The Minimumweight division is one of, if not the, most maligned division among Western fight fans due to the small size of the fighters and the perceived lack of power among the little men. Right now however the division is a really interesting one, with a great combination of champions, contenders and prospects. There's great variety in the styles in the division and, for once, the division has a good number of punchers as well as high out put guys.
We start our look at the state of the divisions by looking at the champions at Minimumweight. With the contenders and prospects to be looked at in the coming days.
Wanheng Menayothing (52-0, 18) - WBC (10 defenses)
The unbeaten Wanheng Menayothin, from Thailand, holds a lot of records right now. Among those are the fact he's got the longest active winning run, 52 fights, and he's the longest reigning male world champion, having held the WBC Minimumweight title since November 2014, when he dethroned Oswaldo Novoa. Although he's really only gotten attention due to surpassing Floyd Mayweather's 50-0 record Wanheng is an accomplished fighter with an exciting style, who comes forward behind a tight guard and works well on the inside. Sadly however his competition at times has been dire.
Knockout CP Freshmart (19-0, 7) - WBA (6 defenses)
Another unbeaten Thai world champion at 105lbs is Knockout CP Freshmart, who often fails to shine, despite being very talented. He has one of the best monikers in the sport but sadly had failed to live up to the name in recent years, winning 7 of his last 8 by unanimous decision. Overall his competition has been better than that of Wanheng, but he has struggled to really show what he can do since fighting at world level and it feels like he's perhaps not going to hold the title for as long as his compatriot. At the moment the WBA rankings are a bit weak and he could well hold the title in to 2020 with no issue.
Vic Saludar (18-3, 10) - WBO (0 defenses)
One of the division's biggest punchers is Vic Saludar, who hits like a mule despite just being a touch over 5'2". The Filipino suffered an early career set back, losing in his third bout, but has rebuilt pretty well and showed what he could do in late 2015, when he dropped Kosei Tanaka before being stopped himself in what was a real test for Tanaka, Since then he has gone 7-1 and was last seen taking the WBO title from Ryuya Yamanaka, who sadly had to retire following the bout due to a brain injury suffered against Saludar. The Filipino lives up to his nickname of "Vicious" and is very dangerous.
Carlos Licona (14-0, 2) - IBF (0 defenses)
The lightest punching champion in the division is Mexican-American Carlos Licona, who won the IBF title when he defeated Mark Anthony Barriga at the start of December. The win over Barriga really is the only one of note on his record, and even that was a close one so we're not totally how good Licona is, though even holding his own with Barriga is pretty impressive. Licona will probably be the odd man out in the division, unless someone can lure him over to Asia, as the other 3 champions are based in the East though that may well leave a bullseye on his back for the Latin American fighters.
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.