Right now the Flyweight division, which for years was one of the strongest in the sport, is one of the least interesting. It's a division that is having a transitional period, with great fighters fighting 4lbs lower or 3lbs heavier. There are some sensational fighters at Flyweight, but they are few and far between, with many of the leading contenders are a bit limited. This has left the division with only a handful of excellent bouts at the top whilst we await for the next generation to develop.
Don't get us wrong, the division has some really exciting young talent in it's ranks, but the likes of Junto Nakatani, Nico Hernandez, Ryota Yamauchi, Jesse Rodriguez and Kento Hatanaka are just not ready, yet, to fight at the top.
That leaves us with some sensational champions and some veteran, or limited challengers. The match ups we want, are almost all unification bouts, with little else really being of major interest.
We say all that to pre-face the upcoming WBO Flyweight title bout which will put unbeaten 3 weight world champion Kosei Tanaka (13-0, 7) up against mandatory challenger Jonathan "Bomba" Gonzalez (22-2-1-1, 13). It's a bout that looks good, but in reality we don't see it as all that competitive.
Tanaka is one of the guys who should be in, or on the verge, of the top 10 pound for pound conversation. He is already a 3 weight world champion at the age of 24 with notable wins against the likes of Ryuji Hara, Julian Yedras, Vic Saludar, Angel Acosta, Sho Kimura and Ryoichi Taguchi. In just 13 fights he has gone 7-0 (3) at world level, never faced an opponent with a losing record and his last 10 opponents combined had gone 176-11-8. In many ways he is cut from the same cloth as Naoya Inoue and Vasily Lomachenko. He wants to prove himself, and do it as quickly as possible. No messing about, no easy fights.
Sadly Gonzalez is a man who showed a lot of early promise but has yet to deliver on that promise. The 28 year old southpaw turned professional at the age of 19 after an excellent amateur career and would stop his first 6 opponents in 9 combined rounds. Sadly that power hasn't carried up as he's moved through the levels, and only 1 of his last 6 bouts saw him take an early win. His lack of power at the higher level isn't his only issue as he appears to lack in terms of durability, and both of his losses have come by stoppage. The first of those was in 2013, when he was dominated by Giovani Segura with the second with the second being a loss to Filipino Jobert Alvarez in 2016.
What Gonzalez can do well is box. He's a nice, tidy boxer, with decent speed, nice movement and a brilliant arsenal of shots. Sadly though he is rather defensively open, and although he takes a good shot, his defenses fall apart when he's hurt, as we saw repeatedly against Segura. If you let him settle into his rhythm he's hard to unsettle, but at the same time he can be shaken, rather easily.
Boxing with Tanaka is rarely a good idea, he's an amazing boxer himself, with incredible speed, and he's often one, if not 2 or 3, steps ahead of his opponent. He's quick with hands and feet and is heavy handed enough to make incredibly tough world class fighters, even at Flyweight, respect him. His issues come when he faces fighters with big power, like Vic Saludar, not the boxers. Boxers are what he thrives against.
Coming into this we expect the fight to start off interestingly, with both boxing at a decent tempo and using their lightening speed. As the fight goes on however the fight will become more and more one sided, with Tanaka turning the screws in the middle rounds, upping his pace and unleashing his power shots. When that happens we expect to see Gonzalez crumbling, before being stopped, in a flurry of power shots, whilst on the ropes.
Prediction - Tanaka TKO10
The Philippines, seemingly more than anywhere else, has world champions who defend on the road fight after fight. We don't mean world champions who set up a boxing home away from home, but actually get out their passport and head all over the place to fight their world level bouts. The latest of those is WBO Minimumweight champion Vic Saludar (19-3, 10), who won the belt in Japan, made his first defense in Japan and will be in action this coming weekend in Puerto Rico, to defend against Wilfredo Mendez (13-1, 5).
The lack of big money in the Philippines has seen fighters like Saludar, John Riel Casimero and Jerwin Ancajas fighting on the road as champions, and in a way it makes their reigns a little more interesting than those fighters who remain a small, but local, star. It obviously increases the risk of them losing a dodgy decision, but also increases their reputation as real world champions, willing to fight around the world.
For fans who have seen Saludar the fear of being robbed on the scorecards does not appear to be a fear that he has. The hard hitting Pinoy he has travelled for 3 fights in the last 4 years, all against men fighting in their residency. In the first of those, in Nagoya against Kosei Tanaka, he almost took Tanaka out early, before being undone by a brutal body shot whilst in the lead. The second saw him dethrone Ryuya Yamanaka in Kobe, with a clear decision, before going to Tokyo to defend against Masataka Taniguchi, and clearly defeat the talented Taniguchi. He refuses to fight like a man who believes he's going to be robbed, and instead he tries to take the fight by the scruff of the neck, combining vicious power, with under-rated technical skills, a high work rate and a real self confidence.
Prior to turning professional Saludar was a highly regarded amateur, who had defeated the likes of Charlie Edwards and Mark Anthony Barriga, and gave Amnat Ruenroeng a really tough bout, in Thailand. Those amateur fundamentals gave Saludar a great base to work on and fantastic experience on the road. His naturally heavy hands make him a nightmare in the ring and whilst he has lost a few times one of those defeats came very early, when he bust his hand, another came to Tanaka, when Tanaka pulled out one of the best shots of his career, whilst the other came to Toto Landero, who went on to give Knockout CP Freshmart a very tough test.
