Over the last year or two we've seen Jerwin Ancajas break out as the Filipino fighter who has managed to catch the eye of fans world wide. With Ancajas's rise it's easy to over-look some of the contenders rising from the country which has given us a fantastic history or fighters. One of those other contenders making a name for himself is Edward Heno (11-0-5, 5), who claimed the OPBF Light Flyweight title last year, and it now looking to build on that title win. This coming Saturday we see Heno make his first defense of the title, as he takes on former world champion Merlito Sabillo (27-4-1, 13). A win for Heno will fast track him to a potential world title fight, whilst a win for Sabillo will resurrect his faltering career.
OF the two men it is the challenger who is more well known. He claimed the WBO Minimumweight title in 2013 and made a notable, albeit controversial, defense against Carlos Buitrago before being smashed by Francisco Rodriguez Jr and losing the title to the Mexican warrior. Since the loss to Rodriguez we've seen Sabillo go 4-3, losing in notable bouts to Riku Kano and Ryuya Yamanaka in bouts for the OPBF Minimumweight title, which Sabillo had previously held before winning the world title.
At his best Sabillo was a rough boxer-puncher. He wasn't a huge banger but at 105lbs he had respectable power, was a decent boxer but nothing exceptional and had more rough edges than a typical piece of sand paper. He was however a tough, rough fighter who was happy to get into a fight. Sometimes that came at his expense, which was certainly the case against Rodriguez Jr, but it was also something that he felt was his best tactic, and did net some notable results. At 34 however that style won't be the best for him, and he's a very old fighter for the lower weights, and will not be wanting too much of a war with a heavier handed and younger fighter like Heno. Instead he should be looking to make the most of his experience and his ring craft.
Aged 25 Heno has turned around a bizarre 0-0-3 start to his professional boxing career by winning 11 of his following 13, and remaining unbeaten. Many of his wins have been at the lower level of the Filipino domestic scene but he managed to stopped Cris Ganoza last March in a noteworthy win before a draw with Seita Ogido, in a bout that many felt Heno had deserved. A rematch with Ogido saw Heno score a 7th round TKO over the Japanese fighter to claim the OPBF title and show that he was a legitimate puncher.
Heno is naturally bigger than Sabillo, much younger and is riding an unbeaten record with a trio of good performances against Ganoza and Ogido. He might not be as proven as Sabillo, but he has all the momentum coming in to this bout and looks to be on his way up the rankings towards a world title fight. Whilst he is clearly some way behind the likes of Ken Shiro and Ryoichi Taguchi he is certainly on his way to mixing with that type of fighter, if he can get past Sabillo here.
We're expecting a bit of a slugfest here, as the two are flawed but aggressive fighters, but an entertaining one that sees the younger naturally bigger and stronger fighter come out on top. Whilst Sabillo might have that “one last hoorah” we don't see it happening here against someone with the hunger and drive of Heno.
Whilst fans outside of Asia may not follow it too much the Minimumweight division has been one of the most interesting in recent years with top fighters facing off in bouts like the unification contest between Katsunari Takayama and Francisco Rodriguez Jr, the WBA unification bout between Knockout CP Freshmart Vs Byron Rojas and the WBC mandatory title bout between Wanheng Menayothin Vs Saul Jaurez. Whilst only one of them was a unification bout all of them featured top 5 guys facing off in really good bouts.
It's not only had great world title bouts but also has promising fighters breaking through the ranks and enough veterans for the novices to really test themselves against. That's going to be seen this coming Friday as Japanese youngster Ryuya Yamanaka (12-2, 3) takes on former world champion Merlito Sabillo (25-3-1, 12) in a bout for the OPBF title.
Aged 21 Yamanaka is one of a rising number of Japanese youngsters looking to carve out a place at 105lbs, along with the likes of Riku Kano, Hiroto Kyoguchi, Reiya Konishi, Tsubasa Koura and Masataka Taniguchi. Despite his age he's a 4 year professional who is at the well regarded Shinsei Gym and has rebuilt wonderfully after a 142 second loss to Kenta Shimizu in April 2013. Although he's rebuilt well, winning 7 of his 8 bouts, there is still a lot that he needs to prove if he's to become a major force on the world scene.
Coming in to this bout Yamanaka has won his last 5 bouts, though the competition hans't been geat with his most notable victory being a decision over Ronelle Ferreras. Unfortunately though his losses really stand out, with the opening round stoppage to Shimizu, who was 2-3-1 entering that bout, and a decision loss to Roque Lauro, who was 10-16-4 entering their bout. Whilst he has certainly improved from those defeats questions are to be asked about just how much improvement has been made by him. Worrying, given his competition, he holds several world rankings and there is talk of him potentially getting a world title fight in 2017.
