell through for Acosta but he is now set to defend his title on June 16th. His opponent for that bout isn't yet set, though Hara is said to be the front runner. That will be his first defense as he looks to begin to establish his reign as a world champion and build on his repuation as one of the divisions stars. It's worth noting he has also been linked to potential unification bouts with both both Taguchi and Ken Shiro, and both of those bouts would be great
Carlos Canizales (20-0-1, 16) – WBA “regular” champion
The most recent man to pick up a “world” title is 25 year old Venezuelan punch Carlos Canizales, who claimed his title this past March with a close decision win over the previously unbeaten Reiya Konishi. That win saw Canizales claim a “world” title in his second attempt, having previously been held to a draw by Ryoichi Taguchi in 2016. Although a powerful puncher Canizales has shown an ability to box and move, brawl and punch. Though he has got question marks about his own durability and about his stamina, as he did appear to slow down massively against Konishi.
Canizales's best win was the one over Konishi, but he does hold one other win of note, a victory over Robert Barerra. Sadly Canizales is some way from really proving himself as a top tier fighter, but his bouts against Konishi and Taguchi proved that he was much, much better than we'd think given his competition. Sadly though he does look to be a step behind in terms of accomplishment compared to the others. Saying that however with the depth in the division Canizales has the opportunity to prove that he is world class and establish himself as a top fighter, much like the other champions.
Having only won his title in March it's unclear when Canizales will return to defend it. He may be in the queue to face Taguchi, in a rematch of their 2016 draw, or may look to have some lower tier defenses to try and help with his development. Given how the rankings currently look their will be a lot of options of Canizales and he has a great chance to establish his name as a top fighter, rather than just a secondary title holder.
(Images courtesy of Watanabe Gym, Boxmob and promociones Miguel Cotto)
This past Saturday we saw the really surprising news break of a rematch between Koki Kameda (33-2, 18) and Pongsaklek Wonjongkam (90-5-2, 47), with the bout scheduled to take place on May 5th. The fight seemed to be very much out of left field, despite Kameda talking about a ring return since the very start of this year, in what was said to be planned as a one off for the former 3-weight world champion.
Over the last 24 hours however things have been revealed in regards to both fighters, explaining that both have a motivation to take this fight, and that's the need for money.
For those unaware these two men fought back in March 2010, with Wonjongkam travelling to Japan and dethroning Kameda of the WBC Flyweight title, reclaiming a title that the Thai had held from 2001 to 2007. The Thai icon would hold the title, in his second reign, from the win over Kameda to 2012, when he was upset by Sonny Boy Jaro. He would goon to fight 8 times after that, going 7-1 (4) with a loss to Rey Megrino the only black mark on his record.
When he retired in 2013 Wonjongkam had fought 97 times in career that had began in 1994, at the age of 17. He had gone 22-2-2 (8) in world title fights and had scored notable wins against Malcolm Tunacao, Luis Alberto Lazarte, Daisuke Naito (twice), Gilberto Keb Baas, Tomonobu Shimizu, Julio Cesar Miranda, Koki Kameda, Suriyan Sor Rungvisai and Edgar Sosa.
Sadly reports in the Thai press suggest that Pongsaklek was having money problems as far back as 2013, with women and gambling. That lead some fans to give the former fighter some sympathy, but other in Thailand had little to give, stating his lack of discipline and blaming him for not investing wisely.
Kameda's last fight came in 2015, against Kohei Kono in the USA, and despite losing that 3 weight former world champion didn't look like a man who was shot. Instead he was just up against a stylistic nightmare in Kono, who was too busy, too tough and too strong for the more naturally gifted Kameda..
Given the financial issues both men have found themselves in it could be that this supposed one off bout, will not be a one off for either men. We have seen fighters return to the ring in later life in Thailand, with a recent Muay Thai bout between 45 year old Samson Dutch Boy Gym and 48 year old Veeraphol Sahaprom, and seeing Pongsaklek return again wouldn't be a surprise. For Kameda, who is 31, this bout may well kick start a fully fledged comeback going forward, if he financially needs to. He's a trainer himself at Kyoei but will be well aware that having one last run as an active fighter will be better financially than just training the likes of his brother Tomoki Kameda.
In the last few years we've seen more and more bouts between Asian fighters and European fighters. Unfortunately it hasn't often been the best from the two continents colliding, but it has been a start with two continental forces of world boxing clashing and opening the doors for inter-continental growth between the scenes which have often been kept away from each other.
