The Light Flyweight division is one of the most interesting in the sport right now, with a lot fantastic fighters in an around the world level, some really interesting prospects and some fantastic match ups being put together.
Earlier we looked at the champions, The state of the Division - Light Flyweight - The Champions, and now we'll take a look at the contenders. These aren't ranked in a specific order, other than the top fighters who listed first and second due to upcoming title bouts later this year.
Saul Juarez (24-8-2, 13)
Mexican 28 year old Saul Juarez has been a professional for close to 9 years and has become known as world class fighter who can give problems to very good fighters, even if he does come up short against the better opponents. His only stoppage loss came way back in 2011, to Martin Tecuapetla, and since then he has lost to the likes of Jose Argumedo, Juan Hernandez Navarrete, Milan Melindo and Wanheng Menayothin. Despite having a good record he is very much out of form, going 1-4-1 in his last 6, and will have to be at his best on December 30th when he challenges WBC champion Kenshiro.
Hiroto Kyoguchi (11-0, 8)
The heavy handed Hiroto Kyoguchi burst on to the pro ranks in 2016, following a successful amateur career, and raced away to a world title, winning the IBF Minimumweight title just 15 months into his career. His reign as a world champion at 105lbs saw him record 2 defenses before out growing the division. In the ring Kyoguchi is an aggressive fighter, with under-rated inside skills, very heavy hands, good speed and a killed instinct. He'll be looking to become a 2-weight champion on December 31st when he challenges WBA "super" champion Hekkie Budler in Macau.
Tetsuya Hisada (33-9-2, 19)
Japanese veteran Tetusya Hisada recently vacated the Japanese national title, which he had defended 5 times, as he intends to move into world title fights in early 2019, with the rumour being that he will face Carlos Canizales in the Spring. At the age of 34 Hisada hasn't got time to waste, and he also doesn't have the glamour looking record, but he comes into his next bout, whoever it's against, with a lot of self belief and 12 fight winning run. He's not a big name in the division but is world ranked across the board and certainly deserves a chance before his career comes to an end.
Jonathan Taconing (28-3-1, 22)
Filipino puncher Jonathan Taconing is a 2-time world title challenger, having lose decisions to both Kompayak Porpramook, a technical decision, and Ganigan Lopez. Despite those losses he has remained a very live contender in the division and will be hoping to get one more title shot before his career is over. At 31 years old he doesn't have long left, but with his toughness and his power he is a nightmare to face, as Vinca Paras found out earlier this year when Taconing over-came him. At the moment Taconing is ranked by all 4 world title bodies and is likely to get another shot in the near future.
Edward Heno (13-0-5, 5)
The current OPBF champion is unbeaten Filipino Edward Heno, who was touted for a shot at IBF champion Felix Alvarado but appears to accept he needs more experience before a fight at that level. Heno has impressed in recent years, scoring notable wins over Cris Ganoza, Seit Ogido, Merlito Sabillo and Jesse Espinas. Strangely he began his career 0-0-3 but has really come a long way since then, and will be looking to continue his development on February 11th, when he defends the OPBF title against Japanese veteran Koji Itagaki.
Reiya Konishi (17-1, 7)
Japan's Reiya Konishi is an All Japan Rookie of the year, a former Japanese Minimumweight champion and is the current WBO Asia Pacific Light Flyweight champion. Despite his success he's actually best known for his competitive decision loss to Carlos Canizales earlier this year, where he was dropped but came bout and gave Canizales hell. Konishi isn't much of a puncher, and is technically pretty flawed, but he has a high work rate, he's a proper battler and he comes to fight for every minute of every round. He was expected to fight for a world title in early 2019 but it sounds like plans have changed and that he'll push a title fight back to make some technical improvements first.
Randy Petalcorin (29-3-1, 22)
Filipino fighter Randy Petalcorin is one of the division's better pure boxer's, with sharp movement and punching and the ability to punch on the move. Sadly for him his last out saw him face off with Felix Alvarado for the vacant IBF title, and he was broken down by the Nicaraguan monster, who fought like a man possessed. Despite the loss to Alvarado the Filipino remains a top contender, and could well find himself getting another world title fight in the near future, especially given that loss. At the age of 26 he's still got a lot of his career left, but will need to be given more backing to secure the fights he needs to, something that has been lacking at times.
Palangpol CP Freshmart (16-2, 9)
Former world title challenger Palangpol CP Freshmart, also known as Rangsan Chayanram, is a heavy handed fighter who is in and among the better Thai contenders in the sport. He's technically a little stiff, but is tough, hard hitting and a nightmare to face. His only world title fight saw him come up short against Kosei Tanaka in 2017, though he did drop Tanaka and fractured both of Tanaka's orbitals. Sadly his recent competition hasn't been great, though in fairness he seems like a fighter itching to face better competition, and just fighting low level foes to stay busy, rather than boosting a ranking. Fingers crossed he gets another shot in 2019, as he's already 33 and going to be on the slide.