Whilst Saludar is a well regarded name in the sport Mendez really isn't, at least not outside of Latin America. The once beaten 22 year old has fought all 14 pro bouts in the America's, fighting mostly in his native Puerto Rico and on the frankly appalling Dominican boxing scene, with a solitary fight in Colombia. For this coming fight he is at home, with it being his 6th fight in Puerto Rico, where he is currently 5-0 (2). For Mendez this is a huge step up, and comes after multiple fights with Robert Paradero have fallen through. To date his competition has lacked in terms of quality. His sole loss came in the Dominican Republic to Leyman Benavides, a Nicaraguan who had been stopped by Gilberto Parra just 4 months earlier, whilst his best win was a clear one over Janiel Rivera, which saw one judge mis-identity the fighters resulting in a very peculiar split decision. That win over Rivera saw Mendez stepping up to the plate and shining, but Rivera is a long way removed from Saludar.
Stylistically Mendez is a solid looking fighter, who knows how to use the ring, counter and lay traps. He's a smart fighter, who really can box wonderfully on the back foot. Sadly for all the nice touches he has in terms of counters, timing and distance control he does seem to slap his shots, fight negatively and lacks real power. He's skilled, but doesn't appear to really turn his weight into his power shots and instead looks like he slaps a lot. It also appears that his defensive skills look good because of the limited level of competition that he's facing.
Coming into this bout we expect the style of Mendez to appease Saludar. To beat Saludar you can't back off him, you can't let him take the initiative. If that happens he tends to be too good, and builds his confidence through the fight. If Mendez thinks he can win on the ropes, and soaking up pressure from Saludar we suspect he's wrong, very wrong. Sitting on the ropes and letting Saludar throw his heavy, clean, hurtful shots will break a fighter down, and we suspect Mendez gets broken down here.
Mendez looks like he's tough and brave, but the pressure of Saludar will simply be too much over 12 rounds.
Prediction - TKO9 Saludar
The Bantamweight division is currently one of the most interesting, with a host of brilliant match ups to be made, a number that are already on the horizon. Bouts like Naoya Inoue Vs Nonitor Donaire and Nordine Oubaali Vs Takuma Inoue are both fantastic bouts, and with the likes of Zolani Tete, Luis Nery, Liborio Solis, Jason Moloney and Reymart Gaballo all looking for a big fight the division really is red hot.
This coming Saturday the divisional talent overflow is in action as the WBO "interim" champion John Riel Casimero (27-4, 18) defends his belt against Mexican challenger Cesar Ramirez (18-3, 11). Whilst Casimero is the "lesser" of the WBO champions, behind Tete, it's been almost a year since Tete has been in the ring and it's unclear when he will return. The winner of this bout will be waiting for Tete's return to the ring, though by then may have found themselves being upgraded by the WBO.
Casimero won the interim title earlier this year, when he scored a 12th round win over Ricardo Espinoza Franco to become a "3 weight world champion", adding this title to reigns at Light Flyweight and Flyweight. Although the win over Franco wasn't televised footage from it leaked online and it was an enthralling fight, with Casimero finally finishing off Franco in the final round of a bout that was incredibly close. That win was Casimero's second as a fully fledged Flyweight, following a February win over Japanese foe Kenya Yamashita, and in that bout Casimero looked sharp, dangerous and like he really meant business. At times though Casimero has looked uninterested, bored and like he's lacked motivation. When the motivation is there he's fantastic, but he really does need a fire under his ass.
Despite being a rather lazy and frustrating fighter at times Casimero is a real natural talent, and someone who has had to do things the hard way through much of his career. He gained a reputation as a road warrior, fighting in Nicaragua, Mexico, South Africa, Argentina, Panama, Thailand, China and the UK all in the space of 7 years. Not only was he on the road but he was also in with stiff competition, including Cesar Canchila, Moruti Mthalane, Luiz Alberto Lazarte, Pedro Guevara, Amnat Ruenroeng and Charlie Edwards. Not only he a road warrior, but he was a world class fighting, picking up several big wins on the road.
As a fighter Casimero is a clean hitting, sharp boxer-puncher. He's not the most destructive single puncher fighter out there, but he's got that razor sharp power, where he can bust people up with accurate clean shots. He has that solid power in both hands, and his power stays with him late into fights. He's skilled, has good ring IQ but is, as mentioned, lazy and somewhat under-sized for a Bantamweight, but at 30 is a fully grown man, unlike some of the youngsters breaking through the division.
Sadly it's less easy to say much about Ramirez, a man who has done nothing to be in a world title fight, even an interim one, and really will not be given much of a chance coming into this bout. The 31 year old Mexican challenger has been a professional since 2012 and has lacked a win of any real note. Despite that he has shared the ring with some pretty decent fighters, most notably Alejandro Gonzalez Jr and Ryan Burnett, who both clearly beat Ramirez, with Gonzalez stopping him in 6 and Burnett almost shutting him out over 10 rounds.