Sadly we have typically seen a lot of mismatches. These have included bouts like Naoya Inoue's recent defence against Yoan Boyeaux, Daigo Higa against Thomas Masson, Jerwin Ancajas against Michael Conlan, Scott Quigg against Hidenori Otake and Kal Yafai against Suguru Muranaka. Bouts where the favourite wasn't really given too much of a challenge by the under-dog.
Sure we have seen some interesting bouts, such as the two bouts between Ryota Murata and Hassan N'Dam and, on paper, the Lee Haskins Vs Ryosuke Iwasa bout, but they haven't been as regular as they really should be. And that's not due to a lack of possible match ups. In fact right now there is a real host of fantastic fights that could be made at the world level between the two continents. Here we'll look at some of those possible bouts.
At the moment there is two Flyweight bouts that have some talk behind them, and they would both be very interesting.
One of those is a proposed WBC title bout between destructive world champion Daigo Higa (14-0, 14) and unbeaten Welshman Andrew Selby (10-0, 5). This bout was spoken about during 2017, though Selby seemed to suggest that he was against travelling to Japan where Higa is now a break out star and backed by the financially solid Fuji TV. The bout would put the most destructive fighter at Flyweight against one of the most decorated European amateurs, and would be a real clash of styles between ultra-aggressive champion and silky outside fighting challenger.
With a high WBC ranking it does look like this would be the shortest route to a world title for Selby, but he would be up against arguably the best Flyweight on the planet, and would almost certainly have to travel.
The other bout, and one that has had a public call out of sorts, is a WBO title fight between Sho Kimura (16-1-2, 9) and 2-time Olympic bronze medal winner Paddy Barnes (5-0, 2). Interestingly if this bout was made it would see Kimura taking on a third Olympian, following stoppage wins over Zou Shiming and Toshiyuki Igarashi, and a win could see him continue what has been a really surprising run of results. Barnes had targeted former amateur rival Zou Shiming earlier in his career, but may now see the man who stopped his amateur nemesis as the man to fight.
Given that Barnes is 31 later this year he may not want to wait around long for a fight at world level and Kimura hasn't been a fighter making big purses so far. A large offer could get Kimura over to Ireland for the fight, though he has got other options, including a domestic showdown with 2-weight world champion Kosei Tanaka and may look to delay a showdown with Barnes for now.
In 2017 there was several obvious bouts to make at 115lbs. That's because we have a world champion from Europe and several from Asia. But for whatever reason we never saw them face off. Thankfully however not all the doors are shut here, despite the fact Naoya Inoue is leaving the division rather than continue to get frustrated at the other top fighters.
Arguably the most even of the match ups we could get here would be an IBF/WBA unification bout, with Jerwin Ancajas (28-1-1, 19) defending the IBF title against WBA champion Kal Yafai (23-0, 14). Both men seemed to turn down Inoue, and it'd be very hard to favour either man against WBC champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (44-4-1, 40), but against each other they should make for a compelling contest. The bout shouldn't be too tricky to make, with both fighters looking to make a huge name for themselves this coming year. The two teams, Top Rank and Matchroom, have worked together in the past and both could see this as an opportunity to get their guy in a position to make big money.
Sadly lower weight unification bouts have long been a troublesome issue. Both fighters will want to be financially compensated for taking on another top rival, and with the talent in the division it may make more sense to milk a title for a little while longer. A bout between the two is one that we'd love, and we suspect most fans would love to see, but it may be that the two men simply have other plans and too many other options.
Having mentioned Naoya Inoue (15-0, 13) a few times above it only makes sense to mention him here, seeing that he has stated his intent is to fight at Bantamweight in 2018. The “Monster” has been linked to pretty much every notable Bantamweight since mid-December.
Two of these options have some British link. One of those is WBO champion Zolani Tete (26-3, 21), who is South African but is promoted out of the UK and has began to build a cult status in the country. The bout has been spoken about by both teams and Inoue has stated he's willing to travel to the UK for the bout, showing his hunger for a big contest and a third divisional world title. The other British option would be a bout with the talented Northern Irishman Ryan Burnett (18-0, 9), the current WBA and IBF unified champion.