Whilst the Japanese fighter is seen as an emerging hopeful the same cannot be said of Sabillo, who some feel is actually on the final stages of his career, despite only being 32 years old. The Filipino is being written off as a shot fight due to a 2-3-1 run in his last 6, however things aren't as simple as the numbers may suggest and the former WBO world champion isn't yet proven to be “washed up”. His during during that 2-3-1 run came to the brilliant Carlos Buitrago, in a bout many felt he deserved to lose, the first of the losses came to Francisco Rodriguez Jr who later proved his value in unifying the WBO and IBF titles, the second loss was a freak stoppage loss to Ellias Nggenggo whilst the third was a decision loss to Riku Kano. He might be done, but we can't say for sure.
At his best Sabillo was a fighter with respectable power, a crude but offensive style and although nothing outstanding he was a handful, as seen in his win over Luis de la Rosa. Sadly though it's hard to say how good he really is as so many of his bouts have been at Filipino domestic level or against top drawer opponents, like Buitrago and Rodriguez Jr. There are very few fringe contenders on Sabillo's record for us to know just how good he is, despite 29 career bouts.
On paper the bout is supposed to be the next step on the ladder for Yamanaka, as he moves towards a world title bout, but the reality is that this is much more of a cross roads bout. Yamanaka is certainly stepping up, and a win would be the best of his career, but Sabillo isn't a pushover and is looking to give fire to a career that is currently dwindling away. Unfortunately for Yamanaka there is nothing to suggest he's ready to face a guy like Sabillo, and we're thinking the visitor comes out with the win here to claim the OPBF title, and actually become a 2-time OPBF champion.
The last few years we've seen a number of Japanese prospects turn professional young and race through the ranks. Fighters like former champion Kosei Tanaka, current world champion Naoya Inoue and the fast rising Hinata Maruta have all made their mark on the sport already. Another youngster looking to add his name to a growing list of young Japanese super-talents is Riku Kano (9-1-1, 5). The youngster from the Taisei gym made his debut at 16 years old and this coming weekend, at the age of 18, fights for the OPBF “interim” Minimumweight title as he faces former world champion Merlito Sabillo (25-2-1, 12).
For those unaware Kano has got his eyes on a special achievement later this year, becoming Japan's youngest ever world champion. For a chance to achieve that he will have to over-come Sabillo and claim the OPBF crown.
For those who haven't seen the 18 year old in action he's a very high capable boxer-mover. He lacks power, though in fairness is just a kid, but has a very smart boxing brain, lovely speed and a genuine youthful energy. He perhaps lacks the limitless tank seen in some of his countrymen but has previously gone 12 rounds, shutting out Madit Sada in the harsh conditions of Thailand back in December 2014. Although he has gone 12 rounds his last few bouts have been over a shorter distance and his most notable win, last December, saw him easily out point Pigmy Kokietgym in Japan.
For Kano the bout is a big step up. Beating Pigmy in his 10th bout is impressive but Sabillo is a different kettle of fish to the Thai and Pigmy was 34 and just 2 fights removed from an unexpected stoppage loss to Jaysever Abcede, just 4 months earlier.
Aged 32 Sabillo is at the opposite end of his career to Kano, he's coming to the end and another loss is likely to see his career fade into relative obscurity. Unfortunately it's been a massive downhill for Sabillo who won the WBO Minimumweight title in 2013 and now, just over 3 years later appears to be looking down the barrel. Since winning that title he has gone a very disappointing 3-2-1, with a very controversial draw against Carlos Buitrago stopping it from being a 3-3 record.
At his best Sabillo was a crude, tough and aggressive fighter. He was fun to watch but a bit limited and somewhat lucky to face the limited Luis de la Rosa for the WBO “interim” title. He was also lucky, as mentioned, in the draw against Buitrago but was unlucky to face the then relatively unknown Francisco Rodriguez Jr, a man who simply battered Sabillo to a stoppage. An unlucky stoppage to Ellias Nggenggo followed 8 months later and since then he has been matched softly, in an attempt to let him rebuild his confidence.
Coming in to this the big questions are “what does Sabillo have left?” and “can Kano step up this high this quickly?” If we're being honest we don't think Sabillo has much left, maybe 1 more good performance we're not sure however if Kano can do it. His team are confident in it, but it's a big step up and one that will see him need to be at his best to succeed. If Kano has got that skill and ability that his team believes he has, he will win a very controlled decision, if not this could be a real dent in his dreams of becoming Japan's youngest world champion, especially with Sabillo's under-rated power.
At the time of writing this bout is officially for the OPBF “interim” title, it is however likely that the title will be upgraded, either before the fight or in the weeks that follow.
Having canned the old "Full Schedule" of Asianboxing we have instead decided to concentrate more on the major bouts. This section, the "Preview" section will look at major bouts involving OPBF and national titles. Hopefully leading to a more informative style for, you the reader.