When looking through Ramirez's record for a win of some kind of note we really struggle, with the best being last year's 12th round TKO over Eliseo Velez. Sadly that sort of says it all, about Ramirez, who has not done anything at all to deserve a shot, with most of his wins so far coming against fighters with losing records.
Although not a total scrub it's still fair to say that Ramirez shouldn't be in a world title fight and will be little more than target practice for Casimero. The Filipino does deserve some easier bouts at home, given all of his big road bouts, but this is a rather pathetic first defense of the interim title. He will have things all his own way, chipping away at Ramirez until the time comes for the referee to save the challenger.
Prediction TKO7 - Casimero
The Minimumweight division has promised so much in recent years, yet has horribly under-delivered with no unification bouts and champions often facing lesser known challengers. There has been some great moments in the division over the last year or two, but the division hasn't managed to build on the action and excitement that Katsunari Takayama once gave us.
One of the biggest frustrations in the division has been WBA champion Knockout CP Freshmart (19-0, 7). Early on his career he looked like he was going to be a new star for the division. He had a great nickname, a fantastic background from Muay Thai, and was thrown in at the deep end, fighting in a Youth title bout on his debut. With 3 stoppages in his first 4 bouts, and 5 in his first 8, it seemed like he had some pop and his desire to be tested was great. In just his 9th bout he was fighting for the WBA "interim" title against Carlos Buitrago, and since then he has gone on to claim the main WBA title.
In just 19 fights Knockout has beaten Carlos Buitrago, twice, Muhammad Rachman, Byron Rojas, twice, Shin Ono, Alexis Diaz, Rey Loreto, Toto Landero and Xiong Zhao Zhong. On paper that's an impressive resume. Sadly though he's become being "Knockout CP Freshmart" to "Unanimous Decision CP Freshmart", with just 2 stoppages in his last 11, and his last 4 have all gone the distance. What's worse is how boring some of these bouts have become, with Knockout not taking risks, not going for a finish and instead his bouts have often meandered, to a forgettable, yet predictable conclusion.
Whilst Knockout is talented, he's not a risk taker, or someone who will put on a show. He'll often get himself in an early lead, then maul, make things messy and fiddle his way to a win with his early lead, rather than trying to shine.
This coming Friday Knockout makes his next defense of the WBA Minimumweight title and takes on unbeaten Filipino teenager ArAr Andales (10-0, 2). It's again a rather poor defense for Knockout, who looks like he's picking on a kid when a division has fighters like Simphiwe Khonco, Carlos Licona, Ricardo Astuvilca, Joey Canoy and Jose Argumedo floating around. That's not to say that Andales is a bad fighter, he isn't, he's just young, inexperienced and clearly a long way from his prime. He's an improving fighter, but one who isn't yet ready for a world title fight, and is being pushed into this fight a bit too early in his career, sadly.
Andales debuted in June 2017 and 15 months later he claimed his first title, the LuzProBa Minimumweight title, he would then add the WBA Asia title earlier this year, and has since defended the belt one, with a win over Cris Ganoza. The win over Ganoza showed that Andales is a true prospect, a real one to watch. But he is still only a prospect, with 10 bouts and 58 rounds under his belt, and the Ganoza fight aside he hasn't really faced anyone at even fringe regional level. From the footage available he's a smart fighter, uses good body shots and can use distance well, sneaking out of range when he needs to. Sadly though there is also a clear reckless side to his fighting and he could do with a lot more polishing before getting a shot at this level.
If Andales was handled right, and this opportunity came after a few more developmental fights against progressively better competition, maybe even with him facing a regional champion, he could, perhaps, be ready for Knockout. Instead we expect him to be a gallant loser, putting up a good effort, having moments, but failing to keep the intensity over 12 rounds in Thailand to defeat Knockout. The Thai isn't unbeatable, not even close, but Andales is ill prepared to take him on at this stage.
Prediction - UD 12 Knockout CP Freshmart
When we talk about modern day boxing legends few can compare to Filipino great Manny Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39), who has done stuff that many wouldn't have dreamed possible in our great sport. The looks to continue his career this coming Saturday and add yet another notable win to his incredible resume as he battles unbeaten and popular American Keith Thurman (29-0-0-1, 22) and looks to unify the WBA "regular" title, which he won last year, with Thurman's "Super" title. A win for Pacquiao would be yet another cherry on top of a career that has had so much success, and would prove, even at the age of 40, that he was still an active legend. For Thurman the bout acts as a chance to finally get an elite level name on his record, after years of talking about being a special fighter.
Pacquiao, of course better known as "Pacman", has had the story of his career told, re-told and re-told once again. The early days, putting weights in his pockets to and fighting as a 16 year old in small venues of the Philippines, making a name for himself and fighting to eat, to his modern day status as one of the greatest fighters in living memory and a fighter who has made more money than most people could ever dream of. During his 24 year career he has done so much, moving from Flyweight all the way up to Light Middleweight, grabbing titles in almost every division along the way and fighting in a variety of countries. He has been one of boxing's few true, global stars and a man who has transcended the sport whilst creating a resume that reads like a history of boxing greats.