A bout with Tete seems the most likely given that the two teams are talking about the contest. However Inoue could get a unified title by beating Burnett, and get some revenge for the struggles he had at Super Flyweight. The one big spanner in the work for the Burnett bout may be Burnett's promoter Eddie Hearn, who seemed happy to keep Kal Yafai away from Inoue and would likely want to do the same for Burnett, unless life changing money was on offer for his man. Given that financial issue we're much more likely to see the Tete bout than the Burnett one.
Inoue isn't the only fighter moving up in 2018, another is Englishman Jamie McDonnell (29-2-1, 13). The former Bantamweight champion scored notable wins over Tomoki Kameda at Bantamweight and is now moving up to Super Bantamweight, which is stacked with Asian fighters. The amount of interesting match ups McDonnell could have at 122lbs really is huge, and he could have fights with someone like IBF champion Ryosuke Iwasa (24-2, 16) or the skilled and sharp shooting Shingo Wake (23-5-2, 15).
For us though the bout that has the most interest here would be a bout between McDonnell and Filipino warrior Marlon Tapales (30-2, 13). The bout may not have the big name quality of others, but stylistically this would be a lot of fun. Both men can let their hands go, both have pretty good styles and when put under pressure McDonnell can be involved in some real thrillers, as his first bout against Liborio Solis was. Although not a star Tapales is a tough, come forward fighter and could well bring the best out of McDonnell in a back and forth war, with the winner well deserving of a world title fight, and a chance to become a 2-weight world champion.
Unification bouts feel natural for us fans, and there are few more enticing than a Middleweight clash between IBF/WBC/WBA Middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin (37-0-1, 33) and WBO counterpart Billy Joe Saunders (26-0, 12). The bout would leave us with an undisputed champion at 160lbs and would be a brilliant match up between two unbeaten men with very different styles.
On one hand Kazakh fighter Golovkin is one of the sports purest punchers, with thudding power, a chin of rock and a very high intensity pressure style. One the other hand Saunders is a southpaw boxer-mover who moves like a much smaller man, and at his best is one of the purest boxers in and around the division. The questions about the contest would be whether or not Golovkin could cut the ring off and break down Saunders, or whether the fleet footed Englishman could avoid the Kazakh for 12 rounds.
On a much lesser level we'd also love to see a clash between Irishman Jason Quigley (13-0, 10) and Japanese champion Hikaru Nishida (17-8-1, 8). On paper this bout wouldn't get much attention in the build up but the action in the ring would be sensational, as would a bout between Nishida and Gary O'Sullivan (27-2, 19). If either of the Irish fighters are looking for someone with a fan friendly style they could do a lot worse than taking on the aggressive Nishida in a sure fire barn burner.
(Images courtesy of boxmob.jp and boxrec.com)
We really enjoyed boxing last year, in fact since we started this site 2017 has probably been the most enjoyable year with a number of huge bouts taking place, and even a few unifications as the sport seemed to begin to take it's self seriously. There were some huge frustrations, but there was a lot more positive than negatives. Coming in to 2018 however there are some things that we'd love to see, and here are what we'd like to see in the 3 smallest divisions in the sport.
Minimumweight Championship Tournament
The Minimumweight division is typically one that is given hate by fans but right now it's a really interesting one with 4 champions who can easily face off. So what we'd love is a 4 man tournament between those 4 champions.
Ideally the bracket would be:
Wanheng Menayothin (49-0, 17) Vs Hiroto Kyoguchi (9-0, 7)
Knockout CP Freshmart (16-0, 7) Vs Ryuya Yamanaka (15-2, 4)
With the bouts taking place in mid 2018, with the champions getting any mandatory assignments out of the way earlier in the year, and the winners meeting in December. It's unlikely we'll see this, but the champions aren't tied to rival networks or promoters who won't work together so this is a possible set up and would help put the little guys in a high profile tournament that could help the winner make a real name for themselves.
Light Flyweight Chaos!
Over the last year or so the Light Flyweight division has become one of the most interesting with so many good fighters in it. Whilst a tournament here would be fun there are promotional and television issues preventing some bouts, such as a unification between Ryoichi Taguchi and Ken Shiro. Thankfully though there is more than enough top fighters to go around, and a number of bouts are already being spoken about.
The ones already thought to be target for the first half of the year will see WBC champion Ken Shiro (12-0, 6) rematch former WBC champion Ganigan Lopez (28-7, 17), see IBF/WBA unified champion Ryoichi Taguchi (27-2-2, 12) battle against Hekkie Budler (31-3, 10) and WBO champion Angel Acosta (17-1, 17) defending his title against Ryuji Hara (23-2, 14).