Milan Melindo (37-4, 13)
Filipino veteran Milan Melindo is a former IBF champion who has scored big wins over Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr, Akira Yaegashi and Hekkie Budler. Despite those big wins the 30 year old has had a string of tough bouts, including a TKO loss last time out to Kenshiro and damaging battles with Budler and Ryoichi Taguchi. At his best he was a fantastic fighter, but right now it's unclear what he has left to offer. Until he returns to the ring he'll still be, rightfully, considered a top contender, though that could all change with a loss, or a poor showing, next time out.
Vince Paras (13-2, 11)
Another Filipino contender is Vince Paras, who lost in an IBF Minimumweight title fight to Hiroto Kyoguchi and has also lost to Jonathan Taconing. Despite those set backs the 20 year puncher has shown enough to be considered a top contender, and he'll likely be competing at world level again in the future. He's beyond the typical "prospect" stage, and is a former title challenger, but still needs development to get over the line in a big one, and we expect to see him really come into his own in 2019, and work on the flaws that Taconing and Kyoguchi both exposed. Those losses could turn out to be vital for his development.
It's fair to say the recent WBO Flyweight title fight between Sho Kimura and Kosei Tanaka created a lot of buzz with fans who perhaps haven't followed the Japanese scene too well. Thankfully this has been a brilliant year for Japanese fights, even if it's been a rather disappointing one for Japanese fighters on the global scene.
For those new fans, and for those who perhaps missed some of what has gone on this year, we've decided to look at some of the very best fights in Japan these year. For the sake of this particular piece we've only included fights that were either on Japanese TV or have been made freely available via online sources. This unfortunately means that anything on boxingraise won't be included, though I do suggest that fight fans do give Boxingraise a look, as it is a fantastic service well worthy of a subscription.
This is part two of a multi-part article and will look at 5 bouts that took place from May 20th to July 23rd. More parts to this will be posted in the coming weeks, so please keep your eye on for those!
If you missed part 1 than can be read here The best Japanese Fights of 2018 (Part 1)
May 20th – Ota-City General Gymnasium
Hiroto Kyoguchi (9-0, 7) vs Vince Paras (13-0, 11)
In May we saw the then IBF Minimumweight champion Hiroto Kyoguchi take on little known Filipino challenger Vince Paras. This bout was sadly not shown live, instead being made to go the way of the already frustrating TBS tape delay, but it was worth the wait with the challenger not being intimidated by the champion, and instead he held his own in a brilliant war that was regularly fought on the inside at a hectic pace.
May 20th – Ota-City General Gymnasium
Ryoichi Taguchi (27-2-2, 12) Vs Hekkie Budler (31-3, 10)
Whilst fans had to wait to see Kyoguchi's bout with Paras the same how actually had a live televised bout between the then WBA “Super”, IBF and Ring Magazine Light Flyweight champion Ryoichi Taguchi and former WBA Minimumweight champion Hekkie Budler. This wasn't quite as smooth as the Minimumweight title bout, but was thrilling, rough, and exhilarating, with the two men regularly standing their ground and unloading punches. The final rounds of this one were particularly enthralling as both men fought through exhaustion.
July 13th- Central Gym, Kobe
Reiya Konishi (16-1, 5) vs Orlie Silvestre (11-3-1, 7)
After having had a thrilling bout in March with Carlos Canizales, featured in part 1, we saw Reiya Konishi return to the ring in July and get involved in another memorable contest as he battled little known Filipino Orlie Silvestre. The Filipino hadn't read the script and really did travel to win, cutting Konishi early on and forcing the Japanese fighter to dig deep to just keep up with him in a hectic, bloody, pulsating contest that was fought an incredible pace. Not only was it a great fight but it was one where both men came out with enhanced reputations.
July 13th- Central Gym, Kobe
Ryuya Yamanaka (16-2, 5) Vs Vic Saludar (17-3, 10)
Whilst the Konishi Vs Silvestre bout was great, you could make a strong case that it was only the second best bout on the card, with the WBO Minimumweight title bout between Ryuya Yamanaka and Vic Saludar being an even better bout. Yamanaka was looking to secure his second defense of the title, and he had really impressed in his first defenses when he schooled Moises Calleros. Saludar on the other hand was looking to claim a world title in his second attempt, having come up short when he faced Kosei Tanaka in 2015, being stopped whilst leading the contest. This enthralling with the only dark mark being that this was Yamanaka's final career bout.
July 23rd – Korakuen Hall
Masayuki Kuroda (29-7-3, 16) vs Akinori Hoshino (14-7-2, 9)
Asign boxing delivered again in July when they put the Japanese Flyweight title bout between Masayuki Kuroda, the defending champion. and Akinori Hoshino online. This looked weak on paper but delivered in the ring as both men managed to land solid shots through out. Hoshino proved, as he had done in a number of previous fights, that his record was misleading, and he certainly landed the best shot from the early portion of the fight. This was a high intensity bout, like the others in this list, but was a brutal, gruelling contest that left both men showing battle scars at the end.