From beating Chatchai Sasakul in 1998 to beating Adrien Broner earlier this year Pacquiao has spent 20 years at world level and has the right to retire as a legend whenever he wishes. Instead however he wants to build on his legacy and etch his name deeper into the annals of boxing history.
Not only has Pacquiao been at the top for longer than most but he has done so whilst adapting, changing and altering his style. Early on he was a crude, left hand happy power puncher, before becoming a dynamic dervish of 2-handed power and speed, then as age got to him he began to show more boxing finesse, picking his power punches and building on his ring craft to control the pace and tempo. Even at his current age he is still a lighting quick fighter, but knows that he needs to pace himself a little more, fighting at a controlled range and using his dynamite left hand to force any fighter to respect him. He's certainly past his peak, but has adapted to prolong his career and his success.
At the age of 30 Keith Thurman is a man who really should be a big star than he is, or perhaps he could have bee a much bigger star than he is. He's a good looking, charismatic guy, who early on had a fun style, with explosive power. He combined a style in the ring with a confident personality and a cool cat persona. He was an easy guy to root for, as the Welterweight division shifted focus from the old men on top to the new breed breaking through. Sadly though Thurman never really had the transition he needed, he could never get the passing of the torch fight, and lost some of his best years through injury and inactivity.
In 2013 Thurman beat former world champion Jan Zaveck, in a big win at the time, then stopped Diego Gabriel Chaves for the WBA "interim" world title, which he defended at the end of the year against Jesus Soto Karass. Those 3 wins saw him with an unbeaten record, 20 T/KO's from 22 wins, and a title. He was just 25 and looked like he had the keys to the Welterweight castle. Since then however he has gone 9-0 (2), fighting just 7 times in 5 years and rarely looking like the man many had pegged him for. For much of that reign his competition lacked quality and real threat, with only Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia really regarded as threats to Thurman on paper. The others were typically older fighters, with their best years behind them, like Julio Diaz, Roberto Guerrero and Luis Collazo. Despite the less than amazing competition the WBA have stood by his side, and he has moved from interim to regular to Super Champion during his reign with their title.
Whilst injuries certainly were a problem for Thurman his attitude had changed. When he was climbing the ranks it was all about taking over, being the avoided man, the hot young gun that no one wanted to face. Since winning the title however he has become the thing he complained about. He's failed to take on the rising lions of the emerging wave, the likes of Errol Spence Jr, and and 7 of his last 9 have come against men the wrong side of 30, with Pacquiao joining those older foes of Thurman's. A shame we've not seen him in with the fellow best, given his athletic and exciting style, his boxer-puncher ability and his genuinely nasty finishing.
Whilst Pacquiao, at his best, would have been strongly favoured over a fighter like Thurman, it's now a case of questioning how much Pacquiao has left in the tank.He looked like he had lost a couple of steps in his win over Broner earlier this year, and Lucas Matthysse looked so washed last year that it's hard to know how good the Pacquiao of today really is. Thurman hasn't lived up to his expectations, he's not shown world class power at world level, but given such a big age and natural size advantage it's hard to go against him, especially given that Pacquiao has so many questions hanging over his head.
We would love to see Pacquiao add Thurman's name to a resume that includes Chatchai Sasakul, Lehlo Ledwaba, Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez, Erik Morales, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Shane Mosley and Timothy Bradley. Sadly though we fear father time will finally catch up to the Pacman.
Prediction TKO10 Thurman.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On July 13, Tomoki Kameda returns to the US, after 4 years, to clash with Rey Vargas for the WBC Super Bantamweight World Championship.
The younger brother of Koki and Daiki Kameda, Tomoki belongs in one of the most successful families in the history of boxing, with all 3 siblings eventually winning the big one. Unlike most Japanese fighters who stay and train in Japan, Tomoki moved to Mexico when he was just 15 years old, in order to learn more about the sport and to hone his craft. He managed to reach the finals of the Guantes de Oro Tournament (Mexican for Golden Gloves) but lost, ironically enough, to Rey Vargas. Because of his young age, he wasn’t allowed to compete in the 2008 Olympic Games, so instead of waiting, Tomoki decided to turn pro.
Tomoki (36-2 / 20 KOs) became quite popular in Mexico, since he spent the vast majority of his career there, earning the nickname El Mexicanito. His style of fighting used to be quite aggressive, which was evident by his KO ratio. Prior to winning the world title, he finished 18 of his 27 pro bouts. Some of his early career big victories included numerous world title contenders like Eduardo Garcia, Marlon Marquez and Noldi Manakane, plus securing the WBC Silver Bantamweight title.
On August 1st 2013, Tomoki made history on multiple fronts when he defeated Paulus Ambunda, who was 20-0 at the time, for the WBO Bantamweight World championship, in the Philippines. Not only did he become the first ever Japanese boxer to hold a WBO World title, but also after Daiki’s world title victory in September of the same year, the Kamedas earned a place at the Guinness World Records for “most siblings to win boxing world titles”.