That leaves fighters like Pedro Guevara (30-3-1, 17), Milan Melindo (37-3, 13), Felix Alvarado (30-2, 26), Tetsuya Hisada (30-9-2, 19), Jonathan Taconing (26-3-1, 22), Carlos Canizales (19-0-1, 16), and Randy Petalcorin (28-2-1, 21) on the all looking for shots at titles. We could pretty much stick any of those together and get something worth watching, so hopefully we get some of those matches at the division starts to take off in what could be a defining year for the 108lb division.
The re-rise of the Flies
A few years ago the Flyweight division was the best in the sport, by quite some margin. Sadly though it's now a fragmented division,and with the retirement of Kazuto Ioka it's a division that really lacks in terms of both stars and long term champions. Between the 3 current world champions they have a combined 2 defenses and with many top fighters being in their mid 30's. The one real shining light in the division right now is the ultra aggressive Daigo Higa (14-0, 14), at 22 years old.
Thankfully the division is full of prospects in their early 20's and even teens. These include 19 year old fighters Junto Nakatani (13-0, 10) and Stamp Kiatniwat (19-1, 7), the 21 year old Ronnie Baldonado (10-0-1,7) and 22 year old Ryota Yamauchi (2-0, 2). Whilst 2018 probably won't be their year to reach the top it would be nice to see those guys racing into the rankings and moving towards bigger fights at the end of the year.
What's also worth noting at the division is that 22 year old Kosei Tanaka (10-0, 6) is now in the division and chasing a third world title. He works with the same network that televised WBO champion Sho Kimura (16-1-2, 9) in his last bout, and a contest between the two would seem an easy one to make and be a lot of fun.
So 2018 is here and now, every fight from 2017 is done. What a perfect time to look at our 2017 Award winners, which as always are based around Asian fighters and the Asian fight scene.
Fighter of the Year
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
Thailand's Srisaket Sor Rungvisai has long been one of our favourites with his wins over Yota Sato in 2013 and over Jose Salgado in 2015 proving that he belonged toward to be considered a genuinely top level Super Flyweight. He was however not expected to be any sort of a match up for Roman Gonzalez, the WBC champion and the man who was widely regarded as the #1 fighter pound for pound. Srisaket however went over to the US in March and dropped Gonzalez on route to winning a disputed decision. He then went back over to the US a few months later and shut the doubters up by stopping Gonzalez in a rematch.
However you want to paint it it was a year that took Srisaket from the eye of the hardcore fans to being one of the most notable little men in the sport, and the way he did it was a way that every fight fight fan should have been excited by.
Not only did he beat Gonzalez twice, but he did so as the under dog both times and will be rewarded with another Stateside bout as he is now scheduled to take on Juan Francisco Estrada in February.
Ken Shiro- The Japanese youngster fought three times in 2017 beating Ganigan Lopez, Pedro Guevara and Gilberto Pedroza. Wins over Lopez and Guevara were close and competitive bouts but the youngster essentially thrust himself on the world stage with those wins, before the win over Pedroza saw him take a slot on a TV broadcast and massively boost his standing in Japan. A fantastic year and one that leaves him on the verge of becoming a break out star.
Robbery of the Year
Ryota Murata Vs Hassan N'Dam I
A fighter being robbed at home is rare, but that's exactly what fans saw in May when Ryota Murata was some how beaten on the scorecards by Frenchman Hassan N'Dam. The French had been ruled down on one occasion, but it could have been several more, had tried to avoid a fight wand was repeatedly caught by right hands by the heavier handed and more aggressive Murata. Some how the fight was scored in favour of the visitor, a decision that even the French press disagreed with. The decision, which had been forgotten by some now, was so bad some of the judges from the bout were suspended by the WBA, who ordered a rematch almost immediately and had their president, Gilberto Mendoza publicly score the bout 117-110 to Murata.
The story did have a second chapter in October, with Murata avenging the loss and stopping N'Dam to claim the WBA Middleweight title at the second time of asking.
KO of the Year
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai Vs Roman Gonzalez II
Scoring a win over Roman Gonzalez was impressive when Srisaket did it the first time, fans, and Gonzalez, felt the Thai had been lucky. In the second bout however there was no doubting the outcome as Srisaket laid Gonzalez out for the count with a truly brutal left hook. The shot rendered Gonzalez out cold and the way the Nicaraguan body went limp as he went down was really a case of the lights being turned out on Gonzalez.