One of the highlights of the boxing year is the series of shows we get at the end of the year,often featuring a number of big names from the Japanese boxing world with some massive fights. It now seems like the Watanabe Gym are starting to piece together their end of year card, which will be expected to take place on December 31st on TBS. That will be part of “Kyokugen”, a huge event on TBS, which is not just boxing, but a special broadcast that combines various sporting activities.
In recent years the boxing part of Kyokugen has featured a number of world title fights. These have included shows like the 2014 extravaganza that included Hisashi Amagasa challenging Guillermo Rigondeaux, the 2015 card that saw Kazuto Ioka have his rematch with Juan Carlos Reveco and the fantastic 2017 clash between Ryoichi Taguchi and Milan Melindo.
Given how big the previous shows have been and how they have gotten progressively bigger and more significant we're expecting the 2018 card to be something massive.
We already seem to know one of the bouts on the card, a WBA Light Flyweight “super” title bout between reigning champion Hekkie Budler (32-3, 10) and former IBF Minimumweight champion Hiroto Kyoguchi (10-0, 7) [京口 紘人]. This bout has been on the cards for a while and looks to have been agreed in principle, with the only caveat being that Kyoguchi successfully defeats Tibo Monabesa on September 25th.
The bout between Budler and Kyoguchi will give Kyoguchi a chance to avenge Budler's win over his Watanabe stablemate Ryoichi Taguchi (27-3-2, 12) [田口良一], more about him later, and will reward Budler well after he gave up the IBF title, rather than fulfil their mandatory obligations to face the feared Felix Alvarado. The bout would be a tough first defense for Budler and it would give Kyoguchi a chance to become a 2-weight champion.
A second bout has been mooted with Thai sources reporting WBC Minimumweight champion Wanheng Menayothin (51-0, 18) [วันเฮง ไก่ย่างห้าดาวยิม] is in talks to face Japanese Minimumweight champion Shin Ono (23-9-3, 6) [小野 心] on the card. The bout would be huge for Wanheng, as it would see him risking his unbeaten record and fight for the first time outside of Thailand, and it would give Ono a third shot a world title. Wanheng's team had reportedly been in talks for this bout before he beat Pedro Taduran and it does look like something they have actively wanted.
Last time out Ono suffered a pretty nasty cut in his win over Riku Kano. That cut should however be heeled with more than enough time for him to go through a training camp and prepare for Wanheng, in what would be his third world title fight. Ono has come up short against Katsunari Takayama and Knockout CP Freshmart, and will know that at the age of 35 this will be his final shot whilst Wanheng will see this as a chance to make his mark outside of Thailand.
The third bout could well be the most interesting on paper. It's almost a given that Watanabe will want to feature the aforementioned Ryoichi Taguchi, who has announced his intention to move up in weight. There isn't a Flyweight champion that Taguchi wouldn't make for a great opponent against, but there's possibly a match up that makes more sense than any other. That would be a bout between Taguchi and the winner of the upcoming WBO world title fight between Sho Kimura (17-1-2, 10) [木村翔] and Kosei Tanaka (11-0, 7) [田中恒成].
Tanaka has fought his entire career on TBS affiliate CBC, and has been featured on TBS in recent years as part of their December 31st show, except for last year when he was injured. When he and Taguchi were both fighting at Light Flyweight the two had been continually linked to a fighter, but injuries and mandatories stood in the way. Now however there wouldn't be any issue.
Of course Tanaka beating Kimura isn't a given, and it's worth noting that Kimura also had a working relationship with TBS, with the Aoki man having made his first defense on the channel last year, on the New Year's Eve card, against Toshiyuki Igarashi. His style against Taguchi's would be really interesting and something that would certainly appeal to fans, though maybe not quite as much as Taguchi Vs Tanaka fight.
There's actually one other option that Taguchi may have and that's WBC champion Cristofer Rosales (28-3, 19), who won his title in Japan earlier this year against Daigo Higa. Although not as attractive on paper as the two Japanese fighters Rosales has inked some sort of deal with Teiken promotions, and they may well feel that having Rosales face off with Taguchi would be an excellent way to end the year, and get Rosales his second defense. It would be an excellent match up, it would allow Rosales build on the big win over Higa and give Taguchi a chance to face one of the best fighters in the division.
Interestingly the Taguchi Vs Rosales option would, in theory, allowed for a split site show with 4 title bouts, if Tanaka beat Kimura and wanted to defend his belt live on CBC, in Nagaoya, with a potential showdown between those winners. Though we suspect TBS would pusher harder for the Kimura/Tanaka winner to defend against Taguchi instead.
(Images courtesy of SiamSports and Sho Kimura)
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.