As World champion, he adapted a more technical style, a “safer” style, in comparison to his former much wilder approach. El Mexicanito marked 3 successful title defenses, against Immanuel Naidjala, interim champion Alejandro Hernandez as well as former World champion Panya Uthok. Out of all 3, his bout with Uthok was the toughest. With 46 wins on his record and only 2 decision losses, the Thai boxer kept rocking Tomoki in every round, stunning him on multiple occasions throughout the match. The tide turned during the 7th round, when Kameda started nailing Uthok with a couple of uppercuts, thus creating an opening to throw a devastating liver shot that dropped the former champ down for the count. That was the first time Uthok has been stopped in his career. Tomoki was declared “fighter of the month” (July 2014) by the WBO, after that performance.
In May of 2015, Tomoki was scheduled to face the WBA (Regular) Bantamweight Champion Jamie McDonnell, in a unification bout. However, since the WBO wouldn’t sanction the fight, he relinquished his belt so he could compete for the WBA championship. Despite dropping McDonnell in the 3rd, the Japanese challenger didn’t do much in the rest of the fight, thus failing to capture the gold. Their rematch in September saw both men in a very close encounter, going back and forth, in an exciting affair. Tomoki could have been crowned the new champion but McDonnell made sure he was leaving Texas with his belt when he scored a knockdown in the last round, swaying the judges in his favor.
When Tomoki returned to action, after a 13 month hiatus, he decided to move up to Super Bantamweight. In his match with Daniel Noriega (May 2018) we saw glimpses of the old Mexicanito, fighting in a much more aggressive pace, even dropping Noriega in the 5th round. After going 4-0 at this new weight class, he was involved in an interim WBC title fight, this past November, with the EBU European champion Abigail Medina. Kameda controlled the pace from the get go, punishing his rival with fasts jabs, strong hooks and some perfectly placed body shots. In the end, Tomoki earned himself a unanimous decision victory and the interim WBC strap. Now he will finally have the opportunity to meet Vargas in the ring again, for a shot at the gold.
Rey Vargas (33-0 / 22 KOs) has spent the majority of his life boxing. During his amateur days, he accumulated 7 national titles as well as the 2009 Pan-American championship. A year later, he made his pro debut. He was still 19 at the time.
Much like Tomoki, he used to be much more tenacious in the ring. Up until 2016, he had finished 22 out of his 28 fights, including stoppages over former world title challengers like Silvester Lopez, Christian Esquivel, Cecilio Santos and Juanito Rubillar. His speed and reach advantage were enough to give him the edge over most of his opponents.
Vargas’ 1st major win was against former 2 time WBA Super Flyweight World champion Alexander Munoz, in September of 2016. The young Mexican star dropped the veteran four times within five rounds, twice with the right hook, once with an uppercut and finished the job in the 5th with a straight right to secure the WBC International Silver title and the #1 contendership.
In 2017, he fought Gavin McDonnell for the vacant WBC Super Bantamweight crown. Despite taking a lot of damage in the later rounds, he managed to survive that and come out with the World championship. Since then, Vargas has defended his title 4 times against Ronny Rios, Oscar Negrete, Azat Hovhannisyan and Franklin Manzanilla. Even though his speed and head movement were still there, his aggressiveness wasn’t. In all of these last 5 bouts, he was content to keep his competition at bay and to just win on the judges scorecards. No doubt this will be the strategy for his upcoming fight too.
All in all, it’s safe to assume that Tomoki vs. Vargas will not be a crowd pleaser. Yes, we are talking about 2 really skilled boxers, with a lot of finesse and technique, but both lack the explosiveness that once made them popular. Vargas is most likely to walk out of California the victor as he’s going to use his reach and prohibit Tomoki from coming near him but if somehow El Mexicanito manages to close the distance, he might have a chance at officially becoming a 2 division world champion. We will find out for sure this Saturday night.
In October 2018 we saw American Rob Brant (25-1, 17) end Ryota Murata's (14-2, 11) short lived reign as the WBA "regular" Middleweight champion, upsetting the Japanese fighter over 12 1-sided rounds. The bout, which was supposed to be a big opportunity for Murata to shine on US soil against a limited challenger backfired, big time, with Brant using Murata for target practice over 12 rounds.
It was as humiliating a 12 round decision loss that we've seen a champion suffer in years, and in many ways it was similar to Joe Calzaghe's dominant win over Jeff Lacy. Brant, like Calzaghe, was the under-dog who set an insane work rate and Murata, like Lacy, was made to look slow and clumsy, unable to use their vaunted power. Both were boxing's answer to death by 1000 cuts, with neither Calzaghe or Brant having the power to stop their opponent, but having the work rate to handcuff them, dominate them and leave their man mentally questioning their future.
The question coming in, is whether Murata can do what Lacy couldn't, and can rebuild his career? We'll find out on July 12th when Murata gets his rematch with Brant in Osaka, as the headline bout of a big Japanese card!
When Murata turned professional, originally with Top Rank in the US and Misako and Teiken in Japan, he did so with a lot of fanfare and attention. He made his debut in 2013, stopping the then Japanese OPBF Middleweight champion Akio Shibata, with that win following incredible amateur success, including an Olympic gold medal and a World Amateur silver medal. His amateur pedigree and professional debut seemed to put him on the fast track to the top, though unfortunately he didn't really shine as many had hoped. As a professional he looked good, strong, but never great. He looked effective, but basic, only showing glimpses of brilliance.