Whilst this may not been the most graphically impressive KO featuring an Asian fighter in 2017 the fact it came against Gonzalez really made it stand out, and helped silence the Thai's doubters in the process.
Kazuto Takesako Vs Shoma Fukumoto- This short but exciting bout was a war from the off and ended in brilliant style as Takesako landed a huge right hand that crumpled Fukumoto to the canvas. A brutal finish to what had been a viciously fought bout.
Masaru Sueyoshi Vs Allan Vallespin- Filipino fighter Allan Vallespin had travelled to Japan with a puncher's reputation and had some out with a lot of aggression against Sueyoshi. That pressure later came back to cost him as Sueyoshi landed a massive counter right hand that splattered Vallespin on to the canvas in an eye catching KO.
Takenori Ohashi Vs Kosuke Saka- Saka was making his first defense of the Japanese Featherweight title against the unheralded Ohashi. In round 5, after the clacker, Saka turned away thinking it was the bell and Ohashi went for the kill, finishing off his man in brutal fashion for one of the most bizarre and explosive KO's this year.
Upset of the Year
Sho Kimura Vs Zou Shiming
Going into 2016 Sho Kimura was an unknown. He was a man who had fought in just a single title fight, in which he claimed a regional WBO title. He had only beaten a handful of fighters with winning records and was really looking like a hand picked first challenge for the WBO Flyweight champion. Whilst fans may not have been impressed by Shiming they sure were aware of him, and with Shiming having home advantage it seemed clearly like Shiming would take home a decision and use the bout as a platform to face Kazuto Ioka in a huge bout. Kimura hadn't read he script and instead of being the patsy for Shiming he turned the bout into a platform to win the world title and make a real name for himself.
At the time it was a big upset, though Kimura has since notched another big win and doesn't appear to be the one hit wonder some had assumed.
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai Vs Roman Gonzalez I
Kenichi Ogawa Vs Tevin Farmer
Yasuyuki Akiyama Vs Koki Tyson
Fight Of The Year
Takashi Miura Vs Miguel Roman
There were good fights in 2017 that it was hard to select a favourite, or a best. There were bouts that were action packed, others that were dramatic, some that were savage, some with pure intensity and others with momentum that swung back and forth and other that were high skilled chess matches. There was really something for everyone. For us the winner, albeit just, was the January clash between Takashi Miura and Miguel Roman in what was a WBC world title eliminator. The contest had two very talented, well matched fighters beating the stuffing out of each other, until Roman was eventually stopped in round 12. Prior to the knockout the two had inflicted unreal punishment on each other. At the time of the knockout Miura was leading by 5 points, 3 points and 1 with Roman having been dropped in rounds 10 and 11.
Sadly the bout does suffer from a typical issue with boxing, short term memory of fans. The bout, which was fought on January 28th has been forgotten by some, but is well worth a rewatch for fans who have forgotten has amazing it was.
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai Vs Roman Gonzalez I, Takuya Kogawa Vs Masayuki Kuroda II, Milan Melindo Vs Hekkie Budler, Ryoichi Taguchi Vs Milan Melindo, Wanheng Menayothin Vs Tatsuya Fukuhara, Tatsuya Fukuhara Vs Moises Calleros, Wanheng Menayothin Vs Melvin Jerusalem, Jason Pagara Vs James Onyango,
Comeback of the Year (Fight)
Mark John Yap Vs Mentaro Masuda
Not often will we see a fighter being dropped 3 times in the opening round, stumble to his corner at the end of the round and yet storm back to win. That however is what OPBF Bantamweight champion Mark John Yap did back in July. He was dropped hard early in the round, Masuda went on the hunt and dropped him again as the two wildly traded on the ropes, and then again. By the time the bell went it looked like Yap was living on borrowed time, as he stumbled to his corner. Amazingly however Yap recovered, before stopping Masuda in round 4.
Ratchasai Sithsaihtong Vs Yutaka Oishi-Going into round 12 of their OPBF title fight Oishi, the defending champion, was in a clear lead. On one card he was up but 3, on another 5 and on the other he was leading 109-98. If he could make it to the final bell he'd have made a success defense of the title. Ratchasi however had other plans, and refused to just accept defeat, pulling off some last round heroics, stopping Oishi with less than 90 seconds of the bout left.