Sadly for Murata he would never really replicate his amateur success in the professional ranks. He would never develop beyond being a strong but basic fighter. He had thudding power in each hand, a great chin, good stamina and applied solid pressure, as we saw in both of his bouts with Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam. Sadly though he would never develop the tools to use a plan B. He never looked quick or sharp, just always consistent, basic and thudding. It was enough to win his bouts against his earlier foes, and yes we all know he was robbed in the first bout N'Dam, but against Brant he was too slow and seemed like he was made to order for Brant.
Brant had entered the first bout with Murata as the mandatory challenger, but someone who was given little chance. He was, seemingly, the latest in a long line of boxing's undeserving mandatory challengers. He had done nothing to earn a shot and had lost, just 12 months earlier, to Juergen Braehmer in what was a pretty clear defeat to the German veteran. What few expected was for Brant to look like a totally different fighter to the one who had froze on the big stage against Braehmer. Against Murata he looked like a perpetual punching machine, a tireless bundle of energy, who set an insane work rate, threw an average of 105 punches a round, neutralising Murata with work rate. He out landed the Japanese fighter round after round.
Officially in their first bout Brant landed 356 punches, to Murata's 180, though watching the fighting it seemed like there was an even bigger difference between the two men.
Although Brant had gone into the bout as the under-dog he had dominated Murata and went on to successfully defend the belt this past February, when he stopped the previously unbeaten Khasan Baysangurov. That bout saw Brant show a bit more venom on his shots, dropping Baysangurov in rounds 2 and 11 to force a TKO win. He hadn't become a puncher, but had seemingly just added a bit more to his game after winning the title, and looked like a solid, if still under-rated, Middleweight.
Sadly for Murata it's hard to see how he can do anything to change the outcome from the first bout. He was too slow, too open, too basic, fought too 1-paced and showed so little hunger and variation. For him to beat Brant would take one of 3 things. Either he hands a freak 1-punch KO, shocking Brant. He gets Brant to freeze, shocked by the atmosphere, and takes the win due to Brant not adapting to being in Japan. He totally reinvents himself at the age of 33, and has some how remodelled his entire style in just 9 months.
The odds on any of those 3 things happening are slim, and we really can't see how Murata avenges his loss here. He looked lost, and we expected the same again, with perhaps a late mercy stoppage if he takes clean and repeated head shots in the championship rounds, as he did in their first bout.
Prediction TKO12 Brant
The Light Flyweight division has, over the last few years, been one of the best divisions in the sport. It has given us clash after clash between top fighters, with champions rarely picking picking easy defenses, and with fighters delivering top action at a high skill level. Among the division's finest for the last few years has been Japan's Kenshiro (15-0, 8), the current WBC champion and one of the standout fighters on the Japanese scene and of the most rounded Light Flyweights on the planet. On July 12th Kenshiro makes his next defense, as he takes on mandatory challenger Jonathan Taconing (28-3-1, 22), who is getting his third shot at a world title.
The 27 year old Kenshiro is a second generation fighter, following in the huge footsteps of Hisashi Teraji, a former Japanese Middleweight and OPBF Light Heavyweight champion. He was tipped as one to watch as soon as he turned professional, and quickly raced through the rankings, unifying the JBC, OPBF and WBC Youth titles in a little over 2 years of his debut. In just his 10th bout he claimed the WBC title, dethroning Mexican veteran Ganigan Lopez, and has already racked up 5 defenses of the belt.
As the WBC champion Kenshiro has proven himself an excellent fighter, whilst scoring wins against the likes of Pedro Guevara, Milan Melindo, Saul Juarez and Lopez, in a rematch with the veteran. Not only has he been beating really good fighters but he's been showing different things in every fight. That has been shown by the way he dominated Melindo with his jab and took out Lopez in their rematch with a body shot, stopping two good veterans in the process. Their are still question marks about his power, his chin and how he copes with intense pressure, but so far has done little other than impress and improve to become one of the true divisional stars.
Filipino fighter Jonathan Taconing has been one of the division's forgotten contenders in recent years, and at 32 is now entering what is likely his final world title shot. He's been a professional for more than 12 years and has, unfortunately, been one of the card carrying members of the "who needs him?" club for much of that time, with fighters knowing what he is, and knowing he's not worth the risk. Early in his career he suffered a could of set backs, a narrow loss to Joe Galamition and a technical draw with Erwin Picardal. Since then he has gone 21-2 (17) with both losses coming in world title bouts, one of which was a very controversial one in Thailand whilst the other was to the aforementioned Ganigan Lopez in Mexico.
Taconing is a herd hitting and teak tough southpaw slugger. He's technically not the smoothest, or the quickest or the most rounded, but he's a nightmare to fight due to his physicality, and he can really bully people. His southpaw stance makes him double awkward with his shots, which are unorthodox anyway, coming from really unusual angles. He can certainly be out boxed, as Lopez showed, but it will take a fighter with a disciplined game plan to out box him. He can, potentially, be out fought, but it really would take a very special fighter to do that, and someone who could not only take his shots but also hit him hard enough to get his respect. Something that is easier said than done.
Sadly for Taconing we expect to see his technical flaws be the different here, and for Kenshiro to box smartly, stay on his toes and simple out box, out skill and out speed the dangerous challenger. If he does that it's hard to see anything but a Kenshiro win, though one where there is always the potential for danger. Taconing will have the power to turn things around, though we don't see him landing accurately enough or clean enough to make the most of his brutal power against one of the division's best fighters.
Prediction UD12 Kenshiro
The WBC world title picture at Bantamweight is a series mess with the body having one of their more confusing title pictures, with a world champion, and interim champion and a silver champion. The title scene really is a mess due to issues caused in 2018 by Mexican fighter Luis Nery, who failed a drug test and subsequently failed to make weight. Despite his issues Nery is actually the #1 ranked and current Silver champion.
Rather than going into detail about Nery, and his various issues, it's worth noting that him and Takuma Inoue, the interim champion, are both vying for a future world title fight, likely later in the year. They do however have to wait, and next up for the main title will be the first defense of unbeaten French champion Nordine Oubaali (15-0, 11), who takes on Filipino challenger Arthur Villanueva (32-3-1, 18) on July 6th. The bout isn't the most interesting, given the talent in the division and the long line of WBC challengers, but it's a notable bout headlining an MTK card in Kazakhstan, and certainly deserves some real attention.
The unbeaten champion, a French fighter with Morocan heritage, was an outstanding amateur competing at 2 Olympics and 3 world amateur championships. Although his best result was "only" a bronze medal, at the 2007 World Championships in Chicago, he was clearly talented and that showed in his consistency and success in the World Series Boxing, where he fought for the Paris United Franchise. That experience in the amateurs and WSB saw Oubaali turn professional with some pretty lofty expectations 2014 and since then the southpaw has impressed picking up minor titles before claiming the WBC belt last year.
As a fighter Oubaali is a talented southpaw boxer-puncher with excellent skills and solid punching power. He turned professional in 2014 and was kept busy early on in his career against mostly limited opponents, but in 2016 he stopped both Iran Diaz, who later went the distance with Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, and Julio Cesar Miranda, a former world champion from Mexico. Those wins put him on the map before he added stoppages against very tough Mexican veteran Alejandro Hernandez, skilled Filipino Mark Anthony Geraldo and tough Colombian Luis Melendez. Most recently he defeated Rau'shee Warren, over 12 rounds, for the WBC title back in January. Notably that bout in January is his only contest in the last 12 months. With a number of good wins he is really one of the top, and most under-rated, Bantamweights out there, with a resume comparable to better recognised fighters at the weight, like Zolani Tete, Emmanuel Rodriguez and Ryan Burnett, and would have been a good addition to the WBSS.
The Filipino challenger was once regarded as a bright hope, though has sadly failed to live up to the expectations on his shoulders. He began his career with 28 straight wins whilst working his way up the world rankings. In 2015 he would then face McJoe Arroyo in a bout for the IBF Super Flyweight title, losing a technical decision in what was a truly stinking bout. He was much more competitive than the score cards suggested, though in reality neither man did much of anything in a truly disappointing match up that never clicked. Since then Villanueva has gone 5-2-1 (4), and not looked particularly good, even in his wins.
At his best he was a methodical fighter, a thinking mans fighter, with good timing, patience and counter punching. He was a chess player in the ring, but unfortunately his skills haven't shown themselves at the top level, and losses to not only Arroyo but also Zolani Tete and Luis Nery, who he dropped before being stopped by, have shown he's a level beneath world class. He's a very capable fighter, but no world beater, and unfortunately fighters will need to be world beaters to beat Oubaali.
We're expecting Villanueva to put up a good effort early on, though as the fight goes on Oubaali's class, clean punching and accuracy will be the difference and by the middle rounds Villanueva will be getting broken down, before being stopped in the second half of the fight.
Prediction - Oubaali TKO9
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On June 19, at the Makuhari Messe arena in Japan, a national hero returns home, as Kazuto Ioka goes one on one with Aston Palicte for the vacant WBO Super Flyweight World Championship.
Kazuto Ioka (23-2 / 13 KOs) is without a doubt one of the best Japanese boxers of the last decade. He proved his worth quite early, back in his amateur days, amassing an impressive record of 95 wins in 105 bouts, including two All Japan championships, two Inter-High School titles and four National Sports Festival honors.
Turned pro in 2009, he showcased his amateur pedigree as he dispatched world title contender Takashi Kunishige, in just his third fight. Ioka then went on to win the vacant Japanese Light Flyweight title after he TKOed Masayoshi Segawa, only 18 months after his debut.
On February of 2011, Ioka’s first major test arrived when he challenged the unbeaten Kittipong Jaigrajang (35-0 at the time) for the WBC Strawweight World championship. Jaigrajang was champion for 4 years and had 6 title defenses under his belt. The Japanese hopeful went toe to toe with the veteran Thai champion, even knocking him down as early as in the second round and then once more in the fifth, with a lethal left body blow, sealing the deal and becoming the world champion at only 21 years of age. Ioka defended his championship twice the same year, against Juan Hernandez Navarrete and Veerawut Yuthimitr.