Prospect of the Year
Koki Inoue (4-0, 4 for the year)
The Inoue name is going to be a huge one in Japanese boxing for the next decade or so. There is, obviously, Naoya Inoue and Takuma Inoue, but also their Koki Inoue who had a fantastic 2017, even if he was frustrated by a lack of title fights, The destructive Kanagawan started the year with a 5th round TKO win over Mitsuyoshi Fujita, a Japanese ranked fighter. He followed that up with a blow out against Thai visitor Ni Wisoram, a corner retirement win over Cristiano Aoqui and a destruction of KBF champion Dong Hee Kim. His wins have opened up the door for OPBF or Japanese title fights in 2018 and he is certainly on the chase for bigger and better fights, just like his cousins.
Mark Anthony Barriga (5-0, 1 for the year)- Talented Filipino Barriga was busy in 2017, but the talented 24 year old only scored 1 big win from his 5 bouts, a shut out of Samartlek Kokietgym in China.
Ryota Yamauchi (2-0, 2 for the year)- Exciting Japanese Flyweight Yamauchi made his debut in a low key affair in June but shone in December when he battered Lester Abutan in 4 rounds. A real one to watch in 2018.
Junto Nakatani (4-0, 3 for the year)- Flyweight hopeful Nakatani had a second fantastic year, despite going under the radar. In 2016 he was the Flyweight Rookie of the Year and in 2017 he became the first ever Japanese Youth Flyweight champion.
(Images courtesy of the AFP, Japan Times, WBO Boxing and Boxmob.jp)
It's fair to say that 2017 has been one of the best years for boxing fans in a long time, that is perhaps even more true if you're either a Japanese fight fan or someone who follows the Japanese scene incredibly closely.
We're not saying that due to the wars and great fights Japanese boxing had during the year, but more based on the number of fighters who had genuine break out years. There was fighters who really exceeded all expectations and they have helped lay the ground work for what should be an incredible year.
Here we take a look at a number of those fighters, who in some cases were highly regarded prospects, and in other cases were relative unknowns.
In total Higa fought 17 rounds this year, having fought just 38 prior, and became arguably the new face at Flyweight. His style is thrilling, his fan base is growing and given his age he could have a very long reign at the top. His next defense is scheduled for February and there's no reason why he can't 3, or even 4 defenses into 2018 as he looks to distinguish himself as the elite fighter at Flyweight. He has an ultra aggressive style that is always so impressive to see and incredibly heavy hands.
He did however finish the year with a sterling performance as he stopped the very highly regarded Carlos Buitrago in what was a truly one-sided beat down by the Watanabe man, stopping Buitrago in the 8th round, when Robert Ramirez Jr finally intervened with a mercy stoppage. He'll now concentrate on building in 2018 but to have claimed his first 2 titles and moved from a 5 fight novice to a world champion in 2017 has been remarkable.
The plan now for the champion is to make his third defense in early 2018, facing off with Ganigan Lopez in a rematch of May's bout, and we're expecting that to be on live TV. His win over Pedroza and post fight interview should have been enough to convince Fuji not to hide him on a satellite channel and hopefully he'll manage to grow his profile even more in 2018, whilst continuing to develop his skills.
In December had the chance to make a name for himself at home, and took that as he defeated mandatory challenger Toshiyuki Igarashi in 9 rounds to record his first defense. Igarashi, a former WBC champion, had some moments early on but in the end the pressure and surprisingly heavy hands of the champion broke him down, with Igarashi's face being a mess and his body essentially giving in to the ever aggressive man from the Aoki gym.
To have gone from total obscurity to having featured on huge shows in both China and Japan, having had TV coverage in both and having impressed a televised audience in both it's hard to argue with Kimura being the biggest Japanese break out of the year. He wasn't a touted prospect going in to the year, only really the most hardcore of Japanese fans would have known much about him, but to end the year with wins over Shiming and Igarashi is incredibly impressive and he is worthy of whatever big fights come his way in 2018.
Whilst Inoue is currently in the world rankings we're not expecting to see him get a world title fight in 2018. What we are expecting to see from him is a lot excitement and hopefully he will be able to climb up the rankings and move to a potential title shot for 2019. Fighting at 154lbs he's in a tough division to make a mark in, but there's no reason who he can't crawl up the rankings towards a big bout, or a potential domestic showdown with the teak tough Yoshihiro Kamegai, in what would be a very interesting clash of styles.
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