On June 20 of 2012, he was involved in a unification bout with the WBA champion and fellow rising Japanese star, Akira Yaegashi. Their careers shared many similarities. Yaegashi was also an accomplished amateur, with a record of 56-14, and had also won the National Sports Festival, back in 2002. Both men brought their A game that night, knowing what was at stake. An epic back and forth affair, that brought the fans to their feet, ended with Ioka earning the unanimous decision and leaving Osaka with two world championships.
Having conquered the Strawweight division, Ioka decided to move up a weight class and faced Jose Alfredo Rodriguez for the vacant WBA Light Flyweight World title (Regular version). Rodriguez was the former interim WBA champion, with 28 wins and only 1 decision loss. The Japanese prodigy systematically picked him apart with body shots and hooks, dropping him thrice, for the win as well as for his second divisional world title reign.
Ioka enjoyed another long run with the belt, marking 3 successful defenses over Phissanu Chimsunthom, former world champion Ekkawit Songnui and Felix Alvarado (current IBF Light Flyweight World Champion). Since the Roman Gonzalez fight never took place (WBA Super champion) Ioka vacated his title and debuted in the Flyweight division, where he tasted defeat for the first time as a pro, as he failed to capture the IBF title from Amnat Ruenroeng, in a very evenly contested bout. Ironically, Ioka had lost again to Amnat in the past, back in their amateur days, when they met at the semi-finals of the 2008 King's Cup, an annual boxing tournament held in Thailand.
The 2 division world champion came back even more determined, beating Pablo Carrillo and knocking out former interim world champion Jean Piero Perez with a thunderous right straight, within the span of three months, thus earning another opportunity at a Flyweight World Title, this time against the WBA Regular champion, Juan Carlos Reveco. After 12 action packed rounds, the Japanese superstar finally became a 3 division champion. Since the fight was very close on the judges’ scorecards, a rematch was set on New Year’s Eve of 2015. As usual, Ioka’s body work was the key factor, stopping Reveco in the eleventh round, in what otherwise was once again a close call.
As WBA Flyweight World champion, he made five successful title defenses, over the likes of Roberto Domingo Sosa, Juan Carlos Reveco (as mentioned above), Keyvin Lara, Yutthana Kaensa and Nare Yianleang. His toughest one had to be against Kaensa. The interim WBA champion, with a perfect record of 16-0, shocked everyone when he knocked Ioka down, with a fast right counter hook, in the second round. Ioka had never been dropped before in his pro career. Kaensa kept the pressure on for the majority of the fight, giving the champion a bigger challenge than he expected. The tables turned however as Ioka put the Thai boxer down with a liver shot in the seventh round and proceeded to finish him off by punishing his body even further.
His sixth defense was scheduled to take place on December 31st of 2017 but due to getting married and reportedly falling out with his father and promoter, Kazunori Ioka, he chose to retire and vacate his belt.
Almost 17 months later, Ioka returned to active competition, this time at Super Flyweight and with a new goal in mind: to become a 4 division world champion. He immediately challenged McWilliams Arroyo for the WBC Silver Super Flyweight title. Arroyo, much like Ioka, also had an extensive amateur career, winning the 2006 Central American and Caribbean Games, the 2007 Pan American Games and the 2009 AIBA World Boxing Championships, including victories over 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist Yan Bartelemí and 2012 Olympic Silver Medalist Nyambayaryn Togstsogt. With no signs of ring-rust, the former multiple time world champion took control of the fight from the opening round and never let up. After 10 rounds and one knockdown in the third, the Japanese superstar was back on track. It’s worth mentioning that this was Ioka’s first fight in the U.S. as well as his first fight outside of Japan, as a pro.
Controversy struck on December 31st of last year, when he met fellow 3 division champion Donnie Nietes for the vacant WBO Super Flyweight title. After 12 rounds of incredible action, the (split) decision was given to the Filipino fighter, while most fans who watched the match, believed Ioka should have been the victor that night. With Nietes vacating the belt, Ioka gets a second chance to claim that was supposed to be his, but he first has to go through another boxer from the Philippines.
Aston Palicte (25-2-1 / 21 KOs) despite being around almost the same amount of time as Ioka, and even though he has more fights as a pro, a deeper look at his competition suggests that he’s not yet at the same level. He is however a very fast fighter, who knows how to throw good combinations and move around the ring with grace. Palicte likes to keep his distance, creating space with jabs, and then strike with the right. Most of his victories are a result of this strategy. His biggest one thus far has been against former interim WBA Light Flyweight World champion Jose Alfredo Rodriguez in 2017, which was basically a one sided affair. It’s worth mentioning that he also throws strong uppercuts.
On the other hand, he tends to receive a lot of hits throughout his matches, while he finds himself in trouble when his opponent gets too close, which was the case in his encounter with Nietes. The fight itself was declared a draw, but Nietes was the one that landed and connected with way more punches as well as the more accurate ones. Now Palicte has earned himself another opportunity at the gold, after he stopped Jose Martinez (20-0 at the time), to become the #1 contender for the WBO title.
It’s safe to assume Ioka is the clear favorite in this one. Considering that he’s an expert at closing the distance and punishing the body, Palicte will have a tough time defending against him, or even putting any significant offense of his own. This might not end with a KO, as the Filipino is quite resilient, but in case that it does, it will be in the later rounds, probably after the 8th.
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.